After more than 1400 years, the Day of Arbaeen is still remembered by millions of people all around the world, a day of unmatched sacrifice of Imam Hussain for social justice.
Every year during the Arbaeen march, millions of people from different countries, different races, different religions, and different languages come together in Iraq to honor Imam Hossein’s brave martyrdom in Iraq’s city of Karbala.
Arbaeen pilgrimage is widely known as the largest peaceful gathering in the world that is held every year. It is when people swarm together and walk towards the shrines of Imam Hossein to pay tribute to his greatest sacrifice. As the grandson of Prophet Mohammad and the son of Fatima and Imam Ali, Hossein (pbuh) left an everlasting legacy 14 centuries ago which is still inspiring all humans from different religions.
Imam Hossein devoted his life and the lives of his family members and his companions to stand against the tyranny of the time and protect a way of dissent and just life for all Muslims.
The Arbaeen walk is therefore not an ordinary journey. It is full of life-changing experiences and insights as according to the very people who have at least once taken the route to reach Karbala.
Most pilgrims who travel to Iraq from other countries to attend the Arbaeen walk start their journey from the city of Najaf, the burial place of Imam Ali, the first Imam of the Shia. The distance from Najaf to Karbala is about 80 km, mostly taken by foot. Pilgrims who want to be in Karbala on the Arbaeen Day should therefore start their journey from the 16th of Safar. Along the 80km stretch, volunteers distribute free food and drinks to those undertaking the pilgrimage, as well as offering places to relax, wash and sleep.
What makes the Arbaeen walk special after all these years is that in this human crowd marching towards Karbala there is no discrimination of rich or poor, young or old, men or women. They all believe in Imam Hussein as a universal, borderless, and meta-religious symbol of freedom and compassion, not for Muslims, but all humans in the world.
The origin of the Arbaeen walk
The origin of the Arbaeen walk towards the holy shrine of Imam Hossein, can very well be traced back to 61 Hijri, more than 1400 years ago when Iraqis arrived in the desert of Neynava in Karbala on the 20th of Safar and saw the graves of Imam Hossein, his family, and his companions on the plains of Karbala and held the first mourning for them.
Linguistically speaking, Arbaeen, in Arabic language, means forty and in Islamic history it marks the 40th day of mourning period following Ashura, the 10th of Muharram when Imam Hussain was brutally beheaded along with his family members and companions by the army of Yazid.
During the years when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was ruling in Iraq (1979-2003), the Arbaeen walk was banned by the government and people who were going to Karbala on foot sometimes faced violent reactions. However, and in spite of the government’s pressures, people secretly maintained this tradition.
After the fall of Saddam, the Iraqis started making pilgrimage freely on foot from all over the country to Karbala once again.
In the days before the day of Arbaeen, all the ways towards Karbala are packed with pilgrims from different countries moving towards this holy city. According to this year’s statistics from Iraqi officials, more than 20 million people from well over 80 countries have come to Karbala.