Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis

By Reuven Firestone | Go to book overview

Chapter 16

ISAAC OR ISHMAEL?

Most reports treating the Sacrifice directly or indirectly relate to the issue of who was the intended victim, and the intensity of interest in this matter is reflected in the great amount of space devoted to it. Exegetes cite traditions supporting both Isaac and Ishmael, and many even cite full lists of the early traditionists who took one position or the other. 1 Some of the most wellrespected traditionists, such as Ibn 'Abbās, Sa'īd b. Jubayr, al-Suddī, Mujāhid, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, and 'Alī, are cited in support of both, with some reports giving their opinion that it was Isaac and others claiming that it was Ishmael. When all the traditions are collated we find a surprisingly close count. One hundred thirty authoritative statements consider Isaac to be the intended victim; one hundred thirty three consider it to have been Ishmael. 2


THE ARGUMENTS

Aside from citing evidence in favor of one or the other son on the basis of authoritative opinions, the exegetes did not hesitate to propose arguments in support of their views. Al-Ya'qῡbါ3 is the first to do this in our sample and cites the most basic and recurring opinion: "Some people say that it was Ishmael because he was the one who settled [in Mecca], while Isaac remained in Syria. Other people say that it was Isaac because [Abraham] sent him [Ishmael] and his mother out when [Isaac] was a young boy, and Ishmael was a grown man with children. There are many traditions about each view and people disagree about them."

Al-Ṭabarါ proffered detailed arguments in favor of Isaac. 4 He says that because every announcement of a child in the Qur'ān refers to Isaac, Abraham's prayer for a child at the beginning of the Sacrifice story in Qur'ān 37:100 must also refer to Isaac. He derives support for his view from Qur'ān 11:71: AND WE GAVE HIM GLAD TIDINGS OF ISAAC, AND AFTER ISAAC, JACOB; and indeed,

-135-

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Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Transliterations xiii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Chapter 1 - Biblicists and Arabs 3
  • Chapter 2 - The Nature of the Literature Islamic Interpretive Literature 11
  • Part Two - The Syrian Prologue 23
  • Chapter 3 - Abraham's Emmigration 25
  • Chapter 4 - The Tyrant 31
  • Chapter 5 - The Birth of Ishmael 39
  • Chapter 6 - Beersheba 48
  • Chapter 7 - The Angels Visit 52
  • Part Three - The Meccan Sequence 61
  • Chapter 8 - The Transfer to Mecca 63
  • Chapter 9 - The Jurhum 72
  • Chapter 10 - Abraham's Visits 76
  • Chapter 11 - Building the Ka'Ba 80
  • Chapter 12 - The Pilgrimage 94
  • Part Four - The Sacrifice 105
  • Chapter 13 - Prelude to Sacrifice 107
  • Chapter 14 - The Sacrificial Act 116
  • Chapter 15 - The Redemption 129
  • Chapter 16 - Isaac or Ishmael? 135
  • Conclusion 153
  • Part Five - Appendices 161
  • Appendix 1 - The Exegetes and Their Sources Ibn Sa'D, KitĀb Al-TabaqĀt Al-KabĪr 163
  • Appendix 2 - Traditionists Naming Isaac or Ishmael as the Intended Sacrificial Victim 170
  • Notes 179
  • Selected Bibliography 245
  • Index 259
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