Baghdad: Millions of Shia Muslims from around the world are making their way this week to 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 the revered Imam, Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his half-brother Hazrat 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 kilometres away, Baghdad, 90 kilometres 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.
The pilgrimage, known in Arabic as the Ziara, marks the 40th day of mourning of the anniversary of Hussein’s 7th century death.
That’s because along the roads, stalls set up by charities, mosques, and devotional groups see to it that no traveller goes hungry.Cooks prepare vast amounts of stewed lamb, grilled fish, fresh bread, and rice for the pilgrims, refusing payment for the meals.
But the pilgrims’ mood is not all sombre. Spirits are high as they approach Karbala, and improve further upon arrival, with generous helpings of dates and tea.
“This is a walk to heaven,” said Alaa Dadi, 45, who was making his way with his wife and three children.
Sunnis outnumber Shias by a wide margin among the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims, and Shia rituals are far less known. The hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam, and an obligation for all Muslims – Sunni and Shiite. The Ziara is voluntary and holds little significance in Sunni tradition.
“Politically, ethically, spiritually, it has been an extremely elevated visit,” said Glasman, who arrived in Karbala on Sunday, after walking several days from Najaf.
During this first kind of walk in the History of Islam, cutting across the lines of sects and religions lovers of Imam Hussain unitedly raised the voice against enemies of Islam and Humanity. They were holding banners and placards on which slogans in favour of Palestine, Kashmir, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain and Myanmar were written.
Despite the significance and high news value of ‘Arbaeen Congregation’, the Western media deliberately censor the news about the Congregation and try to underrate the value and importance of the event.The Arbaeen Congregation has had its own rituals and traditions; however, over the last few years, with the opening of routes to the shrine of Imam Hussein(AS), the Master of Martyrs, a large number of mourners and lovers of Imam Hussein head for Karbala. According to official figures, in this year more than 22 million pilgrims from around the world have attended the ceremony; however, the Iraqi Minister of Transport said that the number of participants in Arbaeen Congregation in this year were 26 million people and he predicted that the number of pilgrims on the day of Arbaeen(3 December 2015), would reach 27 Million. Nevertheless, in 2014 more than 20 million people participated in the event and there was an almost unpredictable growth compared to previous year.