Arbaeen pilgrims of Iraq are yearning for the opening of the gates to the country to participate in the journey. Baghdad, however, put a number limit for travelers for a second year.
Arbaeen is a live emblem of the Shia’s ascent to prominence and a momentous event in the Middle East. The religious practice which attracts dozens of millions from across the world revived in the past decade.
Numerous modern Shiite martyrs have been slain by the former dictator Saddam Hussein and new extremist groups like al-Qaeda, and ISIS. The Arbaeen, nevertheless, aim is to commemorate the sacrifice of Muslim leader Imam Hussein who was killed in Karbala around 14 centuries ago.
The long traditional journey to Karbala begins gays before the fortieth day after Ashura, when Hossien was killed. Approaching Arbaeen day, religious enthusiasm among the devout reaches its pinnacle. Some pilgrims walk for more than 10 days the route from Basra, while others, usually of older ages, take the three-day journey from Najaf on foot.
During the days before and after Arbaeen, the streets of Shiite cities across Iraq are deserted as the residents take to the highways to join other pilgrims. It is an intricately organized and properly secured public gathering unlike anything of similar essence in the world. The exact number of people who attended the journey varies around 20 million people. Iran issued more than three million visas for Arbaeen pilgrims in 2019.
Since last year, with the outbreak of Covid-19, the number of people who attended the ritual has cut to tens of thousands. Iraq welcomed only 1,500 pilgrims from any foreign country in 2020. In the current year, the number rose to 40,000 in total for foreign pilgrims. Iranians have the majority with 30,000 pilgrims, amounting to 1% of Iranian attendees in 2019.
Arbaeen in the New Age
Religions are famous for their sacred martyrs, but as with the Muslim Shiite, martyrs don’t only date back to centuries ago. All along the way from Najaf to Karbala, numerous light poles feature the photos of warriors or civilians slain by ISIS or other terrorist groups. Other paths to Karbala follow a similar pattern.
It seems that Muslims attempt to celebrate the contemporary parallels of the ideals, with formulas from hundreds of years ago. The religious ritual, in fact, is no only a mourning ceremony but has turned into a contemporary human catharsis.
The Shiite clergy leaders constantly emphasize that the journey is devoted to peace and human relief. The tone of the journey contains great devotion and communal unity. When queried about the effect of defeating ISIS on the pilgrimage, Shiite clergy stressed on the betterment of enthusiasm and self-confidence.
Flags with various colors are carried by the pilgrims, while the black, indicating the grief was more prevalent. They adorn substantial brownstones and mobile shelters used for worshiping, dining, and resting. All the main roads to Karbala are loaded with such tents.
Arbaeen pilgrimage was a traditional religious ritual in Iraq long diminished during the reign of Saddam Hossein dictatorship. With the fall of Saddam’s rule, Iraqi flood to the roads of Karbala to revive the religious tradition. The Shiite dominance of Iraq was unprecedented in Arab countries since the 12th century.
Soon other neighboring countries joined the campaign and realizes a gathering with more than 20 million people. Karbala can only host 3 million pilgrims, but due to incessant movement of pilgrims, the crowd control has been possible. The movement has also simulated and symbolized the Islamic call for incessant change and movement to the better.