From the past times all the way until today, the Shias have utilized every opportunity to visit Karbala on the day of Arbaʿīn in order to visit the shrine of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa). They would gather around this blessed shrine with deep emotions and sincerity, while paying their respects to the Master of Martyrs. During the past several years in particular, millions of people commemorate in Karbala every year, the greatest martyr of all time.
Indeed, the ceremonies held on Arbaʿīn are one of the noblest traditions of the religion of Islam. These ceremonies have deep roots within the religion itself and they were handed down to us from the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) themselves. In spite of all the years which have passed since the great uprising of Karbala, perhaps it is still too soon for us to truly understand the profound reality of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa)’s sacrifice.
From this particular perspective, the Arbaʿīn processions are a commemoration of the great role of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) in reviving the religion of Islam and ensuring its permenance. When we look at the supplication of Arbaʿīn, we find that it is a supplication which has only been narrated for Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) and nothing like it exists for anyone else. This shows us that the movement of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) was something unique and like no other.
Without any doubt, the attraction which the Arbaʿīn ceremonies hold is so great that every year, many people congregate in Karbala to participate in them. During the past few years, these ceremonies have reached the point where they have turned into the largest congregational gatherings in human history thus far. It is interesting to note that people oftentimes walk to Karbala on foot, attempting to recreate some of the difficulties which their Imam (ʿa) underwent. They do all of these things in spite of the very real dangers which they face in Iraq due to the instability which the country is currently in.
The pilgrims leave these concerns behind and they gather from Najaf, as well as other points in Iraq, and walk towards Karbala some even walk barefoot, leaving aside their shoes. In Karbala, the environment soon becomes thick with various groups of people each mourning in their own way; we must work hard to preserve this valuable cultural and religious phenomenon. Let us now make use of the valuable viewpoints of Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī in order to better understand the strategic characteristics related to the yearly Arbaʿīn procession which takes place both in Karbala, as well as in virtually every city all around the world.
Understanding the Essential Philosophy of the Pilgrimage of Arbaʿīn
It is worth mentioning that one of the important customs of the twentieth day of Ṣafar, (which is the day of Arbaʿīn) is the pilgrimage of Arbaʿīn made to the holy shrine of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa). Imam al-Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī (ʿa) has been quoted as calling this pilgrimage as one of the signs of true believers. We have even been given a special supplication for this day by Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). The late ʿAllāmah Majlisī has written the following in his Zād al-Maʿād with regard to the pilgrimage of Arbaʿīn: “One of the reasons behind the great importance placed on visiting the Imam (a)’s tomb on this day might be the fact that Jābir, who was one of the great companions of the Prophet (s), established this custom. There may also be other aspects to this supplication which are yet hidden to us.
Yet, it seems quite unlikely that the reason behind the great emphasis placed on the pilgrimage of Arbaʿīn by the Infallible Imams (a) be merely because Jābir ibn Abdullah al-Ansārī visited Karbala on the day of Arbaʿīn. This is particularly true considering the fact that we have been instructed by the Infallibles to make the pilgrimage of Arbaʿīn only for Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) and we have not been instructed to make such a pilgrimage for any of the other infallibles. The true reason behind the emphasis placed on the pilgrimage of Arbaʿīn, however, can be found in the remarks of the great scholar Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī who said the following in this regard: “On the twentieth day of Ṣafar, the pure head of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) was returned to his body and buried. It is on this same day that the pilgrimage of Arbaʿīn must be made”. Similarly, ʿAllāmah Majlisī has mentioned in his Zād al-Maʿād that: “The stronger opinion concerning the reason why visiting the shrine of the Imam (a) on this day has been so greatly emphasized is that it was on this day that Imam Zayn al-ʿAbidīn returned to Karbala along with the rest of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) on their return journey from Syria. They had brought back the heads of the martyrs and they buried them alongside with their bodies”.
Therefore, this visitation became a tradition (Sunnah) after the head of the Imam (ʿa) was joined and buried with his body on the twentieth of the month of Ṣafar. Therefore, considering the fact that, unlike special days of the year such as Thursday nights, the Nights of Destiny (Lailat al-raghāib), the day of Arafah, and the Eids of Fitr and Adhḥā, the twentieth of the month of Ṣafar does not hold any distinctive privilege over other days it is clear that the significance of this day lies in a special event which happened in it. Obviously then, the twentieth day of Ṣafar is considered to be of great significance because it was the day that the head of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) (as well as the other martyrs) was returned to Karbala and buried there next to his body. This is in essence the philosophy behind the pilgrimage to Karbala on the twentieth of Ṣafar.
The Importance of the Arbaʿīn Processions according to Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī
Some people may wonder that since we have all these different modern day means of transportation, why would a large number of pilgrims make the decision to walk on foot towards the shrine of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) in Karbala on the day of Arbaʿīn? The answer to this is that walking on foot on the day of Arbaʿīn towards the shrine of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) is an expression of the greatness of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa). In addition, this action of walking during a pilgrimage has been recommended by the infallible Imams (a). It has particularly been emphasized during the pilgrimages to the shrines of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) and Imam al-Riḍā (ʿa). The Infallible Imams (ʿa) would themselves travel on foot from Medina to Mecca. Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) is recorded to have walked twenty five times in visiting the Holy Ka’bah.
An important point which is found in the life history of the Imams (ʿa) is that during these journeys which they would make on foot, they would also bring mounts with them so that if they were affected by weakness during the journey, they could make use of the mounts and continue their journey. This shows that the key element in taking along a mount during these journeys was to show that they were not walking because they lacked a horse or a camel to travel on; they walked on these journeys as an expression of honoring the place they were traveling towards. This includes places such as the shrine of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa). When people walk towards Karbala during Arbaʿīn processions, they are in essence expressing the greatness of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) and his lofty rank before Allah (swt).
Similarly, when we wish to understand the other facets of the importance of walking during the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa), it can also be said that walking during such a journey has effects which a normal pilgrimage via bus or car does not have. A person who is walking towards their Imam (ʿa) will have a completely different spiritual and emotional state than someone who is traveling there using ordinary means. This is something which can only be understood by experiencing it and one who has not experienced it personally may have a hard time understanding it.
There is no doubt that visiting the shrine of the Imams (ʿa) entails many blessings and is of tremendous value. In a regular pilgrimage, one can spend two, three, or even four days visiting their Imam (ʿa). Such a journey will naturally take place faster and there will be less memories associated with such a trip. Yet an individual who walks towards the shrine of their Imam (ʿa) will experience so many unique things that they will have enough memories for an entire lifetime. Walking towards the shrine of one’s Imam (ʿa) is in reality a type of self-building.
Even beyond the discussions which take place during the daytimes of this journey, the pilgrims end up staying at various places along the way and they end up having many valuable discussions during the nights as well. When I myself had the honor of studying in Najaf, the students, scholars, and religious authorities would all walk to Karbala on foot during various special days, both during Arbaʿīn, as well as other times. We would walk barefoot on these journeys and even if the thorns cut deeply into our feet, we did not mind the pain and continued on.
The Arbaʿīn Ceremonies Held in Commemoration of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) as an International Sign of the Greatness of the Shia School of Thought and its Teachings
It must be acknowledged that the revolt of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) and the events of Karbala draw more attention as every year goes by. Karbala is something which never seems to grow old and it is something which is never forgotten. The yearly commemoration of Arbaʿīn takes place in a way where it grows in scope greatness without any type of advertisement. It can even be said that the crowds which gather for this commemoration are larger in size than those which congregate for the Ḥajj pilgrimage. This shows the greatness of this path whereby the people move towards Allah (swt).
The number of people who gather in Karbala during Arbaʿīn is even greater in number than during Ashura. A great number of pilgrims move towards Karbala on foot and one can find a number of old men, women, and children amongst them. These people suffer the difficulties of the long journey for the sake of their love for Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) and the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa). It is, in fact, their love the holy family of the Prophet (ṣ) that brings them on this journey. As for these individuals who undertake such a difficult journey, there are numerous blessings and benefits which they receive as a result of their efforts.
Thus, the Arbaʿīn ceremonies held in commemoration of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) are in reality an event which is unique amongst events all throughout the world. The Arbaʿīn processions held for Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) are something which Allah (swt) has given to the Shias in order that the greatness of the faith is shown to the entire world. We should be thankful for this opportunity for Ashura is a means of standing up against the enemies and it is something which shows the greatness of the Shia school of thought all throughout the world.
The type of progress that we see in relation to Arbaʿīn shows us that there is something pushing this phenomenon forward without any advertisement or propagation. The reality is that Arbaʿīn has been transformed into a great investment which has no equal in this world and it is something which the Shias have in their hands. Therefore, we should not pass by this issue easily and we should realize its true value and utilize it properly.
The Greatness of the Arbaʿīn Procession under the Shadow of the Fear of Wahhabi Terrorism
It is evident that when the Takfīrī terrorists and their supporters from various Arab countries, as well as the West, ended up being defeated in Syria, they decided to make up for their loses in Iraq. In spite of this, not much time passed when the Iraqi nation, composed of both Sunnis and Shias, stood up against these Takfīrī terrorists and began to fight them. These Takfīrīs should know that there are millions upon millions of individuals from various other countries who come to Iraq during every Arbaʿīn, and if necessary, these people will join the Iraqi forces in fighting them.
The Muslim youth (both Sunni and Shia) must preserve their level of preparation and readiness so that if their help is requested by the Iraqi government, they can go and help fight against these terrorist groups. In reality, the Shias are utilizing the great procession of Arbaʿīn as a show of force against the enemies, and they will end up defeating them. Without any doubt, such a great movement puts a great deal of fear and terror into the hearts of the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) and those of the religion. Those who wish to do evil and destruction have understood as a result of this movement that they cannot remove the love of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) from the hearts of the people.
The Procession of Arbaʿīn and it’s Great Potential for Achieving the Cultural Goals of Islam
Without any doubt, we must utilize the great procession of Arbaʿīn with all of its various potentials. This means that in addition to the basic things which are done during this commemoration, we must also engage in various positive and effective cultural works. We must work hard in improving everything, including the aspects which serve the pilgrim’s needs. Since serving the pilgrims of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) is in reality a service to Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa), we must work towards creating various cultural and educational waves of improvement. Unfortunately, there are some people who go on these pilgrimages, but they do not pray their daily prayers. In light of this issue, we must fulfill the obligatory duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil during these journeys. We must do our part to spread the positive teachings of the religion amongst the participants who are walking towards Karbala. Placing posters in regards to the prayers or to the Ḥijāb (the Muslim head cover), as well as doing other things, will bring about many valuable cultural effects amongst the Arbaʿīn pilgrims of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa).
Strengthening the Shia School of Thought through the Propagation of the Arbaʿīn Pro-cession
It is clear that the ceremonies of Arbaʿīn held in commemoration of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) are much like a treasure of which more and more is discovered every single year. We must know how valuable this treasure really is and we must tell the world about it as well. The whole world must know about this great gathering of Arbaʿīn and that it is a homage paid to the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) by those who truly love them. This yearly gathering is of vital importance as it will help further establish and strengthen the Shia school of thought. The yearly processions of Arbaʿīn inject fresh blood into the Shia body worldwide and it is clear to the whole world that a gathering of such magnitude is something unique and without precedent.
Such unique characteristics of the Arbaʿīn processions held in honor of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) will attract the attention of the people of the world and so they constitute one of the best ways to propagate the Shia school of thought, as well as the religion of Islam overall. From this perspective, the Arbaʿīn procession should be viewed as one of the strategic means through which Islam can be propagated.
The Necessity of Organizing and Managing the Arbaʿīn Procession
Every year, over twenty million pilgrims participate in the Arbaʿīn processions in Iraq without any major issues or problems. However, the Saudi government has not been able to guarantee the safety and security of just two million Ḥajj pilgrims. There is no doubt that the enemies are busy plotting of a way to harm and disrupt the Arbaʿīn processions; these plots have only grown thicker after the tragedy which took place in Minā this past year. The enemies desire to undermine the Arbaʿīn procession or at least make it less attractive to the pilgrims. One of their goals is to mix various superstitions into the procession so that its greatness will be lessened and the security and organization of the Shias as a whole is placed under question.
Due to this reason, we must realize that the Arbaʿīn procession is a great treasure and it must be utilized in the correct manner. We must also reflect upon the various security issues per-taining to it. The pilgrims must clear the paths after they have performed their pilgrimage so that the roads become less crowded and pose less of a danger to the people. They must also be aware and vigilant to the destructive activities of the enemies and this is a very important issue.
Similarly, the pilgrims of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) must adopt an attitude of patience and forbearance so that they do not annoy others with their actions. Those who are in charge of organizing this great event must also manage the Arbaʿīn procession properly and in the best manner. If they fail to do this, and certain issues come up with the coming and going of the pil-grims, then very serious problems will come about. There is no doubt that serving in the cause of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) on the Arbaʿīn procession is a great honor regardless of their social sta-tus, scientific standing or power.
A Final Word
In conclusion, it must be said that when I (Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī) see the moving scenes (on television) of all the pilgrims walking (towards Karbala) with bare feet, accompanied with their small children or even infants, I wish that I also could be present with them. How I wish that I could also participate in this path in spite of my advanced age. When we look at the history of the Arbaʿīn procession, we see that it began with just two people during that first year but it has now grown to millions of pilgrims. This is a sign of the power and greatness of one who connects himself with Allah (swt). When such a person connects himself so closely to Allah (swt), the youth of various nations are willing to journey towards them in spite of the many dangers and difficulties which they face.
This also shows that the Arbaʿīn procession will continue to grow in greatness in the years to come. From this perspective, the documentaries which are made in regards to this procession should be collected so that they will serve as a record for the Shia school of thought throughout future history. Chronicling the realities of the Arbaʿīn procession is a truly important matter. Therefore, it is better if all of the various facets of the greatness of this procession are recorded using all means available to us. If this is done, then the Arbaʿīn procession will be solidly recorded for the future generations.
Using modern day methods and technology such as various cameras (both still cameras, as well as video cameras)… this can be performed in the best manner possible. Also, we must be careful that certain people do not begin various religions innovations or incorrect actions which will take away from the greatness of the Arbaʿīn procession. The Arbaʿīn procession and the pilgrimage of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) are exceedingly holy, blessed, and beneficial traditions. God willing, the effects and blessings of these actions will be an investment on the Day of Judgment for the pilgrims of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) on the day of Arbaʿīn.