One of the most difficult divine tests for prophets is the command that was given to Abraham (AS) to sacrifice his son, a child that bestowed to them in the old age and when the wife of Abraham had no hope; “And We gave him the glad tidings of a very gentle son” (Surah As-Saaffat, Verse 101). Abraham had no children before Ishmael.
When this child grew, the conditions for the divine test were prepared; “And when he reached the age of traveling with him, he said: 'My son, while I was sleeping I saw that I shall slaughter (sacrifice) you, tell me what is your opinion.’” (Surah As-Saaffat, Verse 102)
Here, Ishmael shows his deep knowledge and belief: “He replied: 'Father, do as you are ordered (by Allah). Allah willing, you shall find me one of those who are steadfast.” (Surah As-Saaffat, Verse 102) Ishmael does not tell his father to sacrifice him but tells Abraham to do what he has been ordered. With this level of faith, Ishmael focuses on the divine nature of the order. This sentence demonstrates the glory of serving God Almighty.
When father and son obeyed the divine order and were intending to carry that out, God stop them: “We called to him, saying: 'O Abraham, you have confirmed your vision. ' As such We recompense the gooddoers” (Surah As-Saaffat, Verses 104-105)
Two types of divine orders
We have two types of orders; sometimes the act is important and sometimes other purposes are in place. An example of the first type is “Say your prayer” (Surah Al-Isra, Verse 78); the aim of this order is the realization of prayer. However, the act is not important in some orders, rather the order bears the greater importance; as in the case of Abraham. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son but before the knife damages Ishmael’s throat, Gabriel sets the knife aside. “That was indeed a clear trial.” (Surah As-Saaffat, Verses 106)
Another point of this test was the need to revise a deviating culture among the people. Sacrificing is among rituals in many divine religions and aims to get humans closer to God. This ritual existed from the time of the first prophet, Hazrat Adam (AS), but gradually it deviated from the main course as some groups started sacrificing humans.
To stop this trend, God gave humankind a shock and no one other than Abraham was capable of confronting this.
The article is a summary of the interpretation of Surah As-Saaffat by Mohammad Ali Ansari.