10. Abraham's sacrifice explained to Muslims

 

 

1. INTRODUCTION

 

Two months and ten days after the Muslim month of fasting the Hajj month begins. It commemorates Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son. Sacrifices are an often-reoccurring theme in the Torah. The Quran too acknowledges that God commanded animal sacrifice in the time of Moses (Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verse 67). The Bible declares its main meaning to be that of atonement; it covered the sins of the people who offered it (Lev 17:11). In that way God's honour which was previously brought in disrepute through the rebellion of his people was restored again. People became acceptable before God because the punishment for shame was paid on their behalf symbolically by the animal that was sacrificed. The whole procedure was to point to a perfect sacrifice about to come in the future (Isa 53). The Gospel says:

 

'Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.' (Heb 9:28)

 

In this article it will be seen that this ultimate purpose of sacrifice is also supported in the Quranic story where Abraham was commanded to kill his son.

 

 

2. ABRAHAM'S SACRIFICE

 

In Surah 37, Al Saffat, verse 107 we read about God's miraculous, personal intervention by sparing Abraham from this terrible ordeal in that the Almighty himself 'ransomed Abraham's son with a momentous sacrifice.' In the Quran we are not told the name of the son whom Jews and Christians, according to their scriptures, believe to be Isaac. Verses 112-113 speak about Isaac too. There is no word in the Arabic (like 'thumma'= 'then') to separate the two stories. This seems to confirm that they are part of a summary of the story where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. The same literary feature of summarizing a narrative at the end is found in the surrounding verses 79-82 and 120-122.

 

Here an important question needs to be asked: 'Why is the sacrifice which Muslims, Jews and Christians believe to have been a ram (Gen 22:13) called 'momentous', especially when compared with Abraham's son?' Surely he is greater, more important, than a ram! The greatness of the sacrifice can not just be found in the Muslim explanation that it serves as a symbol for an act of men's self purification or devotion. If that was the case, there would be no need for God to provide HIMSELF with such a great sacrifice. In the light of that truth it does not make sense to call the sacrifice 'momentous' just because since then an animal is offered by Muslims to commemorate Abraham's faithfulness and devotion. (See, 'The Meaning of the Quran', by Maududi, Islamic Publications LTD. Lahore, 1992 commentary on Surah 37, Al-Saffat, verse 108)

 

To see only a symbol or a remembrance in Abraham's sacrifice as Muslim commentators would have us believe, stands in sharp contrast to the Biblical view as explained above. Their views also contradict the definition of the word 'sacrifice' being '...a religious ceremony in which something is given to a god...Persons offering it expect to receive some physical or spiritual good.' (See, "The World Book Encyclopedia", Volume 17, 1982, USA, page 7)

These Islamic explanations also go contrary to the claim that the Quran teaches basically the same as all earlier prophets. (Surah 42, Al Shurah, verse 13)

 

The solution to the problem lies in the word 'ransom'. It means that a person, in this case Abraham's son, is set free in exchange for someone or something else. When compared with Abraham's son, the ram by itself is not very special; in that sense it is not great. Therefore, the real importance of it has to lie somewhere else. It points to the perfect sacrifice found in Jesus Christ. That truth found in the Torah can not have been abrogated, otherwise it would have to be replaced with something similar or better (Surah 2, Al Baqarah, verse 106). What better could be offered to us than God dealing with our sins, with the shame we brought upon him, personally by supplying a great sacrifice for us in Jesus Christ?!

 

Furthermore, this great, momentous sacrifice was foretold in the Torah (e.g. Exo 12:43-46), the Gospel, known as the Injil or the New Testament (e.g. Mar 10:45), in the Psalms, known as Zabur (e.g. Psa 22) and in the books of the Prophets, known as the Sahaif-e-anbia (e.g. Isa 53).

 

 

3. CONCLUSION

 

Rightfully, Abraham's sacrifice is commemorated regularly once a year. Such a momentous occasion must never be forgotten. It speaks about Jesus, the perfect sacrifice to come. He established God's honour once again. Not to accept his work is to continue to put shame on him. To blaspheme in such a horrendous way will lead to everlasting distraction.