Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Indeed, al-Safa and al-Marwah are among the rites of God. So whoever makes Hajj to the House or performs Umrah – there is no blame upon him for walking between them. And whoever volunteers good – then indeed, God is appreciative and Knowing.
(Chapter 2:Verse 158)
Al-Safa and al-Marwah are two small hills. Those who had the honour of visiting the sacred mosque in Mecca know them well, and I pray for those who have not yet seen them to be blessed with that opportunity soon. It was between these two hills that Hagar -the wife of Abraham (peace be upon him)- ran back and forth in search of water for her infant Ishmael after Abraham left them near God’s sacred house. What would a woman think when her husband leaves her and their baby in a place where there is no food or water? Hagar asked her famous question: ”Under whose care are you leaving us, Abraham? Did God command you of this?” Abraham replied:”yes,” She said: "Then He will not abandon us.” Hagar understood that she is now free of need of the creations because the Creator was with her. Abraham (peace be upon him) supplicated his Lord:
Our Lord! I have settled part of my descendants in a barren valley, by Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may maintain the prayer. So make the hearts of a part of the people fond of them, and provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks. (14:37)
“a barren valley” suggests that the valley had no water because a place where water exists would have at least some plants and trees. Water is the most essential element for life. Think about the condition of a Hagar and her baby in the heat of the desert with no water. Her son was thirsty; so she went in search for a spring or a pool of water. She looked for birds flying down as they may be landing near water; she looked for any travellers or caravans that may have water with them. In her desperate search, she looked for hills to climb so she can have the highest vantage point and the best view of the valley. First she climbed on al-Safa, but when she found nothing she ran towards al-Marwah and climbed on it only to find nothing. She continued to run back and forth between al-Safa and al-Marwah until she completed seven rounds. Take a moment to imagine her condition: a woman of her age, caring for a baby, lonely and without any water. Now, she was also fatigued and she stopped looking for water and returned to her son.
If her efforts of running between al-Safa and al-Marwah had benefitted her and helped her find water, then we would have concluded that her running was the reason and cause for finding water. But that was not the case. Recall that Hagar was the one that said “God will not abandon us” and through this statement she linked herself with the creator of all causes and means. If God had granted her water through the direct cause or running and searching, it would not have definitely confirmed the authenticity of her statement. Allah, however, wanted her to complete the seven rounds between the two hills, and exhaust all the means available to her then return to her son to find water gushing from beneath the feet of Ishmael. Hagar was true in her faith and trust in the Lord, so God never abandoned her. In fact, Allah came to her aid, not by her running and searching, rather through the feet of her baby striking the ground. God intended for the weak actions of a weak and helpless baby to cause water to spring from the ground.
It is this act of running between the two mounts hills of Safa and Marwa that became a ritual from amongst the rituals of pilgrimage to God’s sacred house in Mecca. Allah wants each and every one of us to learn this lesson: You should have complete trust and faith in the creator of means and causes, while at the same time, you should not neglect the means and causes available to you. In other words, it is important to distinguish between trust in Allah accompanied by hard work on one hand, and passive dependency and laziness on the other. Your trust in God is the work of your heart, and the efforts you do to achieve your goals are the work of your limbs. There is no room for passiveness and dependency in Islam. You should do the work, and have trust in your Lord. This is what Hagar taught us. She worked hard and trusted in God, thus, He Almighty provided her with what she wanted through the weakest and most unlikely of causes.