Travel. Iraq. Pilgrimage.

A Journey of Love in Iraq

...and a request that was made 1400-years ago!

Photo by ‏🌸🙌 في عین الله on Unsplash

Every year in the Islamic month of Safar, thousands of Shia Muslims in Iraq leave their homes to begin a remarkable walk. Many people from different parts of the world also join this walk. People walking on this journey don’t worry about medical care, food, accommodation, or any other facility. Their focus is to reach their destination on time. They are walking towards Karbala.

Photos by ‏🌸🙌 في عین الله on Unsplash

This is Arba’een walk, a walk that starts from the city of Najaf and ends in Karbala, Iraq. The distance between Najaf and Karbala is around 80 km, but some people start walking from the city of Basra, which is approximately 500 km away from Karbala. All of these people gather to mark Arba’een, the world’s largest annual peaceful gathering held every year in Karbala. About 20 million people gather in Karbala every year on Arba’een, but in 2016, the number of pilgrims went up to 25 million!

Arba’een walk is also known as the journey of love( you will get to see the reason soon, stay tuned! )

Oh, Pilgrims! Please come to our camp. Let us serve you!

Please rest in our house for tonight.

Let us give you a massage on your foot so that you might feel relieved.

Please come with us. Let us serve you some food.

Images taken from Wikipedia Commons. Picture 1 : Source, Picture 2 : Source

These are some common phrases that one can hear while walking towards Karbala during Arba’een walk. On the pilgrimage routes, food, accommodation, medical facilities, and other services are provided for free by volunteers. These volunteers are either locals or people from different parts of the world who come and set camps to serve pilgrims.

Many locals living en route to Karbala are not wealthy, but every person volunteers to serve pilgrims with whatever little he/she can offer in this walk. People provide whatever they can, be it a glass of water or a bunch of dates; some polish the pilgrims’ shoes, some wash clothes, and others give a massage. No one is forced to do anything. Every service is free, and people are entirely hospitable.

Why Free Services ?

It is in honor of a request made 1400-years ago.

Who is the requester ?

Hussain. He is the grandson of Prophet Mohammad(pbuh), who refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, a tyrant and a terrorist ruler of the Ummayyad Dynasty who called himself a caliph. He made immoral and false changes in Islam and was forcing the grandson of Prophet Mohammad for allegiance. Hussain refused, saying he cannot compromise truth with falsehood. He cannot support a tyrant and a terrorist. Yazid killed anyone who supported Hussain. Yazid’s army killed Hussain and his handful of companions in Karbala.

The Request

Karbala, 61 AH

Hussain arrived in Karbala and purchased land there from the tribe of a nearby village and said -

O, menfolk of Karbala’! We have not come here to fight. Yazid’s soldiers will fight with us and will kill us. They will not bury our bodies and will leave our bodies to the wild animals of the desert. I request a favour from you. Please, bury our bodies

Ladies of Karbala’! Your menfolk, out of fear of Yazid’s soldiers, might not bury our bodies. Ladies! When your men work in the fields, please come out of your houses and bury our bodies.

Children! If your father or your mother cannot bury us, I beg you to throw a fistful of sand over our bodies while you are playing in the fields. That way, children, our bodies will slowly get buried.”

My second request to you all is to look after the people who will come to visit our graves after our death. They will be my guests so, please look after them and feed them for three days.

Source : Tears of Karbala by Liaket Dewji

But, why walk ?

In the Arba’een Walk, one can see a lot of old aged people walking with support sticks, women walking with new-borns, differently-abled people, and small children. Many times people walk barefoot.

Photo by ‏🌸🙌 في عین الله on Unsplash

After Hussain and his male family members and companions were killed by the Yazid’s army, their women and children were taken as prisoners to Damascus. They covered most of the part of their journey on foot in the scorching heat. The first reason for walking is to remember Hussain’s family members and try to feel the pain that his family felt.

The second reason is that when Zeinab, Hussain’s sister, entered Karbala after getting released from the prison, she got down from her camel and came to Hussain’s grave crying and walking on her knees.

Some flags that are carried by pilgrims. Photo by ‏🌸🙌 في عین الله on Unsplash
The cloth tied on this gentleman’s forehead reads Khadim which means servant. A servant of the pilgrims of Imam Hussain. Photo by ‏🌸🙌 في عین الله on Unsplash

You see pilgrims walking mostly in black clothes( the color of mourning) and carrying flags that read, “Oh Hussain !” or “I am here, Oh Hussain! (Labbayk, ya Hussain!)”. Sometimes, a group also carries the flag of their country along with other flags. You also see pilgrims repeatedly chanting, “We are here, Oh Hussain!”. The walk completes in Karbala, where Hussain and his companions are resting peacefully.

Pilgrims enter Karbala chanting, “I am here, Oh Hussain!”. Many pilgrims enter the Shrine of Imam Hussain(pbuh), running, crying, beating their head or chest in grief.

But why they chant “I am here, Oh Hussain” repeatedly?

The Call

Karbala, 61 AH

It’s the evening of the 10th day of the Islamic month of Moharram. Hussain has lost all his dear ones. Everyone in Hussain’s camp is thirsty and hungry as Yazid has stopped the water supply to Hussain’s camp. It’s been three days, and no one has drunk water in Hussain’s house.

They want to break Hussain so that he bows down to Yazid.

But Hussain will never support oppression, and he will never comprise truth with falsehood.

‘Death with dignity is better than life with humiliation.’-Imam Hussain(pbuh)

Hussain has a 6-month-old baby who is very thirsty. He can not bear the condition of his baby boy. He takes the baby to Yazid’s army and says, “If Hussain is a criminal in your eyes, then what crime this little one has committed. Please give him some water”.

Yazid army replies to Hussain.

They hit the child with an arrow that pierces the neck of the six-month-old completely. The child dies instantly in Hussain’s arm.

With everyone gone, Hussain now comes to the battlefield alone where all his dear ones lie dead and raises a final call-

“Is there any helper to help us?”

By this call, Hussain never meant anyone to come physically and help him. The cities were seized, and people were not allowed to help Hussain. Yazid had either arrested or killed Hussain’s supporters.

Hussain’s call was independent of the bounds of time, place, religion, race, and language. Hussain asked this question from every person who is going to born in this world. By this call, he meant, is there anyone who will support the oppressed and never mix falsehood with truth for worldly gains? Is there anyone who will not compromise his ethics and morals, no matter how difficult the situation becomes? Is there anyone who will stand up for justice and take a stand against tyranny?

The reply to his call is Labbayk Ya Hussain ! That means “I am here, Oh Hussain”.

I am here, Oh Hussain, to help you, and I promise you that I will always stand against oppressors and always support the oppressed. I will never compromise my ethics and morals for worldly gains and will never be afraid of speaking the truth, even if it is against myself.

You were alone at that time, but I am Here, Oh Hussain. I have understood the motive of your uprising. I will never bow down to injustice. I am here to pledge allegiance to you so that you know that now you are not alone. I promise that I will never betray you.

I promise. I am here, Oh Hussain!

From left to right : Dome of the Shrine of Imam Hussain and his brother Abbas in Karbala. Red Flags indicate the grave of a person who was killed unjustly. Photo Source : Public photo gallery of Imam Hussain Holy Shrine and Al-Abbas Holy Shrine.
Imam Hussain Holy Shrine, Karbala. Source : Public photo gallery of Imam Hussain Holy Shrine
Al-Abbas Holy Shrine, Karbala. Photo Source : Public photo gallery of the Official website of Al-Abbas Holy Shrine.

The Day of Arba’een

On the day of Arba’een, people gather and recite the tragedy of Karbala. They cry on Hussain as he was killed in the most brutal ways. This crying is very phenomenal because people say grief heals with time but, Hussain has such a strong emotional connection with his followers that they still cry as if the incident of Karbala happened yesterday.

There is a saying from Prophet Mohammad(pbuh) —

Surely , there exists in the hearts of the believers, with respect to the martyrdom of Hussain, a heat that never subsides.

From left to right : Chest beating ceremony inside the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussain, a kid crying for Imam Hussain. Source : Public photo gallery of Imam Hussain Holy Shrine
People mourning Hussain and his companions.Photo Source : Public photo gallery of the Official website of Al-Abbas Holy Shrine.

Not only Muslims but Iraqi Christians also come to pay their homage to Hussain on the day of Arba’een.

Arba’een walk is a walk of different communities. Sometimes, people communicate with each other using hand gestures because not everyone is familiar with English. It’s one of the biggest humanitarian gatherings where 20 million unknown people of different communities are fed for free. They are respected and hosted with great hospitality.

Pilgrims having free food in Arba’een Walk. Photo Source : Public photo gallery of the Official website of Al-Abbas Holy Shrine.

People here only understand one language — the language of love. Their strength is love that keeps them going. Hussain passed away 1400-years ago, but his love refuses to die.


AH is the Hijri Calendar. The tragedy of Karbala happened in 61 AH. As per the Georgian Calendar, the tragedy of Karbala happened in 680 AD.

Hussain is respectfully addressed as Imam Hussain, where Imam means a religious leader.

PBUH means Peace Be Upon Him/Her.

Sign up for our new newsletter to stay informed with up-to-date curations from our editors:👇



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store