Eid al-Adha: The Sacrifice of Ismail

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The story of the sacrifice: 

The Sixth holy Imam, Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq is reported through correct or rather authentic traditions that he said: Archangel Gabriel came to Ibrahim on the 8th of Dhu’l-hijjah at the time of zawaal (decline of Sun from its zenith) and said, “O Ibrahim, procure water for yourself and your family.” At that time there was no water between Makkah and ‘Arafat. So Archangel Gabriel led Ibrahim to Mina and he prayed Zuhr and Asr, then Maghrib and Isha and finally the Fajr prayers. When the sun arose they left for ‘Arafat, reached Marwa and halted there. At the time of Zawaal, they prayed Zuhr and Asr with one Azaan but with different Iqamah, at the spot where the Masjid of ‘Arafat is situated.
Then he made him stand in an empty space and told him to repent for his sins. (Eteraaf) and to Understand the rituals of his hajj. Ibrahim was made to stand there until sunset. Then he was ordered to proceed towards Mashar-al-haram. Upon reaching Mashar he performed the Maghrib and Isha prayers with one Azaan and two different Iqamah. He spent the night there and when he finished his morning prayers the next day, Archangel Gabriel showed him the position and brought him to Mina and told him to throw pebbles at Al-Jamarah Aqba as this was where Satan had appeared first. Then he was instructed in the ritual of the slaughter. When Ibrahim reached Masharul haram he went to sleep that night, happy and satisfied. He dreamt that he was slaughtering his son. He had brought his wife and son with him for hajj. When they reached Mina, they stoned the Satan together. Then he told Sarah to go and visit Ka‘bah keeping the son with himself. Then he took his son to the middle Satan and discussed the matter with him as mentioned in Qur’an: O my son! Surely I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you; consider then what you see.” (37:102)
The righteous son told his father to complete the task he had begun.
“He said, O my father! Do what you are Commanded; if Allah please, you will find me of the patient ones.” (37:102)
Thus both of them submitted to the will of Allah and suddenly Satan appeared in the form of an old man.
“Ibrahim, where are you taking this lad?” asked Satan.
“I want to slaughter him,” replied Ibrahim
SubhanAllah (Glory be to Allah)!” exclaimed the Satan, “You are going to slaughter this Child who never committed the smallest of sins?”
“But my Lord has commanded me for it,” said Ibrahim
“Your Lord prohibits you!” lied Satan. “Satan has fooled you into it!”
“Fie upon you!” said Ibrahim, “The One Who has conferred Prophethood upon me has ordered me for it. And I received the Divine Command through the same Angel whose voice I am familiar with. I have no doubt about it.”
“By Allah,” persisted Satan, “No one but Satan has issued such an order.”
“By Allah,” said Ibrahim, “I do not wish to speak about it to you.” And he decided to go ahead with his mission.
Satan made a last effort and said, “O Ibrahim you are the leader of all the creatures, and people follow your example. If you perform such an act all people will be compelled to slaughter their own children.
Ibrahim did not reply. He discussed the matter with his son. When both of them agreed to fulfill the Divine Command, the son told his father to cover his face and to tie the hands and the legs securely. Ibrahim said he could either slaughter him or tie his hands and feet. But he could not muster the strength to do both the things. So he spread out a skin and made the son lie on it. Then he placed the knife at his throat and raised his head towards the sky. Then he held the knife with all his strength. Archangel Gabriel turned the knife so that the unsharpened edge did not cut the throat. Ibrahim saw that he was holding the knife the wrong way. He corrected it and repeated the act. Again Archangel Gabriel turned the knife. This happened many times. Finally Archangel Gabriel brought a ram from the hillside and removed the child from under the hands of Ibrahim and replaced him with the ram. And a voice from the direction of Khaif Mosque announced, “You have fulfilled your dream. We reward the righteous servants in this way. Indeed this was a manifest examination!”
Meanwhile the Satan came to the wife of Ibrahim when the Ka‘bah was yet far away. He asked her of the person he had met in Mina. She said that it was her husband.
“And the boy with him?” he asked.
“He is my son,” she replied.
“I have seen that man had laid down the boy and was holding a knife ready to slaughter him,” said the Satan.
“You lie!” said Sarah, “Ibrahim is the most merciful man, how can he slaughter his own son?”
“By the Lord of the heavens and the Earth, by the Lord of this great house! I have seen with my own eyes the man has laid down the son and readied the knife to slaughter him.”
“But why?” asked Sarah
“He is under the impression that his Lord has commanded him for it.”
“Then he must follow the commands of his Lord,” she said.
After completing the rituals she hurried towards Mina. Keeping her hands on her head she said again and again, “O Allah! Do not punish me for what I have done to the mother of Isma‘il!”
When she came to Ibrahim and inquired about her son, she was shocked to see the scar of the Knife. She fell ill and left for the heavenly abode.
The narrator asked Imam about the place where Ibrahim carried out the slaughter.
“Near the middle Al-Jamarah,” replied Imam, “And the ram descended from heaven on the mountain that is on the right of Mina Mosque. It used to graze there in darkness.”
“What color was it?” inquired the narrator
“Black and white,” Imam said, “big in size and with large horns.”[62]

“The son of two slaughtering” explained:

Trustworthy chains of reporters quote Imam al-Ridha that the Holy Prophet  said, “I am the son of two slaughtering.”
Imam explained, “The two “slaughtering” were Isma‘il the son of Ibrahim and ‘Abdullah the son of Abdul Muttalib.” Isma‘il was that forbearing person whose glad-tidings were conveyed to Ibrahim. When he grew up enough to walk with his father, Ibrahim told him one day that he had dreamt that he was slaughtering him. “So I want you to think upon it and take a decision.”
“Dear father,” said Isma‘il, “Go ahead with your mission.” He did not ask him to go ahead with what he had seen in dream.
“You shall find me of the patient ones.”
When Ibrahim took him for the slaughter, the Almighty ransomed him with black ram that used graze and feed only in dark. It was capable of seeing and roaming in the darkness. It could also speak, and forty years hence it had grazed in the gardens of Paradise. It was not born from the womb. The Almighty had ordered ‘Be’ and it one into being, so that one day it shall become the ransom of Isma‘il. And all the sacrifices that one performed in Mina, until the Resurrection Day shall be the ransom of Isma‘il. This is the meaning of “Two slaughtering.”[63]
Shaykh Muhammad bin Babawayh quotes the above hadith then says, that there are different explanations of the term “slaughtered one.” Some say it was Isma‘il and some mention Ishaq. And it is not possible to reject the traditions received through proper sources. In reality the incident occurred with regard to Isma‘il but when Ishaq was born he also desired to be made a sacrificial ram like his brother. He also wished to exhibit patience and obtain a lofty status like Isma‘il. The Almighty knew that he was sincere in his intentions, so ordered the Angels to name him ‘zabih’ (slaughtered one). This explanation is recorded through reliable channels from Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq. Moreover the claim of the Holy Prophet that he was the son of two “slaughtered ones” also fits because the uncle is equal in status of the father. This point is mentioned in Qur’an and the Holy Prophet has said, “An uncle is like the father? So from this aspect the statement of Holy Prophet is correct when he said “I am the son of two ‘slaughtered ones.’” He was the actual descendent of the actual “slaughtered one” (Isma‘il) the metaphoric descendent of the metaphoric “slaughtered one” (Ishaq).

The great sacrifice explained another way:

‘Zibh al-Azeem’ (The great Sacrifice) can be explained in another way. Fadhl bin Shadhan says that he has heard Imam al-Ridha say, “When the Almighty commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Isma‘il and he obliged. The Almighty replaced Isma‘il with a ram. When Ibrahim came to know this he became disappointed that he was not allowed to slaughter Isma‘il and that he was denied the rewards he would have earned for sacrificing his son for Allah. So the Almighty Allah asked him who his most beloved one was. He replied, ‘No one is more beloved to me that Muhammad al-Mustafa.’
‘Do you value you life more or the life of Muhammad al-Mustafa?’
‘I love him more than my life,’ said Ibrahim.
‘Whom do you prefer, his son or your own son?’
‘His son,’ replied Ibrahim
‘Would you be pained more to see him slaughtered by his enemies or slaughtering your son with your hands be painful?’
‘My Lord! It would be more painful if his son is slaughtered by the enemies.’
The Almighty revealed, ‘O Ibrahim! A group claiming to be from the community of Muhammad (Muslims), after his passing away from this world would slaughter his son just like a ram is slaughtered. And they would became eligible for My wrath.’
After listening to this heart-rending prophecy Ibrahim became sorrowful. He began a plaintive lamentation. Then Allah revealed.
‘O Ibrahim! I have taken this lamentation of yours as the ransom of your son Isma‘il. For you would have lamented in the same way, had you slaughtered Isma‘il with your hands. So I bestow you with the best of the rewards that is given to those eligible for them due to their afflictions. This is the explanation of the words: We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.” (37:107)
It is recorded in reliable traditions that the ram of Ibrahim was one of those creatures whom Allah created without the mother’s womb.

Who was slaughtered? Ismail or Ishaq?

In a trustworthy hadith people asked Imam al-Ridha whether Isma‘il was ‘Slaughtered’ by Ibrahim or it was Ishaq “It was Isma‘il,” replied Imam “It seems you have not seen the Almighty’s words wherein He gave the glad-tidings of Ishaq to Ibrahim after He has mentioned the incident of Isma‘il in Surah al-Saffat. So how can Ishaq be the ‘Slaughtered one’?”
According to a reliable tradition from Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali the ‘Slaughtered one’ was Isma‘il
In a reliable tradition someone asked Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq whether Isma‘il was older or Ishaq. Imam said that Isma‘il was five years older to Ishaq, and he was the ‘Slaughtered one.’ He resided in Makkah and Ibrahim took him for the slaughter. Also, there was a gap of five years between the glad tiding of the birth of Isma‘il and Ishaq. Have you not heard the Qur’anic words that Ibrahim requested Allah,
My Lord! Grant me of the doers of good deeds. (37:100)
Allah accepted his request:
“So we gave him the good news of a boy, possessing forbearance.” (37:101)
That was Isma‘il, through the womb of Hajar . Then a big ram was sent as a ransom for Isma‘il.
And in a trustworthy hadith Imam says that if the meat of any other animal had been purer than that of the ram, Allah would have sent it as the ransom of Isma‘il. One version of hadith mentions the name of Ishaq in place of Isma‘il.
One more tradition from Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq says that Ya‘qub wrote to the ‘Aziz (chief) of Egypt: We Ahl al-Bayt (People of the house) are prone to examinations and tests. Our forefather Ibrahim was tested by the fire and my father Ishaq was examined by the slaughter.

[62] This hadith proves that the son Ibrahim took for slaughter and the incident that is mentioned in the Qur’an concerned Ishaq. There are vast differences among the Shi‘ah and Sunni scholars regarding this matter. The Jews and Christians apparently believe it was Ishaq. The Shi‘ah traditions mention both Isma‘il and Ishaq and the majority of Shi‘ah scholars believe it was Isma‘il, because the majority of reports support this view. The apparent import of the Qur’anic Verse is also this as explained in the background of traditions. If there is no agreement who was taken for slaughter, we can reconcile the traditions by saying it happened for both of them. It seems that the name of Ishaq is mentioned on the basis of Taqiyyah or it had been the prevalent view among the scholars of opposing schools. The unanimity of the People of Book cannot be depended upon. Moreover, a Rabbi came to Umar Ibn Abdul ‘Aziz who questioned him concerning this topic. He said the Jew and Christian scholars know that it was Isma‘il but due to jealousy they deny it because Ishaq is their ancestor, whereas Isma‘il is the ancestor of Arabs. They wish to confine the merit to their ancestor and not for yours.
[63] The writer sys: The second sacrifice was that of ‘Abdullah as mentioned in the account of the Holy Prophet. Refer to volume II.
[64] I have quoted only a few traditions that prove the Sacrifice of Isma‘il (instead of Ishaq) in this chapter though there are many more. If Allah wills we shall see many other narrations in the account of Lu§.

Source: ‘Hayat Al-Qulub Vol. 1, Stories of the Prophets’ by Allamah Muhammad Baqir Al-Majlisi

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