Arbaeen - pilgrimage to commemorate Imam Hussain's martydom

Story by  Eman Sakina | Posted by  Aasha Khosa • 22 d ago
Shias hold a commemorative march in Kargil, Ladakh, to observe Arbaeen
Shias hold a commemorative march in Kargil, Ladakh, to observe Arbaeen



Eman Sakina

Every year, millions of Muslims walk to the city of Karbala, Iraq, the final resting place of Imam Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. They aim to reach Imam Hussain’s grave by no later than the day of Arbaeen. What makes people shut down their businesses and leave their houses to perform a walk, which takes days and even weeks to complete?

Arbaeen translates to 40. In this context, it marks the 40th day since the martyrdom of Imam Hussain at the Battle of Karbala. Technically, every deceased Muslim has their day of Arbaeen. In many Muslim communities, the family and friends will gather on the 40th day after their loved one’s death to recite the Quran, dua, and dhikr on their behalf with the hope the reward will go to the deceased.

Unless the deceased has left behind ‘sadaqah jariyah’ there is no way for them to perform good deeds, which is why loved ones will often perform deeds on their behalf in the hope it will make the time they spend in the grave comfortable.

On the 20th of Safar, millions of Muslims, mostly Shia but also those from other Islamic sects and religions, observe Imam Hussain’s day of Arbaeen. Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari was the first individual to travel to the grave of Imam Hussain. He went to the grave of the Prophet’s grandchild after learning of his martyrdom. Actually, at this moment, it wasn’t a grave.

According to some customs, Imam Hussain was not buried for three days. Ali ibn Hussain, the son of Imam Hussain, and Jabir came simultaneously. Ali ibn Hussain was traveling back from Syria, where he had been detained during the Battle of Karbala. Ali ibn Hussain laid to rest the martyrs, including his father.

People were shocked by the way Imam Hussain was killed. The crimes of Yazid and the Ummayad empire were exposed. More and more people wanted to visit the grave to pay their respects. The tradition was preserved by Imam Hussain's progeny. They would constantly exhort people to go to Imam Hussain’s grave. The custom has since been carried on to the present day. The shrine of Imam Hussain has undergone numerous renovations and additions over the ages to accommodate the burgeoning number of tourists. The flow of pilgrims increases at the start of Muharram and hits a peak on the day of Arbaeen, which fell on Thursday, September 7, 2023.

When the Arbaeen season commences, the majority of the roads will be shut and, in its place, mawkibs, shaded enclosures for taking rest and sources of refreshments, are established allowing people to rest. The mawkibs will provide a range of features such as a place to eat, sleep, rest, bathe, shower, receive massages and medicine, and much more. The facilities are free to enter and use and are funded solely by donations. One is free to walk into any place of rest they wish where they will be afforded a warm greeting and anything else they need.

Mawkibs are only part of the hospitality and generosity of the people. As one partakes in the walk, they will find numerous stands and stations where people will be handing out food, drinks, and perfume free of charge. Astonishingly, they will approach you and insist you take something.

Those who perform the walk will also carry some essentials on their person but they do not need to. As a result, a pilgrim’s needs are taken care of. The Arbaeen walk is done solely for the love of Imam Hussain. If someone partakes in this walk, there are many lessons they can learn. The Arbaeen Walk is the largest annual peaceful and public gathering attended by approximately 17 to 20 million people. The walk reminds people of the patience Imam Hussain and his family and companions had to endure on the day of the Battle of Karbala and the ensuing imprisonment.

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Theological differences are set aside as humans come together on the basic principle of fighting evil and enjoining good. Mawkibs do not look at your race, religion, ethnicity, or passport before letting you in. Similarly, to the Ihram of Hajj, the Arbaeen walk removes such labels that we use to divide humans. It is not merely a walk. It is a mark of protest against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, fascism, imperialism, despotism, and oppression perpetuated by state and non-state actors.