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The Spirituality of Hajj: ‘Arafah

Part 5

A Day for the Remembrance of Allah

That is why the period of ‘Arafah is strongly recommended to be filled with the relentless remembrance of God, supplications, reciting talbiyah, reading the Qur’an and meditation (the Qur’anic concepts of tafakkur and tadabbur). Pilgrims can carry out these activities while in any postures. They can be awake, asleep, sitting, standing, lying down, walking, riding, etc. They are further recommended to face the qiblah (the direction of the Ka’bah as the Muslim spiritual axis) and to be in the state of purity as much as possible, even though these are not prerequisites.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali said that the best thing to use as supplications and dhikr are the prescriptions transmitted from the Prophet (PBUH) and his immediate successors. After that, a pilgrim should supplicate for whatever occurs to him, and asks forgiveness for himself, his parents and all believers, male and female. “Let him then importune in supplications and enlarge his request, for God does not consider anything as too great.

Mutarrif bin Abdullah said once while at ‘Arafah: “O God, do not refuse the whole gathering because of me”; and Bakr al-Muzami said: “A man said, When I looked on the people of ‘Arafah, I thought that they might all have been forgiven were it not for my being among them?”[5]

Pilgrims are advised against engaging in some rigid and unfamiliar chanting formulas, against performing supererogatory prayers, and against fasting on the day of ‘Arafah – despite the fact that fasting on that day is the best form of voluntary fasting for those who do not perform Hajj. These stipulations underline the true import of ‘Arafah as well.

The lesson entailed therein is that the sheer physical activities are to be kept at the minimum, lest they get in the way of the performances of the mind and soul. If a maxim goes that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body, then, in like manner, it can be said that a weakened mind and soul reside in an exhausted and worn-out body. As for example, an overly tired pilgrim is bound to be susceptible to lethargy, sleep and falling ill, inhibiting thereby the states and functions of his spirituality and intelligence.

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Religious & Learning Development

‘Arafah pertains both to the religious fulfilment and learning uplifting, but in a very gradual order starting at the bottom and progressively ascending upwards. Every pilgrim has his own capacities as determine his forethoughts and horizons. He rises and grows as high as his abilities can propel him. Sameness is anything but the matter of course. 

The religious and learning developments – which often amount to personal reforms, and revolutions as well, and which are set in motion at ‘Arafah (Hajj) and continue to flourish ever afterwards – begin with the mere religious ceremonies, but eventually morph into religious comprehensive excellence, and with empirical knowledge (obtained through experience or perception of the real world either through experimentation or observation) and experiential, together with practical, intelligence, but eventually develop into enlightenment and wisdom. Alternatively stated, the religious and learning developments move from particulars to universals, from phenomena to noumena, and from mundanity to transcendence.

That is to say, in the religious context, islam (submission) acquires iman (faith, certainty), and then together they acquire ihsan or itqan (excellence). Similarly, in the epistemological context, the processes of learning and studying, which are associated with education, lead to ma’rifah – which the meanings of ‘Arafah are redolent of. Ma’rifah then leads to knowledge (‘ilm), and the final phase in the evolution, resulting from a fusion of ma’rifah and ‘ilm, is wisdom (hikmah).

A Day of Learning, Discovery & Awareness

Irrespective of whether the mentioned accounts about Prophets Adam and Ibrahim – with regard to the linguistic origins of ‘Arafah – are correct or not, ‘Arafah is still about learning, discovery and awareness. The linguistic significations stand for one proof only. The other proofs can be found in the authentic Islamic wisdom and the trustworthy chapters of human and Islamic history.

To begin with, it has been reported that a Jew said to ‘Umar bin al-Khattab: “O Chief of the Believers, if this Qur’anic verse: ‘This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favours upon you, and have chosen for you, Islam as your religion’ (al-Ma’idah, 3), had been revealed upon us, we would have taken that day as an `Id (festival) day.” `Umar said: “I know definitely on what day this verse was revealed; it was revealed on the day of ‘Arafah, on a Friday.”[6]

Moreover, Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas reported that God made the covenant from Adam’s back in Na‘man, i.e. ‘Arafah, and brought forth from his loins all his offspring whom He created and scattered before Him. He then spoke to them face to face saying: “Am I not your Lord?” They replied: “Yes, we testify this.” (It was) lest you should say on the day of resurrection: “We were neglectful of this,” or should say, “Our fathers were polytheists before us and we were an offspring after them. Wilt You destroy us for what the workers of vanity did?”[7]

Also, during his farewell Hajj and at ‘Arafah, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered the most powerful and most important sermon in the history of man. The sermon contained a blueprint for personal, family and social relations as well as developments. Similarly, it encompassed not only a conceptual, but also practical framework for society-, culture- and civilization-building. In short, the sermon was a world-shattering document from the point of view of ingenuity and educational excellence, and was presented to the world as a road map for achieving success and actual happiness.

Finally, concerning the biggest lessons of ‘Arafah which people constantly learn and try to internalize, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“There is no day on which Allah ransoms more slaves from the Fire than the day of ‘Arafah. He draws closer and closer, then He boasts about them before the angels and says: ‘What do these people want?’”[8]

In another hadith the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Verily Allah boasts of the people of ‘Arafah before the people of heaven (the angels), saying: ‘Look at my servants who have come to Me dishevelled and dusty.”[9]

Even Satan learns his own lesson. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“Satan is not considered more abased or more cast out or more contemptible or angrier on any day than on the day of ‘Arafah. That is only because he sees the descent of the mercy and Allah’s disregard for great wrong actions.”[10]

What can be garnered from the above traditions is that learning in relation to ‘Arafah, and to everything that goes on there during Hajj, is so comprehensive and so universal that lessons transcend the boundaries of time, space and history. The same goes to those who are affected by those lessons and who are from humans, the jinn and angels. Like so, the notion and spectacle of ‘Arafah function as an institution of educational awareness and an inexhaustible source of learning.

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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].