The Great March of Arba’een

To experience the Great Walk of Arba’een is to live in your flesh the burden that was forced onto Prophet Muhammad’s Household, to grasp at the magnitude of their achievements, resolve and dignified grace in the face of absolute butchery.

“Ask me before you lose me. By Allah, if you ask me about anything that could happen up to the Day of Judgment, I will tell you about it. Ask me, for, by Allah, you will not be able to ask me a question about anything without my informing you. Ask me about the Book of Allah, for by Allah, there is no verse about which I do not know whether it was sent down at night or during the day, or whether it was revealed on a plain or in a mountain.” Imam Ali ibn Abutalib – Tarikh al-Khulafa

It took me to stand in Najaf, in Imam Ali’s city, on the very ground where his shrine stands for me to understand those words. “Ask me before you lose me “ … how many men in our history have claimed to such words without it to be tainted by arrogance?

How many men can claim to have lived such a life that centuries on their name is still spoken in reverence and loyalty?

Few indeed but those who God appointed as regent over His religion and men so that Guidance would be ours, and salvation our reward.

Arba’een is for me a living testament of men’s perpetual struggle towards the Truth, our collective hunger for the divine, and this pull we feel to reach ever higher for meaning. What better ground to find yourself but on those fields who were tainted red with martyrs’ blood?

And so for centuries, regardless of the many grave difficulties, despite threats of death and violent retributions, pilgrims have walked to Karbala so they could reach their Imam … and ask before all is indeed lost.

I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate the gravitational pull of Islam without experiencing Arba’een. To experience the Great Walk is to live in your flesh the burden that was forced onto the Prophet’s Household, to grasp at the magnitude of their achievements, resolve and dignified grace in the face of absolute butchery.

There are no words to describe such experience other than a sense of utter grief – bottomless, crushing, desperate endless grief … and yet none would dare pull away for amid such pain one can catch a glimpse of Ahlul Bayt’s light.

To walk Arba’een is heart-wrenching – it is to feel the pain of a loss that nothing will ever mitigate or assuage. It is to stare in the void and dare follow for without them there is nowhere worth going.

Muslims were called upon to hold on to two things: the Quran and Ahlul Bayt. One cannot go without the other. One cannot grasp at the Truth  withheld in the Quran without the wisdom  of those God rose to be His Guardians.

Arba’een has become an enactment of such injunction. To perform the pilgrimage of Arba’een is to testify to the legitimacy of Ahlul Bayt and all those who followed in their footsteps.

To walk the road that saw unfold the tragedy to end all tragedies is to push back against the injustice of tyrants and push against the darkness.

For all intents and purposes Karbala has become the beating heart of Islam – a people’s allegiance to their Imams, a promise that no matter the  centuries, no matter the voices that will raise in opposition Imam Hussain’s banner will hold true.

There is no greater religious gathering. There has never been any greater religious gatherings in recorded history. Not even the Hajj pilgrimage – a mandatory religious duty upon every able Muslim man and woman, gathers as many pilgrims to its name every year.

Every year an estimated 2.5 to 3 million Muslims make the journey to Mecca to perform the Hajj.

Every year over 20 million pilgrims – of all faiths and ethnicities, make the journey to Karbala and Najaf to pay homage to Islam’s most renowned Imams – to those figureheads, who, forever changed humanity by the strength of their faith and perfection of their belief.

And yet … ye mainstream media seldom speak, let alone write about Arba’een.

One would think that a gathering of such magnitude would warrant media coverage, that it would warrant some degree of attention.

Every year numbers have swollen to new heights, attesting to the exponential pull Imam Hussain has on communities. Beyond all manners of differences, men, women, and children find themselves in Karbala.

Beyond all manners of differences pilgrims are meant to feel at home on the land of their Imams … none are turned away, none are refused, shun or denied.

There is unparalleled beauty in such a display of unburdened generosity and compassion.

I was myself on the receiving end of such generosity.

Every year Iraqis give everything there is to give, including their time and their hands  so that pilgrims would be cared for and honoured. For a people which lost so much to war and terrorism Iraqis are proving to be an inspiration.

Everywhere one may turn there are hands extended in service … everywhere one may look it is Islam’s principles which are put into actions: acceptance without judgment, kindness without hope of return, help offered without reserve or agenda – other maybe then to please God and gain His favours.

I wish I had better words to speak of Arba’een. I wish I could do justice to the beauty of a people united in their devotion to their Imam.

Humanity is summarised in Karbala  … humanity in all its violence and beauty. In Karbala it is the forever repeated struggle of Good versus Evil, Freedom versus Slavery, Truth versus Falsehood, Faith versus Treachery.

There is such profound beauty to be found in Karbala, that very beauty that Lady Zaynab spoke of as she stood before Yazid.

To stand in Karbala is to ask before we truly lose it all for there in those plains God rose a nation to mourn a son of Ali ibn Abutalib.

The article was originally published in Persian by Jame Jam daily newspaper.

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst/commentator for the Middle East with over 7 years of experience. She has written for many publications among which Foreign Policy Association, Russian International Affairs Council, Your Middle East, Majalla, Open Democracy, the Middle East Monitor, and the Guardian. She is also a regular analyst for NewsMax TV and Etijah TV. In 2014 she became the Associate Director of the Beirut Centre for Middle East Studies.
   
   

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