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A depiction of Hagar and her son Ishmael in the desert (1819) by François-Joseph Navez
Mecca (According to Islam), Unknown (According to Judaism and Christianity)
Other namesHājar
ChildrenIshmael (son)
  • Isaac (step-son)
  • Lot (nephew-in-law)
  • Salih (forefather; according to the Islamic tradition)

According to the Book of Genesis, Hagar[a] was an Egyptian slave, a handmaiden of Sarah (then known as Sarai),[2] whom Sarah gave to her own husband Abram (later renamed Abraham) as a wife to bear him a child. Abraham's firstborn son, through Hagar, Ishmael, became the progenitor of the Ishmaelites, generally taken to be the Arabs. Various commentators have connected her to the Hagrites (sons of Agar), perhaps claiming her as their eponymous ancestor.[3][4][5][6] Hagar is alluded to, although not named, in the Quran, and Islam considers her Abraham's second wife.


Abraham and Hagar[edit]

According to the Bible, Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarai, Abram's wife (whose names later became Sarah and Abraham). Sarai had been barren for a long time and sought a way to fulfill God's promise that Abram would be father of many nations, especially since they had grown old, so she offered Hagar to Abram to be his concubine.[7]

Hagar became pregnant, and tension arose between the two women. Genesis states that Hagar despised Sarai after she had conceived and "looked with contempt" on her. Sarai, with Abraham's permission, eventually dealt harshly with Hagar and so she fled. [8]

Hagar fled into the desert on her way to Shur. At a spring en route, an angel appeared to Hagar, who instructed her to return to Sarai and submit to her mistress, so that she may bear a child who "shall be a wild ass of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren" (Genesis 16:9 - 12).[9] Then she was told to call her son Ishmael. Afterward, Hagar referred to God as "El Roi" (variously "god of sight"; "god saw me"; "god who appears").[10] She then returned to Abram and Sarai, and soon gave birth to a son, whom she named as the angel had instructed.[11]

There is direct mention of Hagar in the Quran, which does not declare her a free woman but as a maid of Sarah or Abraham named Hajar. [12]

Hagar cast out[edit]

Abraham and his family on their way
Hagar and Ishmael in the desert

Later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and the tension between the women returned. At a celebration after Isaac was weaned, Sarah found the teenage Ishmael mocking her son (Genesis 21:9).[13] She was so upset by the idea of Ishmael inheriting their wealth, that she demanded that Abraham send Hagar and her son away. She declared that Ishmael would not share in Isaac's inheritance. Abraham was greatly distressed but God told Abraham to do as his wife commanded because God's promise would be carried out through Isaac; Ishmael would be made into a great nation as well because he was Abraham's offspring. Before Abraham died, he gave gifts to Ishmael and his other sons and sent them away from Isaac (Genesis 25:6).[14] Ishmael and Isaac buried Abraham together (Genesis 25:9).[15]

Before the death of Abraham, in Genesis 21:9, Sarah came to believe that Hagar's son Ishmael was mocking her son Isaac.[16] She insisted Abraham send them both away. Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out together. Abraham gave Hagar bread and water then sent them into the wilderness of Beersheba. She and her son wandered aimlessly until their water was completely consumed. In a moment of despair, she burst into tears. God heard her son crying and came to rescue them.[17] The angel opened Hagar's eyes and she saw a well of water. He also told Hagar that God would "make a great nation" of Ishmael.[18] Hagar found her son a wife from Egypt and they settled in the Desert of Paran.[19]

The Quranic narrative slightly differs from the Biblical account: it is God alone who commands Abraham to take Hagar and Ishmael down to the desert, later Mecca, and leave them there. Due to the scarcity of water in the desert, it did not take long for both mother and son to suffer from a great thirst, and so Hagar ran between the hills of Safa and Marwah in search of water for her son. After the seventh run between the two hills, an angel appeared before her. He helped her and said that God heard Ishmael cry and would provide them with water, and Hagar found the sacred Zamzam Well. Mecca was later known for its perfection and abundant water and an Arab tribe called the Banu Jurhum settled there with Hagar and her son Ishmael, because of the presence of the water.[20]

Religious views[edit]

Rabbinical commentary[edit]

Hagar and the Angel in the Wilderness, by Francesco Cozza

Rabbinical commentators asserted that Hagar was Pharaoh's daughter. The midrash Genesis Rabbah states it was when Sarah was in Pharaoh's harem that he gave her his daughter Hagar as servant, saying: "It is better that my daughter should be a servant in the house of such a woman than mistress in another house". Sarah treated Hagar well, and induced women who came to visit her to visit Hagar also. However Hagar, when pregnant by Abraham, began to act superciliously toward Sarah, provoking the latter to treat her harshly, to impose heavy work upon her, and even to strike her (ib. 16:9).[21]

Some Jewish commentators identify Hagar with Keturah (Jewish Babylonian Aramaic: קְטוּרָה, romanized: Qəṭurɔ꞉), the woman Abraham married after the death of Sarah, stating that Abraham sought her out after Sarah's death. It is suggested that Keturah was Hagar's personal name, and that "Hagar" was a descriptive label meaning "stranger".[22][23][24] This interpretation is discussed in the Midrash[25] and is supported by Rashi, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, and Obadiah ben Abraham Bartenura. Rashi argues that "Keturah" was a name given to Hagar because her deeds were as beautiful as incense (hence: ketores), and/or that she remained chaste from the time she was separated from Abraham—קְטוּרָה derives from the Aramaic word "restrained". The contrary view (that Keturah was someone other than Hagar) is advocated by the Rashbam, Abraham ibn Ezra, David Kimhi, and Nachmanides. They were listed as two different people in the genealogies in the Book of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 1:29–33).[26]


Hagar in the Wilderness by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

In the New Testament, Paul the Apostle made Hagar's experience an allegory of the difference between law and grace in his Epistle to the Galatians.[27][28] Paul links the laws of the Torah, given on Mount Sinai, to the bondage of the Israelite people, implying that it was signified by Hagar's condition as a bondswoman, while the "free" heavenly Jerusalem is signified by Sarah and her child. The Biblical Mount Sinai has been referred to as "Agar", possibly named after Hagar.[29]

In addition, in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well the author of the Gospel of John alludes to the ancient story of Hagar to "transports meaning from one text to another".[30] Similar to the way that Hagar names God "The God Who Sees",[31] the Samaritan woman gives Jesus a name "by saying, 'I know that Messiah is coming,' and Jesus confirms, 'I am he, the one who is speaking to you.'"[32]

Augustine of Hippo referred to Hagar as symbolizing an "earthly city", or sinful condition of humanity: "In the earthly city (symbolised by Hagar) [...] we find two things, its own obvious presence and the symbolic presence of the heavenly city. New citizens are begotten to the earthly city by nature vitiated by sin but to the heavenly city by grace freeing nature from sin."[33] This view was expounded on by medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and John Wycliffe. The latter compared the children of Sarah to the redeemed, and those of Hagar to the unredeemed, who are "carnal by nature and mere exiles".[34]

The story of Hagar demonstrates that survival is possible even under harshest conditions.[35]


Hājar or Haajar (Arabic: هاجر) is the Arabic name used to identify the wife of Abraham (Arabic: Ibrāhīm) and the mother of Ishmael (Arabic: Ismā'īl). Although not mentioned by name in the Qur'an, she is referenced and alluded to via the story of her husband. She is a revered woman in the Islamic faith.[36]

According to Muslim belief, she was the Egyptian wife of Ibrāhīm. She eventually settled in the Desert of Paran with her son Ismā'īl. Hājar is honoured as an especially important matriarch of monotheism, as it was through Ismā'īl that Muhammad would be born.

Some Modern Muslim scholars are of the opinion that she was never a handmaid of Sarah, rather she was a princess of Egypt who willingly followed Abraham and later married him. They further argue that Hagar and Ishmael were not cast out as claimed by Biblical narrative, but they were settled at Makkah (Paran) for the sake of Allah.[37]

Neither Sarah nor Hājar is mentioned by name in the Qur'an, but the story is traditionally understood to be referred to in a line from Ibrāhīm's prayer in Surah Ibrahim (14:37): "I have settled some of my family in a barren valley near your Sacred House."[38] While Hājar is not named, the reader lives Hājar's predicament indirectly through the eyes of Ibrāhīm.[39] She is also frequently mentioned in the hadith.

According to the Qisas Al-Anbiya, a collection of tales about the prophets, Hājar was the daughter of the King of Maghreb, a descendant of Islamic prophet Salih. Her father was killed by Pharaoh Dhu l-'arsh (Arabic: ذُوالْعَرْش, romanized: dhu 'l-'arsh, meaning "he/master of the throne") and she was captured and taken as a slave. Later, because of her royal blood, she was made mistress of the female slaves and given access to all of Pharaoh's wealth. Upon conversion to Ibrāhīm's faith, the Pharaoh gave Hājar to Sarah who gave her to Ibrāhīm. In this account, the name "Hājar" (called Hajar in Arabic) comes from Hā ajru-ka (Arabic: هَا أَجْرُكَ), the Arabic for "here is your recompense".[39]

According to another tradition, Hājar was the daughter of the Egyptian king, who gave her to Ibrāhīm as a wife, thinking Sarah was his sister.[40] According to Ibn Abbas, Ismā'īl's birth to Hājar caused strife between her and Sarah, who was still barren. Ibrāhīm brought Hājar and their son to a land called Paran-aram or (Faran in Arabic, in latter days held to be the land surrounding Mecca).[41] The objective of this journey was to "resettle" rather than "expel" Hājar.[39] Ibrāhīm left Hājar and Ismā'īl under a tree and provided them with water.[41] Hājar, learning that God had ordered Ibrāhīm to leave her in the desert of Paran, respected his decision.[40] The Muslim belief is that God tested Ibrāhīm by ordering this task.[42]

Hājar soon ran out of water, and Ismā'īl, an infant by that time, began to cry from hunger and thirst. Hājar panicked and ran between two nearby hills, Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, repeatedly in search for water. After her seventh run, an angel appeared over the location of the Zamzam and then hit the ground with his heel (or his wing) and caused a miraculous well to spring out of the ground. This is called the Zamzam Well and is located a few metres from the Kaaba in Mecca.[41]

The incident[43] of her running between the Al-Safa and Al-Marwah hills is remembered by Muslims when they perform their pilgrimage (Hajj) at Mecca. Part of the pilgrimage is to run seven times between the hills, in commemoration of Hājar's courage and faith in God as she searched for water in the desert (which is believed to have then miraculously appeared from the Zamzam Well), and to symbolize the celebration of motherhood in Islam. To complete the task, some Muslims also drink from the Zamzam Well and take some of the water back home from pilgrimage in memory of Hājar.[44]

Baháʼí traditions[edit]

According to the Baháʼí Faith, the Báb was a descendant of Abraham and Hagar,[45] and God made a promise to spread Abraham's seed. The Baháʼí Publishing House released a text on the wives and concubines of Abraham and traces their lineage to five different religions.[46]

Arts and literature[edit]

Edmonia Lewis, Hagar, 1875

Many artists have painted scenes from the story of Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, including Pieter Lastman, Gustave Doré, Frederick Goodall and James Eckford Lauder. William Shakespeare refers to Hagar in The Merchant of Venice Act II Scene 5 line 40 when Shylock says "What says that fool of Hagar's offspring, ha?" This line refers to the character Launcelot, whom Shylock is insulting by comparing him to the outcast Ishmael. It also reverses the conventional Christian interpretation by portraying the Christian character as the outcast.[34]

Hagar's destitution and desperation are used as an excuse for criminality by characters in the work of Daniel Defoe, such as Moll Flanders, and the conventional view of Hagar as the mother of outcasts is repeated in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's play Zapolya, whose heroine is assured that she is "no Hagar's offspring; thou art the rightful heir to an appointed king."[34]

In the 19th century a more sympathetic portrayal became prominent, especially in America. Edmonia Lewis, the early African-American and Native American sculptor, made Hagar the subject of one of her most well-known works. She said it was inspired by "strong sympathy for all women who have struggled and suffered".[47] In novels and poems Hagar herself, or characters named Hagar, were depicted as unjustly suffering exiles. These include the long dramatic poem Hagar by Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson (pen name Pearl Rivers), president of the National Woman's Press Association; Hagar in the Wilderness by Nathaniel Parker Willis, the highest-paid magazine writer of his day; and Hagar's Farewell by Augusta Moore.[34] In 1913 this was joined by the overtly feminist novel Hagar,[48] by the American Southern socialist and suffragist Mary Johnston.[49] Hall Caine gave the name A Son of Hagar to 1885 book set in contemporary England and dealing with the theme of illegitimacy.

A similarly sympathetic view prevails in more recent literature. The novel The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence has a protagonist named Hagar married to a man named Bram, whose life story loosely imitates that of the biblical Hagar. A character named Hagar is prominently featured in Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon, which features numerous Biblical themes and allusions. In the 1979 novel Kindred, by Octavia Butler, the protagonist Dana has an ancestor named Hagar (born into slavery) whom we meet towards the end of the novel, as part of Dana's time travel back to Maryland in the 19th century. Hagar is mentioned briefly in Salman Rushdie's controversial novel The Satanic Verses, where Mecca is replaced with 'Jahilia', a desert village built on sand and served by Hagar's spring. Hagar is mentioned, along with Bilhah and Zilpah, in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a dystopian novel which centres around the women whose duty it is to produce children for their masters, assuming the place of their wives in a rape ceremony based upon the biblical passage. In the recent book of nonfiction, The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths, by Charlotte Gordon provides an account of Hagar's life from the perspectives of the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. In 2019, Nyasha Junior published a book on Hagar entitled Reimaging Hagar: Blackness and Bible which provides a reception history of Hagar that focuses on interpretations of Hagar as a black woman and particularly those interpretations of Hagar that are made by African Americans.[50]

Contemporary influence[edit]


Since the 1970s, the custom has arisen of giving the name "Hagar" to newborn female babies. The giving of this name is often taken as a controversial political act, marking the parents as being supporters of reconciliation with the Palestinians and the Arab world, and is frowned upon by many, including nationalists and the religious. The connotations of the name were represented by the founding of the Israeli journal Hagar: Studies in Culture, Polity and Identities in 2000.[51]

African Americans[edit]

Several black American feminists have written about Hagar, comparing her story to those of slaves in American history. Wilma Bailey, in an article entitled "Hagar: A Model for an Anabaptist Feminist", refers to her as a "maidservant" and "slave". She sees Hagar as a model of "power, skills, strength and drive". In the article "A Mistress, A Maid, and No Mercy", Renita J. Weems argues that the relationship between Sarah and Hagar exhibits "ethnic prejudice exacerbated by economic and social exploitation".[52]

Assisted reproduction[edit]

Hagar bearing a child for an infertile woman is an example of what is now called surrogacy or contractual gestation, except in Hagar's case she had no choice in the matter. Critics of this and other assisted reproductive technologies have used Hagar in their analysis. As early as 1988, Anna Goldman-Amirav in Reproductive and Genetic Engineering wrote of Hagar within "the Biblical 'battle of the wombs' [which] lay the foundation for the view of women, fertility, and sexuality in the patriarchal society".[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Biblical Hebrew: הָגָר, romanized: Hāgār, of uncertain origin;[1] Arabic: هَاجَر, romanizedHājar; Ancient Greek: Ἁγάρ, romanizedHagár; Latin: Agar


  1. ^ John L. Mckenzie (October 1995). The Dictionary Of The Bible. Simon and Schuster. p. 330. ISBN 978-0-684-81913-6.
  2. ^ Douglas, J. D.; Merrill C. Tenney, eds. (26 April 2011). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Moisés Silva revisions (Rev. ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. p. 560. ISBN 978-0310229834.
  3. ^ Theodor Nöldeke (1899). "Hagar". In T. K. Cheyne; J. Shutherland Black (eds.). Encyclopaedia Biblica: A Critical Dictionary of the Literary, Political, and Religious History, the Archaeology, Geography, and Natural History of the Bible. Vol. 2, E–K. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  4. ^ Paul K. Hooker (2001). First and Second Chronicles. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-664-25591-6.
  5. ^ Keith Bodner (29 August 2013). The Artistic Dimension: Literary Explorations of the Hebrew Bible. A&C Black. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-567-44262-8.
  6. ^ Bruce K. Waltke (22 November 2016). Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan. p. 344. ISBN 978-0-310-53102-9.
  7. ^ Genesis 16:1–3
  8. ^ Genesis 16:3–6
  9. ^ Genesis 16:12
  10. ^ Genesis 16:13
  11. ^ Genesis 16:7–16
  12. ^ Muhammad Ashraf Chheenah, (2nd Ed. 2016) Hagar the Princess, the Mother of the Arabs and Ishmael the Father of Twelve Princes, p. 3, Interfaith Studies and Research Centre, Islamabad (ISBN 9789699704000)
  13. ^ Genesis 21:9
  14. ^ Genesis 25:6
  15. ^ Genesis 25:9
  16. ^ Genesis 21:9
  17. ^ Genesis 21:17
  18. ^ Genesis 21:17
  19. ^ Genesis 21:14–21
  20. ^ Muhammad Ashraf Chheenah, (2nd Ed. 2016) Hagar the Princess, the Mother of the Arabs and Ishmael the Father of Twelve Princes, p. 111, Interfaith Studies and Research Centre, Islamabad (ISBN 9789699704000)
  21. ^ "Jewish Encyclopedia, Hagar". Jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2014-05-12.
  22. ^ "The Return of Hagar", commentary on Parshat Chayei Sarah, Chabad.
  23. ^ "Who Was Ketura?", Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center, 2003.
  24. ^ "Parshat Chayei Sarah" Archived 2008-11-13 at the Wayback Machine, Torah Insights, Orthodox Union, 2002.
  25. ^ Bereshit Rabbah 61:4.
  26. ^ 1 Chronicles 1:29–33
  27. ^ Galatians 4:21–31
  28. ^ Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 2011, p. 561
  29. ^ Charles Forster (1844). The Historical Geography of Arabia, Duncan and Malcolm, p. 182.
  30. ^ "Well Women, Part 2: Tricks are for Kids". Maren Jo Schneider. Retrieved 2023-05-10.
  31. ^ "Well Women, Part 2: Tricks are for Kids". Maren Jo Schneider. Retrieved 2023-05-10.
  32. ^ "Well Women, Part 1: Why God Invented Emojis". Maren Jo Schneider. Retrieved 2023-05-10.
  33. ^ Augustine, The City of God, 15:2
  34. ^ a b c d Jeffrey, David L., A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992, p. 326 ISBN 0-8028-3634-8
  35. ^ Susanne Scholz, "Gender, Class, and Androcentric Compliance in the Rapes of Enslaved Women in the Hebrew Bible", Lectio Difficilior (European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegisis), 1/2004 (see especially section "The Story of Hagar (Genesis 16:1–16; 21:9–21)".
  36. ^ Muhammad Ashraf Chheenah, (2nd Ed. 2016) Hagar the Princess, the Mother of the Arabs and Ishmael the Father of Twelve Princes, p. 109, Interfaith Studies and Research Centre, Islamabad (ISBN 9789699704000)
  37. ^ Muhammad Ashraf Chheenah, (2nd Ed. 2016) Hagar the Princess, the Mother of the Arabs and Ishmael the Father of Twelve Princes, p. 94, Interfaith Studies and Research Centre, Islamabad (ISBN 9789699704000)
  38. ^ Barbara Freyer Stowasser, Women in the Qur'an, Traditions, and Interpretation, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 47.
  39. ^ a b c Fatani, Afnan H. (2006). "Hajar". In Leaman, Oliver (ed.). The Qur'an: an encyclopedia. London: Routeledge. pp. 234–36.
  40. ^ a b 'Aishah 'Abd al-Rahman, Anthony Calderbank (1999). "Islam and the New Woman/ ﺍﻹﺳﻼﻡ ﻭﺍﻟﻤﺮﺃﺓ ﺍﻟﺠﺪﻳﺪﺓ". Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics (19): 200.
  41. ^ a b c Firestone, Reuven (1992). "Ibrāhīm's Journey to Mecca in Islamic Exegesis: A Form-Critical Study of a Tradition". Studia Islamica (76): 15–18.
  42. ^ Schussman, Aviva (1998). "The Legitimacy and Nature of Mawid al-Nabī: (Analysis of a Fatwā)". Islamic Law and Society. 5 (2): 218. doi:10.1163/1568519982599535.
  43. ^ Muhammad, Martin Lings, Chapter 1. The House of God, Suhail Academy Publishing
  44. ^ Delaney, Carol (August 1990). "The hajj: Sacred and Secular". American Ethnologist. 17 (3): 515. doi:10.1525/ae.1990.17.3.02a00060.
  45. ^ Apocalypse Secrets: Baháʼí Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, p. 219, John Able (2011)
  46. ^ Spirit of Faith: The Oneness of Humanity, p. 142, Baháʼí Publishing (2011)
  47. ^ Robinson, Hilary (2001-10-08). Feminism-art-theory: an anthology, 1968–2000. p. 230. ISBN 9780631208501. Retrieved 2014-05-12.
  48. ^ HAGAR. By Mary Johnston. Houghton Mifflin Company. (1913-11-02). "NYT review of Hagar by Johnston" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 2014-05-12.
  49. ^ Mary Johnston, Suffragist Marjorie Spruill Wheeler The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 100, No. 1, "Working out Her Destiny": Virginia Women's History (Jan., 1992), pp. 99–118 (article consists of 20 pages), published by Virginia Historical Society
  50. ^ Reimagining Hagar: Blackness and Bible. Biblical Refigurations. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 2019-07-23. ISBN 978-0-19-874532-7.
  51. ^ Oren Yiftachel, Launching Hagar: Marginality, Beer-Sheva, Critique Retrieved 2015-10-16
  52. ^ Bailey, Wilma Ann Black and Jewish women consider Hagar, Encounter, Winter 2002
  53. ^ Goldman-Amirav, Anna (1988). "Behold, the Lord Hath Restrained Me from Bearing" Archived 2011-02-19 at the Wayback Machine, Reproductive and Genetic Engineering: Journal of International Feminist Analysis Volume 1 Number 3.

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