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The Spirituality of Hajj: ‘Arafah

Part 5

After the sunrise of the 9th of Dhul Hijjah pilgrims depart for ‘Arafah where they remain until sunset. ‘Arafah is a large plain to the south-east of Makkah with its legal boundaries clearly defined, and of the three: ‘Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina, ‘Arafah is the farthest point from Makkah.

There pilgrims pray the Zuhr (noon) and ‘Asr (afternoon) prayers in congregation, shortening and combining them during the time of the former. After the prayers, imam gives khutbah (sermon), which is supposed be listened to by pilgrims.

That is basically all a pilgrim is expected to do while at ‘Arafah. His main job is just to be there, and to stand (remain) until the end. Hence, this part of Hajj is called “al-wuquf bi ‘Arafah” (standing at ‘Arafah). Sometimes it is referred to as the day of ‘Arafah (yawm ‘arafah), reminding of the time and place that outline and distinguish the rite.

Hajj is Arafah

It seems to be little and simple, but ‘Arafah is the most important aspect of Hajj. It is its focal point and its nucleus. It is its microcosm. So much so that the validity of the rest of Hajj rites depends on the validity of what goes on at ‘Arafah.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

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“Hajj is ‘Arafah, Hajj is ‘Arafah, Hajj is ‘Arafah.”[1]

He also said that all of ‘Arafah is the place of standing (mawqif, that is, the place of wuquf).[2] This means that a person who does not come to and stand at ‘Arafah even for a little while, misses Hajj, irrespective of what he does afterwards and elsewhere. Missing ‘Arafah cannot be expiated, nor its boons compensated.

The night after standing at ‘Arafah – called the night of Muzdalifah, because people move to Muzdalifah at that time – is additionally offered as part of concession. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:

“Hajj is ‘Arafah. Whoever catches up with the night of ‘Arafah before dawn comes on the night of Muzdalifah his Hajj is complete.”[3]

If a person does not accomplish even that, he misses Hajj.

‘Arafah (also ‘Arafat) as a geographical location and ‘Arafah as a Hajj rite are derived from the root word “‘arafa” which means “to come to know”, “to learn”, “to acquaint oneself with”, “to become aware of by information or from observation” and “to familiarize oneself with”. Thus, ‘Arafah is a place, process and experience of learning, being acquainted and aware, on the basis of which a person develops new practices and new behavioural norms.

Meanings of Arafah

Scholars differ as to the reasons ‘Arafah is so called. By and large, it is held that ‘Arafah got its name because at it, droves of people get to know each other and from each other; because Ibrahim was on a tour of the holy places with the angel Gabriel (Jibril), who taught him the manasik (rituals) of Hajj, and was asked by the latter on a regular basis: Do you know (now), do you know (a’arafta, a’arafta?), to which Ibrahim would reply: I know, I know (‘araftu, ‘araftu); and because Prophet Adam and his wife Hawwa’, after they had been sent from Paradise to different earthly locations, met at ‘Arafah, so it was there that he found and knew her (‘arafaha) and she found and knew him (‘arafathu).

Some say that when Ibrahim reached ‘Arafah, as part of his learning tour with the angel Gabriel (Jibril), he said: ‘araftu (I know this place) – because he had come to that area before. And so, the place was called ‘Arafah.

However, the authenticity of the accounts involving Prophets Adam and Ibrahim, which are perhaps most prevalent possibilities, are seriously questioned. Neither the Qur’an nor the trustworthy Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says anything about the matter. There are several hadiths of the Prophet (PBUH) that touch on the issue at hand, but they are very weak hadiths, either in relation to their contents or the chains of narrators.

“The only saheeh reports about this matter are the words of some of the salaf, most of which are taken from the knowledge of the people of the Book which were transmitted during their time. Such reports cannot be relied upon or trusted, and it is not permissible to believe in what they mention of things concerning which our religion is silent. Rather they may be narrated for the purpose of story-telling only.”[4]

At any rate, all indications are that the main ontological rationale for ‘Arafah is connected with the field of learning, scholarship and quality culture (ma’rifah) – besides its spiritual abundance.

It is noteworthy that ‘Arafah is not about knowledge per se (‘ilm) and wisdom (hikmah); these are different domains which nevertheless stem from the former.

Knowledge and wisdom may be beyond the reach of many people, and may yet be the items of exclusive clubs, but learning, awareness and familiarity are inclusive fields, and their membership and involvement are open to each and every individual. In consequence, a person may not be knowledgeable (in the scholarly or academic sense of the word) and wise, but should be sufficiently learned, educated, informed, skilled and cultured. The former is the collective duty in Islam, but the latter is the duty of each member of the Muslim ummah (community).

Arafah: A Symbol of Inclusiveness

‘Arafah is a symbol of entirety and all-inclusiveness. Everybody must be there at the same time and at the same place, looking the same, doing the same things and seeking to obtain the same goals. ‘Arafah, it follows, is an image of existence at large and its providential make-up. It is a miniature copy of humanity and its kismet. Yet it is the small-scale version of the Muslim ummah and its venerable place in the universe, which nevertheless exists in a regulated moment of time and a controlled chunk of space.

Therefore, ‘Arafah is about that which concerns everybody and which is within everybody’s grasp. Everybody can experience ‘Arafah – and by extension whole Hajj. Although people’s experiences and appreciations will definitely vary, they are all sound and applicable nonetheless.

What is required is to be sincere, faithful and dedicated; which is to say, to be there physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Not being there with the total being and in the total life form is the problem. If a person’s physical absence from ‘Arafah invalidates his Hajj, so do his emotional and spiritual states affect the outcome. They may not nullify his plain physical exertions easily, but, certainly, can have a big say in the final assessments.

Part 1 – The Spirituality of Hajj: An Introduction

Part 2 – The Spirituality of Hajj: Ihram and Talbiyah

Part 3 – The Spirituality of Hajj: Tawaf

Part 4 – The Spirituality of Hajj: Sa’y

Pages: 1 2 3 4
About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].