Mecca. Arafat is the essence of the hajj pilgrimage. Hajj is Arafat.
The pause in Arafat, the stance, the presentation of the millions of people standing under the scorching sun in their shroud-like ihrams – the garment worn by both men and women while performing hajj – is a state like no other in the world. And, as a matter of fact, this representation is not just for show. Volumes of books can be philosophized, literature can be written and heaps of scientific analyses can be made simply on the representation of the millions of people who every year come running to the call they receive without any aim of showing off. If hajj was performed to put on such a façade, it would not be possible to gather so many people from around the world at such a place; they would not take the trouble or make the efforts for those representations. This portrayal that started with Prophet Abraham takes place every year, at least since the conquest of Mecca, without any disruption, with the same acts of worship, the same enthusiasm and ease.
In this scene, each individual, appears to have two opposite roles; they are the leading role of their representation and they also leave their ego, their body behind and grasp the fact they are indeed nothing. Here, everybody is taken as primary interlocutor by the creator, the Almighty God. Everybody is first-class. Everybody is God’s caliph. Each and every individual is in a direct agreement with God, the Lord of the cosmos as “one,” “to be the first of Muslims,” even if there is nobody left. Every individual feels the entire burden of the agreement with God in their very being. The individual quality of being in direct with contact with God, without any mediators, rises to the highest level.
Here, everybody is important enough to be responsible party of the agreement with God, to have free will. Each person individually carries the entire responsibility of the agreement. There is no room here for certain people to mediate, to act as a commissioner and present themselves as closer to God. Everything is in the open, bright and clear. Tawhid, the singularity of God, is apparent in every individual’s conscience, mind, identity and personality. In this environment, there is no need for anybody to mediate for the other.
God is closer to us than our jugular vein, we know this. At Arafat, we become aware that as humans, we are very close to that exalted being, to God, who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. When we want to pray, we will ask from Him alone. Nobody is closer to us than he is, nobody is more merciful to us than He is, and nobody is more compassionate and familiar to us than He is.
Meanwhile, another aspect of this role we represent, that is thoroughly displayed in ihram, is our insignificance compared to God. If hajj is Arafat, than ihram is the indispensable costume of Arafat. In that costume, the actor who is important enough to be a party to God, aware of their responsibility as an individual, rises above their entire being. Ihram is not a uniform that has been deemed obligatory to ensure that everybody wears a single-type outfit in discipline. Essentially, it is not an outfit either. It is a level that eliminates all the personal differences we have acquired in life. We have all come from God, all equal, like the teeth of a comb.
When we are born, we have no quality distinguishing us from the others. But in time, we put between us differences such as our races, classes, tribes, ages, genders, geographical and historical roots, our lineage, the culture we acquire in the world, our languages, sects and professions. The more these discrepancies distanced us from one another, the more they distanced us from our creator, God. In Arafat, we recognize and get to know God again and, rediscover those He created with us and become close enough with them to eradicate all distances.
Ihram is the most ideal and spectacular costume for this rapport, for this sacrifice. Ihram is not a costume alone, it is also a state of alertness that deems obligatory a series of behaviors. While wearing ihram, you are required to display a different compassion, altruism and closeness toward others which God created as our equals. You will never utter a bad word toward others or commit an evil action. Even when you're faced by a situation where you're insulted or mistreated, you would not react in the same manner – it is highly likely that you will come face to face with such a situation, because the devils will not stand idle in this square; throughout the journey in the Aqaba valley they will try to turn you from your path, to make you deviate, to nullify this representation. You will contain your anger. You will not shed blood while wearing the ihram, harm animals or even insects; as a matter of fact, you will not even pull out the dry weeds. What’s more, you will not harm yourself, let alone someone else.
“Not harming oneself” is actually one of the matters that best represent the deep philosophy underlying ihram. Through this occasion the exalted God re-establishes our knowledge through our behavior toward others, it repeats it over and over again relevant to the purpose of creation, returns it and hence, presents us with a brand new page, a clean slate, and teaches us through an amazing role that our bodies do not belong to us either.
In short, He says: This body does not belong to you, therefore you do not have free reign over it. In this scene where you are reminded of life, your position, the position of God and all other creations in life, you cannot even pull out your own hair, cut your nails; you will gain the right to cut your hair only when you successfully complete these acts.
Hence, Arafat becomes the place where we once again know and realize our positions between the personal state that reaches its peak of being God’s caliph and the fact that we are nothing compared to God.
This is the place where God wishes to see us in our normal life. We frequently lose this place amid the troubles of life. Every year, through His mercy, God reorganizes this place and gives it back to us; He returns which we have disordered in a clean state. That is why Eid is a return, a restoration, a feast.