WE DEFEND ISLAM

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The Great Sacrifice Of Abraham (3)

Reflections

Imam Hamiduddin Farahi

Despite the assertion of the Torah (Genesis, Ch 22), this author is convinced, because of the evidence in hand, that Abraham had in fact offered his son Ismail and not Isaac to Allah the Almighty.

First Argument: The abode of Abraham and Ismail

It is apparent from the context that when Abraham left to offer his son, he was accompanied by Ismail and not Isaac. It was Ismail who was residing with his father. Those who tampered with the text to introduce Isaac’s name failed to comprehend this fact and this shows that Isaac’s name is indeed a later addition.

Bible affirms that after the incident Abraham returned to Beersaba which shows that Abraham was already dwelling at Beersaba. This is explicitly stated in Chapter 21. And this is indeed the truth. Beersaba is the place where Ismail lived with his mother. This fact is further underlined when the Torah relates the event of separation of Ismail and his mother from Isaac and his mother:

“So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheva … So God was with the lad and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness.” (Genesis, 21:14-19)

This passage refers to `wilderness’ and `wilderness of Beersheba’ because Beersheba was an uninhabited wasteland. Abraham had to bore seven wells and plant trees in it and hence its name. (Beersheba means `seven wells’). This discussion leads to the following conclusions:

1. Ismail and her mother Hagar dwelt in Beersheba.

2. This place was away from the abode of Isaac and his mother.

3. Abraham also lived here because it was from this place that he left for the sacrifice and then returned, after the sacrifice.

The abode of Sarah was at a distance from this Beersheba; that is why Abraham had to undertake a journey when he heard of Sarah’s death:

“So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” (Genesis, 23:2)

This shows that on the day Abraham proceeded to sacrifice his son, he took Ismail with him who was residing with him in Beersheba and not Isaac who was living with Sarah far away in Canaan. This is subject to the presumption that Isaac was born by that time, as claimed by the Jews. Otherwise, we believe that Isaac was not even born by that time. Isaac was born after the event of sacrifice as we will show later on.

From the details of the event, it is evident that the son offered in sacrifice was left there by Abraham and was allowed to settle and reside beside the altar. This fact is further confirmed by the words uttered by Abraham on the occasion of the birth of Isaac:`Oh, that Ishmael might live before you.(ie remain in the service of Lord’s House)’, (Genesis 17:18). We have clarified earlier that the phrase, `before the Lord’ means `in the service of the house of the Lord’. The Holy Quran also verifies this statement:

“Abraham said: “Lord I have settled some of my offspring in a barren valley near Your Sacred House, so that they may observe true worship.” (14:37)

Now who is referred to as the one `living near the Sacred House of God (Ka’aba)’? He is definitely Ismail, as both the Christians and Muslims agree that Isaac continued to reside in Canaan along with his mother. For himself, Abraham selected a place midway between the abodes of Isaac and Ismail so that he may see his sons frequently and at the same time remain close to the Holy Ka’aba. That is why when he died, both his sons were with him.

“And his sons Isaac and Ismail buried him.” (Genesis, 25:9)

Second Argument: Ismail was the only son of his father

We have observed earlier that Abraham had been desired by the God to sacrifice his only son (Genesis, Ch 22). Clearly, the only son was Ismail because he was fourteen years older than Isaac:

“Abram was eighty six years old when Hagar bore Ismail to Abram.” (Genesis, 16:16)

“Now Abram was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” (Genesis 21:5)

It flows from these two verses that a) Ismail was Abraham’s only son till such time that Isaac was born, and b) he was this only son whom Abraham sacrificed even before Isaac was born because after that Ismail could no more be referred to as the only son.

Both these conclusions are sufficient evidence from the Old Testament that Abraham offered Ismail in sacrifice. Here it becomes so evident that it gets impossible to be denied. But the Jews and Christians have argued that Ismail had been sent away and Abraham was only left with Isaac, and in a way Isaac became the only son with Abraham at that time. Thus Genesis records him to be the only son, in a figurative sense only. This interpretation is not sustainable because:

a) In fact, Isaac and not Ismail had been sent away. Ismail was actually living with his parents in Beersaba.

b) The figurative interpretation of `the only son’ is very far-fetched. The phrase `only son’ is used for the son who does not share his parents’ love and affection with any other siblings.

Actually, it must have been `your first born son’ in Genesis Ch 22 which appears to have been changed over to `your only son’. The change must have been brought about with the motive to exclude Ismail but instead it went to prove that Ismail was sacrificed even before Isaac was born.

Third Argument: Ismail was his father’s beloved son

In Chapter 22, the son to be offered to God was referred to as `your only son whom you love’. This also goes to show that Ismail is meant here because the Old Testament on more than one occasion indicates that Abraham doted on Ismail. Abraham specially prayed to God for him:

“But Abram said: Lord God what will you give me seeing I go childless and the heir on my house is Eliezer of Damascus ?” Then Abram said: Look You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir! And behold the word of the Lord came to him saying: This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” (Genesis, 15:2-4)

That is why when he bore the son, he named him Ishmael which meant Lord has heard your affliction. It is quite imaginable that Ismail must be his father’s favourite and blue eyed son. Let us imagine an old man who has no offspring and feels dejected on this account, beseeches God for an offspring and when he is blessed with a son at an advanced age, names him Ismail which means God has heard the affliction. Then keeps him pressed to his bosom for thirteen long years. He is all he can pin his hopes on for his old age, and sees no chances for another child. In these circumstances, it can be well imagined how the father would dote on his only son!

Then again when Lord the God promises the birth of another son (Isaac) to Abraham, he utters words which further bring out his special feelings for Ismail. It appears that after the birth of Ismail he is so indebted to God that he is not harbouring any more desires.

“Then Abram fell on his knees and laughed, and said in his heart: shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child ? And Abraham said to God: Oh , that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:17-18)

These feelings are pronounced by Abraham when God is breaking to him the good news of another son. The words, `might live before you’ betray a love that is difficult to fathom. The affection is welling in a fashion that it is difficult for him to conceal it even before God.

Another instance also illustrates Abraham’s love for Ismail. When Sarah wishes to cast out Ismail and his mother and intends to disinherit Ismail, Abraham finds it very displeasing:

“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore, she said to Abraham: Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac. And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight becausof his son.” (Genesis 21:9-11)

Fourth Argument: The incident occurred at Marwah which is situated by the Ka`ba

We have read that when Abraham set out for the sacrifice: `On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off’, (Genesis 22:4). The Jews deem this place to be the Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, while Christians consider it to be the place where Christ was crucified. But their own authorities maintain that this idea has no foundation. We quote their differences on this point from J. W. Colenso a biblical scholar. He has summarized the varied viewpoints and then summed up by recording his findings, thereby acknowledging the extent of changes introduced in the Scripture by human hands. He has pointed out that the place Muriah has been referred to in the Old Testament on four different occasions, and every time it is rendered differently in different versions by the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible.

Septuagint Hebrew Bible

Genesis 22:2 high land the land of Mureh

Genesis 12:6 high terebinth tree the plain of Mureh

Deuteronomy 11:30 beside the high terebinth beside the plain of Mureh

Judges 7:1 by the hill of Mureh by the hill of Mureh

Then even the various translations of the Septuagint do not agree. The Septuagint reads Genesis 22:2 as “high land” whereas Aquila puts it as “prominent land” and Symmachus as “The land of the Vision” 1. Moreover, as we shall see later, not only is it interpreted differently but is also transcribed in more than one renditions when it comes to writing it in Hebrew. J. W. Colenso has contested the claim that Moriah is the hill on which Solomon’s Temple now stands in Jerusalem on the strength of the following proofs:

1. The word Moriah has nowhere been used for the Temple. In the words of Colenso: `The word is not mentioned in any book of the Old Testament which in chronology is later than Solomon’s book.2 The hill on which Solomon erected the temple is always recalled as Zion in the books of the Prophets and Psalms. The word Moriah is never used for the Temple.’

2. The characteristics of Moriah do not agree with those of the site of Temple.

We find the second statement notably cogent. Colinso reasons that the Torah asserts that the place was conspicuous from a distance to which Abraham lifted his eyes, whereas there is no such place at the site of the Temple which suits this description. It is interesting to note that when Mount of the Temple is approached from the east through the Valley of the son of Hinnom, one has to look downhill to behold it, hence the pointlessness of `lifting the eyes’ in Genesis 22. Colinso has also drawn strength from an excerpt by Stanley:

“In the morning Abraham set out from the camp heading for the place indicated by the Lord. The Jews claim it was a place in Jerusalem on the Hill of Moriah, but I do not agree. The Christians insist it was located near the Church of the Holy Tomb. But this idea is even more flimsy. Muslims believe that it was a place in Mecca on Mount Arafat. This view sounds even more odd and baseless. It would be very plausible to look for this place on Mount Gerizim. Its topography also resembles that of an altar.”

It is out of ignorance that this author has ascribed to Muslims, the view of placing the scene of this historic sacrifice on Mount Arafat. To my knowledge no Muslim holds this opinion. As goes for Mount Gerizim, it is believed to be the site of the Altar in question, by the Samaritans, a Jewish sect, which proclaims a different Torah and has more affinity with the Christians than any other Jewish sect could have.

We have dilated on these views only to show that there are wide differences about determining the exact location of Moreh, the site of the Great Sacrifice. A section of biblical scholars has eliminated the name altogether, substituting it with “high terebinths” or “prominent land” or “the land of vision” in subsequent translations. Others have preserved the name but have corrupted the text by adopting the different pronunciations of Moreh, Muriah and Moriah. This is the same age old ruse of jumbling up fact and fiction which has been lamented by the Quran:

“O you People of the Scripture! Why do you confound truth with falsehood and knowingly conceal the Truth?” (3:71)

The correct word is undoubtedly Marwah (the famous hill near Ka’aba in Mecca) and not Moriah or Moreh. The word means shining smooth stone and is precedented frequently in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry.

Now the Hebrew word Moreh is derived either from Yara (fear or wonder) or Yarah (archery or moistening)3. Had the original word been Moreh, as the existing text suggests, the biblical translators would have preferred these meanings instead of “prominent land” or “land of vision”. The scribes of Pentateuch appear to have found it originally in the form Marwah but being the proper name of an unknown place situated far away in Arabia, it was difficult for them to translate it. Incidentally, there was a similar Hebrew word Marah which is derived from Ra’ah (Vision). The scribes mistook Marwah for Marah and in their effort to make the word meaningful to their predominantly Hebrew readers, translated it “Vision” and “Prominent”. When the translations became canonized with the passage of time, the original word was lost or confused and the Biblical scholars ended up with the word Moreh or Moriah.

In translations or versions where the name of the place has not been translated and the original name appears to have been preserved, the various extant forms of the word still suggest that it must have been Marwah.

The confusion was spawned by the fact that the classical Hebrew script had no indications of vowels. These were introduced later. In the absence of an oral tradition of transmission where people would commit the text to memory, the original accents and pronunciations could not be preserved. Consequently, the erroneous insertion of vowels sometimes completely changed the form of words and opened a floodgate of textual corruption. The word in question would have been originally written devoid of vowels but of course with a definite pronunciation. It suffered transformation later when vowels were added.4

Let us study this transformation in some detail. This transformation took three forms.

Original Form Changed Form Possible Pronunciation

Marwah Muryah Muriyyah

Mooriyah Mooriyaah

Mooreh Mooreh

The mechanism by which these changes came around needs to be considered. In the first case, the word Marwah was converted to Muryah. This is because the Arabic letter “w” is usually converted into Hebrew letter “y” (Yodh); for example Jol was turned into Jyl, Khoh into Khyh. This fact becomes more transparent when we find that in all roots which are common in Arabic and Hebrew, the Arabic “w” is changed to the Hebrew “y”, for instance we may note the change from Walo to Waly. It is still more evident when a root which is common in Arabic and Hebrew begins with “w”, such as the conversion of Arabic Walad to Hebrew Yalad, Ward to Yarad, Waqr to Yaqar and Wa’az to Ya’az. This shifting of syllables occurred either because of the convenience it offered in pronouncing the word, or because of the similarity in the way Hebrew alphabets “Waw” and “Yodh” are written.

The second change from Marwah to Moriyah occurred because they presumed that the letter “Mem” carried a vowel (sounding like Hebrew letter “Waw” or English letter O) and carried the presumption too far by replacing the vowel with letter “Waw”. This is not unusual in Hebrew and we have other examples such as the transformation of Y’tar to Yotar.

In the third case, the word Marwah (Arabic M’rwah) got converted into Morah (Hebrew Mwrah) when letters “Res” (English letter R) and “Waw” were allowed to exchange their places. Either it was in consonance with their habit of making like changes in Arabic words (such as their adoption of Jar’w as J’wr, Hafi as Yahaf, Alo as Ya’al, Kahal as Kalah) or because of the close resemblance between letters “Res” and “Waw” in Hebrew script. The latter probability is always there, particularly when the scribes deliberately intend to corrupt the text. There are many occasions when the Biblical scribhave actually thrived on this confusion because of similarity in written form of these letters. For instance they changed B’r’s into Bos.

It remains to be seen where this venue of the Great Sacrifice is actually located. The Jews consider it to be the place in Jerusalem where the Temple is situated. Christians place it at the Church of Holy Tomb. These claims have been sufficiently rebutted by their own intellectuals. As far as Stanley’s claim of identifying Moreh with Mount Gerizim is concerned, it is only based on conjecture. The mountain assumes the form of a table like plateau which strikingly resembles the shape of an altar. This led Stanley to believe that the altar referred to, in Genesis, must be Mount Gerizim. But unfortunately there are no compelling reasons to believe it. Also there is hardly anyone in the West who is for Stanley in his unique finding and scholars are hesitant to receive it.

We hold that this is exactly the same place in the Arabian Peninsula where the Children of Ismail have lived since earliest times and which has always been known as Marwah. The Book of Judges states:

“Then Jerubbaal (that is Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.” (Judges, 7:1)

This illustrates that the Hill of Moreh was situated by the side of the Midianite camp and it is an established fact that by Midianites the Old Testament means the Arabs. The word is commonly used for the Arabs. Jewish scriptures are quite loud on it that Midianites were in fact the children of Ismail. George Sale, who has to his credit the first English version of the Holy Quran, states:

“Midian was one of the cities of Hijaz (Arabia). It was situated in the south east of Sinai on Red Sea. Doubtlessly, this is the same place which is referred to by Ptolemy as Modiana.”

The Old Testament further asserts:

“Then the men of Israel said to Gideon: Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.

But Gideon said to them: I will not rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you. Then Gideon said to them: I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the ear-rings from his plunder. For they had golden ear-rings, because they were Ishmaelites.” (Judges 8:22-23)

“And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camel, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh on their way to carry them on to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers: What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmailites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.” (Genesis, 37:25-28)

Thus Moreh was a place in the abode of Midianites and Midianites is only another name for Ismaelites, and Midian is a town situated in Arabia on the coast of Red Sea. We have also shown that Moreh is in fact the corrupted form of Marwah and there is no place in Palestine or Syria with the name of Moreh. The Jews introduced the name Moreh in their scriptures and tried to identify more than one spots with it, a contention which they could not get accepted even by their own authorities. This leaves the argument that Moreh is actually Mount Jerusalem, devoid of any strength.5

There are other reasons to believe that Marwah is actually a hill in Arabia, the land of Children of Ismail. In fact, it is one of the places with which the Arabs were quite familiar and it was the center of their religious rites on the occasion of Haj wherein it was mandatory to rally around it. That is why when the name Marwah is mentioned in the Quran, the details of its geographical location were deemed unnecessary. It has been indicated that it is one of the Signs of God and that the People of the Book tried to conceal it by textual interpolations although Allah had elaborately explained it. The detail of these statements of the Quran will appear in the second chapter.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sws), while watching the animals waiting to be sacrificed by Marwah, is reported to have pointed at Marwah and said: `This is The Altar and all roads to Mecca are altars.’ On another occasion, he is reported to have said that Mina is also an altar. Here we must note that the Prophet Peace be upon him declares Marwah to be “The Altar” (with a definite article), whereas the other places are referred to as “altars” (with indefinite article) which reduces them to the status of merely being one of the many altars.

The Holy Quran illustrates this fact from another angle. Referring to the animals brought for offering on Haj it observes:

“In the end, their place of offering is near the ancient house [The Ka’aba].” (22:33)

“… the offering brought to the Ka’aba.” (5:95)

This means that the animals brought for the offering should reach Ka’aba, because The Altar is situated near the “ancient house” which was raised in the beginning for this purpose.

“The first house (of worship) ever to be built was that at Bekka, a blessed place and a beacon for nations.” (3:96)

Now Marwah is situated beside Holy Ka’aba and it is The Altar. However with the passage of time as the followers of Islam spread through the world, the ambit of The Altar was also expanded around it. The Muslims and People of the Book concur that The Altar of Abraham was in the proximity of the Baitullah (House of Allah) which the Bible terms as Bethel (House of the Lord):

“Abraham passed through the land to the place of Shechem as far as Moreh and the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said: To your descendants I will give this land. And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the Mountain east of Bethel ( House of Lord) and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.”(Genesis, 12:6-8)

Other details of the incident as stated in the Old Testament, also conform to the surroundings of Marwah and do not agree with the location of Mount Jerusalem, which is called erroneously as Moreh, Moriyah or Muriyah by the Jews. A comparison of all statements shows that Abraham, in fact, came from the East, left both his slaves on a hill nearby, and zealously marched to Marwah with his only son, Ismail. And as indicated in Genesis 12:1-8, Abraham lived somewhere around Safa. On this occasion the Torah relates yet another version of Abraham’s journey to Moreh but the incident of the great sacrifice is not mentioned. (Gen 12:6)

These are the reasons which have given birth to the age old traditions and religious rites and customs among the Arabian tribe of Ismail which have survived to our times6; and such traditional remnants are conspicuously absent in respect of Mount Jerusalem.

(Translated by Nadir Aqueel Ansari)

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