Why Is the Day of ‘Arafah special?
The Day of ‘Arafah (Yawm Al-‘Arafah), also called the Day of the Standing (Yawm Al-Waqf), is significant because it is the holiest day of the Islamic Hijri lunar year (just as Laylat Al-Qadr, the Night of Empowering Decree in Ramadan, is the holiest night of the Islamic year).
When Is the Day of ‘Arafah?
‘Arafah is the ninth day of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah, the 12th and final month in the Islamic calendar. It occurs on the second day of the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah (and its surrounding religious waymarks) that Muslims are obligated to perform at least once in their lifetimes, if able.
What Is the Day of ‘Arafah?
The Day of ‘Arafah is the Hajj in itself. So said the Prophet, God’s blessings and peace upon him:
“Al-Hajj ‘Arafah,” meaning “‘Arafah is the Hajj” (Ahmad).
Without observing it in its proper place and time, there is no Hajj. This means that all other aspects and rites of Hajj have some lawful way to make up for missing or modifying them, or factors that may excuse one from them.
On the Day of ‘Arafah, from somewhat before noon until sunset, Pilgrims, observing the rules and symbolic dress of ritual pilgrim sanctity (iḥrâm), gather to the Plain of ‘Arafât and take their stand (wuqûf) of faith before God, entreating His mercy and forgiveness. From this rite, ‘Arafah takes its other popular name, Yawm Al-Waqf (the Day of Standing).
Its scene — a sea of indistinguishable humanity across a stark plain, pleading with outstretched hands for their Lord’s acceptance of their repentance, His pardon, forgiveness and mercy, and His admission of them into His Paradise — presages humanity’s standing before God on the Day of Judgment.
While resting and even sleep from fatigue are not proscribed for Pilgrims on this day, the Prophet, on him be peace, is known to have condensed and combined, the noon and midday ritual Salah-Prayers of Dhuhr and ‘Aṣr, respectively, at the earliest time on this day. Then he beseeched God in supplicatory prayer (du’a) — with outstretched arms, upraised palms and intensity virtually continuously — from just after noon until sunset.
Should Muslims not making Hajj observe the Day of ‘Arafah?
Yes. While Pilgrims do not fast on the Day of ‘Arafah, Muslims who are not making Hajj are strongly urged (in Islamic Law, fiqh, it is codified as mustaḥabb, highly desirable) to fast this day. The Prophet, God’s blessings and peace upon him, said of this act of worship, that is, fasting the Day of ‘Arafah for those not present at Hajj:
“It atones for the sins of the preceding and coming year” (Muslim).
Scholars say the sins meant here may not include the enormities, or kabâ’ir, the cardinal sins. Yet God knows best.
The Day of ‘Arafah — for the Pilgrims and all the believers — is the best day for worship and supplication in the entire year because the Prophet, God’s blessings and peace upon him, said of it:
“On no day does Allah emancipate people from the Fire [of Hell in the Hereafter] as He does on ‘Arafah. Near does He draw to them [the Pilgrims upon ‘Arafah]. Then does He exalt [them] before His angels, saying:
‘And what do they seek?’ ” (Tirmidhî)
So, on the Day of ‘Arafah, God descends in the way that befits His Holiness to the heaven of the world and lauds before the Heavenly Community the resolute striving unto Him in humility of His human Pilgrims, saying:
“Come unto Me are My slaves, disheveled, from every faraway pass, longing for My mercy. Then [He says to the Pilgrims] be your sins like unto the grains of sand, the drops of rain, the foam on the sea, yet I forgive them! So go forth, My slaves, with all forgiveness, and for whatever and whomever you have pleaded” (graded Ḥasan by Al-Albânî).
What are some of the special virtues of the Day of ‘Arafah?
It is the day God perfected the religion of Islam.
It is the day God bestowed the completion of His divine favor upon the Muslims, and for humanity.
It is the day God said He chose and was pleased with Al-Islam — The Peace — as the religion of the believers unto the end of the world.
It is the day God revealed these three virtues of Islam to His Prophet, God’s blessing and peace upon him, as part of the Quran (Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:3).
It is the day of the Prophet’s Farewell Pilgrimage (Ḥajj Al-Wada‘) and his celebrated Farewell Address (Khutbah Al-Wadâ‘) to all the believers until the end of time, on him be peace, which took place on a Friday, the Muslim weekly communal day of Congregational Prayer (Jumu‘ah), during which the previously cited revelation came down.
It is the day the Prophet, on him be peace, bore witness three times before the believers and God that he had successfully completed the divine mission of His messengership: To convey God’s message of the Quran and Islam to humanity.
Are all the days of Hajj sacred?
Yes. God sanctifies Yawm Al-’Arafah — and the Days of Hajj surrounding it — by His sacred, divine oath in the first three verses (ayahs) of Sûrat Al-Fajr (89):
By the dawn, and the Ten Nights! By all that is even and all that is odd.
Of these verses, the Prophet, God’s blessings and peace upon him, said:
“The ‘10’ are the 10 days of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah. The ‘odd’ is the Day of ‘Arafah, and the ‘even’ is the Day of Eid [the 10th day of Hajj, Eid al-Aḍḥa, the Festival Day of Sacrifice (uḍḥiyah qurbani) that follows the Day of ‘Arafah]” (Aḥmad).
The learned Companion Ibn ‘Abbâs, God be pleased with him, narrates:
“The Messenger of Allah, God’s blessings and peace upon him, said: ‘On no days are righteous deeds more beloved to Allah than these days’ [of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah]” (Bukhârî).
Ibn Ḥajar, the great scholar and commentator on the statements of the Prophet, on him be peace, known as ḥadîth, said in his commentary on this prophetic statement that “only in these 10 days of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah may the believer engage in the performance of all the pillars of worship in Islam at the same time — Ritual Prayer (Ṣalât), Fasting (Ṣawm), Zakât (Obligatory Alms), and Hajj (Pilgrimage) [implicitly testifying that ‘There is no God but Allah’]. It is this that distinguishes them.”
What deeds should Muslims do in the 10 Days of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah?
While the Day of ‘Arafah is the holiest of these sacred days, and the Greater Hajj (Ḥajj Al-Akbar) and ‘Umrah (the Lesser Pilgrimage) its best acts, the first 10 days of Dhu’l-Hijjah are all exceedingly blessed. So believers should strive in them with specific acts of worship learned from the Prophet, on him be peace:
uḍḥiyah qurbani sacrifice : One of the best deeds to bring one closer to God is offering a sacrifice, choosing a high-quality animal, fattening it, and spending on it for the sake of God. Offer it here.
fasting: In addition to following the example of the Prophet, God’s blessings and peace upon him, in fasting ‘Arafah, the ninth day of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah, the believer should fast as much as he or she can of the eight days of Dhu’l-Ḥijjah that precede ‘Arafah.
remembrance of God (dhikr): It is the practice of the Prophet, on him be peace, in these days to say the remembrances of God in abundance and aloud — in the mosque, at home, on the street, and in all permitted places, especially:
takbîr — Allâhu Akbar, God is Great
taḥmîd — Alhamdulillah, All praise is for God
tahlîl — Lâ ilâha illa’Llâh, There is no God but Allah
tasbîḥ — Subḥân’Allâh, Glory be to Allah
increasing righteous deeds: God loves all good deeds and will generously reward them in these days.
sincere repentance: Repentance, heartfelt and humble, is the object of these holy days and Hajj, and it could not be more crucial — nor likely more accepted, successful and rewarded — than in this special season. This means turning to God and begging His forgiveness with true regret for past misdeeds repeatedly and with a commitment to give up one’s sins and abandon one’s transgressions permanently.
Why is this day called ‘Arafah?
‘Arafah, or ‘Arafât (literally: the Place of Meeting, or Knowing, or Fragrance) is a vast, open desert plain about 12 miles southeast of the Ka‘bah, which is in the city of Makkah. The Plain of ‘Arafah is marked by the prominence of Jabal ‘Arafah, the Mount of Meeting, also known as Jabal Al-Raḥmah, the Mount of Mercy. This is a granite hillock rising to a peak of about 230 feet.
The plain surrounding the Mount of Mercy hosts the millions of Pilgrims who embark from one of Hajj’s waymarks called Mina. They depart Mina after sunrise on the second day of Hajj to gather at ‘Arafah.
God names the place of ‘Arafât in the Quran and in the same verse cites the pilgrim celebrants’ completion of that day:
“Yet when you pour forth from ‘Arafât, then remember God much at the Sacred Waymark [of Muzdalifah]” (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:198).
The scholars record four unauthenticated accounts of the origin of the name ‘Arafah for this plain:
It marks the place of reunion on earth for Adam and Eve after their divine banishment from the Garden for eating of the forbidden tree. Both are said to have descended to Earth in different localities — according to some accounts, Adam in India and Eve in East Africa. They “met up” — ‘arafah — at a lone mountain in a vast plain. Thus, it and its surrounding plain became known as the Mount of ‘Arafah. Upon this holy site, Adam and Eve became "reacquainted with one another" — also a meaning of ‘arafah — after lengthy years of separation (some say two centuries).
‘Arafah is the nominalization of the verb ‘arafa, “he came to know.” It became the place name of the plain because of the Arch-Angel Gabriel’s questioning of the Prophet Abraham, on him be peace, on this site after Gabriel, on him be peace, had taught him each of the rituals of Hajj, asking Abraham after his instruction in his religious rites: “A‘raftah? Do you now know it?” and Abraham answering: “‘Araftuh. I now know it.”
It names the plain where Pilgrims get to know one another.
It is the holy site where the mercy of God descends during Hajj as if with its own "heavenly fragrance," another meaning of ‘arafah.