|Scenes from Arafah, as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims begin their journey [Fatima Asmal-Motala/Al Jazeera]|
The five days of Hajj – the annual Muslim pilgrimage – begun on Friday, November 5, with some 2.5 million pilgrims making their way to the valley of Mina near Mecca, where they spent the night in prayer.
But it is Saturday, Yawmul Arafah [the Day of Arafah], which will likely have featured most strongly in their minds.
While most of the Muslim world will spend this day preparing for Eid al Adha, pilgrims from around the world will take to the plains of Arafah, some 14km away from Mina, to supplicate fervently, prayerfully petitioning in a rite of Hajj named the wuqoof [literally: “standing”], without which the pilgrimage is considered invalid.
|Abbas Abdul Karim from Ghana prepares himself for the five days of Hajj [Fatima Asmal-Motala/Al Jazeera]|
The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that the “best supplication is the supplication on the Day of Arafah”, and most pilgrims eagerly anticipate the occasion.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Nasser al-Shawafi, a news presenter from Yemen, told Al Jazeera. “We’ll see three million people from all over the world, standing there, regardless of colour and tongue, they’ll be supplicating – it’s the biggest gathering in the world.”
“Usually you ask God for forgiveness for yourself and your family,” he adds. “I’ll also be praying for there to be a good relationship between myself and my family at all times.”
But there will also be another dimension to al-Shawafi’s prayers, one which he says will feature strongly in the supplications of all Yemeni pilgrims. “Whenever any pilgrim travels to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, people ask him: ‘Please pray for our country, for safety and security, pray for Allah to spare our country any further escalation of violence and more bloodshed.’ So many people told me this. I think the hardship the country is passing through obligates you to pray for the country. I’m going to pray to Allah to protect our country.”
Al-Shawafi also pledged to pray on behalf of friends and family members who specifically asked him to mention them by name on the plains of Arafah.
Prayers for protesters
Tasleem Shaik, a 39-year-old from Durban, South Africa, said she had also been inundated with requests for prayers – from women who had experienced miscarriages, students who preparing for examinations and people looking for marriage partners. “I will make dua [the invocation of the petitioning prayer] for them all,” she says.
“I really have goose bumps,” she adds. “But I’m looking forward to being on the plains of Arafah with the rest of the Hujjaj [pilgrims].”
|Tasleem Shaik and her husband near the South African camp in Mina [Fatima Asmal-Motala/Al Jazeera]|
“I will be crying out for forgiveness. I am so grateful for being one of the chosen ones, so I’ll be thanking Allah a lot. I will make dua for all Muslims – that the Almighty gives them all the opportunity to come for Hajj one day. And I will definitely be making dua for my kids who are writing examinations and for my son to memorise the Quran and that my family and I live long lives filled with happiness.”
For Abass Abdul Karim, an imam at the National Police Mosque in Accra, Ghana, health will feature prominently in prayers on the plains of Arafah.
“I have a heart ailment and thus far, medication hasn’t helped me. It is my wish that through drinking water from the Zam Zam well and supplicating on Arafah, Allah heals me of this.”
Karim says he will also pray for his family and country. “I’ll pray that Allah should soften the hearts of leaders to utilise the resources of the country very well for equitable distribution so that it also reaches the poor and needy.”
“It’s a great day, a day of forgiveness in which God accepts supplications,” said Fatima Abusafwa, a 57-year-old grandmother from Gaza.
And what will she be asking for on this “great day”?
“I want Allah to grant us victory over the Israelis and I will be asking for freedom for Palestine and for the nations under the yolk of tyranny.”
Follow Fatima’s pilgrimage on Twitter: @fatimaasmal