Comparing Qur’anic and Biblical Depictions of Abraham

As many as 50 characters who appear in the Holy Bible also appear in the Holy Qur’an. This includes that of Abraham, Issac and Ismael as well. The Qur’an, having appeared seven centuries after the Holy Bible, believed by Muslims to be the more authoritative text. Consequently, there are many differences between the stories of these characters in the two texts, with followers and clerics divided on which account is the more truthful one. This paper will take up the historical character of Abraham (and his extended family) and identify how it is portrayed differently in the two religious scriptures in question. In particular, it will argue that the tone and moral stringency associated with the life of Abraham (and his family) comes across as less lenient in the Holy Bible when compared to that in Holy Qur’an.

There are similarities in the two accounts, in that messengers come to Abraham’s abode (on their way to destroying Sodom and Gomorrah) and promise him that by God’s mercy he and his wife will have a child. Upon hearing this, both Abraham and his wife Sarah are taken aback, for they think they are too old to have a child. In Genesis 18:12, Sarah notes “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”. Similarly, in Hud 11:17, translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, she says “Alas for me! Shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!”. In both cases, angels answer back to her doubts and assure her that with God’s will she will soon be bearing a son.

Later in the Biblical narrative, God tries to test Abraham’s faithfulness toward him and orders him to sacrifice his son. Being the faithful follower that he is, Abraham does not hesitate before acting upon his orders. Satiated and impressed by Abraham’s faithfulness and devotion, God intervenes in the nick of time and asks him to stop the sacrifice of his son and instead offers a substitute sacrifice. But while the outline of this story is the same in the two holy texts, they also carry crucial differences. Firstly, in the Genesis, there is no ambiguity as to which of Abraham’s two sons God is referring to. It is quite clear that the person intended for sacrifice is Isaac. In the Holy Qur’an, on the other hand, there is no explicit mention of either son’s name, but there are strong hints that it is Ishmael. Qur’an also has it that this event happened previous to the birth of Isaac. In the Genesis, God communicates with Abraham directly, whereas in the Qur’an, he appears as a vision. In the Holy Qur’an, Abraham is stated to have told his son that he will be sacrificed. In the Bible, on the other hand, Abraham doesn’t explicitly mention this, but instead tells that “God will provide the sacrifice”. But what strengthens the thesis, (namely that the tone and moral dogma in the narrative of the life of Abraham is softer in the Qur’an than in the Bible) is the following interpretation of the Qur’anic narrative.

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