Arbaeen walk: Journey of love & compassion

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Arbaeen walk: Journey of love & compassion

Sunday, 18 September 2022 | Misam Ali Mirza

Braving extreme weather and ominous security threats, Shia Muslims from around the world are thronging the holy city of Karbala in Iraq to pay their obeisance to the final resting place of the younger grandson of Prophet Mohammad, Hussain Bin Ali, popularly known as Syed al-Shohada (Master of Martyrs). Arbaeen pilgrimage — the journey of “love and compassion”, not being obligatory for Shias — is a reaffirmation of a pledge to uphold the virtues propounded by Imam Hussain and the spirit of his sacrifice for the august cause.

It marks the 40th day since Ashura, the martyrdom day of Imam Hussain, who was killed by Umayyad caliph Yazid ibn Muawiya in the desert of Karbala. Apart from Iran and Iraq, pilgrims from India and Pakistan attend the event. Non-Muslims too visit Karbala to mark their respect and express their solidarity with the noble cause of Imam Hussain.

Imam Hussain was considered the third Imam in the line of succession of Shia Imamate tradition after the Prophet. He is a symbol of resistance against tyranny and injustice.  He is not limited to any faith or religion. In India, he is also revered by Hindus and regarded as a symbol of communal harmony.

The martyrdom of Imam Hussain had a consequential and remarkable impact on the whole course of Islamic history. Having outrightly rejected the proposal of Umayyad caliph Yazid bin Muawiya’s proposal to accept his illegitimate baiyyah (allegiance) and to recognise his sovereignty over the gullible people, Hussain clearly drew the line between haq (righteousness) and batil (falsehood).

According to him, regardless of any ruler’s pedigree or religious, social or political status, the ruling clique should not be based on tyranny and injustice. He raised his voice against these injustices meted out by Yazid and reestablished the human values that have been instituted by Prophet Mohammad and Ali bin Abi Talib, his grandfather and father respectively.

To achieve this objective, he believed that only making supreme sacrifice while fighting the army of Yazid and giving his life in the battlefield can salvage the high morals of Islam. Despite having 72 in numbers he valiantly fought in the plains of Karbala also called al-Taff in 680 AD followed by the imprisonment of his remaining female family members, including his only surviving son Zayn al-Abedin.

Famous Iranian philosopher Ali Shariati once said, “Martyrs gave their blood, now survivors have to carry the message of blood to future generations.”

The ongoing Arbaeen commemoration in the holy city of Karbala in Iraq is carrying forward Imam Hussain’s message of unity of humankind. His sister Sayyida Zaynab played a pivotal role in disseminating his brother’s message and she is considered avant-garde of this phenomenon. The tradition of visiting the graves of the martyrs of Karbala gained further impetus after the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain in 2003. The Iraqi rulers had banned the visit, yet people continued the pilgrimage secretly. These rulers even made unsuccessful attempts to raze the shrine. 

Iraqi people deserve gratitude for their amazing hospitability of pilgrims from around the world who defy terror threats from ISIS to visit Karbala. According to some estimates, after the two year hiatus of coronavirus pandemic restrictions, around 30 million people are overwhelmingly converging in the holy city of Karbala, but unfortunately the coverage blackout of this largest human gathering in history by the Western mainstream media is pathetic.


(The writer works in development sector)

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