Traveling to Iraq and walking to Karbala for Arbaeen is what I and many other Iranians love to do every year. However, it’s unfortunately stopped for the Iranians in the last two years because of the pandemic. This post is what I wrote two years ago after my trip. Good old days!
It was about seven days to Arbaeen and I was driving my own car with my family to the city of Mehran, the main border city between Iran and Iraq. The road was jammed by the cars driving the same way to Karbala -yet more than 500 km away from our distinction. In the middle of the way, there were spaces for rest, eat, and drink freely provided for everyone.
More than 3.5 million people crossed the border from Iran to Iraq for this special event this year -only 400,000 the same day from the same border that we did! This population of Iranians integrates with the international community of pilgrims in Iraq toward the city of Karbala. The official statistics of the Iraqi government say the population in this protest counts to more than 30 million this year which makes it the biggest annual gathering of humankind on the earth. The participants come from Iran, Lebanon, Nigeria, India, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, etc. It’s called the Arbaeen Walk. But where are all these people walking toward and what’s their objective?
Arbaeen is 40 days after Ashura, the day Imam Hossein (who is Hossein?) was martyred in Karbala, where his holy shrine is now located. This day is highly recommended by the Shia Imams in holy texts for Ziarat of Imam Hossein. Ziarat means going to the holy shrine and rebinding commitment with the Imam and the values that he was murdered for: confronting the oppression, self-sacrificing to make a better society, and helping the weak people. Walking this long way from Najaf to Karbala -more than 80 km- is a symbol of respect and obedience with the Imam and reminding us that we are his followers. It’s both for our own growth and declaration of values. It’s a really odd movement, not only considering the quantity of population but the fact that people come a long way with suffering for completely non-individualistic and transcendental goals without a central organization and leadership.
The pilgrims are men and women, children and elders, poor and rich, even disabled people walking several days and nights. I was there with my wife and two children -who we carried with the carousel. Some people think this event is only held on three days before the Arbaeen holiday and just on way from Najaf to Karbala, but it’s not limited to that. From more than two weeks before Arbaeen the people start their walk in all the different ways towards Karbala from South, North, and East.
You see a real organic collaboration all around the country these days. All pilgrims enjoy free services for all their necessities provided by the Mowkebs (in all these 8 days that we were in Iraq, we only paid for transportation between the cities). Thousands of Mowkebs are established and held every year by different Iraqi -and recently Irani- groups and tribes to provide services to participants. The most prominent and vital types of services include providing accommodation for rest, food and drink to survive, and toilets. Also other various types of services such as repairing the wheelchairs, carousels, and backpacks of the pilgrims, providing nursery care for the injured ones, and collecting the garbage. Even some odd services like polishing the shoes, massaging, providing free WiFi, or throwing water on people during hot hours!
The Mowkebs are run completely by volunteers mostly by the Iraqis who are not even so rich but some of them spend all their annual income for this event. They know it a holy activity to attract people on this way with any nationality as a guest, sometimes they entreat to bring them to their house for a single night. There are enough food and facilities for all these millions of pilgrims that you don’t feel any scarce. This can really be named the great international cooperation, especially between Iraq and Iran.
Imagine yourself at the Najaf-Karbala walk in Arbaeen accompanying the American Christian Pastor, John Shuck: