The Arbaeen March (6)
Welcome to the sixth and penultimate episode of our 7-part series titled “The Arbaeen March” on the annual gathering in Karbala at the holy shrine of the Chief of Martyrs, Imam Husain (AS), the younger grandson and 3rd Infallible Heir of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA), on the traditional 40th day of the epic of Ashura.
If you remember, yesterday, while presenting to you an eyewitness account of this spiritual journey, we said the pilgrim on entering Iraq via the Iranian border of Mehran, first visited the holy city of Kazemain, north of Baghdad, and after performing pilgrimage to the blessed shrines of Imam Musa Kazem and Imam Mohammad Taqi (peace upon them) the Prophet’s 7th and 9th Infallible Heirs respectively, visited the holy city of Samarra, where repose in eternal peace the Prophet’s 10th and 11 Infallible Heirs, Imam Ali Naqi al-Hadi and Imam Hassan Askari (Peace upon them). The pilgrim next left for Najaf to perform pilgrimage to the blessed shrine of the Commander of the Faithful, the Prophet’s Divinely-Designated Vicegerent, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS). He then set off for Karbala in the company of hundreds of thousands of devotees covering the 80-km distance on foot, while others from far off places in Iraq even walk for 20 or more days to reach Karbala. As the pilgrim neared the holy shrine of Imam Husain (AS), there was indescribable joy and it seemed the heart was throbbing at the prospect of entering the shrine and touching the Zareeh or the latticed silver enclosure around the blessed tomb. As you come closer to the rendezvous of love, that is, Karbala, the massive crowd of people gets denser. The school of Imam Husain (AS) has the highest capacity to mobilize people against the decadent western culture and absorb hearts which are fed up and frustrated with the nihilistic views of the modern world. This largest ever gathering of human beings demonstrates the soft power of Muslims. Now let us continue the account of the pilgrim.
As I heard the sound of the feet of lovers of Imam Husain (AS), I was preoccupied with the souls of great personalities who had sacrificed their life in the way of God through adherence to the path of Imam Husain (AS). In the past centuries and decades, tyrants and oppressive regimes used to put every type of pressure on Muslims and the pilgrims of Imam Husain (AS) in a bid to prevent them from visiting the shrine of the Chief of Martyrs on the false assumption that the Imam’s path would be gradually forgotten.
One of the cruelest rulers of history was the Abbasid tyrant, Mutawakkil, who has earned eternal damnation and notoriety for his enmity towards the progeny of the Prophet. In the year 237 AH, he ordered the tomb of Imam Husain (AS) and the adjacent houses to be destroyed and blocked people’s coming to the place. He razed Imam Husain’s tomb to the ground several times. In 247 AH, he was informed that a large caravan of the people of Kufa and other regions were going toward Karbala. He, too, organized a huge army under the command of one his commanders to threaten the people. Then he destroyed the Imam’s grave and turned the waters of the river to try inundate it, but miraculously the water stopped a respectable distance from the tomb. This surprised the onlookers and for this reason the area around the mausoleum came to be known al-Ha’er or the place that evokes astonishment.
Mutawakkil was sent to the bowels of hell by his own son, and soon the tomb of Imam Husain (AS) and the mausoleum around it was rebuilt on a larger scale until it took the shape of a grand structure. Today after the fall of the tyrant Saddam and his repressive Ba’th minority regime, the mausoleum of Imam Husain (AS) has been enlarged to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. It is an astounding fact that after around 14 centuries Imam Husain (AS) guides the seekers of truth and freedom more than ever while there is no trace of the oppressive rulers who tried to extinguish this Beacon of Light and the Ark of Salvation.
While walking on foot towards Karbala, I saw washing machines on the roadside set up by devotees to wash the clothes of pilgrims. In some of the tents there were youths who invited tired pilgrims and massaged their feet and body in order to refresh them and energize them for continuing the long trek on foot. In other tents bakers provided fresh bread to the pilgrims free of charge.
Among the most beautiful scenes of the Arbaeen March were several old men and women who trudged along the path leaning on their sticks. There were elderly devotees on wheelchairs as well. The sight of infants in prams or children clinging to their mothers was also very spectacular.
As I took steps to move forward, I reflected on the blessings of this divine journey and how Imam Husain (AS) has united the hearts and thoughts. The eternal uprising of Imam Husain (AS) was launched for preserving Islamic moralities and humanitarian values and bequeathing them to the subsequent generations. The affection, hospitality, humbleness and cooperation of the Iraqi people are all clear examples of Islamic moralities. Here we could see true self-sacrifice. In short, anyone who wants to see Islam should take part in the Grand Arbaeen March.
It is an undeniable fact that Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny) as the Last and Greatest Messenger of God with the universal message of Islam for all mankind guided the seekers of truth to the path of monotheism. Then Imam Ali (AS) as the Prophet’s divinely-designated vicegerent sifted truth from falsehood in order to preserve the genuine teachings of Islam for the benefit of faithful. After him, his eldest son Imam Hasan Mojtaba (AS) unmasked hypocrisy through his master stroke of peace with the charlatan Mu’awiya ibn Abu Sufyan for keeping believers on the right path. Then Imam Husain (AS) by refusing to yield to the ungodly tyrant Yazid courted martyrdom along with his male family members and loyal friends to ensuring lasting eternity for Islam.
No wonder, the Prophet had said: Fortunate are those who are with Husain and unfortunate are those leave him. Know that Husain is one of the gates of paradise; and his enemies will be deprived by God of even the fragrance of paradise.”
Having covered the Najaf-Karbala route, I saw young boys who were standing on a crossroad to leading towards Karbala. They were saying, “This is the nearest way to paradise.” As I neared Karbala I saw on every column ayahs of the glorious Qur’an. I saw surah Kowsar as well, which means tidings for attainment of Paradise.