You likely know the story.
Abraham walks up a mountain with his son. The two men carry wood, fire and a knife.
“But where is the lamb sacrifice?” Abraham’s son asks.
The two men continue their journey. And just as Abraham prepares to sacrifice his beloved son, God stops him, providing a ram for the sacrifice instead.
Understanding Abraham’s sacrifice (Genesis 22) is essential for followers of Islam and Christianity. How you interpret the text reveals what you believe about God, humanity and salvation.
Let’s take a look at the different ways Islam and Christianity explain the story.
- Islam focuses on Abraham’s position as a prophet. Christianity emphasizes his role as the father of faith.
- Islam predominantly teaches that Abraham was called to sacrifice Ishmael (forefather of Muhammad), while Christianity holds to the sacrifice of Isaac (forefather of Jesus).
- In Islam Abraham sacrifices to please God. In Christianity God provides the sacrifice for Abraham.
- In Islam Abraham is an example of obedience. In Christianity Abraham is a picture of faith.
The story of Abraham serves as an illustration for both Muslims and Christians. For the Christian it is a picture of salvation by grace through faith—ultimately experienced in the coming of Jesus. For the Muslim it is a portrait of how to please God through devotion, sacrifice and obedience.
During Eid al-Adha (“Festival of Sacrifice”), followers of Islam commemorate Abraham’s story. They offer a sacrifice to Allah, giving portions to their family, friends and those in need. They also pray, practice generosity and recommit themselves to obedient devotion. The festival is the most important holiday celebrated and is also connected with the journey to Mecca.
Eid al-Adha highlights the central difference between Islam and Christianity. Islam emphasizes humanity’s work to please God. Christianity focuses on God’s work to rescue humanity. In Islam salvation is attained by our performance for God. In Christianity salvation is attained by God’s provision for us.
The differences appear subtle. But they are significant. The emphasis on grace is what sets Christianity apart from all other world religions. God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. He sends Jesus—the ultimate sacrifice for sin. And to receive salvation, we must simply believe in what He did for us.
Grateful devotion follows as our lives are transformed by His grace. We sacrifice—not at an altar but through daily living for Him—because He sacrificed for us. We obey His Word because Jesus obeyed the Father and so faithfully taught us how to live. We serve others because God Himself served us.
Eid al-Adha presents us with a unique opportunity to talk with our Muslim friends about Jesus. We can start with common ground, discussing Abraham’s story. We can listen to why this festival is so important and central to the Islamic faith. And at the right time, we can share what it means to us and how Abraham teaches us not only about sacrifice but ultimately about faith and the grace God gives.
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Would you give today to help more people hear the message of Jesus and understand the grace He gives?
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