The sun was shinning in the middle of the sky and had spread its brilliant rays over vast lands. On that day, history witnessed a fateful trip. Prophet Abraham (peace upon him) along with his second wife Hajar and Ishmael, his firstborn son, was setting out for another land. Abraham left the cities and towns and entered the barren Arabian Desert as commanded by God Almighty. He still kept traveling until the Promised Land appeared before his eyes. Abraham was praying the Almighty for divine favours on his wife and son. Finally, he reached a dry and arid land with no habitation. It was a dry and waterless desert surrounded by stark mountains. Here he found the traces of God’s symbolic house, the cube shaped Ka’ba, built by the Father of the human race, Adam, that was all but vanished after the great deluge of the days of his famous Ancestor, Prophet Noah (peace upon him). After dismounting his wife and son at this place with the meager food and water resources the entourage carried he decided to return the land of Canaan where he had settled along with his first wife Sarah after being expelled from his homeland Mesopotamia or modern day Iraq.
Hajar took a look at him and said: "O Abraham! Do you leave us alone where there is no living soul, no water and no vegetation? To whom do you entrust us in this dry uninhabited valley?" Tears began flowing from Abraham’s eyes. He cast a long last look of affection towards the infant Ishmael and wife Hajar and said: "God has ordered me to leave you here and He will help you." When the faithful Hajar heard these words she smiled with content and said: "God will never leave us alone.”
Abraham determined to return to Canaan, but prior to his departure, he sincerely prayed to God and his prayer echoed in the valleys and mountains of the barren and obscure place that was Mecca:
The Holy Qur’an has preserved the prayer in Ayah 37 of Surah Ibrahim:
“O our Lord! Surely I have settled a part of my offspring in a valley unproductive of fruit near Thy Sacred House, our Lord! That they may keep up prayer; therefore make the hearts of some people yearn towards them and provide them with fruits; haply they may be grateful.”
Abraham returned to Canaan leaving Hajar and Ishmael alone. Now Hajar was faced with a great trial and had to protect Ishmael in this dry and arid land. Once their meager water and food supply ended, Hajar began searching for water in the barren vicinity as the infant Ishmael was overcome with thirst. She ran up and down to the peaks of the nearby hillocks of Safa and Marwah seven times in the hope of spotting water from their tops. Losing all hopes of finding water she turned unable to bear the sight of the thirsty baby rubbing its feet in barren sand. At this moment a spring of waters started gushing from under the feet of Ishmael. It was pure and fresh water that kept flowing until Hajar cried in her native tongue Zam Zam, which means Stop, Stop. The water that was a gift of God Almighty stopped. It soon attracted birds and some vegetation also grew in its vicinity, resulting in the advent of a tribe of Arab nomads surprised to see birds hovering over such a totally barren place. The nomads sought her permission to avail of the waters of the spring and to settle around Mecca.
Some years later, as per the command of God Almighty, Prophet Abraham returned he found his family settled and flourishing. Hajar welcomed him and Ishmael had grown into an exuberant lad. God then commanded Abraham to rebuilt the Holy Ka’ba and invite mankind to perform pilgrimage to it. Thus the prayer of Prophet Abraham was materialized and obscure Mecca took on the shape of a city, as people came from the farthest parts to pray at the supreme symbol of monotheism.Today, after several thousand years the flow of pilgrims has increased throughout the year. The peak season is the annual Hajj that is being performed these days with some 2.5 million pilgrims presently assembled at Abraham’s edifice. Masses clad in the white Ehram are circumambulating the House of God and performing the other rituals such as the great assembly in the plain of Arafat in order to acquire the proper cognizance of the One and Only God through prayer and supplication. They then move on to Mena for stoning the symbolic devil at the three spots where Satan had unsuccessfully tried to deceive Abraham, Hajar and Ishmael respectively, in an attempt to prevent God’s command of sacrificing Ishmael being carried out. Abraham obeyed God and so did Ishmael, but at the last moment, a ram miraculously replaced the son and the blindfolded father who had thought of having sacrificed his son, was happy to see the result. It was another test for Abraham and he had come out successful.
As God says in the Holy Qur’an regarding the replacement of Ishmael with a ram: “And we ransomed him with a great sacrifice.”
The Great Sacrifice that saved Ishmael in antiquity was Abraham’s great descendant, Imam Hussein (AS), the grandson of the last and greatest of all divine messengers, Prophet Mohammad (blessings of Allah upon him and his progeny). In Karbala in the year 61 AH corresponding to 680 CE, Imam Hussein (AS) in order to save the monotheistic message preached by all divine messengers including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and his own grandfather, would be martyred after three days of thirst along with 72 steadfast companions including his 6-month infant son Ali al-Asghar.
Thus, Ishmael had saved twice, once when he was an infant when the spring of Zam-Zam miraculously gushed out and once when the archangel Gabriel by God’s commanded replaced him with a ram. The honour was destined for Ishmael’s far-removed descendants, Imam Hussein and Ali al-Asghar and other martyrs of Karbala.
The Hajj pilgrims in commemoration sacrifice an animal whether a ram, a sheep, a goat, cow or camel. But for a successful Hajj accepted by God Almighty they have to remember the great sacrifice offered by Imam Hussein (AS) in the state of thirst on the banks of the River Euphrates, and the martyrdom of his 18-year old son Ali Akbar and 6-month son Ali Asghar (peace upon them).
On the plain of Arafat, Hajj pilgrims try to pray at Jabal ar-Rahmah or Mount Mercy, where according to historic narrations the repentance of Adam was accepted by God after his fall from heaven. In other words, Arafat is a site for not only prayer, supplication and repentance but also acquiring proper recognition of God. The pilgrims ought to remember the famous sermon of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) on Mount Mercy during his farewell pilgrimage where among other things, he gave the explicit instructions to the Ummah in the following words:"I am leaving behind among you two weighty things (the Saqalayn), the Book of God, i.e. the Holy Qur’an and my progeny, the Ahl al-Bayt. Hold fast to them and you will never go astray since they will part with each other even when they return to me at the Pool of Kowsar (the Day of Judgement)." Thus, the Hajj pilgrims ought to ponder on why the Prophet’s grandson Imam Hussein (AS) cut short the Hajj pilgrimage and decided to leave Mecca for Iraq from the plain of Arafat? They should contemplate this wise action that saved the sacred land of Mecca from being sullied with wanton bloodshed that the assassins who had come in the garb of pilgrims intended, and how their plot was foiled by Abraham’s great descendent in order to preserved the sanctity of the Hajj and the Holy Ka’ba.