Hagar, the Mother of Mecca

The first prophet was Adam, the first human being, who was the “father of mankind.” This is the same Adam of the Jewish (and Christian) Bible. God created Adam from clay, and breathed the spirit of life into him. Then he commanded all the angels to bow before Adam. Only Iblis (Satan) refused, and by his rebellion brought about the fall from paradise. According to some traditions, Adam and Eve were separated after being driven from paradise. Adam landed on the island of what is today known as Sri Lanka, where he spent 200 years doing penitence. Then the archangel Gabriel took Adam to Mount Arafat near Mecca, where he was reunited with Eve. God then ordered Adam to build the Kaaba, and Gabriel taught Adam the rites of pilgrimage.

A significant prophet in Islam is Abraham, (Arabic, Ibrahim), the Abraham of the Bible. Islam teaches that Abraham was the founding father, of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three religions view Abraham as the exemplar of monotheistic faith.  Abraham and his wife Sarah were very old, so Sarah encouraged Abraham to have a child with her Egyptian servant, Hagar. Hagar gave birth to a son, called Ishmael (Arabic, Ismail). The Quran contains the story in which God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son.  This event and its following circumstances are commemorated in the Eid Al Adha (Return to Sacrifice).  This is a day of celebration and feasting.

Later Sarah miraculously gave birth to a son of her own, called Isaac. Jealous of Abraham’s firstborn son, Sarah insisted that Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael, who left them in the desert.

Dying of thirst in the desert, they were saved when a spring of water miraculously flowed from the sand, after returning back and forth between Safa and Marwa.   Abraham, learning that they had survived, traveled to Mecca to visit them. Some traditions say that Abraham and Ishmael built the Kaaba to celebrate the miracle in the desert, while others say they rebuilt it. Among the rites of pilgrimage are rituals that honor the experiences of Adam and of Hagar and Ishmael, tawwef and sa’ee.

 

THE HAJJ

In commemoration of the trials of Abraham, and his family in Makkah, which included Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in response to God’s command, Muslims make a pilgrimage to the sacred city, at least once in their lifetime. The Hajj is one of the “five pillars” of Islam, and thus an essential part of Muslims’ faith and practice.

Upon arriving in Makkah, pilgrims perform the initial tawaf, which is a circular, counter- clockwise procession around the Ka’bah. All the while, they state “Labbayka Allahumma Labbayk,” which means “Here I am at your service, O God, Here I am!” The tawaf is meant to awaken each Muslim’s consciousness that God is the center of their reality and the source of all meaning in life, and that each person’s higher self-identity derives from being part of the community of Muslim believers, known as the ummah. Pilgrims also perform the sa’i, which is hurrying seven times between the small hills named Safa and Marwah, reenacting the Biblical and Quarnic story of Hajar’s desperate search for lifegiving water and food.

Next, on the first official day of Hajj (8th of Dhul-Hijjah), the two million pilgrims travel a few miles to the plain of Mina and camp there. From Mina, pilgrims travel the following morning to the plain of Arafat where they spend the entire day in earnest supplication and devotion. That evening, the pilgrims move and camp at Muzdalifa, which is a site between Mina and Arafat. Muslims stay overnight and offer various prayers there.

Then the pilgrims return to Mina on the 10th, and throw seven pebbles at a stone pillar that represents the devil. This symbolizes Abraham’s throwing stones at Satan when he tried to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrims sacrifice a sheep, reenacting the story of Abraham,who, in place of his son, sacrificed a sheep that God had provided as a substitute. The meat from the slaughtered sheep is distributed for consumption to family, friends, and poor and needy people in the community. After the sacrifice, the pilgrims return to Makkah to end the formal rites of Hajj by performing a final tawaf and sa’i.

Muslims believe the rites of the Hajj were designed by God and taught through prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe that since the time of Adam, there have been thousands of prophets, including such well-known figures as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and David, and that Muhammad was the final prophet of God.

The Hajj is designed to develop God consciousness and a sense of spiritual upliftment. It is also believed to be an opportunity to seek forgiveness of sins accumulated thoughout life. Prophet Muhammad had said that a person who performs Hajj properly “will return as a newly born baby [free of all sins].” The pilgrimage also enables Muslims from all around the world, of different colors, languages, races, and ethnicities, to come together in a spirit of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to worship the One God together.

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