Abraham (Ibrahim) is a key figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Remember – these are called the three “Abrahamic” faiths! Each religion, however, takes a different perspective on him, and in the case of Judaism and Islam, has a rich set of stories about him – some surprisingly similar! Needless to say, each of these stories is used to highlight a different characteristic of him, and these characteristics are critical to understanding elements of each religion.
The one story that each religion gravitates to is what is commonly known as the “binding” (of Isaac / Ishaq). In the Jewish account, Ishmael (Isma’il, Isaac’s brother) has been sent away by Abraham and Sarah, and Abraham is instructed to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. There are many, many midrash (attempts to explain, often captured as stories) about what happens before, during and after the event in Jewish sacred writings, and the presumed mindset of Abraham is hotly debated.
Christianity takes the same Biblical account and uses Isaac as a “pointer” to Jesus: the son who will be sacrificed for the good of humanity. The main posture of Abraham is seen to be one of pure faith, and the fact that Jesus died but Isaac didn’t is a wrinkle that, when noticed, emphasizes the “fulfillment” of the Biblical story, rather than a deviation from it.
Islam has the son unnamed throughout the incident, although context (and modern convention) seem to indicate it was Isma’il. As with the Biblical account in Christianity, the account in the Q’ran is taken as complete, and Isma’il leaves the scene to continue the lineage to Muhammad. While also a test of Ibrahim’s faith, this near-sacrifice is more seen as a pure submission to Allah’s (God’s) will, there being no doubt in Ibrahim’s mind that what will be is what Allah had always intended.
From these three similar versions of “the binding,” we can point to some of the stronger themes in each religion: the obligation to wrestle with the text in Judaism, the value of faith in God and God’s Messiah in Christianity, and the submission to Allah’s loving will in Islam.