Nearly two millions pilgrims from 164 nations gathered on Wednesday on the plains of Arafat, about 20 km from Makkah, for what is described as the most important and central element of the five-day annual Haj pilgrimage. The pilgrims began moving into Arafat from Mina on Tuesday night. They took trains and buses to make the 14-km journey from Mina to Arafat. The weather was very harsh and instead of the sea of white that is the usual image during Haj, the multicolored umbrellas provided a different appearance to the landscape.
Helicopters hovered overhead and it was only when one got close to the Al-Namira Mosque that one had a clear sense of the millions that are here for Haj. The pilgrims, especially men, packed the massive mosque to listen to the Haj sermon delivered by Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh. In the front row in the mosque was Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, wearing the two-piece mandated seamless white cloth. Outside the mosque, hundreds of thousands had lined up row after row in order to pray the combined Dhuhr and Asr prayers. It was a very dense crowd with every pilgrim lost in contemplation and reflection. They were beseeching Allah to forgive their sins of omission and of commission.
Most of the pilgrims, with their voices quivering, eyes moist and foreheads beady with perspiration, were praying for an easy life in the hereafter. Many women pilgrims also prayed for their children and grandchildren. The pilgrims were thanking Allah for having provided them the means and the physical strength to undertake the journey of a lifetime.
Rafe Nayeemul Hassan from Bangladesh was happy beyond words. “Allah has been very kind to me,” he said. “Only the lucky ones get to come here to this blessed land.”
Hassan’s wife, Maimoona, was also ecstatically happy. “I feel as if a big load has been lifted from my back,” she said. “I feel light and exactly like a newborn. I have cleaned the slate of my past life and all that I do henceforth will be a new life. I will spend my life in the service of Allah who blessed us with seven children, all of whom are happily married and settled.”
Akram Ghannam, 45, from war-torn Syria, told AFP that being in Arafat is a feeling that cannot be described. “I pray to Allah to ease the pains of all those who are oppressed,” he said.
Naimatullah Jagirdar, from India, came to perform Haj for his late father. “He wanted to come for Haj three years ago. He applied but his name was not among those drawn in the lottery which selects the limited number of Indians who come. That very year, he died and while he was on his deathbed, I promised him that I would perform Haj on his behalf. And today I did.”
As he said those last words, he cried inconsolably. “This is the least I could do for my late father,” he said, burying his face in his hands to hide his tears.
Yawar Ali Qureshi, from Pakistan, was busy praying and meditating on Jabal Al-Rahma, the Mount of Mercy. He recited verses from the Holy Qur’an. “There are so many people here. Millions. But everyone is lost in himself or herself. This is what it will be like on the Day of Judgment,” he said. “Everyone will be worried because he/she will be accountable for what they did in this world. Being here on this day is a blessing from Allah. Now we get a chance to repent and to start a new life of piety and good deeds,” said Qureshi.
“I got goosebumps, a feeling that cannot be explained, when I got to the top of Jabal Al-Rahma,” Ruhaima Emma, a 26-year-old Filipino pilgrim, told AFP. “I pray for a good life for everyone,” she said.
As the pilgrims stood in prayer at Arafat, millions of Muslims around the world prayed for their safety and well-being. Photos of pilgrims from Arafat and the live feeds on television channels moved the entire Ummah and they turned to social media to congratulate the pilgrims on having made it to Arafat. “O, Allah accept the prayers of the pilgrims,” wrote Ziyad Muammar, a Twitter user from Egypt.
“Just as the Muslims are united on the plains of Arafat, may they be united everywhere on this planet.”
As the sun went down, the pilgrims began the journey to Muzdalifa which is about 9 km from Arafat. They will spend the night under the open skies, collect nearly 50 pea-sized pebbles and return to Mina on Thursday morning to perform the other rituals, including the stoning of the devil.