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Why praying on Mount Arafat is the spiritual peak of Muslim pilgrims

2023-06-27 20:50:59, Kulturë CNA

Why praying on Mount Arafat is the spiritual peak of Muslim pilgrims

ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia – They come in the dark of night, by the thousands, to climb the rocky hill called Mount Arafat.

This place southeast of Mecca is little known outside the Islamic world. For non-Muslims, walking around the Kaaba – the black cube-shaped structure in the holy city – is the most impressive visual moment accompanying the Hajj pilgrimage.

But for Muslims, it is the Tuesday prayer ritual at Arafat that represents the essence and entirety of the Hajj.

Why praying on Mount Arafat is the spiritual peak of Muslim pilgrims

The hill in question and the Day of Arafat, as the second day of the annual pilgrimage is called, carry extraordinary significance for the Islamic religion. Arafat is mentioned in the Quran as the place where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his last sermon, during his last pilgrimage. According to the traditional sayings of the prophet, the Day of Arafat is the holiest day of the year, when God comes closer to believers and forgives their sins.

The moment of getting close to God makes this part of the pilgrimage even more personally important for many people.

By 4 a.m. on Tuesday, the 70-meter-high peak was packed with devotees. They climbed its rough terrain, dragging personal belongings behind them and searching for a vacant place. They sit in groups in stone crevices and crevices between rocks.

Why praying on Mount Arafat is the spiritual peak of Muslim pilgrims

Some pray, whispering their prayers to God with their palms open to the sky. Some enjoy the panorama as the morning light begins to spread. Others raise their arms to take a selfie to mark the moment. Large circular sprinklers spray water to cool pilgrims in the heat, which quickly reaches 45 degrees Celsius.

As the day progressed, the area around Mount Arafat was filled with about 1.8 million pilgrims. With no shade or breeze, people began using whatever they could find to protect themselves from the sun. Volunteers handed out umbrellas and drinks, and trucks filled with crates of water bottles added to the traffic chaos. Cell phones were turned off due to the heat and pilgrims punctured water bottles and used them to sprinkle themselves with water.

However, they said they were very happy to be there despite the difficulties.

Why praying on Mount Arafat is the spiritual peak of Muslim pilgrims

Khaled Al-Shannik, a 30-year-old shop owner from Jordan, said the pilgrimage was not Mecca. "The Hajj is in Arafat," he said, repeating one of the sayings of the prophet as he sat with his family on a large rock. "All Muslims wish to remain in the position we are in now."

Usman Arshad, a 26-year-old Pakistani student, walked nearly 4,700 kilometers for this moment. He was determined to come on foot. So he walked from his home town of Okara in the eastern province of Punjab, across his country and Iran. Next, he took a boat to the United Arab Emirates and walked along the Arabian Peninsula to Mecca.

"There were challenges and I fell a few times, but God helped me get back up," he said of the journey, which lasted a total of six months.

Mr. Arshad grew up reading about the Hajj and he knew people who had made the pilgrimage. He talked to them about the situations that awaited him and how to prepare. He also did his own research, especially when it came to Arafat.

Why praying on Mount Arafat is the spiritual peak of Muslim pilgrims

Arafat is crucial for pilgrims, he said, the moment to receive God's forgiveness.

"This is no small thing. Everyone believes they are sinners. If we are given this opportunity (to forgive), then we should use it," he said. "Arafat is a blessed day and I feel peace and wisdom being here."

Pilgrims are required to pray at Arafat after noon and until just after sunset. They do not necessarily have to be on the hill and can stay anywhere in the lands around it.

At noon, huge crowds of pilgrims heard a sermon by Sheikh Yusuf bin Said at the great Namirah Mosque, built on the site where the Prophet Muhammad last addressed the early Muslim community in the 7th century. The sheikh repeated the prophet's call for unity.

Why praying on Mount Arafat is the spiritual peak of Muslim pilgrims

"We are commanded to be united and we are forbidden to separate under all circumstances, which is even more important during the Hajj season and at ritual sites," he said.

Saudi Arabia's General Authority for Statistics said on Tuesday that 1,845,045 people participated in this year's Hajj, including 1,660,915 from abroad. It is significantly lower than the 2,489,406 who attended in 2019, the last major pilgrimage before the pandemic. The number of pilgrims from abroad this year fell by 200,000 compared to 2019, and pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia are only a third of that year's number.

After sunset on Tuesday, pilgrims go to a plateau in the nearby desert called Muzdalifa to collect pebbles, which they will use the next day in a symbolic ritual of stoning the devil in Mina./ VOA

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