PR from Safa to Marwa*
Four thousand years ago, Lady Hagar ran back and forth seven times from one mountain to another searching for water. Fulfilling a command from God, Prophet Abraham had left her with their infant son, Ishmael, in a barren desert with only a jug of water. When the water ran out, baby Ishmael cried and cried, releasing his last bodily fluids down his face. With nothing to offer, Lady Hagar raced to the tallest structure in sight to call for help. She ran to Mount Safa, climbed to the peak, and raised her voice searching for signs of life: a caravan, a fire, or even a bird to bring hope that water could be near. She saw nothing: an empty stretch of sand in the desert glaring back at her with the reflection of a sun that blinds. Desperate, she turned around, down the mountain, across the valley, and up Mount Marwa. From that peak she saw more of the same nothingness. As baby Ismael turned weaker, Lady Hagar searched more fervently. Her baby could die any minute. She prayed and ran, back and forth, praying and running for water. Seven times, she ran back and forth under the desert sun. Hadith chronicles her plight as follows:
It is narrated, regarding the Sa‘y of Haajar between As-Safa and Al-Marwah, that, “When she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley the way a fatigued person does, until she crossed the valley and reached Al-Marwah where she stood and started looking, hoping to see somebody, but she did not see anybody. She repeated that (running between As-Safa and Al-Marwah) seven times.” Ibn ‘Abbaas quoted the Prophet as saying: “That is why people make Sa‘y between them (i.e. As-Safa and Al-Marwah).” [Al-Bukhaari]
Suddenly, Lady Hager found her son with a miracle at his feet: water gushing from the ground. The water shot out like a reverse waterfall with a force that could fill all of Arabia. Lady Hagar wrapped her arms around the opening to gather water for Baby Ishmael and together they regained strength with each sip. The well from which this water came, called Zamzam, continues to satisfy the thirst of all who visit Mekkah today.
Muslims celebrate the plight of Lady Hagar everyday, and repeat her race as our own. Two weeks ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to make a mini pilgrimage to Mekkah, and join hundreds of pilgrims in this journey. Seven times I ran back and forth from Mount Safa to Mount Marwa. Today these small mountains live inside the Grand Mosque, so my journey took place on cold tile floors in a comfortable air conditioned building, with optional stops for water from the Zamzam well. The comfortable and lively environment of my journey stands in stark contrast to the harsh and deserted struggles of Lady Hagar. Nevertheless, the goal is the same. The goal is to search for our utmost needs, and have full faith in God that our search will succeed.
So what does it mean to PR from Safa to Marwa? Many men ran right past me. The sunnah encourages men, not women, to run across the valley. The logistics of women running would involve lifting our long robes to prevent falling, which could challenge modesty in the holiest place on Earth. Nevertheless, running or walking briskly, both men and women partake in the same journey that an Egyptian handmaiden made thousands of years ago. This experience showed me that a PR represents more than achieving the fastest time. It took me 29 minutes to complete the 1.4 miles, and finishing faster would have been irrelevant. The race is not about time; it is about contemplating, searching, and believing. Achieving a personal record means that I have tried my best on that sacred path and pledge to keep Hagar’s faith alive in my actions everyday. The point is for each pilgrim to PR. God is the judge.