After two years of Covid-related travel restrictions, well over 21 million pilgrims took part in the Arbaeen walk, marking this year’s ceremony the most-attended in the past few years.
According to Iraqi officials, this year’s Arbaeen walk was one of the most-attended compared the event in the previous years, with 21.2 million pilgrims arriving in Karbala on the Arbaeen day.
The Arbaeen walk, which is regarded as one of the largest peaceful gatherings in the world, brings together millions of people from different parts of the world in Iraq’s city of Karbala. The occasion is in fact held 40 days after the tragedy of Ashur, the day when the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hossein, was martyred by the forces of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I in the Battle of Karbala.
The event took place in 680 AD on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar.
The journey to Karbala is taken mostly by foot and the weather in Iraq is extremely hot, especially when the religious ceremony is in summer. It is challenging mostly during daytime, when temperatures range between 36 and 41 degrees Celsius.
Together with the huge population in the way, many people may faint due to exhaustion or feeling dehydrated during the journey. However, all these troubles are not obstacle for millions of pilgrims to get themselves to Karbala.
Also, to facilitate the difficulties of the long path from Najaf to Karbala, local volunteers, as well as foreigners, setup mawakebs (rest areas), makeshift stalls and clinics all along the roads to provide essential requirements such as food, water and beds for pilgrims.
“This one mawakeb I stayed overnight had served some 1,000 people a day. And it’s all for free … they don’t ask for anything in return. It is hard to fathom the scale at which this gathering is taking place,” says Sara Mushtaq, a 35-year-old woman from Karachi, Pakistan, taking part in this year’s Arbaeen walk.
Why do people take such a long path every year?
Mehdi Hazari, a Shia religious scholar and the head of education and research at the Imam Mahdi Association of the Marjaeya (IMAM) in the United States believes that one of the major reasons why so many people attend this non-obligatory pilgrimage is because they search for “inspiration in this world for which Imam Hossein died for”.
“The walk … is where a person can find their heart awakened … meaning there is this sense overwhelming sense of giving, of sharing without asking for anything in return that creates this humanity, a type of brotherly and sisterly love.” He says.
This is in fact in line with what pilgrims, including Sara Mushtaq, say. Echoing Hazari’s sentiments, Mushtaq said that the trip had completely broken her down “physically, mentally and spiritually” and that she now had the chance to rebuild herself.
“What I hope to gain is to take this feeling with me back to reality. Here people see the best version of you. When you go home, this feeling will last a week, a month maybe. I want to incorporate this experience into my daily life … and teach my kids what it really means to be a lover of Hossein,” she added.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only a limited number of pilgrims could take part in the ceremony for the past two years. Last year, for example, Iraqi authorities allowed only 40,000 foreign travelers into Iraq, with 30,000 allowed from Iran. Despite the political instability in Iraq these days, this year’s ceremony was held with no security problem.