TEHRAN — “I have severe backache and too much walking is strictly prohibited for me, however, I attend Arba’een Trekking since I do love Imam Hussein (AS), he is my hero,” a middle-aged women with tearful eyes said in a television interview aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on Saturday evening, some days before Arba’een, which falls November 9 this year.
Living in Iran, most of us know some people around who attend Arba’een trekking despite physical and personal problems. But why does it happen?
Hundreds of thousands of people, mainly Shia Muslims, from across Iran and other countries attend the Arba’een Trekking pilgrimage.
The event is held 40 days after Ashura, the religious ritual for the commemoration of the Imam Hussein’s martyrdom in the battle of Karbala in 680 CE.
Pilgrimage, especially when it is done in the form of trekking, always provide an opportunity for attendants to disengage themselves from daily concerns to acquire spiritual merit and self-culture.
Karbala pilgrimage was banned when Saddam Hussein was ruling in Iraq from 1979 to 2003. However some Muslims made it secretly.
Iranians, who did not have the chance to go to the holy shrine of Imam Hussain (AS) during these years, welcome Arba’een Trekking as a great opportunity to fulfill their wish to perform their mourning ceremonies in Karbala.
This year, according to official statistics, about two millions Iranians crossed the borders to attend Arba’een Trekking.
A time for being a generous host
Along the road to Karbala, there are places called Mawkib in which, all services that pilgrims need are offered for free. They provide accommodation, food and beverage and medical services for those who are on the way to holy shrine of Imam Hussain (AS).
Many people in Iraq and Iran, provide their oblations for Karbala pilgrims. They believe that in this way they join thawab (reward) of pilgrims.
This year, Iranians set up over 1,300 Mawkibs in Iraq, which provide six million meals of warm food during 20 days to pilgrims.
A historical religious event
According to Islamic narrations, the prominent companion of Prophet Muhammad (S) Jabir ibn Abdollah (died 697 CE) was the first pilgrim of Imam Hussain (AS) on Arba’een of 680 CE.
During recent years, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Turkey and other countries trekked a main road between Najaf – another holy city in Iraq – and Karbala on foot to show their devotion to Imam Hussein (AS).
Iran and Iraq, which fought a war in the 1980s, enjoy closest ties after the ousting of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. Iran was the first country which rushed to the help of Iraqis as the Islamic State ravaged through the country in 2014.
According to Iraqi state-run media, over 19 million people from 40 countries of the world participated in this occasion by 2014, making it one of the largest gathering in the world.
The figure reached 22 million pilgrims by 2015 as about 22 million pilgrims gathered in Iraq. The number rose to 26 million pilgrims in 2016.
Followers of other religions including Christians join the journey every year to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.
The Arba’een has become a rallying cry for the campaign against violence and Takfiri terrorism. It has also worked to unify Muslims in the face of attempts to create divergence, animosity and misunderstanding among them.
‘Arba’een should be listed in the Guinness Book’
Writing for the Huffington Post, theology lecturer Sayed Mahdi al-Modarresi described his experience of Arba’een as a “tumultuous, yet peaceful gathering”.
“An avalanche of men, women and children, but most visibly black-veiled women, fill the eye from one end of the horizon to the other,” he wrote. “The crowds were so huge that they caused a blockade for hundreds of miles.”
“There’s another peculiar feature of Arba’een. While it is a distinctively Shia spiritual exercise, Sunnis, even Christians, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, and Sabians partake in both the pilgrimage as well as serving of devotees. This is remarkable given the exclusive nature of religious rituals, and it could only mean one thing: people regardless of color or creed see Imam Hussein (AS) as a universal, borderless, and meta-religious symbol of freedom and compassion.”
Some pilgrims chose to walk the entire 425 miles from Basra to Karbala over two weeks, he said, braving scorching sun in the day and cold at night.
“Arba’een should be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in several categories,” he wrote.