Dhu’l-Hijjah: Honouring the Days of Abraham
The sacred month of dhu’l-hijjah (the last month in the Islamic calendar) is upon us, bringing with it all its virtues and blessings. It is the month of the pilgrimage or hajj, in which God has marked out, for pilgrims and non-pilgrims alike, some exceptionally blessed days. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, taught us the spiritual courtesy that believers should seek to nurture in themselves, in regards to such heavenly downpour; he informed: ‘Indeed your Lord has, in these days of your life, [divine] gifts, so present yourself to them.’1 Among the month’s blessings and lordly gifts that should be avidly sought are:
1. The Ten Best Days of the Year: The Prophet, peace be upon him, said about the first ten days of dhu’l-hijjah: ‘The best days in the world are the [first] ten days.’2 According to most of our Quranic exegists, it is by these very same days that God has taken the following oath: By the dawn and the ten nights. [89:1-2]3 The significance of these ten days lie in the fact that they are intimately connected with the Prophet Abraham and all that the rites of the pilgrimage he instated symbolise – in terms of the oneness and holiness of God, and the life lived in loving surrender to Him.
2. Rewards of Doing Good Deeds in These Days: Given that the first ten days of dhu’l-hijjah are the choicest and most virtuous of the entire year, it won’t come as a surprise that one hadith tells us: ‘There are no days in which deeds are more loved by God than these [ten] days.’4 Another hadith states: ‘There are no days greater with God, nor in which good deeds are more loved by Him, than these ten days. Therefore, increase in glorifying God (tasbih), praising Him (tamhid), declaring His unity (tahlil) and extolling His greatness (takbir).’5 Just as pilgrims discharge their duty by making the journey to Makkah, so as to give concrete expression to the aspiration that drives them to draw closer to God; so too can non-pilgrims express their yearning by honouring these days and increasing in acts of worship, reverence and remembrance.
3. Fasting the Day of ‘Arafah: The rites of the pilgrimage reveal that Abraham, peace be upon him, is a constant point of reference. It starts with the tawaf, the seven circuits of the Ka‘bah. This is followed by the sa‘y, a speedy walk between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa, commemorating the desperate search of Hagar, Abraham’s handmaiden, for water for her infant son Ishmael. Another rite occurs at Mina, where pilgrims cast pebbles at three stone pillars that symbolise Satan, whom Abraham had repudiated at these three places. It is on the open plain of ‘Arafah, however, that the culminating rite of hajj unfolds. Here, the pilgrim, ‘already focused on God by days of uninterrupted worship, have time to look deeply into one’s life. What have we done in the service of God and humanity? What recurrent weakness must we strive to combat? Whom have we wronged? What is holding us back from the purity which is the prerequisite of spiritual knowledge?’6 ‘Arafah, then, is the place of profound introspection, cleansing, petition and prayer.
For non-pilgrims, ‘Arafah (the 9th day of the month) is a highly recommended day of fasting. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was asked about fasting the day of ‘Arafah, to which he replied: ‘It expiates the sins of the previous year and the coming year.’7 Another hadith on the matter says: ‘There is no day in which God frees people from the Fire more so than on the day of ‘Arafah. He draws close to those [standing at ‘Arafah] and then revels to His angels, saying: What are these people seeking?’8
4. Offering the Sacrifice: The tenth day of the month is the Day of Sacrifice (yawm al-nahr) which, again, is a commemoration of the Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him. For it was he who, in devoted obedience to God’s command, was about to sacrifice his son (which according to the majority of Muslims scholars was Ishmael, not Isaac), for whom a ram was miraculously substituted at the very last moment: And when [his son] was old enough to walk with him, [Abraham] said: ‘O my son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. What think you?’ He said: ‘O my father! Do what you are commanded. God willing, you shall find me steadfast.’ Then when they had both surrendered to God, and he had turned him down upon his face, We called him: ‘O Abraham!’ You have fulfilled the vision. Thus do We reward those who are excellent.’ That indeed was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice. [37:102-7]
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The greatest day of the pilgrimage is the day of sacrifice.’9 The day of sacrifice (yawm al-nahr) is also called ‘id al-adha – “the Festivity of Sacrifice”. It is the day in which the head of the house slaughters a camel, cow, sheep or goat in commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice. Most scholars say that it is highly desirable to offer a sacrifice, if one has the means to do so. Another group of scholars holds it to be obligatory, based on the hadith: ‘Whoever can afford to offer a sacrifice, yet does not do so, then let him not approach our place of prayer.’10 There is also this injunction expressed in the following hadith: ‘When the ten days commence and one of you intends to sacrifice, let him not cut his hair or nails.’11
5. Extolling the Greatness of God: Starting from the day of ‘Arafah, up until the ‘asr prayer on the 13th, believers are urged to extol God’s greatness (takbir), with as fervent a passion as Abrahamic monotheists can muster. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘The soundest view about the takbir – which the majority of the salaf, jurists from the Companions, and leading imams were upon – is to commence proclaiming it from fajr on the day of ‘Arafah, till the last day of tashriq (the 13th day), after each prayer.’12 And although nothing authentic has been related from the Prophet, peace be upon him, in terms of how the takbir should be worded, it is authentically established from Ibn Mas‘ud that he would say: ‘God is great! God is great! None deserves to be worshiped except Him. God is great, God is great. To Him belongs all the praise (Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar la ilaha illa’Llah wa’Llahu akbar Allahu akbar wa lil’Lahi’l-hamd).’13
(This is an article I wrote for www.islamicate.co.uk reposted here with kind permission).
1. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, 19:234.
2. Al-Bazzar, no.1128; Ibn Hibban, no.3853. Al-Mundhari graded the chains to be hasan and sahih respectively in his al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2013), no.1150.
3. Cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1984), 9:103-4; al-Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 20:27.
4. Al-Bukhari, no.969.
5. Al-Tabarani, al-Kabir, 3:110, with a hasan chain, as per al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.1148.
6. Shalabi, Islam: Religion of Life (USA: Starlatch Press, 2001), 77.
7. Muslim, no.1162.
8. Muslim, no.1348.
9. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.1945. It was graded sahih by al-Albani, Irwa al-Ghalil (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), no.1101.
10. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3123, and it is sahih. Consult: Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.6490.
11. Muslim, no.1977.
12. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 24:220.
13. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf, 2:1:2; Hakim, Mustadrak, 1:300, with a sahih chain – as per al-Albani, Irwa al-Ghalil, 3:125, no.653.