An E-mail to the writer from Biju Abdul Qadir,

Editor, Young Muslim Digest,


It (your book) left upon me the distinct impression of being a work that has been thoroughly researched for the subject that it deals with. Without exaggerating in the least, it may even be said that in the reading experiences of this writer, he has hardly come across a more diligent study on so crucial a subject as the identity of the son of Abraham who was offered for sacrifice.

Biju Abdul Qadir

Dated 07-06-05            


Young Muslim Digest,

Bangalore (INDIA): September, 2005.


Isaac or Ishmael?

Author: Abdus Sattar Ghawri

Publisher: Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences

Reviewer: Biju Abdul Qadir,  ed.,Y M D, Bangalore.


For a book that was intended to be an appendix to another one, namely Paran prophecy of the Bible regarding the Prophet of Islam, the writer’s contention that Isaac or Ishmael? has instead become an 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 who was taken for the 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, which was later translated into English (Who was offered for sacrifice?) by Nadir Aqeel Ansari while its Urdu version was produced by Amin Ahsan Islahi in 1975. Muslim scholarship on the subject that 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 center around the moot question: ‘was it Isaac or Ishmael who was taken for the sacrifice by Abraham?’ 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 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. 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 as Isaac 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 only son of Abraham offered for the sacrifice has been referred to as Isaac 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, and not Isaac, who was taken for sacrifice. Interestingly, this implies that there is a minority of Muslim scholars who, apart from the traditional writings of the Muslims, are, at best, unsure of the exact facts of history: of the identity of the son of Abraham 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 and of Abraham’s willing submission in taking his obedient son for the sacrifice, it does not, by itself, reveal the exact identity of the son concerned.


However, to go by the Biblical version of the identity of the son as being Isaac, would be to trust in the fleeting opinion of a redactor who penned down his wishful thinking, as presumably being part of the Divine word, a full one thousand years after the incident of the sacrifice. Evidently, serious historians would hardly take such naïve, or even pious, assumptions as genuine facts of history, particularly when the only instance in which the identity of the son is mentioned appears almost totally out of context, and in a manner which provides genuine grounds for suspicion. This, then, has been the methodology adopted by Ghawri throughout his presentation of the problem - a problem about which one observer noted very pertinently: ‘Lying at the root of centuries old Judeo-Muslim differences, this controversy is all that the Judeo-Muslim relations stand for.’ [It was the observation of Mr. Nadir Aqeel Ansari]


Ghawri’s has been an effort to, among other things, present a logical appreciation of the statements, factual or otherwise, that appear in the Bible. In thus providing a logical context for the narratives in the Bible, and with his own sure-footed understanding of history and data handling, his has been a thorough study of the subject which owes its authentication not to Muslim scholarship, but to the opinions and considered judgements of some of the greatest names in modern Biblical scholarship within the Judeo-Christian world. It is in this connection that reference must be made to the remarkable number of books and authorities which the learned author has consulted in the making of this ground-breaking research. Indeed, the extensive footnotes to which the attention of the reader is constantly invited in almost every page of the book constitutes a significant, if not a major, part of the work itself. In fact, the footnotes and annotations form a parallel world that operates on the reader’s understanding in tandem with the main body of the book. The end result, of course, has been an overwhelming body of evidence in favour of Ishmael having been the son who was offered for the sacrifice: a conclusion made even more relevant by the fact that it was derived almost in its entirety from the Bible, and from the works of renowned scholars of the Bible.


Of especial consideration, with regard to Ghawri’s approach, must certainly be his eye for detail and his ability to go directly to the point; to the heart of the matter, as it were. While this approach has necessitated a seeming repetition of relevant aspects throughout the course of the study, when read in conjunction with the immediate context of the author’s arguments, however, these repetitions almost never end in the dry monotony that would be otherwise expected of them. Contrariwise, they result in a further consolidation of the strength of the argument. One instance wherein the author’s ability to go directly to the substance of the argument is seen quite early on in the work. A classical stance of the modern Judeo-Christian world with regard to the identity of the son taken for the sacrifice has been that while Ishmael was, indeed, the first born of Abraham, he need not be considered as such owing to his ‘low’ birth through Hagar, a mere bondservant of Abraham. As such, it must be Isaac, born through Sarah, the ‘real’ wife of Abraham, who needs to be considered as the first-born and the only son of Abraham. In a manner that amply illustrates the way in which he demolishes all such false, egotistic pretensions of the Judeo-Christian world, Ghawri quite simply brings the attention of the reader to the following passage from Deuteronomy:


“If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the first born son be her’s that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh his son to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved first born before the son of the hated, which is indeed the first-born: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the first-born, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the first born is his.” (Deuteronomy xxi: 15-17, KJV, p.181)

It would not be too much to say that Ghawri has merely allowed facts, and aberrations, from the Bible to speak for themselves. The rest of the matter should be easily settled by the common sense and intellectual logic of the impartial seeker after truth. The author’s committed labours lend credence to the fact that scriptural aberrations or corruptions, far from hiding the facts, actually leave, in their wake, a string of clues and trails which the real historian, working with the advantage of hindsight, can sift and reassemble to reconstruct a semblance of what might, indeed, be the real Truth.


The sections appended to the book as Appendix I, II and III (titled respectively as Beersheba: the ‘Well of Seven’ or the ‘Well of Zamzam,’ The Text of the Bible and Some Types of Corruptions in It, and A Brief Account of the History of the Temple of Solomon) might very well have formed integral portions of the book, which, technicalities apart, they actually do. This is very much owing to the fact that they supplement the arguments in the core sections of the book, and the book would have been all the poorer for their absence from it. A useful index and a complete table of bibliographical references (which include 25 versions of the Bible, 39 commentaries on the Bible, 53 encyclopedias and 16 other Biblical studies, all by Christian scholars) must further place the work of Ghawri amongst the top-most references on the subject today. Indeed, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that Isaac or Ishmael?has substantially altered the way in which the academic world must view the answer to the age-old question that it poses.


A fellow of the prestigious Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences, Lahore, Abdus Sattar Ghawri is the author of a number of articles on the Biblical text that has special reference to the prophecies heralding the advent of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He has also lectured extensively on the subject. This robust experience in treating the subject at hand is fairly visible in Ghawri’s Isaac or Ishmael?  If the results of his honest labours are accepted in a spirit a impartiality and good-will within the community of Jews and Christians, it goes without saying that it will help in clearing the international atmosphere between the Muslims and the Judeo-Christian world so much vitiated by misunderstanding and hostility begotten of centuries of ignorance and mistrust. To this end has surely been the author’s motivation, and in this end-result, most certainly lies, his higher reward. His highest reward, of course, must, like all other sincere efforts in the Islamic cause, find its expression in the presence of his Maker, Lord of all Creation.



Quarterly Fikr-o-Nazar, Islamic Research

Institute, Islamabad Vol. 42; No.3: 1-3/2005


Mr. Ghauri’s book provides valuable information regarding the important topics like the ‘Only Son’ offered for sacrifice, Beersheba, and Bakkah. He has established his viewpoint with very convincing arguments. He has availed himself immensely of the existing works of the Western scholars on these themes. His style is that of a research scholar rather than polemical. (…). It is, of course, an esteemed scholastic effort. Mr. Ghauri genuinely deserves felicitation for it.



Quarterly Tahqeeqaat-e-Islami,

Aligarh (India)Vol. 24; No.3: 7-9/2005


The style of the learned writer is objective, scientific, and research oriented. He has availed himself of different versions and translations of the Bible, its commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, atlases, and encyclopaedias in his works. This book is a valuable contribution on the theme. The learned writer deserves praise and felicitation for it.



Radiance Views weekly, 

New Delhi: 16-22 January 2005


(…). Ghauri deals with this issue in a very systematic manner in 11 chapters with 3 important appendices (…).

The two main issues selected by Ghauri are: (a) which son of Prophet Ibrahim was offered for sacrifice? (Chapters I to IV), and (b) what was the place of sacrifice (Moriah or Al-Marwah) and related matters (Chapters V to XI).

Before moving further it is better to summarize the story of prophet Ibrahim. Prophet Ibrahim was a prophet of Allah. He had two wives – one, Sarah and the other Hagar (Hajirah). Noble Hajirah was an Egyptian princess, daughter of Pharaoh, who had offered her to Ibrahim. At that time Prophet Ibrahim was issueless. Hajirah gave birth to the first son of Prophet Ibrahim. His name was Ismail, to whose progeny last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, (peace be upon him) came. Later another son of Prophet Ibrahim was born by noble Sarah. His name was Isaac, whose progeny includes Prophets like Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus. The Jews generally consider Prophet Ismail of inferior origin. As Ibrahim was a great Prophet whose life was full of sacrifices, God ordered him to sacrifice his ‘only son’ or ‘beloved son’ into the land of Moriah. But when finally he took the knife to slay his son, God stopped him. The Jews and Christians consider Prophet Isaac the ‘only son’ referred to above for the special sacrifice. For [most of the] Muslims, it was Prophet Ismail. The Hajj Pilgrimage is based on the traditions of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Ismail and noble Hajirah’s faiths and sacrifices at Makkah.

The author’s methodology is simple. First he would put forward the Bible story or the claims of the Biblical scholars directly and comment on its weaknesses in the footnotes or in the text as the growth of story demands. Second, he would show its contradictions by extensively citing the criticism of Jewish or Christian scholars on the story or the thesis. Third, he would also raise questions and answer them with utmost skill. He mostly did his construction or deconstruction by using the works of Jewish or Christian scholars.

In these discussions, the author has not claimed any superiority of Prophet Ismail over Prophet Isaac. He avers, ‘The Biblical scholars have taken much liberties with the interpretations of Biblical themes while depicting the characters of Ibrahim, Ismail, Isaac … Sarah and Hagar. The writer of the present book holds all of these great personalities equally respectable, honourable and innocent.’

There is no doubt that the book has been written in ‘vintage scholarly style’. I would like to make a suggesstion at the end. As most of us are not familiar with Biblical historiography [or ‘chronology’?], it would be pertinent to add a chapter thereon in the beginning of the book  Without this full appreciation of the book is not possible [The Chronology has now been given in Appendix on ‘A Brief Account of the History of Jerusalem’]. (By Javed Ali)



Islamic Studies; Vol.44; No.1: Spring 2005


In the Second Appendix, Ghauri gives heaps of evidence about the different types of intentional and unintentional corruption in the text of both the Old and the New Testaments. This is followed by a brief account of the history of the Temple of Solomon in the Third Appendix. These appendices have added to the value of this scholarly work. (….), the book has been written in a scholarly manner and the author attempts to accumulate irrefutable arguments in support of his views.


The Daily

Pakistan Observer, Islamabad:

07 August, 2004


Mr. Abdus Sattar Ghauri, the learned author of this well-researched work, must be complimented for the trmendous work he has done in documenting this important issue of religious history. This issue, of course, has direct bearing on the relationship of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) with Abraham (AS) and the land where the latter had settled his progeny, i.e. Arabia. Besides discussing the main issue, Mr. Ghauri has added some other related topics as well in the book. These include the locations of Makkah, Al-Marwah and the well of Zamzam. 

Here, it may be made clear that at some places the writer of this book had to reproduce some Biblical authorities, which implied the comparison between the Prophets. The Biblical sholars have taken much liberties with the interpretations of Biblical themes while depicting the cahracters of Abraham, Ishma‘el and Isaac. Regrettably, noble Sarah has been depicted as a very cruel, jealous and revengeful woman, while dealing with noble Hajra and her son, Ishma‘el.

Mr. Ghauri, however, differs with these Biblical scholars and holds all of these great personalities as equally respected, honourable and innocent. It is, indeed, a matter of great interest to note that this event of the offering for sacrifice was reduced to writing in the Bible more than a thousand years after its happening. It is quite unknown who its writer was and what his credentials were, but, of certain, he was not an eyewitness of the event.

Commenting on the book, Allama Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, the profound scholar of Islam, remarks that going deep into the ancient time, the learned author has conducted an incisive multidisciplinary analysis to bring out the truth. Marked by copious references, this book testifies that the author has an eye for the subtle and the penetrating details.

[Allama Ghamidi, continuing his observations, asserts:] The author has indeed, undertaken daunting task to gather and arrange all the scattered pieces of the facts that were also defaced by corruption and ignorance. Further, Allama Ghamidi asserts that many a time, textual corruption, far from hiding the truth, actually leaves behind bright clues and trails, which, in turn, help reconstruct the disjointed pieces of the picture.

To conclude: Mr. Ghauri has brought forth copious evidence to show that Abraham had offered Ishma‘el for sacrifice. He has made an attempt to solve a long addressed problem on the principles of objective research. He has also tried to present the evidence faithfully and without any manipulations. A narrative par excellence, indeed!

(Reviewed by: Col. (R) Ghulam Sarwar.



Vidyajyoti Journal,

4-A, Raj Niwas Building, Delhi-110 054


This book is the fruit of a serious effort at studying a complex issue. The author has studied the problem not only by drawing on Islamic resource material but also by studying a wide selection of Christian scholarship. As such, it must be admitted that the book is a unique contribution in the field of Muslim-Christian scholarly dialogue. It is rare to see a Muslim scholar approach Christian scholarship to build his argument. Hence, as an effort in the area of Muslim-Christian dialogue, this work must be welcomed.

Reviewer:  The Rev.Herman Roborgh, Research Scholar,

   Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.



9934_ NRT_08_Bibliographie    14-03-2007    09:04   Page 336




Nouvelle Revue Theologique


Ghawri, A.S., The Only Son offered for Sacrifice Isaac or Ishmael?, with Zamzamm Al-Marwah, and Makkah in the Bible, Lahore, Al-Mawrid, 2004, 22x15, xiv-310p., 15 $.



Un livre bien étrange que celui de ce chercheur Pakistanais qui déploie une érudition absolument étonnante et un esprit inquisiteur remarqablement ingénieux pour prouver que "le fils unique" que devait sacrifier Abraham au mont Moriah n'était pas Isaac (tradition Judéo-chrétienne), mais bien Ismaël (traduction musulmane). Mettant bout a bout des analyses de textes provenant de commentaires bibliques divers anciens et récents, des détails sur les processus de transmission des manuscrits et les erreurs qu'ils perpétuent, dans la tradition tant juive et chrétienne que musulmane, il en arrive à démontrer avec aplomb que l'interprétation musulmane est la seule objective. Il poursuit sa lancée en identifiant le Moriah à la Ka'bah, construite par Abraham et Ismaël (!), et il découvre que le pèlerinage à La Mecque (Mekkah) se trouverait mentionné dans la Bible par Isaïe 60 et dans les Psaumes, notamment Ps 84,7 (=vallée de Baka).

Beaucoup de notations intéressantes dans ce travail, surtout à propos de l’évolution de la double lecture des textes bibliques, mais malheureusement au service d'une cause fondamentaliste qui historicise le "sacrifice d' Abraham" sans y percevoir le message essentiel. Tout en admirant la sagacité et la patience de I'A., nous ne pouvons le suivre dans son raisonnement.---J.R.

                                                Tome 129/ 2 (annee 2007)

de la part - et avec le merci - due secr. de la

Nouvelle Revue Théologique

Boulevard Saint-Michel, 24   BE-1040 Bruxelles    tel. 00 32 2739 34 80




Its English translation


Dr. Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi:



Nouvelle Revue Theologique


A very strange book by this Pakistani researcher who deploys an absolutely astonishing scholarship as well as an inquisitor spirit which is remarkably ingenious to prove that ‘the only son’ whom Abraham was to sacrifice on Mount Moriah  was not Isaac (the Judeo-Christian tradition), but rather Ismael (Muslim interpretation).  From beginning to end of the analysis of texts derived from various biblical commentaries, both ancient and recent, from details in the process of transmission of the manuscripts, and the errors which they perpetuate – in the Jewish and  Christian  as well as Muslim tradition – he finally shows with firmness that the Muslim interpretation is the only objective one. He continues his course by identifying Moriah with Ka' bah, built by Abraham and Ismael (!), and he discovers that the mention of the pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah) is found in the Bible in Isiah 60 and the Psalms, in particular PS 84,7 (=valley of Baka).

There are many interesting notes and observations in this work, especially as regards the evolution of the double readings or versions of the Biblical texts, but unfortunately, in the service of a fundamentalist cause which historicises “Abraham's sacrifice” without perceiving the essential message here. While fully admiring the author’s sagacity and patience, we cannot agree with him in his argumentation.