Prophet Muhammad SAW was born in Makkah around the year 570 or 571 the Christian Era (CE). Makkah was a thriving town at that time. Most of the Makkans engaged in trades and tended livestock. As Makkah was barren, and basically nothing could grow there, they did not engage in agriculture.
Makkah was the most important religious center in the Peninsular Arabia at that time. This is because it has a cube-like structure called Kaabah. It is considered as the House of God, where the Arabs came to do pilgrimage, either the major one known as Hajj, or the lesser one known as Umrah.
So Makkah was both the trading center as well as religious center for the Arabs.
About 2,500 years before that, however, Makkah was just a barren land. No one lived there, as the place had no source of water. So how did Makkah get populated?
The story started with the Prophet Abraham (Nabi Ibrahim). He lived around 4,000 years ago, or about 2,500 years before the Prophet Muhammad was born.
When Abraham was born, no one worshipped the one true God. The Tawhid, that is the belief in one true God, as was taught by the first man and the first Prophet, Adam AS, had been lost. People at that time worshipped idols, that is, the images they made to represent the gods they worship. These images could be the sun, stars, moon, trees, human beings, animals, spirits, or anything that they consider as gods. Even Aazar or also known as Terah, the father of Prophet Abraham, was an idol maker.
Allah had chosen Abraham to revive the true belief, namely tawhid. But after the long struggle, instead of believing in him, they threw him into inferno. He had no choice but to leave his people and travel to other regions with the hope that some people would believe in him. In the journey, he brought his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot, who believed in him.
His nephew, Lot (Nabi Lot), was to become another prophet. Years later, when Abraham decided to part ways, he told his nephew to go to the region called Sodom and Gomorrah. People in this region, however, indulged in homosexuality. The men prefer men to be their sexual partners. That is why homosexuality is called sodomy. The name sodomy is taken to represent the towns of Sodom that Allah destroyed.
Back to the story of Abraham, among the places he visited with his wife was Egypt. The king of Egypt was someone who cannot see beautiful woman, and Sarah was very beautiful. So the king took Sarah to be among his concubines. But whenever he wanted to take Sarah to bed, he became inflicted with some kind of paralyzing disease. In short, he cannot lay his hand on Sarah. He became normal again the moment he left Sarah alone.
After trying for three nights and the same thing happened, the king realized that this was a special woman. So instead of trying for the fourth time, the king presented Sarah with one of his slave girls name Hagar to be the bondmaid. Some said Hagar was the daughter of the king of Egypt himself. Others said she was the daughter of the King of Maghreb, that is the country west to Egypt, but was captured during the war with Egypt, and was made the slave by the King of Egypt. Allah knows best.
After many years of traveling here and there, Abraham finally decided to stay at the region called Canaan. The place is now in Israel.
Abraham mission was not very successful in terms of getting the believers. Not many people believed in him. And after many years of marriage, he did not get any offspring. He was worried that if he did not have any children, the message he brought will be lost again. So he prayed continuously to God to give him children. By then, both Abraham and his wife Sarah were already old.
Sarah knew that her husband wanted very much to have children. However, she was not only barren, but already beyond the age of conception. So she told her husband to take her bondmaid Hagar to be his second wife.
After Abraham slept with Hagar, they got a son. They named the son, Ishmael. All three were happy. But not for long. Because the woman’s jealousy quickly interfered. Sarah could not bear to see Abraham paid too much attention to the boy and the boy’s mother who used to be her bondmaid.
Sarah then told her husband to put away Hagar and the boy so that she didn’t have to see them again. That way, she would not be overwhelmed by jealousy. But, instead of bringing Hagar and the infant Ishmael to the next village, Abraham sent them thousand miles away from home. He brought them to Makkah, a barren valley he never visited before.
After staying with them for a while, he left. Being left in a valley where nothing grew and no source of water, we can imagine how desperate Hagar had become. It meant that they cannot survive for long, as there was only a little food and water left. So she repeatedly called for her husband who was already leaving. But Abraham did not say anything. He did not even turn around looking at his desperate wife and young infant.
Hagar, however, was a good believer. She knew her husband would not have left her and her infant boy in that deserted area, not only because he was a good man, but also because he loved both of them. Furthermore, Abraham had been wanting to have a child. When Ishmael was born, he was overjoyed. Thus, it did not make sense that he would leave the mother and the infant son like that, unless he received order from the Higher Up. So she asked: “Did Allah command you to leave us here?”
Abraham turned his head around and said: “Yes.”
Then Hagar said: "We are not going to be lost, since Allah, Who has commanded you, is with us."
A few days later, the food and water ran out. Hagar went looking for water. She thought she saw water at the mount Safa. When she reached there, there was no water. Then she thought she saw water at the mount Marwah. She walked briskly there. No water also. This walking back and forth took place seven times. But no water found. Nevertheless, it was from this event of walking back and forth, known as sa’i, that we take as part of our ritual of umrah or hajj.
After completing the seven round of walking back and forth between these two hills, Hagar saw her infant boy was playing with water. Apparently while she went looking for water between the hills of Safa and Marwah, the angel came to the infant boy and dug a fountain of water there. That fountain of water, known as zam-zam, remains until these days.
At that time, there was a tribe coming from Yemen camping outside of Makkah valley. The tribe is called Jurhum. They saw birds flying above the barren valley of Makkah. The flying birds circling the area indicated that the area has water. They sent scouts to go and check. When they saw a woman with young infant boy and a source of water, they asked for Hagar’s permission to live there.
Hagar agreed because she also needed other people around. It was dangerous to live only with her infant boy. The Jurhum were the Arabs. Hagar was an Egyptian, while her husband was a Hebrew, so she and her infant boy Ishmael learned to speak the language spoken by the Jurhum. When Ishmael grew up to be a man, he married a woman from this tribe of Jurhum.
Like Prophet Lot, the nephew of Abraham, God also appointed Ishmael the son of Abraham to be the prophet as well. We know him as Prophet Ishmael (Nabi Ismail). He had 12 sons, and through them his descendants multiplied and spread all over Arabia. They were known as Ishmaelite Arabs. About 2,500 years later, one of his descendants was born. He was named Muhammad. He was none other than our Prophet. It is said that there were 60 generations between Ishmael and Muhammad.
So Hagar, the great-great-great-great grandmother of the Prophet, was right. Allah did not abandon her when her husband was commanded to leave her in Makkah. Those who have no faith would say that Abraham was very cruel to have left his younger wife and an infant boy like that. But we the people of faith understand that Allah has a greater plan. The plan was to create a great nation giving birth to the great and last prophet, that is, to prepare the way for the coming of the last brick in the house of propethood.