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Reminiscences of a Pilgrim: The Wonders of the Plains of Arafat

What followed was the stoning of the devil at the tent city of Mina, a ritual of which I have gratefully concluded. As I wrote in my maiden piece at the launch of these series, Mecca or best known as Makkah al-Mukaramah is a city that never goes to sleep.

On the eve of the night preceding Eid day, we had driven from the plains of Arafat where Prophet Muhammad stood at Jabal Rahma at the foot of Mount Arafat where he announced his last message on the conclusion of his message on the Islam Religion.

The plains of Mount Arafat are considered to be sacred by themselves. It is from the foot of Mount Arafat that the Prophet delivered his farewell sermon. It has thus been decreed since the days of the Prophet that the tenet of Hajj is inconclusive without the process of Arafa supplications at the plains of Arafat. It is on this spot that this perspective is dedicated today.

But before giving you my experiences at the plains of Arafat and what I saw, let me take you back to Makkah, the city that never sleeps all the year round! We had arrived around midnight in Makkah after our sojourn to the Arafa plains, having made a stop over at Muzidalifa, an equally important spot in the pilgrimage process.

What surprised me after arriving those late hours in the night was that the Makkah was bustling with life as if it was in the rush hour of a morning! As I narrated in my maiden piece, here is a city, which could be confused to any city in the West today, complete with those skyscrapers and flyovers.

Our bus had stopped near the grand mosque of Mecca, Masjid Al-Haram that houses the sacred Al-Kaaba. The mosque is within an area of 356,800 square metres, which is to the tune of 88.2 acres. So would you be surprised if someone were to tell you that this mosque can as absorb as many people as three million people at a go?

That night, preceding Eid Al Hajj, was clearly not any other night of that holy city. Again as we streamed into the mosque, this time our group having been joined by other journalists from different parts of the world, I was alone in the world again! Alone? Yes!

I had tried to befriend a couple of colleagues from neighbouring Horn of Africa, but even these dashed away from my eyes as I approached the gate of the grand mosque. They melted in the sea of thousands of pilgrims, whom I estimated to number not less than 500,000 even in the dead of that night!

So, I was again, very, very nervous, lest what befell me at the start of my sojourn does not repeat itself when I got lost into the crowd and the unknown in a city which I had no idea except its ancient history. With this set of mind I began the process of circling around the Ka’aba build by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) in commencement of my hajj supplications. In the process I did actually make a little prayer to God to support me team up with anyone of my media fraternity on the hajj rituals!

My prayer was heeded. My eye caught up with scores of them to my immense relief. From that time on, I almost looked for a rope to tie myself up with them so that I am not a lost bird again! But at the end of the ritual of circling the Ka’aba, when a head count was made, a colleague from Eritrea was missing! We had to drive away without him, this time to Mina for the rest of hajj pilgrimage, which included stoning the Satan.

But apart from this aspect of one being lost in the crowd, there is another aspect, which pilgrims embarked on the rituals and supplications such as the one at the Ka’aba and later at Arafa need to prepare themselves and their sets of mind. They need to exercise absolute gentleness and tolerance.

Here one is marching or trotting around with hundreds of thousands plus congregation. He will discover, as I did to my considerable dismay, that crossing paths or trotting or marching behind a fellow pilgrim may be far from a gentle exercise! He may discover that he/she is actually being shoved or pushed by a fellow pilgrim, most often than not unintentionally!

This is a situation that calls for absolute tolerance. A pilgrim should realize that he/she is in a spiritual exercise, taking nothing personally. But all put in balance, this clearly a phenomenal happening unequalled anywhere in the world where people gather at one spot or in several spots in a couple of millions. This is what I discovered also at the plains of mount Arafat. I marvelled, as I took an elevator of a structure of a building within the Arafat plains for a bird overview of the plains.

Oh! No! Never before have I seen great numbers of people gathered in such a multitude as here on the plains of Arafat. I have the Saudi Gazette here, the counterpart of the Tanzanian Daily News in Saudi Arabia: “About three millions pilgrims flocked to the plains of Arafat Thursday to perform the main hajj rite. Men, women and children from 189 countries streamed from dawn to Arafat praying to Allah to forgive them…” The paper front-paged a caption of a “sea of humanity” enveloping Mount Arafat.

This caption married with what I witnessed with my naked eyes when I had a bird overview of these millions of people. Literally, my eyes were awed with the magnitude of worshippers and could not draw the end of the line of this sea of humanity! As narrated before, a Muslim’s pilgrimage is inconclusive without standing in supplication in these plains where the Prophet delivered his farewell sermon.

He was later to say: Here no prayers of a pilgrim would go unanswered when supplicated on these plains of Arafa. But the most instructive phenomenon in the whole hajj process is the obligation imposed on all pilgrims to don the same white dress which is both simple and affordable to all known as ‘ihram’.

All pilgrims, irrespective of their skin colors, nationalities and status, whether kings, presidents or ordinary persons are obliged to don this simple linen that looks like a shroud and across the aboard throughout the hajj process. This phenomenon matches with the words of the Holy Qur’an: “I have created thou in different colors and nationalities.

This is just for you to identify one another and nothing else. But the best of you is the one who Worships Me…” Quite an onerous message across the religion divide of the entire humanity, isn’t it? Next: From Madina with Tears!

Email: makwaia@makwaia.com Website: www. makwaia.com

TODAY is a critical day both for Zanzibar ...

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Author: MAKWAIA WA KUHENGA

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