Muzaffar Iqbal

Arafāt (alternate spelling ʿArafa) is the name of the plain where the standing-vigil of Hajj (wuqūf al-ḥajj) takes place on the Day of ʿArafa, the ninth day of Dhūl-Ḥijja, and, by extension, the name of the greatest and indispensible pillar (rukn) of Hajj, the standing itself. It is mentioned once in the Qurʾān (Q 2:198) and is implicitly referred to in the verse that follows: You will be committing no sin at all if [during the pilgrimage] you seek any bounty from your Sustainer; and when you surge forth from ʿArafāt, remember Allah at the sacred place—remember Him as the One who has guided you, and, indeed, you were among the misguided before this [guidance]. And surge onward from where [other] people surge onward and seek forgiveness from Allah; indeed, Allah is Abundantly-Forgiving, Most Merciful (Q 2:198-199). Some Companions and many early Qurʾān exegetes also considered the phrase the Day of the Great Hajj (al-yawm al-ḥajj al-akbar) in Q 9:3 to refer to the Day of ʿArafa, while others attributed it to the Day of Sacrifice, the tenth of Dhūl-Ḥijja (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 9:3).

Derivation and Definition

Derived from the root ʿ-r-f, ʿArafāt is a singular proper noun in the form of a plural, like muslimāt (“Muslim women”) and muʾmināt (“Believing women”); it is not pluralized and it does not admit the article “al-” (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Zabīdī, Tāj; Rāghib, Mufradāt; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs, sub ʿ-r-f). Other cognates from the same triliteral root include ʿarafa (recognizing and knowing); aʿrāf (heights); ʿarf (fragrance); and ʿurf (custom, goodness). The plain of ʿArafāt is so-named, according to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, may Allah be well-pleased with him, because “Allah Most High sent Jibrīl to Ibrāhīm, peace be upon them; he performed the Hajj with him. When they reached ʿArafāt, Jibrīl asked Ibrāhīm: ‘Have you recognized [this place]?’—to which he replied: ‘Indeed, I already know it (qad ʿaraftu)’, because he had been there twice before. The place was thus named ʿArafāt” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:198). Al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) also narrates similar reports from Ibn ʿAbbās and Ibn ʿUmar, may Allah be well-pleased with them. It is also said that this name is given to the plain because Ādam, upon him peace, and his partner Ḥawwa (Eve) (q.v.) met there after their descent from Paradise (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Rāghib, Mufradāt; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs; Zabīdī, Tāj). Other reasons mentioned for the origin of the name include: (i) its being a sanctified and magnified place (Rāghib, Mufradāt; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs); and (ii) its being a place where Allah’s servants present themselves to Allah Most High through supplications and worship (Yāqūt, Buldān, sub ʿArafāt; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ʿ-r-f). In addition to ʿArafāt, several other cognates from the root ʿ-r-f occur 70 times in the Qurʾān.

Geographical Location

Bounded by Mount ʿArafa on the north, the once verdant and populated plain (Yaqūt, Buldān, ʿArafāt) on the road to Ṭāʾif is now a red sandy tract where only a few desert shrubs grow. It is located outside the sacred precinct (al-ḥaram), approximately 20 km east of Makka. The plain of ʿArafāt is about 13 km long at its maximum length along the north-south axis and 7 km wide at its maximum width along the east-west axis; its geographical coordinates are 21° 21’ 34” north and 39° 57’ 59” east. To the east, the plain of ʿArafāt is bounded by the mountain range of Ṭāʾif; to the south it is now crossed by several parallel highways which run eastward to Ṭāʾif and westward to Makka. To its west is the Valley of ʿUrana, which has a mosque at the western-most edge of the plain of ʿArafāt. This mosque—variously known as Masjid ʿArafa, Masjid Ibrāhīm, and Masjid Namira—was built on the site where the Prophet rested upon his arrival at ʿArafāt from Minā on 9 Dhūl-Ḥijja, 10ah. To the northeast of Masjid Namira, almost in the middle of the plain, is Jabal al-Raḥma, the Mount of Mercy—a 60-meter high, detached granite hill, which is also named ʿArafa and ʿArafāt. 

Historical Features

An approximately four-meter high obelisk is the only structure that now stands at the edge of the small flat top of the Mount of Mercy, but when Ibn Jubayr (539-613/1145-1217) performed Hajj in 579/1184, he found several other structures on and around the Mount of Mercy: (i) the still-existing broad low steps on the slopes of the Mountain—then used by camels, donkeys, and horses laden with goods—built by the order of Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Manṣūr, popularly known as Jamāl al-Dīn (ca.550/1156), the vizier of the Governor of Mosul, “one of whose noblest deeds was to bring water to ʿArafāt by making arrangements with the Bedouin tribe of Banū Shuʿba, who lived in the [nearby] region, that on payment of huge sums of money they would not cut off water from the pilgrims” (Ibn Jubayr, Riḥla p. 127); (ii) a cupola at the summit, named after the Prophet’s wife Umm Salama, may Allah be well-pleased with her; (iii) a mosque in the center of the cupola, where men crowded to pray; (iv) a broad and beautiful terrace around the mosque, overlooking the vast plain of ʿArafāt; (v) a wall to the south of the mosque with alcoves (maḥārīb) where people prayed; (vi) at the foot of the Mountain, to the left of the one facing the direction of the prayer, a house of ancient construction (ʿatīqat al-bunyān) with a vaulted chamber in its upper part, attributed to Ādam, upon him peace; (vii) left of this house, while still facing the direction of prayer, a small hill by a rock which was known as the place where the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, would stand; (viii) several wells and cisterns around the Mount of Mercy; and (ix) still further to the left of the aforementioned house two mosques, one larger than the other. The larger mosque, marked by two signs, contained an ancient southern wall named after the Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him be peace. It was at this larger mosque that the orator delivered the sermon on the Day of ʿArafa and then led the combined midday and afternoon prayers. From here, Ibn Jubayr saw the green thorny bushes of the Valley of Arak stretching out as far as the eye could see (Ibn Jubayr, Riḥla p. 173).

The aqueduct constructed by the order of Zubayda bint Jaʿfar al-Manṣūr (d. 216/831), the wife of the fifth ʿAbbāsid Caliph, Hārūn al-Rashīd (145-193/763-809, r. 169-193/786-809), was still operational in 1929 when the Indian Qurʾān translator and commentator ʿAbd al-Mājid Daryābādī (1892-1977) performed Hajj (Daryābādi, Safar-e Ḥijāz p. 243); its ruins are still extant.

Religious Significance

During the pre-Islamic era, certain Arab tribes (such as the Quraysh, Kināna, Fahm, and ʿUdwān), who were called “the hardy” (al-ḥums), “because of their courage and the hardships they imposed on themselves in matters of religion (such as not going under a shade at Minā and not entering houses through their doors while they were in the state of iḥrām)” (Ibn Manzūr, Lisān, sub ḥ-m-s), would not cross into ʿArafāt during Hajj because it lay outside the sacred precinct (ḥaram), saying, “We are the people of Allah and we will not leave His sacred precinct” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:199). The two verses of Surat al-Baqara that mention ʿArafāt (Q 2:198-199) thus restored the rites of Hajj to their original purity by commanding all pilgrims to enter ʿArafāṭ for the standing of Hajj and to depart from there for the vigil at Muzdalifah. ʿĀʾisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said that Q 2:199 was revealed about those known as al-ḥums: “Al-ḥums are those about whom Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, revealed the verse: And surge onward from where [other] people surge onward and seek forgiveness from Allah; truly, Allah is Immensely Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Bukhārī, Ḥajj, al-taʿjīl ilā-l-mawqif; Muslim, Ḥajj, fī-l-wuqūf; Tirmidhī, Ḥajj, mā jāʾa fī-l-wuqūf bi ʿArafāt wal-duʿāʾ bihā).

The Day of ʿArafa in the tenth year of Hijra, when the rites of Hajj were restored to their original purity and no polytheist was permitted among the pilgrims, is also the day when the Prophet himself was at ʿArafāt for his first and only Hajj—which is known as the Farewell Pilgrimage because he passed away eighty-one days after it. When the Prophet arrived at ʿArafāt on that Day of ʿArafa (Friday, 9 Dhūl-Ḥijja, 10ah/9 March 632ce), he chose a spot at the base of Mount of Mercy for his standing vigil “close to some scattered boulders” as per the glosses of Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ (471-544/ca.1078-1149) and al-Nawawī (631-676/1234-1277) on the long hadith narrated by Jābir, which vividly describes the Farewell Pilgrimage from the perspective of a participant who remained close to the Prophet during the Hajj in that defining year in the history of ʿArafāt: a Prophet of God then arrived at the rocky plain in continuation of the tradition established by another Prophet, peace and blessings be upon them both, in fulfillment of the rites of the Greater Pilgrimage and responding to the urgent call of their Creator with a response that has continued to reverberate at ʿArafāt for the centuries since: “Here I am, O my Lord, here I am at Thy service” (Labayyak, Allāhumma, labbayk):

the Messenger of Allah, may blessings and peace be upon him, then set out [from Minā] and the Quraysh did not doubt that he would stop at al-Mashʿar al-ḥarām, where the Quraysh used to stop during the Age of Ignorance (see Jāhiliyya), but the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, kept on going until he reached ʿArafa, where he found the vaulted hair tent (qubba min shaʿr) that had been pitched for him at Namira. There he rested until the sun passed the zenith; he then asked for [his she-camel] Qaṣwāʾ, who was saddled for him. He rode on until he reached the bottom of the valley, where he addressed the people… Then he led the midday and afternoon prayers, and no prayer was performed between these two. Then the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, rode until he reached the place of his standing (al-mawqif). He turned Qaṣwāʾ toward the scattered boulders (“at the bottom of the Mount of Mercy,” explains al-Nawawī in his commentary), keeping to the path taken by those who went on foot in front of him, and faced the direction of prayer. He stood there until the sun set and some of the yellow light dissipated; and when the disc of the sun disappeared altogether, he asked Usāma to sit behind him, pulled the nose-string of Qaṣwāʾ until her head touched the saddle, and, saying to the people to his right, “be calm, O people, be calm,” he rode on. Whenever he reached an ascending tract, he would slightly loosen the nose-string of the camel until she had ascended, and this is how he reached Muzdalifa. There he led the Maghrib and ʿIshāʾ prayers with one call to prayer (adhān) and two [separate] calls to stand ready for the commencement of the prayer (iqāmā)…

                 Muslim, Ḥajj, ḥajjat al-Nabī;
            ʿIyāḍ, Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 4:274-281;
Nawawī, Sharḥ Muslim 2:181-187

On that Day of ʿArafa in the tenth year of the Hijra, the plain of ʿArafāt witnessed the first momentous gathering of Muslims during “the Great Hajj” (al-ḥajj al-akbar), as the Farewell Pilgrimage of the Prophet is known in Islamic sources following the Qurʾānic epithet (Q 9:3) used by the Prophet himself during his Farewell Sermon at ʿArafāt (Bukhārī, Ḥajj, al-khuṭba ayyāma Minan; Tirmidhī, Fitan, mā jāʾ dimāʾūkum wa-amwālukum ʿalaykum ḥarām). The use of this name for Hajj is not restricted to the Farewell Pilgrimage of the Prophet, though, for any Day of ʿArafa and, according to other opinions, any Day of Sacrifice can be so-called (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 9:3). According to many early reports mentioned by al-Ṭabarī, it was on that Friday of his Hajj—a day Ibn ʿAbbās was to recall as the “day of two ʿĪds”—and while he was still sitting on Qaṣwā that the Prophet received the third verse of Sūrat al-Māʾida, a verse that Ibn Kathīr calls the “greatest blessing of Allah on this Umma”: …Today I have completed your religion for you and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings; and it has pleased Me to choose Islām as your religion… (Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs, sub Q 5:3). Asmāʾ bint ʿUmays, may Allah be well-pleased with her, later vividly recalled the details of the descent of this revelation: “I was with the Prophet on the Farewell Pilgrimage. We were moving [along] when suddenly Jibrīl, upon him peace, came, and the Prophet leaned down on his camel, and the camel started to bend down with the weight of the revelation, and I put my shawl over the Prophet” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:3).

Legal Matters Pertaining to the Day of ʿArafāt

Such is the importance of the Day of ʿArafa that the Prophet said thrice: “Hajj is ʿArafa; the one who reaches ʿArafa before the dawn [of 10 Dhul-Ḥijja] has performed the Hajj…” (Abū Dawūd, Manāsik, man lam yudrik ʿarafa; also found in many other collections, including those of Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah, and Nasāʾī, with different chains of narrators and slightly different wording: Tirmidhī, Ḥajj, mā jāʾ fī man adrak al-imām bi-jamʿin faqad adrak al-ḥajj; Ibn Mājah, Manāsik, man ātā ʿarafa qabl al-fajr layla jamʿin; Nasāʾī, Manāsik al-ḥajj, fī man lam yudrik ṣalāt al-ṣubḥ maʿ al-imām bil-Muzdalifa). Based on the implication of the last part of this hadith as well as another hadith—“Whosoever has reached ʿArafāt by the night has performed the Hajj, and whosoever has missed reaching ʿArafāt by night, has missed the Hajj” (Dāraquṭnī, Sunan, al-Ḥajj, al-mawāqīṭ)—there is consensus among scholars that the one who misses being at ʿArafāt has not fulfilled the requirements of the Hajj (Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, masʾala 636, fa-yukabbiru wa-yuhallilu wa-yajtahidu fī-l-duʿā ilā ghurūb al-shams; also al-Nawawī, Kitāb al-Īḍāḥ fī-manāsik al-Ḥajj wal-ʿUmra, chapter 4, fīl wuqūf bi-ʿarafa wa-mā yataʿallaq bih qablah wa-baʿd).

The Prophet also declared the entire plain of ʿArafāt to be the site of the standing-vigil: “Though I am standing here,” he said while he was at ʿArafāt, “the entire [plain of] ʿArafa is the site of standing…” (Muslim, Ḥajj, mā jāʾ anna kullahā mawqif; Mālik, Ḥajj, al-wuqūf bi-ʿArafa wal-Muzdalifa; Tirmidhī, Ḥajj, mā jāʾ fī-wuqūf bi-ʿArafāt wal-duʿāʾ bihā; Ibn Mājah, Manāsik, al-mawqif bi-ʿArafāt).

The time of the standing (wuqūf) at ʿArafāt is legally understood to begin after the sun has passed the meridian on the ninth of Dhūl-Ḥijja and end before dawn the next day except in the Ḥanbalī school, which takes the appearance of the sun on the ninth of Dhūl-Ḥijja as marking the commencement of the time of standing and the dawn of the next day as its culmination (al-Bahūtī, Sarḥ muntahā al-irādāt, bāb ṣifat al-Ḥajj; Ibn Qudāma, Mughnī, faṣl waqt al-wuqūf min ṭulūʿ al-fajr yawm ʿArafa ilā ṭulūʿ fajr yawm al-naḥr). The Prophet himself had remained at ʿArafāt until sunset of the ninth of Dhūl-Ḥijja, at which time he proceeded toward Muzdalifa with Usāma b. Zayd sitting behind him on Qaṣwāʾ. When they stopped to answer the call of nature shortly after leaving ʿArafāt and Usāma reminded the Prophet of the prayer usually offered at sunset, the Prophet replied, “The prayer is further ahead,” meaning they would combine the maghrib and ʿishāʾ prayers at Muzdalifa (Bukhārī, Ḥajj, al-nuzūl bayn ʿArafa wa-jamʿin). The Day of ʿArafāt is the only day of the year when the Ḥanafī school allows the “true combining” (al-jamʿ al-ḥaqīqī, contra al-jamʿ al-ṣūrī, “the apparent combination”) of obligatory prayers to extend the time of standing at ʿArafāt (Abū Ḥanīfa, Kitāb al-Āthār, al-ṣalat bi-ʿArafa wa-jamʿ p. 194); the ẓuhr and ʿaṣr prayers are combined at ʿArafāt after the sun has passed meridian and the maghrib and ʿishāʾ prayers are combined during the night after pilgrims arrive at Muzdalifa. The Hajj sermon is delivered before the combined prayers at ʿArafāt.

The remembrance of Allah (see Remembrance and Reminder of Allah) and seeking His forgiveness are the main types of worship pursued at ʿArafāt, as “there is no day on which Allah frees a greater number of His slaves from the Hellfire than the Day of ʿArafāt,” ʿĀʾisha narrated from the Prophet. “Allah draws near to His slaves and boasts about them to the angels (yubāhī bihim al-malāʾika), and asks [a rhetorical question]: ‘What is their desire?’” (Muslim, Ḥajj, fī faḍl al-ḥajj wal-ʿumra wa-yawm ʿArafa). The Prophet also said: “The best supplication is the one on the Day of ʿArafāt, and the best thing that I and other Prophets before me have said is: ‘There is no deity except Allah; He has no partners; to Him belongs the dominion and all praise is for Him; and He has power over all things (Lā ilāha illaʾLlāh waḥdahu lā sharīka lahu, lahu l-mulk wa-lahu l-ḥamd wa-Huwa ʿalā kulli shayʾin qadīr)’” (Mālik, al-Qurʾān, mā jāʾa fī-l duʿā).

Today the barren plain remains unpopulated save on one day of the year, the Day of ʿArafa, when this tract of less than five square kilometers holds the densest concentration of humanity on earth: several million men, women, and children engaged in the greatest spiritual experience of their lives.


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See also

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