“On the trail again. Except for the Hajj pilgrimage, no trip compares to the annual 80-kilometer walk from Najaf to Karbala in Iraq to commemorate Arbaeen, the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, which took place around 1400 years ago: *Millions* of people coming from Iran, Iraq, and many other countries, walking this distance, united in their purpose, all taking care of each other, and all trying to be better people, worthy of their Imam. I really can’t explain it. This is something you have to experience, believe me. Everything else pales in comparison. My words are so useless and insufficient, I hate them. If you don’t know who Imam Hussain is, it’s worth looking it up. And if you haven’t been on this trip, you don’t know what you’re missing. Believe me, I’ve travelled almost all over the world, and have seen some really beautiful places, but I couldn’t resist coming back here for the fourth year, despite terrible back pain and a hectic schedule. This difficult, dusty, and exhausting trip is yet so calming and so beautiful. All the more so because of the beautiful hospitality of the Iraqi people. Words fail me. Just come see it yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.”
When I first took part in the Arbaeen walk, I had no idea of what awaited me. I’d just heard from others how impressive it is, how it’s going to affect all aspects of my life, how I want to try it year after year. When the time arrived, the feeling was exquisite. It’s like a few days when you can forget about life and all worldly concerns. And, they were right; I wanted more of the experience …I wanted to try it again and again. The feeling was different. I hadn’t felt it in years. Now, being a part of this pilgrimage is a huge part of who I am, and I can’t tell exactly what I’ve been through.
Years passed and I got to know about another movement …a movement not on the roads but the mountains, not towards a holy place but a scenic nature, not a large crowd but a small one … It was when I first experienced ‘nomadic transhumance’ with the nomads of Iran. I’d never forget my feeling when I was walking with unaffected nomads in Mt. Zagros. After some years, I finally had that feeling again… maybe not as spiritual as the other one, but as thought-provoking as Arbaeen walk. Two different worlds maybe, but quite alike to their very core. So, Arbaeen turned out to be my otherworldly sacred pilgrimage and nomads, my worldly one.
I joined the nomads while we were all surrounded by mighty Zagros ranges only to see how I’ve missed the point in my life. Over the past few years, I’ve been having a few epiphanic moments but none of them can be compared to the ones I had in these two seemingly different experiences. Arbaeen pilgrims turned out to be my spiritual inspiration and the nomads of my earthy one. They made me think about my life choices; what is worth trying.
Walking on the road from Najaf to Karbala, I needed to think about things for a bit. I needed to decide how far down the road I wanted to go. With the nomads too, I needed to give more thought to my life and the way I was about to continue.
Arbaeen Walk: The World’s Biggest Pilgrimage
“… and when I received that invitation, I knew that at the time that come, that I couldn’t delay … couldn’t procrastinate anymore, but it wasn’t just that. It was also that the Imam he himself called me. And he doesn’t call you by telephone or by text message or by email, or by WhatsApp. He calls you in your heart. So, I’m here with 20 million people who have heard that call and who have responded to that call…”
John Andrew Morrow
Each year, millions of people from all around the world join the sacred pilgrimage of ‘Arbaeen’. They take part in the walking, from Najaf to Karbala to commemorate their Imam who was martyred on the day of ‘Ashura’ in the planes of ‘Karbala’. On 10 October 680, Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, along with 72 of his followers and family members were martyred. It is common among Muslims to get together 40 days after the funeral to mourn the deceased, and Arbaeen means 4oth.
- Pilgrims who are going on Arbaeen pilgrimage are united in one thing: ‘Love of Hussain’. They admire the way Imam Hussain has devoted everything he had, to revive righteousness.
- Arbaeen walk is also considered as a cultural, political and geopolitical event.
- Despite the huge crowd, the atmosphere is all peace and tranquility. The flags bearing the name of ‘Hussain’ are everywhere.
- In Arbaeen, Iraqi people do their best to meet the basic needs of those who are participating in this holy pilgrimage. Pilgrims are served by water, tea, food, restrooms, praying rooms, souvenirs, and sleeping areas, because they believe it is an honor to serve the passing pilgrims.
Transhumance: Nomads’ Biggest Pilgrimage
For the nomads of Iran, their seasonal transhumance is like a pilgrimage. The whole year they are enthusiastically waiting for their spring migration in which they move towards summer pastures in the higher altitudes. It is like an odyssey for them and they enjoy the adventures they face on their way of migration. For them, nothing can be more fulfilling than overcoming the obstacles nature puts on their way. Read REDZIB SKOMORAC’s article to see how nomads go on the sacred pilgrimage twice a year to commemorate nature.