This past week, some 2.5 million Muslims traveled to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj. One of the rites these Muslims participated in involves running (or walking) between the hills of Safa and Marwa. This rite commemorates an event in the life of Hajar, Ibrahim’s second wife, mother of Ismail. When Sarah found out she was going to have a child, Ibrahim took Hajar and Ismail out to the desert and left them. Soon, they were out of food and water. Desperate to take care of her infant son, Hajar ran back and forth in the desert, from hilltop to hilltop, searching for water, praying to God to succor her. God answered her prayers, making a stream spring forth from the ground beneath the infant’s heels. To this day, the spring runs in Mecca, and pilgrims drink from its waters.
As a Muslim woman, I find the inclusion of this rite in the Hajj, the single most significant ritual of a Muslim’s life, both affirming and empowering. It encourages me to know that God not only hears my prayers and answers them, but that He makes no distinction between the prayers of men and women. Further, the fact that men and women commemorate this event together, without distinction, affirms the equality of us all, and the importance of women as role models for men, not just men as role models for women. It is, in short, a celebration of women’s spirituality, of our relationship with God that the entire community participates in. How beautiful and uplifting is that!
As a part of my sermon this past Tuesday, I talked about the spirituality of Hajar and Maryam. In the Qur’an, Maryam, the mother of Jesus, is revered, and set up as an example. Her spirituality is a quiet one, she prays in seclusion. Gabriel comes to her, to announce the favor of God upon her — that she will be the mother of Jesus when no man has touched her. When Jesus is born, he speaks from the cradle defending her honor. Maryam’s spirituality is, then, a receptive spirituality. She is an open vessel, receiving the favor of God, the blessing of God.
Hajar, on the other hand, represents an active spirituality. She seeks out God. She cries to Him, demanding a miracle. God answers her, and gives her what she has asked for. She is the initiator, the instigator, while God is responsive.
Maryam and Hajar comprise the spectrum of spirituality, the yin and yang of Islam, the passive and the active, the receptive and the pursuing. All too often, Muslims tend to focus on Maryam’s model of spirituality for women: serene, passive, receptive, responsive. But Hajar’s mode of spirituality is also a model we can follow: active, seeking, partnering. And, obviously, we can blend both approaches, to fulfill our spiritual needs.