Muslims around the globe commemorate on Monday the Day of Arafat, considered the most important day of hajj during which pilgrims gather on the desert planes of Arafat, near Makkah, to pray to their Lord.
This year, officials said they expected around 1.5 million pilgrims to descend on the site of Mount Arafat for the occasion.
The day falls on the 9th of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, and is an integral part of the pilgrimage of hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam.
Hajj officially began on Sunday, on the 8th day of Dhul Hijjah, when pilgrims from all over the world began travelling from the holy city of Makkah to Mina, which is roughly eight kilometers away.
On Monday, after the dawn prayers in Mina, the pilgrims started their journey to Arafat, about 14 kilometers away.
Many Muslims believe that the Day of Arafat is a day when one’s sins can be forgiven. The Prophet Mohammed said: “It expiates the sins of the previous year and that of the following year,” Bilal Philips, founder of the Islamic Online University, told Al Arabiya News.
For the entire day, pilgrims are to spend hours in the vicinity of the mountain, praying and repenting.
“Arafat represents the essence of hajj,” Philips said.
“If one pilgrim misses Arafat, there is nothing you can do to repair your hajj. Arafat is so vital that missing it invalidates hajj altogether. So, from the perspective of those making hajj, it is the most important pillar,” he added.
It is highly recommended to those who are not performing hajj that they observe a fast on this day, according to Philips.
“For those who are not making hajj, it is a day on which [God] has given special rewards to those who fast. [It gives] the ability for those who fast sincerely to purify minor sins of the past year and the coming year.
“This is the most value-loaded day of fasting” throughout the whole Islamic year, Philips stated.
So, why is the Day of Arafat so special?
In a hadith, or saying of the prophet, collected by Persian Muslim scholar Mohammad al-Bukhari during the 9th century, Prophet Mohammad said: “There is no day on which Allah frees people from the Fire more so than on the Day of Arafat,” in reference to the fires of Hell.
Although pilgrims do interact during other rites of hajj, such as when they circumambulate the Ka’aba, “Arafat is the real gathering of Muslims during hajj,” said Ridwan al-Sayed, professor of Islamic studies at The Lebanese University in Beirut.
It was on this day that Prophet Mohammad gave his famous farewell speech, in 632 AD according to the Gregorian calendar, addressing around 114,000 pilgrims, Sayed told Al Arabiya News.
This is when the prophet revealed a verse of the Holy Qur’an stating that on the day of Arafah the Islamic religion had been completed, al-Sayed recalled.
Hajj, which officially ends on Friday, must be performed by every Muslim with the physical and financial means to do so, at least once in their lifetime.