Today is the day of Arafah- one of the holiest days in Islam. Muslim pilgrims from around the world WOULD HAVE gathered in a desert plain called Arafat near Mecca. Well they are still gathering but they are not from ‘around the world’. This year due to Coronavirus pandemic, the Hajj is restricted to those in Saudi Arabia- their citizens and those living in the kingdom. It remains a touchy feeling for me as I recall the same journey I took 3 years ago.
The following is a post I published on this occasion last year. I wish and pray that soon we will be able to conquer this pandemic. And soon we will perform the Hajj as we have come to know- Muslims gathering from all around the world for an experience like no other.
It brings back memories when two (now three) years ago, we spent a day there as an essential part of Hajj pilgrimage. This is the beginning of the 5-day Hajj period that starts in Arafat, (for many it starts in Mina), leading to Muzdalifah where we would spend the night under the sky, before heading to the tent city of Mina, and will culminate in returning to Mecca to perform the farewell Umrah to complete the Hajj. A short video is shared at the end of the post. If the videos don’t appear ‘professional’, it is because it is not. Like all other videos on this pilgrimage, this video was taken ‘live in the moment’, without any scripts, so please excuse me for my scattered thoughts.
Arafat (the place) is about 12 miles from Mecca. But it took us over an hour to get there by bus. That actually was not bad at all, considering that the two million pilgrims were trying to do the same, all within a short time period of time. Many people chose to walk up to the plains of Arafat. We arrived after sunset. The pilgrims were housed in large tents. Our tent had about 100 people. Our 2×6 feet, thin mats were practically lined up next to each other. Even at night, the temperature was in the high 90s. By 9:00 AM the next morning, it was just about 110 degrees. It was by far the hottest day of the trip, when temperatures were reaching close to 115 degrees. On top of it, the air conditioning in our tent was not working properly! Yes, there was cool mist being sprayed outside the tent, but it barely provided any relief from the intense heat. However it all seemed so irrelevant. I think it would be fair to say that we were in a different “zone”.
We left the comfort of our hotel (which was a short walking distance to Ka’aba) on the day of Arafah (not to be confused with the plains of Arafat) which falls on the 8th day of the month of Dhul Hijjah. This is considered the first big “test” requiring physical, mental and spiritual strength to deal with the elements, huge crowds and (relative) lack of facilities.
In fact, all of these difficulties are what actually made the journey even more memorable.
A short distance from the tents in the plain of Arafat is located the Jabal Al Rahmah, or Mountain of Mercy. Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his famous farewell sermon after Hajj from this mountain that is about 230 feet tall. It is also believed to be the place where Adam and Eve met after being expelled from the Garden. They are said to have been searching for each other for 40 years, crying and repenting repeatedly and finally meeting at Jabal Al Rahmah, where God accepted their repentance, therefore the name- Mountain of Mercy. A pillar is erected where they are believed to have met.
Muslims also believe that the plain of Arafat is where the mankind will be gathered on the Day of Judgment. Many pilgrims flock to the small mountain which appears practically covered by white dots when viewed from the top ( representing pilgrims wearing white Ihram- the unstitched pieces of cloth).
Significance of the Day of Arafah
The day of Arafah is one of the most sacred days, when the pilgrims spend the entire day in Dhikr (remembrance of God), supplication, and repentance.
Arafah means to gain a deep understanding ( from Ma’rifah)- cognition of the beginning (of creation), God’s mercy, and the end of all creation; cognition of Prophet Muhammad and the meaning of his message. It is a day of contemplation, standing before God wearing the Ihram, considered equivalent to the simple burial shroud, asking for forgiveness, atoning for our sins and thanking God for all the bounties. Wearing the two unstitched pieces of cloth, devoid of all worldly comforts, in the intense heat exposed to the harsh elements, disconnected from the worldly affairs is what reminds the pilgrims of how we will stand in front of God on the Day of Judgment. In many ways, this is the dress rehearsal for that time- no pun intended.
This is the day when prophet Muhammad stood on Mount Arafat to deliver his famous farewell sermon when it is believed that the final verses of the Qur’an declaring the religion of Islam was perfected this day.
This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion. The Qur’an 5:3
Many of us also recited supplications between Zuhr (early afternoon) prayer and sunset, as recommended by Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and the 3rd Imam, according to Shia Muslims.
Muslims, who are not there in person at Arafat on the day of Arafah, observe fasting and spend the day in remembrance of God and special supplications for this occasion. According to a hadith, fasting on this day is highly recommended:
It expiates the sins of the past year and the coming year.
In another Hadith, Prophet Muhammad highlighted the significance of the day of Arafah.
There is no day on which Allah frees more people from the Fire than the Day of Arafah. He comes close and expresses His fulfillment to the angels, saying, ‘What do these people want?
We stayed in Arafat for just over 24 hours. The stay in Arafat is a required ritual during Hajj and our Hajj would not be valid without it.
If the heat of Arafat was thought to be “tough” part of the Hajj, think again. We were being prepared for the next step in Muzdalifah, where we would spend a night under the sky. Staying practically by the roadside on the foothills, practically laying on a two-inch thick mat turned out to be one of the most memorable part of the pilgrimage.
Here is one of the links to Live footage of Hajj/Arafat/Mina.
Here is a short video from our stay in Arafat. ( I mistakenly called Arafat as the ‘tent city’. That designation is actually used for Mina).