Az-Zabih (the Sacrifice): Was It Isma`il or Is-haq?

Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr, the former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee sates that: Almighty Allah says: (So We gave him tidings of a gentle son. And when (his son) was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice thee. So look, what thinkest thou? He said: O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast. Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face. We called unto him: O Abraham: Thou hast already fulfilled the vision. Lo! thus do We reward the good. Lo! that verily was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim. And We left for him among the later folk (the salutation): Peace be unto Abraham! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! he is one of Our believing slaves. And We gave him tidings of the birth of Isaac, a Prophet of the righteous. And We blessed him and Isaac. And of their seed are some who do good, and some who plainly wrong themselves) (As-Saffat 37:101-113).

Also, in his Mustadrak, Al-Hakim quotes Mu`awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan as saying: “We were with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) when a Bedouin came to him and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! I left behind me a barren and drought-stricken country. My property has vanished and my children are at loss. Bestow on me some of your favors, o son of the two human male sacrifices Az-Zabihayn (Isma`il and `Abdullah).’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) smiled and did not rebuke him or deny the description.”

The majority of Muslim scholars are of the view that Az-Zabih was Isma`il. They backed their view with following evidence:

1. When Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) was saved from the fire, he migrated from Iraq to the Levant and said: (Lo! I am going unto my Lord Who will guide me) (As-Saffat 37: 99).

When he grew old, he implored Allah for a son and thus Almighty Allah gave him glad tidings of a gentle son. The mother of that son was his Egyptian wife Hajar. When jealousy crept to the heart of his first wife Sarah, Allah commanded him to take Hajar and her son to Makkah. There he was subject to a test whereby Almighty Allah commanded him to slaughter his only son; Isma`il (Ishmael). As for Is-haq (Isaac), he was born many years later and Ibrahim had been given glad tidings of his birth after the incident of sacrifice. It goes without saying that the subject of true test should be the first and the only son who then occupied a center place in his father’s heart, not the second one.

2. Ibrahim experienced a series of tests most of which relate to Hajar and her son who were placed in a remote barren valley. Ibrahim left them to Allah’s care and went back to the Levant. Frequent visits were not sufficient to stop Ibrahim’s genuine fear for his wife and her baby. The situation was compounded by the vision Ibrahim had that he was slaughtering his dear son, which means that he would definitely be filled of worry about the would-be state of Hajar. Would he leave her alone in the deserted valley? The details of the incident clearly shows that it was Isma`il who was to be sacrificed.

It is reported that when Ibrahim took his son to slaughter him, Satan encountered him many times trying to divert him from his task. Ibrahim cast him many times with pebbles. This is actually what Muslim pilgrims do in their Hajj when they cast the pebbles (Al-Jamarat).

3. When Ibrahim was given glad tidings with the coming of Is-haq, he was also informed that Is-haq would grow, marry and have a child named Ya`qub (Jacob). Allah says: (We gave her good tidings (of the birth) of Isaac, and, after Isaac, of Jacob) (Hud 11 :71). Is it logic for Ibrahim to attempt to slaughter his son after being given glad tidings that the son would grow up and have children? How come they claim that it was Is-haq that was to be slaughtered? This is ridiculous, for if it was Is-haq to be slaughtered, who would then beget Ya`qub, to bring to reality the glad tiding given to Ibrahim before? In giving him glad tidings about the birth of Isma`il, Ibrahim was told that Isma`il would be “gentle and persevering” while in case of Is-haq, he was described as being “learned”. Isma`il’s description perfectly matches the unquestioning obedience he gave his father.

4. The People of the Book say: “Allah commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his sole son.” At that time, Ibrahim had no other sons except Isma`il, for in their Sacred Books it is stated that Ibrahim was given Isma`il when he was 86 years of age while he was given Is-haq when he was 99 years of age.

5. The great scholars among the pious ancestors (may Allah be pleased with them) say that Az-Zabih was Isma`il. `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz is reported as having called a Jew who had embraced Islam, interrogating him on the issue. The Jew replied that it was Isma`il who was to be sacrificed. Also, Al-Asma` asked Abu `Amr ibn Al-`Ala’ about Az-Zabih and he said: “Where is your mind? Is-haq never came to Makkah. It was Isma`il who was in Makkah and built the House (the Sacred Mosque) with his father.

Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s Southeast Mosque, adds: The truth about this matter can be found in history. The Jews themselves do not deny the fact that the first son of Ibrahim (Abraham) was Isma`il (Ishmael), and history tells us that Ibrahim was tried by Allah to sacrifice his son next to the Ka`bah, and history tells us the IS-HAQ (Isaac) has never been next to the Ka`bah in Makkah, he was born in Palestine, and Isma`il was raised in Makkah. The trial came to Ibrahim in Makkah (or at that time it was just the Ka`bah), so there is no reason for the Jews who always distort the truth to claim that it was Is-haq who was going to be sacrificed and not Isma`il.

All the above-mentioned facts indicate that it was Isma`il who was about to be slaughtered by his father, Ibrahim, and all these facts also support the hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that reads: “I am the son of Az-Zabihayn (the two who were to be sacrificed)”.