Much has been said about the similarities between Judaism (as recorded in the old testament of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah) and Islam (as recorded in the Qur’an), but I will touch on a very interesting subject that point to what will suggest the part of the road that forked from where the two religions appeared to go their different paths.
Interestingly Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim festival that will be coming up in a day’s time highlights this rift more than any other. The fact that the characters involved in the story associated with the festival, are familiar to the three Abrahamic religions and the fact that only Islam lays any importance to it in terms of associating a holiday to it while the others appear to ignore it speaks volumes.
I’ll make comparisons between the Islamic story and the Jewish ( and by extension the Christian). To start with ‘Hajar’ in the Qur’an is the ‘Hagar’ in the Bible book of Genesis.
Hajar is considered as one of the wives of Ibrahim in the Qur’an, while she’s said to be one of the slaves of Abraham’s wife Sarah (in the Bible), who had been barren and had asked her husband to ‘go in’ to Hagar so he might have a child by her.
Hagar soon conceives and gives birth to Ishmael (Ismail in the Qur’an). According to the Bible though, after much ado Sarah herself delivers a son, Isaac in old age. There’s rivalry between the women as the boys grow older, with Ishmael the first, but Isaac considered the ‘Chosen One’ and ‘Child of Promise’.
Sarah advices Abraham to ‘cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac’.
Abraham, ends up sending Hagar away with her son.
In the Qur’an, Ibrahim is instructed by Allah (SAW) to bring Hajar, his Egyptian wife and Ismail (his only child at the time), to Arabia from the land of Canaan, placing the event before the birth of Isaac.
But the fact that that displacement was nothing short of acrimonious can be seen in Hajar’s remarks to Ibrahim after he dropped them in Arabia and made to leave. ”Did God order you to leave us here? Or are you leaving us here to die?”, to which Ibrahim turned around to face his WIFE, in sadness then pointed to the sky showing that he only obeyed the commandment of God.
”Then God will not waste us; you can go”, retorted Hajar.
The miracle of water gushing out of the ground in response to Hajar’s prayer after Ismail almost died from thirst is also recorded in the Bible however the fact they also traded with the water to passing nomads for food and supplies is peculiar only with the Qur’an.
It is beside this well that Islam claims Ibrahim was to later return to from Canaan to build a place of worship, the KAABA.
Now, back to the bone of contention. Ibrahim was instructed to sacrifice his only son (Ismail at the time) as a form of trial. During the preparation however, Shaitan (Satan in the Bible) tempts Ibrahim and his family by trying to dissuade them from carrying out the Divine instructions. The rejection of Shaitan’s advice by Ibrahim is commemorated by Muslims when they throw stones at symbolic pillars signifying Shaitan during the HAJJ rites.
Ibrahim goes ahead to attempt to sacrifice Ismail (his only son that came after many years of prayer), who when he was told showed no hesitation or reservation, but said “Father, do what you have been commanded. You will find me, Insha’Allah to be very patient”. When Ibrahim attempts to cut Ismail’s throat, he was astonished to see that he was unharmed and instead found a dead ram which was slaughtered.
This story apart from a few places is similar to the Bible’s. There’s no temptation by Satan, and the ram that appeared as Abraham made to sacrifice his son wasn’t already slaughtered. Most importantly, the son in this case isn’t Ismail but Isaac.
The Qur’an records that as reward for Ibrahim’s obedience he was granted the good news of the birth of his second son, Is-haaq (Isaac in the Bible).
Same story with minor differences, but major differences in the dramatis personae. Jews (and by extension Christians) can claim that they proclaimed their story first, but the Arabs (and by extension Muslims) can claim that they heard (the story) differently.
This simple story lies at the heart of the geo-politico-religio-socio-economic situation in the middle-east today, and amongst the Abrahamic religions.
But above all, the light in all these remains Ibrahim’s/Abraham’s total submission to the will of his Creator, something we’ll do well to emulate.