‘Walk to heaven’: Shiite pilgrims trek to Iraq’s Karbala

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Source: Associated Press

By PHILIP ISSA and HADI MIZBAN

KARBALA, Iraq (AP) — Millions of Shiite Muslims from around the world are making their way this week to their sect’s holy shrines in the Iraqi city of Karbala, a pilgrimage that is as much about community as it is about religion.

The shrines are of two revered Shiite imams: Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his half-brother Abbas. The annual commemoration, called Arbaeen, draws more pilgrims each year — according to Iraqi figures — than the hajj in Saudi Arabia, a pilgrimage required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it.

Pilgrims stream toward Karbala on foot from the cities of Najaf, 70 kilometers (45 miles) away, Baghdad, 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the north, and other places farther afield, resting along the way in tents lined with foam mattresses and fleece blankets.

“Our fathers and our grandfathers walked to Karbala, and God willing, our children will, too,” said Karrad Karim, a 24-year-old pilgrim journeying with four friends from Baghdad. They brought with them large flags bearing devotional sayings to the Shiite saints, but little in the way of supplies for the four-day journey.

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