On Arbaeen, the 20th of Safar, millions from around the world gather in the city of Karbala in Iraq. Arbaeen, or the “40th Day,” marks 40 days after the 10th of Muharram–which is the day of the battle of Karbala.
Hussain (AS), the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW), was asked to give his allegiance to the womanizing oppressor and drunkard, Yazid. Yazid ordered Hussain (AS) to give his allegiance or said that he would attack. At the time Hussain (AS) was in Mecca and he refused to give his allegiance; he could not see the religion he loved, the one his Grandfather brought to the people, go into the hands of someone who would not uphold its values. And thus, not wanting to shed any blood in the Holy City, he took his family and close companions to a city called Kufa, where many had written to him asking for his protection.
But Yazid’s army stopped Hussain and in a place called Karbala, Hussain along with his sons, brothers, nephews and close companions were martyred. The eldest of them was 90 years old and the youngest a mere six months. This was on the 10th of Muharram.
At the time Hussain (AS) was in Mecca and he refused to give his alleigance; he could not see the religion he loved, the one his Grandfather brought to the people, go into the hands of someone who would not uphold its values.
But the story did not end there. Hussain had died for justice and his sister, Zainab would not let that go in vain. Zainab and the remaining women, which included the wives of Hussain, his companions and their young children, were stripped of their scarves and their possessions. They were rounded up in chains and were marched to Damascus in Syria.
Along the way, Zainab told the people the story of Karbala and how they killed her brother without cause. She demanded justice for what was done to her family and reminded the people of her grandfather, the Prophet (SAW). Yazid, in order to keep her quiet, imprisoned them all. But the people realized this and started asking questions. After some time, Zainab and the other women were released from prison, but before heading back home to Medina they wanted to pay respects to the slain martyrs in Karbala.
Today, millions visit Karbala on the very day Zainab did 1,400 years ago to pay respects to the fallen Imam, Hussain. The Imam who alone stood for justice and for the salvation of Islam from tyrannical hands.
The story of Karbala is repeated countless times in homes and in mosques, but there are the lucky few who get to visit the very land and pay homage at the shrines in Iraq.
In 2015, Iraqi state-run media stated that around 22 million pilgrims visited Karbala, and this year there is speculation that the number rose to more than 30 million.
There is significance in this number, not only because it is the largest peaceful gathering in the world, but also because of the threats that loom Iraq, an already war-torn country that faces threats from ISIS and other terrorist groups. Those who go will tell you there is no lack of accommodations or food and those that live there are hospitable because they find themselves blessed to welcome those who have come to visit the Imam (Hussain’s shrine in Karbala).
This number also comes as a surprise, because Shias around the world are targeted and persecuted, especially in the months of Muharram and Safar. Just earlier this week, a Shia mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan was targeted by suicide bombers killing at least 30 people. The story of Karbala isn’t just a sad story repeated year after year, it stands for a greater truth–one of justice and the overall strength and power that comes from believing and trusting God.