As a pilgrim narrated:

A Night and a Day of Arbaeen march

Faezeh Sassanikhah
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


The photo is decorative.

Leaving an Iraqi family's home, we started walking from fourteenth power pylons (Amud) around 1:30 pm on Wednesday, October 27 in 2016. The road at night was much quieter than day. Pilgrims were walking on both roads that there was Mokab[1] on one of them, and no one on another way.

We were going to move every fifty pylons, then stand at the fiftieth pylon to reach the rest and move again. Anyone coming sooner has to wait for the next ones to arrive. So the first few arrivals had a chance to rest.

On the way, I saw some Mokabs covered by sailcloth or nylon around ceiling and walls. Many of the pilgrims were stationed in them. Others were lying on the ground in that cold weather. I heard that women pilgrims are given priority in the accommodation to be located in the best and safest places.

There were no Iraqi children. In the silence of midnight and under the glitter of lights, we continued on our way. The night march had a different mood. The silence and calmness of the night on road led to the shrine of Imam Hussein (PBUH) was a good time and place for prayer to pray and think about themselves. I saw a man praying on the road side.

Many of the Mokabs, which were like kiosks or stations, served pilgrims with charcoal tea, hot milk, dates, hot falafel and bitter coffee in small cups. Servants have smile on face all time and they behaved us very respectfully. Drinking tea, coffee, or hot milk in cold weather was very enjoyable.

 The health situation has changed and improved a lot compared with the first time I came Arbaeen in 2013. The use of disposable cups was a considerable change for some Iranians who refused to drink tea in glass. Iraqis used to pour tea into glasses. Then they were washed in a bowl and reused, which was not very appealing to acceptable for pilgrims. They was offering tea to pilgrims warmly, and I had not the heart to refuse these teas but some travelers wouldn't even taste it.

Let me to say honestly, Iraqis are trying to get closer to Iranian culture every year. They make bitter tea with much sugar. The color and taste of tea are not matched with our taste. Probably some of our compatriots had shown their reluctance to drink this bitter tea in their behavior; that is why, many of servants standing in the Mokab asked the pilgrims whether they want to drink tea or not: "Iranian tea or Iraqi one?" When asked this question, I thought, when Iraqis try to get themselves close to us, they use Iranian equivalent instead of the Iraqi one, and they also take Iranian tastes into consideration; therefore, it was better to react like them; I have drunk tea in Iranian-style and here I have to get me close to their culture as much as possible. That's why I would reply: "I want Iraqi tea." Whenever I say it, they became happy, and I saw smile on their lips. It is as if the boundaries between us were being removed and they thought we knew each other as one nation. It was like Saddam Hussein had not imposed a war on this nation (Iran) and our government some years ago.

We stopped in the morning to pray; we moved again. The Iraqi were distributing breakfast among people. They were served with bread and eggs, tea, hot milk, bread and cheese, butter and jam. We had breakfast and moved.

Gradually, day was breaking, crowds came more and more and roads became denser and more crowded. The strange and unspeakable serenity was felt. It is as if the drops would merge into a beautiful morning to go toward the ocean and give their lives another meaning. As if it was resurrection and a day of judgment, but here everybody was unusually moving to Heaven without keeping accounts. The shrouds were the black robes worn during Imam Hussein's mourning, but no one felt sadness and exhaustion here, and a strange calm prevailed in space. It was as if God wanted to show us a part of gathering of Imam Hussein's followers in paradise.

The sound of shoes and slippers, wheelchairs and small suitcases was complicated in space. The sidewalk sands were displaced by the pilgrims' footsteps; it was a spectacular scene. Some of the pilgrims were either praying or listening to elegy by phones. Iranian pilgrims listened to eulogy of Haj Maysam Motiie, who had addressed the Takfiris[2] and the ISIS[3]. In some parts, a car slowly passed through the crowd with a loudspeaker. They were accompanied by a group. The owners of Mokabs overwhelmed them in their hospitality and hospitality. Pilgrims begged for tea and coffee. They came in the crowd and distributed water in small bottles. Some of them shouted in Persian loudly: "Come on, dear, welcome ..." what religion and what day of a year do the people of world become so gentle and kind to one another and serve one another? Everything was like a dream. I was saying all times that I wish these three days of walking would not end in this sweet dream. I wanted time to stop so I could never get off the road. A path that is all sacrifice and kindness, equality and unity. But I knew that we were going back to the material world from that path again and that we had to apply everything we learned in our daily lives and God should help us stay in this way.

The people were inattentive on status, property, language, skin color, or nationality, but they were attentive on love that separated us from our family and daily life and all our important plans and all our attachments, and took us to Karbala. Nobody asked who we were, and where we come from. They gave us their property and their home without any hesitation, and they walked in our hearts. Equality and fraternity were the first and last law and racial discrimination did not make sense. Everything was divided into two; whether you were a pilgrim or a servant. I was walking and thinking: "Who is Hussein that the world loves what a candle he is that souls are all his butterfly."

 Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) sacrificed all his possessions to God and left his dearest loved persons and things. Ashura[4] Day was the culmination of Imam's sacrifice, and such a day that well-known in the world and all nationalities are forced to come here spontaneously is God's answer to the Imam's love. Which commander has the power to assemble millions of his troops from around the world, and the other soldiers who failed to reach this place, to be regretful and sad, and send their hearts to the place of summon? Who said Imam Hussein did not come to power? The one who rules the hearts reigns over their bodies and souls and has the most power; Imam Hussein has the highest power in the world!

As I walked this road to Karbala and saw all the love and affection of Hussein's servants, I knew that I would no longer be able to travel from Najaf to Karbala by car and find desert devoid of pilgrims, servants, Mokab, love and affection! And the only way is to close my eyes to the end so that all the sweet memories in my mind will be closed!

At about eight o'clock in the morning, as manager ordered us, we went to one of the Mokab on the way to take a short rest and sat out again. It was a rectangular Husseiniyeh[5] and we did not see any women servants there. It was simpler than the house we have already stayed, with very ordinary mattresses and blankets, but there was clean bathroom with full of water. Some left their mattresses and blankets. There were bottles of unused mineral water in the corners; it was clear that the pilgrims had taken the bottles more than they needed, and were left there and gone.

We rested for about two hours and set off again. Before moving, one of the comrades arranged all the blankets and mattresses that the pilgrims had not collected after using; he put them in place. This time we went off the road where the Mokebs weren’t placed. It was quieter and faster way, but the crowd was much higher than one we had seen from midnight to Morning Prayer. Rising of the sun and the dawn, girls and boys, these little and pure friends of Imam Hussein had come down the road again. They were standing under the sun, offering pilgrims water or paper napkins or perfume by the pilgrims. By their eyes, they begged for a glass of water. The pilgrims were thrilled to see them standing up and greeting water with a smile. They would hug, kiss or pat them.

A young man with a large flag on his shoulder walked with three sheep. Many families came with small children. Some of the kids were in carriers and some were walking on their own.

Car or military vehicle was located at a distance from the road and several armed forces were standing beside it.

Occasionally, flags of different countries were raised in the crowd. Iranians, Iraqis, and Turkish flags were more visible than others, but the Lebanese represented themselves with the Hezbollah flag. Along the way, I saw a number of Iranian youth holding the flag of Hezbollah in Lebanon. An Iraqi youth had a tall white cloth on his shoulder with some words on it: "Death to America, Death to Satan, and Death to Israel. Some Iranians had the pictures of shrine's martyrs or sacred defense's martyrs behind their backs.

There was free Wi-Fi on the way for Iranians. Some Iranians had gathered in places where it was more powerful so they could connect to cyberspace. In some places the population was very large, and most of them were young girls and boys whose minds were striking in cyberspace. Surely many of them wanted to post photos on Instagram. It was not bad at all, and it is our duty to inform the news by this great gathering of Muslim world, but it was too much time for us to inform that may never happen again for us.

 We were moving until noon, and our only rest was to stop by the roadside until all the travelers arrived. This was the best time to photograph and record this important event. It was time for prayer. After the renewal of ablution, we prayed in a congregation by the roadside. Then we had fish for lunch, like yesterday.

In the afternoon, near the 360th power pylons of the ladies in the group was very tired. She could no longer walk. "Let's go the rest of the way by car" He begged. Nobody accept. The manager ordered the stop when he saw that she was no longer able to walk. She told to one of ladies: "Go across the road and find Mokeb." He also sent a few men looking for Mokeb or the house for the gentlemen. A few minutes later, one of the ladies' companions returned and said, "It's a very big house here; it is very convenient to stay." We headed home. When we got there I was looking at her surprisingly. It was a large mansion about 1500 meters long, but mostly with a large courtyard and duplex building. I wondered why this great mansion is built in the middle of desert! The streets around it were not asphalted and there were no special facilities around, so how the luxury home was built in this area?!

One of my friend had previously told me that Iraqi aristocrats and wealthy people were buying houses on the road of Najaf-Karbala to accommodate pilgrims during Arbaeen time, but the house was beyond imagination. We passed the large courtyard of mansion where they built a large garden. We entered a room in right side of building, it was about seventy meters. It was a empty room. Apart from us, several Lebanese women were sitting in front of us. One was young and massaged middle-aged woman's legs with oil. One of them had a photo of Ayatollah Khamenei on his sun hat.

There was a big LCD TV in the room. A little farther, there was a gun in the frame of wall. Very stylish curtains hung on large and tall windows. At the end of room, clean and stylish beds were arranged.

I chose a place near the window and put my belongings there. Pilgrims came and the room was filled. Among them there were twenty-five and young girls. One was Iranian but spoke Arabic and anther one was from Najaf. They had come together.

We were very tired and rested for a few hours. When we woke up, it was close to prayer. I went to yard to renew the ablution. There were many clothes hung on rope. Most of them were black tent. There were toilets in front of doorway located in the end of yard from right side. It was very stylish and luxurious and equipped by hot water. All the rooms were crowded and busy.

After the prayer we went out with two of our fellow travelers who were relatives. In the courtyard, there was a great swing near the garden, and many children who were mostly Arab, were sitting and playing. I sat with the kids for a few moments and took a photo with them to capture the moment. The beauty of the photo was from the presence of kids in different heights sitting on a swing and one of them was the most playful.

I was ashamed of myself. I was ashamed of Zainab (SA) and the travelers of Karbala that we were so comfortable. I kept asking myself what is our similarity to Imam Hussein's followers? How did they get to Karbala and how are we going?!

The dinner was fried chicken and bread. It was the second time I saw the landlord or his relatives. No one has come to see us and ask what we were doing since we entered into the magnificent mansion. Just before, I went to get a water of bottle, I found many women and girls gathered in the kitchen, which was too big. I came to Karbala during the years 2013 and 2014 to see how Iraqis serve pilgrims, but I had never gone to their homes. I had heard they were collecting money for a year to spend at this time, and now I saw that was true. They were speaking to Imam Hussein (PBUH) truthfully, honestly and heartily:" I offer my father, my mother, myself, my properties and my children to you...

At night, we rested after dinner. We were supposed, all members of group, to be outside at 1pm like last night. We woke up at one o'clock. It was dark everywhere. We got ready and went out. This time, like last night, we didn't see the landlord to thank him and say goodbye. We quietly picked up the belongings and left the room. He was sleeping in the pilgrim's room upstairs. We came out of that beautiful mansion to move the other way through al-Hussein, thinking of all the immense dedication and hospitality and the new path that had opened up in my life. We quietly took belongings and left the room. He was sleeping in the pilgrim's room upstairs. We came out of that beautiful mansion to move toward Karbala, and think of all sincerity, sincere reception and hospitality and new path that had opened up in my life.



[1] It is a station set up to welcome and feed mourners on road side

[2] A takfiri is a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy. The accusation itself is called takfir, derived from the word kafir, and is described as when "one who is a Muslim is declared impure.

[3] A takfiri is a Muslim who accuses another Muslim of apostasy. The accusation itself is called takfir, derived from the word kafir, and is described as when "one who is a Muslim is declared impure.

  The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant , also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS /ˈaɪsɪs/),officially known as the Islamic State (IS) and also known by its Arabic-language acronym Daesh  is a Salafi jihadist terrorist organization and a former unrecognized proto-state[ that follows a fundamentalist, Salafi doctrine of Sunni Islam. ISIL gained global prominence in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive, followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre.

[4] It is the tenth day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. It marks the day that Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was martyred in the Battle of Karbala.

[5]  A ḥosayniya or hussainiya, also known as an ashurkhana, imambargah, or imambara, is a congregation hall for Twelver Shia Muslim commemoration ceremonies, especially those associated with the Mourning of Muharram. 

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