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In the Footsteps of Hajar: 3 Ways to Respond to Life with Resilience

As the blessed story goes, Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was guided by the angel Jibreel to a settlement that he, his family, and his later nation would inhabit. Ibrahim was then instructed to leave Hajar and their newborn son, Ismael, in the middle of that barren desert.

What can someone stuck in the desert with a newborn – and nothing else – teach us about resilience?

Each of us has our own version of a barren desert – a challenge or difficulty we’re struggling with or one we may face in the future. Let’s explore three things we can learn about resilience from the family of Prophet Ibrahim and, more specifically, the legacy of our mother Hajar.

1. Resilience Is To Put Adversity Into Context

When Ibrahim turned to leave his family, Hajar did what any person would do – she frantically asked if he was going to leave them in the desert. Prophet Ibrahim was so full of emotion that he could not answer. In that moment, knowing that her husband was a man of piety, Hajar asked, “Did Allah command you to do so?” Prophet Ibrahim responded with a yes.

“Then Allah is not going to abandon us, indeed He is with us,” said Hajar.

For many of us, Hajar’s level of trust in Allah seems out of reach. When adversity strikes – whether it be a flat tire, conflict at work, or something more serious – we’re likely to experience it with frustration, panic, sadness, or stress. These feelings are natural, but our task lies in managing our emotions so that we can emulate our mother Hajar’s resilience. It’s as though Hajar kne w that instead of succumbing to hopelessness, she needed to step back and put things into perspective:

Allah ﷻ is in control. Her husband, Ibrahim, was a pious, righteous man. Everything that Allah decrees is rooted in wisdom and purpose, even if it may not seem so.

She first questioned her situation, and – after grounding herself in what she knew to be true despite the circumstances – found the strength and space to accept it. We can internalize a similar thought process to hers when the panic or distress rises inside of us. We can take time to feel our emotions and process them (which could take minutes or days – and that’s okay). Then, we can internalize thoughts that help us focus on growing from the situation. By accepting the situation, we have more energy to do something about it – like making Duaa, calling a friend, or looking for a solution.

“This challenge has come my way for a reason – it’s not arbitrary. There is something for me to learn or gain here. Allah has decreed this for me, and He is with me every step of the way.”

2. Resilience Is To Focus On What CAN Be Done

Humans are hardwired to identify threats, risks, and deficits. In a stressful situation, we tend to focus on the disadvantages even more than usual. But research shows that if we are trying to practice resilience, a key piece of the puzzle is to focus on the opportunities when in a stressful situation. Practically speaking, this means taking the time to notice what we still have going for us and what we can do about our circumstances.

Now alone in the desert, Hajar and Ismael begin to feel hunger, thirst, and the heat of the desert. Trusting that Allah will not abandon them, Hajar rises to look for help. She runs toward a nearby mountain to look for approaching travelers but finds no one. She runs towards another mountain to check for travelers there. Hajar continues her runs and climbs seven times, until she hears a voice coming from baby Ismael’s direction. She runs back to find Ismail splashing in a flowing spring beneath his feet. As humans, we are limited to what we know or can experience with our senses. But what we believe to be “possible” can be expanded by trusting Allah ﷻ. This was the reality of our mother Hajar. Despite being alone in a barren desert with no help in sight and no clear way forward, she ran between Safa and Marwa seven times while maintaining that trust in Allah. Her actions bring to mind this verse from the Quran:

And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.

Quran 65:2-3

So, while our brains are calculating all the losses and difficulties, our path towards resilience is to:

  • Put things into perspective.
  • Identify any power we have to change or adapt to the situation.
  • Trust that Allah is Greater and that He will provide a way, even when we cannot see a way out. Our job is to strive, and He will provide.

We may think that any parent would have done what Hajar did for her child. But how many of us would do it while firmly trusting that Allah ﷻ will provide? Trusting in Allah takes time to build, but it happens one step at a time – and it always pays off. Allah ﷻ says, “Whoever comes to Me walking, I will come to him running.” (Sahih Muslim)

3. Resilience Can Be Learned

Hajar nourishes herself and her son. She thanks Allah for the miracle she has witnessed. A caravan comes to settle around the Zamzam spring. In the years to come, the family of Ibrahim and Hajar settle in Mecca and are tested in different ways. They continue to practice faithful resilience in every tribulation.

As you read this article, you might be thinking, “That’s not me, but I wish it were!” The good news is that resilience isn’t a personality trait that we either have – or don’t. Resilience is like a muscle; the more we use it, the stronger it gets. Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. The ability to learn resilience shows that it is ordinary, not extraordinary.

Just like we can learn to ride a bike or practice more gratitude every day, we can also strengthen our resilience muscles. We can even model resilience for our families and those around us. However we respond to life’s hardships, our families are watching and will be influenced by our responses and reactions. This was the reality of the family of Ibrahim – their son Ismael was nourished with not only love but also resiliency, trust, and dependence on Allah thanks to the beautiful responses of his parents. Through their example, he became a man of Allah in his words and actions.

You don’t have to be stranded in the middle of the desert to appreciate Hajar’s conviction or to model your resilience after hers. To strengthen your resilience muscle, remember to:

  • Put your challenges, big or small, into context.
  • Trust Allah ﷻ as you focus on what CAN be done.
  • Remind yourself that resilience takes practice. Even if you are struggling, keep pushing forward.

May Allah ﷻ send His peace and blessings on Prophet Ibrahim and his family.

*For more resources from The FYI, follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter here.

This resource was funded in part with generous support from:

In the Footsteps of Hajar: 3 Ways to Respond to Life with Resilience

Blog Author:

Khalid Elzamzamy

Khalid Elzamzamy, MD, MA, is a Researcher at The Family and Youth Institute. Khalid is a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the Institute of Living/Hartford Healthcare in Connecticut.

Issra Killawi

Issra Killawi is a Resource Development Manager with The Family and Youth Institute. She graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Apparel Design and a minor in Art. She has interned with The FYI previously and co-authored The FYI’s Marriage Prep Toolkit.

Guest Author:

- Tariq Elsaid, MSW candidate
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Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).