Arbaeen: The World's Largest Peaceful Gathering

20 million people visit Hussain’s shrine on ‘Arbaeen’ day in the city of Karbala, Iraq. What makes people gravitate towards Karbala every year? And why is this man, Hussain, so important?

Walking is one of the first things a human learns, in their first few months of life, in order to explore their surroundings and discover the world around them. Therefore, we understand that walking is a huge milestone in one’s development, and is a necessary tool that develops in one's early life to aid in seeking objectives. Walking is considered to be the easiest, most inexpensive, and most accessible form of exercise. Unlike many animals and creatures who crawl or fly, God honored the human being by allowing them to walk straight rather than on four legs.

Image Source: Priscilla Du Preez

"Verily your striving efforts are diverse" (Al-Layl: 4)

On a physical level, a human seeks to progress and develop. The spiritual journey is no different. In this journey of life, one can take different pathways and footsteps, and each pathway you take will lead you to a different destination. In other words, the human life is not stationary. By nature, we are constantly seeking and advancing towards our goals.

Image Source: Mostafa Meraji

So where do walking and spirituality connect? The answer to this is the holy day of the Shia Muslim calendar, Arbaeen. First, what is Arbaeen? Arbaeen is a term which marks 40 days from Ashura, the day on which a man named Hussain Ibn Ali was martyred in the battle of Karbala. Hussain was a revolutionary and religious leader that sought to reform society through spreading justice and peace among people around 1400 years ago. His fight for justice remains a prevalent struggle in today’s world. Therefore, the commemoration of Hussain and the values he stood for is symbolized through the walk of Arbaeen. Each year, millions of people travel to the country of Iraq to join a free, peaceful walk from the city of Najaf to the city of Karbala, Hussain's grave as the destination. Through the distance of approximately 92 kilometers, people walk to commemorate Hussain's bravery and plight for the truth. This is especially important as issues of the past continue to echo in society today. People observe Arbaeen by performing a series of charitable acts, which sometimes include small acts such as cleaning people’s shoes, giving water and drinks, and preparing food for visitors, among other things. It is also a ritual to wear black garments and narrate speeches and poems regarding the story of Hussain and the tragedy of Karbala. It is the principles of human rights, justice, and freedom that unite and bring people closer together on this day. Arbaeen happened on October 20th this year.

Image Source: MAHDI

As human beings, regardless of culture, religion, or language, we are drawn to supporting philanthropic causes, commemorating revolutionary events, and remembering significant people. In the U.S. calendar, we commemorate important people on days like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Veteran’s Day, Mother's Day, and Father's Day, as well as important events on days like Independence Day. Arbaeen is no different, representing freedom, justice, and family just as any of these days.

Through Arbaeen, one can learn that the journey of life is inevitably difficult and challenging, but every step must be made worthwhile. Constantly renew your promises and keep upholding the principles of truth and justice. Support others, feed those in need, love more, and be kind and gentle with those you come in contact with. You never know when your clock ticks and your time runs out.