Story of Hagar is that of all women

Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle around the Kaaba. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP
Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle around the Kaaba. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

The Muslim pilgrims have completed their Haj rituals, and their thoughts will be turning to the journey home. The most visible sign of completion are the shaven heads of the men, a latter-day symbol of purification and remembrance of Abraham who built the Kaaba, around which the pilgrims circulate.

But far too often forgotten is a story that ought to have huge importance for our social structures today – that of Hagar, Abraham’s wife. Left in the desert of Mecca with her baby Ismail, she ran back and forth between the mountains of Safa and Marwa seeking water. She was entirely responsible for her child’s well-being; strong, independent and capable.

The millions returning from Haj will be following in her footsteps as they too run between Safa and Marwa as one of the Haj rites. And, since Hagar is buried close to the Kaaba, all the pilgrims include her in their rituals as they circulate around it.

This story should allow a moment to reorient a global population around the importance of respecting women and helping them return to their greatness – instead of paying lip-service to Hagar while condoning the terrible oppression women face in almost every aspect of life, from poor rates of literacy to physical abuse and poorer health care.

Motherhood is a great way to build bonds and communities. When I tell the story of Hagar to other mothers, there’s recognition between us of the relentless struggle of motherhood, the creativity required to nurture children with minimal resources, the sheer fatigue and the immense responsibility. And how sometimes it is a miracle that’s required.

I often feel shy in social gatherings, but breaking down barriers is easy when bonding over sleepless nights and struggles with homework or teenage tantrums.

The stories of motherhood in our shared past allow mothers to build a shared present and to set in motion the possibility of shared futures for our children.

Seeing each other’s struggles of motherhood is a powerful way to overcome social divisions that plague our societies. Motherhood is about more than nappies. It expands beyond our own homes and requires us to reach into the corners of society so our children can thrive together.

Talking about motherhood through these shared stories creates the horizontal structures we need to put strength and resilience into our societies. This can be from sharing how and why we make decisions to discussing the struggles we share.

There’s also a vertical trajectory we can trigger, through our sheer act of creation. By building bonds and establishing a shared journey, we are setting traditions and putting into motion something bigger than ourselves.

It is for our children, but we reap the benefits of not feeling lonely in our journey as mothers. We realise that it’s not only our children that need nurturing, but so do we.

Back to our story in the desert, we find that to the backdrop of Hagar’s nurturing and maternal struggle, Ismail kicked the ground and a spring gushed forth. It flourishes until today – a reminder that mothers set in place a legacy that keeps people together.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World

Published: September 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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