By Imam Dr Rashied Omar
We are mindful that this year the Hajj and Eid al-Adha take place during the month of August, a time during which South Africans recognize and commemorate the important role of women in our lives.
It is edifying to appreciate that the symbolic significance of the rites (manasik) of the hajj and our celebration of Eid al-Adha can only be correctly understood in the life-histories of Prophet Ibrahim, his son, Isma`il and the not-so-familiar legacy of his wife Hajar (may Allah’s peace be upon all of them).
The prophetic traditions (hadith) sources inform us Hajar (Hajara) was an African slave woman and servant of Prophet Ibrahim’s wife Sarah. When Prophet Ibrahim had reached an old age and Sarah had been unable to bear him a child, she offered Hajar in marriage unto him. Shortly thereafter Hajar gave birth to a son, Isma`il.
The hadith sources further inform us that Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim to take leave of his wife Hajar and his infant son Isma`il in the valley of Makkah. In this barren and desolate environment, Hajar nursed baby Isma`il until all the water she had was depleted and the milk from her breasts had dried out. Baby Isma`il cried pitifully. She decided to climb the nearest hill of Safa, looking down the valley to see if there was someone around or an oasis that could quench her baby’s thirst. Alas, there was none. So she climbed down the hill of Safa and ran to the next hill of Marwa. She repeated this seven times.
Returned to check on baby Isma`il. There she discovered that in the midst of this barren land, Allah had miraculously allowed a well of water to emerge at the baby’s feet. This water well, is known to us as the well of zamzam, and this once barren valley is now the city of Makkah. The well of zamzam miraculously continues to nourish the valley of Makkah and its millions of pilgrims annually for more than four centuries now.
In the grand plan of Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, Hajar, a woman, was destined to become the founder of the most sacred city on earth, Makkah al-Mukarramah, and the progenitor of a new civilization from which many of the great Prophets of God are descendant, culminating in the final Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Hajar’s running between the hills of Safa and Marwah is a clear indicator that she was not just sitting passively beside her baby Isma`il accepting her destiny and fate and waiting for a miracle to occur. The sa`i of Hajar – her running between the hills of Safa and Marwa – suggests that she had active agency in the divine plan of Allah. Such a view resonates with the guidance of the Glorious Qur’an. In Surah al-Najm, Chapter 53, verse 39 and 40, where Allah, the Sublime, exhorts us as follows: And the human being shall have nothing except that which s/he strives for; And that the fruits of her or his striving and endeavours will be realized.
It is instructive to note that the words sa`a and sa`ya in the above Qur’anic verses are closely connected to the word sa`i meaning to strive, to hasten, to labour, and to exert oneself. And in our South African context sa`i should denote struggle and activism.
The Hajj is thus about re-tracing the life-struggle of a woman! A black woman! A slave! The slave of another woman! Yet, this person is in the eyes of God one of the noblest of human beings. Here is a woman revered by God, but who in contemporary society would be denied full dignity and honour.
This story is an example of the egalitarian spirit and non-judgmental attitude that Islam seeks to nurture and inculcate in its followers.
Relating the above insight from story of the life-struggle of Hajar and her beloved son, Prophet Isma`il to Women’s month in South Africa means that women and children are not expected by Islam to passively sit by and accept violence and abuse. Rather the story encourages us to recommit ourselves to continue the gender jihad – the struggle for the equivalence and full dignity of women. It should inspire us to revere our mothers and wives and to be mindful of the many sacrifices they make in nurturing and raising our children. This is the inspiration that we should derive from the life-struggle of Hajar and her beloved son, Prophet Isma`il, on this great day of `Id al-Adha and Women’s Month of August.
Let us use this great day of Eid al-Adha as the starting point for a new consciousness and appreciation of the role of women in the reconstruction of our family lives, our society and our country. Let us use this great day of Eid al-Adha which is also a day for celebrating the family, to heal those spousal and other familial relationships which have been impaired.
We pray and make du`a that Allah, the Most High grants all of those who were blessed with being present at `Arafat a divinely accepted Hajj Mabrur, forgives them their sins (Dhanb Maghfur), and allows them to return to their homelands as true ambassadors of Islam. Eid Sa’id Wa Mubarak!