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The Arbaeen Walk: An Introduction

Especially in recent years, the Arbaeen Walk has turned into a magnificent phenomenon. But due to certain reasons, it has not received the attention it deserves from the international mainstream media.

The following article has introduced and shed some light on some of the dimensions of this historic event in the Islamic community and even the world.

Arbaeen is an Arabic word and it means “the fortieth.” In Shia culture, this word refers to the fortieth day of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s.). Imam Hussain (a.s.) was martyred in Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram (the first month in the Hijri lunar calendar), which is known as the Day of Ashura, and according to historical accounts, on the fortieth day after his martyrdom at 20th of Safar (the second month in the Hijri lunar calendar), the survivors of the Ashura event, namely the children, wives and other relatives of the martyrs of Ashura, returned to Karbala and made pilgrimage to the tombs of Imam Hussain (a.s.) and other martyrs of Karbala.

The pilgrimage of Imam Hussain (a.s.) continued on Arbaeen day in the following years. Shia Imams encouraged their followers to this pilgrimage. Their words persuaded Shia Muslims to go to Karbala on Arbaeen day to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Hussain (a.s.). The tradition of Arbaeen pilgrimage has continued to this day.

The Iraqi Shia mostly went on this pilgrimage on foot, but at some point in history, this tradition was abandoned. About a hundred years ago, this tradition was revived in Iraq, but during Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq (1979-2003), the Arbaeen Walk was banned and people who were going to Karbala on foot sometimes faced violent reactions. According to some reports, Saddam’s government used to cut off the legs of those walking towards Karbala. However, the Shia, in spite of the government’s pressures, secretly maintained this tradition by moving through palm-groves and during nights.

After the fall of Saddam, the Iraqi Shia started making pilgrimage freely on foot from all over the country to Karbala. They plan their walk so that they reach Karbala on the Arbaeen day or the days close to it.

In the days before Arbaeen, all the ways leading to Karbala are full of pilgrims moving towards this city. According to statistics from previous years, about 20 million people attend this event every year.

The majority of Iraqi Shia are based in southern regions of Iraq. The first group of walking pilgrims in Iraq are the Shia of the Al-Faw area, 667 km from Karbala in southern Iraq, who begin their movement on the 24th of Muharram, 26 days before Arbaeen. They pass through different cities to reach Karbala. Residents of the cities on route also join the movement and go to Karbala mainly through the city of Hillah.

Most pilgrims who travel to Iraq from other countries to attend the Arbaeen Pilgrimage start their walk from the city of Najaf, the burial place of Imam Ali (a.s.) the first Imam of the Shia. The distance from Najaf to Karbala is about 80 km, so pilgrims who want to be in Karbala on the Arbaeen day, should better start their journey from the 16th of Safar.

Along the Walking paths, there are places for the pilgrims to have meals and rest; these rest-stops are known as “Mowkeb”. These Mowkebs are mainly organized by Iraqis citizens and are fully managed by them, and the Iraqi government has almost no role in organizing them, and its main role is to provide and maintain their security.

Besides being religiously valuable, this Walk serves several purposes:

  1. The Arbaeen Walk is a symbol of Shia geopolitical privilege. Geopolitics constitutes the three elements of geography, politics, and power, and actions and reactions of them. The result and value of this new geopolitics in the world and the world system, which is based on power, is a great capital that is both deterrent and progressive. The Arbaeen Pilgrimage brings all these three elements before the eyes of the world. It introduces both the extent of the Shia presence in the world and the element of politics, which is manifested in the theory of Wilayat-e Faqih, and also shows the power of the Shia Muslims.
  2. The Arbaeen Walk creates a competitive advantage. The existence of a large number of religious and motivated people in defending religion and its values ​​and symbols is a unique source of power that cannot be imitated in any other way and its results can be used for the progress of interests and policies of the Islamic world. The Arbaeen Walk is a sign of unrivaled advantage and an expression of unlimited potential power among the Shia, which has created the ability to defend and counter any danger.
  3. The Arbaeen Walk offers a model for a desirable human life to the world. In this few days of life, humans give up all their worldly belongings and instead of harmful rivalries, brotherhood, empathy and helping each other are valued. People are not in search of accumulating worldly wealth and everyone is trying to gain more spirituality. People love to serve each other, and even compete to help others. In fact, it can be said that the Arbaeen Walk gives people a new identity.
  4. The Arbaeen Walk causes growth in the socio-political knowledge and mindfulness. During the Arbaeen Walk, a considerable amount of information is exchanged in various political, cultural and social fields, most of which is religious knowledge, which leads to an increase in the knowledge and awareness of the pilgrims. This function of the Arbaeen Walk is in line with the mission of Imam Hussain (a.s.) which is mentioned in the Arbaeen pilgrimage prayer, where it reads: “To free your servants from ignorance and misguidance.”
  5. The Arbaeen Walk deepens spirituality. Islamic teachings place great value on collective rituals and worship as a way of achieving spirituality. Worshipping brings spirituality, but the worshipping that takes place collectively leads to spiritual synergy.

In the Arbaeen Walk, each of the participants has his/her solitude with God and a special spiritual experience; But this collective movement and observing all kinds of devotional and spiritual behaviors from others such as reciting prayers, mourning, benevolence, tolerating all kinds of difficulties such as heat and thirst and blisters on the feet deepen spirituality.

The Arbaeen Pilgrimage, which was held in the year 61 AH with the presence of a limited number of Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) family members, is held today with the presence of millions of pilgrims and lovers of Imam Hussain (a.s.) and has become a source of inspiration for anyone for whom truth, justice, and dignity matters.


About Ali Teymoori

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