11: THE DAY OF ARAFAT
On the morning of the day of Arafat we were woken by the angelic zikr of a group of pious brothers from Birmingham. These brothers were not the box-standard Muslims you would get wandering the streets of Glasgow but were instead a special group who were dedicated, no submerged, in the worship of Allah.
You have heard of the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ well if we look at the cover of these people, it was one of worship. They had marks on their foreheads from the excessive worship and their course Ihram were radiating noor – spiritual illumination.
These brothers would spend a lot of time in chanting verses of the Qur’an and repeating the glorious names of Allah – repeatedly and excessively. They did this in a soul-soothing rhythm which was, to say the least, elating for the listener. I joked to myself, I am sure this is what the alarm clocks in Jannah would be like with dedicated angels basking in the honour of reciting these words.
In Scotland, it was mission impossible getting me out of my bed and it would be foolhardy to think one alarm clock could wake me up. Here I woke up instantly and was filled with a deep serene peace which I often experienced in these Holy land.
It was still a long time before sunrise and the queues were already winding like a snake towards the Wudhu area in the distance. All the brothers waited patiently in the cold winter air for their chance to use them and perform the ablution. The queues briskly moved on with everyone washing and getting ready for Salah. From our group, I was one of the first few to be ready for Fajr. I could hear a random chorus of Adhans mushrooming from all over Mina. All the different tents and groups were performing Salah, calling the faithful to come to Salah and success.
I waited for the rest of my brothers in the group to get organised, washed and ready for Salah. As I waited patiently, absorbed in my own thoughts, one of ‘Zikr-brothers’ tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to make the call to prayer. Come one, little old me, surrounded by multitudes of pious souls - I was taken aback. I rose to my feet and got ready facing in the direction off the Ka’bah.
I’m sure the ‘Zikr brother’ didn’t ask me because my angelic and melodious voice was legendary amongst the Muslims world. My broken voice was more suitable on a karaoke circuit than any religious gathering. I recon the brother saw this Glaswegian and thought he looks as if he has a booming voice and would probably wake the dead let alone a few sleeping Hajjis. He was right! I inhaled a deep breath and let it rip in my best voice.
The words of the noble Adhan echoed throughout this holy city of tents. I completed the Adhan and raised my hands, thanking the Almighty for this privilege. I was deeply honoured to perform this act of worship because many great Sahabah, saints, scholar, teachers, Imams, Muezzins… the faithful have performed the Adhan in this holiest of places on this holiest of day. I was deeply humbled for this blessing being a much lesser Muslim (in my eyes) than many others that preceded me and much lesser a Muslim than many that were at Mina on that day. This undeserving soul was humbled and truly grateful to its mighty creator for this privilege.
After completing the prayer I stayed seated for a short while reflecting on the journey ahead. I then quickly got ready to move out to the vast plain of Arafat where I would be spending the rest of this blessed day. I recalled some advise from a brother in Scotland about taking plenty of water with me. I quickly filled some empty bottles and laddened like a camel; I was ready to head out.
I must have been super eager as I saw the rest of the brothers still feverously packing bags. They displayed such extraordinary passion for this trip that it was as if this ‘adventure’ was a journey to heaven itself. In this adventure we would explore more than just the surrounding landscape. We would be exploring our inner souls as we poured our heart out standing before our creator. It was a spiritual journey from which everyone but the unluckiest of human beings is blessed with permanent positive change.
To the brothers and sisters who don’t know about Arafat, it is a flat sandy plain where all the Hajjis gather. Its historic significance goes back to the time of Adam (as). This day of Arafat is the most important day of Hajj. In fact, the prophet (pbuh) emphasised the importance of this day by saying that Hajj is Arafat. Arafat is not some amazing cosmopolitan place where Muslims spend a day for resting. It is instead a desolate sandy plain on which the day of Judgement will begin. It has very little shade.
It is at this plain that people ask Allah for forgiveness… many hearts are cleansed and many souls deeply touched by this spiritual experience. The Hajjis stand before the Lord and creator of mankind, asking for His forgiveness as they reflect on their past life. We have all done things that we have regretted and have hurt loved ones; colleagues, family, friends… In Arafat, people pour their hearts out and ask Allah for His mercy. Their sincerity and humility causes uncontrollable tears to flow from their eyes, as they are absorbed in this timeless experience. This is a day of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Shortly after Fajr we were on our journey as two buses approached us. Soon we boarded them and were moving towards Arafat in the largest traffic jam in the world. Don’t get me wrong, there was no stress and badness; we were all absorbed in worship and the words of the ‘lubaik’ were emulating from every direction. Many sat silently, waiting in anticipation for their arrival whilst other reflected on the mistakes of their past life, already absorbed in repentance.
Before long, the bus stopped and we left the bus, joined the flowing sea of people. We completed the rest of the short trip by foot to our designated area of Arafat. The day was getting hotter with every passing moment and by the time we reached there it was almost time for Zohr salah.
This was the hottest day I had experienced so far and the sun was beating down on us unrelentingly. It was painfully hot so much so that we sighed relief when we finally entered the shade of our tents. The tents themselves were very basic and to call them one-star would be stretching the truth. There was no air conditioning so the draft was like a furnace puffing away making us sweat profusely.
Brother Ashfaq addressed our small group, advising us to make full use of our time as every second of this day was valuable. He told us that we can rest any time but today we treasure every moment. We should stand before our creator and pray abundantly. We should reflect on our past lives that now seemed so distant and repent for any misdeeds we may have committed.
Some people had personal family problems; some were worried about loved ones who were going through some tough times; some were burdened with their own health or medical issues; some were struggling in life and needed some divine assistance; some were burdened with sins and had come to change their life… just as no two people have the same fingerprints and in the same way no two people have the same deen and Iman inside their hearts. However all the Hajjis were there to complete this fifth pillar of Islam and to make good positive changes to their lives.
Brother Ashfaq explained, we should pray for our loved ones who we have left behind; our neighbours who had been so close to us; our towns and cities in which we lived; Our county which we had served and the whole of mankind. We prayed for their guidance and their opportunity to unite under the banner of tawheed. We prayed that they too may see spiritual enlightenment and too seek to fulfil the calling that every soul has towards its creator – Muslim and non-Muslim.
Soon, we were all absorbed in worship and duas. After a long time, we gathered together and got some food to eat. This gave us a chance to talk and take a short break. One of the brothers suggested that we should go for a short walk which would give us a feel for Arafat. Before long, a small group of us were ready and decided to go. There included brother Shakir armed with his digital camcorder; Brother Farage from Libya; brother Abdul Raqeeb from bonnie Scotland; brother Ahmed from Nigeria and I also tagged along.
As we went onto the main road we appreciated the number of people on Hajj. It was packed out to such a point that it was almost at a standstill. Imagine the M8 in Scotland, all four lanes in both directions packed out and all the lanes are at a standstill. The only movement was the Hajjis who wound their way through the traffic. The tarmac on the road could not be seen. There were groups of people who were distributing refreshments to the Hajjis in this burning afternoon sun. This was the hottest winter day I have ever experienced and the brightness of the sun was making it hard to see.
As we walked we could see a small mount or hill on the left hand side. There was a tall white pillar erected on the top of this mount, which is called the Jabal-e-Rahmah. This pillar has a special significance because this is the point where Adam (as)’s repentance was accepted. The pillar was erected to remind everyone of this great event and remind us that Allah is the most merciful.
Now imagine the scene, as we walked towards the distant burning sun, there were millions of people around us and each person was asking Allah for forgiveness. People had their hands raised in the air and some had uncontrollable tears rolling down their cheeks. The sun was so extremely hot so each step became more unbearable and the sweat was pouring off our bodies.
Imagine the same scene in the distant future where every soul will be raised back to life on the Day of Judgment. The mountains will be rendered to nothing and all there will be is this flat plain of assembly. Life and logic, as we knew it, would cease to exist on this day. The people will be assembling from every direction towards this place and be waiting for their deeds to be presented before Allah. The heat would be so immense on that day and there will be no shade for the multitudes of people. Everyone will be sweating and more significantly they will be worried about their past life and deeds. They will wish they could return back to the past to make amendments.
Everyone will be the same and equal on that day. There will be no kings and presidents – these worldly titles will be meaningless. Just like the Hajjis are there without any distinction of wealth, class or status - there wont be any distinction between people on that day.
As we move forward we could appreciate the amount of concern people had by the expression on their faces as they prayed to Allah. This was of course nothing compared to the worry people will have on the Day of Judgment. People will be sweating so much on that day: some to their ankles, some to their knees, and some to their necks… I joked to myself that I would probably be up to my eyeballs! (Hopefully Allah will forgive me and give me the motivation and desire to live according to his will – Ameen).
The Irony is this scene was this symbol of hope cropping up, which is the Jabal-e-Rahmah, reminds us that all is not bleak. Allah is the most compassionate and most merciful.
The Day of Arafat is like the Day of Judgment in many respects but the most important difference is that on the Day of Judgment we will have no more opportunities to make amends. On the day of Arafat, we still have unlimited opportunities to make amends to our lives and change the direction of lives for the better. May Allah accept everyone’s duas and help us all to return to the straight path (Sirat ul Mustakeem).
We headed back towards our group, awestruck by the raw emotion and experience of Arafat. We knew that this day would be drawing to an end soon but the opportunity was still there for repentance. We made silent prayers and zikr in our minds as we solemnly weaved our way back to our companions.