What is the truth about Abraham’s Sacrifice? Who was the sacrifice for? Who was the dream that Abraham had from? Before going into the details of this subject, the reader is requested to put aside all his/her preconceptions about this issue and verify the subject purely on the merit of the Quranic evidence.
We read in Sura 37 how Abraham had a dream in which he saw himself slaughtering his son (Ismail). However, there is nothing in the Quran that says that the dream was from God:
[37:102] Then when he was old enough to work with him, he said, “My son, I see in a dream that I am slaughtering you, so take a look, what do you see?” He said, “O my father, do what you are commanded to do. You will find me, God willing, patient.”
[37:103] Then when they both submitted and he placed his forehead on the ground.
[37:104] We called him, “O Abraham,
[37:105] you have believed the dream?” Thus, We surely reward the good doers.
[37:106] This was an exacting test.
[37:107] We made a concession for him in place of a great slaughter.
[37:108] And We preserved his history for those who followed.
[37:109] Peace be upon Abraham.
[37:110] We thus reward the good doers.
[37:111] He was one of Our believing servants.
It is decreed very clearly in the Quran that killing an innocent believing soul is a great sin:
“No believer shall kill another believer, unless it is an accident…. ” 4:92
“And the one who kills a believer intentionally, his penalty is Hell, wherein he forever remains. God is unhappy with him, has cursed him, and has prepared for him a severe punishment. ” 4:93
We also know that God never advocates sin:
” …… Say, “God never advocates sin. Are you saying about God what you do not know?” 7:28
If we put these 3 important facts side by side, we know that Ismail was a good believer, thus killing him would be a sin, and we know that God never advocates sin. The truth becomes clear; the dream Abraham had was not from God but from Satan.
But because Abraham was a righteous believer “We thus reward the good doers” God intervened and saved Abraham from falling for Satan’s trick. God intervened when Abraham failed to correctly interpret the source of the vision. This is indicated from God’s words to Abraham “you have believed the dream?” God intervened and saved Abraham from committing a great slaughter (37:107) and a great sin (4:93).
Now let us look into the traditional Islamic interpretation of this event. What Muslim scholars claim is that God commanded Abraham to kill his son Ismail so as to test him. In other words, God wished to find out if Abraham loved his son more than he loved God! They then add that when God was assured that Abraham loved Him more than his own son, and just before Abraham slaughtered his son, God substituted a sheep in place of Ishmael to prevent the slaughter.
To expose this naive and totally irrational claim, let us consider the following analogy:
Suppose you have a 10 year old son and you taught him all his life that stealing is wrong and that he should never steal any money whatever the reason may be. Now suppose that one day you wish to test your son, would you test him by commanding him to go and steal some money for you? Would you command your son to do what you taught him all his life not to do, even if you want to see how much he loves you?
Obviously not! Similarly God decreed in the Quran (and in all scripture) that killing an innocent soul is a great sin. Ismail was innocent and was a good believer, he committed no sin to be killed.
God would never test Abraham by commanding him to do something that has always been decreed by God to be a great sin.
This is the message in 7:28: God would never advocate sin.
Those who read 7:28 yet still insist that God commanded Abraham to commit a sin are no more than hypocrites who say they believe the Quran but in actual fact they dont. It is no more than lip service.
Indeed God tests all of us, but God tests us in upholding His commandments, and not in breaking them!
Moreover, the concept of sacrifices for God is a corrupt concept that has crept into the Old Testament. It is totally without any Quranic support. Nowhere in the Quran do we read of God asking us to offer sacrifices for Him.
It must be noted that the animal offering (which is one of the genuine rituals of Hajj) is not in any way connected to the dream of Abraham. The following verse confirms that the animal sacrifice is a genuine ritual of Hajj, also that this animal offering is not done ‘for God’, but it is done for the benefit of the people:
“The animal offerings are among the rites decreed for you by God.” 22:36
“Neither their meat, nor their blood reaches God. What reaches Him is your reverence.” 22:37
By reading the words: “Neither their meat, nor their blood reaches God. What reaches Him is your reverence” it becomes clear that the ritual of animal offering during Hajj is not done because God is in need of sacrifice, but they are done for our own good. Such offerings, given to the poor and needy, are given to make us more righteous, and not because God is in need of any sacrifice. Plus the added benefit of feeding poor people with the meat of the sacrificed animals.
Perhaps the most glaring misunderstanding is a result of the mis-interpretation of 37:107. According to the traditional interpretations, largely based on a hadith point of view, it is claimed that God saved Ismail by substituting a sheep in his place. However, when we examine the relevant Quranic verses we find no justification or any evidence for such an understanding. When we look at 37:107 we note that the verse is made of three words, they are:
1- Fadaynah: The word fidya is used in the Quran to mean a concession, it does not mean sacrifice. The whole concept of sacrifice for God, or for that matter God sacrificing for the human is totally un-Quranic. To demonstrate the correct Quranic use of the word fidya, we refer to the following:
“………and for those who are ill, or suffering a head injury, “fa fidya” (you are given a concession) by fasting, or giving to charity, or by observing a worship ritual.” 2:196.
As we can see, the word “Fidya” as used in 2:196 cannot mean sacrifice. This verse speaks of our rites during Hajj and specifically of obeying God’s command not to shave our heads until the completion of the animal offering ritual. If we are ill or have a head injury (and we are forced to keep our heads shaved) then we are given a concession (not sacrifice) by fasting or giving to charity in place of the ritual we are not able to observe. We observe our rituals (or the given concessions) as an act of obedience to God and not as a sacrifice we give to God!
2- B’Zhabh: This word means: in place of a slaughter. The traditional Muslim thought depicts a sheep that God gave Abraham to slaughter in place of Ismail, but the Quran does not speak of any sheep or any animal being given! The only slaughter spoken of in connection to this incident is that Abraham was about to slaughter Ismail.
This leads us to believe that the word Zhabh in 37:107 refers to the slaughter of Ismail which was about to take place, and not to a sheep or any other animal that is not mentioned in these verses. This fact is further supported by the fact that the word “Azhbahak” which is used in 37:102 refers to the slaughtering of Ismail, so why should we interpret the same word in 37:107 to be speaking about an imaginary animal that is never mentioned in any of these verses?
3- Azeem: the word Azeem can mean any of the following: great, disastrous or tragic.
When we put the three words together we find the picture totally different from the traditional interpretation of this verse. The three words together say that God made a great concession of intervening (Fidyah) to prevent the disastrous (azeem) slaughter (Zhabh) which Abraham was about to commit.
The traditional interpretation that God substituted a sheep in place of Ishmael does not really justify it being called a “great slaughrer“! What is so great about slaughtering a sheep?
But if the slaughter correctly refers to the intended slaughter of Ishmael then this would have indeed been a grave disastrous error on the part of Abraham.
The concession from God to prevent this slaughter was to save Abraham from sin and also to save Ismail from having his head chopped off. God does not normally intervene to save anyone from committing sin, so the intervention at that time was a concession from God. The reason God intervened is given in 37:110-111:
“We thus reward the good doers. He is one of Our believing servants.”
This is not any different from the time when God intervened to save Joseph from committing adultery with his master’s wife (12:24). Once again, it was the devil who whispered to Joseph to commit the sin of adultery and not God, but God made a concession (of intervening) to save Joseph from sin. When the devil inspires any other human to commit adultery or any other sin, God does not normally intervene to save the human from sin. God gives the human the law of right and wrong and God gives the human the freedom for choosing right from wrong for himself, and this is exactly why God calls the intervention to save Abraham a concession.
If it has been established that the dream Abraham had could not be from God, then who could it have been from? Without question it could only have been from the one who always advocates sin:
“The devil promises you poverty and commands you to commit evil, while God promises you forgiveness from Him and grace. God is Immense, Knowledgeable.” 2:268
God gave us the facts of this matter in black and white. Therefore whoever insists after all this Quranic information that the dream of Abraham was from God, would be in fact rejecting numerous Quranic verses.