Another Arba’een, another epical fervor (1)
Condolences to you all on the approaching anniversary of Arba’een or the 40th day of the immortal epic of Ashura, the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny).
This grand ceremony of Arba’een revives our grief for history’s most heartrending tragedy as we commemorate the supreme sacrifice of the Martyr of Karbala that saved Islam and all humanitarian values. Thus, whether from near or afar, we salute Imam Husain (AS) from the depth of our hearts, while those who can afford the journey, travel to his holy shrine in Iraq to pay their respects, with millions converging upon Karbala from all over the globe, to make it the largest assemblage of human beings anywhere in the world.
Last year on the 20th of Safar, there were around twenty million pilgrims, and this year the number of devotees is expected to exceed this figure.
We have prepared a 5-part series in this regard, titled: “Another Arba’een, Another Epical Fervor”.
Again it is the time of Ziyarah, or pilgrimage to the holy shrine of the man who stood against every kind of oppression and corruption in order to give lasting lessons of freedom and self-dignity to all generations. A visit to the resting place of Imam Husain (AS) thus firms up the faith, purifies the heart, enlightens the mind, soothes the soul, strengthens the spirit, and above all earns the pleasure and satisfaction of God Almighty.
Pilgrimage is an important article of faith, as is clear from the habit of the Prophet of Islam in visiting the graves of the faithful, saluting them, and praying for their souls. As is mentioned in all books of hadith and history, when the Prophet was returning to Medina after the bloodless conquest of Mecca, on the way he visited the tomb of his dear mother, Amena bint Wahb, whom he had lost to the cold hands of death at the tender age of six years. He remarked, “This is my mother’s grave. I had beseeched Almighty Allah for pilgrimage to her grave, and He determined such a Ziyarah for me.”
Ziyarah, therefore creates a firm and unbreakable bond in the heart of the pilgrim with the person whose tomb is being visited.
The Prophets and the Infallible Imams are the most perfect persons and the most endeared by the Almighty Creator, Who had entrusted them with the task of enlightening human beings with faith. They are the pinnacles of faith and through them we attain the proximity of God. Glorification of these persons strengthens belied in Towhid or monotheism, and inspires the devotees and pilgrims to continue on their path.
In view of these undeniable facts, Arba’een or the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS) in Karbala in the year 61 AH, assumes importance, and every year its anniversary is commemorated by the faithful. Great scholars of the past centuries like Sheikh Mufid, Sheikh at-Ta’efa Tusi and Allamah Hilli have extolled in their works the benefits of pilgrimage to the shrine of the Chief of Martyrs in Karbala on Arba’een or the 20th of the month of Safar. It is the day on which the bereaved family members of Imam Husain (AS), following release from the prison of the tyrant Yazid in Damascus, Syria, returned to their hometown Medina in Hijaz, the Land of Divine Revelation, in 61 AH. It is also the day on which in the same year, the Prophet’s loyal companion, Jaber ibn Abdullah al-Ansari, reached Karbala, as the first pilgrim to the grave of Imam Husain (AS), forty days after the tragedy of Ashura.
These days tens of millions of devotees of Imam Husain (AS) have either arrived in Karbala, or are on their way to this holy city in Iraq, to join the largest ever assemblage of human beings in any place around the world. Many of the faithful, on arriving in Iraq for the spiritual journey, first visit holy Najaf to pay their respects at the shrine of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), before proceeding to Karbala. It is a grand sight to see huge crowds of pilgrims, made up of the young and old, men and women, children and even toddlers in prams, travelling on foot the 80-km distance from Najaf to Karbala with an indescribable zeal. Along the way they are provided all sorts of facilities by the local people, who erect tents called Moukeb. These tents provide food, beverages, and resting place for the marchers. The distance between Najaf and Karbala is marked by columns called Amoud. There are 1452 columns and each column is 50 meters from the other one. Column 1452 is in Karbala, opposite the holy shrine of Hazrat Abu’l-Fazl al-Abbas, the valiant brother of Imam Husain (AS), and the standard-bearer of the small force of the faithful who lost both his hands and finally his life, in trying to bring water to the thirsty camp of the Prophet’s family.
All the ways leading to Karbala from several directions, including Baghdad the capital of Iraq, are these days full of pilgrims who, while marching in a disciplined manner, recite supplications, beat their chests to the sounds of elegies in memory of the martyrs, or simply chant “Labbayka Ya Husain”, meaning “O Husain, here we are in response to your call.”
The marchers usually cover the distance of Najaf to Karbala in three days. On the way to Karbala, placards and banners could be seen in big and bold letters, reflecting the statements of the Prophet and the Infallible Imams on the importance of Ziyarat-al-Arba’een. For instance, a hadith narrated by the Prophet’s 6th Infallible Heir, Imam Ja’far as-Sadeq (AS) reads: “The most honored deed with God is the pilgrimage to the grave of Imam Husain.”
The Karbala-Najaf road reminds the pilgrims of the sufferings endured at the hands of the Omayyad oppressors after the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS) by the womenfolk and children of the Prophet’s household, led the Imam noble sister, Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) and his son and successor, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS), who were forcibly taken to Kufa and thence to Damascus, the capital of the accursed tyrant, Yazid.
Every step that the pilgrim takes, stimulates the mind on the devotion to Imam Husain (AS) by the local people, such as the small children offering dates and tea to the travelers, the youths and the teenagers cleaning and polishing the footwear of the tired pilgrims, paramedics providing first aid and other health services to the fatigued and injured, and Iraqi families turning their houses into inns for the rest and refreshment of those trekking the 80-km distance.
It is the grandest display of kindness, brotherhood, altruism and selflessness. This part of Planet Earth is indeed a piece of Paradise. A millennium, three centuries and four score years ago, after brutally killing the Imam and his male companions, including the 6-month baby Ali Asghar (AS), the tyrannical Omayyad regime spared no efforts to obliterate the memory of the tragedy of Ashura and the name of Imam Husain (AS). But it miserable failed, thanks to the indomitable efforts of Hazrat Zainab and Imam Zain al-Abedin (peace upon them). Through their sermons they institutionalized and universalized the message of the Martyr of Karbala, by holding the life-inspiring mourning ceremonies. Today, also the enemies of humanity, like Saddam, the Wahhabis and the Americans have failed in obliterating the message of Imam Husain (AS), thanks to selfless efforts of the faithful, especially the Muslim people of Iraq, Iran, and other places, who are inspired by the Father of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini (God bless him).
Who can believe, that almost 14 centuries after the epic of Ashura, tens of millions of people from all over the world would converge in the greatest ever gathering in history and would cover long distances on foot towards the Magnet of hearts, Imam Husain (AS). These people trek the path of Lady Zainab and Imam Zain al-Abedin (peace upon them), to say to them that are not alone.
I have reached the last column. With much effort, I enter the Bayn al-Haramayn, or the place between the shrines of Imam Husain and his brother Hazrat Abbas (peace upon them). The text of Ziyarah Arba’een (the standard form of salutation and pilgrimage on this particular day) can be heard from the loudspeakers. The reciting of this Ziyarah on the day of Arba’een, as testified by the Prophet’s 11th Infallible Heir, Imam Hasan Askari (AS), is one of the five signs of the faithful.
May God accept our pilgrimage, Amen.