Ibrahim, Isma'il, and Hagar's Trip to the Valley of Makkah

ishaq grew up in the company of his brother isma'il. the father loved both equally, but sarah was not pleased with this equation of her son with the son of the slave girl hagar. once, upon seeing isma'il chastising his younger brother, she swore that she would not live with hagar nor her son. ibrahim realized that happiness was not possible as long as the two women lived in the same household; hence, he took hagar and her son and traveled south until they arrived to the valley of makkah. as we said earlier, the valley was a midway place of rest for caravans on the road between yaman and al sham. the caravans came in season, and the place was empty at all or most other times. ibrahim deposited isma'il and his mother there and left them some sustenance. hagar built a little hut in which she settled with her son and whereto ibrahim returned when he came. when water and provisions were exhausted, hagar set out to look for food, but she could not find any. as the storytellers put it, she ran towards the valley seeking water and, not finding any, would run in another direction. after running to and fro seven times between safa and marwah, she returned in despair to her son. but what surprise when she found him! having scratched the surface of the earth with his foot, he uncovered a water fountain which sprung under his feet. hagar drank and gave isma'il to drink until they were both satisfied. she then closed in the spring that its water might not be lost in the sand. thereafter the child and his mother lived in makkah. arab travelers continued to use the place as a rest stop, and in exchange for services they rendered to the travelers who came with one caravan after another, hagar and isma'il were sufficiently provided for.

subsequently a number of tribes liked the fountain water of zamzam sufficiently to settle nearby. jurhum was the first such tribe to settle in makkah. some versions assert that jurhum was already settled in makkah even before hagar and her son arrived there. according to other reports, no tribes settled in makkah until zamzam had sprung forth and made life possible in this otherwise barren valley and hence, after isma'il's advent. isma'il grew up, married a girl from the tribe of jurhum and lived with this tribe in the same area where he built the holy temple. thereafter, the city of makkah arose around the temple. it is also told that ibrahim once took leave of sarah to visit isma'il and his mother. when he inquired about the house of isma'il and found it, he asked isma'il's wife, "where is your husband?" she answered, "he went out to hunt." he then asked her whether she had any food or drink to give him. she answered in the negative. before he turned back, ibrahim asked her to convey to her husband a message. "give him my greetings," he said, "and tell him that he should change the threshold of his house." when isma'il's wife related to her husband his father's message, he divorced her and married a girl from the jurhum tribe, the daughter of mudad ibn `amr. this second wife knew well how to entertain ibrahim when he came to visit his son a second time later. at the end of his second visit, ibrahim asked isma'il's wife to greet her husband for him and to tell him, "now the threshold of your house is straight." twelve sons were born to isma'il from this marriage with the jurhum girl. these were the ancestors of the twelve tribes of arabized or northern arabs. on their mother's side these were related through jurhum to the arabizing arabs, the sons of ya'rub ibn qahtan. they were also related to egypt through their grandmother on their father's side, hagar, which was a close relation indeed. through their grandfather ibrahim, they were related to `iraq and to palestine, his old and new abodes.

discussion of the story

despite disagreement on details, the main theme of this story which history had brought down to us, namely the emigration of ibrahim and isma'il to makkah, is backed by an almost complete consensus on the part of the historians. the differences center on whether, when hagar arrived with isma'il in the valley of makkah, the springs were already there and whether the tribe of jurhum had already occupied the place and had welcomed hagar when ibrahim brought her and her son to live in their midst. when isma'il grew up, he married a jurhum girl and had several sons from her. it was this mixture of hebrew, egyptian and arab blood that gave to isma'il's descendants resoluteness, courage, and all the virtues of the native arabs, the hebrews, and the egyptians combined. as for the detail regarding hagar's difficulty when she ran out of water and of her running to and fro between safa and marwah and the way, in which zamzam sprang forth, all these are subject to debate.

sir william muir, for instance, doubts the whole story of ibrahim and isma'il's trip to hijaz and denies it altogether. he claims that it is one of the israelitisms which the jews had invented long before islam in order to strike a link with the arabs by making them descendents of ibrahim, now father of all. since the jews regarded themselves as descendants of ishaq, they would become the cousins of the arabs and therefore entitled to arab hospitality if the arabs were declared the sons of ishaq's brother, namely isma'il. such a theme, if properly advocated, was probably thought to help establish jewish trade in the peninsula. in making this claim, muir assumed that the religious situation in arabia was far removed from the religion of abraham. the former was pagan whereas ibrahim was a hanif and a muslim. for our part, we do not think that this is sufficient reason to deny a historical truth. our evidence for the paganism of the arabs is centuries later than the arrival of ibrahim and isma'il to the scene. it cannot therefore constitute any proof that at the time of ibrahim's arrival to hijaz and his building of the ka'bah with his son isma'il that the arabs were pagan. neither would sir william's claims be corroborated had the religion of the arabs been pagan at the time. ibrahim's own people, whom he tried to bring forth to monotheism without success, were also idol worshipers. had ibrahim called the arabs to monotheism, as he did his own people earlier, and not succeeded, and the arabs remained idol worshipers, they would not have acquiesced to ibrahim's coming to makkah nor in his son's settlement there. rather, logic would here corroborate the report of history. ibrahim, the man who left `iraq to escape from his people and traveled to palestine and to egypt, was a man who knew how to travel and was familiar with desert crossing. the road between palestine and makkah was one trodden by the caravans for ages. there is, therefore, no reason to doubt a historical event which consensus has confirmed, at least in its general themes.

sir william muir and others who shared his view claim that it is possible that a number of the descendants of ibrahim and isma`il had moved to the arabian peninsula after they had settled in palestine and that the blood relationship had developed after their arrival to arabia. that is a fine opinion indeed! but if it is possible for the sons of ibrahim and isma'il to do such a thing, why should it not have been possible for the two men, ibrahim and isma'il personally, only a generation or two earlier? how can we deny a confirmed historical tradition? and how can we doubt an event which the qur'an, as well as a number of other old scriptures, has mentioned?

ibrahim and isma'il's construction of the ka'bah

together ibrahim and isma'il laid down the foundations and built the holy temple. "it was the first house built for public worship in makkah. it still stands as a blessing and guidance to mankind. in it are manifest signs; that is the house of ibrahim. whoever enters it shall be secure."[qur'an, 3:96-97] god also says: "for we made the house a refuge and a place of security for the people. we commanded them to take the house of ibrahim as a place of worship and we have commanded ibrahim and isma`il to purify my house for pilgrims and men in retreat, for those who kneel and prostrate themselves in prayer. when ibrahim prayed, `0 lord, make this town a place of security and give its people of your bounty, those of them who have believed in god and in the day of judgment,' god answered: 'yea, even those who do not believe will enjoy my security and bounty for a while before i inflict upon them the punishment of fire and the sad fate they deserve.' as ibrahim and isma'il laid the foundations and raised the walls of the house, they prayed: 'o lord, bless our work; for you alone are all hearing and all-knowing.'[qur'an, 2:125-127]

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