SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)- One of the biggest pilgrimages in the world is underway, with millions of Shia Muslims risking their lives to travel through Iraq.
They are making their way to the holy city of Karbala, 62 miles south-west of Baghdad, for the holy day of Arbaeen on 12 December – a journey that has previously been the target of numerous terrorist attacks, The Independent reported.
Arbaeen marks the end of a 40-day mourning period following Ashura, the day that commemorates the death of the Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) grandson Imam Hussein (AS) in 680.
Shia Muslims mourn his martyrdom at the battle of Karbala.
The city holds the Imam Hussein (AS) Shrine, which was the destination of an estimated 20 million people from 40 countries in 2013.
The Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela, often held to be the largest in the world, sees more pilgrims but is only held every third year, while the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca sees approximately 2 million people arrive every year.
Dozens of people died in last year’s Arbaeen as ISIL and other extremist militias attacked devotees with suicide bombs and rockets.
Two car bombs south of Baghdad killed 24 people on 16 December, while suicide bombers attacked pilgrims three days later, leaving 36 people dead.
ISIL has declared Shia Muslims apostates and targeted them in its bloody campaign to establish a hard-line caliphate across Iraq and Syria.
Security is being increased around Karbala ahead of the pilgrims’ arrival but many choose to make the 55-mile journey on foot from Najaf, near ISIL-controlled areas.