Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
The day of Arafa
There is no blame on you for seeking bounty from your Lord. But when you depart from Arafa, remember God at the sacred landmark. And remember Him, as He has guided you, for indeed, you were before that among those astray. (Chapter 2: Verse 198)
Scholars have differed in regards to the origin of the name ‘Arafa’. In the Arabic language, ‘Arafa’ means to acknowledge, to recognize, or to learn. Sometimes an adjective or a description becomes a name for a place or person; on other occasions, a name is used in hopes of changing a place or a person. For example, a father who hopes for his newborn daughter to grow up to be a lady may name her ‘Grace.’ A couple wanting their newborn son to grow up to be honest and trustworthy may call him ‘Frank’ and so on. These names are not actual descriptions of the children, but aspirations.
The word ‘Arafa’ is now a name for the place where pilgrims stand to seek God’s mercy. It is important to note that ‘Arafa’ –also known as Arafat- does not only refer to Mount Arafa; it also includes the valley and the area surrounding it. Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him- said: “The Hajj pilgrimage is Arafa.” Some people have the misconception that if they do not climb the mountain called ‘Mount of Mercy’ which is in Arafa then their Hajj is incomplete. We answer that standing in Arafa includes the mountain and a large area of the valley around it. The mountain is only a part of the entire area of Arafa.
There is a difference of opinion as to why it has this name. Some scholars say: it is named ‘Arafa’ because Adam descended to earth in one place, while Eve descended in another. They both kept searching for each other until they met at this location. People have questioned the reason behind separating Adam and Eve from each other after they were created as a couple. You can imagine the state of Adam who was sent alone into a vast universe unknown to him, he looks around but finds no one like him. Would he not long for a companion to bond with? Imagine his happiness when he met up with Eve. God Almighty caused them to part so they would appreciate and acknowledge the desire, affection, and intimacy that men and women can now share.
Another opinion regarding the name ‘Arafa’ is related to the Angles coming to Adam and Eve in that location and asking them to reflect on their sin and repent to the Lord. God says:
They said: "O our Lord, we have wronged ourselves. If You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we shall certainly be lost." (07:23)
So it is claimed that at that location, Adam and Eve (peace be upon them) recognized their mistake and learned to repent.
Yet another opinion regarding the name ‘Arafa’ comes from the incident when God wanted to put Abraham’s faith to the test. Abraham saw himself in a dream sacrificing his son Ishmael. That dream presented a very difficult test for Abraham from three aspects: first, the vision of sacrifice was a dream, not a revelation. Second: He saw himself sacrificing Ishmael –his only son at the time-. And lastly, it was Abraham himself who was slaughtering his own son. It was surely a difficult matter for Abraham –peace be upon him-, and many thoughts must have rushed through his mind. Was it a vision or something else? Abraham knew that the dreams of prophets were true visions, and the place where he acknowledged the dream as God’s command is now called ‘Arafa.’ Moreover, such a difficult test presented an excellent opportunity for satan to distance Abraham from the Lord. So when satan came to Abraham in a man’s form and tried to talk him out of God’s command, Abraham stoned him away with seven pebbles. Satan returned for a second attempt. Abraham did the same. Then satan tried a third time, and Abraham stoned him again and chased him away. Abraham ran from the place fearing another confrontation. The place where Abraham retreated to is now called ‘Muzdalifa.’ The word ‘Muzdalif’ in the Arabic language is used to describe a person who rushes away.
Some scholars are of the opinion that ‘Arafa’ is the place where the Archangel Gabriel taught Abraham –peace be upon him- the rituals of worship. Gabriel would then ask: Did you learn this? To which Abraham would reply: I learned –‘Araftu’ in Arabic-.
Perhaps, most importantly, Arafa is the place where Muslims come to meet their Lord during in prayer and supplication while performing one of the pillars of Islam. It is a place and a time to seek God’s vast mercy and get closer to the Lord in supplication. The day of Arafa is the day when pilgrims are granted pardon from hellfire. Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him- said: There is no day in which more people are pardoned from Hellfire than the Day of Arafat. God is close to the pilgrims on that day. He boasts before the angels and says: ‘Look at my servants; they made it here from all places, scruffy and tired, seeking my mercy. I want you to bear witness that I have forgiven them.’ The Angels would say: ‘Our Lord, among them is so and so who has overburdened himself with sin.’ Allah answers: ‘I have forgiven them.’