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Reflections on the pilgrimage of love

Physically exhausting, yet spiritually uplifting, are the  words to describe the anniversary of 40 days after  the martyrdom of Imam Husayn(a) – the Arbaeen. I  failed to silence my thoughts, and so decided to  share some of my reflections in this article.  It is dubbed ‘the world’s largest peaceful gathering’. But  peaceful isn’t the only word I’d use to describe the  experience. In fact, for the most part, it is far from peaceful!  Can you imagine the combined chaos of 26 million  devotees, driven by their passion? They leave their families  and friends, all their worldly belongings, all their work and  responsibilities only to be united by one incentive. They  come from all regions and corners of the world, only to  gather for the commemoration of one man. All ages qualify  – all hearts, big and small, old and young attend only to be  nurtured by one love. This is what the Arbaeen is: a  pilgrimage of love.  It was something that I had the honour of attending last  year, and because of how much I yearned for it this year  too, my prayers were answered and my parents and I set  out from our home in east London. The truth is, this  opportunity didn’t come about on its own. I want to share a  little secret with you all: when you put your mind and heart  and soul to it and take it upon yourself to recite Ziyarat  Ashura for at least forty consecutive days, then you will be  blessed with whatever it is that you want. There are plenty  of hadiths that support this statement. We arrived in Baghdad, heading straight towards Kadimiyya,  where the two infallible personalities Musa ibn Jafar al-  Kadim(a) and his grandson Muhammad ibn Ali al-Jawad(a)  reside.  After spending one night and one morning there, we  headed straight to Najaf so that we may begin the 86km  walk to Karbala the following day. I’ll tell you this: each  different city makes you feel a certain way, and this is  something on which anyone who has visited Iraq for  religious purposes will agree.  Kadimiyya, for example, had a comfortable feel to it. A  warm, yet vibrant energy in the atmosphere. I felt welcome.  There was the hustle and bustle of visitors and natives, and  record shops blared out the latest eulogies. And most  importantly, the scene of two large golden domes, side by  side, and polished ever so immaculately, as though looking  over the city and protecting both its inhabitants and  tourists.

The next city we travelled to was Najaf. What can I say  about Najaf? Though the occasion was one of tragedy and  calamity and it was only befitting to mourn for Imam  Husayn(a) in the Arbaeen period, the only thing I wanted to  do there was to rejoice. I truly and undoubtedly felt at  peace, as though I had been reunited with my best and  closest friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. Despite  the black cloth covering parts of the mosque, I felt like  wearing white, and despite the almost constant cries, poetry  and lamentations I would witness around me, an  unmistakable celebratory feeling refused to leave my heart. This was what it felt like to be in the vicinity of one of the  best men to ever walk the Earth, the successor of the  Prophet, the father of infallible Imams, Ali ibn Abi Talib(a).  Yet, once in Karbala, you cannot fight the urge to mourn,  and rightly so. For when you are hosted by Imam Husayn(a)  and his brother Hazrat Abbas(a), your mind instantly goes  back to the event of Ashura, thereby re-inviting the feeling  of sadness into your heart.  And here’s one thing which blew my mind: I find that on all  the occasions I reached the actual grave of Imam Husayn (a),  one experience kept repeating itself. The moment I stepped  directly underneath the dome, a rush of relief flowed  through me. It felt like standing under a waterfall after being  lost in the desert. And immediately I knew – it’s something  that you just know with conviction – that my ziyara (visit)  was accepted. How sweet the feeling! After that, I could not  help but prostrate in gratefulness for being granted such a  wish and blessed with the proximity of the Prophet’s  grandson.  The walk from Najaf to Karbala is truly one of a kind.  Whilst the arrival of 26 million people from all over the  world would otherwise be considered a logistical nightmare  for any other country, the Iraqi people manage to make it a  walk in the park. However, do not expect it to be quiet,  peaceful, empty and clean at all times., and acknowledge  the fact that no matter how hard councils work every night  to get rid of the waste produced, and how often the Iraqis  sweep the floors, 26 million is not a small number, and  naturally it requires some patience.  All sorts of questions will arise: who will accommodate all  these people? What about the food? Yet everyone in Iraq,  whether they are children or adults, civilians or soldiers,  wealthy or poor, works together to serve the visitors of  Husayn(a). And it’s not some sort of chore or obligation for  them. In fact, they wait all year to be able to serve and to  offer whatever they have, completely free of charge, merely  for spiritual benefit. They beg you to take from their food;  they sit on the floor with a shoe shine kit, hoping the next  passer-by will offer their shoes. Even the children would  stand with either a perfume they spray on the people  walking by, or a packet of tissues, prompting anyone to take  as they please. This is the hospitality and generosity that  truly reflects the image and legacy of the Infallibles whose  shrines are there.  Being with my parents meant having to accept the  possibility of not walking the entire 86km like we did last  year, but I met my best friend, and we walked together, often  reflecting throughout the journey. Together we reached  Karbala. Later on, in Najaf we spent what was the best  morning of my life sat in front of the golden dome, reciting  Dua Sabah and Ashura Ziyara.  If there is one final note I’d like to end on, it is that  everyone should aim to complete this walk and attend the  Arbaeen at least one time in their lives, because it really is a  once in a lifetime opportunity. Purify your intentions  throughout the journey, and God will certainly purify you.


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