The "Sacrifice," or more accurately, near-sacrifice of Abraham's son, is known in Arabic as the dbabīḥ. The root meaning of the word is to tear, cut, rend, or slit, and has the technical meaning of slaughtering or sacrificing in the manner prescribed by law. The word dhabīḥ can be synonymous with madhbū, signifying the thing that is cut or rent, or a sacrificial animal slaughtered in accordance with religious practice. It also has the meaning of an animal that is ritually fit and intended for sacrifice-the intended victim.
The word has therefore come to be used as an honorific epithet (laqab) for Ishmael, since Islam has come to view him as the intended victim of Abraham's sacrifice. It is not at all clear from the story of the Sacrifice found in the Qur'ān, however, that Ishmael was the intended victim. 1 In fact, neither he nor Isaac is named, and early Muslim exegetes were divided over which one they believed was intended to be the sacrifice. 1 The exegetes were concerned with other issues raised by the legend as well, but the issue of which son was the intended victim was by far the most pressing. They often gave their own opinion about who it was and cited early scholars and collectors of traditions in support of their views. Yet they also included reports and opinions supporting the contrary point of view. A significant amount of material is therefore available which relates to the issue of who was the intended sacrifice. Not only do we find a variety of tellings of the sacrificial act itself, but we also find recurring reports supporting one or the other of the sons as being the intended victim. While the purpose of this study is not to determine who the intended victim actually was or which son was intended in the Qur'ān, we will examine the various traditions and opinions in the exegetical literature in order to understand the way in which they fit and function within the cycle of Abraham legends.