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October 3rd, 2014

Abraham the Upright — But what about parricide?

“…sacrifice means that you lose something which you possessed so that you then have to undergo hardship and loss because of that deprivation.”[2]

One of the prevalent myths is that Prophet Abraham had repeating dreams to sacrifice his dearest thing. Abraham believed that these dreams are a vision from God. Therefore he complies by sacrificing his various domesticated animals herds, but the dreams keep recurring, till he realizes that his dearest thing is his first born Ismail, who by then had grown up probably into his early teens. Abraham first shares his dream with his wife Hagar and with her consent divulges it to his son, who in turn being an obedient one obliges to be ‘slaughtered’ to the wish of God. Both father and son while on their way to the altar are dissuaded by Satan three times from their ‘holy’ mission. Each time, Abraham throws stones towards Satan to deter its pursuit. When both father and son are at the altar, Abraham covers the face of his son, Ismail and just before he could be slaughtered God commands Abraham to stop, that his sacrificial intention and effort has been accepted, and a ram instead replaces Ismail for the sacrifice. Ever since, the followers of Abraham and Ismail and later the pagan Arabs kept the symbolic sacrificial tradition alive. This practice continued after advent of Prophet Muhammad and is religiously followed in Islam to this date. Essentially, on the day of Eid-ul-Adha, at end of the Hajj, animals are sacrificed to commemorate the sacrifice of Abraham and Ismail. While performing Hajj, the pilgrims throw pebbles at the three symbols of Satan who had tried to deter the sacrificial act of Abraham.

The above account is eerily similar to that of Torah in which it is Isaac instead of Ismail. Abrahamic tradition of sacrifice as commonly believed begets the fundamental question – are Muslims following Torah in terms of a nonsensical slaughter of a son at the hands of his father; that too in the name of a God who needs offerings like Jews, Christians, Hindus and other religions; and above all the sacrifice of human flesh like gods of Incas, Aztecs, Mayas and others[3]; and all for what moral purpose? Does it not present a moral paradox that Satan was ethically right for the first and only time when it tried to stop Abraham, the prophet from a parricide? The account of Issac’s sacrifice in Torah is as follows:

Genesis 22:1-19. Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. [New International Version]

Among Muslims the misunderstanding of the said sacrifice emanates from misread of the following verses of Quran:

37:100. (And he prayed,) `My Lord! grant me (an issue who is) of the righteous.'

37:101. So We gave him the good tidings of (the birth of) a wise and forbearing son.

37:102. Now, when that (son, Ismâîl) was (old enough) to work along with him, (his father, Abraham) said, `My dear son! I have seen in a dream that I sacrifice you [Arabic: adhbaḥuka]. So consider (it and tell me) what you think (of it).' (The son) said, `My dear father! do as you are commanded. If Allâh will you will find me of the calm and steadfast.'

37:103. Now, (it so happened) when both of them submitted themselves (to the will of God) and he (- Abraham) had laid him (- Ismâîl) down on his forehead [–an act of prayer, submission],

37:104. We called out to him (saying), `O Abraham!

37:105. `You have already fulfilled the vision.' That is how We reward those who perform excellent deeds

37:106. That was obviously a disciplinary test (crowned with a mighty reward,)

37:107. And a great sacrifice was the ransom with which We redeemed him (- Ismâîl)..[4]

These verses bring to fore certain aspects in Quran that when clarified individually and then understood collectively expunge from minds the Torah like story of a potential human sacrifice.

The aspects touched upon by the incidence of Abraham and Ismail in Quran (verses 37:102-107) are – concept and spirit of sacrifice, test of Abraham, visions of Prophets, the actual sacrifice of Abraham and his family.

Concept of Sacrifice in nature:

The nature as understood by human experience provides a working example of concept of sacrifice outlined in Quran. The inanimate soil sacrifices itself to the plants, which in turn present themselves to animals. Each step of the way, a lower form in nature transforms into next higher and complex formation, till the time that it reaches the human stage. Not an atom is wasted in this food chain. Each atom becomes part of an ever intricate biochemistry and physiology. The inorganic elements transform into organic molecules. The inorganic carbon atoms rearrange themselves into carbon chains, benzene rings and a carboniferous life evolves along the way that has ever increasing volitional quality to it.

Concept of Sacrifice in humans:

Once through sacrifice lower forms reach the human stage, the only higher stages thereafter are the stages of human physicality, morality and spirituality. On the incremental ladder the next higher stage in humans is only achieved when one volitionally sacrifices the previous lower stage. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in his landmark lecture while answering certain questions brings to fore the said stages and their transitions outlined in Quran as follows[5]:

The first question relates to the physical, moral and spiritual conditions of man. The Quran observes this division by fixing three respective sources for this threefold condition of man, that is, three springs out of which these three conditions flow. The first of these in which the physical conditions of man take their birth is termed the nafs al-ammara which signifies the "uncontrollable spirit", or the "spirit prone to evil". Thus the Word God says: "Surely (man's) self is wont to command (him to do) evil"–12:53.

It is characteristic of the nafs al-ammara that it inclines man to evil, tends to lead him into iniquitous and immoral paths, and stands in the way of his attainment of perfection and moral excellence. Man's nature is prone to evil and transgression at a certain stage in his development, and so long as he is devoid of high moral qualities, this evil nature is predominant in him. He is subject to this state so long as he does not walk in the light of true wisdom and knowledge, but acts in obedience to the natural inclinations of eating, drinking, sleeping, becoming angry or excited, just like the lower animals.

As soon, however, as he frees himself from the control of animal passions and, guided by reason and knowledge, he holds the reins of his natural desires and governs them instead of being governed them when a transformation is worked in his soul from grossness to virtue he then passes out of the physical state and is a moral being in the strict sense of the word.

The source of the moral conditions of man is called, in the terminology of the Quran, the nafs al-lawwama, or the "self-accusing soul": "Nay, I swear by the self-accusing spirit !"[6]–75:2.

This is the spring from which flows a highly moral life and on reaching this stage, man is freed from bestiality. The swearing by the self-accusing soul indicates the regard in which it is held. For, the change from the disobedient to the self-accusing soul being a sure sign of its improvement and purification makes it deserving of approbation in the sight of the Almighty.

Lawwama literally means "one who reproves severely", and the nafs al-lawwama (self-accusing soul) has been so called because it upbraids a man for the doing of evil deeds and strongly hates up-bridled passions and bestial appetites. Its tendency, on the other hand, is to generate noble qualities and a virtuous disposition, to transform life so as to bring the whole course and conduct of it to moderation and to restrain the carnal passions and sensual desires so as to keep them within due bound.

Although, as stated above, the "self-accusing soul" upbraids itself for its faults and frailties, yet it is not the master of its passions, nor is it powerful enough to practice virtue exclusively. The weakness of the flesh has the upper hand sometimes, and then it stumbles and falls down. Its weakness then resembles that of a child who does not wish to fall but whose legs are sometimes unable to support him. It does not however, persist in its fault, every failure bringing a fresh reproach. At this stage, the soul is anxious to attain moral excellence and revolts against disobedience which is the characteristic of the first, or the animal stage, but does, notwithstanding its yearning for virtue, sometimes deviate from the line of duty.

The third or the last stage in the onward movement of the soul is reached on attaining to the source of all spiritual qualities. The soul at this stage is in the words of the Quran, the nafs al-mutmainna, or the "soul at rest": "O soul that art at rest, return to thy Lord, well-pleased, well-pleasing, so enter among My servants, and enter My Garden! – 89:27-30.

The soul is now freed from all weaknesses and frailties and is braced with spiritual strength. It is perfectly united with God and cannot live without Him. As water flows with great force down a slope and on account of its great mass and the total absence of all obstacles, dashes down with irresistible force, so does the soul at this stage, casting off all trammels, flow unrestrained towards its Maker.

It is further clear from the words "soul that art at rest with thy Lord, return to Him" that it is in this life, and not after death, that this great transformation is worked and that it is in this world, and not elsewhere, that access to paradise is granted to it. Again, as the soul has been commanded to return to its Master, it is clear that such a soul finds its support only in its Supporter. The love of God is its food, and it drinks deep at this fountain of life and is therefore, delivered from death. The same idea is expressed elsewhere: "He is indeed successful who causes it to grow, and he indeed fails who buries it" – 91:9-10.

In short, these three states of the soul may be called the physical, the moral and the spiritual states of man, Of these, the physical state that in which man seeks to satisfy the passions of the flesh is most dangerous when the passions run riot, for it is then that they deal a death-blow to the moral and spiritual qualities of man, and hence this state has been termed the "disobedient spirit” in the Holy Word of God.

Concept of animal sacrifice:

Islam means submission. All rituals in Islam including daily prayers, fasting, hajj (pilgrimage) and zakat (charity) essentially formalize this ‘submission’ of hearts in outward physical actions as well because body and soul are inseparable and mutually influence each other. This relationship between body and soul can be experienced in a common example – when one’s “soul cries” it manifests itself physically as tearful eyes; a smile “warms a heart.” Similarly, five time daily prayers rekindle the prayerful state that a Muslim lives throughout the day. In this formalization, prostration in payer is the penultimate act of physical submission which naturally creates humbleness of soul before the Almighty. On the reverse, a humbled soul naturally yearns for a physical prostration as well i.e. both body and soul are in total submission. In the same manner, the sacrifice of an animal is symbolic formalization of sacrificing the animal-self as discussed in the lecture above. Further, the sacrificed animal is to be consumed for good of mankind and not be offered as a burnt offering like in Torah:

22:36. We have made the sacrificial animals among the Symbols appointed by Allâh for you. They are of immense good to you. So (whenever you offer them for sacrifice do it) in the name of Allâh (while they) stand (drawn up) in lines. When their flanks collapse, (on being slaughtered), eat from (the meat of) them and feed him who is (in need but) contented and him who begs. In this way We have made these (animals) subservient to you so that you may render thanks.

Unlike Torah, the sacrifice of an animal in Quran is NOT done to please God, Who is beyond all imagined needs. Once the animal-self is annihilated only then can the righteousness take root in oneself:

22:37. It is neither their flesh nor their blood (of these sacrifices) which matters to Allâh but it is guarding against evil and devotion to duty on your part that matters to Him…There does not reach Allah their flesh nor their blood, but to Him is acceptable righteousness…[7]

Spirit of Sacrifice:

“Quran presented the true concept of sacrifice. It is that God does not need anything from man. The Quran says:

“He (God) feeds and is not fed” (6:14),

“I (God) desire no sustenance from them, nor do I desire that they should feed Me.” (51:57)

What God wants is for you to sacrifice your lower and material desires for a higher purpose. We all want to have physical comforts and to satisfy our material desires, but God tells us that for our moral and spiritual progress, for the betterment of our character, and to make us real human beings, there are times when we must sacrifice, willingly and voluntarily, some of our material possessions for a good cause.

The sacrifice of the animal that is carried out is an expression of our willingness to sacrifice our own animal desires. The Quran clearly says that it is not the flesh nor the blood of the animal that reaches God, but the dutifulness on your part. The sacrifice is accepted if it leads you to be more dutiful, to make a sacrifice of your own self and not of just the animal.” [8]

Test of Abraham by God:

While trying to impress upon believers the heart wrenching test and obedience of Abraham and Ismail to God, the synthesized story creates contradictions of its own. For example:

Firstly, it begets a fundamental question, i.e. did not God know the depths of the minds of Abraham and Ismail for which He allegedly had to put them to test for such an inhuman effort? Whereas, on the contrary Quran states:

35:38. Verily, Allâh knows the hidden realities of the heavens and the earth. He knows full well the innermost secret of the minds (of the people).[9]

64:4. He knows whatever lies in the heavens and the earth and He knows what you conceal and what you do publicly. Allâh knows the innermost thoughts of the hearts.[10]

Secondly, to begin with, was not Ismail an innocent potential victim? Whereas, Quran forbids victimizing the innocent and no one can be killed unless for the sake of justice, a condition that does not fit in case of Ismail:

6:151. Say, `…(Allâh has also enjoined upon you that you) … that you kill no soul which Allâh has made sacred, except in the cause of justice.’ This has He enjoined you with, so that you may (learn to) abstain (from evil).[11]

Thirdly, planning to kill an innocent is contrary to character of Abraham, because according to Quran even a follower of Abraham is a doer of good to others, and the doer of good to others does not kill the innocent:

4:125. And who is better in faith than one who submits his whole attention to Allâh and he is a doer of good to others and follows the religion of Abraham, the upright? And Allâh had taken Abraham for a special friend.[12]

Fourth, for Ismail, a future prophet with his own subsequent mission of a life full of sacrifice, for him to accede to his own killing without a cause, it runs contrary to injunction of Quran where there is a clear commandment against self-immolation:

2:195. … do not cast yourselves to destruction with your own hands…[13]

Fifth, for Abraham to kill his own innocent son would be violation of Divine will:

4:29. O you who believe…do not kill your people…[14]

Sixth, such an infantile test to kill one’s innocent son does not fit the man of a high stature and a prophet of the like of Abraham who had already passed much greater tests of putting his own personal life at risk for his mission of prophet-hood at the hands of Nimrod and the clergy in Mesopotamia. Quran confers the status of Imam to Abraham for good of the people, which includes the good for his own son Ismail as well. By any moral standards, killing of an innocent son is not good:

2:124. (Recall) when his Lord put Abraham to test with certain commandments, so he carried them out. (God) said, `Verily, I will make you an Imâm (- a religious leader) for the good of the people.' (Abraham) said (inquiringly), `And from among my progeny (too, do You promise to raise leaders)?' (God) said, `(Yes, but) My (this) covenant does not embrace the wrongdoers.'[15]

Seventh, it is not even in the very nature of Abraham to imagine hurting anyone, be it his own son, as exemplified by the following verses where he even pleads for forgiveness of the transgressing people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who were soon to face the Divine wrath for their evil ways of life:

11:74. And when awe departed from Abraham and the good tidings came to him, he started pleading with Us for the people of Lot.

11:75. Surely, Abraham was gentle, tender-hearted and oft-returning (to Us).[16]

Abraham is a highly regarded Prophet in Quran which can be inferred from the following sample verses:

2:135. And they (the Jews and the Christians respectively) said, `Be Jews or be Christians, then you shall be on the right course.' Say, `Nay, but (ours is) the faith of Abraham, the upright, and he was not of the polytheist.'[17]

3:67. Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was upright who had submitted (to the will of God), and he was not one of the polytheists.

3:68. The people nearest to Abraham are surely those who followed him (in the days of his prophethood) and this Prophet and those who believe (in him). Indeed, Allâh is the Patron of the believers.[18]

6:161. Say, `As for me, surely my Lord has guided me to the exact straight path, the ever true faith, the creed of Abraham the upright, and he was not of the polytheists.' [19]

16:120. The truth of the matter is that Abraham was a paragon of virtue; obedient to Allâh, upright, and he was not of the polytheists,

16:121. Highly thankful for His favours. He chose him and guided him on to the exact right path.

16:122. And We granted him great success (and all comforts) of this life, and in the Hereafter he is most surely among the righteous.

16:123. Again, (Prophet! to complete Our favours on Abraham) We have revealed to you (saying), `Follow the creed of Abraham (who was an) upright, (devotee of God) and was not of the polytheists.'[20]

Essentially, the message given to Prophet Muhammad is same that was given to Abraham, which makes sense in that spiritual and moral needs of whole human race are the same and the prophets came into the world to full fill these very needs of mankind:

2:136. Say, `We believe in Allâh and in that (the Qur'ân) which has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham, Ismâîl, Isaac, Jacob and his children, and what was given to Moses and Jesus and (we believe) in what was given to (all other) Prophets from their Lord. We (while believing in them) make no discrimination between anyone of them, and to Him do we submit ourselves entirely.'[21]

Since the message is the same for all the prophets, then Abraham had to conform to same moral standards that Quran advocates. Unlike pagan rituals, human sacrifice has no place in Islam. Under Islamic standards it is totally absurd to even think of killing an innocent human and that too of children:

6:137. Just (as their associate-gods turned the polytheists away from Allâh) so did they make (even so monstrous a deed as) the killing of their children seem fair to a large number of the polytheists, with the result that they ruin them and that they obscure for them their religion. And if Allâh had (enforced) His will they would not have done so, so leave them alone and that what they forge.

6:140. Certainly, they suffer a loss (those) who kill their children in folly (and) ignorance, and forbid (themselves) what Allâh has provided for them; forging lies in the name of Allâh. They have indeed gone astray and they are not rightly guided.[22]

It becomes obvious that the make believe slaughtering story creates contradiction against the spirit of Quran. Prophets are not tested by God by them killing others. They are tested by their missions that they undertake in which they themselves could be persecuted and even threatened to be killed by the opposition to their message:

5:70. Surely, We took a covenant from the Children of Israel and We sent Messengers to them. Every time there came to them a Messenger with that (Message) which did not suit their fanciful desires, (they defied him so that) some they treated as liars and others they sought to kill.[22a]

Visions of Prophets:

Fact is that Prophets are recipients of visions, but there is no confusion for them in those visions, else it could be construed that the medium of Divine communication is flawed. A vision is essentially a prophecy about a future event and not a commandment that is conveyed in a revelation (wahy). A vision is allegorically veiled in symbols and it is within the capacity of prophets to interpret it for its actual meanings.

For example, in the following verses, Joseph while still young of age and much before his prophethood sees certain symbols in his vision that he cannot comprehend and discloses it to his father, Jacob (v. 12:4). Whereas, Jacob, the prophet, fully interprets his son’s prophecy (v. 12:5, 12:101), which finally fulfills later during the life of both when, Joseph, as a grown up and an established prophet is in the high office of the king and his brothers, who had earlier abandoned him, submit in his presence (v. 12:99-100):

12:4. (Remember the time) when Joseph said to his father, `My dear father! I have seen (in a vision) eleven stars and the sun and the moon. I saw them falling down prostrate (before God) because of me.'

12:5. He said, `My dear son! relate not your vision to your brothers lest they should intrigue against you, for satan is to a human being an enemy disuniting.

12:99. And when they all came to Joseph he betook his parents to himself for a restful lodging (making them his personal guests) and said, `Enter the city, if Allâh will, you shall always be safe and secure.'

12:100. And he took his parents to the royal court and they all fell down prostrate (before God) because of him and he said, `My father! this is the real fulfillment of my vision of old. My Lord has made it come true. He has been gracious to me, indeed, when he released me out of the prison and brought you from the desert. (This all happened) after satan had stirred up discord between me and my brothers. Surely, my Lord is Benignant to whomsoever He pleases. He it is, Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.'

12:101. (Addressing his Lord, Joseph then said,) `My Lord! You have bestowed a part of the sovereignty upon me and it is You Who have imparted me true knowledge of the significance of (divine) sayings. O You, the Originator of the heavens and the earth! You alone are my Patron in this world and the Hereafter. Let it be that I die in a state of complete submission (to You), let it be that I join the righteous.'[23]

Dreams of non-prophets can be confusing to the recipients because they are hidden in allegory and symbolism, for example, the king of Egypt at the time of Joseph saw one:

12:43. Now (it so happened that one day) the king said, `I saw (in a dream) seven fat kine which seven lean ones were eating, and seven green ears of corn and (as many) others withered. You nobles of the court! explain to me the real significance of my dream if you can interpret dreams.'

12:44. They said, `(These are) confused dreams and we do not know the interpretation of such confused dreams.'[24]

For prophets, dreams are clear messages and prophecies that they can interpret not only for themselves but even for others that we see when Joseph interpreted king’s dream:

12:45 And of the two (prisoners) the one who had got his release and who (now) recalled (Joseph) to his mind after a long time, said, `I will inform you of its (true) interpretation, therefore send me (for the purpose to Joseph in prison).'

12:46 (So he [-the released prisoner] went to Joseph in the prison and exclaimed,) `Joseph, you, the man of truth, explain to us the (real) significance of (a dream in which) seven fat kine which seven lean ones devour; and (of) seven green ears of corn and as many others withered, so that I may return to the people and they may know (the interpretation and thereby your exalted position).'

12:47. He (- Joseph) replied, `You shall sow for seven years working hard and continuously and let what you have harvested remain in its ear excepting a little whereof you may eat.

12:48. `Then there shall follow seven (years of famine) of great severity (and) these (years) shall consume all the stores you have laid by in advance for them except a little which you may have preserved.

12:49. `Then, thereafter shall come a year of rains in which people shall be relieved and in which (season) they will press (fruit and seeds).'[25]

Similarly, Abraham saw an impending sacrifice of his son which he shares with him. Once both are in agreement to undertake the mission that required to live in Makkah and build the Kaaba, both bow down before God in a thanksgiving prostration. This mission was no less than a lifelong undertaking and a sacrifice for the son to make the desolate Paran as home:

37:102. Now, when that (son, Ismâîl) was (old enough) to work along with him, (his father, Abraham) said, `My dear son! I have seen in a dream that I sacrifice you [Arabic: adhbaḥuka]. So consider (it and tell me) what you think (of it).' (The son) said, `My dear father! do as you are commanded. If Allâh will you will find me of the calm and steadfast.'

37:103. Now, (it so happened) when both of them submitted themselves (to the will of God) and he (- Abraham) had laid him (- Ismâîl) down on his forehead [–an act of prayer, submission],[26]

Sacrifice of Abraham, Lot, Sarah, Hagar and Ismail – an example to be followed in spirit, individually and collectively:

As a prelude to the discussion about ‘sacrifice’ of Ismail, reader must keep in mind that Ismail was the grandson of Pharaoh of Egypt through his mother, Hagar (– the Egyptian princess[27]). The mere notion to choose to live forever in the arid Makkah for the cause of monotheism instead of the royal abode that Ismail was entitled to by inheritance in Levant/Egypt[27a], is no less than a lifelong sacrifice that he submitted to in fulfilment of vision of his father, Abraham. Thus Abraham ‘sacrificed’ his son and the dutiful son submitted to that ‘sacrifice.’

Similar to Jacob, Abraham, the prophet, too would have interpreted the vision that he saw about his son in some future sacrifice of theirs. If it was supposed to be the actual slaughter of Ismail in the dream or vision of Abraham, then at least in the said verses 37:102-107, it did not happen. In Quran there is no mention of slaughter, slaughtering instrument or the ram replacing the son for slaughter, whereas all of that we find only in Torah (Genesis 22:1-19). With this line of thinking a natural question arises about the verse 37:105. If it was a slaughter, then there is a contradiction for the mere fact that Quran states You have already fulfilled the vision (v. 37:105), which Abraham did not because the slaughter did not happen. The key words are already fulfilled the vision, i.e. Abraham had fulfilled some mission already.

37:106. That was obviously a disciplinary test (crowned with a mighty reward,)

37:107. And a great sacrifice was the ransom with which We redeemed him (- Ismâîl).[28]

Obviously, both father and son did pass some disciplinary test with a great sacrifice that we see in secular history in which Abraham under Divine guidance and vision had to relocate from Palestine/Levant to the desert of Makkah (–Paran[29]), to be specific mount Marwah (–Moriah[30]), which is a hillock next to Kaaba, a desolate place. Ismail who is still young, consents to live permanently in Arabia with his parents and essentially sacrifices his whole life for the Divine Mission and to establish monotheism, an ever-lasting spiritual sacrifice with its virtuous returns to this day:

37:108. And We left behind him (- Abraham) among the succeeding generations (the noble salutation to invoke blessings upon him).[31]

37:109. `Peace be upon Abraham!'

37:110. Thus indeed do We reward those who perform excellent deeds.[32]

Yes! the succeeding generations after Abraham and his son Ismail and his wife Hagar, pay homage to the sacrifice of the noble family by travelling from far and wide, on foot, by air and by sea, and by any means of any transport they congregate in Makkah during the annual pilgrimage of Hajj in the manner this noble family walked from Levant to Makkah:

22:27. (Prophet!) call on people to make the Pilgrimage, they will come to you on foot and riding on all sorts of lean and fast (means of transport), coming from every distant deep highway (and mount track).[33]

The pilgrims run between mounts Saffa and Marwah in the footsteps of the mother (–Hagar searching for water, back forth, for his infant, Ismail, till she finds the spring of Zamzam that flows till this day) and pray towards and circumambulate the Kaaba that the father and son later built as the everlasting symbol of Unity of God:

2:158. The Safa and the Marwah are truly among the signs of Allah*; so whoever makes a pilgrimage to the House or pays a visit (to it), there is no blame on him if he goes round them. And whoever does good spontaneously — surely Allah is Bountiful in

rewarding, Knowing.[34]

22:26. And (recall the time) when We assigned to Abraham the site of the (Holy) House (bidding him), `Associate none with Me and keep My House clean and pure for those who (go round it to) perform the circuits and for those who stay in it (for worshipping Me) devotedly, and for those who bow down, (and) fall prostrate (in Prayer before Me).'[35]

The pilgrims culminate their spiritual journey with a thanksgiving sacrifice and festivity of slaughtering of animals. It is the symbolic sacrifice for annihilation of the animal-self that they had been actively pursuing all along when they left the comforts of their homes, bore the anguish of travel for weeks and months and had been walking for days in and around Makkah under the scorching sun while covered in only two pieces of unstitched cloth and bowing in unison, shoulder to shoulder next to each other while eliminating all racial, gender or economic divides among themselves. Before the slaughter of animals, they also symbolically throw pebbles at the symbols of Satan to expunge its influences on the minds for the rest of their lives. Towards the end of the pilgrimage, men shave their heads to remove even the last vestige of difference that might emerge from outward appearance between people. The purpose of Hajj is to achieve the unity of mankind under Unity of God and a rebirth of the soul which is free of any blemishes and has a rekindled vigor centered on pristine monotheism in full manifestation of Kalima – ‘There is no God, but Allah, Muhamad is his Messenger’ in every sphere of their remaining lives and the lives they will influence.

This tradition to circumambulate the Kaaba is kept alive by Muslims all over the world when they pray five times daily towards the same House built by father and son. Those who cannot travel to Makkah for Hajj, they celebrate the traditions of the sacred family by performing special Eid-ul-Azha prayers in open grounds in large congregations and sacrifice animals that they enjoy in a festive mood and distribute them as charity. They invoke blessings on Abraham, his family and his creed in each set of daily prayers and the prayers they recite otherwise.

If for a moment we accept that Abraham misinterpreted his dream or the vision in the manner that is attributed to him of trying to actually slaughter his son, then is it not a shame that the whole Islamic world in history and the present had been celebrating, year after year, for fourteen hundred years the ‘mistake’ of the prophet’s interpretation of a vision? Nay, never can a human error of understanding and interpreting a prophecy be a celebrated institution. Rather, it is should be a moment to overlook the error of human judgment.

Yes! `Peace be upon Abraham!' (37:109) and his family who left behind for the world the ultimate personal examples of sacrifices when Abraham, his first wife Sarah and his nephew Lot first fled the persecution first from Iraq to Levant in fulfillment of a vision for establishment of monotheism that we see in the Judaic chain of prophets, the descendants of Abraham and Isaac.

Yes! `Peace be upon Abraham!' and his family – Abraham, his second wife Hagar who moved from Levant to barren Makkah and his first born Ismail who chose to live in Makkah, only with one purpose and that was to uphold and institute the pristine monotheism in letter and spirit and built its symbol, the Kaaba. The Kaaba was subsequently restored to represent perfect and universalized monotheism to this day and till the end of times by Prophet Muhammad, the descendent of Abraham and Ismail:

43:28. And he (- Abraham) made it (- the Divine Unity) a word to abide (as a permanent legacy) among his posterity, so that they might turn (to One God).[36]

Of note is that first migration of Abraham from Mesopotamia to Levant was to escape persecution:

37:97-99. (His opponents) said, `Build up a pyre for him and throw him into the blazing fire.' Thus they designed a plan against him, but We made them to be the most humiliated. (Abraham) said, `I shall go where my Lord bids me. He will surely guide me right (to the path leading to success in my mission).'[37]

It is this sacrifice of Abraham’s own sacrifice that Quran acknowledges that he had already done before the sacrificial life-mission of Ismail begins:

37:104. We called out to him (saying), `O Abraham!

37:105. `You have already fulfilled the vision.' That is how We reward those who perform excellent deeds.[38]

The import of above verses is the next defining moment of Abraham’s ongoing efforts in service of monotheism when he is about to embark on his second mission that needed from his wife Hagar and their son Ismail the sacrifice of their comforts to establish Kaaba. It is the culmination of the vision of Abraham and actual lifelong sacrifice of his son Ismail that we see in the prayers of Abraham in which he acknowledges the settlement of his family in the barren valley of Makkah:

14:35. (Recall the time) when Abraham said, `My Lord, make this (would be) city (of Makkah) secure and a haven of peace, and keep me and my children away from worshipping idol.

14:37. `Our Lord! I have settled some of my children [excluding Sarah and Isaac who were left behind in Levant] in an uncultivable valley (of Makkah), in the vicinity of your Holy House. Our Lord! (I have done) so that they may observe prayer. Then make the hearts of the people incline towards them and provide them with fruits so that they may always give thanks.

14:39. `All true and perfect praise belongs to Allâh Who has given me despite my old age (two sons) – Ismâîl and Isaac. My Lord is of course, the Hearer of prayers.[39]

Other views…

Refuting the myth of attempted slaughter described at beginning of this chapter, Shabbir Ahmed in his translation of Quran has the following narration:

37:100. (Abraham migrated to Syria and prayed), “My Lord! Grant me a healthy child.”

37:101. So We gave him the good news of a clement son (Ismail ).

37:102. And when he was old enough to strive along with him, Abraham said, “O My dear son! I have a vision that I must give you to a life of test and tribulation for a Noble cause (37:107). So look, what do you think?” He said, “O My father! Do what you are commanded. God willing, you will find me of the steadfast.” [Zibh and Zabh = Sacrifice = Disregard comfort for a Noble cause. Just as Qatl = To subdue, kill, fight, humiliate, bring low]

37:103. As both of them had surrendered themselves (to God), he made Ismail further submit in gratitude.[Contrary to popular tradition, Abraham never envisioned or intended to slaughter his son. God does not play games with His servants. Literal ‘forehead to ground’ = complete submission in gratitude]

37:104. We called unto him, “O Abraham!

37:105. You have already affirmed the vision. We – This is so – We must reward the doers of good.”

37:106. This was a trial, clear in itself. [Leaving the prestigious office of Chief Priesthood in Babylon and now the comfort of Syria for the wilderness of Makkah]

37:107. We exchanged his life for a Momentous Sacrifice. [Please notice here the absence of the Biblical and the traditional myth of a ‘ram’ sent from the heavens. Also, note that slaughtering of a sheep or goat, by no means, can be considered a Momentous Sacrifice. 14:37, 37:102][40]

As regards to pilgrims stoning the Satan during the Hajj, if for a moment it is accepted to be true that it is done in memory of Abraham stoning the Satan who tried to dissuade him from slaughtering his son, and prevented a murder, then at least in secular logic for once Satan and God were on the same side of morality, which is impossible. Shabbir Ahmed in his translation of the Quran explains it quite logically in Author's Note and Footnote to the Surah Feel:

… As we have seen in the history of the Empire of Sheba (Surahs An-Naml 27, Saba 34, and Qaaf 50), the Kingdom of Sheba had collapsed in 115 BC. They were overtaken by the Himairis who ruled until 300 CE when other tribes overtook the control of Yemen. They were in turn defeated by the Christian Kingdom of Ethipoia-Abyssinia when they invaded Yemen in 525 CE. Abrahah was then appointed Viceroy of Yemen. The Roman and the Abyssinian Christians longed for converting the idolaters of Arabia to Christianity. They also sought control of the trade routes between Arabia, Persia and the Western Roman Empire. They saw Ka’bah in Makkah as a hindrance to their imperialistic and religious designs. Abrahah, the Viceroy of Yemen made a smart move. Between 550 and 555 CE he built a gorgeous cathedral EKKLESIA in San’aa, Yemen, and invited people and neighboring countries to come for pilgrimage there instead of going to Makkah. When Ekklesia remained unpopular, Abrahah decided to invade Makkah and demolish the Ka’bah. Since he correctly anticipated the presence of hostile tribes en-route, he came up with a 60,000 Strong army aided by thousands of horses, camels and thirteen elephants … As Abrahah’s army approached Makkah, the Makkans who had been alerted by some travelers beforehand, saw flocks of birds that normally fly over caravans in search for food. The Makkans mounted the hills around and threw stones on the troops. The elephants, and in turn, other rides panicked and trampled the soldiers. This incident took place in 570 CE when the exalted Messenger was born. The event carried such significance that the Arabs, in their Calendar, marked it as the “Year of the Elephant” (‘Aam-il-Feel) as a point of reference in history… Three Arabs had guided Abrahah on his way to Makkah through the desert. The pre-Islamic Makkans humiliated the traitors and made out three statutes of them in today's plains of Mina outside Makkah. Then they used to stone those statues every year at the time of Pilgrimage. This ritual was 'Islamized' by Muslim historians naming them as three places where the 'Satan' tried to prompt Prophet Abraham to defy God's command to 'sacrifice' his son. And so, to this day during Pilgrimage, Muslims stone the three pillars calling them the Great, the Medium, and the Small Satan!


[1] par·ri·cide: noun \ˈpa-rə-ˌsīd\
1[Latin parricida killer of a close relative, from parri- (perhaps akin to Greek pēos kinsman by marriage) + -cida -cide] : one that murders his or her father, mother, or a close relative
2[Latin parricidium murder of a close relative, from parri- + -cidium -cide] : the act of a parricide
[2] “Sacrifice of Abraham” by Dr. Zahid Aziz, The Light & Islamic Review May – June 1998.
[3] Human Sacrifice – Wikipedia. Link:
[4] Al-Saffat – Those Ranging in Ranks: Nooruddin
[5] “The Teachings of Islam, a Solution of Five Fundamental Religious Problems from the Muslim Point of View”, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, p. 1-2, translated into English by Maulana Muhammad Ali – It was read at the Great Religious Conference held at Lahore (Punjab) in December 1896 by Maulvi Abdul Karim. The paper discusses from a Muslim's point of view the five subjects selected for discussion by the conveners of the conference. These five subjects related to (1) the physical, moral and spiritual conditions of man, (2) the state of man in the after-life, (3) the real object of the existence of man and the means of its attainment, (4) the effect of actions in the present life and the life to come, and (5) the sources of Divine knowledge.- pages 22-27, 1968 Edition. Link:
[6] [footnote from original publication] I. That is, on every dereliction of duty or on the slightest act of disobedience, being conscious of having offended.
[7] Al-Hajj – The Pilgrimage: Nooruddin
[8] “Sacrifice of Abraham” by Dr. Zahid Aziz, The Light & Islamic Review May – June 1998.
[9] Fatir – Originator: Nooruddin
[10] Al-Taghâbun – Manifestation of Loss: Nooruddin
[11]Al-Anam – The Cattle: Nooruddin.
[12] Al-Nisa – The Women: Nooruddin
[13] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[14] Al-Nisa – Women: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[15] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
[16] Hud – Hud: Nooruddin
[17] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
[18] Al- Imran – The Family of Amran: Nooruddin
[19] Al-Anam – The Cattle: Nooruddin.
[20] Al-Nahl – The Bee: Nooruddin
[21] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
[22] Al-Anam – The Cattle: Nooruddin.

[22a] Al-Maidah – The Table Spread with Food: Nooruddin.
[23] Yusuf – Joseph: Nooruddin
[24] Yusuf – Joseph: Nooruddin
[25] Yusuf – Joseph: Nooruddin
[26] Al-Saffat – Those Ranging in Ranks: Nooruddin
[27] Hagar: Family Connections—While the Bible gives us no record of Hagar’s genealogy, legend has supplied her pedigree, as being the daughter of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, the same who coveted the possession of Sarah in vain. This legendary source affirms that the Egyptian princess became so attached to Sarah that she told her royal father that she would accompany her when she returned to Abraham. “What!” cried the king, “thou wilt be no more than a handmaid to her!” “Better to be a handmaid in the tents of Abraham than a princess in this palace,” the daughter replied.[Link:]
[27a] Wikipedia: Levant [Link:]

[28] Al-Saffat – Those Ranging in Ranks: Nooruddin
[29] Genesis 21:19-21. Then God opened her [–Hagar’s ] eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy [–Ishmael] a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran[–Makkah], his mother got a wife for him from Egypt. [New International Version]
[30] Genesis 22:2. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” [New International Version]
[31] Al-Saffat – Those Ranging in Ranks: Nooruddin
[32] Al-Saffat – Those Ranging in Ranks: Nooruddin
[33] Al-Hajj – The Pilgrimage: Nooruddin
[34] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz[*Footnote: The Safa and the Marwah are two mountains near Makkah. They were the scene of Hagar’s running to and fro in quest of water when left alone with Ishmael in the wilderness. These two mountains now serve as two monuments of the reward which patience brought, and it is as a memorial to Hagar’s patience that they are now gone round by the pilgrims.]
[35] Al-Hajj – The Pilgrimage: Nooruddin
[36] Al-Zukhruf – The Ornaments: Noorudin
[37] Al-Saffat – Those Ranging in Ranks: Nooruddin
[38] Al-Saffat – Those Ranging in Ranks: Nooruddin
[39] Ibrahim – Abraham: Nooruddin
[40] As-Saffaat – Soldiers in Ranks: Shabbir Ahmed

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