Arbaeen walk; step by step to heaven
By Mona Hojat Ansari
IRAN – This year, the occasion of Arbaeen is taking place amidst extreme summer heat like a couple of years before.
Travelers marching towards the burial site of Imam Hussein (AS) seem to not care that they are baking in searing heat. They believe all the difficulties they meet along the way to Karbala is part of the big journey.
“This is my first time marching for Arbaeen. People back home call me and ask me if I have lost my mind. They wonder how I would manage to walk tens of Kilometers in 50-degree heat. I tell them this is what happens when you are in love. You do stop caring about anything that comes between you and your beloved and only start caring about the destination, rather than the journey,” said Mohammad, a 19-year-old student from the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad. He and his family have traveled 1620 kilometers by car to reach the Iran-Iraq border. They will leave their car at the border and travel the rest of the journey on foot. The family has to walk 280 kilometers to reach Karbala.
Arbaeen marks 40 days after the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein, the esteemed grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Imam Hussein has turned into one of the most significant and venerated figures in Islam, especially among Shia Muslims. He was brutally martyred in a battle known as the Battle of Karbala(680 CE), after he refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, the impious, immoral and tyrannical ruler of the time. Now more than 13 centuries after the battle, people from different parts of the world flock to Karbala, often on foot, to commemorate the martyrdom of this influential figure on the day of Arbaeen. According to Iraqi figures, more than 15 million Iraqis and 5 million foreigners participated in last year’s Arbaeen processions.
Many here with religious backgrounds have simply grown up loving Imam Hussein. They believe by trying to keep his legacy and memory alive, they can help themselves lead a better life. But you can find others who do not even identify as Muslims. Throughout the years, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and even atheists have decided to take part in the Arbaeen March. For them, Imam Hussein does not just belong to Muslims. His message and his legacy will move anyone that tries to stay true to human morals.
“Imam Hussein is the symbol of fight against injustice and tyranny”
“This is my third time going to Karbala during Arbaeen. Some look shocked when they find out that I’m in fact Christian and some simply smile at me. But for me, taking part in Arbaeen processions really helps me feel like myself. Imam Hussein is the symbol of fight against injustice and tyranny. His message resonates with anyone that seeks to find a meaning for life,” said Rebecca who is a young accountant living in the capital Tehran.
As you stand at the Iran-Iraq border, a remarkable sight unfolds before your eyes. You see thousands of individuals like Mohammad and Rebecca, who have embarked on a journey towards Karbala. Arbaeen is a pilgrimage that transcends religious boundaries, as people from different backgrounds and professions have set aside their daily routines, be it work or school, to partake in this sacred endeavor.
The atmosphere exudes an overwhelming sense of unity and camaraderie. As you mingle with the crowd you cannot help but notice the familiarity and friendliness that fills the air. It is as if every person here shares an unspoken connection, a bond forged by a shared purpose. Strangers become friends and friends become family as they come together for one noble cause- to keep the legacy of Imam Hussein alive. They believe that by keeping his memory alive, they are rooting for the same values he fought for; they are upholding justice and righteousness.
As you enter Iraq and get closer to Karbala you can witness a new wave of humanity and affability. People, mostly locals, offer food, water, and shelter along the way to make the journey easier for the pilgrims. Many of the hosts are low-income individuals who save up the entire year to be able to help travelers during this particular period. It is estimated that each year, 2 to 4 million Iranians travel to Iraq during Arbaeen.
But Arbaeen and the legacy of Imam Hussein is a phenomenon that like others, has not been safe from becoming a target of propaganda. Anti-Iran and anti-Islam activists have been pouring all their efforts into tarnishing the image of Arbaeen. Many of them try to portray this occasion as a government-funded procession that the Iranian government gains the most from.
“People accusing marchers of doing this for the government need to take a look at the history of Arbaeen. Arbaeen is not something Iranians invented overnight. It became an important part of Shia Islam the same year Imam Hussein was martyred. 40 days after the Battle of Karbala Imam Sajjad (AS) and Hazrat Zeinab (AS) visited the burial site of the esteemed Imam. That’s why Arbaeen became such a great deal. If it weren’t for the visit of these two figures, we would have had similar processions for the martyrdom anniversary of other Imams and even Prophet Mohammad himself,” said Mohammad Hossein Rajabi Davani, an Islamic history professor and the head of the Iranology Foundation.
Dr. Rajabi Davani believes Arbaeen has become so popular and outreaching because it can be seen as a spiritual act as well. “Some like to draw parallels between Arbaeen and the Hajj pilgrimage. Again these people are mistaken. Hajj is a procession only Muslims can take part in and due to the policies of the Saudi Arabian government, its spiritual aspects are largely sidestepped. Saudi authorities like to portray the Hajj as simply a duty of Muslims and want nothing else to be attributed to it. The fact that Arbaeen has turned into a spiritual journey rather than a religious duty is because Iraqi authorities have not tried to limit people. Even non-Muslims are free to join marchers and they are always welcomed by others,” the history professor stated.
According to Dr. Rajabi, the Arabeen pilgrimage is not just a religious event; it is a testament to the enduring power of faith and unbreakable bonds of humanity.