The Arba’een, a pilgrimage observed by the Shia Muslim community, concluded in Iraq’s Karbala on Wednesday. The day-long religious observance – in which approximately 2.5 crore people from around the world participated this year – had earlier been banned for nearly 35 years during the rule of the late former Iraqi Saddam Hussein, who favoured the Sunni sect.
Over one lakh Shia Muslims from India had travelled to Karbala for Arbaeen, which means ‘forty’ and signifies the forty-day mourning period to be observed after someone’s death.
In the Shia tradition, a revolutionary leader Hussein ibn Ali – known to Shiites as Imam Hussein – was killed by soldiers loyal to Yazid, a tyrannical and corrupt ruler, in a battle in Karbala in the seventh century. Yazid killed Imam Hussein and imprisoned his family.
It is said Imam Hussain had only 72 soldiers with him but he still fought bravely against the tyrant Yazid’s army, which numbered over one lakh. During the battle both his brother and he were killed, as was his son, who was just six months old.
Imam Hussein’s sacrifice has been honoured every year with crores of devout Shia Muslims from around the world travelling to Iraq to mourn for their fallen leader. The shrine to Imam Hussein, which is also his burial site, is the Hazrat Imam Hussain Dargah in Karbala.
The pilgrimage route is via Najaf in central Iraq, which is around 160 km from capital Baghdad and 75 km from Karbala. Pilgrims reach the shrine by walking from Najaf. This can be difficult as day-time temperatures cross 45 degree Celsius and the journey can take three days.
The harmony, love and hospitality offered by the locals during this long march is heartwarming as no pilgrim experiences any problem en route. Camps are set up along the way that take care of everything from food and drink to medical care and other essentials.
Every house on the pilgrimage route maintains an open-door policy and even the Government of Iran opens its treasury to help support pilgrims. Indeed, many see Iran and Iraq working together as one of the biggest reasons for the success of the Arba’een Yatra.
The pilgrimage is also important because Iraq suffered a violent civil war for nearly two decades, leaving it battered and broken and, in such a situation, the fact pilgrims can reach the country and mourn their spiritual leader, is seen as a positive message to the world.
This year, not only did more than one lakh Shia Muslims take part from India, they were also seen carrying the Indian flag at times. For their convenience arrangements were made for food and drink and special tents were set up at places, in which Indian food was provided.