Friday, June 27, 2014


99. He said: "I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me! 100. "O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!" 101. So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son. 102. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I have seen in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills, one of the steadfast!" 103. So when they had both submitted (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), 104. We called out to him "O Abraham! ... 105. "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" - thus indeed do We reward those who do right.  106. For this was a clear trial- 107. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: 108. And We left for him among generations (to come) in later times: 109. "Peace and salutation to Abraham!" 110. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. 111. For he was one of Our believing Servants. (Quran, Surah 37)*
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 Our Bible story for Sunday is from Genesis 22, Abraham and the Sacrifice of isaac. I enjoy comparing the Genesis account to the account in the Quran, and our respective views. Although the son is not named in the Quran passage, Islamic tradition generally holds that Abraham brought his son Ishmael, an ancestor of The Prophet, for sacrifice. Instantly available online, there is vigorous discussion among Muslim scholars for both Ishmael and Isaac, to support both conclusions, but the tradition is for Ishmael. The conversation being within Islam, the rebuttals of Christian and Jewish scholars are exterior, eisegetical and not helpful. More, the Muslim scholarship that I read was said to engage Islamic exegesis that outsiders do not grasp, effectively dismissing us; and so I accept their viewpoint. However, of the presentations that I read, some of the argument for Ishmael seems circular, beginning with Ishmael and then laying out rationale to that conclusion, recognizing the story in the Quran as the sole foundation for argument and conclusion. Perhaps not unlike a Roman Catholic scholar proving the cause of Blessed Mary Ever Virgin, tradition more to be upheld than examined.
What difference does it make? asked at least one scholar. His answer was that it does not matter, because the point of the story is not about which son it was, but about the saving mercy of Abraham’s God. 
As I contemplate this, the mind keeps returning to “stop writing, it’s nap time.” So if my quality of thought is challenged, I will not defend.


A friend (hi, Kalynn!) asks “Same story, from Genesis and the Quran. Would it be easier to sacrifice one son rather than the other????” which warrants response. Though this is Friday morning, I would rather contemplate a reply than work on my nonexistent sermon for Sunday morning. 

The first thing is to give the next verse of the Quran. “112. And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet,- one of the Righteous. 113. We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to themselves.” (Surah 37).

Clearly, the Prophet Muhammed knew the Bible and all its stories, both from the Hebrew Bible and from the Christian New Testament. In fact, he knew it so well that for the most part he just mentions a story without going into detail, as is in fact the case with 37:99-111 about the near-sacrifice of the son of Abraham. This indicates, at least to me, that The Prophet felt that everyone else who would be reading his writings would know the stories too. The Islamic scholars who comment also seem to know the Bible stories, better in fact than most Christians or Jews who comment on the Quran.

So, anyway, to face K’s question with a haphazard list of points, observations and statements not arranged logically for argument or to lead to a point. (One can do that by reading Islamic scholars’ online writings about this, of which there are many, readily accessible and in English).

  • What the Quran passage says or does not say is the basis for the reasoning (not anything in the Bible story, and one’s foreknowledge of the Bible story is not relevant in this reasoning process). 
  • The tradition is that Ishmael was an ancestor of The Prophet. (There is thus impetus to honor Ishmael as the son who faithfully, bravely and voluntarily offers himself for sacrifice instead of Isaac ancestor of the Jews). 
  • The passage does not name the son, therefore it is questionable and arguable who the son was. 
  • The naming of Isaac in Genesis was added later by editors, and wasn’t even edited well, because Isaac was never Abraham’s only son. If the command was given as only son, it would have been before Isaac was even born. Obviously, then, the name Isaac was added by a later editor.
  • The passage does not say Abraham’s dream came from God. Some Islamic scholars say God would never order such a sin as to murder an innocent, therefore the dream, which Abraham followed, was from the devil.
  • The son, a believer, faithfully consents and submits to be sacrificed if that is God’s will as Abraham says. 
  • The exemplary character traits of Ishmael that are mentioned here and there in the Quran, patient and faithful, match that son’s character in the passage. 
  • Logically, God would not have ordered the sacrifice of Isaac, through whom God promised Abraham grandchildren, that makes no sense and God does not do stupid things.
  • Ishmael was the son at the time of the story. As we see in the story itself (37:99-111), Isaac does not arrive until after the story (37:112-113). The story and order shows that Isaac was not yet present.
  • The sacrifice of the son clearly was never God’s will in the first place, else it would have been carried out.  
  • Abraham was saved in more than one sense. He was saved by proceeding to carry out what he thought was God’s will regardless of the cost to himself. He was saved at the last minute from the terrible sin of sacrificing an innocent child.
  • The passage does not say what the momentous sacrifice was, thus the notion that it was a ram, sheep, lamb, is speculation. Perhaps the momentous sacrifice was Abraham’s innocent ignorance about what God would require -- surely not a human sacrifice.

Above are some of the points put forward as Muslim scholars argue for Ishmael. Because it is a closed Muslim conversation to persuade other Muslims, it does not matter, and is irrelevant, if a Christian or Jew can dispute points or argue on the other side for Isaac as the son offered for sacrifice; in fact, even Muslim scholars have so argued. Again, though the Quran does not name the son in the passage, Islamic tradition is that it was Ishmael, and the above are some of the statements and observations given in proof/evidence.

In direct response to K’s question, Islamic tradition does not concern which son would be easier to sacrifice, but specifically honors Abraham’s son Ishmael, The Prophet’s ancestor, who was so noble and faithful a believer as to offer himself willingly to be sacrificed if that was God’s will. 

This is the first and only time I have responded to a reader comment, as I avoid having my blog become a forum or, especially, let it be open to the sort of vicious, meanspirited anonymous comments that one sees widely online. But K's worthwhile question intrigued me!


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