`Id al-Adha Khutbah
Hajar and Baby Isma`il: Responding to the Cries of Children
Claremont Main Road Masjid
10th Dhu al-Hijja 1439
ألله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر،
الله أكبر ولله الحمد
God is Greater than; God is Greater than; God is Greater than
All Praise, Thanks and Gratitude belongs to God Alone
We have once again been blessed to witness and celebrate the wonderful achievement of close to three million pilgrims (hujjaj) who were present on the sacred plains of `Arafat yesterday, in compliance with the most important symbolic rite pertaining to the Hajj. For the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) has proclaimed in an authentic prophetic tradition (hadith):
The Pilgrimage (Hajj) is `Arafah.
(Reported from `Abdurrahman bin Ya`mur and recorded in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad)
We pray and make du`a that Allah, the Most High, grant all those who have been blessed with the achievement of being present at `Arafat yesterday, a Divinely accepted Hajj Mabrur, forgive their sins (Dhanb Maghfur), and allow them to return to their homelands as true ambassadors of Islam.
We celebrate `Id al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice, TODAY, because we believe that in contemporary times when it is possible to view the entire hajj via satellite television it is incumbent upon Muslims all over the world to synchronize their `Id al-Adha celebrations with the hujjaj in Makkah. Furthermore, `Id al-Adha is inextricably linked to the hajj which is an expression of global Muslim unity. This can only be achieved if the Muslim Ummah is united in observing the hajj especially now that it has become possible to know in advance when the days of hajj will commence.
By celebrating `Id al-Adha in solidarity and in unison with the hujjaj we are giving this great day of happiness its true meaning and significance. For it is only within the context of the hajj that our celebrations and joyful festivities can be understood and truly appreciated.
Since `Id al-Adha is inextricably linked with the hajj, it behoves us in this `Id khutbah to reflect on the significance of this fifth and final pillar of Islam. In order to do so effectively we need to remind ourselves that the rites (manasik) of the hajj are not ends in themselves but have great symbolic significance. In the Glorious Qur’an, Allah, the Lord of Wisdom, explains to us the importance of recognizing the symbolism underlying the rites of the hajj. In order to underscore this point the Qur’an in several places uses the words “Sha`air Allah” (Symbols of Allah), to describe the rites of the hajj. For example, in the well-known verse 158 of surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2, Allah, the Sublime, proclaims:
إِنَّ الصَّفَا وَالْمَرْوَةَ مِنْ شَعَائِرِ اللَّهِ
Indeed the hillocks of al-Safa and al-Marwah
are among the symbols of God [Q2:158]
And elsewhere, in surah al-Hajj, chapter 22, verses 37 and 38, with regard to animal sacrifice (udhiya), Allah, the Sublime, warns us against making a fetish of the manasik al-hajj by reminding us about the symbolic meaning of this culminating rite of the hajj:
وَالْبُدْنَ جَعَلْنَاهَا لَكُمْ مِنْ شَعَائِرِ اللَّهِ لَكُمْ فِيهَا خَيْرٌ
We have made the sacrificial animals
symbolic signs of God for you;
in its (enactment) is much goodness for you…[Q22:37]
لَنْ يَنَالَ اللَّهَ لُحُومُهَا وَلَا دِمَاؤُهَا
وَلَكِنْ يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَى مِنْكُم
It is not the flesh or blood that reaches God,
but the God-consciousness in the heart of the person who performs the sacrifice that reaches Him…[Q22:38]
Every act of hajj reminds us of the noble family of Ibrahim since every act of hajj refers back to the righteous actions and struggle of either Ibrahim, his wife Hajar or their son Isma`il (peace be upon all of them). The history of this exemplary family teaches spiritual lessons of complete devotion to Allah, the Most High, and holds an enlightening message for everyone – fathers, mothers, children and spouses. In the traditional narratives of this epic story we are almost always exclusively introduced to the sacrificial narrative of Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Isma`il as symbolic of their submission to the will of God. This is understandable since one of the significant ways in which we as non-pilgrims celebrate `Id-al-Adha is to participate in one of the culminating rites of the hajj, the animal sacrifice i.e. the udhiya or qurban. Our partaking in animal sacrifice is meant to be a symbolic re-enactment of the readiness of Prophets Ibrahim and Isma`il to surrender themselves fully unto Allah.
However, in this `Id al-Adha khutbah I would like to go beyond the customary commemoration of the animal sacrifice and instead focus on the not-so-familiar story of the crying baby Isma`il, the miraculous advent of the well of Zam-Zam and its implications for our lives today.
Hajar and Baby Isma`il
We are given the details of this story in the most authentic compendium of prophetic traditions Sahih al-Bukhari (Vol. 4, #583, the Book of Anbiya or Prophets). The hadith sources inform us that when Prophet Ibrahim had reached an old age and his wife Sarah had been unable to bear him a child, she offered to him in marriage her maidservant, a woman named Hajar, who was a slave of African descent. Shortly thereafter Hajar gave birth to a son, Isma`il.
The hadith sources further inform us that Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim to take leave of his wife Hajar and his infant son Isma`il in the valley of Makkah. Prophet Ibrahim, steeped with a heavy heart, was about to depart from them when Hajar inquired as to why he was leaving her and baby Isma`il in this forsaken valley. Prophet Ibrahim informed her that he was not acting on his own desire but was carrying out Allah’s command. Despite being faced with seemingly inexplicable hardship, Hajar’s trust in and reliance on God was so strong that upon hearing this, she promptly replied:
I am content to accept Allah’s command.
Surely, Allah will never let us perish by abandoning us.
After reaching a distance at which he was no longer able to see his beloved wife and infant son, Prophet Ibrahim turned towards the direction in which he had left them (which later became the direction of the Qibla), raised both hands and made the following prayer which is recorded in the Glorious Qur`an, surah Ibrahim, Chapter 14, verse 37:
رَبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنْتُ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِنْدَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ
رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِنَ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ
وَارْزُقْهُمْ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ
O My Lord and Sustainer! I have settled some of my offspring in a valley in which there is no arable and cultivable land, close to Thy sanctified and sacred House, so that, O our Lord, they might devote themselves to prayer: so cause people’s hearts to incline towards them in love, and grant them fruitful sustenance, so that they might have cause to be grateful and give thanks. (Q14:37)
In this barren and desolate environment, Hajar nursed baby Isma`il until the milk from her breasts dried up and all their food and drink eventually ran out. As baby Isma`il cried pitifully, Hajar’s tears also began to flow. She dabbed the little baby’s dry lips but he grew hungrier and hungrier until she could no longer bear to look at him. She started walking up the nearest hill of Safa, looking down the valley hoping to find sustenance for herself and her baby. Alas, there was none. So she climbed down the hill of Safa and ran to the next hill of Marwah. She repeated this seven times but found nothing. Forlornly she returned to check on baby Isma`il.
There in the midst of a dry and barren land, she discovered that Allah had miraculously allowed a spring of water to emerge at her baby’s feet. The little water she was looking for, turned out to be a well of Zam-Zam, which brought life to the entire area. For more than four thousand years this purified, blessed source of water has nourished the valley of Makkah, its inhabitants and millions of pilgrims.
The hadith sources also inform us that Hajar permitted the caravans of the tribe of Jurhum to settle in the valley of Makkah and to drink from the Zam-Zam well. She shared water with them and in return they gave her and her son milk from their herds of goats and camels. As a result a new civilization was born at the well of Zam-Zam and at the place where the Ka`bah and the sacred city of Makkah was to be established. It was from this civilization and this place that the Prophet Muhammad was born, a descendent of Prophet Ibrahim through Hajar and Prophet Isma`il.
From the above story we learn that Allah, the Lord of Wisdom, responded not only to Hajar’s prayers and Sa`i, running between the hillocks of Safa and Marwah in search of water, but also, and I propose more importantly, that Allah also responded to the cries of baby Isma`il. This critical dimension of the story is often overlooked and neglected since the crying of a baby is often viewed as a distraction and an interruption from what we believe to be more important things in life, especially spiritual pursuits. It is no small wonder that in preparing for this khutbah I found very little research and reflection on the nature and meaning of the crying of baby Isma`il. Notwithstanding this fault line in Muslim scholarship and praxis the vista of NOT regarding the crying of babies as an interruption of our spiritual endeavours but rather as a blessing is supported by a number of Islamic teachings. One such instruction is the following hadith related from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who is reported to have said:
I stand in prayer and would like to make it long but I hear the crying of a child and shorten my prayer not wanting to make things difficult for its mother. (Sahih Bukhari)
So even during the performance of one of the most sacred acts of worship, the ritual prayer of Salah, the Prophet (pbuh) did not see the playfulness of children as a distraction but as sanctification and devotion. This is indeed a profound teaching.
In deference to the above example of the Prophet (pbuh), having shortened his communion with Allah in response to a baby’s cries, some Sufi sages have suggested that the crying of a baby is a blessing. They have counselled to ruminate that during the first six months a baby’s cries are a dhikr to Allah, during the second six months a baby’s cries are sending praises, peace and blessings on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and during the third six months a baby’s cries is a means of seeking forgiveness for its mother and father.
By not reflecting more deeply on the cries of babies we squander a unique opportunity to be inspired by the profoundly spiritual nature and agency of children. For indeed, as Muslims we believe all children are born pure, innocent and blessed with a natural disposition to believe and trust in a Transcendent Being. Such a view is supported by a hadith reported by the companion Abu Hurayra in which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have proclaimed:
“Every child is born pure and with natural inclination towards Goodness and Transcendence (fitrah), then his/her parents make him/her into a Jew, Christian or Magian. (Sahih Bukhari)
In further expounding on the spirituality of children I am indebted to a khutbah delivered at the Claremont Main Road Masjid by Dr. Rafiq Khan on Children’s Day 2015, in which he describes children as follows:
Children are cute, dependent, immature and helpless beings. Yet they are blessed with an innate capacity which makes them acutely aware of a Transcendent, Spiritual, Soulful or ruhani dimension to life.
Rafiq Khan cogently argues that the spirituality of children has to do with the sense of awe, wonder, curiosity, care, tenderness and sensitivity children instinctively display. Childhood spirituality, then, should be regarded as a template upon which ethico-moral values such as empathy, compassion, respect for human diversity, and a capacity for reflective behaviour is cultivated.
Rafiq also reminds us that the first symbolic ritual we perform with a newborn baby is to recite the adhan in his/her ear. It is this call to prayer of the adhan that first connects us as new borns with the Transcendent and secures the first steps of a child on a lifelong spiritual journey. The adhan serves as a platform from which the spirituality of our children can flourish and be nurtured and ultimately lead them to live virtuous and contemplative lives (“Childhood Spirituality: Acknowledged, Nurtured, and Enhanced” khutbah delivered by Dr. Rafiq Khan, on 20 November 2015, Claremont Main Road Masjid).
The Glorious Qur’an encourages the breastfeeding of a baby for at last two years (Q2:233). Scientific evidence supports the view that the experiences of the first two years of a child’s life are critical in shaping their long term physical and emotional well-being. In this regard, the unconditional love of the parents and family, especially in these first two years, provides the child with the first glimpse of what Divine Love is all about. The family and the early childhood environment ought to be an inspired space, a sanctuary where acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness, commitment and compassion are the main operative values. A loving family becomes the ideal vehicle to transmit spirituality.
Our inattentiveness to nurturing the spirituality of children in loving family environments is a lost opportunity, but what is even more tragic is when children in the first two years of their lives experience limited love and or violence and abuse. In a recent article in the Daily Maverick, Elmarie Malek, head of general paediatrics at Tygerberg Hospital, argues that when very young children are continuously neglected, deprived of caring engagement and subjected to stressful environments, the brain areas responsible for learning and reasoning are stunted and behaviour can start to be negatively affected. It is my considered view that in such situations the innate spirituality and potential of a child is also thwarted and therefore constitutes violence against the soul of the child. Malek further contends that: “There is definitely a link between childhood exposure to toxic stress and the risk for criminality, anti-social behaviour and mental health problems.” We should thus consider the fashioning of safe, loving and nurturing environments for children as a critical part of the solution to the scourge of crime and violence in our society (“Crime in South Africa: What’s going wrong” by Rebecca Davis, Daily Maverick, Wednesday 15 August 2018. (See: http://firstthing.dailymaverick.co.za/article?id=71533#.W3R8DH6xXVp)
Returning to the narrative of Hajar and baby Isma`il the lesson is clear: The compassionate response of God in the form of the miraculous water well of Zam-Zam should not be interpreted to be in response only to the sa`i of Hajar but also to the cries of baby Isma`il and his innate capacity to connect with the Transcendent. Hence being more attentive, patient and responsive, not only to the crying of little babies, but also to their playfulness, their curiosity, their sensitivities, we not only develop and grow in our personal spiritual journeys but also nurture the spirituality and development potential of our children . In so doing, we also contribute towards shaping a more wholesome future for our families, society and the world at large.
In the final section of my khutbah I would like to identify some modest ways in which we as a community can become more attentive and responsive to the cries of children and make a commitment to nurturing the innate spirituality and development potential of children.
First and foremost, we should persevere and build on our modest attempts at making the Claremont Main Road Masjid a safe and friendly space for babies and children. For example, when a child cries in the masjid, it is easy to assume that it takes away from a peaceful experience, but we may find that these “distractions” can change our experiences for the better and help us to have a greater spiritual experience or a greater experience of God. It is afterall our duty as parents, caregivers and the community to support families and to raise faithful children, and that means creating a welcoming, child friendly masjid space and supporting their spiritual growth. We therefore need to change our attitude from sighs and shoulder shrugs that show exasperation, to one that is more positive and understanding. We should ponder the insightful notice that was displayed in some masajid during Ottoman times that read as follows:
“If you do not hear the sound of children playing in the back of your masjid while you are praying, then your masjid has a very dim future ahead of it.”
I propose we follow their example and put up similar signage. This may help to remind ourselves as well as others attending the masjid to develop greater patience and attentiveness to babies and children who patronize the masjid.
Furthermore, I would like to propose that we extend the inspirational Ramadan children’s activities we have organized at CMRM for the last two years, to run throughout the year. We can start by convening monthly story telling sessions for children at the masjid and inshaAllah this could grow into a vibrant and spiritually uplifting programme.
Second, we should try to revisit and revitalize our collaboration with an inspiring initiative called Embrace. The aim of Embrace is to connect vulnerable pregnant women, parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers to volunteers who are willing to walk the journey alongside them during the first 1000 days of their child’s life. The Embrace model draws on research findings that identify three critical factors, which make children more resilient in the face of poverty. These factors are: caring parents, the presence of a significant mentor, and modest connections to opportunity at critical points in their lives. Walking this journey with vulnerable parents and caregivers aims to ensure that all children have the opportunity to fulfil their developmental potential. Embrace offers every citizen the opportunity to become a connector and play a transformative role in the life of a baby born into poverty. More than this, it provides us with an opportunity to reach out to each other across racial and class divides. I urge the CMRM congregation to reignite this vital initiative. (See: https://www.embrace.org.za/)
Last but not least, CMRM should further strengthen our relationship with Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust (IAHET), especially by supporting their focus on Early Childhood Development Centres (ECD). The IAHET works with established agencies like Grassroots, the Foundation for Community Work and the Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD), in seriously under-resourced areas like Langa, Belhar, Valhalla Park and the Barcelona informal settlement in Gugulethu where they provide much-needed ECD services to those communities.
To date, the IAHET has raised and spent more than R2 million on providing programmes to over 1200 children in these areas. More than 600 parents have already been trained in ECD Workshops that have empowered them to be of greater educational benefit to their young children. The focus on ECD is motivated by international research which has shown that if a child is exposed to education opportunities during the period between birth and six years he/she will be developed for life. Presently, 66% of children in South Africa do not receive any kind of early childhood stimulation. Bearing this in mind, and also having identified this as an area where the biggest impact could be made, the IAHET have resolved to make this the focus of its activities. (See: http://iahet.com/)
The Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust’s support for Early Childhood Education is a pioneering and critical focus and needs to be enhanced and supported by the Claremont Main Road Masjid congregation.
The above proposals are not exhaustive but are intended to assist us with becoming more attentive and responsive to the cries of children and conscious of the roles we can play in nurturing children’s innate spirituality and development potential.
Parenting and nurturing children is undoubtedly the most important responsibility a human being will bear during their lifetime. As parents and caregivers we need to be more attentive of our awesome responsibility as mentors of the future generation and also more aware of the great spiritual gifts that children offer us. Children have the potential to not only transform themselves, but also their parents, families, caregivers and their communities. In order for this potential to be realized, we need to be fully aware of it and relish the spontaneous and natural sense of wonder and awe in children whenever it presents itself to us.
From an Islamic perspective it is instructive to note that Allah, the Most Compassionate, makes an oath in the Glorious Qur’an, in surah al-Balad, chapter 90 verse 3, by the mystical ties and spiritual bonds that exist between a parent and a child:
وَوَالِدٍ وَمَا وَلَدَ
And (I call to witness) parents and offspring (Q90:3)
Furthermore, our spiritual guide and exemplar, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us that our children are precious not only because they offer us our best opportunity and hope for securing a more positive future, but also because through them parents and mentors can secure salvation in the hereafter.
Please join me in a special prayer for our children:
O Allah we thank you for the precious blessing of babies
and for Your care over our children, families and all caregivers.
Raising children is a challenging task and we turn to You for guidance.
Ya Sabur: O Allah, the Patient and Generous,
Help us to better understand and respond to our baby’s cries, to be patient and loving towards all children, and to raise them in a manner that is pleasing to You.
Bless all of us, especially our congregation, with compassion, understanding and a generous and caring spirit towards babies, children and their caregivers.
Help us to be like Hajar – to trust You in the severest of moments and to have hope despite everything we may be facing.
Ya Hadi: O Allah, our Protector and Guide,
We pray that the cries of our children open our hearts to the cries around us.
And that it may serve as a reminder of all those who cry out in pain and suffering –
those who live in poverty, those who go hungry,
those who are abandoned, abused, or neglected.
O Allah, place a shield of safety around our children.
Protect them from harm and safeguard them from any physical or emotional affliction and abuse.
Ya Rahman: O Allah, the Most Kind and Righteous,
We ask You to bless our children and keep them steadfast in their prayers,
fasting and other forms of worship.
And we pray that they always grow in compassion, patience, goodness and kindness.
رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ
وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا
Our Lord, grant us spouses and children who are the comfort of our eyes, and make us paragons of virtue and goodness.
I greet you all:
‘Id Sa’id Wa Mubarak
Kullu ‘Am Wa Antum Bikhayr Ma’as-Salamah Was-Sihhah
May your entire year be filled with Goodness, Peace and Health