The Feast of the Sacrifice is Also About Life, Liberty, and Love

Eid mubarak sa’id! A blessed and happy “Feast of the Sacrifice” to all.

This is the high holy day of Islam. It celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God and God’s mercy in prohibiting human sacrifice and substituting instead the sacrifice of an animal whose flesh is to feed both the celebrants and their poor and needy neighbors. The story of Abraham’s sacrifice in the Qur’an is similar to that in the Bible, but it differs in a few respects, one of which will be of special interest to libertarians and human rights activists.

In the biblical version, Abraham (pbuh) tricks his son into participating in the sacrifice, and then binds him to force him to participate against his will:

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (Gensis 7-12)

In the Qur’anic version, where the son is not named (see below), Abraham asks his son’s consent:

Then when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him he said: “O my son! I see in 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 God so wills, one practicing Patience and Constancy!”

So when they had both submitted their wills (to God) and He had laid Him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice) We called out to him “O Abraham! “Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!” thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. (37:102-107)

Thus, the Qur’an emphasizes three very important points: (1) that the son is of a mature enough age to decide whether to participate in this sacrifice; (2) that the father has no intention of forcing the son against his will; and that (3) God does not demand a human sacrifice, he only wants to know that both son and father value the Creator above the creation, that is the father above the life of his son and the son above his own life. Thus, the story is not only about sacrifice, but about life, liberty, and love.

Tellingly, non-Muslim commentators on the differences between the Qur’anic and biblical versions rarely mention these critical differences. Instead they devote a great deal of ink on the fact that the Bible claims the son is Isaac (pbuh) rather than Ishmael (pbuh). The Qur’an doesn’t mention the name of the son, since that is irrelevant to the moral point of the story. The story is powerful not because of the name of the son, but because it is Abraham’s ONLY son. Since there was a time when Ishmael was the only son and no time when Isaac was the only son, logic dictates that the son be Ishmael. Trying to get around this by arguing that Ishmael was illegitimate is insulting to the Prophet Abraham (pbuh). Making a big deal over the question of the son’s name drags down a profound story about love and sacrifice into a claim in a land dispute.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad







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