When the pilgrims finish their day at Arafat and begin their return journey, they move to Muzdalifah where they stay all night until they have prayed Fajr. In the meantime, they pick up 49 or 70 pebbles to perform the stoning duty on the next three or four days at Mina. Some people wonder whether all pilgrims should visit Muzdalifah to collect these pebbles and sleep in the open air? Could not the pebbles be brought from further afield, say, from one’s own country? Does not their stay at Muzdalifah increase the traffic congestion?
Some readers wrote to me about this aspect of the pilgrimage and wondered whether the Prophet (peace be upon him) stopped at Muzdalifah to pick up the pebbles there because it was convenient for him to do so in the particular circumstances of his own travel. The answer is that this was not the case. Stopping at Muzdalifah is an essential part of the pilgrimage. It obeys a clear order in the Qur’an: “When you surge downward from Arafat, remember God at Al-Mashaar Al-Haram. Remember Him who has given you guidance. Before this you were certainly in error.” (2: 198) Al-Mashaar Al-Haram is Muzdalifah, as clearly indicated by the Prophet both verbally and by his action. We do not stop at Muzdalifah only to collect the pebbles, as some pilgrims think. The pebbles used to stone at the Jamrahs may alternatively be picked up at Mina or a nearby place. However, from the practical point of view, they are easier to pick up at Muzdalifah. Pebbles are not easy to find in Mina because its space is taken up by the pilgrims’ tents. What we do at Muzdalifah includes offering Maghrib and Isha prayers, sleeping so as to have some rest after a tiring day at Arafat, offering Fajr prayer and supplicating for a long while afterward. We then move on shortly before sunrise.
It is important to realize this. A pilgrim who stays at Arafat for a couple of hours after sunset does not offer the Maghrib and Isha prayers there. He should wait until he has reached Muzdalifah. Only if he is delayed for a long while and he fears to miss these prayers can he offer them before reaching Muzdalifah. When one of the Prophet’s companions wanted to offer these prayers at Arafat, the Prophet told him: ‘These prayers should be offered further on.’ It was not just a coincidence. Rather, it was in fulfillment of the order mentioned in the above-quoted Qur’anic verse.
If we follow the Prophet’s example, which we should always do, we also offer the Fajr, or dawn, prayer there and follow that with a session of glorification of God and supplication for 20-30 minutes. We then continue our journey, starting a short while before sunrise. All this means that we sleep in the open air. Since we are used to sleeping in doors, we find this strange. It is not. Moreover, it is very relaxing after such a tiring journey.
Spending the night at Muzdalifah is a duty of pilgrimage which can only be compensated for, if omitted, by the slaughter of a sheep in the Haram area and distributing its meat to the poor.
Can it be made easier? The Prophet allowed elderly people, women and people who provide services for the pilgrims to move early. Therefore, anyone who feels it easier to leave early may do so, provided that they stay in Muzdalifah at least until after midnight. Thus, they offer the Maghrib and Isha prayers, pick up their pebbles and glorify God until midnight, then they move on to Mina and pray Fajr there. It is much preferable, however, to stay until the morning, if one can do so without much difficulty.