Hajj is a religious pilgrimage during which Muslims from around the globe travel to Makkah, Saudi Arabia. During the Hajj, memories of the beginning of humanity are evoked. Muslims gather on the planes of Arafat, where they believe Prophet Adam, the first man to walk the Earth, and his wife Eve first met. Muslims retrace the footsteps of not only the Prophet Muhammad (saw) but also Prophet Abraham (as) who is revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. The rites of Hajj therefore predate Islam, as they originate from Abraham, whose inspirational story can be found in the Bible as well as in the Glorious Qur’an.
For Muslims on the Hajj, the Yaum (in Arabic meaning ‘day’) of Arafat is the most important day of the entire pilgrimage. Without the observance of the rites of the Day of Arafat, Hajj is not complete. This year, the Day of Arafat falls on the same day as Yom Kippur. For Jews, Yom Kippur is the most important time of the year, where time is set aside in the Jewish calendar for atonement for one’s sins and reflection on the preceding year as well as the year ahead. This dates back to the time of Moses as stated in Leviticus 23:26-32.
Yom Kippur is a time for repentance. Repentance is precisely what Muslims will be doing on the Day of Arafat. The Hajj pilgrims will stand in plain of Arafat, under the clear desert sky, beseeching God for His forgiveness, atoning for their sins and misdeeds and soothing mercy. The experience at Arafat is about wiping clean the past transgressions and having a new life, free of past sins. Muslims across the globe will also be repenting and seeking forgiveness because, like Yom Kippur, Yaum ul Arafat is the holiest day of the year for Muslims.
Many Jews choose to follow a tradition of wearing white clothing on Yom Kippur, symbolizing purity and the promise that sins that are repented for shall be made white as snow. During the Hajj, irrespective of background and social class, Muslim men cover themselves in the prescribed two plain pieces of white cloth which they are required to wear for the event in a symbol of uniformity and equality.
Many Jews fast for almost 26 hours for Yom Kippur. Muslims, who are not on the Hajj, are encouraged to fast the day of Arafat, in solidarity with their co-religionists in the plain of Arafat, so that they can attain atonement. Fasting on Yaum ul Arafat expiates for the sins of the past and coming year. A man came to the Prophet Muhammad and asked: “O Messenger of Allah, what do you think of fasting on the day of Arafat?” He said: “It expiates for the sins of the previous year and of the coming year” [Muslim]. Fasting is a catalyst for spiritual work and community transformation, in both traditions.
Many Jewish families hold a festive meal with relatives and friends to break the fast. The day after the Arafat, Muslims will celebrate Eid-ul-Adha and have a festive meal with relatives and friends
As can be seen by the traditions of Yom Kippur and Yaum ul Arafah, both communities are remarkably similar. Both communities worship the same God and honour the Prophet Abraham (as). Muslims perform many rituals during the pilgrimage to honor the patriarch Abraham, the very same patriarch the Jews honour and revere.
Muslim-Jewish relations are an increasing challenge in today’s world. There is a culture of fear that can only be mitigated by relationships and cooperation. Anger, political violence and mistrust have divided Jews and Muslims for too long. The suspicions between the groups have coloured their relations for much of their shared history.
A geo-political and territorial conflict – the Israel and Palestine conflict- has strained relationships between Muslims and Jews for decades. For both communities, this political conflict is deep-rooted and cannot be ignored, but we have no control over political and military outcomes. The political and emotional conversations should not be allowed to result in prejudice hatred of the ‘the other’ and violence. Muslims and Jews in Europe must not see each other only through the lens of the Israel and Palestine conflict.
In Britain, many of the issues and challenges faced by Muslims, Jews and minority faith groups are similar. To give an example, on Yom Kippur, I am speaking at a synagogue in Alyth, alongside Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, on the topic of bringing up Teenagers in the Jewish and Muslim communities. These are many other incredibly powerful and visible initiatives of solidarity that are pioneered by both Muslims and Jews.
Muslims and Jews can only overcome challenges through solidarity and mutual cooperation. For mutual cooperation to prevail over mutual hatred, education, not legislation is needed. On both sides, the urge to live and let live peacefully must prevail over any other sentiments.
On this Yom Kippur and Yaum ul Arafah, I hope and pray that with compassion and co-operation, we may defeat the climate of suspicion and mistrust.
By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds