Voices of Faith: Abraham had two sons. Then what happened?
By The Kansas City Star
Mohamed Kohia, Rockhurst University professor: In Islam, Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) is labeled as the father of prophets. Among his children was the first born Ishmael (Ismael) and second born Isaac (Ishac). From the offspring of Ismael came only one prophet “Mohammad,” and from the progeny of Ishac came many prophets, including Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and others (peace be upon them all).
Ismael is recognized by Muslims as an important prophet, patriarch, and the ancestor of several prominent Arab tribes. Mohammad was the descendant of Ismael that would establish a great nation, as promised by God in the Old Testament:
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of 12 rulers, and I will make them into a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20)
Ismael, being the first born of Abraham (about 13 years before Isaac), is believed by Muslims to be the one offered for sacrifice by Abraham in an amazing obedience of God, and he was saved by God’s mercy.
In conclusion, the following must be noticed:
• Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to please God.
• Ismael makes sure in different ways that neither he nor his father hesitated in their obedience to God. In this way, Ismael is a model of surrendering one’s will to God, an essential characteristic in Islam.
• In Islam, all prophets are equally respected and treated as special human beings, chosen by God to deliver his message: “We make no distinction between prophets” (Q: 2:285)
• The story of the birth of Ismael is not considered particularly important in Islam, but rather, the meaning of the story, and is mostly mentioned as part of the narrative of Abraham.
Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy: A great Jewish philosopher, when asked about the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity, quipped: The central theme of Christianity is that God offered his only son for the salvation of man. For Judaism it is that a man offered his only son to God.
In other words, just as the crucifixion of Jesus is the core belief of Christianity, what captures the Jewish imagination is Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God.
It was a test of faith that has caused many to wonder what was the purpose of the test.
Child sacrifice was not unheard of in Biblical times, but for Abraham, the sole master of the Covenant, it was soon to be out of bounds. Abraham makes no assumptions that his moral instincts are greater than his Creator, and God, after testing Abraham, affirms the moral instincts of Abraham.
It is noted that immediately following this episode, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, dies. The early commentators do not see this as incidental, but Sarah is the collateral damage of Abraham’s test.
The Midrash says that Satan visits her in a dream telling her that her husband has gone to sacrifice Isaac. She lets out three wailing cries and dies before they have a chance to return. Sarah is collateral damage.
Those cries are emulated by the sound of the ram’s horn, the shofar, on Rosh Hashanah. Every Rosh Hashanah, Jews blow the shofar to remind God, that, yes, we have sinned, and yes, we are guilty, but not even the God is blame-free, so we supplicate, but with a subtle defiance.
Even the ram that was sacrificed in Isaac’s stead is also part of this story and the complex relationship between a human and his deity in a very un-perfect world.
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