Another Arba’een, another epical fervor (4)
Salaam everybody and condolences to you all on the eve of the poignant 20th of Safar, the 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 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 fortunate enough to undertake this spiritual journey, are already there at his holy shrine in Iraq, or nearing it, in order to pay their respects.
Millions have converged upon Karbala from all over the globe, to make it the largest assemblage of human beings anywhere in the world. Last year, there were around twenty million pilgrims, and this year the number of devotees is expected to exceed this figure.
Stay with us for the fourth episode of our 5-part series in this regard, titled: “Another Arba’een, Another Epical Fervor”.
Today on the threshold Arba’een tens of millions of devotees of Imam Husain (AS) are in Karbala or nearing it, with many who march on foot from different directions, especially from holy Najaf, where the pilgrims first pay homage at the blessed shrine of the Martyr of Karbala’s Illustrious Father, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS). Although they may get tired as a result of the long journey on foot, at times on uneven roads and in the scorching sun, the pilgrims are spiritually strong.
Pilgrimage on foot has been the habit of the Prophets and the Infallible Imams, as history bears witness. It is narrated that the Father of mankind, Prophet Adam, traveled on foot for pilgrimage to the holy Ka’ba in Ka’ba, at least seventy times, if not much more. We also read of the treks on foot for long distances of the Prophets Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (peace upon them).
The Prophet of Islam’s elder grandson and second Infallible Heir, Imam Hasan Mojtaba (AS), performed the Hajj pilgrimage on foot several times and sometimes he would travel bare-foot, in awe of the Majesty of the Almighty Creator.
This habit is found amongst the Christians as well. For instance, before the advent of Islam, a Roman emperor vowed to undertake pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Bayt at Moqaddas in Palestine if God grants him victory over Iran’s Sassanid emperor, whose armies had swept across most of West Asia, including the Levant and what is now Turkey.
Even Muslim kings, despite their pomp and power, have travelled long distances on foot to fulfill a vow, as was the case of Iran’s Shah Abbas the Great in the late 16th century, when on hearing news that his Safavid forces had liberated Khorasan from the occupation of the Uzbeks, he started his long trek on foot from his capital Isfahan to the holy city of Mashhad for pilgrimage to the blessed shrine of the Prophet’s 8th Infallible Heir, Imam Reza (AS).
Thus, Islam has a long tradition of travelling on foot to the shrines of the Chosen of God, and since Imam Husain (AS), attained the most tragic martyrdom ever in history, the faithful have kept marching to his shrine, even in the most adverse conditions – whether during the tyrannical rule of the Abbasid caliphs or the recent reign of terror of the Ba’th minority regime of Saddam.
Despite Saddam’s ban on pilgrimages and his persecution and killing of Iraq’s Shi’a Muslim majority, the devotees of Imam Husain (AS), used to travel to Karbala secretly in a stealth manner in the dark of night through palm groves and orchards, while concealing themselves from the security forces during the day.
Now, with the end of this last tyrannical phase in Iraq’s history, Karbala has become the cynosure of eyes all over the world, and in spite of the seditious efforts of the Saudis and their American masters, not only the Iraqi Muslims, but the faithful from all over the world have made it a point to commemorate Arba’een in the most glorious manner by assembling in tens of millions at Karbala.
As for the congenial atmosphere of the pilgrimage, it is worth mentioning that mutual love and affection is one of the characteristics of pilgrims and their Iraqi hosts. Imam Husain (AS) is the firm and unbreakable bond between them. Recently, there was report of a poor old Iraqi woman entreating pilgrims to come to her home for rest and lunch. She said, “I haven’t found pilgrims, yet. Pilgrims, come to my house and take rest there for Imam Husain’s (AS) sake!”
A journalist writes, “We saw a young girl beside an old man. They were sitting on plastic chairs at a Mawkib. The girl had just one leg and there were crutches at her side. She was among the marchers on foot and was taking rest on the way, but was cheerful and full of enthusiasm. We intended to take video of her when she stood up and with the help of the crutches resumed her walk along with her father. We thought they might be upset with us, but we were wrong. As we approached them and asked permission for taking video shots, the father and daughter not just obliged, but were ready for an interview. We asked the old man where he was from. To our astonishment, though he tried to answer, no voice came out of from his mouth. He was speaking with much trouble, while his daughter amplified his words to us. The girl said that they had come from Basra. We asked how many days they had been walking. They answered 16 days!!! We asked if they had taken a car. They answered that they had come the whole course on foot. We were astounded. A weak and old man with a disabled daughter walking for 16 days, and now there are just a few kilometers left to reach Karbala!!!
The girl told us that the year following the collapse of Saddam’s tyrannical rule, she was marching on foot when a bomb blast injured her and deprived her of a leg. She said her father had been in imprisoned for years in Saddam’s dungeons, where the cruel Ba’thists shot at his throat and damaged his larynx! The old man raised his head and we saw something very painful. There was a hole as big as a bullet with no visible end! It seemed that the word danger had lost its sense for them because they were going for pilgrimage to the shrine of the person who sacrificed whatever he had, including sons, for the sake of God Almighty and safeguarding of the Islam and all humanitarian values.
As we said earlier, every year millions of people participate in the huge gathering of Arba’een in Karbala from different parts of the world.
A Syrian pilgrim says, “On this path, no blast is important as you see the light of spirituality around you. You feel that something is absorbing you. You like to go towards it. Then, you will not understand anything; no pain in the foot, no back ache, nothing whatsoever.”
A young Australian pilgrim says, “Imam Husain (AS) is the reason why we are so committed to Islam. He is the reason why we are on this way. I could have been enjoying myself at a club in Sydney but I am here.”
Imam Husain (AS) acts like a magnet and we are filings of iron which cannot resist his power of absorption. Imam Husain (AS) is the light in the night. He keeps guiding the wandering souls. He guides everybody towards Divine values. He stands at the climax of perfection and invites all potential hearts towards perfection and sublimity that will never be extinguished.