KARBALA – The city of Imam Hussain

SHAFAQNA – You may not have heard about it in mainstream media but Iraq is getting ready to host the largest religious pilgrimage of all time in its holy city of Karbala: Arbaeen.


Arbaeen, which means 40 in Arabic, marks the end of the mourning period Muslims observe every year in commemoration of the martyrdom of the Third Imam of Islam: Imam Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

A man of unparalleled stature, Imam Hussain’s name, and his message have transfixed, and inspired generations of men for centuries, cutting across all manners of differences. Most likely the only figure in History to have commanded such consensus as to the quality of his character, the virtue of his standing, and the courage he demonstrated when faced with oppression, Imam Hussain has long been hailed a hero among all heroes … yet the manner of his death remains vastly unknown to the public those days.


If Hussain ibn Ali was an Imam of Islam, his message, and most importantly his fight was for all people, regardless of their standing, beliefs and ethnicity. For all intents and purposes Imam Hussain’s Revolution was so that humanity would be given a fighting chance!


So that communities of men would learn dignity and freedom from tyranny the prophet’s grandson gave not only his life on the battlefield but everything that he was, since his family was with him as he faced an army of 30,000 strong.


The events of Karbala, the massacre which took place following the murder of Hussain ibn Ali continue to resonate a rallying call for Justice – unmatched, unparalleled, undisputed. The man for whom tradition writes the Heavens cried for 40 days, is remembered today the greatest freedom fighter of all; he, who refuse to bow, for bowing would have been to renounce the Lord of Abraham.


And while not all people believe in fact in the Hereafter, then surely, as Imam Hussain called out, they must ambition to live free from tyranny and arrogance.


13 centuries on, Iraq, without fail offers the best of itself year after year to honour such message of peace and liberation.


Despite, and most certainly in spite of the hardship Iraq has faced under the blade of Wahhabi-inspired radical militants, the war-torn nation has made a point at welcoming millions of pilgrims with utmost  generosity.


I was once told that: “Arbaeen is where humanity comes to grieve in peace and brotherhood.”


Indeed it is … Over 20 millions pilgrims gathered in one city by the sheer strength of people’s will and kindness.


For the next 10 days pilgrims will be fed, offered water, housed, their aching limbs massaged and their needs met without any call for payment. A pilgrimage of love, Arbaeen is not an exercise in capitalism. In Karbala no levy is being collected, no man, woman, or child will be taxed so that they may be allowed to perform their religious duties.

A testament to Islam’s message of unity, compassion, justice and generosity, the resting place of Imam Hussain stands a brilliant reminder that salvation lies in our ability to accept all people on account of their humanity.

By Catherine Shakdam

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