Audio: Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael – perspectives from three faiths

The Wellington Council of Christians and Jews held a public meeting on Wednesday 20 October 2010 on Abraham’s challenge from God to sacrifice his son from Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. The event was very well attended with over 120 people from all backgrounds in the audience.

The newly appointed rabbi at the Wellington Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi David Alima spoke about the revolutionary nature of the event, in that up until that time human sacrifice was common, While God was testing Abraham’s faith, whether his commitment to God was so strong that he would even be willing to sacrifice his son, once that commitment had been demonstrated, people would no longer be requested to sacrifice other people. We can “sacrifice” ourselves to God for our religion, but life is sacred and we can’t kill ourselves or other people for our religion.

Listen to or download Rabbi David Alima’s talk:

The Reverand Jenny Chalmers took us through the Christian perspective on the “multilayered sharply paradoxical story with many meanings and symbols”. On one level it is about the development of our moral and ethical framework. On another level, Abraham was rewarded for obeying God unconditionally with the life of his son, and becoming the “father of faith”. The binding of Isaac informs Christian thinking, showing that faith and work are inseperable, and there are parallels between Abraham offering to sacrifice his son, and God offering to sacrifice his own son.

Listen to or download Rev Jenny Chalmer’s talk:

Hazret Adam from the Wellington Islamic Centre explained that in the Koran, the name of the son that Abraham is told to sacrifice is not mentioned, however in Muslim tradition, it is not Isaac but rather Ishamel that is offered for sacrifice. Many of the events surrounding the Hajj, or annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca are centred around the events of this story. Instead of sacrificing his son, Abraham is shown a lamb to sacrifice in his stead, which is re-enacted in the Hajj. The sacrifice of the lamb represents our sacrificing our animal instincts, that come as a boundary to our service to God, to our submission to God.

Listen to or download Hazret Adam’s talk:

During the panel discussion, the question was asked “Given that God is omniscient and omnipotent, why does he bother testing us when He already knows the outcome?”. All three panellists agreed that when we are tested, the test is to teach us how to extend our own limitations, for our benefit rather than God’s.

In all it was a very interesting evening, with many fascinating discussions following the formal part of the evening over a cup of tea.

The next public meeting of the Council of Christians and Jews will take place early next year, and will focus on Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion.