Divine Revelations or Borrowed Tales? Exploring Abraham's Sacrifice in the Bible and Quran

Jewish and Christian religious scholars accuse Prophet Muhammad of stealing stories mentioned in the Quran from the Bible with his editing.

Muslim scholars counter that with the assertion that the Quran is from God, who chose the stories from the past to restore dignity to messengers and prophets chosen to deliver divine guidance. A careful study of Bible and Quran stories demonstrates vast differences in their details and purpose.

Let us look at the Sacrifice by Abraham in both sources.

In verses from Genesis, Chapter 22, we read:

Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

Early the next morning, Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he 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 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 and arranged the wood. 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 your son, your only son, from me."

Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

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 …through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me." (Genesis 22: 2-13, 15, 16, 18)

Now, look at the Quranic version.

And Abraham prayed: "O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me the gift of [a son who shall be] one of the righteous!" – after that, We gave him the glad tiding of a boy-child gentle (like himself)
And (one day, when [the child] had become old enough to share in his [father's] endeavors, the latter said: "O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you: consider your view!" [Ishmael] answered: "O my father! Do as you wish: you will find me, if God so wills, among those who are patient in adversity.

But as soon as the two had surrendered themselves to [what they thought to be the will of God], and [Abraham] had laid him down on his face.

We called out to him: "O Abraham, thou hast already fulfilled [the purpose of] that dream- vision!" Thus, certainly, do We reward the doers of good: or, behold, all this was indeed a trial, clear in itself." And We ransomed him with a tremendous sacrifice and left him thus to be remembered among later generations. (37:100-108)

Comparison Between Bible and the Quran Narrations

There is a vast difference between the two versions. One projects God in a state of dementia who, after commanding the act, starts communicating through angels, questioning the idea of sacrificing Isaac.

The Quran presents God acknowledging Abraham's right to interpret his dream while preventing human Sacrifice at the right time. The Quran explicitly appreciates Abraham's gesture.

Influence of Jewish Literature on Muslim Scholars

Even though the Quran explicitly identifies Ishmael as the intended sacrificial son, many Muslims have questioned that and named Isaac, his elder brother, instead. One hundred thirty-one ahadith mention Isaac as the intended one for Sacrifice. In comparison, 133 ahadith say Prophet Ishmael is zabeehullah.

Some of those who chose the Jewish narrative are as follows.

  • Abu Kurayb - Zayd b. al-Hubab - al-Hasan b. Dinar - 'Ali b. Zayd b. Jud'an - al-Hasan - al-Ahnaf b. Qays - al-'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib says that the Prophet, in a conversation, said, "Then we ransomed him with a tremendous victim." And he also said, "He is Isaac."
  • al-Husayn b. Yazid al-Tahhan - Ibn Idris - Dawud b. Abi Hind - 'Ikrimah - Ibn' Abbas: Abraham wanted to sacrifice Isaac.
  • According to Ibn Humayd - Salamah - Muhammad b. Ishaq - 'Abdallah b. Abi Bakr - Muhammad b. Muslim al-Zuri - Abu Sufyan b. al-'Ala' b. Jariyah al-Thaqafi, the confederate of Banu Zuhrah - Abu Hurayrah - Ka'b al-Ahbar: The son Abraham wanted to sacrifice was Isaac.
  • According to Yunus - Ibn Wahb - Yunus - Ibn Shihab - 'Amr b. Abi Sufyan b. Usayd b. Jariyah al-Thaqafi: Ka'b said to Abu Hurayrah, "Should I tell you about Isaac, the son of the Prophet Abraham? Abu Hurayrah said, "Certainly." So Ka'b gave the following account:

"When Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, Satan said, 'By God! If I cannot deceive the people of Abraham with this, I shall never be able to do it.' So when Abraham went out with Isaac to sacrifice him, Satan visited Abraham's wife, Sarah, in the shape of a man whom Abraham's people knew, and asked her, 'Where is Abraham going so early with Isaac?' She said, 'He went off early on some errand.' Satan said, 'No, by God! That is not the reason he left so early.' Sarah asked, 'Then what is the reason?' He said, 'He took him out early to sacrifice him.' Sarah said, 'There is no truth to that; he would not ... sacrifice his son.' Satan said, 'By God, it is true.' Sarah said, 'And why would he sacrifice him?' He replied, 'He claims that his Lord ordered him to do it.' Sarah said, 'If his Lord ordered him to do that, it is best to obey.' Then Satan left Sarah and went to Isaac, walking with his father, and said, 'Where is your father taking you so early?' Isaac answered, 'He is taking me on some errand.' Satan said, 'No, by God, he is not taking you out on an errand. He is taking you out early to sacrifice you.' Isaac said, 'My father would not sacrifice me.' Satan told him, 'Certainly he would.' Isaac asked, 'Why?' Satan told him, 'He claims that his Lord ordered him to do it.' Isaac answered, 'By God! If the Lord told my father to do that, he should obey him.' So Satan left him and asked Abraham, 'Why are you taking your son out early?' Abraham said, 'I am taking him on an errand.' Satan answered, 'By God, you took him out early only to sacrifice him.' Abraham asked, 'Why would I do that?' Satan said, 'You claim that your Lord ordered you to do it.' Abraham said, 'If my Lord orders me to do that, I will surely do it.' When Abraham took Isaac to sacrifice him, God stayed his hand and ransomed him with a 'tremendous victim.' Abraham told Isaac, 'Arise, my little son, for God has released you.' And God told Isaac, 'I will grant you any prayer you choose to make now.' Isaac said, 'My God! I pray that you grant entry into Paradise to any worshipper, past or present, who encounters you and does not make anything a partner with you."

  • According to Musa bin Harun - 'Amr b. Hammad-Asbat - Abu Malik and Abu Salih - Ibn' Abbas Murrah al-Hamdani - Ibn Mas'ud, and some of the companions of the Prophet: Abraham was instructed in a dream to "carry out your promise that if God granted you a son by Sarah, you would sacrifice him."
  • According to Ya'qub - Husahym - Zakariya' and Shu'bah - Abu Ishaq - Masruq, When God said, "We ransomed him with a tremendous victim," that was Isaac.

Tabari wrote:

God's word informs us about the prayer of His friend Abraham when he left his people to migrate to Syria with Sarah. Abraham prayed, 'I am going to my Lord who will guide me. My Lord! Grant me a righteous child.' It was before he knew Hagar, who was to be the mother of Ishmael. After mentioning this prayer, God goes on to describe the prayer and says that he foretold Abraham that he would have a gentle son. God also mentions Abraham's vision of sacrificing that son when he was old enough to walk with him. The Book does not cite any tidings of a male child given to Abraham except in the instance where it refers to Isaac, in which God said, 'And his wife, standing by laughed when we gave her tidings of Isaac, and after Isaac, Jacob,' and 'Then he became fearful of them'. They said. 'Fear not!' and gave him tidings of a wise son. Then his wife approached, moaning, smote her face, and cried, 'A barren old woman'. Thus, wherever the Quran mentions God giving tidings of the birth of a son to Abraham, it refers to Sarah (and thus to Isaac), and the same must be true of God's words 'So we gave him tidings of a gentle son', as it is true of all such references in the Quran." (Ibid., p. 89).

In another place, al-Tabari states:

That ram remained in custody with God until He let it go as Isaac's ransom (The History of Al-Tabari: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, translated by Franz Rosenthal [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany, 1989], Volume 1, p. 310)

In Musnad Ahmad, Number 2658, we read:

The messenger of God said that Gabriel took Abraham to Jamra al-Aqabah (the upper Jamrah, the pillar or place for stoning), and then Satan appeared. Then he stoned Satan with seven stones, so he fainted him to faint. Then Abraham came to the middle of Jamrah, and Satan again appeared. He again stoned him with seven stones, causing Satan to faint. He then went to the lower Jamrah, and Satan again appeared to him. Again, he stoned Satan, causing him to faint once again. When Abraham wanted to slaughter his son, Isaac, he told his father, "Father, tie me so I don't get afraid, and my blood splash all over you when you slaughter me." So he took him, tied him up, and then took the knife. And when he wanted to slay him, a voice called behind him, "O Abraham, the vision has been fulfilled."

Here is the Arabic text.

حدثنا ‏ ‏يونس ‏ ‏أخبرنا ‏ ‏حماد ‏ ‏عن ‏ ‏عطاء بن السائب ‏ ‏عن ‏ ‏سعيد بن جبير ‏ ‏عن ‏ ‏ابن عباس ‏
‏أن رسول الله ‏ ‏صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ ‏قال ‏ ‏إن ‏ ‏جبريل ‏ ‏ذهب ‏ ‏بإبراهيم ‏ ‏إلى ‏ ‏جمرة العقبة ‏ ‏فعرض له الشيطان فرماه بسبع حصيات ‏ ‏فساخ ‏ ‏ثم أتى ‏ ‏الجمرة الوسطى ‏ ‏فعرض له الشيطان فرماه بسبع حصيات ‏ ‏فساخ ‏ ‏ثم أتى ‏ ‏الجمرة القصوى ‏ ‏فعرض له الشيطان فرماه بسبع حصيات ‏ ‏فساخ ‏ ‏فلما أراد ‏ ‏إبراهيم ‏ ‏أن يذبح ابنه ‏ ‏إسحاق ‏ ‏قال لأبيه يا ‏ ‏أبت أوثقني لا أضطرب فينتضح عليك ‏ ‏من دمي إذا ذبحتني فشده فلما أخذ ‏ ‏الشفرة ‏ ‏فأراد أن يذبحه نودي من خلفه ‏
‏أن يا ‏ ‏إبراهيم ‏ ‏قد صدقت الرؤيا ‏

The Muslim commentator al-Baidawi also believed that the child of Sacrifice was Isaac. In his comments on S. 12:46, al-Baidawi states:

He perfected it formerly on thy fathers by appointing them as messengers. Some say (that God perfected his blessing) on Abraham by taking him as a 'friend' (Khalil) and by saving him from the fire (into which the unbelievers had cast him), and (he perfected it) on Isaac by delivering him from the Sacrifice and by ransoming him with a great victim (for the Sacrifice) .(Helmut Gätje, The Qur'an and Its Exegesis [Oneworld Publications, Oxford 1996], p. 107)


  1. The Biblical and Quranic versions have vast differences.
  2. Jewish literature influences hadith literature.
  3. Ahadith projects Isaac as being from narrators who had Jewish scholars in their circle as they translated the Hebrew or Greek versions into Arabic.
  4. The idea that Prophet Muhammad would identify Isaac as the sacrificial son is baseless because, historically, no Arab had entertained the idea.
  5. In his dialogue with Jewish tribes, the Prophet never mentioned Isaac as the intended one.
  6. Ishmael was the first-born son of Prophet Abraham. Prophet Abraham never considered him outside his family.
  7. Prophet Abraham brought up Ishmael in his house. Some 13 years later, however, Sarah conceived Isaac.
  8. The story's purpose is to emphasize the sanctity of human life and submission to God.

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