The Arbaeen gathering in Karbala is the biggest peaceful annual assembly of people in human history. The Day of Arbaeen marks forty days after the Day of Ashura, which marks the day Hussain ibn Ali was martyred in the Battle of Karbala. Hussain ibn Ali was a 7th century revolutionary leader who sacrificed his life for social justice.
Around the world, those inspired by Hussain, commemorate the tragic events of Ashura and its immediately devastating aftermath on this day. Tens of millions of pilgrims travel to the shrine of Hussain as an act of solemn remembrance and as a pledge of allegiance to his values. Many make the journey by foot and see each step as a means of closer spiritual proximity to their inspiration: Hussain. The word Arbaeen itself is derived from the Arabic for the number forty; forty days being the traditional duration of mourning in many Muslim traditions.
If Hussain’s ultimate sacrifice is the epitome of Ashura, then Arbaeen is a meaningful glance back at that most selfless and heroic of acts. Arbaeen is a built-in surety that the fervour and passion ignited by Hussain is distilled into a catalyst for personal and communal transformation.
For many, commemorating the fortieth day after Ashura enables them to galvanise their allegiance to Hussain and what he stood for, with concrete practical measures to begin to embody his message.
What does Arbaeen mean to people?
That people are willing to make their way to Karbala in the face of huge political unrest in the Middle East bears testament to the magnetism of Hussain. Sayed Mahdi al-Modarresi, faith leader and lecturer, writes movingly about his personal journey in 2014. “Even the widest-angle camera lens is too narrow to capture the spirit of this tumultuous, yet peaceful gathering.”
“It is as though every person has established a personal relationship with the man they have never seen. They talk to him and call out his name; they grip the housing of his tomb; they kiss the floor leading into the shrine; they touch its walls and doors in the same manner one touches the face of a long-lost friend. It is a picturesque vista of epic proportions.
What motivates these people is something that requires an understanding of the character and status of Imam Hussein and the spiritual relationship that those who have come to know him have developed with his living legend.”
25 million people are expected to make the journey to Karbala to mark Arbaeen this year.