In this Lecture, Vivienne Stacey explores the biblical account of Hagar and how her life might speak to contemporary Muslim women. These lectures were given at Columbia International University in partnership with the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center was founded in 1979 and exists to offer comprehensive courses on Islam, facilitate research, foster dialogues, offer seminars, conduct training, and provide resources for effective witness and ministry among Muslims. We also have a course study guide for these lectures that you might find helpful.


Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Vivienne Stacey’s Lecture on Hagar and the God who sees her:


This morning, we’re going to look at, Hagar in the bible, and we’re gonna think about how she speaks, you know, in one sense to the modern world. It’s a very up to date story, the story of Hagar. She was a she sort of was a one parent was a one parent family. She was an abused woman. She was oppressed.


She fell into some of the problems that we see in society today. So she’s got a lot to say to the modern world. Anyway, I do acknowledge, a lot of inspiration for this study from Kat Karen Darnell, and the article that she wrote was the identity of a Muslim woman finding oneself in the religion of Hagar. And that’s 25 pages, I think, in her essay. So let’s look now at Genesis 16, and, maybe our friend here would read verse 1.


Okay. Okay. Now Sarah, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children, but she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. So you want me to continue? No.


I think I’d like you just to stop at verse 1. That was at verse 1? Mhmm. Good. First, I should say that, maybe Hagar is one of the outstanding women of the Bible, but we’re put off by the bad press that she seems to get in Galatians.


If you remember in Galatians what said about her, Galatians 4 21 to 31, but I think we might pay more attention to her especially in the Genesis account. And she’s got a lot to say to us and to the Muslims of our time, Muslim women particularly, in regard to identity, relationships, polygamy, abuse, divorce, and some more things. Now her name, Hagar, does anybody know where it comes from or what it means or Hagar, it actually is some in in Egyptian Arabic, it’s pronounced, I think, Hajar. Hagar is it would be it would be a Hajar it would be sorry Haga Hajar it’s pronounced. So let me just show this on the write it down, because I want you to see the radicals here.


Let’s take the radicals. We were talking about radical letters the other day, or the other week, or the other month, or whenever you happen to be listening. So, hejya, on hejya. Alright. Now let’s say that, the g and the j are the same because it’s in in in Arabic, yes, in Arabic, where words are pronounced slightly differently in different parts of the Arab world, So you may get, the word Hajj in Urdu.


You may get you will get Hajj in some parts of the Arabic speaking word, and in Egypt, it will be Hag. So you see j and g is interchangeable in that pronunciation. Okay. Now the radical letters here are h, j, or g, and r. This word is connected with another word that you do know even if you can’t connect it quickly.


Can you think of it? The word Hijra, Hijra, Hijra or Hijeret in Urdu, Hijra in Arabic. It is the flight or migration. It’s the flight of especially used for the flight of Muhammad, from Mecca to Medina, and that is the historic start of of Islam. So Islam did not start when Muhammad was born.


It started when he migrated from Mecca to Medina. Correct, EJ? Right. Good. And, but Muslims, of course, think Islam is the original faith of mankind, and so Adam was the first Muslim, if you think of it in terms of the first one prophet who submitted, the first human being.


So this word, a Hidurah, and the word Hagar are Hajar, are linked. And the word actually in Hijirah, you get Mahajarin, Mahajir, refugee, and Mahajarin refugees. So and the name, this name Hajar, is found on a seal. It was found in Jericho by archaeologists. There’s a name on a seal there.


It could be a nickname. It could be refugee, sort of little refugee or something. It may have been a camp name that was given. According to al Bukhari, there there are 9 volumes of Al Bukhari as you’ve probably found out. In Hadith number 578, a tyrant gave Hagar as a servant to Sarah.


But we find in this account in Genesis that Hagar finds identity through her relation to the creator god, the covenant God of Abraham. We’ll see this as we go through. Verse 2. Okay. So she said to Abram, the Lord has kept me from having children.


So go sleep with my maidservant. Perhaps I can build a family through her. This was Sarah Sarai’s initiative. She goes by the name Sarai here until later she’s given the name Sarah. And in a way, she’s she’s blaming god for not having children.


She’s concerned with her own honor rather than with god’s honor. This seems to be her proposition. Verse 3. Okay. And then Abram, agreed to what Sarah said.


So after Abram had been living in Canaan 10 years, Sarah took his wife, Sarah his wife, rather, took her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, and gave her to her husband to be his wife. Yeah. Thank you. It’s, Sarai, I think, here still, isn’t it? Oh, Sarai.


I’m sorry. Hagar is appears as a non person. She’s not spoken to. She appears to be an object under Sarai’s control. In verse 3, we find that the maidservant becomes the second wife, and Sarai plans to build on Hagar according to the custom to build her family on Hagar.


Not all translations will say, wife. They may say concubine. They may say something else. But in Hebrew, the word for wife is isha. Isha.


It’s I s h s h a h. That’s in transliteration. And it’s not the word for concubine, which is piligish. I probably pronounced it incorrectly, but never mind. You spell it as a transliteration, p I l e g e s h.


So it is the word wife that is used. So Abraham, like, many people of his time, but also like many Muslims, has 2 wives. Verse 4. Okay. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.


When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Now you see this, when she got pregnant, she felt the honor and spiritual joy as Abraham’s wife and a prospective mother of a great nation, but she despised Sarai. So she went from the honor of being chosen to the pride of despising Sarai. Verse 5. Okay.


Then Sarai said to Abram, you are responsible for the wrong I’m suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me. So Sarai wanted to expel Hagar from the camp. Abraham loved Hagar and it was illegal for him to expel her according to the code of Hammurabi, section 146.


So he was in difficulties here. Verse 6. Your servant is in your hands, Abram said. Do with her whatever you think best. Then Sarai mistreated Hagar, so she fled from her.


Abraham gave Hagar to Sarai. Is it Abram there or I, it’s Abram? Abram. Abram. Yep.


No. No. It’s I also am using Abraham. We should remember that her names are not changed later. So Abram gave Hagar to Sarai, to treat her as she wished.


Even Abram could not treat his wives equally. And you know the injunction in the Quran is treat your wives equally if you you can have 1 to 4, and that’s in the Quran, Sura 4 verse 3. So Sarai afflicted Hagar, looking down on her. As a woman, Sarai should have respected Hagar. That was her arrangement after all.


Hagar fled from what she saw in Sarah’s eyes. She knew that she was in for trouble, and she knew the desert route to Egypt. She was Egyptian, and so so she fled. Now in verses 4 to 7, we read three things, particularly. We see false pride, false blame, and false neutrality among these 3, Sarai, Sarai, Abram, and, Hagar.


A verse would you read verses 7 to 8? Okay. The angel of the lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert. It was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?


I’m running away from my mistress Sarai, she answered. So this is the first visit by an angel in the bible. And, this spring, is Muslims call it Zamzam, and they still bring water back when they go on pilgrimage from the wet from the spring of Zamzam. Obviously, it wouldn’t be in the same place because Zamzam’s in Arabia. The angel’s first word was what was the angel’s first word?


Hagar. What what was the angel’s first word? Hagar. Hagar. So it’s the first time anybody’s used her name, and the this is the representative of God, and he used her name.


For the first time, somebody calls her by name. God knows us and he finds us. She began to forget her pride. If God cared enough to send his angel to talk to her, she would listen. Where have you come from and where are you going?


That’s what she’s asked, and she says, from the face of my mistress Sarai. She gives some respect to Sarai, my mistress, but, she draws attent also draws attention to her own growing identity by saying, my mistress, where are you going? She doesn’t have an answer to that. She didn’t want to bear her son in Egypt outside the camp where people didn’t know God. Identity tells us where we are going.


Identity begins by asking God, and destination and purpose become clear. Verse 9. Okay. Then the angel of the lord told her, go back to your mistress and submit to her. So this is the angel’s second speech.


There was some dysfunction in Abram’s camp, but god said, go back and submit. That’s the true Islam in one sense. Islam without a capital, Islam one, submission. Hagar must return to the eyes and hands of her oppressor. Hagar would raise her son where he could learn about God and submission.


If she had stayed as a refugee in in Egypt, she he wouldn’t learn these things. Hagar now this is an issue that many Muslim women face when to submit and when to stay. Sometimes they feel that things are so difficult that they must leave. When to leave? And we can see it.


Twice, Hagar left. Once, she did it off her own initiative, and another time, she did it under God’s guidance. When to submit and when to stay, when to leave. A question for abused women. Verse 10.


Okay. The angel added, I will so increase your descendants that they will they will be too numerous to count. So that’s a promise, God’s promise. Verses 12 11 to 12 is an enunciation and in 3 parts. You look for the 3 parts of this enunciation.


Okay. The angel of the lord also said to her, you are now with child, and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man, and his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him, And he will live in hostility toward all his brothers. Now you notice the enunciation.


There are three things. It’s the enunciation of a son, the naming of the child, and a prediction about his future. He will have a possession. And Hagar, through this enunciation, is now will now be included with such women as Hannah, to whom an annunciation was given, with Elizabeth and Mary. You can compare this annunciation with the one to Mary.


First, the naming by Allah and the naming, it’s very interesting to see that it means Ishmael means God hears. It’s the word Shama, hearing in in Arabic, s h a m a, you can transliterate, hearing, is one of the seven attributes of early Islamic Theology. The 7 attributes are hearing, seeing, life, purpose, will, speaking, knowing. So God is all hearing, all seeing. He is life.


He is purpose. He is will. He is eternally the speaker. God in his, capacity is the, eternal speaker, speaks the eternal word which is the Quran, and knowing. So hearing is one of these, and the name of her child will always remind her that God hears.


So he’s a very important person, Ishmael. And, god hears the oppressor as well as the oppressed. That’s of an interesting point. He is concerned for the afflictor as much as for the afflicted one. Abuse must stop.


God hears. And then, verse 13. Okay. She gave this name to the lord who spoke to her. You are the god who sees me.


For she said, I have now seen the one who sees me. That’s a most interesting verse, very important verse. He is the one who sees me. Basir is the word, b a s I r. That’s, one of the seven attributes of early in early Islamic theology, hearing and then seeing.


So, basir. So God sees her and she sees God. Here we start, we see the beginning of a, or the continuing of a two way relationship. Versus 15 to 16, miss out, 14. 14.


Uh-huh. 14 to 16. That is why the well was called Bir La La Ro. Am I how do you say that? Just how it goes.


Bir La Ro. Okay. And it it is still there between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had born. Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.


So here we’ve got then the name of the son Ishmael, hearing, and the name of the well in memory of the encounter when she, Hagar, sees is aware of this two way relationship, having the word beser as part of the name, see seeing. If we I won’t, let us read, but you could read at your leisure. Genesis 17, verses 15 to 16, God’s promise to Abraham. Verse 17, Abraham took it badly. Verse 18, he’s has he prays, oh, that Ishmael might live before thee.


And, so there’s that section in verse 20. As for Ishmael, says God, I have heard thee. But let’s go on to 21. 21. Genesis 21, verse 9.


Okay. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar, the Egyptian, had born to Abraham, was mocking. So Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had born unto Abraham, mocking, mocking. So Sarah would have interpreted Hagar’s presence at the party as a threat to Isaac’s inheritance. Verse 20 sorry, verse 10.


Verse 10. And she said to Abraham, get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac. So this was a great problem for Abraham. God reassures him in verses 11 to 12. And if you listen here, you’ll see he he reassures Abraham about this family problem on 4 areas.


He says, don’t worry. Do what Sarah tells you. Through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned, but Ishmael is your son also. Verses 11 to 12. Mhmm.


The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. In the next verse, verse 14, we find Abraham, he’s not stingy. He was generous.


But, he did what god said. And god told him he would care, he god himself would care for Hagar and Ishmael, and they had experienced enough of god to know this as well. So there was no need to give them extra things to carry, keep your luggage light. But Abraham and Hagar trusted the God who hears and sees. But again, Hagar becomes a refugee like many Muslim women too, especially, in places like Afghanistan and out of Afghanistan.


Hagar again becomes a refugee and got lost, but God guided her to Beersheba. This is verse 14, please. Mhmm. Early the next morning, Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy.


She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. Hagar brought the dying Ishmael Ishmael to the feet of God under the bush. He must have been a very wasted and weak 17 year old, Ishmael. She could carry him. He was must have been practically dying.


Verse 15. Yes. When the water in the skin was gone, she she put the boy under one of the bushes. And, but Hagar refused to accept Ishmael’s death. Verse 16.


Then she went off and sat down nearby about a bowshot away, for she thought, I cannot watch the boy die. And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. And then God heard, God who hears and saw, the God who sees. Verse 17. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of god called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, what is the matter, Hagar?


Do not be afraid. God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. God confirmed the covenant promised, verse 18. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation. And then, the wonderful verse, verse 19, god opened her eyes, and she saw a well of waters.


This is not a miracle of water, but a miracle of seeing, spiritual seeing. Hagar gave Ishmael a drink from the spring, and He Puha took of his mother’s vision. Verse 19. Then god opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.


And we are reminded that, out of our innermost being, according to John 3 verses 37 to 39, can flow rivers of living water. So So there is a very deep spiritual dimension here. The god supplied the water, but it was a miracle of seeing, And we could explore even more if we had time, and in our leisure how much Hagar has to say to the single mother, to the abused woman, to the divorced divorced divorcee, how much she can say to modern society and to modern, women and to particularly to Muslim women. Now when you maybe when you you’ve read this story and this account, this I prefer to call it a a record because it’s a true record. So maybe you’ve read it quite a number of times, but maybe you haven’t thought of it quite in this way.


So we have to start looking at the scripture and and thinking of it, how it have how we could, share with a Muslim sister, something that’s very relevant to her and actually quite relevant, to our world in general. And Hagar, has much to say. And because she’s mentioned in the traditions and she’s very well known, in Islamic thinking and record, people will want to pursue a study of of Hagar. So I invite you to do some more reflection and to add to this, to you can add to what’s, you’ve, perhaps, thought about this morning, and you tailor make your own bible studies for the particular woman that you’ve got. So you with you, that you’re sharing with or studying with, maybe if she’s someone who is despised in by her mistress or employer, then you can put a greater emphasis on that.


If she is someone who is becoming aware of her identity and starting to find her full identity in her relationship with God and, therefore, her proper identity in relation to other people, you can emphasize this. And, if she’s her mind is spiritually very open, then you can go further and look at other passages in the New Testament. So maybe, there’s we tend to have bad press about Hagar from Saint Paul, but he’s making a different point. He’s talking about the child of this, of promise and the the child of the law. He’s talking about some other issue, and he’s leaving aside everything else because he’s making that point.


But these points are extremely relevant as you see. The god who hears and the god who sees, the god who helps any woman or any man come to full identity as, as a servant and a friend of God and as one who takes his or her place in modern society.