Who was the son to be sacrificed by Prophet Ibrahim?

Q: A married man embraced Islam in the year 1974 and he wants to know who was the son whom Allah asked His Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham, peace be upon him) to slaughter as a sacrifice? (Part No. 4; Page No. 289) Was it his son Isma‘il (Ishmael) or Is-haq (Isaac) (peace be upon them)?


A: The Norm of Allah is that He tests His slaves to distinguish the wicked from the good, to raise the degree of whoever He wants from His Prophets and Awliya’ (pious people), and to purify the believers and destroy the disbelievers. Among those who were tried by Allah was Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him), who was the perfect epitome of compliance in all the trials that Allah put him through. Allah (Exalted be He) says: And (remember) when the Lord of Ibrâhîm (Abraham) [i.e., Allâh] tried him with (certain) Commands, which he fulfilled. He (Allâh) said (to him), "Verily, I am going to make you an Imâm (a leader) for mankind (to follow you)." [Ibrâhîm (Abraham)] said, "And of my offspring (to make leaders)." (Allâh) said, "My Covenant (Prophethood) includes not Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrong-doers)." He (Exalted be He) praises him, saying: And of Ibrâhîm (Abraham) who fulfilled (or conveyed) all that (Allâh ordered him to do or convey): Among the trials that befell Ibrahim is that he saw in a Ru’ya (true dream) that he was slaughtering his son. As the dreams of Prophets are always true, Ibrahim (peace be upon him) decided to realize this Ru’yah in obedience to the Command of Allah and out of loyalty to Him. When he told this to his son, he obeyed him. When they submitted themselves to Allah, and Ibrahim did everything he could and prepared to slaughter his son, Allah honored him and his son; saved the boy who was going to be slaughtered and ransomed him with a huge ram; eternalized the mention of His Prophet forever; gave him the glad tidings of Is-haq (Isaac, peace be upon him), a Prophet from among the righteous; and blessed him and Is-haq (peace be upon them). Allah (Exalted be He) says: And he said (after his rescue from the fire): "Verily, I am going to my Lord. He will guide me!" "My Lord! Grant me (offspring) from the righteous." So We gave him the glad tidings of a forbearing boy. And, when he (his son) was old enough to walk with him, he said: "O my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you (offering you in sacrifice to Allâh). So look what you think!" He said: "O my father! Do that which you are commanded, Inshâ’ Allâh (if Allâh wills), you shall find me of As-Sâbirûn (the patient)." Then, when they had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allâh), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (or on the side of his forehead for slaughtering); We called out to him: "O Abraham! You have fulfilled the dream!" Verily thus do We reward the Muhsinûn (good-doers - See 2:112). Verily, that indeed was a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (i.e. كبش - a ram); And We left for him (a goodly remembrance) among the later generations. "Salâm (peace) be upon Ibrâhîm (Abraham)!" Thus indeed do We reward the Muhsinûn (good-doers - See V.2:112). Verily, he was one of Our believing slaves. And We gave him the glad tidings of Ishâq (Isaac) - a Prophet from the righteous. We blessed him and Ishâq (Isaac). And of their progeny are (some) that do right, and some that plainly wrong themselves. (Part No. 4; Page No. 290) That is the essence of the story of the son of Ibrahim (peace be upon him), who was to be offered as a sacrifice. But Ibrahim had two sons: Isma‘il (Ishmael) and Is-haq (Isaac). Which of the two sons was the one who was going to be sacrificed: Isma‘il or Is-haq (peace be upon them)? There is no explicit definitive text that designates and names that son and closes controversy; therefore, the historians and the scholars of Tafsir (exegesis of the meanings of the Qur’an) disagreed about it. Some of them said that he was Isma‘il, as he is the son who was born after his father left his country and traveled to the Levant (the region covering Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine); he was his only son at that time; he was the one living in Makkah where the incident took place; and he was described by Allah as patient and forbearing. In addition, the sacrifice tale began by giving the glad tidings of a forbearing child, and ended by the glad tidings of Is-haq. This entails that he must be another child, other than the one in the beginning of the tale, who is most probably Isma‘il, according to the previously mentioned evidence. (Part No. 4; Page No. 291)  Many scholars of religion and history claim that he is Is-haq, because he is the one who came as glad tidings to Ibrahim and Sarah after Ibrahim forsook his father and his country, as related in Surahs Maryam, Hud, Al-Hijr and Al-Dhariyat. Thus, he is the referent of the forbearing child who was given as glad tidings in Surah Al-Saffat, and he is the one who was going to be slaughtered.This matter is not a problem, as it is a matter of discretion which is not essential to know. If a person is ignorant of this, it will not affect their ‘Aqidah (creed) or their practical lives. Whoever of the two sons of Ibrahim was the one who was going to be sacrificed, in him and his father lies the lesson of wisdom to be learnt from this tale and the model they represent of enduring affliction and giving precedence to obeying Allah over anything else, even if it entails sacrificing the dearest of all things to a person, even if it be one’s self. This does not belittle the rank of the other child who was not to be offered as a sacrifice same as it does not belittle any of the Prophets and Messengers who did not experience such a trial. Such an advantage indicates merit, but it does not indicate superiority.Some researchers have tackled this issue only out of curiosity and love of researching. As previously mentioned, there is no explicit definitive text about this issue; therefore, they disagreed, whether out of good intention and exercise of human reasoning or out of evil intention and mere fanaticism. The more correct opinion is that he is Isma‘il as previously mentioned, because the apparent meaning of the Ayahs of the Qur‘an indicate so, (Part No. 4; Page No. 292) especially the previously mentioned Ayahs of Surah Al-Saffat.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.

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