I do believe The Creator preserved such a powerful narrative of a Black woman who possessed no status, fame or wealth to demonstrate to humanity the noble rank a truly righteous soul, one without any material markers, has in the eyes of The Divine.
Hajar: The legacy of our Black mother and one of Islam’s most important women
Hājar was a Black woman of Nubian descent who was formerly a slave. She is the wife of Ibrahīm (Abraham) and gave birth to Isma’il (Ishmael), peace be upon them both.
One of the most powerful narratives of her life is when Ibrahīm is commanded by God to leave her and Isma’il alone in the desert. It is important to note that Ibrahīm prayed to God for offspring for almost 86 years of his life. In being blessed with Isma’il through Hājar, he was not only grateful to God but also began envisioning his life as a father – someone who could watch his son grow and develop under his mentorship and love.
Through His Divine Wisdom, God the All-Mighty soon reminds Ibrahīm who the True Possessor of all Bounties is by directing him to leave both his child, who was only an infant at this time, and his wife in an uncultivated valley, far from any human support or natural sustenance.
Upon the three of them reaching this barren land, Ibrahīm turns around and begins to walk away. He is shedding tears, but is unable to turn back when his wife asks why he is leaving them. Some scholars believe that Ibrahīm knew that if he turned back to respond to Hājar, he would have seen her and his child’s state and would have lost all willpower to submit to God’s Decree. Internally, he knew God would look over his family, but the immediate reality likely had him convinced that Hājar and Isma’il, alone in this desert, may actually die.
When Hājar realizes Ibrahīm is acting on God’s Decree, the Decree of the Source of all Mercy, she says: “then God will not let us go.” She and Isma’il are left with nothing but a leather jug full of water and a bag of dates.
When the provisions run out and thirst begins to overtake her son, Hājar runs up to the top of a hill to look for some support. After seeing nothing in the distance, she runs back down into the valley and up to the top of another hill. She goes back and forth between the tops of these two hills seven times, desperately searching for any possible soul out there who may be able to help her family.
Hājar then hears something. She runs down into the valley and through a miracle by the Source of Miracles, she sees next to her son a sudden gush of water springing up from the ground. In some narrations, it was the Angel Gabriel (peace be upon him) who struck the ground with his heel, yielding this fountain.
This source of water (Zamzam), nothing less than a Bounty from God, begins flowing incessantly and as Hājar attempts to create a pool of mud to contain it, she becomes overwhelmed by the limitless quantity. Since that day, this water has continued to flow from the ground and is now the source that quenches the thirst of millions of pilgrims from across the world. This valley would soon be where the House of God (the Ka’bah) would be built by Ibrahīm and Isma’il.
Some could argue Hājar was a mad woman for running back and forth frantically. Others can say if she truly trusted God, she would have never been worried and remained in place.
I see a woman who relied upon The Creator and in her reliance upon Him, she fully exerted all of her God-given capabilities. She was aware her Lord fully knew her struggle, recognized her efforts, and would elevate her based on her willingness and ability to act, regardless of the outcome. On the Day of Resurrection, God promises to take into account all that was done for Him, right down to what is equal to the weight of a mustard seed [21:47]. Hājar submitted to God and His Decree and in doing so, acted with a sense of optimism, knowing her striving and toiling would be fully repaid either in this life or the next.
I share all this because this life continues to judge us by the tangible, numerical value we can add. If we cannot produce something that can be displayed under ‘work experience’ or ‘achievements’, we convince ourselves it’s not worth investing in. We rewire our efforts to focus on what we can prove to people of our self-worth.
My mother Hājar reminds me of the value of investing in my faith-based principles and putting forth an effort to improve my soul by actively and secretly fighting my internal demons and difficulties. These are the struggles the world will never know of, but I will continue to battle the diseases within my heart through reflection, prayer and action to gain proximity to my Creator because He is not concerned with what I ultimately become, but rather who I consistently strive to be.
God, in His Infinite Wisdom, has immortalized the story of my mother Hājar so much so that part of my obligation in performing the Hajj (pilgrimage) requires walking in her footsteps. Every Muslim is obligated to perform the sa’ee, the journey Hājar took betwen the two hills, so that we are not only reminded of what it means to rely upon God, but also of the embodiment of a person fully exerting everything God had given her because she knew her struggle to be the best she can be for herself, her family, and Her Creator would never be lost in vain.
I also share all this because I think about the millions of black people since the beginning of time and through events like the trans-Atlantic slave trade whose stories have been forgotten, erased and buried. I think about the impact colonialism has had in wiping clean entire peoples’ histories. I think about racial minorities, the refugees, the undocumented individuals, and others whose struggles in traveling to and existing in places like this country, whose journeys in overcoming difficulty in their homelands and whose greatest sacrifices will never be known.
I do believe The Creator preserved such a powerful narrative of a Black woman who possessed no status, fame or wealth to demonstrate to humanity the noble rank a truly righteous soul, one without any material markers, has in the eyes of The Divine. I believe this is also a lesson that in the same way God retells the story of a person whom this world would have otherwise overlooked or ignored, we too have to be vigilant in expanding our consciousness of the stories that continue to be erased, particularly of oppressed communities across this world.
I think about the nearly 700 undocumented workers, so many of them being parents taken away from their kids, who were mercilessly detained this past week in Mississippi as part of the largest ICE raid in U.S history. Their struggles will likely be forgotten.
I think about the millions of Kashmiris currently under military occupation by a government that seeks to advance its own interests at the expense of human lives. They have set up civilian barricades, arrested elected officials, and cut off an entire people’s ability to communicate with the outside world along with any possibility for an autonomous state. Their struggles will likely be forgotten.
I think about the struggles I still don’t know, now keeping our beloved Hājar particularly in my mind.
This is based off of the author’s Eid sermon at the Stamford Islamic Center, which was dedicated to recounting the legacy of a woman Muhammad (peace be upon him) has told us is our mother.