In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
This article was published on Beliefnet. Eid Mubarak to everyone.
This year’s New Year holiday will be truly unique for me. As most of my fellow Americans will be preparing for the festivities, many Muslims (including myself) will be abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours. And it won’t be part of an effort to lose weight in 2007. Rather, it will be in honor of this year’s Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha, or the “Feast of the Sacrifice,” which is the second major religious holiday for Muslims.
Eid-ul-Adha (which will most likely fall on Dec. 31, 2006) commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his only son for the sake of God. To honor Abraham’s sacrificing of an animal instead, Muslims will sacrifice an animal and distribute its meat in thirds: To friends and family, to themselves, and to the poor.
Eid-ul-Adha falls on the tenth day of the last month of the Islamic calendar, Dhul Hijjah, and it is the culmination of the annual Hajj ritual, where more than 2 million Muslim faithful descend on the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings to perform the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.
The day before the Eid is the day of Arafat, where the pilgrims stand on the plains of Arafat. It is believed Adam and Eve were reunited in Arafat after being expelled from the Garden of Paradise and begged for forgiveness from God. The day of Arafat is the most important part of the entire Hajj. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was reported to have said, “The essence of the Hajj is the day of Arafat.” In solidarity with their brothers and sisters who are blessed to perform the pilgrimage, all Muslims are encouraged to fast on the day of Arafat.
The day of Arafat this year will most likely to be on Dec. 30th this year. At this time, people typically reflect over the past year and its events. Many look back on their weaknesses and shortcomings and resolve to be better the following year. Some of these New Year resolutions include losing weight, spending more time with family, and doing more charity work. This self-reflection is a good thing, and I believe we should undergo such a process much more than once a year.
With this in mind, it is fitting that Islam’s day of Arafat occurs coincides with the start of the New Year (as is celebrated by many around the world). On the plains of Arafat, everything is laid bare before the Almighty. The day is short on rituals: Pilgrims simply stand before God in a “dress rehearsal” of the Day of Judgment, and they beg–sometimes literally scream out to–the Lord to forgive their trespasses, admit them into His Grace, and fulfill their deepest prayers.
On that day, not only do pilgrims (and the Muslims all over) reflect over faults and mistakes committed over the past year–as we typically do on the New Year holiday– but we also reflect over all the mistakes made during our entire lifetime. It can be an overwhelming experience.
I performed my pilgrimage to Mecca almost four years ago, and I still remember Arafat as if were yesterday. There I stood–bringing all my weaknesses, biases, prejudices, wrongs, mistakes, and shortcomings–and laid everything bare before the Lord. I felt a tremendous amount of shame when I realized how much He had given me and how much I had betrayed Him by my sins and mistakes.
Yet, there was nothing for me to say to Him except: “Here I am, O Lord, at Your service. There is nothing that I can say to account for all the wrong that I have committed against You. Please, Lord, please! Don’t turn me away from Your door. If You turn me away, there is no where left for me to go. My Lord God, I am so sorry!”
I was overwhelmed by the most intense emotion I have ever felt in my life. I still get tremendously emotional each and every time I think about my day on Arafat. It was the best day of the Hajj for me. The best thing was that after the sun set on that day, all my sins were wiped clean God. In fact, the first sin I probably committed after sunset that day was to think that God perhaps had not forgiven me. It is truly an amazing day.
There must be a lesson to learn from the experience of the pilgrims at Arafat. In my mind, nothing can compare to the intense power of actually being on the plain of Arafat during the Hajj and standing before God in utmost humility. But we can try and recreate this feeling, whether we’re Muslim or not, to help us find a better spiritual path in life.
I think each and every one of us should have a “mini-Arafat” every day to reflect over what we have done the day before and ask God for forgiveness. More importantly, we should commit ourselves during our “mini-Arafats” to not do the same mistakes again. That way, with the passing of each day, we can become better people.
The same should be true with the New Year. Ideally, we should resolve to be better each and every day, not just once a year. We should all have “New Day resolutions,” rather than “New Year resolutions.” That way each of us will be in a constant state of renewal and rebirth. The Qur’an states: “Verily God will not change the condition of a people until they change their inner selves (13:11).” There is much in our world that needs changing for the better. But that change will never occur until each of us strives to make ourselves better.
Now you may be cynically wondering: “What effect will one person make with self-reflection?” Very little. Our individual change, in fact, may only be a drop in the bucket. But the more that people resolved to change, the more drops we’ll have in our collective bucket–and soon we will have enough clean water to fill an entire ocean. We can do better, and it must begin with each and every one of us on a small-scale, daily basis.