Even if the venerable Ishmael had not been willing to be sacrificed, the Prophet Abraham was still under orders to sacrifice him. He was certainly going to carry out this command. For his own sake, also, it was necessary for him to understand the decree of Allāh. Only in that way would merit be acquired.
This is the venerable Ishmael’s response to his father’s inquiry, as mentioned by Allāh in the Qur’ān:
‘My father, do as you are bidden; you will find me, if Allāh wills, one of the steadfast.’ [37:103]
When the venerable Abraham heard these words, he praised and extolled Allāh. This was indeed the gentle and learned son Allāh had granted him in answer to his prayer. It was apparent form all his actions and all his words, even at a tender age, that he was a Prophet and a Prophet’s son. He said: “My dear and respected father, I have some advice to offer you before you execute this important command. Tie my hands and feet tightly, lest in my mortal agony I should hurt you, for to hurt you would be the same as to hurt God. My second piece of advice is this: When you come to sacrifice me, turn my face towards the ground and apply the knife to the back of my neck. It might happen that, if you saw my face, your hand would tremble and you would be unable to wield the knife; in that case you would not behave properly toward your Friend. Tuck up your robe so that my blood does not platter it. I do not wish the reward I shall receive from Allāh to be deficient in any of the virtues. It would sadden my mother if she were afterwards to see the stains of this blood of mine upon your clothes. Do not show her my grave, either, for the sight of it would also make her sad. Sharpen your knife well, so that when you press it in to cut my throat, I may not feel the pangs of death too keenly. Take my clothes to mother as a keepsake, so that when she pines for me she may find consolation in looking at my shirt and recalling me as she nuzzles it. Give my salutation to my mother. Tell her to endure with patience the command of Allāh, but do not tell her how you sacrificed me, dear father. Do not take children my age to our house for my mother to see. That would renew her grief. Nor should you, my dear father, look at children of my age. If you happen to see them, do not weep, do not be sad. If you or my mother were to be sad, if you should weep, you would cause my soul much grief.”
When the venerable Abraham had listened sadly to these moving, innocent, yet heart-rending words of his child, he said to him: “What a helper you have been to me in carrying out the command of Allāh, my son, the light of my eyes!” Then he could contain himself no longer and wept.
When the venerable Ishmael said imploringly: “Come my dear fater, what are you waiting for, carry out the command you have been given,” the verable Abraham tried to bind his son’s hands, but Ishmael said: “Father do not tie my hands. Those who see me later may say that Ishmael disobeyed the command of Allāh and so his father had to tie his hands. Those who rebel are tied hand and foot, whereas I am one of those who patiently obey.” Abraham laid Ishmael down and performed two cycles of ritual prayer. Weeping, he raised his blessed hands in completely reverential supplication.
So when they had both submitted their wills, and he had laid him down upon his forehead, We called to him: ‘O Abraham…’ [37:103-104]
He said: “O Fulfiller of all needs! O Answerer of prayers! O Lord of beauty and majesty, Most Generous of the most generous! O my Lord! Of Your grace and kindness, have pity and compassion for my old age, look with tender mercy on the condition of this innocent and sinless boy!” Then he took the knife and was aiming it at the neck of the Prophet Ishmael, when the Glorified and Exalted Lord removed the veil of mysteries from all the angels of heaven and earth. When they saw that Abraham, for the Lord’s sake, had laid Ishmael down for sacrifice and was applying the knife with all his might to the neck of his son, they all prostrated themselves at once. The Exalted One said: “My angels! Did you see? Abraham, My special friend, did not shrink from sacrificing his own son in obedience to My command. Did you see My Ishmael? He did not shrink from sacrificing his own life to please Me.” The angels wept and fell in prostration, saying: “Our Lord! Your servant Abraham is truly worthy to be Your special friend, while Ishmael, on him be peace, is truly obedient and compliant to Your exalted command, a servant of Yours who accept Your decree. You are the Most Merciful of the merciful.”
Although Abraham pressed the knife to Ishmael’s throat to slit it, the knife did not cut the tender flesh. Amazed at this, he sharpened the knife and tried again. Still it would not cut. Again and again he tried, but to no avail! Far from cutting, he had not made even a mark on Ishmael’s throat. How could this be? Getting angry, he struck the knife against a rock and the rock split in two. More bewildered than ever, the Prophet Abraham said to himself: “Rock it will cut, but not soft flesh. How can this be?” At that very moment, the knife was endowed with speech by Allāh, the All-Capable, the Self-Subsisting who had power over all things, who creates man from a drop of liquid, then brings him into human shape, giving him a mind and the power of speech. The knife said: “O special friend of Allāh! You want to cut, but it is my Lord who enables knives to cut, fire to burn and water to drown, and He tells me not to cut. Was Nimrod’s fiery furnace able to burn you? How can I cut unless I am given permission? I am incapable of cutting so much as one strand of his hair, let alone his throat.” As the prophet Abraham stood dumbfounded in the face of this amazing, divine mystery, the venerable Ishmael said: “My dear father! As you were putting the knife to y throat, I mentioned the name of Allāh. You should likewise proclaim His supreme greatness, then strike with the knife!” Abraham repeated: “Allāhu Akbar,” and as he was pressing the knife to Ishmael’s throat, the sound of “Allāhu Akbar, Allāhu Akbar,” was heard coming from heaven. This was the voice of Gabriel, on him be peace.
Summoning Gabriel from Paradise, Allāh had created a ram as a substitute sacrifice for Ishmael, then commanded Gabriel to take it to Abraham. The angel had now appeared in the heavens, bearing that ram and proclaiming the Supreme Greatness of God. When Abraham heard the voice of Gabriel, calling: “Allāhu Akbar, Allāhu Akbar,” he realized that his trial was over, and in grateful response, he glorified and extolled his Lord with the words: “lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa-llāhu akbar.” The venerable Ishmael lay there listening to these utterances, and he also realized that the mercy of the All-Compassionate and Beneficient had come overflowing. Crying: “Allāhu akbar wa-lillāhi-lhamd,” He joined in the glorification and praise. Then Allāh, Glorified and Exalted is He, deigned to address His special friend Abraham with the following words:
‘Now you have fulfilled the dream. Thus do We reward the good. This was indeed an obvious test. We redeemed him with a momentous sacrifice; and We left to him, among later generations: ‘Peace upon Abraham!’ Thus do We reward the good.” [37:105-110]
Gabriel declared: “Abraham, greetings to you from the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He has sent this ram as a substitute for the one and only Ishmael. He says: ‘Let him slaughter this offering in place of his son, for I am pleased with them both.’” Father and son were filled with joy ad happiness at having received the divine grace, the favour of the Lord and the approval of the Maker, so they slaughtered the ram with the declared intention of pleasing Allāh. The impeccable conduct of these two in “friendship with Allāh and obedience to the divine command” has thus been presented by Allāh to us, His servants, with the declaration: “Anyone who does not shrink from sacrificing his life and wealth for My sake, like Abraham and Ishmael, may rightly speak of My friendship.”
Irshad – Wisdom of a Sufi Master by Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak Al-Jerrahi
The Eleventh Discourse – pages 209-216