You’re the child of a tribal lord. His name is Abraham. He has a wife but she is barren. Your mother, Hagar, is full hipped and a fertile woman. For Abraham, she is musk. Her fragrance is all over him and inside him. You are the fruit of that love-union. Your name is Ishmael. But as you grew up, the darkness arrived in the name of G-d. You felt and knew that though your father loved you and your mother too, there was one who was envious and jealous and hated you. Musk-offspring. The dark one wanted to destroy the happiness of Abraham, and the existence of your mother and your very self.
She is a shrew. You watch her everyday, because she tries to pretend that you are her son. Her breasts have begun to sag unlike your mother’s, full and heavy with milk of passion. Her nipples are dry and cracked. And she fails to be a mother. And fails to love. And every time she tries to get close to you, you can smell the sickness of bitterness in her life. The disenchantment of being barren. Slowly, you understand depth of the hatred she nurses towards your mother and you.
Sarah’s tongue is blackened with the curses she spews on you and Hagar. In the secret corner of his tent, Abraham comforts your mother without Sarah knowing. It is Abraham’s bed of comfort too. But Sarah knows it intuitively when he returns to her bed full of a warmth that she cannot decipher in its entirety and that smell of musk. She cannot bear the consequences of her own doing for she had herself disrobed Hagar and taken her to Abraham.
Now she harbours spite towards Abraham and your mother. She beats Hagar, treats her despicably. You watch and the pain in your soul flowers like a bloody rose. You felt your mother’s pain even in the womb. You watch Sarah control Abraham and prevent him from loving Hagar or yourself.
And then one day, unable to take the raving and the ranting, the abuse and the beatings, Hagar runs away into the desert with you. Into the heat and the cold. But then she returns. She tells you that she heard the voice of G-d tell her to return to her mistress and submit to her. She tells you her troubles, talking to you as you tumble about in her womb and drags you back to the hell that Sarah has turned your mother’s life into. In a while, that hell will be yours, too, to share.
You do not understand who this G-d is who Hagar worships and whispers to you about. Abraham’s G-d resides in a pillar of stone. You have seen him set it up and pour oil over it. But this G-d of your mother. You look into the sandstorm and you hear it whispered to you that, in time, he will be known as Allah, the all-merciful. Ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem. The all-merciful, the most-merciful, the ever-merciful One.
You grow up and you learn to be silent as Sarah whips your mother. You watch your gentle father Abraham being nagged and persuaded to ill-treat your mother, his true lover.
And one day, you are both driven out into the wilderness, the desert. Again. You will always remember Sarah’s ugly face and her shrill, evil, witch-voice. You will always despise the weakness of your father, Abraham, hen-pecked to the end. The one who defeated the five kings grovelling before his wife, willing to do anything to please the woman who rules him with the rod of her tongue.
The heat is sapping as Hagar and you stumble through the sand. Who knows where the nearest oasis is? Who knows where the nearest camel-herders are? The water is running out. The sun is merciless. And mother can only weep. Dehydration weakens the spirit. Deadens the heart. Burns the eyes. Turns the living into sand. The two of you can walk no more, or crawl.
She lays you with gentle arms onto a sand dune. You are too tired to get up, your skin is burnt black, your lips cracked. A few feet away, you hear Hagar weeping with nerve-wracking sobs. The sun enters your soul. It is a red ball and it flowers in you with an golden luminosity you have never known. And in its fearsome light you realise that though you love and respect your father, a part of you will always hate him and everything he is and stands for. It is a just hatred, a pure hatred. This red ball of rejection will swallow up the entire world and burn it up with its molten terror. And, you promise the sand that the earth will be consumed by fire the second time, just as it was once consumed by water!
Then, he hears his mother laughing. Has she gone mad, you wonder. Is this how death comes in the desert? Your eyes close in the heat and haze. You are dying but do you dare die without trying to help your mother? Your hands hang helpless. Suddenly, cold water trickles into your mouth, splashes onto your eyelids. Your beautiful mother, so unlike the witch Sarah and her spineless husband Abraham, has eyes that are shining full of tears and laughter on her lips. You are raised up into her arms and there, a little distance away, beyond her ebony shoulder, you see water stain the sand. It gurgles. The fountain of life. You and your mother walk away, walk on. The poison is behind you. Something better beckons.
Genesis 21:9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.
10 Therefore she said to Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous (serious, evil) in Abraham’s sight on account of his son [Ishmael].
12 God said to Abraham, Do not let it seem grievous and evil to you because of the youth and your bondwoman; in all that Sarah has said to you, do what she asks, for in Isaac shall your posterity be called.
13 And I will make a nation of the son of the bondwoman also, because he is your offspring.
14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a bottle of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulders, and he sent her and the youth away. And she wandered on [aimlessly] and lost her way in the wilderness of Beersheba.
15 When the water in the bottle was all gone, Hagar caused the youth to lie down under one of the shrubs.
16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about a bowshot, for she said, Let me not see the death of the lad. And as she sat down opposite him, he lifted up his voice and wept and she raised her voice and wept.
17 And God heard the voice of the youth, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the youth where he is.
18 Arise, raise up the youth and support him with your hand, for I intend to make him a great nation.
19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the [empty] bottle with water and caused the youth to drink.
20 And God was with the youth, and he developed; and he dwelt in the wilderness and became an archer.
21 He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him out of the land of Egypt.
You wish you could have seen Abraham one more time. You wish you could have sat on his lap and have been showered with his kisses and entwined your fingers in his beard or tweaked his nose. You wish you could have played with your father like other children and grown up as a youth by his side and ridden a camel beside him as a warrior. You love him and he loved you.
But now you are an arrow released from the bow, never to return to that string. Your eye and arm is strong. The water you drank in the desert wilderness flows continually from your navel. Your arrows always find their mark. Some call you cruel. They have named you ‘The Terror’. But your heart is full for compassion for those you kill for you know they killed you first and they deserve a similar death.
The camel herders bring you news of your half-brother. Isaac. His name means ‘laughter’. He laughs at me, you think. What you feel is not bitterness, only a terrible sorrow. And as you sink deeper into that sorrow, you remember what your mother told you once. The prophecy. Established by G-d.
Genesis 16: 1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.
2 And Sarai said to Abram, See here, the Lord has restrained me from bearing [children]. I am asking you to have intercourse with my maid; it may be that I can obtain children by her. And Abram listened to and heeded what Sarai said.
3 So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her Egyptian maid, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
4 And he had intercourse with Hagar, and she became pregnant; and when she saw that she was with child, she looked with contempt upon her mistress and despised her.
5 Then Sarai said to Abram, May [the responsibility for] my wrong and deprivation of rights be upon you! I gave my maid into your bosom, and when she saw that she was with child, I was contemptible and despised in her eyes. May the Lord be the judge between you and me.
6 But Abram said to Sarai, See here, your maid is in your hands and power; do as you please with her. And when Sarai dealt severely with her, humbling and afflicting her, she [Hagar] fled from her.
7 But the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness on the road to Shur.
8 And He said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where did you come from, and where are you intending to go? And she said, I am running away from my mistress Sarai.
9 The Angel of the Lord said to her, Go back to your mistress and [humbly] submit to her control.
10 Also the Angel of the Lord said to her, I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be numbered for multitude.
11 And the Angel of the Lord continued, See now, you are with child and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Ishmael [God hears], because the Lord has heard and paid attention to your affliction.
12 And he [Ishmael] will be as a wild ass among men; his hand will be against every man and every man’s hand against him, and he will live to the east and on the borders of all his kinsmen.
13 So she called the name of the Lord Who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Have I [not] even here [in the wilderness] looked upon Him Who sees me [and lived]? Or have I here also seen [the future purposes or designs of] Him Who sees me?
14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi [A well to the Living One Who sees me]; it is between Kadesh and Bered.
15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son whom Hagar bore Ishmael.
16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael.
Your mother told you many things about Sarai (Sarah). She told you that she never despised Sarai or mocked her. But, yes, it might have seemed so. And it has been written thus. You have never had any use for writing or telling a story from your side of the fence. In the desert, there are no fences. You are what you are in the strength of your actions. And Hagar’s G-d is the Living One who sees you in all you do.
Sarai in her bitterness and envy would continually abuse and abase your mother. And Hagar being herself, one who believed in G-d and knowing that G-d sees all things, did fight back, did answer back, now and then. Sarai’s insane jealousy only grew stronger. It was not your mocking that undid her, it was your very existence as from G-d that mocked her existence. Your fertility and her barrenness. She wanted to erase you and yours from existence itself. Existence is life. And she desired to be the Angel of Death even when the Angel of Life had visited her.
“My son,” Hagar had whispered as you kicked inside her womb, “It is easy to justify your anger, hatred, jealousy, envy and bitterness towards another by claiming to be the chosen or elect one of G-d. Sarai saw herself in that light and therefore I was ever despised by her and you were too. She paints us in the light of her madness.”
You remember lying in her womb, bathed in a golden liquid, as she tells you the story of the great love Abraham had discovered in her, the comfort he received from her and the comfort she gave him in turn, a comfort Sarah could never give him. Her womb came alive, liquid and pulsing, in the heat of that love. And a seed took root.
Then she told you about the prophecy she had received from G-d when she fled from the face of her mistress, her thighs and forearms scarred by the burns that Sarai had inflicted on her using a knife she had heated in the hearth. She had gathered you in her womb and run out into the wilderness, the desert.
And here, the voice of G-d came to her: Hagar, beloved of the Lord, you shall call his name Ishmael [God hears], because the Lord has heard and paid attention to your affliction. And he [Ishmael] will be as a wild ass among men; his hand will be against every man and every man’s hand against him.
And Hagar wept and said: Be it unto your handmaiden even according to your word.
You were and are Ishmael. You name means: God hears. Your hand is strong. Cast out alone into the wilderness, you have no use for human beings. You have known them to always raise their hand against you – first Sarah and then Abraham and then Isaac and then his descendants. You are no longer afraid to be yourself, to be shaped by the prophecy over you.
Your hand will be against every man. And your G-d, the one who heard the cries of Hagar, the one heard your weeping, who saw you denied a home, a father, a life of peace, is Allah, Ar-rahman Ar-Raheem. Your descendants will call the knowledge of Him – Islam!
Submission and obedience to the will of G-d, submission to the prophecy of G-d, peace, purity. I AM. There is no shame or guilt for your hand being against every man and every man’s hand being against you.
You are Ishmael, blessed of G-d and chosen for this very purpose. And none can bend you to their will. You are the only one who can bend yourself. Like a bow. And only One can bend you. Ar-rahman Ar-Raheem. And that, has always been your desire and purpose.