The Only Son offered for Sacrifice Isaac or Ishmael?or a book that was originallyintended to be an appendix to another largerwork, namely Paran Prophecy of the Bible regarding the Prophet of Islam, its writer's opinion that Isaac or Ishmael? has, instead, become a modest attempt to solve a long addressed problem on the principles of objective research is, indeed, something of a humble understatement.
Few Muslim scholars in the recent past have addressed the question of the identity of the actual son of the Prophet Abraham (sws) who was taken for sacrifice, with such vigour and tenacity as has been done by Abdus Sattar Ghawri in his Isaac or Ishmael? What makes Ghawri's work of particular relevance is his almost total, albeit deliberate, reliance on the Bible and the works of Biblical scholars to prove his point. Indeed, and as the author himself whole-heartedly admits, the question that he addresses in his book had been 'settled once forever' by the celebrated South Asian Muslim scholar, Imam Hamid al-Din Farahi in his masterly Arabic work, al-Ray al-Sahih fi man huwa al-dhabih. Muslim scholarship on the subject, which was based primarily on Muslim sources, had, thus, probably effected a culmination with Farahi's work in the first quarter of the twentieth century. However, genuine Muslim scholarship on the same subject, based on Judeo-Christian sources, was not as forthcoming.
It is, perhaps, into this genre of academic work on the topic that Isaac or Ishmael? categorically falls, and in which it has become something of a pioneering effort.To say, today, that the work of an artist has an innate tendency to grow on him as he progresses with it, is to say something that is generally accepted as a matter of fact.
Indeed, true art and any effort worth its time can be rendered to the sublimities of a quintessential art form presupposes an evolution of purpose within the artist in his work. True scholarship, too, is not beyond the pale of such artistic renditions.
That much, at least, is in evidence as one reads through the path of discovery which Ghawri charts out for us in the progression, indeed, the evolution of themes that centres round the moot question: was it Isaac (sws) or Ishmael (sws) who was to be sacrificed by Abraham (sws)? Doubtless, in this evolution of themes around the central point, there has been a broadening of the very scope of the book itself. Thus, it covers, and addresses a whole host of different, yet intimately related, incidents and issues that must necessarily be of the greatest interest to the genuine scholar, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Amongst others, it covers the relevant themes of the site of Makkah according to the Bible; pilgrimage to Makkah as described in the Bible, the site of al-Marwah in the Bible, King David's (sws) visit and pilgrimage to Makkah and of his later yearning to be there; the offering of sacrifices at Makkah as mentioned in the Book of Isaiah; the well of Zamzam and a brief, yet significant, outline of the history of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.The Judeo-Christian viewpoint on the subject has consistently been one which asserts that it was Isaac, and not Ishmael, who was taken for the sacrifice by the Patriarch Abraham (sws). Strangely enough, however, and as Ghawri points out, in his introduction, while the Bible has recorded the story of the sacrifice in a fairly detailed manner, the name of the only son of Abraham (sws) as Isaac (sws) has been mentioned but once in the whole of the narrative.
Granted the strength of the contention over this issue down the centuries, it can hardly be any advantage, whatsoever, for the Judeo-Christian camp, that the son of Abraham (sws) offered for the sacrifice has been referred to as Isaac (sws) but once in the whole of the Biblical narrative.
On the other hand, Ghawri also states that a majority of the Muslim scholars affirm that it was Ishmael (sws), and not Isaac (sws), who was taken for sacrifice. Interestingly, this implies that there is a minority of Muslim scholars who, apart from the traditional accounts of the Muslims, are, at best, unsure of the exact facts of history the identity of the son of Abraham (sws) who was offered for the sacrifice. In the main, such a minority opinion amongst Muslims must necessarily owe itself to the fact that while the Qur'an describes God's command to Abraham (sws) and of Abraham's (sws) willing submission in taking his obedient son for the sacrifice, it does not, by itself, reveal the exact identity of the son concerned.