As I think about those who recently passed away in Makkah, the greatness of the rite that they were in the midst of completing, and the rite that they were intending to complete as Hajj approaches forces me into deeper reflection. Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is the Pilgrimage to Makkah that one must complete once in his or her lifetime. So much significance is intricately woven in the Hajj that no article can attempt to shine light on this pillar that could ever compare to the effect of the Hajj on the heart of a Muslim. However, there is one aspect of Hajj that I had not grasped the importance of until I completed it and hope to elaborate now.
First, there is no way of life or movement that has established the highest status for women than Islam has. As a student of science, I rely on the understanding of facts and evidence. Since as long as I can remember and I’m certain that all others reading this can relate, I was taught that in order to develop empathy, “one must walk in another’s shoes.” This is a figurative phrase that means in order to understand a person, one must be able to understand his or her circumstance and resulting perception. One of the rites of Hajj and Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) is the Sa’y between Safa and Marwah (passing seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwah).
Prophet Ibrahim’s (alaihis salam (AS): peace be upon him) wife, Hajar (radhiallahu anha (RA): may God be pleased with her), hastened between Safa and Marwah seven times in search of help as she was alone with her blessed baby Ismail (AS). She was so focused, determined, and persistent that she knew she must hasten between the vantage points repeatedly as the desert landscape shifts and changes and she did not want to miss the sight of any caravan or help. I have not done the Hajj yet, but I was fortunate to do Umrah this summer and when I think of Hajar (RA) and Ismail (AS) alone in the desert encompassed by seemingly endless sky and sand, I feel as if my heart stops, my throat goes dry, and then my eyes fill with water.
I feel this way from thinking how alone Hajar (RA) was in the harsh and unforgiving desert with its mirages of water. However, I particularly feel this way because of how small I feel compared to Hajar(RA) in the most trying and draining of environments, the desert, and her utmost confidence that she was not alone because she had Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala (SWT): Glorified and Exalted is He(Allah)). Furthermore, her determination is even more striking as she knew that she was the only means of provision for Ismail(AS), the son of one of the greatest Prophets: Ibrahim (AS), the brother of one of the greatest Prophets: Isaac (AS), and one of the greatest Prophets himself (AS) from whose line ultimately came the greatest Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam (SAW): peace and blessings be upon him).
Umrah, Hajj, and the fulfillment of our obligations in Islam, are not complete unless each actually experiences her circumstance. Every Muslim man and woman must do the Sa’y between Safa and Marwa. I was overwhelmed by how difficult it actually is even given the accommodations of alleviating this experience in a modern and very elegant enclosure and ironically, with water available in between if needed. I felt like the tiled ground was forcefully pushing against the soles of my feet. It is long and trying to hasten between Safa and Marwah seven times even knowing this rite is of symbolic significance. It was too much to imagine this experience with the unknown lying ahead as Hajar (RA) had done. Furthermore, this rite is done after one has made the Tawaf around the Ka’bah (circling the Ka’bah seven times in the counterclockwise direction praising Allah (SWT)) which is done as a gesture of greeting Masjid Al-Haraam after one has arrived in Makkah.
This specific rite in Islam not only firmly establishes the highest status for women, but also firmly establishes one of the greatest women(RA) as a role model that every man and woman must literally emulate in the hope that we can realize and attain even a small portion of her unshaken faith in Allah(SWT) as the Ultimate Provider and Comforter. Women are inherently by birthright given the most prestigious rights and honors by Allah(SWT) as He(SWT) has made us the means both literally and figuratively of raising generations of society and establishing the foundation on which society should function. Furthermore, one must never be shaken regardless of the bleakness of circumstance as Allah(SWT) will always provide the means.
And, Allah (SWT) did cause the most precious commodity of life, water, to spring from the sand at the touch of the blessed baby Ismail’s (AS) heel. And to this day, this well, Zamzam, is abounding with water and providing sustenance for generations.