Run Hajar Run

Well it’s been one week since we celebrated the end of the month of fasting. As for me, after that first day I went into a new mode partially in response to my medical condition (pre-diabetic), and partially in preparation for the rigors of the hajj rituals. I’m still researching the best program for me, but it’s been a week with no sugary sweets and no white flour. I’m still working my way to having six small meals a day, right now I’m at about five. I also included two brisk half-hour walks each day, when I can make them. The morning walk is less of a challenge, even when I have my grandson. In fact, especially when I have my grandson, because I push him in the stroller. He usually takes his morning nap around that time, and the walk eases him into it with less fuss. Pushing the stroller adds some resistance and enhances the benefit of the walk.

Yesterday I found one of those jogging strollers at the Oakland swap meet. I’d been pricing used ones all week, and nobody wanted to let them go for less than maybe 40-55 dollars. That’s a great price, because they are way expensive when new. But still, since he already has two strollers (the one we use most of the time, and one of those compact umbrella strollers), it was too much to justify. I got lucky—just as one merchant was packing up to leave the swap meet, and had actually put the stroller in his truck, I spotted it. Hey, how much you want for that stroller? I asked. Ten dollars he said. I’ll take it. I love a bargain at the end of the bargain day! Maybe I won’t have the same resistance when I push him for the walk, but then maybe I can get to my goal faster too.

I did the math. In order to make seven runs between the hills of Safa and Marwa, it would total about three and a half miles. I used to walk four miles in an hour, so from here I need to do two things: get to the full length of the walk, and get it in under an hour. Two half-hour walks at an unmeasured distance is only part of the plan. To get the gist of this particular rite, we have to look at the story of Hajar. I dedicated a whole chapter to her in my book Inside the Gender Jihad, but I promise you I will keep this short.

In the Old Testament, this is the story of Sarah and Hagar, so Muslims share this with the other Abrahamic traditions, Judaism and Christianity. I am grateful to that retreat I mentioned last time for helping me to focus on the women; although they are an appendage to Abraham, the Prophet, also shared by all three. Abraham had a challenge in his day and in his extended family to uphold faith in only one God. But when he started his own family he had another challenge: his wife, Sarah, was barren. They reached a ripe old age before she decided she’s give the old guy a break and offered him a concubine, just for the purpose of child rearing. Let’s be straight, this was not artificial insemination or sex in a petri dish, there were no TAR options.

I stick with the Arabic pronunciation, Hajar, for reasons I will consider later. Anyway, she gets pregnant and has a son and they named him Isma’il. Apparently, all is dandy and the elderly couple has their son—Abraham’s first because, well, that’s the way it went. Hajar had no status and just getting pregnant by the master didn’t give her any either.

Then there is the business of the sacrifice. Abraham was ordered to take his son, his only son and show he had more faith in God than love for his child. Fortunately, it was only a test, and God gave him a ram to sacrifice instead, with the lovely reminder in the Qur’an that it is not the blood that reaches Allah, but the piety of the one doing the sacrifice. Phew, good thing, huh? Of course, if both the Bible and the Qur’an point at this child being Abraham’s only son, I’m a bit confused how this got to be different, but never mind that.

Apparently there were some more details in the divine plan and even as she is quite old (to say nothing of her being barren), Sarah is given the promise of her own child. She was pretty surprised about this and the Qur’an describes this nicely, in order to say: Hey God can fix anything, so there. So she does indeed bear a child, and they name him Isaac (or Ishaq in Arabic). Then the story gets interesting. Well, what good are Hajar and her pesky kid if the couple has their own? According to biblical versions (we don’t have these details in the Qur’an), Sarah gets jealous and harasses the old man to get rid of the both of them. And the old man—who stood up to his people, but cannot stand up to God, nor stand up to Sarah—takes the slave woman and her suckling child and plants them in the dessert, coincidentally right there in Makkah so we can visit this site on our pilgrimage. Of course it wasn’t Makkah yet, but that’s another story.

Now, here’s my favorite part. Hajar asks her baby daddy, well what will we do out here in the desert? And he looks and away, “God will provide.” Well thank you very much, old man—that’s just what I will do then, rely on God. So he walks off and leaves them; leaves a woman and her child, his child, in the desert, out there by themselves. He might as well had gone ahead and killed the child earlier if that was the best he could do! Deadbeat dad.

Now Ms. Hajar, for all of her earlier bravado, came to her wits’ end when her milk began to dry up from lack of water and yet the child, Isma’il, was as children go, blissfully unaware of these new arrangements and still demanding his regular feedings. Hajar panics, and there is the test of her faith. She starts running back and forth; I hope it was purposefully, but at some point she got carried away in the frantic search for water. Seven times she made it back and forth between two foothills, Safa and Marwa. (Remember I said, the total distance is about 3 ½ miles. So she must have been pretty fit, or pretty frantic!)

On that seventh time, there it was, right there at his little feet in fact: the rivulet of water, ZamZam. So she had her drink and he had his, and then she made milk, and then somebody came along and rescued them, and that was that. Well sorta. Now, each person who visits the area for the hajj or umrah must make that same “run” or sa’iy; seven times between Safar and Marwa. Some parts you are supposed to walk, and some parts you are supposed to run. There’s one row going in one direction, and one row going in the other direction. Today it is in a nice air-conditioned enclosure, with a row for those in wheelchairs in between the other two. I am really working on not being in that row. Then we get to drink some of the nice mineral water; still flowing, imagine that?

I’m really working on being fit enough to make the run-walk, sa’iy, while at the same time contemplating the fate of this African slave woman and her child after they were abandoned. I have contemplated it quite a bit in the security of my own office, so now I want to put it to the test and not be so exhausted all I think about is my feet. Well, that’s pretty much it, except for future developments from these two ladies. One, Sarah, the mother of Ishaq becomes the mother of the Jewish people and from then on, they trace their lineage through the female line. Her only child some how becomes Abraham’s only son; but I can’t do the math unless it includes more erasure of Hajar, which of course is very much possible, given the status of things. Hajar becomes the matron of the Arab people, which is why I stick to that spelling and pronunciation. They embrace her, they honor her struggle, and they commemorate it during the pilgrimage. We are all therefore considered descendants of Abraham through two maternal lines.

I wonder though, how many people who make that run, that sa’iyb, really contemplate the fate of one woman and her child, abandoned in the desert?

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