September 24, 2015
We spent the day yesterday in Arafat.
Whenever I heard of Arafat, I imagined crowds of white-garbed pilgrims standing on a red hillside, their hands raised and their eyes closed as they conferred with God. I imagined a few pop-up tents in the hilly valley with food and drink inside. But a big part of this trip has been managing expectations versus reality. Or, more accurately, imagination versus reality.
Our section in Arafat was, first of all, surprisingly green. I hadn’t seen so much grass and trees since, well, Canada. There was kind of a main courtyard area, where there was a long concrete “stage” with tables and chairs and shaded tents. Mist fans were strung all over the canopy, constantly spraying a watery haze. A set of washrooms and wudhu stations sat to the side. There were small patches of grass where there were plastic tables and chairs. The set up looked like a large, backyard patio. Beyond that were the tents.
Each group had an air conditioned tent. We spent most of the day inside the tent. After Dhuhr [prayer], we did a group dua [supplication], then were free to supplicate and worship as we saw fit. So I did. It was like sitting across from God, [and] even though I couldn’t see Him, I knew He was there. I spent the morning reflecting on my life and I realized that God has always been there… Even though Arafat is the day God is nearest to you, when your dua is accepted and when He is looking upon the pilgrims with love, God is always there [throughout the rest of the year]. He is always with you. And so long as you trust Him and believe in Him and do what He asks of you, everything will always be alright.
“Hajj is Arafat.”
Those words from Prophet Muhammad ring true. The significance of Arafat is such that I constantly heard it referred to as “the most important day of your life”. Prior to my leaving, I was encouraged to compile several pages of supplications, both for myself and on behalf of others. I read through it several times throughout this day. I prayed extra, read more Quran, read supplications from books that I had brought with me. I laid my soul out before God, along with everything I wanted in this life and the next. I prayed for guidance, forgiveness, family, protection, success and all good things in this life and the next—both for myself and others.
Once again, my expectations were challenged by reality. I had expected a day-long marathon of standing and supplication in the bare open valley of Arafat. Much to my surprise (and relief), we were given a large, comfortable, dark red, air conditioned tent in the midst of a camp that looked like the world’s greatest backyard patio party. I spent the day in the tent, reading Quran, going through the list of supplications I made prior to leaving, praying outside. It was probably the most relaxing day since Hajj started.
When night came, we all gathered near the main gate for our camp, waiting for the bus to take us to Muzdalifah.
Just that word alone brings back memories. It was the hardest moment of Hajj; the hardest night of my life.