For a second time around amid Covid-19, the 6-day Hajj or the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia will be different and restricted owing to the coronavirus travel restrictions.While Eid-ul-Adha or Bakra Eid is the second most important festival celebrated by Muslims across the world on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Zul Hijjah, the Day of Arafah i.e. the ninth day of Dhu al-Hijjah is considered as the most important day as it is the day of repentance.
The Day of Arafah is the holiest day in the Islamic calendar and is observed on the second day of the Hajj pilgrimage. Hajj to Mecca is among the five pillars of Islam which is obligatory only for those who are healthy and can afford it financially as well as physically.
This fifth and final pillar of Islam is liable to be performed by Muslims at least once in their lifetime where they shed overt displays of wealth and materialism, dress in simple white clothes and perform the rituals.
Hajj begins on the 8th day and ends on the 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. This year, Hajj began on the evening of July 17 and will end on the evening of July 22.
A visit to the holy shrine of Kaabah in Mecca has a remarkable history. It is believed that Prophet Ibrahim or Abraham, the dearest friend of God and father of prophets, was instructed by God to leave his wife Hajara and son Ismail in the desert of Mecca.
Ibrahim left the family well-flourished but in due course of time, it all diminished. His wife Hajara and son Ismail faced lots of trouble. On one occasion, Hajara travelled seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah but was unable to find any source of water.
However, when her little son Ismail rubbed the ground with his foot, a water fountain sprang up at the spot. This spot was then marked sacred and God ordered Ibrahim to build Kaabah at that place and to invite people to perform pilgrimage there.
Ibrahim and Ismail did as instructed and the Quran even narrates how the archangel, Gabriel, brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaabah.
Later in pre-Islamic Arabia time of “jahiliyyah”, some pagan idols were placed around the Kaaba but in 630 CE, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) led the believers from Medina to Mecca and cleansed the Kaabah by destroying all the pagan idols. He was another messiah and the last prophet considered in Islam.
After cleansing the Kaabah, he reconsecrated the building to Allah and performed his first and last pilgrimage there in 632 CE. This was followed by Prophet Muhammad’s sermon to his followers on the rites of it and that is how Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj facilitates and tends to bring together Muslims across the world in a spirit of unity and brotherhood without any discrimination based on caste, culture and colour, an unmitigated representation of equality. It is believed that whoever performs the Hajj rites truly and with purity, returns home washing off all their lifelong sins.
This annual pilgrimage not only ensures equality but it also rewards pilgrims heaven after death if the obligations are performed righteously. It symbolises kindness, positivity and is the highest form of honour earned as it is a re-enactment of the sacrifices and obedience of Prophet Abraham to God almighty, following the instructions laid down by Prophet Muhammad.
Importance of Day of Arafah:
While Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are marking the Day of Arafah on July 19, Muslims in India will observe it on July 20. Arafah Day falls on the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah and commemorates finality of the religion of Islam and of Divine revelation.
It is basically the climax of Hajj when Muslim pilgrims gather at Mount Arafat and offer a day-long prayer with recitations of the Quran. Since Mount Arafat is approximately 15 kms away from Mecca, the Muslim pilgrims spend a day there to perform the rituals and live in tents from dawn to dusk.
It was on Mount Arafat that Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon of Islam hence, pilgrims stand here united as a dignified ritual, to seek forgiveness through reflection and prayer and it is this moment that may be described as “standing before God”. While fasting on the Day of Arafah is prohibited for the pilgrims, it is a highly recommended Sunnah for non-pilgrims as it entails a great reward with the belief that Allah forgives the sins of two years.
Since Arafah Day is viewed by Muslims as a day of gratitude, the next day is celebrated as Eid-ul-Adha which marks another sacrifice by Prophet Ibrahim. In normal times, around 2 million Muslim pilgrims would gather on Mount Arafat but owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, preventive and precautionary measures have been placed to ensure the health and safety of the pilgrims hence, only 60,000 worshippers have been allowed to the holy site this year by Saudi Arabia government.