As we enter the blessed days of Dhul Hijjah, much of our focus and attention will naturally be on the friend of Allāh, the Prophet Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām). He is without doubt an amazing figure – one who we take our rituals and dīn from; the great-grandfather of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), whom he resembled the most. Our way is the way of Prophet Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām), and one of the pillars of Islam—Hajj—is intimately connected to him. When we pray, we mention Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām), and in every single salāh, we honour this man in so many different ways. There is something about all of this I want to focus on.
Had it not been for the tests and trials that Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) endured, and the way in which he endured them, many of the reasons that he is celebrated for would not exist in the Qur’ān and in our history. In other words, as Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was going through his trials, not only did he bear them with such patience, nobility, truth, loyalty, and gratitude to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), but those trials became the means by which he was elevated. They became the stories that we tell, and which are the very reasons that he is honoured. He is first honoured by revelation and by being the father of the prophets, and a person who did much good. But if you look through his life, much like the lives of many of the prophets that we find in the Qur’ān, the reasons for his honour can be traced back to his most difficult moments and lowest points. It was during these periods that he had the highest īmān, and that is why we celebrate him.
If you were to delve deeper into the biography of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām), you will notice that everyone in his family has a perspective. All of them have a very similar story of trials and tribulation that is unique to them, but they all come together to make this beautiful family. For example, despite being described as “the most eloquent of the prophets” as Ibn Kathīr mentions, despite being able to articulate intelligent arguments, and despite the reputation he had with his people, Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is rejected by his entire family (including his own father) except for his wife Sārah. The pain of being stripped down by your father and thrown into a fire in front of your people does not depart by the fire being made cool for Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām). It is naturally painful to be rejected by your people, let alone in such a manner.
There is also the perspective of Sārah, who was his only follower in town. She was childless and with no sign of any offspring (which would come much later, in her old age). They did not leave Harrān when they were young either, but after many decades of humiliation and struggle. It is after they leave that the other people start to become a part of their story, each possessing a very unique perspective of trials and tribulations requiring a lot of patience. Hājar, Ismā’īl, Ishāq, Ya’qūb, Yūsuf – they are all from a legacy of patience through a struggle that is unique to each them but which completes this family of truthfulness and patience.
With this, I want to view the story of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) from the perspective of Hājar. Hājar is a very unique person in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. When reading through the stories of the prophets, you often see that the prophets and the believers themselves are rejected and end up in a situation where they are hostage to an oppressor. Like Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām), going from being the favourite son to being a slave and a prisoner. In many cases throughout history, prophets are put at the mercy of someone else. Hājar’s story is quite the opposite: she is put at the mercy of a prophet and his wife. She is then thrown into a spiral of uncertainty, causing her to figure things out along the way in a unique way. We can all take lessons of conviction and certainty in times of deep uncertainty from her perspective.
Where does this woman—whose footsteps every Muslim pilgrim walks in—come from, and what is her intervention into the story of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām)? We know the consequence of this legacy: at no point in 24 hours of any day in any year does she cease being honoured and celebrated. This woman, who could have died rejected and forgotten, is instead honoured like no other woman in history, with people constantly commemorating her patience and her ritual all the time. Apart from the recent temporary closure of al-Masjid al-Haram, when could one go to mounts Safa and Marwa and not find someone performing the ritual of Sa’i?
The legacy is the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) telling his followers that one day they will go to a place called Misr (Egypt), so they should treat the people there with a special type of love because they are the descendants of our mother Hājar, the mother of Ismā’īl (ʿalayhi al-Salām).
How does Hājar come into the story of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām)?
Ibrāhīm was traveling with his wife Sārah to find a new place to settle and to give da’wah. As recounted in a long hadīth in Sahīh al-Bukhāri, they pass through Egypt where there is a tyrant king who takes attractive women and kills their husbands. Thus, when Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was asked about Sārah, he said, “She is my sister,” meaning that she is his sister in faith.
The king summoned Sārah because she was a beautiful woman, and he began to approach her. She called upon Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) with a beautiful du’ā:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتُ آمَنْتُ بِكَ وَبِرَسُولِكَ فَلاَ تُسَلِّطْ عَلَىَّ الْكَافِرَ
“O Allāh! If [you know that] I have believed in You and in Your messenger, then do not empower this oppressor over me.”
The king was then overcome by a temporary paralysis. He froze and started having seizures. She then said, “O Allāh, if he dies, the people will say that I killed him, and then they will kill me. So do not let him die, just hold him back from me.” The king regained his ability and started to approach her again. She made du’ā a second time and it happened to him again, his shaking becoming more severe. She called out again, “O Allāh, if he dies, people will say I killed him, so do not let him die, just protect me from his harm.” Allāh protected her again. The king came at her again for a third time, not learning his lesson. She made du’ā against him again, and the shaking became even more severe. When the king came out of it the third time, he called out to his guards: “You sent a devil to me! This woman is not a normal woman, she is a jinn! Get rid of her and give her ajar (compensation). Send someone with her to get her away from me, so she does not harm me.”
This compensation was a slave girl named Hājar. It was not her name, but hājar literally means ‘here is your reward’. The guards said to Sārah, “Take her, yourself and your brother. Please leave this place, no harm intended and no harm reciprocated.” Sārah smiled and said, “Allāh protected me from the tyrant and gifted me with Hājar.”
This is not the story of a prophet being taken as a slave. This is a story of a woman who was a servant girl in the palace of the Pharaoh. She had no idea who Ibrāhīm was, and for all she knew Sārah could indeed have been the devil that the Pharaoh thought she was. During their travels, Hājar observes the īmān of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and Sārah. Hājar becomes a believer, and just as Sārah was truthful in her īmān, so too was Hājar, who went from being the servant of the Pharaoh to becoming a servant in the household of a prophet, and would then get married to a prophet. Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) takes Hājar as a wife, and she gives birth to Ismā’īl.
Ponder over the change in her status. How many more women were there in the palace of the Pharaoh, but Allāh chose her for this remarkable journey: to become the wife of one prophet and the mother of another. Ibrāhīm and Sārah had not been able to have children for all these decades, then Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) gave them Ismā’īl.
This is where if you start to read some narrations and stories, you may misconstrue the situation. Some say that Sārah commanded Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) to abandon Hājar, but that is not the Islamic conception of the story. It is true that Sārah had some natural jealousy of her co-wife Hājar, but Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) would not go and abandon Hājar and their baby due to this, as becomes clear later on in the story from a direct question: “Did Allāh command you to do this?”
Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) takes Hājar, this believing woman, with their only son Ismā’īl, to Makkah. This was at a time when the foundations of the Ka’ba were buried under the sand, to be rebuilt one day in the future. Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) knows he is in sacred territory, and he knows that in this vicinity there is Bayt Al-Harām, the sacred house of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) where he should not ask questions – Allāh tells him to submit, and he says, “I submit.”
Crude mountains, hot deserts, no water, no buildings, no tribe to settle in – Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) sets up a little area for Hājar and Ismā’īl. He gives them some dates, some water, and then, with great sadness, he starts to walk away. Imagine how painful this was for Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām). All the du’ā he had made for a child and heir, and now he has to leave him in a desert. This was not to be a brief test; his second child Ishāq would not be born for another thirteen years.
Hājar, like any human, asks of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām), “What are you doing? Are you going to leave me here? In a place where there is no fruit, no vegetation, no water? What am I doing here? What is going to happen?” Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is overwhelmed with emotion and cannot answer her. Hājar then says to him:
“Did Allāh command you to do this?”
Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) signals in the affirmative. At this point, Hājar does not say to him, “Well, in that case, I forgive you, but at least do this and that first.” Instead, with full conviction and certainty, she says, “Then Allāh is not going to lose his people. I am not worried.”
Complete sakīna, trust, and tranquillity. Imagine the situation: she is going to be left in the desert with a baby, with no one around her, but she says, “Allāh does not lose his people.” Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) walks away with great sadness. As he disappears from her sight, this is exactly when many of the scholars say is the moment Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) turns back and cries out his famous du’ā.
رَّبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنتُ مِن ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِندَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِّنَ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ وَارْزُقْهُم مِّنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ
“Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful.”
Sometimes the du’ā is so sincere that Allāh accepts it in a way that you cannot even imagine. Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) is asking and hoping that perhaps some tribes will find them and help them. But he would have never imagined this level of honour that Hājar has in the hearts of people that we are commemorating her many thousands of years later and celebrating her and her great-grandson Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in the way that we do.
We know later on in the story that the tribe of Jurhum will come to Hājar’s aid. This tribe would some birds flying around the area and they will know that there is water. The tribe settles in the area and ends up building a small civilization around them. But at this moment, when Hājar says “Allāh will not let us go to waste, Allāh does not lose his people,” she is demonstrating and encompassing some of the most beautiful āyāt about what it means to trust in moments of uncertainty.
Hājar demonstrated what the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said that Allāh said: “I am what my servant expects of me.” If you sincerely expect good from Allāh, Allāh will give you good. Hājar demonstrated the āyah:
وَمَن يَتَّقِ اللَّهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُ مَخْرَجًا
وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ
“Whoever is conscious of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), He will always make a way out for them, and provide for them in ways that they never would have imagined or experienced.”
Imagine her turning back and looking at her baby. The sun is getting hotter. She has no water left. There is nothing and no one in sight. At no point is she questioning her faith. At no point is she losing patience and calling out, “O Allāh! Enough!” She is completely certain that Allāh is going to provide for her.
She is running from mountain to mountain, looking over a Makkah that is difficult to imagine, one without buildings, tents, or tribes. She is hoping to catch a glimpse of a distant traveller or an oasis. As the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) narrated, Hājar raises her head and sees Jibrīl (ʿalayhi al-Salām), who simply strikes the ground with his heel and the water of Zamzam starts to pour out. He struck it so deep that we are still drinking from that strike today. When the water started to gush out, she was afraid that it would burst out and then dry up on the surface, so she carved out the area of the well of Zamzam to contain the water. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) smiled when he said:
“May Allāh have mercy on the mother of Ismā’īl. Had she not done that, Zamzam would have touched every part of the Earth.”
May Allāh have mercy on the mother of Ismā’īl. She carves the well out, drinks from its water, and starts to suckle her son Ismā’īl. All of this was done in complete confidence and trust in Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). The Jurhum tribe nearby sees birds flying around – where birds fly, there must be water. So the tribe asks permission to settle around her and the well of Zamzam. The rest of the story is as we know it.
How is this connected to us?
I want readers to connect themselves to this story through the perspective of Hājar (ʿalayhā al-Salām), what she went through in that moment, and how she is honoured. Thousands of years later, her great-grandson Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would stand on that same mount of Safa, right next to the well of Zamzam, and call out to his people to believe in Allāh. All of the people that he thought loved him turned their backs on him and walked away.
Imagine that painful moment of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) standing on Safa; that kind of loneliness is different. He calls out to them and says, “If I was to tell you there is an army on the other side [of this mount], would you believe me?” They said, “Of course, you are al-sādiq al-amīn [the truthful and trustworthy]. We always believe you; you have never lied to us.” Then he says that he is a Messenger of Allāh, and they turn away from him. His uncle curses and mocks him. His people turn away from him and he is standing alone on Safa watching everyone walk away. Think about him watching the people turn their backs on him in the same place that Hājar was left completely alone thousands of years earlier.
Then the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) triumphs. Two decades later, he comes back to Makkah and stands on Safa once again, this time with thousands of believers around him. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) remembers how he stood on the same spot twenty years prior and everyone turned their back on him. But here he was now, and there are thousands of believers from all over – not just the people of Makkah or Medina, but all over. The likes of Salmān al-Fārsi and others, as well as people from all over the world, are sitting in front of him. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is reminded by Allāh as he reminds of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) that, so long as you have that certainty in Allāh, it does not matter what your circumstances are – Allāh does not lose his people, Allāh does not lose sight of his people, Allāh does not let the reward of his people go to waste, Allāh does not leave his people in despair, and Allāh does not lose his people.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had to go through a moment of lowness in order to be celebrated in a moment of highness. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was humbled in that moment, with his head down asking the people, “Did I deliver the message to you properly?” asking Allāh, “O Allāh, I delivered the message. O Allāh bear witness to it.”
But he had to go through that moment of hardship to really appreciate the moment he was in. When we go as pilgrims to Safa and Marwa, do you know what we say in Sa’i? The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) made one du’ā as he would go through the ritual. The du’ā between Safa and Marwa can be from your heart, in your language, whatever you want to say. But the one prescribed du’ā the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) says at Safa and Marwa every time and teaches us to say is:
لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اَللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ، اَنْجَزَ وَعْدَهُ وَنَصَرَ عَبْدَهُ وَهَزَمَ اَلْأَحْزَابَ وَحْدَهُ
“There is no god but Allāh alone. He fulfilled his promise…” to Hājar, to Ismā’īl and to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), to make from them a great nation.
“He supported his servant…” by granting victory to a servant when everyone else turned away and it was only Allāh remaining.
“And Allāh alone destroyed all of those groups…” that sought to oppress the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that came from all regions to oppress him. Instead, Allāh brought believers to him from every direction!
The lesson from all of these prophets, stories, and perspectives is that if Allāh has you under His control and protection, whether you are standing on a mountain, or you are thrown into the sea, or you are in a palace or desert – He does not let His people lose.
May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) have mercy on our mother Hājar, send His peace and blessings upon our father Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and our Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), and grant us those same characteristics and traits that allow us to shine in our darkest moments so that our highest moments are actually in the Hereafter. May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) forgive us when we question Him, and may He see us through every difficulty.
 Bukhari & Muslim
Dr Omar Suleiman is the Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair Emeritus of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square.