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The Spirituality of Hajj: ‘Arafah

Part 5

Pilgrims and Arafah

And finally for pilgrims too, ‘Arafah centres on learning and knowing, as the twins of faith. To live up to the essence of ‘Arafah, a pilgrim should appraise himself, asking how much, what and why he knows. He should examine if he knows enough to become a better Muslim and to be a more useful member of society and of the Muslim ummah taken as a whole.

He should ask how much he knows about himself, fellow Muslims, Islam, the Prophet (peace be upon him), the Creator, and about life as the arena of his life mission. Encouraging answers should stimulate him further, and discouraging ones should worry him, generating a call to action.

Regardless of the answers, though, a pilgrim should lay out strategies for improvements, right at ‘Arafah (during Hajj) or when he returns home with the honourable title of “al-hajj”. ‘Arafah should teach him that there is no appropriate faith without appropriate knowledge, and no appropriate knowledge without appropriate faith. Quality, coupled with quantity, is needed.

The effects of ‘Arafah ought to lead a pilgrim to the improvement of his personal learning culture and knowledge appreciation, and of the learning culture of his surroundings, starting from home and leading up to the higher feasible levels. These efforts moreover should be institutionalized.

Hajj as a global Muslim conference should often adopt the notions of Islamic education and knowledge as its central theme. The matter should be discussed repeatedly as a pressing agenda of the ummah, producing and executing comprehensive action plans. Just as the spiritual wellbeing of a person depends on proper knowledge, so does the cultural and civilizational wellbeing of the ummah – as the outcome of living Islam as a way of life – depend on it. The spirit of ‘Arafah must live on, and must not stop delivering.

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It is not a coincidence that God took the covenant from the progeny of Adam at ‘Arafah. What ‘Arafah means and is associated with, many individual and collective covenants: agreements, pacts and promises, should issue from. Man cannot forget himself and his covenant with the Creator. Battling his weaknesses, he must work towards remembering who he is and what he was meant to be. His consciousness must be in agreement with the terms of the covenant. He has to live it. And this is where ‘Arafah, in its capacity as the home of the covenant and the place of learning and refining the consciousness, comes in and proves its worth.

More Reflections on Arafah

Additionally corroborating the matter, the root word of Hajj is also the root word of “hujjah”, which means “clear proof”, “undeniable evidence” and “confirmation”. That in turn signifies that Hajj – and ‘Arafah specifically – can serve as the provider of a clear proof and an eye-opening evidence as to the heavenly covenant (i.e. man’s existential purpose and destiny). Hence, Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali warned that Hajj and how people perform and experience it can be a hujjah (proof) either for them or against them.

Nor was it a coincidence that the Qur’anic verse on Allah’s perfecting of Islam, His completing of His favours upon Muslims, and His choosing for them Islam as their religion – was revealed at ‘Arafah. ‘Arafah, again, was selected as the scene of one of the most spectacular chapters in history, which is the act of perfecting the final revelation.

The achievement represented the creation of a foundation based on which a great many spiritual, socio-cultural, epistemological and civilizational transformations subsequently came to pass. So much so that a Jew suggested to ‘Umar bin al-Khattab that the day when the verse in question was revealed deserved to be an `Id (festival) day. When `Umar answered that the day was the day of ‘Arafah and on a Friday, he implied that the event is doubly and so, suitably, commemorated.

Thus if in certain ways ‘Arafah was associated with the first man and prophet, Adam, and with the father of prophets, Ibrahim, and was later associated with the final prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him), and with the perfection of his final revelation and of Islam as the only religion before Allah, the above Qur’anic verse signalled the fulfilling culmination of a process and also the endorsement of its origins as well as evolution.

The stage was set from the dawn of creation and was authenticated several times at the critical junctures of history. A pilgrim should be fascinated by this. He should be enthused to recognize and acknowledge things as they are and to use them as the springboard for recognizing and acknowledging his personal status and calling. Once actualized, this is then expected to lead to recognizing and acknowledging the truth and his own relations thereto. The process is very dynamic and multi-tiered, and is so noble and knowledge-centric.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated:

“Recognize and acknowledge Allah (ta’arraf ila Allah) in times of ease and prosperity, and He will remember and know you (ya’rifuka) in times of adversity.”[13]

The key words used in this hadith pertain to the root word of ‘Arafah, i.e. ‘arafa (to know). Which denotes that the universe of knowledge and consciousness is the key. It is the way forward. Faith and religious ceremonies are fundamental, however it is their results and impact on life that matter. Indeed, knowledge (learning) should be spiritual, and faith, in equal measure, should be intellectual. With this relationship on-board, a person can get closer to God either in the name of knowledge or spirituality. These are two sides of the same coin.

The Role of Arafah

Here the importance and role of ‘Arafah are readily apparent too. ‘Arafah as much spiritualizes pilgrims as it enlightens (educates) them. It generates a kind of ‘urf in them. The word ‘urf, which is from the same root word as ‘Arafah, means “elevation” and “height”, hence the Qur’anic chapter or surah al-A’raf (the Heights). In view of that, ‘urf is a new vantage point, perspective and outlook from which a pilgrim observes, experiences and studies things.

After ‘Arafah – and his entire Hajj experience – the life of a pilgrim is not the same again. He resides at a higher level of consciousness and reality, and sees things differently. He creates a new custom for himself, and lives accordingly, which is called ‘urf (custom or habit) and is not by accident in terms of language related to ‘Arafah as well. In spite of ‘Arafah being a large mostly flat plain, pilgrims build in their hearts personal elevations (vantages). By means of them, they keep rising, and thus keep worshiping and learning. The sky is the limit. If ‘Arafah has its physical boundaries, its heavenward expanse and potentials are infinite.

There is only one small mountain at ‘Arafah. It is called Jabal ‘Arafah (hill or mountain of ‘Arafah). Colloquially – and mistakenly – many people call it Jabal al-Rahmah (mountain of mercy). However, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not climb this mountain during his stay (wuquf) at ‘Arafah, nor did he say anything about its virtues or the virtues of climbing it. What he said about ‘Arafah in general applies to Jabal ‘Arafah too. As part of his wuquf, the Prophet (peace be upon him) stood at the foot of the mountain only, where there were some large rocks. Insisting that the mountain is special and that climbing it is a special virtue is uncalled-for. It is a step towards forging a religious innovation (bid’ah).

In any case, this is extra evidence that raising and climbing spiritual elevations (higher vantage points and better attitudes) is the goal of ‘Arafah, in which case physical altitudes come to light as irrelevant. Those who do not get to the bottom of the topic get obsessed with climbing and conquering material heights, which, in spite of their potential loftiness, still hinder. For all their tallness and vastness, physical altitudes can only close in on and constrain a person whose muddled soul has already confined him. ‘Arafah is expected to cure this condition, not exacerbate it.

(To be continued…)

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

[1] Al-Tirmidhi, Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Book 47, Hadith No 27.

[2] Al-Nasa’i, Sunan al-Nasa’i, Book 24, Hadith 398.

[3] Ibid., Book 24, Hadith No. 399.

[4] Nothing has Been Proven about the Place where Adam Came down to Earth,, accessed on February 2, 2022.

[5] Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, The Book on the Secrets of Pilgrimage,, accessed on January 30, 2022.

[6] Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 96, Hadith No. 1.

[7] Hadith is narrated by Ahmad bin Hanbal in his Musnad. See: Al-Tabrizi, Mishkat al-Masabih, Book 1, Hadith No. 114.

[8] Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 25, Hadith No. 133.

[9] Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, Rites of Hajj and ‘Umrah from the Qur’an, Sunnah and Narrations from the Pious Predecessors,, 2010, accessed on January 31, 2022.

[10] Malik bin Anas, al-Muwatta’, Book 20, Hadith No. 254.

[11] Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, Book 4, Hadith No. 67.

[12] Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), vol. 9 p. 112.

[13] Al-Nawawi, Forty Hadith of al-Nawawi, Hadith No. 19.

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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].