Encounter with a King
When it became clear that no one would reap any further benefits from his da’wah to Allah, Ibrahim AS, together with his wife Sara and his nephew Lut AS, migrated for the sake of Allah and headed towards the Levant, the part of the world where Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine now stand. They were the only three believers on earth at the time.
When they were passing Egypt, Sara’s outstanding beauty caught the eye of the people, who reported it to the king. The king, who was a tyrant, sent for Ibrahim AS and asked what her relationship to him was. If Ibrahim AS had replied with the truth, it would have meant certain death for Sara, for she would have been killed. Instead, Ibrahim AS told the third lie in his life and claimed that Sara was his sister. This was not entirely untrue, for Sara was his sister in Islam. Ibrahim AS then asked her to collaborate his story when summoned by the king.
The king sent for Sara. Now, Sara was in a huge and potentially life threatening predicament. What were her realistic options – allow herself to be dishonoured, or take whatever means necessary to defend herself? Was she physically strong enough to fend him off? If she were to kill him or even harm him in the process, how severe would the penalty be? It seemed to be an impossible situation.
Ibrahim AS remained in prayer from the time she left to appear before the king, and supplicated for Allah to protect her dignity from being violated. She was in the hands of Allah.
Reports say that Sara made ablution and then prayed to Allah – “O Allah! If you know that I believed in You and Your Prophet, and I kept myself chaste except for my husband, so You do not let this disbeliever overpower me.” By the power of Allah, when he made his move on her, the king was plunged into the water and started thrashing his legs. Sara then realised that if the king were to die, she would be charged with the crime of killing him, so she turned to Allah and made another supplication - “O Allah! If he died, people would say: she killed him.” The king was released, but once he overcame his fear, his lust for her overwhelmed him and he started making advances again. So Sara repeated her supplication, upon which the king was again plunged in the water. As he was thrashing about, Sara repeated her supplication, for she did not want to be accused of his death. So Allah released him again.
This happened three or four times, and finally, the king, angered and deeply frightened of the effect she had, said: “You did not bring to me but a Satan. Take her back to Ibrahim and give her Hagar.”
Allah had replaced his desire with repulsion and fear. When Sara returned, bringing the slave girl that the king had given her as a gift (and in some other reports, he also showered her with other gifts in order to get rid of her), she told Ibrahim AS “Did you know that Allah has failed the plot of the disbelievers, and gave us a girl to serve us.”
Hence, the four of them – Ibrahim AS, Sara, Lut AS and Hagar, continued towards the Levant. Lut AS parted ways with them and headed towards a town in Jordan, where its residents were notorious for their rampant homosexuality. His story will be related at another time, insha Allah.
The Birth of Ismail AS
Meanwhile, what was lacking in the harmonious marriage between Ibrahim AS and Sara was children. Ibrahim AS yearned to have children, for he wanted his progeny to continue spreading the message of Allah on earth. Yet years passed and the couple remained childless. This situation continued until Sara reached an extreme old age upon which it seemed out of the question that she would able to bear any children.
Hagar at this time was Sara’s slave. Understanding that she was physically unable to fulfil her husband’s wish to bear children, Sara gifted Hagar to him. During the rules of this era, once Hagar was under Ibrahim’s AS ward, it was then legitimate for him to have physical relations with her. Their union resulted in a baby boy, Ismail AS, who was later to become a prophet. At this time, Ibrahim AS was in his eighties.
The birth was pivotal to the history of Islam, for from the progeny of Ismail AS, Muhammad SAW was born. Unfortunately, upon the birth of the baby, Sara succumbed to feelings of jealousy, and started bearing ill will towards Hagar. This disrupted the peace in the household.
Walking in Hagar’s Footsteps
It was then when Allah inspired Ibrahim AS to bring Hajar and their son towards the place which we now know as Makkah. At this time, Makkah was a desolate spot deep in the desert. It was entirely uninhabitable, for there was no water source. Packed with some dates and leather skins filled with water, the three of them journeyed towards Makkah. Ismail AS was still an infant during this time and relied on his mother’s milk for sustenance.
When they reached the destination, Ibrahim AS left the both of them there, and started walking away, leaving them behind. He gave them neither explanation for his abrupt behaviour, nor words of farewell. Hagar grabbed him by his clothes and asked him where he was going - was he to leave them to die in the middle of nowhere? Ibrahim AS remained silent and did not even look back. She questioned him again and again – one can imagine her panic and distress at the thought of being abandoned by her husband, with a young child to feed and no signs of life for miles around - but his lips remained sealed.
Why would Ibrahim AS unaccountably abandon his wife and the son that he had been longing for so badly? No Messenger or Prophet of God would behave in such a manner, unless it was in obedience to a divine instruction, for a wisdom and benefit that only Allah knows. Finally, she asked “Has Allah commanded you for that?” He indicated that this was the case. Learning this, she then said: “Allah will not leave us to perish.” Such was her faith and belief in Allah, coupled with her obedience to her husband, that she did not hold him back after that and was contented to stay behind.
Hagar was left to fend for the both of them. Her resources were limited. The provisions they had were meagre, and soon the dates and water were consumed. She and her son were extremely thirsty and hungry. She had nothing to feed him or stop his wails of starvation. Her milk had dried up and in some reports she was so severely dehydrated that even her saliva had run dry. Both of them were totally isolated and at the brink of death.
In a last ditch attempt, she left her son on the sand, and climbed up the nearest peak, Safa, to see if there was anyone around to help. She scanned the landscape, but it was barren and lifeless. She descended, crossed the sandy valley and climbed up the next peak, which was Marwah. Her eyes searched long and hard, but still, only silence greeted her across the parched dunes. Time was running out, and it had come to an alarming point where Ismail AS was already standing in his grave.