I'm back home from a week at Muslim Youth Camp. Quite an experience! Not the least of which was that my oldest daughter learned the ninety-nine names of Allah in the five days we were there. (They were having a competition.) She managed to do this without either my husband or myself knowing that she was even trying to do it! I promise to blog more on the ninety-nine names of Allah soon, but there are other pressing issues at hand...
Happy New Year's!
Today is the first day of the Hajj, Islam's pilgrimage. You all probably know that this is the largest religious gathering anywhere, and it takes place in Mecca. Hajjis (the people who go for Hajj) visit the Kabah -- which stands on the site where Abraham and Ismail built a temple for God, which in turn is said to stand where Adam built his temple -- and they pray on the mount of Arafat, as Prophet Muhammad did. They throw pebbles at three stone pillars that represent the devil's whisperings to turn away from God. They sacrifice a goat in remembrance of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, and give the meat in charity, as charity is a prime value in Islam.
Among all these rather masculine rites is the woman-affirming commemoration of Hajar's perseverance in the desert, and her reliance upon God -- the running between the hills of Safa and Marwa which remember Hajar's running back and forth to find water for her son, the drinking of Zam Zam, in remembrance of how God answered her prayers and raised water in the desert -- a spring which continues to flow to this day.
Needless to say, the fact that 2 million Hajjis, male and female, commemorate the deeds of a woman is pretty heady stuff for all us Muslim women. The fact that the rite (which is repeated several times during the Hajj) is celebrating the personality of Hajar is even more significant.
I look at the role Mary plays (in Islam, can't speak for Catholicism where, I know, she is a very central figure, although it would be fascinating to hear more about how Catholics relate to her)... Anyway! Mary seems to me to embody the chalice -- the empty feminine who is made useful by having the male essence poured into her (Jesus, who the Qur'an identifies as the Word of God). Yes, she is given this blessing as a result of her piety, but in the Qur'an she is passive, silent, receptive, waiting for the male (the infant who speaks from the cradle!) to defend her. A very typical female role.
Hajar on the other hand is active -- running in the desert from hill to hill until she collapses in exhaustion -- she prays to God for succor (rather than being informed that she has been chosen by God to receive his blessing) and God answers. WOW! Need I say more about how empowering that is! And the fact that it is celebrated and commemorated by millions in the Hajj! It is the active, determined woman, the one who seeks out God, rather than the one who is passive and receptive that we remember every year! Heady stuff indeed!!
How sad that the modern ideal of Muslim womanhood seems to have been cast in the role of Mariam not Hajar.