Arbaeen: A Shia perspective

Shia Muslim Nazim Ali reflects on the meaning of Arbaeen, the annual Shia pilgrimage to Karbala to commemorate 40 days after Imam Hussain’s martydom, and its context in modern day Iraq.

Iqbal the great Sunni Philosopher and poet said:

“Imam Hussain uprooted despotism forever, till the day of Resurrection. He watered the dry gardens of freedom with a surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation. If Imam Hussain (a.s) had aimed at acquiring the worldly empire, he would not have traveled the way he did. Hussain weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth. Verily, therefore he becomes the foundation of Muslim creed. ‘La Ilaha Illallah’, meaning there is no deity but Allah (God).”

Iraq is constantly being mentioned in the media and has b,,ecome synonymous with ISIS. This hate-filled organisation has done its utmost to spread its message of barbarity, loathing and dehumanisation. Innocent blood has been spilled of thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims at their hands.

Their message has been and is being used daily by the enemies of Islam to link their vitriol and monstrous nature to the blessed religion given to us by Allah (swt) through the greatest man to walk the earth, the most merciful man, and the most compassionate man the sun ever shone on, Muhammad al Mustafa (saw).

Yet in this arena of hate and despair there is a true love story being lived out at this very moment. A story the world has never seen the like of before. A story first told by the Prophet (saw) himself. A story that has its narrators and listeners weeping, crying and calling out one name. And as they raise their hands heavenly towards the Lord of this man they all call and cry out “Ya Hussain.”


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Yesterday was Arbaeen, the fortieth day after Ashura, the 10th of Muharram. The lovers of the Prophet of Islam (saw) have been gathering in Karbala, Iraq, under the threat of fear, violence and death. Unabated, fearless and with love in their hearts and tears in their eyes, they have come to pay their respects to the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (saw), The son of Fatima (ra) and Ali (ra), the brother of Imam Hassan (as), the prince of youth in paradise.

As Iqbal said:

I am one who weeps at the plight of the Martyr of Kerbala,
Won’t the reward be given to me by the Keeper of Kauser?

Imam Hussain was killed in Karbala
Imam Hussain was killed in Karbala

They have come from across the globe, using every means of transport available. Black, white, male, female, old, young, Shia, Sunni, Muslim, non-Muslim, all united with one purpose – to pay their personal respects to the king of the martyrs.

The road from Najaf, the resting place of Imam Ali, to Karbala (a distance of approximately 100km) is full of millions of devotees marching to Karbala, a trek of 3 days, intoxicated with the love of the Prophet (saw) of Islam and his message.

For his message was truth, love, justice, mercy, compassion and sacrifice, everything that ISIS and their supporters are not. No other being that has walked this earth epitomised these teachings of the Prophet (saw) as Imam Hussain (as) did. His reward was death through brutality. Massacred along with his companions and family members, his message was kept alive by his son Imam Zainul Abedin and his sister the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (saw), Zeinab, who rests in Damascus.

This noble family, revered by both Sunnis and Shias as the holy household, the pure ones, was left to defend the religion of Mustapha (saw) to ensure its survival, all made possible by what the Quran refers to as the Zibul Azeem, the great sacrifice, of Imam Hussain (as).

Biggest spectacle on earth

Up to 20 million have gathered, the biggest spectacle on earth today, amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims, all being fed, hosted and cared for by the residents of the towns and villages that line the route. No charge is made. No fee is asked for. No “bakshish” is accepted.

Instead, all is provided absolutely free, from the poor land worker who has saved his pennies just to be able to offer some food or water to the pilgrims to the rich land owner who has spared nothing to ensure the comfort of those pilgrims who pass his way. Even the Iraqi goverment removed their visa fee , oh what a contrast to the money grabbing Saudis during Hajj!

Millions are sleeping under the night sky as they march to Karbala, no comforts required, no bed sought, all driven on by love. Love for the man who is Imam Hussain (as). Love for his message, love for his character, love for his status as told by his grandfather the Prophet (saw) of Islam.

There is no title to gain like Al-hajj, there is no obligatory ritual, and there is no Eid to commemorate success. There is only love for the sake of Allah. Love for the Prophet (saw) of Islam. Love for his family and their companions.

ISIS has vowed to destroy the shrine of Hussain (as) as they have destroyed many a shrine of the companions of the Prophet (saw). Their cult leader Al-Baghdadi has promised to kill all the Shia Muslims and they have attacked and killed pilgrims in Karbala and Najaf in the past.

However, the 20 million who have gathered in Karbala are making a very strong statement to the takfeeris and their cohorts. They have made it clear, we the Muslims, will never give up loving the household of the Prophet (saw). We the Muslims are united through the love of the Ahlul Bayt. We the Muslims and non Muslims are united in love with the humanitarian cause of Imam Hussain (as).

We the Muslims and non-Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder through our love for the message of Imam Hussain (as), against tyranny, oppression, injustice and barbarity, be it being perpetrated by the Zionists in occupied Palestine or be it their cousins and offspring, ISIS! Our love for humanity, for justice, for peace, is stronger than your hatred for these principles!

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