The following excerpt is taken from the facebook of Yasir Qadhi where he plugs a lecture he does on what the Muslim sources teach in respect to the child that Abraham was told to sacrifice. Here’s the link to the lecture itself: Library Chats E7: Ismā`īl vs. Isḥāq As the Sacrifice: A Case Study of Tafsīr and Scholarly Influence.
And here’s what Qadhi wrote:
Ismā`īl vs. Isḥāq As the Sacrifice: A Case Study of Tafsīr and Scholarly Influence
In this latest Library Chat episode, I wanted to introduce (gently, inshaAllah!) some aspects of critical thinking, and how students of knowledge need to take a step back and analyze our glorious intellectual heritage.
I chose the controversy of who the ‘sacrifice’ was, Isḥāq vs. Ismā`īl, as a case study. For this lecture, I’m not interesetd in who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or which opinion is ‘stronger’ or not. Rather, I’m interested in analyzing the trends within scholarly groups and to see how majority positions can shift over time. This raises quite a lot of interesting questions, some of which I bring up in the lecture.
The opinion that the sacrifice was Isḥāq (and not Ismā`īl) is verifiably the dominant position of early Islam, and has been claimed by a number of early ulamā to actually be the majority opinion. It was championed by, inter alia, at least eight Companions, fifteen tabi’ūn, Muqātil b. Sulaymān (d. 150), Imam Mālik b. Anas (d. 179), al-Azraqī (d. 244), Ibn Qutayba (d. 276), Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī (d. 333), al-Naḥḥās (d. 338), al-Samarqandī (d. 375), al-Ḥākim (d. 405), al-Tha’labī (d. 427), al-Wāḥidī (d. 468), al-Zamakhsarī (?) (d. 538), Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597), al-Qurṭubī (d. 671), and so many others.
On the other hand, the giant of tafsīr Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606) followed al-Zajjāj (d. 311) in claiming that the evidences were too tricky and it wasn’t possible to decide between them – hence Allah knows best! The polymath al-Suyūṭī (d. 911) initially used to claim it was Isḥāq, but then changes his mind and sided with this non-committal position.
It was primarily Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728) who was perhaps the first to forecefully argue that it was Ismā`il and not Isḥāq, and who then influenced enough scholars to bring about a seismic shift in this opinion, to the point that in our times it is almost a given (perhaps even considered a point of ‘orthodoxy’ and a fundamental difference between Islam and Judaism/Christianity!) that it was Ismā`il and not Iṣḥāq.
In the lecture, I also mention some of the pertinent questions that we should be thinking about as we examine this interesting evolution of ideas.