Monday, September 18, 2006

The Story of Prophet Abraham 5.

The Gift of Hagar and Her Plight

Description: Some accounts of Abraham’s journey to Egypt, the birth of Ishmael, and Hagar’s venture in Paran.

Abraham in Canaan & Egypt

Abraham stayed in Canaan for several years going from city to city preaching and inviting people to God until a famine forced him and Sarah to migrate to Egypt. In Egypt was a despotic Pharaoh who had the passionate desire to take possession of married women. This Islamic account is strikingly different than Judeo-Christian traditions, which say that Abraham claimed that Sarah was his sister in order to save himself from the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh took Sarah into his harem and honored Abraham for it, but when his house was stricken with severe plagues, he came to know that she was the wife of Abraham and chastised him for not telling him so, thus banishing him from Egypt.

Abraham had known that Sarah would catch his attention, so he told her that if the Pharaoh asked her, that she should say that she is the sister of Abraham. When they entered his kingdom, as expected, the Pharaoh asked about his relationship with Sarah, and Abraham replied that she was his sister. Although the answer did alleviate some of his passion, he still took her captive. But the protection of the Almighty saved her from his evil plot.
When Pharaoh summoned Sarah to act on his demented passions, Sarah turned to God in prayer. The moment Pharaoh reached for Sarah, his upper body stiffened. He cried to Sarah in distress, promising to release her if she would pray for his cure! She prayed for his release. But only after a failed third attempt did he finally desist. Realizing their special nature, he let her go and returned her to her supposed brother.

Sarah returned while Abraham was praying, accompanied by gifts from the Pharaoh, as he had realized their special nature, along with his own daughter Hagar as well, according to Judeo-Christian traditions, as a handmaiden. She had delivered a powerful message to the Pharaoh and the pagan Egyptians.

After they had returned to Palestine, Sarah and Abraham continued to be childless, despite divine promises that he would be granted a child. As the gifting of a handmaid by a barren woman to her husband in order to produce offspring seems to be a common practice of that day, Sarah suggested to Abraham that he take Hagar as his concubine. Some Christian scholars say of this event that he actually took her as his wife. Whichever case it may be, in Jewish and Babylonian tradition, any offspring born to a concubine would be claimed by the concubine’s former mistress and be treated exactly the same as a child born to her, including matters of inheritance. While in Palestine, Hagar bore him a son, Ishmael.

Abraham in Mecca

When Ishmael was still nursing, God yet again chose to test the faith of his beloved Abraham and commanded him to take Hagar and Ishmael to a barren valley of Bakka 700 miles southeast of Hebron. In later times it would be called Mecca. Indeed it was a great test, for he and his family had longed for such a time for offspring, and when their eyes were filled with the joy of an heir, the commandment was enacted to take him to a distant land, one known for its barrenness and hardship.

While the Quran affirms that this was yet another test for Abraham while Ishmael was still a babe, the Bible and Judeo-Christian traditions assert that it was a result of the rage of Sarah, who requested Abraham to banish Hagar and her son when she saw Ishmael “mocking” at Isaac after he was weaned. Since the typical age for weaning, at least in Jewish tradition, was 3 years, this suggests that Ishmael was approximately 17 years of age when this event occurred.
It seems logically impossible, that Hagar would be able to carry a young man on her shoulders and take him hundreds of miles until she had reached Paran, only then laying him, as the Bible says, down under a bush. In these verses Ishmael is referred to by a different word than the one used describing his banishment. This word indicates that he was a very young boy, possibly a baby, rather than a youth.

So Abraham, after having sojourned with Hagar and Ishmael, left them there with a skin of water and leather bag full of dates. As Abraham began walking away leaving them behind, Hagar became anxious as to what was happening. Abraham did not look back. Hagar chased him, ‘O Abraham, where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we can enjoy, nor is there anything here?’

Abraham hurried his pace. Finally, Hagar asked, ‘Has God asked you to do so?’

Suddenly, Abraham stopped, turned back and said, ‘Yes!’

Feeling a degree of comfort in this answer, Hagar asked, ‘O Abraham, to whom are you leaving us?’

‘I am leaving you to God’s care,’ Abraham replied.

Hagar submitted to her Lord, ‘I am satisfied to be with God!’

While she traced her way back to little Ishmael, Abraham proceeded until he reached a narrow pass in the mountain where they would not be able to see him. He stopped there and invoked God in prayer:

“Our Lord! I have settled some of my offspring in a valley barren from any cultivation, by you Sacred House, our Lord, so they may establish the prayer. So make the hearts of people yearn towards them, and provide them with all types of fruits that they may be grateful.” (Quran 14:37)

The Spring of Zam-Zam and the course of Safa and Marwah.

Soon, the water and dates were gone and Hagar’s desperation increased. Unable to quench her thirst or to breastfeed her little baby, Hagar began searching for water. Leaving Ishmael under a tree, she began climbing the rocky incline of a nearby hill. ‘Maybe there is a caravan passing by,’ she thought to herself. She ran between the two hills of Safa and Marwa seven times looking for signs of water or help, later personified by all Muslims in Hajj.
Fatigued and distraught, she heard a voice, but could not locate its source. Then, looking down in the valley, she saw an angel, who is identified as Gabriel in Islamic source, standing next to Ishmael. The angel dug into the ground with his heel next to the baby, and water came gushing out. It was a miracle! Hagar tried to make a basin around it to keep it from flowing out, and filled her skin. ‘Do not be afraid of being neglected,’ the angel said, ‘for this is the House of God which will be built by this boy and his father, and God never neglects his people.’ This well, called Zamzam, is flowing to this day in the city if Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula.
Ibn Abbas r.a narated: “Isma'il's mother went on suckling Isma'il and drinking from the water (she had). When the water in the water-skin had all been used up, she became thirsty and her child became thirsty. She started looking at him (i.e. Isma'il) tossing in agony. She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she found nobody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwah mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwah) seven times.
The Prophet said: “This is the source of the tradition of the walking of people between them (i.e. Safa and Marwah). When she reached the Marwah (for the last time), she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said: ‘O (whoever you may be)! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?’ And behold! She saw an Angel at the place of Zam-Zam, digging the earth with his heel (or his wing), until water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it.”
The Prophet added: “May Allah bestow Mercy on Isma'il's mother! Had she let the Zam-Zam (flow without trying to control it) (or had she not scooped from that water) (to fill her water-skin), Zam-Zam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the Earth.”
The Prophet s.a.w further added: “Then she drank (water) and suckled her child. The Angel said to her: “Don't be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people.” The House (i.e. Ka'abah) at that, time was on a high place resembling a hillock... She lived in that way till some people from the tribe of Jurhum or a family from Jurhum passed by her and her child, as they (i.e. the Jurhum tribe) were coming through the way of Kada'. They landed in the lower part of Makkah where they saw a bird that had the habit of flying around water and not leaving it. They said: “This bird must be flying around water, though we know that there is no water in this valley.” They sent one or two messengers who discovered the source of water, and returned to inform them of the water. So, they all came (towards the water).”
The Prophet further related: “Isma'il's mother was sitting near the water. They asked her: “Do you allow us to stay with you?” She replied: 'Yes, but you will have no right to possess the water.” They agreed to that.”
The Prophet s.a.w further said: “Isma'il's mother was pleased with the whole situation as she loved the company of people. So, they settled there, and later on they sent for their families who came and settled with them so that some families became permanent residents there. The child (i.e. Isma'il) grew up and learnt Arabic from them and (his virtues) caused them to love and admire him as he grew up” [Bukhari]

A similar account of this well is given in the Bible in Genesis 21. In this account, the reason for moving away from the babe was to avoid seeing him die rather than a search for help. Then, after the baby had begun wailing with thirst, she asked God to relieve her of seeing him die. The appearance of the well was said to be in response to the crying of Ishmael, rather than her supplication, and no effort from Hagar to find help is reported there. Also, the Bible tells that the well was in the wilderness of Paran, where they dwelt afterwards. Judeo-Christian scholars often mention that Paran is somewhere north of the Sinai Peninsula, due to the mention of Mt. Sinai in Deuteronomy 33:2. Modern biblical archaeologists, however, say that Mt. Sinai is actually in modern day Saudi Arabia, which necessitates that Paran be there as well.


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