Today, some two million worshippers gather in Arafat to perform one of the five obligatory tenets of Islam. Since dawn, nearly 2 million Muslim pilgrims will have made their way from Makkah to a nearby hillside and plain called Mount Arafat and the Plain of Arafat.
Haj in its most basic meaning translates as an act “to continuously strive to reach one’s goal.” It is the last of the five pillars of Islam. The other four are a declaration of faith in one God and in Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the five daily prayers, offering regular charity, and fasting during the month of Ramadan.
The most demanding of all Islamic rituals, Haj is an once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who have the physical and financial ability to undertake such an arduous journey.
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whoever performs Haj to this house — Kaaba — and does not commit any obscenity and wrongdoing, he, or she, will come out as the day he, or she, was born — pure and free from sins.”
Another hadith reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The performance of ‘Umrah is expiation for the sins committed between it and the previous ones. And the reward for Haj Mabrur (pilgrimage accepted by Allah) is nothing but Paradise.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 3, Book 27, hadith No. 1)
Today a collection of millions of Muslims rising above geographical, linguistic, level of practice, cultural, ethnic, color, economic, and social barriers have converged in unison in Makkah, which is a tribute to the universality of the Haj.
It is their time to reflect on their behavior and to sincerely atone for their worldly sins and make up for any shortcomings or wrongdoings of their past. Many others around the world who could not make it to Haj are using this day to fast and pray.
The rituals and experiences of Haj can be overwhelming. Imagine yourself stepping on the same land where Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) used to step and going through valleys and mountains wherein he used to receive the divine revelation. It gives one a perspective of how much he and his Companions suffered to get this message communicated to us in its most perfect and purest form.
A visit to the mountain of Heraa’ marks the significance of where the Prophet used to seclude himself in isolation for one month every year. It is the place that witnessed the revelation of the first words of the Qur’an and the appearance of the arch-angel Gabriel.
When pilgrims move in the Grand Mosque in Makkah and walk between Safa and Marwah on the footsteps of Prophet Ibrahim, they can perhaps sense the true meanings of sacrifice and how a father left his newborn with his fragile mother in that barren piece of land.
The rigors that pilgrims will complete are not mindless exercises prescribed in textbooks for them to blindly follow, and then carry home as a trophy of ‘being there’.
The gathering of such a large and diverse group of Muslims is also to strengthen and renew bonds across many borders and their diverse inhabitants.
Standing on Arafat, in his last Haj sermon, the Prophet (pbuh) advised those present to convey the meaning and message of the rituals they had just performed to those who were absent from this great assembly.
Thus a pilgrim’s journey does not end simply with the termination of the rituals he or she had just completed. Pilgrims now carry the responsibility of conveying the message of peace back to their homelands irrespective of faith.
For those who will have journeyed this demanding road, it is their moment to devote themselves to the true meaning of Islam. Islam has not taught us to react violently to those of other faiths. Nor does it condone the murder of the innocent or the destruction of property.
Islam is about tolerance. Hopefully, the pilgrims will have been reinforced with the sanctity of this religion of peace.
The message of peace and goodwill must be carried back with positive energy to their people across the globe. It is like being born again with a clean slate.
This article appeared at Saudi Gazette.