Prophet Ibrahim's dream and the onslaught of Gog and Magog
By Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

A literal command to kill or the fate of his progeny ?

Published in: History, World
Date: 26 / 07 / 20

What is the reality of dreams? How can we understand them? Are dreams an insight into the unseen future? Why does God allow certain people to view the future?  What does modern neuroscience have to say about it? Science has attempted to unravel this mystery that we experience for at least 1/3rd of our lives. But the domain of research remains limited to only normal night visions that help in memory consolidation and are influenced by overall cognitive behavior. But what about seeing something in your sleep and that thing actually happens after sometime. Bit by bit and detail by detail, you see your dream playing out in real life. This is what is called a "Ru'ya Saadiqa" (true vision) in Islam. 

There are many dreams mentioned in the Quran but the one that has a deep impact on the history of our civilization is the dream of Prophet Abraham sacrificing his son. We celebrate Eid al Adha commemorating the momentous event that followed from a 'dream'. 

Prohibition of human sacrifice in the Quran

So I've had this question for the longest time. The question being why would Allah Most High command Ibrahim (as) to sacrifice his son? Isn't human sacrifice a pagan ritual? What did the dream actually mean?  Was it a 'command' to replicate what he saw or is there something more to it? In the Quran, we have been exhorted to reflect and contemplate. And in doing so we've been given the assurance that it would lead to a greater and deeper knowledge about Allah and His attributes. What can we learn from this command of Allah to His Prophet? What makes the understanding of this dream difficult is that Allah Most High prohibits practices of human sacrifice and even killing of one's children in the Quran explicitly. This act has been severely criticized in the Quran as it invites divine wrath. (6:140, 17:31, 6:151, 81:8, 16:59)

So the question is why does Allah command something in the Quran that He Himself prohibits somewhere else in the same book? Or is it a case of wrong interpretation? One point that needs to be emphasized is that by holding on to such an interpretation, what is at stake is the consistency and congruity within the Quranic text, which happens to be one of the clearest proofs of the truth of the Quran and  its biggest miracle. Allah says, “Do they not then consider the Quran carefully? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much contradiction” [an-Nisa’ 4:82]

This is no small thing. By insisting on the interpretation that Allah 'commanded' Ibrahim (as) to literally cut his young son's throat, we face the bigger dilemma of addressing whether the Quran has contradictions, as Allah commands something that He Himself prohibits. 

The Quran emphatically declares that Allah Most High commands justice, piety and righteousness and forbids evil in all forms. 

Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. (16:90)

Killing an innocent person is oppression. Why would Allah Most High command a prophet to commit oppression? Why would Allah command the cold blooded murder of an innocent person who will grow up to be a prophet? When the pre-Islamic Arabs were criticized for their pagan customs of burying their daughters alive or circumambulating around the Kaaba naked, they audaciously and blasphemously would attribute this to divine commands. The Prophet was commanded in the Quran to reject such fallacies.

And when they commit an immorality, they say, “We found our fathers doing it, and Allah has ordered us to do it.” Say, “Indeed, Allah does not order immorality. Do you say about Allah that which you do not know?”

Clearly the traditional understanding of the dream of Ibrahim (as) ignores all of these verses that repeatedly establish that Allah does not command oppression, immorality or cold blooded murder of any innocent person (in this case a child who will grow up to become a Prophet). Therefore this traditional understanding is incorrect because it is in contradiction with the Quran. 

For a Muslim, the word of Allah is higher than the word of a scholar or any number of scholars. Scholars, regardless of their piety, brilliance and wisdom are fallible and prone to error. Allah Most Glorious is far removed and glorified above any imperfection. A deep set problem with many Muslims is their inability to accept the fallibility of prestigious scholarship, even in the face of such clear evidence. We must beware of the ‘Israelite’ attitude of elevating our scholars to such a level that we inadvertently reject clear Quranic evidence in favour of some influential scholars’ opinions. What is the Israelite attitude? It is best explained in the below ayat:

“They (People of the Book) have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah..” (9:31)

Undoubtedly Islam is a scholarly tradition. We love, respect and look up to our scholars. But the fallibility of everyone other than Allah must always be borne in mind. And because the Quran has been called a Furqan (a judging criterion) it serves as the best litmus test to see which opinion is correct and which is not. Anything that is in confirmation with the Quran must be accepted and everything that is in conflict with the Quran must be rejected.

Biblical influence on Tafsir studies

An important point that needs to be understood is that there is a difference between the 'text of the Quran' and its understanding and interpretation by scholars. What is being refuted in the article is the latter. Why? This interpretation, while being similar to the biblical narrative of the sacrificial lamb, does not fit well with the overall scheme of the Quran. It contradicts the Quran. Because of the similarity between the Abrahamic religions, there was a strong influence of biblical exegesis on Tafsir studies, especially in the areas of Israelite history. While this influence was fruitful in many cases, at times it led to a compromise in the overall picture. As in this case.

Shaykh Imran  Hosein's understanding

I came across Shaykh Imran Hosein, scholar and expert of Islamic Eschatology and his views on this matter. According to him and his teacher, the great Islamic Philosopher from the Indian Subcontinent Dr Fazlur Rahman Ansari, it is an act of great disservice to the Quran, if an ayat is understood in isolation from the rest of the Quran and out of its context. Throughout the Quran, Allah prohibits human sacrifice calling it pagan, satanic and unislamic. Followed by an emphasis on the prohibition of killing one's own children. How can we understand this supposed 'command' to Ibrahim (as) to 'sacrifice' his son in the light of these various prohibitory ayaats? Clearly by interpreting this incident this way, we would be taking the particular ayat and isolating it from the rest of the Quranic text and hence leaning towards a contradictory understanding. The picture that emerges is as if the Quran contradicts itself, which is impossible. (We seek refuge in Allah from claiming that). Hence, undoubtedly, the ayat has a deeper meaning that needs to be uncovered.

The correct methodology to understand the Quran

Firstly, we need to realize that the error is hermeneutical. There is a specific manner to understand the Quran. Imam Ahmed said,"Do not look for separate passages from the Quran, in order to juxtapose them, as if they were in contradiction (with each other). Read the Quran from the beginning to the end, then from the beginning to the end, keep repeating it and take it all in."

When the proper methodology to study the Quran is applied to this subject and the different ayaat pertaining to it are brought together harmoniously, all the while maintaining the superiority of the Quran over the Hadith and not the other way round, we will have to conclude that the dream that Ibrahim (as) sees in which he is sacrificing Ismail (as) does not mean that Allah wants him to kill his son. Rather, it is a dream and a dream has a message about the future (khabr) and the message has an interpretation, a meaning (Ta'wil and Ta'beer). And when Ibrahim (as) enacts what he saw in the dream, that is a display of his utmost acceptance and whole hearted consent with the Qadr (will) of Allah regarding the fate that awaits his progeny from one of his sons. 

What about the early scholars? 

The Quran is a living book and a guidance for humanity till the End of Time (41:53, 16:89). This means that earlier scholarship has not exhausted the meanings of the Quran. Infact, with the passage of time, more meanings are bound to emerge from the Quranic text to be explored by future scholarship. The Quran is not finite like other books. On the contrary, there are infinite depths of meanings in every verse, that only the passage of time can reveal. Unfortunately, there is a group of Muslims who insist that only the opinions of earlier generations are authentic and all other subsequent understanding is as if of no or little significance. What they don't realize is that by holding on to such an opinion they are limiting the Quran, which is seriously problematic. The Quran is the speech of Allah and by virtue of this, it is an infinite attribute of Allah. It is not finite and limited. Thus a finite number of earlier scholars cannot exhaust this infinite ocean.

Moreover, this particular understanding of the ayat as presented by Shaykh Imran was only possible due to the events that unfolded in history. Earlier scholarship has done it's best in the time frame that they lived in. But there were historical events that they did not have access to, which would've enriched their understanding of particular ayaat. Utilizing the correct methodology, modern Islamic scholarship possesses this advantage over earlier scholarship. This can be seen especially in the understanding of End Times hadith. It is the job of modern scholarship to incorporate the element of ‘time’ and future events in their methodology (Usul and qawaid) to understand the Islamic eschatological literature

Ibrahim (as) is given a window into a future possibility

“And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I sacrifice you, so see what you think.” (37:102)

So there are three elements to this event:

-Allah Most High giving Ibrahim (as) the vision

-Ibrahim (as) enacting the vision

-Our interpretation of the event

So now that we have dissected the event into its constituents, it will become easy to see where the error lies. But first we need to understand what is a dream in Islam, especially in the context of the Quran.

A dream is a window overlooking future events. It is a khabr (news) about the future. The dreams of Prophets are as true as other forms of revelation. Prophets are given access to the knowledge of future events. For example, the dream of Yusuf (as) seeing the sun and the moon and eleven stars prostrating to him, symbolized and at the same time heralded an event that would take place in his life in the future. The sun, the moon and the eleven stars represented his father, his mother and his eleven brothers respectively. So it didnt mean that the sun or the moon 'literally' would prostrate to him, they symbolized people of his household. So symbolism is central to a dream. Another example would be the dream that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ saw regarding Umar (ra). He said ﷺ, said," I saw (in a dream) a cup containing milk being presented to me. I took out of that until I perceived freshness being reflected through my nails. Then I presented the leftover to 'Umar b. Khattab. They said: Allah's Messenger: How do you interpret it? He said: "This implies knowledge." (Sahih Muslim). So seeing himself drinking milk did not mean that the Prophet ﷺ needs to 'literally' drink a bowl of milk. But milk in the dream symbolized knowledge.

Now there is another element to a dream that is usually if not exclusively presented to prophets. Dreams herald future events but with 'room for their choice'. What do I mean by that? We can understand it by the remarkable event of Al Isra that took place in an immaterial and intermediate realm (Barzakh). Gabriel (as) presented the Prophet ﷺ with two bowls, one having milk and the other with wine. The Prophet ﷺ was given a 'choice' between the two. He chose milk and Gabriel (as) remarked, "you have chosen Fitrah (natural disposition on which humans were created). You're Ummah will stay on the right path. If you had chosen wine, your Ummah would go astray". (Sahih Bukhari 3394)

So there we see a 'room for choice'. Another factor that influences the actualization of a dream is its interpretation. The Prophet ﷺ  said, “Dreams are suspended from the foot of a bird until they are interpreted, then when they are interpreted they come to pass.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 3914)

Meaning the interpretation in a sense actualizes the dream.

Ibrahim (as) has been called an Ummah (a nation) in the Quran (16:120) as from him and his two sons, Ishaaq and Ismail, the two great nations of the Israelite people (Jews and Christians) and the Ishmaelite people (the Muslims) come forth respectively. Therefore, him seeing the dream does not mean that he needs to slit his son's throat literally, instead he has been given access to events that will unfold in the future. Being the father of the great nations that will take over the world stage as the countdown to the Last Day begins, he is given access to the future of his progeny. Allah while educating the Angels does accept that the price of the free will bestowed to humanity is that most will misuse it and shed blood and sow corruption (2: 30)

So the dream represents that impending bloodshed humanity will witness and Abrahim's lineage from one of his son's will be victim to it. It's as if he is being told that things are going to get very grim as times moves on. And one of your sons will pay the price for the establishment of truth and justice on earth. In the Quran, whenever the struggle between good and evil, oppression and justice is discussed, three groups are mentioned. One that oppresses, one who being true to their covenant with God, fight against oppression and offer their lives, becoming martyrs and the last that fights and becomes victorious. The last two are both successful in the sight of God and that is why He Most High does not regard people who have been sacrificed for a noble cause, dead. Rather they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision (2:154)

This is how history will play out (especially from the advent of the Last Prophet) that a continuous battle of struggle and strife against oppression and justice ensues. Sometimes it would seem that the oppressors are winning, but in the end the victory is for the righteous. Some of the righteous write their tale of victory with their own blood and others are made to survive and establish a just order. This is the meaning of Ibrahim (as)'s dream and the people who are paying the price of truth and justice with their own lives are from the lineage of Ismael (as) ie the Muslim Ummah, whether they consciously participate in the struggle or not. 

A Prophet's choice affects the historical timeline

After seeing the dream, Ibrahim (as) quickly goes to his son to relate the dream. Ismail (as) being a young boy at the time beautifully remarks, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the patient.” (37:102)

When both father and son had prepared themselves for the fulfilment and acceptance of what they saw as the decree of Allah. Ibrahim (as) receives revelation. “O Ibrahim, You have fulfilled (and accepted) the vision. Indeed, this is how We reward the good-doers. That was truly a revealing test. And We ransomed his son with a great sacrifice''.(37:104-107)

This clearly shows that it was not the command of Allah that Ibrahim (as) literally sacrifice his son. Rather there was a deep meaning to it which was accepted wholeheartedly by both father and son.

The verb , 'saddaqa' means, "accept wholeheartedly and believe". Hence, this means that Ibrahim (as) accepted this destiny and this historical playout of events, wherein the progeny from his son Ismael (as) would be sacrificed in the struggle between justice and oppression. Notice here Allah does not say that Ibrahim 'obeyed' but He says, Ibrahim accepted. A command requires obedience, whereas a vision or revelation requires acceptance.

This is further corroborated by the term "Dhibhin Adheem" (a great sacrifice). Scholars have interpreted this to mean the 'ram' that Allah sacrificed instead of Ismael (as) and the annual sacrifice Muslims worldwide make to celebrate the 10th of Dhul Hijjah that is Eid al Adha. But it could truly express the great sacrifice of the progeny of Ismail (as) ie the Ummah of Muhammad (ﷺ) ever since. 

Some scholars interpret the event to mean that Ibrahim (as) was commanded to kill his son symbolizing his assault on desires or worldly attachments. But who are we attributing this to? Ibrahim (as) is the man who gave up everything for the sake of Allah. He left his family, his hometown and his people for the sake of Allah. He wished for a son and he was granted his wish in his old age. Then Allah commanded him to leave his son and wife in the barren desert of Mecca. He submitted. So before we attribute any worldly attachment to Ibrahim (as), we need to know that he is far removed from anything of that sort.

Islamic history- Glory and Pain

The only plausible interpretation of this dream that does not entail any contradiction or false attribution is that the sacrifice of Ismail (as) symbolizes the slaughter of the offspring of Ibrahim (as) from this son Isma'il- the Muslims in general and the Arabs in particular.

And the truth is that Muslim history while it witnessed the birth of a glorious civilization with a great culture, development of arts, sciences and literature, it is also saturated with unspeakable oppression and bloodshed. The people who accuse Islam of being spread by the sword, have no understanding of history. Islam was spread by a word of love but was limited and contained by the sword. Muslims throughout history have been victims of the greatest crimes ever committed. Mevlana Rumi wrote his master piece Masnawi on divine love and longing when the Mongols were burning Muslims alive in city squares. We all are aware of the giants of Islam, Imam Ghazzali and Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, but many don't know that Salahuddin's army that fought against the barbaric Crusaders consisted mostly of the students of these great scholars. So you had scholars laying down their lives for the Holy Land and the defence of innocent people. We need to remind ourselves of this double faced reality of Muslim history. On the one hand we see a display of a great culture and civilization and on the other hand there exists unbearable oppression against the Muslims.

The irony cannot be ignored. The Muslim world was one of the the superpowers of the day. But despite that, it was subjected to great oppression. So for example today the US is a superpower. But we cannot conceive a genocide of the American people on their own soil by a foreign army. 

The fact that Islam today is the second largest religion in the world is not because Muslim rulers on horseback converted people at the tip of their swords, rather it is because countless Muslims have sacrificed their lives for the simple fact that they believe in Allah. Many who have willing fought and many more who were slaughtered like sacrificial lambs. And it is events like these that have fortified faith in the hearts of Muslims. Historically we can see that religions are not wiped out by genocides of the believers. On the contrary such catastrophic events fortify faith in the hearts of the adherents so much so that they commemorate what all their ancestors suffered in order to preserve their faith. Religions do not die physically, they die spiritually. When the hearts of the believers die, thats when the religion is in decline. It was materialism that devoured Christian spirituality in Europe, among other factors, which eventually led to the secularization of Europe. Europe today is godless not because Europeans were ethnically cleansed, but because their hearts were emptied of spirituality. 

Has the slaughter stopped? On the contrary, it has surged beyond tolerance as new and effective ways to kill have been invented with the advent of science and technology. Before a single swordsman could kill some dozens of people with a whole day of fighting and after incurring injuries. Today, a person sitting in the pentagon can kill thousands of people in Iraq with a push of a button. The invention of fire explosives made the art of killing easy and effective. And today we have new generations of warfare- chemical, nuclear and even biological. The combat has changed but the victims remain the same. Muslim nations are the worst affected in this cycle of wars that made Europe a superpower and then established the US as the unrivalled global leader. The current world order stands on a mountain of corpses, most of which were Muslims.

Another dream. Gog and Magog enter the world stage.

Did the Prophet ﷺ warn us about this? Do his hadith support our interpretation? Absolutely. The Prophet (ﷺ) saw a dream, when he was in Medina. He did not reveal the details but he woke up with his face red with horror. He exclaimed,"Destruction is upon the Arabs. An opening has been made in the barrier of Gog and Magog" (Sahih Bukhari 7135)

Who are Gog and Magog? They are one of the major signs of the Last Day. They are extremely powerful, but at the same time, highly corrupt human beings who would take over the world and rule over all global institutions in the End Times. This dream proves that the destruction of the wall of Zulqarnain and release of Gog and Magog commenced in the very lifetime of the Prophet (ﷺ). 

Crusades, Colonialism and the so called 'War on Terror'

Some Muslim scholars like the famous Ibn Kathir and Al Hamawi identified the Medieval Jewish Empire of Khazaria as Gog and Magog. Even the Muslim traveller Ibn Fadlan expressed similar views.These Euroasian barbaric tribes (Khazar, Magyar, Huns, Angles,Saxons) converted to Judaism and Christianity around the time of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and then launched the most destructive attack on the Muslim world in the form of the various Crusades. This was the first wave of attacks from Gog and Magog.

If that wasn't enough, they turned back in a few centuries to devour the Muslim World as Colonialists. By abolishing the Khilafa and destroying all remnants of Islamic culture, they replaced Muslim political, social, economic and educational institutions with Western ones. This led to the great Muslim amnesia of its glorious past achievements. This was the second wave of attacks from Gog and Magog.

If this wasn’t enough the same powers of Gog and Magog, after taking over global institutions like UN, IMF, World Bank, NATO etc launched series of attacks on the Muslim nations in the name of 'war on terror' killing millions in propaganda led petrodollar wars. This was the third wave of attacks from Gog and Magog. Just make a list of countries grossly affected by war and economic depravation, most will be Muslim majority countries. Is this by accident?

The biggest proof of the release and subsequent global domination of Gog and Magog is provided by the Quran itself. In Surah Anbiya ayat 95, Allah talks about a 'city' whose inhabitants were banned from returning to it. These people will only return to their city when Gog and Magog are all over the world (global powers). which city is this? Dr Muhammad Iqbal as early as in the 1920's recognized the city to be Jerusalem. When the Jewish people were made to return to the Holy Land of Palestine, it was the biggest sign that Gog and Magog were now in control of the world. Who are the people who facilitated the return of the Israelite Jews back to Jerusalem after 2000 years ? European nations and in particular Britain. After which the US took over and completed what the British has started.

The Muslim Ummah has been under attack militarily, economically, intellectually, socially from the same forces of Gog and Magog that evidently are at the heart of the modern western civilization. These are the ones that control global institutions like the UN, the International Monetary Fund, NATO etc and spread their 'fasaad' (corruption, destruction, anarchy) globally through them. On these lines, the Prophet (ﷺ) predicted, "My nation will be destroyed by military strikes and epidemics (biological attacks)" (Musnad Imam Ahmed 4,390).

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in a recent lecture interpreted this hadith to mean possibly biological warfare, primarily because the Prophet ﷺ couples the two terms Ta'na and Ta'oon together. Ta'na means a strike and Ta'oon means an epidemic. For us in the 21st century it should be too difficult to understand this seeing that all the violent countries in the world, US, UK, Israel, Canada, China, France have biological weapons labs and genetically engineering a virus is not a big deal anymore.

Another hadith that warns us in this regard talks of "a plague that will afflict you (and kill you in great numbers) as the plague that afflicts sheep" (Sahih Bukhari 3176) There is no reason for us to insist that this would be a 'natural' epidemic, when we know that Israel has become a leader in biotechnology and has patents for various genetically mutated viruses. Genetically altering a virus also includes how to make it more lethal or contagious for a particular ethnic community that have specific DNA. 

Why the celebration then?

It is this millennium long sacrifice and slaughter of the Ummah that Prophet Ibrahim saw in his dream, which was further confirmed by the dream of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and his statements on the End Times. The "Dhibhim Adheem (great sacrifice) is the Ummah of Muhammad (saw), not a ram as that inconsistent interpretation holds. Our Leader, Prophet Ibrahim without a second thought accepted the decree of Allah Most High. He is described in the Quran as someone with such a soft heart who asked for the forgiveness of the criminal people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Imagine that level of empathy. And here he is told that an entire civilization will suffer great tribulations and he immediately submits without even flinching. Look at the beautiful patience of the young Isma'il, our spiritual forefather, who wholeheartedly submitted before the decree of Allah. Before this, we are told how Hajra (ra) the mother of Isma'il (as) reacts to the tribulation of being left along with her infant in the Meccan desert. The entire family shares this beautiful trait of 'no-questions-asked, no-justifications-needed', wholehearted and loving acceptance of Allah's plan and decree. This is what true love for Allah looks like.

When Muslims perform Hajj, we commemorate each one of these acts of devotion. One is that your good deed is accepted by Allah, but its a completely different level when ones good deed is made into an act of worship that is performed by billions of people throughout history. This is the honour that Allah blessed the family of Ibrahim (as) with. 

Each year we celebrate this day by sharing our food with the needy and reliving the patience and devotion exhibited by our spiritual ancestors- the family of Ibrahim (as) who lovingly submitted to the will of Allah. Contemporary media presents Eid al Adha as this massive slaughter festival, were innumerable animals are slaughtered so that Muslims can have a feast. But the truth is that a family that sacrifices an animal, only takes a small portion of that and distributes the rest with all the needy people in the neighbourhood. There are people who only get to eat a decent meal on this one day in a year. This day the entire Ummah of Prophet Muhammad comes together as a family and makes sure every table in every household has food. Our suffering and tribulations do not prevent us from extending a hand of compassion for others. That is the Ibrahimic way. That is the Muhammadan way. They wholeheartedly submitted to the will of their Lord, lived in sheer poverty, experienced unimaginable pain and suffering, but despite this they exemplified magnanimity, generosity, piety and devotion. We commemorate and celebrate this beautiful legacy.

And part of the reason for this celebratory attitude towards tribulations is that we as a nation have been given glad tidings beforehand. Suffering and tribulations invite God's mercy as he says 'He is with the brokenhearted'. There is deep wisdom in tribulation and as a nation we have inherited from our Prophets this conviction that God's plan is one of infinite mercy and wisdom. He have been given the assurance that worldly tribulations will inevitably lead us to God's infinite compassion as the Prophet ﷺ said This nation of mine has been granted mercy. Their punishment is not in the Hereafter. Their punishment is in the world" (Abu Dawud 4278)

And according to another hadith, in the hereafter the Muslim Ummah will be the biggest nation among the inhabitants of Paradise, basking in the mercy and grace of their Lord who they loved with all their heart and soul.

It is this divine grace and compassion that we celebrate.

Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

About the author

Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.

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