In recent years, walking a distance from Najaf to Karbala to commemorate Arba‘een, meaning the 40th day past the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain (a), has become incredibly popular among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. What sparked people’s interest in this pilgrimage? How did it become a tradition and norm? Keep reading this article to find out.
The First Pilgrim of Arba‘een
The very first pilgrim to go to Karbala on the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain (a) was the great companion of Prophet Muhammad (s), Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari. Jabir was one of those who lived during the time of the Prophet (s) and had a very long life. He even had the chance to be in the presence of the fifth Shia Imam, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a). Some say the family of Imam al-Hussain (a), who was taken captive, also arrived at Karbala on the 40th day of Imam al-Hussain’s martyrdom. Others have denied such a possibility because they believe they were held captive much longer than to go back to Karbala 40 days after the Imam’s martyrdom. In any case, Jabir was the first person to visit Imam al-Hussain’s grave (a) on Arba‘een.
When Did the Arba‘een Walk Become Popular?
Iraqis and a few people from other nationalities would go on the Arba‘een walk before the coming to power of Saddam. When Saddam came to power, he banned traveling to the shrine of Imam al-Hussain (a) on foot on Arba‘een. After Saddam was ousted in 2003, this tradition was revived. Iraqi people from different cities surrounding Karbala once again began traveling to Karbala on foot on Arba‘een. Slowly within the next couple of years, this walk became so popular that people from many nationalities began coming to Iraq to participate in the Arba‘een walk. Now, tens of millions of people commemorate the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain by walking from Najaf and the cities surrounding Karbala to the shrine of Imam al-Hussain (a).
On the Way to Karbala
On the way to Karbala from the cities surrounding it, one of the very noticeable things is the mawkibs (مَوکِب) that people set up. A mawkib is a stand where different services are offered to the pilgrims, such as food, drinks, lodging, medical services, and international phone calls. There are many mawkibs on the way to Karbala that people from different countries set up. By offering these services, they ease the journey of the pilgrims to Karbala and earn more rewards from Allah.
Different food is served, such as kebab, grilled chicken and fish, shawarma, falafel, and rice. Drinks such as Iraqi tea, coffee, fruit juice, and lemonade are served in many mawkibs. This is the beauty of the Arba‘een walk. Everyone is doing their best to make Allah and Imam al-Hussain (a) happy by doing service to the pilgrims. If it were not for their pure intention, we would never see such mawkibs.
Significance of the Arba‘een Walk
The Arba‘een walk is not merely a religious event. There are other dimensions to it. For example, it has many social, cultural, and political messages. It is a peaceful gathering where tens of millions of people unite to call out to the world their readiness to further the cause of Imam al-Hussain (a). The Arba‘een walk is a mark of friendship for all Muslims and non-Muslims who take part in this great event, regardless of age, nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, denomination, and religion. Some even go as far as to say that the Arba‘een walk has such an enormous significance that it is a prelude and preparation for the reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a). Perhaps other than hajj, there is no other religious gathering and pilgrimage equal to the caliber of the Arba‘een walk.
The Ziyarah of Arba‘een
A special ziyarah has been transmitted to us from our Imams (a) to be read on the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain (a). It is known as the Ziyrah of Arba‘een. It is a very short ziyarah compared to the other ziyarahs of Imam al-Hussain (a). Those who go on the Arba‘een walk read this ziyarah on the 20th of Safar, which marks the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain (a). There is a narration from Imam Hassan al-Askari that reading this ziyarah is one of the signs of a believer (mu’min).
The Arba‘een walk is a major event held each year, commemorating the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain (a). People walk from the cities surrounding Karbala, such as Najaf, to visit the shrine of Imam al-Hussain (a). Tens of millions of people from different countries visit Iraq to participate in the Arba‘een walk. The Arba‘een walk is a very important event that carries the message of peace, unity, and friendship among all people in the world. May Allah grant us the privilege to participate in the Arba‘een walk in the near future. Amen.