I wrote this several years ago (2010) at another blog, “Beggar’s All Reformation and Apologetics”, that is owned by James Swan. I have updated it, and taken out one issue that I will write on in a separate article. You can see the old article here.
In the photo below,(a post card from Turkey) you can see Ibrahim (Abraham) (pictures of a prophet drawn by Muslims!), Ismail, the angel Jabril (Gabriel), and the substitutionary ram; and verses from the Qur’an in Arabic, including Surah 37:107 (see below) and a phrase in the Turkish language, “Ibrahim offers his son Ismail as a human sacrifice”.
* “Kurban Bayram” is Turkish; “Eid Al Azha” or “Eid Al Adh-ha” عید الاضحی is Arabic; and “Eid-e-Qurban” عید قربان is Farsi. They all mean the “Feast of Sacrifice”. Persian/Farsi and Turkish have different ways of pronouncing Arabic terms, so that explains some of the differences.)
In the debate, “Was Jesus Crucifed and Died as a willing sacrifice for the Sins of His People?” James White vs. Shabir Ally – (Which I highly recommend); Shabir Ally says, as all Muslims also do, that “God does not need a sacrifice to forgive sins”. He also said that there is a great difference between “ransom” and “sacrifice”; and that the concept of the substitutionary nature of Christ paying for the sins of others is unjust. Shabir Ally said, “there is a difference between sacrifice and ransom; they are two different things, . . . until Anselm”. He also referred to some of the early church ideas of “ransom to Satan”, which is not Biblical at all; and he seemed to imply that “ransom” in Mark 10:45 was the “payment to Satan view”.
Yet the Qur’an testifies that these concepts of ransom and sacrifice are tied very closely together in one act; from the Old Testament story of Abraham. Even in the Qur’an, there is a key verse that includes both concepts of “ransom” and “sacrifice” together in this one act of Allah providing a substitute for Abraham’s son.
In the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, the Qur’an says:
وَ فَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ
“And We have ransomed you with a mighty sacrifice.”
فدیناه = “we ransomed him”
بذبح = “by sacrifice” or “by slaughter”
ب =b = “with” or “by”; ذبح (zbh)= sacrifice, slaughter, slain victim
The cognate Hebrew word for sacrifice is similar, ZBH, זבח
عظیم (“Azeem”)= “great”, “mighty”, “tremendous”
We are not going to deal with the question of which of Abraham’s sons this was, except to affirm the Bible’s testimony that it was Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18); and to point out that Muslims have traditionally held that it was Ishmael, although the text of the Qur’an does not say this specifically. It is interesting that only Isaac is mentioned by name in this context. (Surah 37:112-113) Most Muslims believe it was Ishmael, but Muslims who are knowledgeable have admitted that one can believe that either one was the son who was about to be offered, and that one can not be dogmatic about that issue. You can go to this web site and do searches there to find lots of information on that issue, whether the son was Isaac or Ismael, in Islamic sources and theology.
When sharing the gospel with Muslims, at the beginning of the issue, it is not necessary to argue over which son of Abraham it was that was to be sacrificed; especially when you will want to focus on the more important issue of the gospel and the substitutionary sacrifice/atonement of Jesus Christ (Isa Al Masih) for the sins of people from all nations/cultures/tribes/tongues. (Revelation 5:9, John 1:29, Mark 10:45; I Corinthians 15:3-6; Romans 5:9) I have seen former Muslims (Iranians); after becoming Christians, be surprised to find it was Isaac when they read Genesis 22; after they already studied the NT and came to faith in Christ as their Savior, substitute for sin; but they immediately said, “Ok, it is the word of God, I accept it.” (that it was Isaac)
My focus in this article is on the substitutionary nature of the sacrifice of the Messiah; and that the story of Abraham and Allah’s command to sacrifice his son, and the ram who was substituted is in the Qur’an and actually shows some basic understanding of the truth of the concepts of sacrifice and ransom. In this verse, 107 of Surah 37 (Al Saffat, “Those who set the ranks”), both words are used there together of the substitute, ransom (fedieh – فدیه ) and sacrifice ذبح – zebh ); this word is also used a few verses earlier in verse 102, “Oh my son! I have seen in a dream that I offer you in sacrifice.”). We have both of these Arabic words in Farsi (or Persian) also. So, Shabir Ally should have understood this, that God has spoken of both ransom/redemption and sacrifice in the Old Testament, the “Taurat- e- Mosa” (the Law of Moses) and the Qur’an affirms it here.
Christians believe that the substitute points to the Messiah to come and was a prophesy of the Messiah and His substitutionary atonement.
Fedieh, or the root, “fada”, are also used of Muslims who voluntarily are willing to give their lives in the front lines of fighting the enemies of Allah in “holy war”, (Harb (war), Qatal (fighting and killing), or Jihad (striving and struggling) Harb حرب means “war”; Qatal ( root = قـتـل )means “fighting”, “slaying”, “fight to the death” (see Surah 8:39; 9:5, 9:29); and Jihad means to “exert effort”, “striving”, “struggle”. All are used in contexts of military fighting against the Kufur/kaferoon, or unbelievers, infidels, or blasphemers.
For an excellent study of Jihad in Islam, see: “Jihad” in the Qur’an and Hadith.
You may have even heard of the “fadayeen”فداییان (Farsi, those who sacrifice themselves) in the news, they are those who volunteer to fight against the enemy. So there is a sense in which Islamic culture and history should understand Jesus the Messiah’s death as a voluntary sacrifice for others. Another word, “qorban” (قربان ) is related to the Hebrew/Aramaic term “Corban”. (mentioned in Mark 7:11; the Hebrew is in Leviticus 1:2 twice, and other places.) When Iranians greet one another, we say, “Ghorban-e-shoma!” قربان شما (“I am your sacrifice or ransom!” – a term of devotion and love and friendship.) When the Arabs converted the Iranians (the Persians) to Islam, it took them about 300 years, but a lot of Arabic came into their language so that, today, Farsi is about 40% Arabic.
In an online Arabic dictionary, looking up the word ransom (“fedieh”, “efteda فدیه، افتدا ) is defined as “freeing or releasing from sin”or “freeing from slavery or bondage”.
In sharing the gospel with Muslims, some key verses to use are:
John 1:29 – Muslims believe in John the Baptist as a prophet ( He is called “Yahya” یحیی ) “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
“The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom (Greek: λυτρον, Farsi = فدا ) for many.” The Farsi versions of this verse have the same root concept of this word, “fada” فدا , from “fedieh” فدیه .
John 10:17-18 – Jesus voluntarily , out of love, laid His life down.
For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” John 10:17-18
Muslims say it is unjust for God to “force” Jesus to die and pay for the sins of others. John 10:18 shows that there is no “forcing” or injustice in this. Jesus willingly and out of love came down from heaven and willingly allowed Himself to be treated unjustly by sinful men, and they killed Him on the cross. (see Acts 2:22-23)
The cross is where God’s holiness/justice/wrath against sin and His pure love and mercy for sinners meets together. “Loving-kindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Psalm 85:10)
John 10:18 shows that the Father and the Son (and the Spirit – see Hebrews 9:14) decided together to accomplish the work of redemption. As Dr. White said in the debate, “Redemption is Trinitarian; the Father, the Son, and the Spirit work together in perfect harmony.” (I am paraphrasing from memory.)
Revelation 5:9 – God is loving by redeeming people from all nations, peoples, tongues, and tribes. God demonstrates His love by sending His Son to die for us. Romans 5:9
God is both just (wrath against sin) and the justifier (love for sinners). (Romans 3:24-26) The cross preserves the holiness of God and the love of God together! That truth is beautiful and amazing! In the atonement of Christ, He became flesh (John 1:1, 14) and lived a perfect, sinless life ( 2 Cor. 5:21; John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26-27; I Peter 2:22; I John 3:5). Even the Qur’an calls Jesus the Messiah a “faultless”, “sinless son” ( Surah Maryam 19:19). Jesus willingly and voluntarily let Himself be the ransom and sacrifice for human beings from all nations. (Revelation 5:9) (John 10:18; Luke 22:42; John 12:27) He knew He was going to be killed and crucified; and that He would rise from the dead; and He predicted it. (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Matthew 16:21; 17:22; 20:17-19)
So, ask your Muslim friend, “Do you believe that Al Masih (The Messiah) was sinless?” (Qur’an 19:19) Was Al Masih born of a virgin? (3:45-47; 19:19-21) They must answer: “yes”. He had no human father. (Emphasize this again; see my earlier article on explaining to Muslims how Jesus is the Son of God.
Ask your Muslim friend: “Do you believe in the story of Ibrahim (the way a Muslim would say “Abraham”) and when Allah commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his son?” In response, I have had Muslims say to me, many times, “Yes, Allah O Akbar! We believe in all the prophets!” They usually will start talking about their belief in the prophets – let them explain that and be a good listener. Being gracious and listening to the Muslim when he wants to explain his religion is the right thing to do.
Then ask, “So why did Allah substitute an innocent ram (sheep or lamb) to be killed instead of Ibrahim’s son? Let them struggle with coming up with the answer.
When witnessing to Muslims, if they are from another country, it is important that they read the New Testament in their own heart language. Find out what is their heart language and order a NT from an on line source and give it to them as a gift. Google the New Testament in the language and order one as a gift. Watch the Jesus film together in their language. Have them read in their own language, whether it is Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Urdu, Pushto, Uzbek, Kurdish, or English, about the sins of the heart in Mark 7:20-23. Point them to Matthew 5-7. Show them that not committing physical adultery is not enough to be righteous; sexual lust in the heart condemns them to hell. (Matthew 5:28ff) Not murdering is not good enough for being righteous; hatred and anger in the heart is enough to condemn us to hell. (Matthew 5:21-26) Un-forgiveness cherished in the heart can condemn to hell also (Matthew 18:21-35) After death comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) Self righteousness, hypocrisy, lack of confession that one is a sinner, and pride will condemn us also; there is no justifying grace for anyone who will not confess he/she is a sinner and is in need of forgiveness. (Luke 18:9-14)
Ask your Muslim friend, “Do you believe in Yahya ( John the baptizer)?” Muslim: “yes, Allah O Akbar! We believe in all the prophets!” Then listen to what he said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Muslims celebrate the “feast of sacrifice” ( Eid Al Azha عید الاضحی or Eid e qorban عید قربان ) by remembering the event of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son. It was a test and a trial, which we agree with (Genesis 22:1), but it was much more than that. It was a prophesy of the Messiah to come in the future. Muslims, at the feast of sacrifice, will slaughter sheep, goats, bulls, lambs, cows, and sometimes even a camel.
Millions of Muslims, over a billion people take part in this slaughtering all over the Muslim world in this re-enactment of the concept of substitution, yet they are taught that it means nothing; just go through the motions, read the verses from the Qur’an, slaughter the animal, and give the meat to the poor. They remain ignorant of this great truth and are told a great lie, that Jesus did not die on the cross. (Surah 4:157) Dr. White calls this one verse, “40 lonely Arabic words”, because it is the only place in the Qur’an that denies the death/crucifixion of Jesus and no commentary is on this verse in the Hadith collections.
Muslims popularly “feel” they are doing something for God in this. They “sense” and “feel” that doing this sacrifice will protect them from evil or tragedies. Many Muslims have testified of this to me over the past 33 years. Where do they get that idea? Is there somehow a sense of “appeasing the wrath of God” in their minds and hearts?
I will never forget seeing the sheep lined up ready for slaughter and bleeting, “baaaaa baaaa”. The sheep is blindfolded and some words are spoken; prayers, readings, “bismillah Al Rahman Al Rahim” (“In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, the most merciful”) “Allah O Akbar!” (=”God is the Greatest!”) A large knife comes out and the cutting begins. The animals writhes in pain and struggles to get free. The men hold him down. The pain is terrible. Blood squirts, tendons snap; bones crunch and then that last breathe goes out of the animal.
When I saw that feast of sacrifice for the first time in Turkey in 1987; The Old Testament sacrifices and the powerful meaning of it was made alive in a dynamic way. Genesis 22, Exodus 12 (Passover), the book of Leviticus and Isaiah 53 came alive for me like never before! I really understood the wrath of God as the justice of God against sin in a fresh and powerful way. The saddest thing though, it that Muslims are taught that this does not mean any kind of substitutionary sacrifice for sin. The Muslim says, “No one can pay for your sin; you must pay for your own sin.” Yet, deep down, at least with Iranians, the feeling and understanding is that this sacrifice will protect them from a future calamity or tragedy.
The violence of the slaughter is a picture of the wrath of God against sin. My hair on the back of my neck stood up and I almost threw up from the smells and violence of the thing. When we say “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin”; it means the violence of shedding the blood; the fact that an innocent, sinless victim became our substitute and took our place. The violence and shedding of blood is a picture of God’s justice against sin. So, the wrath and anger of God is a holy justice. Jesus took the justice for us on the cross!