The annual Arbaeen pilgrimage this year was unique.
Faces of resistance fighters from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen and all across the Muslim world lit up the 80+ kilometer walk. 65 representatives from around the world gathered for a conference on ‘Palestine and Imam Hussain.’ And as these important events transpired in Karbala just in the last few weeks, little to nothing was covered in any major news outlet. Why?
The millions of visitors who undertake this yearly walk pledge to stand for justice, truth and all that Imam Hussain, grandson of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s), and his family endured 1400 years ago to the tyranny that exists today. The Palestine Conference in the holy city of Karbala this year attests to the continuing revolution of Imam Hussain (as) in combating the Zionist-American imperialist agenda.
The deeper philosophical aspect of Arbaeen, centers around witnessing a physical manifestation of Imam Hussain’s (as) qualities today. As all Muslims believe and long for the coming of humanity’s awaited savior, Imam Mahdi (as), who will establish a government of justice worldwide in a time of great injustice, Arbaeen connects the resistance of Imam Hussain (as) to the Mahdi (as).
Arbaeen is a part of the foundation of Imam Mahdi’s advent, as such a demonstration represents the very principles of his divine government. The attraction of millions from various faiths, cultures and backgrounds to what is known as the world’s largest annual demonstration is a sign of mankind’s natural disposition (fitrah) towards the qualities of truth, justice and goodness.
What is the Arbaeen walk?
Over 22 million Muslims from all over the world flocked to the holy city of Karbala this year to commemorate the annual Arbaeen pilgrimage. They gathered out of their love, admiration and devotion to Imam Hussain (as), who made the ultimate sacrifice for Divine truth and justice against tyranny and oppression. Pilgrims came to pay homage and renew their allegiance to Imam Hussain (as), his mission, martyrdom, and revolution.
Many pilgrims participate in the Arbaeen walk, often labeled as “the walk of the free,” from Imam Ali’s (as) shrine in the holy city of Najaf to Imam Hussain’s (as) shrine in Karbala, a total distance of about 50 miles. Others walk from distances even further, such as the city of Basra and other places across Iraq and neighboring countries.
Arbaeen translates to “40” or “40th,” and Ziyarat translates to “visit” or in this context, a pilgrimage. It implies making a pilgrimage to Imam Hussain’s (as) shrine on the 40th day after his divine sacrifice. Its origin can be traced back to 61 AH when a companion of Prophet Muhammad (s), Jabir ibn Abdilahi Ansari, arrived in Karbala on the 20th of Safar, 40 days after the Battle of Karbala, to pay respects to Imam Hussain (as) and the martyrs. Various authentic narrations from the Ahlulbayt (as) also encourage performing Ziyarat on this day and depict its many merits, including it being one of the signs of a true believer. Additionally, the word Ziyarat stems from the root word “zoor,” meaning “transition.” In this case, Ziyarat implies that the pilgrim is making a spiritual transition, or ascension, from one status quo to another.
The event is commemorated predominantly by followers of the Ahlulbayt (as) ie. Shia Muslims. However, many Sunni Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths also participate in it, due to the movement’s noble and universal message in defending truth, justice, and freedom. As the late founder of the Islamic Revolution Imam Khomeini (q) states “ …Freedom is at the core of Imam Hussain’s (as) message. He fought for freedom of all humanity from hunger, poverty, tyranny, exploitation and injustice. He chose death for himself as a free being…”
During the Ziyarat, including the walk, wayfarers pledge their allegiance to Allah (swt), his Prophet (s) and Ahlulbayt (as). They reflect on the unity of God and Islamic teachings, its spiritual, individual and socio-political dimensions.They hope to undergo spiritual ascensions by performing acts of worship such as prayer, supplication, and lamentation. Wayfarers seek to strengthen their faith, piety, and God-consciousness, and strive to inculcate divine values and lessons from Imam Hussain’s (as) heroic stance, particularly through enjoining good and forbidding evil.
Year after year, Arbaeen has left the world speechless as millions of pilgrims are accommodated and provided for free of charge and treated with the utmost hospitality. Iraq, an impoverished and war torn country, hosts pilgrims with tents and caravans, and offers free food, water, refreshments and sleep along the way. Many Iraqis save their money all year long in order to serve the pilgrims. They share their homes, food, essentials, and beg pilgrims for the honor of serving them in any way they can.
Many offer directions, massages, shoe cleaning, pass out tissues and many other services and utilities. Medical tents are set up along the journey, with teams of physicians and health professionals who volunteer to aid the pilgrims.
Mass security teams and personnel are also present throughout, providing protection and safety for the pilgrims. Pilgrims are not discriminated upon and treated equally no matter their race, ethnicity, nationality, creed, religion, age, and financial or social status as special visitors of Imam Hussain (as).
II: Arbaeen: A Microcosm of the Ideal World
The level of humanity exhibited during the Arbaeen pilgrimage challenges all man made economic systems and moral philosophies. A model of human society is presented based on Divine values and principles, where the primary currency is love, compassion, altruism, and selflessness. Kindness, generosity, assistance and service are not for any self-interest or financial gain, rather, out of love for Allah (swt) and His divinely chosen representative. Arbaeen is then a microcosm of the utopian world promised under the leadership of humanity’s awaited savior, Imam Mahdi (as).
Arbaeen’s extraordinary display of humanitarianism stands out against a backdrop of godless and imperialist corporatocracies that undermine religious values and divine institutions to better control the populace. By stripping mankind of its divine purpose, these entities aim to create a selfish, indebted, and consumerist society with an internal void that purchases for purpose. As psychological research shows, a decrease in traditional religiosity correlates with an increase in materialism. This means that the more individualistic a society is, the more consumers there are, which means greater sales and profits for corporations.
Institutions that foster and promote religion, family, and community, decrease the need for consumption and are a threat to these exploitative economic systems that profit off human misery. People are witnessing such weaknesses and failures of man-made systems that seek to control their lives. Arbaeen demonstrates what is possible under a divine system, exemplified in its spiritual and socio-economic culture.
III. Restrictions on Arbaeen
For generations, restrictions were put in place on the Arbaeen pilgrimage, especially during the tyrannical reign of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Those who performed the Ziyarat received threats, and many were tortured and killed for taking part in processions. Many Iraqis would also risk their lives hosting mawkibs, or stands, and creating accommodations for the pilgrims. Since the fall of the Saddam regime, the number of pilgrims performing Ziyarat of Arbaeen has increased many folds, with more than 20 million recorded annually in the past few years.
When the United States illegitimately invaded Iraq in 2003 for its own imperialist agenda under the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction, millions of Iraqis were killed. The US and its allies also supported and funded the spread of ISIS throughout Iraq and the region, threatening the safety of the Arbaeen walk. With US support, ISIS sought to target such holy sites but was never able to become successful due to the prevailing resistance.
Despite an agenda set by the Western imperialist governments to destabilize a war torn country with a weakened economy, Iraq has persisted. The people of Iraq gather every year to host the world’s largest peaceful gathering, defying all odds.
IV. Media Silence
The annual Arbaeen pilgrimage is by far the world’s largest annual public gathering, and perhaps the largest in human history. However, it is deeply censored by Western mainstream media, and sadly, across many parts of the Muslim world, particularly countries governed by illegitimate and oppressive monarchies.
The spiritual, socio-economic, and political dimensions of this great event, as well as its intrinsic meaning, are a threat to the imperialist entities and tyrannical regimes of today. However, censoring the truth and prophetic calls are nothing new in human history, as Prophet after Prophet, Imams of the Ahlulbayt, and callers to divine truth alike, have always been silenced, sanctioned, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. It is no surprise that media platforms blackout the most newsworthy event in contemporary history.
Despite the exhaustive measures taken, the epic event of Arbaeen and Imam Hussain’s (as) movement continues to grow and strengthen year after year to the detriment of the tyrants and despots of our time.
“They wish to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers hate it.” Quran 9:32
V. Palestine in Karbala
This year, flags of oppressed nations were proudly displayed along the walk. Highway poles were decorated with the faces of resistance fighters from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen and all across the Muslim world. They were hailed as heroes who stood against US/Western Imperialism, Zionism, and Takfirism—all of which have wreaked havoc across the region.
Through their resistance, these martyrs played a pivotal role in ensuring the safety of the Arbaeen walk today and the ultimate defeat of ISIS in the region. Palestinian martyrs such as Ibrahim al Nabulsi and Basil Al-Araj were posted on poles to inspire and motivate the pilgrims doing the walk.
Furthermore, this year’s Arbaeen included the second annual “Palestine and Imam Hussain ” conference in the holy city of Karbala, where the Palestinian cause was discussed alongside clerics and attendees from over 60 nations. Amongst the topics discussed were dismissal of any normalization ties with the Zionist entity, particularly by Muslim nations, as well as the Zionist regime’s role in the state-supported Swedish desecration of the Holy Quran.
Sheikh Abdulla Katamto, the coordinator of the Scholarly Forum for Palestine, discussed the central point of the Palestinian cause for all justice seekers. He also expressed gratitude for the Iraqi people who have “demonstrated unity in their pursuit of truth.”
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Amongst the attendees were scholars from Palestine, families of Palestinian martyrs, and Mandla Mandela who is the grandson of Nelson Mandela. Mandela said in a speech during the conference, “Centuries from now you will be remembered amongst those like Imam Hussain (as) who took a bold and courageous stand for truth, justice and freedom.”
The conference emphasized that supporting the Palestinian resistance in unity is integral to applying the lessons of Karbala today.
Moreover, Arbaeen this year was the epicenter of various demonstrations, such as a creative parade using turn cards to protest against state sponsored burning of the Holy Quran across Europe.
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These protests against oppression show that Arbaeen is more than just a humanitarian event, rather a movement centered around the principles of Karbala in today’s world.
The Fear of Mass Awakening
All Muslims believe in the coming of Imam Mahdi (as) alongside the Prophet Jesus (as). On the eschatological level, Islamic traditions depict that Imam Mahdi’s (ajtf) global uprising will not take place until the message of Imam Hussain (as) reaches all corners of the globe. It is narrated that upon his reappearance, he will announce to the world his divine mission as well as the tragedy that befell Imam Hussain (as). Humanity will already be aware and sympathetic to Imam Hussain’s (as) message through movements like Arbaeen, and are prophesied to resonate with Imam Mahdi (as) and join his movement. Imam Mahdi (as), along with Prophet Jesus (as), will destroy all the false idols and satanic systems in order to establish God’s kingdom on earth, filling it with justice and equity after it has been filled with tyranny and oppression.
The revival of Arbaeen and Imam Hussain’s (as) movement, is the revival of Pure Muhammadan Islam, which continues to spread across the globe. It indicates an important theme of resistance and resilience, not only against those who oppressed Imam Hussain (as), his family and companions 1400 years ago, but also against the oppressive entities of today. The millions that flood Arbaeen yearly shake the thrones of the tyrants who fear the mass awakening, influence and inspiration of Imam Hussain’s (as) message.
Arbaeen is the resistance movement that the imperialist entities fear most. Through the love, devotion and faith of the pilgrims and hosts, Arbaeen will continue to inspire millions into mass awakening.
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