Jun 28, 2001

Ascension to Heaven and Coming Back to Earth!

  • From a Friday Speech of Master Ali Rafea (Dhi el Hijja 9th, 1419 HC/March 26th, 1999)
  • Translated and Prepared for publishing by: Aisha Rafea
On the honorable day of Arafat;1 the day of ascent to God's Call; the day of forgiveness, we reflect upon the great occasion to be able to read God's message to us. We need to ponder upon (the Prophet's saying:) Pilgrimage "Hajj" is Arafat.2 The ritual of staying for some holy time on mount Arafat (during Hajj) is rich with meanings and symbols. Alas people as usual have turned them into lifeless images and rigid forms. They think that their mere staying on mount Arafat physically would make them in conformity with some Prophetic Hadiths that assert that anyone who performs pilgrimage, or even him who celebrates the holy day by fasting (if he was not a pilgrim), would be totally freed from his trespasses. Actually, the Prophetic Hadiths, we assume, point to those who discern the meaning of Arafat truly, live it fully, and their fasting stems from the genuine meaning they have nurtured deep within.

Arafat, in essence is a symbol of spiritual ascension, loftiness and knowledge. The ritual of Arafat is performed following the accomplishment of some other holy practices, where the pilgrim had gone through a sanctified state Ihram,3 complied to God's Call Talbaya4 and circumambulated the House of God Tawaf.5 Now he has been transformed into a more elevated and purer person. He is more qualified for complying with God's invitation to him to ascend and to evolve. It is the ultimate hope of man -during his earthly journey- to prepare himself for spiritual loftiness and ascension, rising above whatever is lowly or mean. He fulfills it when he answers God's Call to him.
Man can attain ascension within an Eternal Law; the Law that caused the existence of those who are (spiritually) lower, and others who are more elevated. He who makes himself ready for receiving the Mercy of God, the Grace of God, the Invocation of God, and the Secret of God, God supports him and takes his hands towards elevation and loftiness. He who degenerates, forgets about his (spiritually exalted) mission and does not prepare himself (for elevation), would naturally go downward and become lower and lower ceaselessly.
We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,
Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low,
Except such as believe and do righteous deeds:
for they shall have a reward unfailing. (HQ: 95: 4-6)
By (the Token of) Time (through the Ages),
Verily Man is in loss,
Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
(HQ: 103: 1-3)
That Day (of Arafat) is an expression of those meanings (implied in the above mentioned verses). When man responds to the Call of Allah he realizes the highest of the high spiritual stages. This is the ultimate objective of Hajj; that you go that upward in order that you might be supplied with spiritual power and support. It is for this reason that the prophet said Pilgrimage "Hajj" is Arafat.
Now that you have been supplied with such a spiritual power and realized such a lofty spiritual state, you are to go down once again to the worldly life supplied by spiritual supply that would make you more capable of confronting the darkness; the devil within and around you. You are to come back to stone Satan. This (ritual of stoning Arrajm6) is a symbol of your discernment of your truth and your deeper and more sublime mission. It has become possible for you to fulfill it, thanks to the spiritual power that you attained (by going high to Arafat). Here, then, starts the journey back to the normal worldly life where that spiritual endowment would make you continue life righteously. You have become qualified for going on the Straight Way and the righteous Path.
That awareness is supposed to be lived fully. If the ritual of Hajj does not lead you to inner awakening, you have not accomplished Hajj in its authentic meaning actually. Your Hajj was a mere external action and (by repeating the movements up) you are yourself like a reproduction of a picture, that is transferred to people through successive generations, not more. They might reflect upon the picture on receiving it, and get something of its deeper and authentic meanings, but you yourself have attained nothing.
This is the way we try to reflect upon ourselves, review our attitudes and contemplate our Religion, to remind ourselves that it is not a matter of images and forms. It is an issue of true experience, where such holy meanings and symbols turn into living truths within us, reflected in our life and manners suluk. When we live those meanings of Hajj truly, the Hadiths that say that Pilgrimage leads to the erasing of all one's sins, and saves a person from Hell absolutely, would apply to us perfectly. Such Hadiths point to those who have turned fully into righteous persons. But, alas, we (many Muslims) handle them as mere literal words, and mistakenly think that the honorable sayings apply to the mere superficial actions. As such, we are not honest enough and we are not aware of the authentic meanings of Religion, verses of Qur'an or Prophetic Hadith. It is very possible that a person had not the chance to go to the mount of Arafat physically, but he is spiritually there daily. It is very likely also that a person performs the ritual of Pilgrimage every year physically, but really he has not realized what Arafat means, nor experienced Arafat spiritually.
We need to think of our Religion in a wise way and think more highly of the embedded meanings. Realizing them needs insight and meditation. The superficial and literal reading does not do.
We pray to God to be worthy of this great Religion; to be among those who read the Day of Arafat truthfully, are in accordance with its meaning. We pray to be among those who answer the invitation of God, seek His Face, appreciate His Mercy and pray for His forgiveness.
To sum up, you (Servants of God) need to reflect upon the teachings of your Religion, and think insightfully of the rituals and practices, so that you might read the implicit messages deep within. The ritual of Arafat, (for instance), is very rich with meanings. It implies a direction towards loftiness; compliance with God's Call; ascension; knowledge; enjoying forgiveness; and provision with spiritual power. It implies many things, of which we have touched upon very few, that would teach us that Arafat is the peak of Hajj. The ultimate goal that a pilgrim means to realize is to be supplied with a great spiritual power that would allow him to come back to temporal life after being transformed into a better being and a more righteous one. After true Hajj, he is more like a newly born existence that would continue his earthly life with a new spirit and a regenerated attitude. As such he would gain real life, fulfil his mission and realize his ultimate goal of life.
O Servants of God! It is the hope of all of us that while we are here on Earth we be able to realize that spiritual stage, so that our whole life would be transformed. All our actions would make us attain and develop in Allah and come closer and closer to Him. It is quite possible to fulfill it if we had this meaning (of Arafat) so deep within, made it our focus in life, and directed ourselves to Allah sincerely on that honorable day. Our prayers to Him would be to get us transformed and supported over our lower selves so that we might be good Servants of Allah and true travelers in His Path.
  1. Arafat is a name of a mountain and adjacent plain where the Muslim pilgrims spend the 9th day of Zulhjja (the last month of the Arab Calendar). It is a core ritual of the Islamic Hajj. The mountain is located four hours' distance from Mecca. Arafat is a name that is derived from the Arabic root arafa, which means "to Know". From the root arafa, many related words are derived such as Erfan, and Ma’rifa, which all mean: truthful knowledge.
  2.  Narrated by Al Hakim. Also Abu Dawoud, Nisa’I and Tirmidhi narrated it as such: Hajj, Hajj is on the Day of Arafat.
  3.  Ihram is a ritual that a pilgrim starts the holy journey with. S/he expresses her/his “intention” for surrendering fully to Allah by quiting all worldly activities, and wearing the kind of clothes that symbolize that s/he is no longer attached to Earth. (t.n.)
  4.  The litany chanting Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk (Oh God, I respond to Your Call fully). It is a pilgrim’s expression that he is responding with his whole existence to the Call of God. (t.n.)
  5.  Tawaf is one of the rituals of Hajj where a pilgrim circumambulates the House of God seven times. It is a symbol of her/his awareness that Allah is the Centre of his life, and that he realizes that all life is there for a human being to know God and come close to Him. (t.n)
  6.  Arrajm is one of the rituals of Hajj where pilgrims stone a symbolic body of Satan as an expression of man’s will to reject the evil in him and around. (t.n.)