In the Name of God Most Gracious Most Merciful
In November 2017, I was fortunate enough to be one of around 14 million followers of Imam Husayn (a) who participated in the Arbaeen pilgrimage in Iraq. The journey from the City of Najaf to Karbala was through the Iraqi countryside. It was a difficult walk, through various landscapes but by the grace of Imam Husayn’s kindness towards his visitors, I found it deeply fulfilling.
Growing up as a follower of the Ahl al-Sunnah, I was dissatisfied with how the Holy Prophet (s) was portrayed in Sunni texts. I longed for a clear understanding about his life and struggled to learn more about his eminent Household as I felt their personalities were not depicted appropriately. So I researched, and began to gain a deeper understanding of the lives of these noble personalities.
I learned of the tragedy of Karbala and its importance in keeping Islam alive. When I found out what had occurred in Islamic history, I changed my ideology to the school of the Ahl al-Bayt (a).
I studied the events that led to the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and learned that Imam Khomeini believed that the Revolution of Imam Husayn did not end in Karbala, rather, that it began with Karbala and continues to this day. Both were the most decisive revolutions in the history of mankind.
Imam Khomeini used the platform of Ashura and Arbaeen mourning gatherings to re-interpret the fundamental principle of “enjoining good and prohibiting evil” to respond to the current oppressive situations in their lives. I learned that Imam Khomeini had emphasized ‘Maintain the month of Muharram for all we have is from it.”
I felt unsettled and anxious when reminded of the desperate call of Imam Husayn (a) “Is there any helper to help us?” I knew that I had to visit his grave in order to further my understanding of this unprecedented revolutionary personality. In fact, Imam Sadiq (a) has said ‘Revive our issue, May Allah have mercy on those who do’ He has said: The breath of one who is aggrieved, upon the injustice and oppression subjected to us, is tasbeeh (glorification of Allah), and his grief for us is ibaadat (worship of Allah), and his concealing our secrets is jihad in the path of Allah.” The Imam (a) then added: “This tradition ought to be written in gold.” [Amaali by Shaikh al-Mufid, page 209]
It’s 9:30 a.m. I left the Najaf hotel with my group from Sydney and our journey to Karbala began. We were going to walk 110 km to Karbala and take the countryside route by the Euphrates River. We chose this route because this is how the prisoners of Karbala were taken to Sham (Syria). This was also the route taken by the later Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) who came to visit Imam Husayn’s shrine.
The journey started along the Najaf-Karbala highway along with millions of pilgrims all heading in the same direction. We then split from the main route and turned towards Kufa, stopping at Masjid Sahla along the way, and then made our way through villages along the Euphrates, a cool open landscape lined with green fields and date palms.
I observed the people walking alongside, mothers with babies, elderly and even people in wheelchairs. Some are unfit even to go for their obligation of Hajj, but they come from thousands of miles to visit Imam Husayn out of their love for him. Hurriedly and eagerly, they walk forward with their chants echoing through the countryside.
Having performed Hajj earlier, I could now appreciate the difference between the crowds during Hajj and the visitors of Imam Husayn. During Hajj, pilgrims, between one and three million, are all busy with their own rituals. But during Arbaeen, Imam Husayn’s visitors and volunteers, with at least ten times more pilgrims, help each other complete their journey. The local Iraqi people also give everything they possess in the service of these visitors. Every year, pilgrims return with more extraordinary stories about the famous Iraqi generosity. This is despite the utter hardship and insecurity of lives and livelihood that Iraqis face every day in this embattled country still hounded by infestations of Daesh (ISIS) and foreign mercenaries.
As I hurried forward trying to keep up with my group, I wondered, would we hasten like this at the advent of our Awaited Saviour (ajtf), the 12th Imam, when his call comes, not looking out for anything, except to reach him? I suddenly felt that this was our training ground. This was it! We were indeed part of the global Arbaeen movement, and we were all responding in unison to our Master, Imam al-Mahdi (ajtf), the great-grandson of Imam Husayn.
We stopped at a house by the river to pray Maghrib Salah. Our hosts welcomed us by turning on their gushing water pump in the river for us to wash for prayers. Seeing this, my thoughts turned sad. Wasn’t this the same river water which my besieged and thirsty Master (a) was prevented from getting to quench his children’s bone-dry throats?
I lay down on the mat in their backyard, looking up at the dark twilight sky. These skies have seen so much pain and atrocity in the past, but now it looks down upon the kindness of the Iraqi people as they host and serve the visitors to Imam Husayn. Even the soil from under the shoes of the pilgrims is collected with great reverence by the locals to rub them on their faces and keep in their homes for healing from illness. How sacred is this unique respect for the visitors of Imam Husayn?
Soon, our hosts served us a hot steaming meal of lentils, meat and rice with bread and salad. Knowing that we had a long way to go before we could camp for the night, we started walking again.
It is past midnight, with no streetlights on this untarred dusty village road by the Euphrates River. When I look up at the nearly full moon, I am reminded of the brave and loyal Qamar Bani Hashim. Tears well up as my mind shifts to history. Hazrat Abul Fadhl al-Abbas (a), the true revolutionary, had trained his soul to never place himself before his master Imam Husayn. Here on these paths, how he (a) must have looked down helplessly upon his forcibly unveiled sisters being taken behind the heads of his martyred brothers and nephews on spears.
Finally, we arrive exhausted at a house in a village by the river. We did not want to eat, all we wanted was to stretch our legs and sleep. We had arrived in the village of Kafel, where a Bani Israel prophet had once lived!
After breakfast, as we started our walk for the 2nd day, it began to rain. I felt unwell with a burning skin rash and fell behind my group. Hopeful of some assistance by a taxi, I recite the two verses of Surah Talaq for help from unexpected sources (end of verse 2 and verse 3).
“(2)…By that is exhorted whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day. And whoever fears Allah—He will make a way out for him.”
“(3) And will provide for him from where he never expected. Whoever relies on Allah—He will suffice him. Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has set a measure to all things.”
Without fail, a taxi or someone offering to carry my bag would arrive. Praise be to God – a miracle!
We stopped for lunch at pole 982 in Haidariya village. We got to know from the ladies there that it was a martyrs’ house, killed while fighting ISIS, defenders of the shrines of Imam Musa al-Khadim (a) and Imam Mohammed al-Jawad (a). We offered our condolences and joined them in their grief. My heart bled as I watched the orphaned children play with their pets and ride broken bikes between the fields of wheat and date palms.
Our hosts put before us fresh lavash (bread), roasted lamb, yogurt, salads and fruits. I began to wonder, could they normally afford to eat such meals? We slept for a couple of hours, thanked our hosts, and started our journey forward in the cold darkness, quickening our steps under the moonlight.
It was 11:00 a.m. when we arrived in the village of Khan al-Hammad. Everyone is sporting blisters the size of small eggs under their feet except me, and I thanked God. This 110 km trip had not been easy walking because we slowed down for the weakest in our group. Travelling teaches a person many things like endurance and patience. But this walk is no ordinary trip, and people who get the opportunity to take part in this journey are also not ordinary people. They have been invited by the Master of Martyrs (a).
We turned the corner, and suddenly I spotted the beautiful golden dome of the holy Harum of Imam Husayn in the distance. My heart stopped. Tears welled up, and I raised my right hand in greeting my Master. “Labayk ya Husayn! Here I am O Husayn.” “My heart is obedient to your heart, And my affair is in line with your affair, My help is ready for you” [Ziyarat Arbaeen]
It took another two hours of walking, just past midnight, before we arrived at Bab al-Qiblah Gate of Imam Husayn’s shrine. By the Grace of Allah (swt), the walk had been successful, and we had arrived in good health and on time. Thanks be to God.