Arbaeen: One of the world's biggest and most dangerous pilgrimages is underway
By: Lizzie Dearden
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 city of Karbala, 62 miles
south-west of Baghdad, for the holy day of Arbaeen in 1st week of December -
a journey that has previously been the target of numerous terrorist
Arbaeen marks the end of a 40-day mourning period following Ashura,
the religious ritual that commemorates the martyrdom of the Prophet
Mohammad's (PBUH) grandson Imam Hussein(AS) in 680.
Shia Muslims revere him as their third imam and mourn his defeat at
the battle of Karbala, when he and his companions were killed and
beheaded by Caliph Yazid’s army.
The city holds the Imam Hussein 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 Isis and other
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
ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, 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 Isis-controlled areas.
Writing for the Huffington Post, theology lecturer Sayed Mahdi al-Modarresi
described his experience of Arbaeen as a “tumultuous, yet peaceful
“An avalanche of men, women and children, but most visibly
black-veiled women, fill the eye from one end of the horizon to the
other,” he wrote. “The crowds were so huge that they caused a
blockade for hundreds of miles.”
Some pilgrims chose to walk the entire 425 miles from Basra and
Karbala over two weeks, he said, braving scorching sun in the day
and cold at night, through terrorist strongholds.
“Arbaeen should be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in
several categories,” he wrote.
“The biggest annual gathering, longest continuous dining table,
largest number of people fed for free, largest group of volunteers
serving a single event, all under the imminent threat of suicide
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