By Arab News
Today is the Day of Arafat. More than 2.5 million pilgrims, including 1.8 million who have come from abroad, will gather on the plains of Arafat today for the most important ritual of the Haj — praying, chanting and reciting the Qur’anic verses and supplicating before their Creator.
Makkah has been reverberating with chants of “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik” (O God, here I am answering your call) for the last few weeks as pilgrims from around the world started arriving in the holy city for what is often described as once-in-a-lifetime journey of faith.
Pilgrims converged on the tent city of Mina on Friday where they spent the day and night in prayer and meditation before heading for Arafat.
For thousands of years, the believers from around the world have traveled to Makkah for Haj. This spiritual and emotional journey includes the offering of the animal sacrifice that also marks the Eid Al-Adha across the world.
What is the Haj? Most people around the world would have no difficulty describing it as the Islamic pilgrimage and the greatest religious congregation on the earth. Few, however, realize that Haj is a celebration of the ultimate sacrifice offered by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Prophet Ismail (peace be upon them), thousands of years ago. Ibrahim, revered by the Christians, Jews and Muslims as their patriarch, was no stranger to sacrifices. All his life he had wandered all across this ancient land, spreading the word of God and suffering every adversity possible in the process. When ordained by Allah, Ibrahim moved his wife to the wilderness of Arabia. Again, it was here in Makkah that the father and son were told to build the first House of God.
Ultimately, it was Ibrahim’s willingness to offer his beloved son’s life as ordained in a dream that culminated in the trial of this great prophet and humanity’s sage. The Qur’an tells us Ismail was replaced by a ram just when Ibrahim was about to slay his beloved son. The pilgrimage reminds us of this supreme act of sacrifice and unquestioning submission to the divine will.
So for centuries the pilgrims from around the world have come to the Holy Land to remember and celebrate that noble sacrifice of the illustrious father-son duo. They retrace and relive the spiritual journey of Ibrahim and Ismail, just as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did more than 1400 years ago. From running between the Safa and Marwa hills, just as a helpless Hajrah did looking for water for a thirsting Ismail a long time ago, to living and praying in the open and finally offering their own symbolic, animal sacrifice, the pilgrims walk in Ibrahim’s footsteps — literally.
The Haj is thus a saga of ultimate sacrifice, total submission and unshakable faith. It’s also a celebration of the unity of mankind and equality of all men and women before God. The faithful appear before Him devoid of all pretensions and false distinctions, wearing a humble, two-piece, unstitched cloth. And everyone is equal before God — black and white, men and women, rich and poor. Is there a more liberating, equalizing faith?