During Hajj, memories of the beginning of humanity are evoked. Muslims gather on the planes of Arafat, where they believe Prophet Adam, the first man to walk the Earth, and his wife Eve first met. Muslims retrace the footsteps of not only the Prophet Muhammad (saw) but also the Prophet Ibrahim (as) who is revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. The rites of Hajj therefore find their origins with Abraham (as), whose inspirational story can be found in the Bible as well as in the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book). Ibrahim (as) story is particularly relevant to the events that we see unfolding in the world today. He left his native city of Ur in Mesopotamia after voicing opposition to his people’s polytheistic practices and eventually settled in Egypt with his family. Later, he took his wife Hajar and their infant son Ismail to a desolate valley in Arabia and left them there, trusting in God’s promise to care for them.
Hajar began searching the surrounding land for food and water to feed her baby son. According the Qur’an, in response to Hajar’s prayers, a spring miraculously gushed forth at Ismail’s feet to quench their thirst. The water from the spring, ZamZam, is still present in Mecca today and is enjoyed by all those who visit the city. When passing traders stopped in the valley and asked Hajar’s permission to water their camels, she granted them permission to utilise the ZamZam water. Eventually, the traders decided to settle in the little valley and the settlement later grew into the city of Mecca. Ibrahim (as) returned from time to time to visit and when Ismail (as) was about thirteen years old, he and his father constructed the Ka’ba, as a place dedicated for the worship of God.
The Hajj commemorates the trials of Ibrahim (as) and his family in Mecca, which included Ibrahim (as) willingness to sacrifice his son in response to God’s command. It also symbolises the good that can come from such trials, including the immeasurable rewards that can follow when obstacles are successfully overcome with patience and generosity of spirit.
The journey undertaken by Ibrahim (as) and his family is reminiscent of that currently being taken by refugees from Syria. Their flight from persecution and conflict to safety and security is not dissimilar to the flight of Prophet Ibrahim (as), who first sought sanctuary in Egypt and then in the deserts of Arabia. The generosity and welcome he was met with have undoubtedly played a part in shaping the history of the three great monotheistic faiths; Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Similarly, there is no doubt that the world’s response to the current plight of refugees will shape the future of many generations to come. Just as the Arabs benefitted from the spring of water that sprung forth for Hajar and her baby, and are still enjoying that water today, so too will we reap the rewards for the generations to come if we are able to successfully welcome those in need of our help into our midst.
The story behind the Hajj is even more pertinent this year in light of world events. It is a time when Muslims will come together to reflect upon themselves and others around them and hopefully leave with a renewed vigour for self and community improvement. If we can follow the extraordinary and inspirational example of the welcome given to Abraham and his family when they sought respite, and inject even a tiny portion of that into our hearts, then hopefully we too will reap the benefits for many centuries to come.
By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds