Who Was the Sacrificial Son?
historians of this period disagree on the matter of ibrahim's sacrifice of isma'il. did the event take place before the birth of ishaq or thereafter? did it take place in palestine or in the hijaz? jewish historians insist that the sacrificial son was ishaq, not isma'il. this is not the place to analyze this issue. in his book qisas al anbiyd', shaykh `abd al wahhab al najjar concluded that the sacrificial son was isma'il. his evidence was drawn from the qur'an itself where the sacrificial son is described as being ibrahim's unique son, which could only be isma'il, and only as long as ishaq was not yet born [genesis 22:2 also calls isaac abraham's "only son," thus corroborating the claim and making the bible's declaration of isaac as the sacrificial son a very likely emendation of the biblical text. -tr.]. for with the birth of ishaq, ibrahim would have no "unique" son but two, isma'il and ishaq. but to accede to this evidence implies that the sacrifice should have taken place in palestine [unfortunately, haykal has not shown how this implication follows from the claim in favor of isma'i1. -tr.]. this would equally be true in case the sacrificial son was ishaq, for the latter remained with his mother sarah in palestine and never left for the hijaz. on the other hand, the report which makes the sacrifice take place on the mountain of mina near makkah identifies the sacrificial son as isma'il. the qur'an did not mention the name of the sacrificial son, and hence muslim historians disagree in this regard.
the qur'anic version of the sacrifice
the story of the sacrifice is that ibrahim saw in a dream god commanding him to sacrifice his son to him. in the morning he took his son and went out to fulfill the command. "when they reached the destination ibrahim said to his son: `my son, i saw in a dream god commanding me to sacrifice you. what will you say?' his son answered: `fulfill whatever you have been commanded; by god's will you will find me patient.' when ibrahim threw his son on the ground for the sacrifice and both had acquiesced to the commandment, god called out to him: `o ibrahim, you have fulfilled the commandment. we shall reward you as we reward the virtuous. you have manifestly succeeded in your travail.' we ransomed him with a worthy animal to sacrifice."[qur'an, 37:102-107]
the historians' version
some historians tell this story in more dramatic way. the beauty of some versions justifies a brief pause despite the fact that the story itself does not belong in this apercu of makkan history. it is told, for instance, that when ibrahim saw in his dream that he should sacrifice his son and ascertained that that was god's commandment, he asked his son to take a rope and a knife and to go ahead of him to a nearby hill in order to collect some wood for fuel. the boy complied with his father's request. satan took the guise of a man, came to isma'il's mother and said:"do you know where ibrahim is taking your son?" she answered: "yes, they both went to collect some wood." satan said:"by god, he did not take him except to sacrifice him." the mother answered, "not at all! his father is even more loving and gentler to him than me." satan said: "but he claims that god has commanded him to do so." the mother answered: "if god has thus commanded him then so let it be." thus satan lost the first round. he ran to the son as he was following his father and repeated to him the same temptations he offered to his mother. but the son answered in exactly the same way as his mother did. satan then approached ibrahim and told him that what he saw in his dream was only a satanic illusion that he may kill his son and grieve there at the rest of his days. ibrahim dismissed him and cursed him. iblis (satan) returned maddened and frustrated at his failure to dissuade ibrahim, his wife, and his son from fulfillment of god's command. the same storytellers also report that ibrahim divulged his dream to his son and asked for his opinion. they report the son as answering: "o father, do what you are commanded to do." a still more fanciful version of the story reports the son as saying: "o father, if you want to kill me, then bind me tight that i may not move and splatter you with my blood and thus reduce my own reward for the fulfillment of god's command. i know that death is hard, and i am not certain i will stay still when it comes. therefore sharpen your blade that you may finish me quickly. lay me face down rather than on my side, for i fear that if you were to witness my face as you cut my throat you would be moved by compassion for me and fail to complete that which god had asked you to do. and if you see fit to return my shirt to my mother that she may remember me therewith and, perhaps, find some consolation, please do so.' ibrahim answered: `my son, you are the best help in the fulfillment of god's command.' as he prepared for the sacrifice, bound the child, and laid him down, ibrahim was called to stop. for he had given evidence of his obedience to god's command, and the son was ransomed with a sheep which ibrahim found close by and which he killed and burnt."
that is the story of the sacrifice. it is the story of submission to god and his decree as well as of the fulfillment of his commandment.