House of Assembly
Experience of a Lifetime
'Afafat', Prophet Muhammad said, 'is Pilgrimage.'.
On the ninth of Dhul-Hijjah, the month of trip, millions of pilgrims stand at Arafat, 'the Mount of Mercy'. In reality it is a small hill in the middle of a broad, sandy plain about fifteen kilometers to the east of the city of Capital in Saudi Arabia.
This year it will take place in late fall in the northern hemisphere and at this time of the year the weather is warm by day and cool by night. Obviously, the pilgrims haven't come from all edges of the world simply to enjoy the weather. They have actually answered the call initially announced by Prophet Abraham some four thousand years ago, inviting all humanity to praise at the Venerable Residence, circling the intriguing black dice, the Ka'bah.
'Really the first residence appointed for mankind was at Bakka (perhaps an older name for Capital) full of blessings and guidance for all the worlds.' (Quran 3:96).
God offered the site of the Sacred Home to Abraham, and the rites of pilgrimage there were instituted for every individuals. These rites are the external symptom of praise and obedience to God, and while carrying out these, the pilgrim inwardly plants the virtues of humbleness, perseverance, charity, appreciation, piety and faith. The pilgrimage is a metaphor for life itself and the striving that we should withstand to return to God.
It's the journey of a lifetime due to the fact that Allah commands us to undertake it only when in our lives, if we have the ability - both physical and material - to do so. Many scholars advise that the pilgrimage be done while young, as it can be very requiring physically and psychologically. However, it is the custom in some societies for Muslims to postpone their commitment until they reach seniority, hoping that, once their objective is gotten, they might die and be buried there in the Holy Land.
In this age of modern transportation and communication it is difficult for us now to imagine how arduous and dangerous the journey must have been in previous times. Those making the pilgrimage from faraway places such as China or Indonesia would need to depart many months or even years before the dedicated season in order to arrive on time.
Arafat is the central point of the Hajj. Its value lies is its power to remind us of the days to come: we believe in the Last Day, the Judgment Day. On that day, whose length will be a thousand years of our reckoning, we will be assembled before God, hushed and contemplative, fearing for our souls. This is emphasised by God's description of the Ka'bah as 'the House of Assembly'. We will be completely subject to the mercy or punishment of God. None can escape it.
These are some of the reflections that flicker across the pilgrims' consciousness at Arafat. The constant refrain of their prayer, 'Here we are, O Lord, at Your service', echoes throughout the huge throng, an admonition to make them familiar with their true condition and worldly duties.