The first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah have embraced us once again—a time of reflection, fasting, and gratitude.
To be honest, it has been some time since I’ve contemplated Eid Al-Adha. This year, it falls in the middle of the week, and I’ve wondered if I should even take off of work. I’ve never felt particularly excited about this Eid. I always felt it to be the underdog Eid. The one that comes too soon after Eid Al Fitr and doesn’t feel as notable or rewarding as the former, with no long month of fasting leading up to it.
But I recall one time when Eid Al Adha did feel particularly powerful and meaningful. And not because I had a bomb Eid outfit to show off.
About a decade ago I had the privileges (emotional, physical, and financial) to practice Hajj. In retrospect, I feel it would’ve been more meaningful for me to have gone for this sacred journey when I was older, but it, of course, held profound meaning for me nonetheless.
Hajj—complete with sacred rituals and reenactments of divine historical events, but also prolonged periods of deep reckoning with oneself—was for me comparable to nothing else. It left me feeling bare, unearthed. It brought with it a profound release, but only after grueling spiritual and physical work.
And maybe that’s why Eid Al Adha felt so sweet when it came around after I completed the last rite of Hajj, cut some of my hair, and quenched my thirst with fresh zamzam water.
One of the most memorable Hajj rituals is the pacing between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times back and forth to physically and spiritually commemorate the hardship of Hajar (may Allah be pleased with her).
During these 10 days, I am reflecting on Hajar (peace be upon her) and on how crucial and integral her tradition is to our practice of Hajj, our celebration of Eid, and the very heritage of Tawheed (or unwavering Oneness) in our faith.
Most of us recall Eid Al Adha as marking the occasion when Ibrahim experienced a vision of Allah telling him to sacrifice his son Ismail as an act of Divine devotion. Of course, Allah did not want Ibrahim to actually sacrifice his son, and instead wanted him to practice trusting in Divine Will and internalize that such trust would never hurt him.
Indeed, Ibrahim, Hajar, and their son Ismail experienced much suffering and testing in the dunya—but Allah always came through and showered them with mercy for their steadfast faith and conscious connection to the Divine.
When Allah asked Prophet Ibrahim to separate from Hajar and Ismail, Ibrahim felt deep hesitation. It was only when Hajar told him to listen to the Divine will, that Ibrahim left.
“I am pleased to be left with Allah, who will not neglect us,” she said.
Left in a barren, rugged, dry land with her baby, Hajar soon ran out of the family’s water and food supply. Desperately, she paced through the valley between the hills of Safa and Marwa, searching for signs of life, supplicating, remembering the endless and abundant capacity of the Divine in contrast to the scarce dunya.
She was then visited by the arch-angel Jibreel—the same angel who sent down Quranic revelation to the beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Soon after, water sprung from the ground—and the ever-flowing water source of zamzam was gifted to them. A nomadic tribe passing by, called Jurhum, saw birds flying over, so they made their way to the valley and encountered Hajar and Ismail and the water spring. They asked to settle there, and provided Hajar and Ismail with food and care. They inhabited this desolate valley of Makkah. Ibrahim returned much later to find a small but burgeoning community. And there he laid the foundation of a crucial shrine as a testament to Allah’s Oneness—the Ka’ba. Makkah emerged as a city that is at the core of Tawheed–unwavering faith in the wholeness, completeness, and unique divinity of The One. And we owe it to Hajar for not just finding this site haphazardly, but through her role of sacrificing, trusting and communicating with Allah leading up to an important act of divine feminine manifestation.
Eid Al Adha is ultimately about the joy of giving—the joy we can experience through sacrifice and offering, and not only through the more obvious joy of receiving. It is about commemorating the legacy of Ibrahim and his trust in Divine Will through his willingness to sacrifice his son, and it is also very much about commemorating Hajar’s sacrifice in ego and hard work to find sustenance for herself and her baby, and most importantly, that she took on this task with utter trust in Divine Decree.
Each and every person who performs the Hajj is asked to move through the hills of Safa and Marwa, as did Hajar, because these are signs and symbols of Allah. Signs of Divine acceptance, trust, protection, wisdom, and mercy even amid conditions of material and worldly distress. We are told in the Qur’an, “Behold! Safaa and Marwa are among the symbols of God. So if those who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, there is no blame on them. And if any one obeys his own impulse to Good, be sure that God is One Who is Responsive, Knowing.” (Quran 2:158)
Hajar (pbuh) offers us a lesson in her true mastery of reda or Divine Acceptance. She accepted such a fate with profound humility and deep knowing that Allah would be responsive to whatever her fate.
This Eid, while I won’t be making Hajj, I will take off work, put on my best clothes, pray the collective Eid prayer, and give the morning zakat (charity in the form of money and food distribution that is meant to purify oneself). I will also use the three auspicious days of Eid Al Adha to reflect on the legacy of Hajar, a Black Egyptian woman whose contributions and sacrifices founded Makkah, the historic epicenter not just of Islam but of Tawheed—affirmation in the Wholeness and Oneness of the Divine that all sentient beings are born with. I will reflect on the occultive capacity of Hajar, who was elevated by meeting Angel Jibreel and witnessed a divine manifestation (the spring of zamzam) of Allah’s mercy, love and care for us. What we would call simply a “miracle” today was actually through intentional heart work–her spiritual and physical labor—that allowed her to receive soul lessons in Divinity that ultimately offered her and others ease and collective reprieve.
Zeinab Khalil is an aspiring sheikha based in New York. When she’s not working her daytime job at a human rights philanthropy, she enjoys cultivating sisterhood, learning from elders and babies, and drinking oat milk lattes.