Day of Arafat
Before dawn on the day before Eid, all pilgrims were transported to the Mount Arafat to spend the daylight hours there. It is a location a short distance away from Mina, and again, we were stripped down to the bare basics. The austere surroundings in Arafat made Mina look like a luxury hotel in comparison! Again, men and women were segregated, although it was possible for family members to meet in the open areas and make du'a together.
The day of Arafat is the most blessed day of the whole Islamic calendar. The day was to be spent making du'a, zikr and salat, for this was a day when Allah's blessings and forgiveness are abundant. How many minutes a day do we spend communicating with Allah? The hours spent that day made me realise, not enough.
It was hot and uncomfortable, and the washroom facilities were a struggle to cope with. Again, it was a lesson in humility – a way of keeping things real. Millionaire or pauper, all of us spent the day as equals, praying and supplicating, and the implications of this day made all the surrounding inconveniences irrelevant.
After Maghrib everybody made their way to Muzdalifah. It was dark, and teaming with people. When I watched this year's live broadcast of hajj on television, I realized the sheer number of the pilgrims and how difficult it must have been to engineer the logistics successfully! Close to two million Muslims, all congregated at one location at the same time. The sun had set by then, the situation was confusing, chaotic and disorienting as we struggled to keep track of our hajj guide in the darkness and through the babble of multiple voices and languages. More so when everyone's clothing was virtually identical in the observance of the ihram. But what about the Day of Judgment when the whole of mankind would be resurrected? On that day, there will be no tour guides, placards, flashlights, husbands or wives to guide us, only our faith.
The night was spent under the half moon in Muzdalifah - no tents or shelter this time. Just sandy grounds and the open sky, and it brings to mind the horrors of life in the grave and the Day of Resurrection where basically, each of us will be totally on our own.
One of the tasks we had to do was to find pebbles for the symbolic stoning of the devil in Jamarat. Rich and poor, we had to sift through the sand to find 49 pebbles each (we will explain why later), our clothes and hands getting dusty as thousands of us scratched through the earth to find pebbles the size of chick peas. Again, another humbling experience. Allah was reminding us to be cut off from the luxuries of dunia, and to remind us of our lowly place in the grand scheme of things.
As the night wore on, we were supplicating while drifting in and out of sleep. Many of us struggled to keep awake, for after all, this was a once in a lifetime experience, and the most blessed night for all of us. We tried to persevere even though weary from the lack of sleep.
In the early hours of the morning, shouts from our tour leaders could be heard in the darkness – it was time for us to proceed towards the Jamarat for the next leg of the rituals. Afraid of being left behind in the confusion, everyone scrambled hurriedly to the meeting point!
When Ibrahim AS was asked to sacrifice his only son Ismail AS to Allah, Satan tried to cast doubt into Ibrahim's AS heart. Ibrahim AS responded by throwing some pebbles to Satan to cast him off, and that is the occasion replicated at the Jamarat. After Muzdalifah, we went to the Jamarat, to cast pebbles at the pillars representing where Satan had stood and was humiliated.
We went by the newly erected Metro, while some others went by bus and on foot. It did not make much difference to the travel time either way.
The Jamarat itself has been refurbished and looks like a multilevel car park, to avoid the many fatal stampedes that occurred in the previous years. The process is now safe and quite easy.
However the strength is not in the aim, it is in the heart. Each stone cast was symbolic of our triumph against our inner demons and doubts, of our victory against the devil and of our cleansing of major sins. We threw seven on one pillar on the first day, and repeated the process on all three pillars on the following two days (hence the 49 pebbles).
When the first pillar was completed there was cheer all round. Greetings and hugs were exchanged amongst the pilgrims, just as the sun began to rise. This was it! Eid-al-Adha had arrived, and I had never imagined that I would be ever be here to greet it.
We spent another two days of seclusion in Mina before returning to Mekah for another tawaf and sai'ee.
Facing the Ka'bah again – my finish line!
If anyone had told me five years ago that I would be here, taking my final steps before the completion of my hajj, I would have dismissed such ridiculous statements.
Yet, there I was, facing the Ka'bah again. It was still the same, of course, but somehow, after my experience in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah, everything had changed. I had just looked at the Ka'bah just a few days ago, but it was as if a million years had passed. Allah had given me so many second chances in life.