Arbaeen Walk: a life-changing journey of love
Millions of ardent lovers, in a demonstration of unfathomable love and devotion for their beloved, walk seamlessly and untiringly from one sacred city to another, day and night, braving inclement weather and ominous security threats. Men and women, young and old, they come from different corners of the world and converge at one place. They call it heaven.
It is not an excerpt from a gripping page-turner, laced with figments of imagination. It is a beautiful miracle I saw unfold before my eyes two years ago. A miracle that repeats every year.
If you haven’t guessed already, I am talking about the largest and the greatest rally against terrorism and extremism that takes place in the second lunar month, forty days from Ashura, which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS) and his followers in the desert plains of Karbala 14 centuries ago.
It’s not merely a walk. It is a mark of protest against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, fascism, imperialism, despotism, and oppression perpetuated by state and non-state actors.
It is a rallying cry in support of the oppressed, weak and powerless. It is a reaffirmation of pledge to uphold the principles exemplified by the ‘master of challengers’ in Karbala.
Arbaeen walk takes place from Najaf to Karbala – from the final resting place of the ‘commander of the faithful’ to that of the ‘master of the martyrs’. It is a journey of love.
Two years ago, I was blessed with an opportunity to embark on this life-changing journey. It was the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream. For years, I had heard fascinating stories from those who traveled there before me. I also watched video documentaries and read articles and travelogues about it. Now it was time to live the dream. The feeling was surreal.
As a journalist, my work requires me to travel extensively. It has taken me to many amazing places past several years. But this time it was not work, but love that was taking me to Iraq.
Exactly a week before Arbaeen, I grabbed my backpack and boarded a bus at south Tehran’s bus terminal for Shalamcheh, a border town in western Khuzestan province. The bus reached the border in the wee hours of morning. As we de-boarded the bus, the scenes were spectacular. Tens of thousands of people were jostling for space to enter Iraq by foot. I had never seen such scenes in my life. Everyone was visibly excited for the journey ahead. The chants of ‘Ya Hussain’ filled the air, as the sun peeked slowly over the misty desert horizon.
It was a long wait at the border terminal, but nobody seemed to grumble. I stood in a serpentine queue for about three hours before I could cross over. The moment I stepped on the soil of Iraq, I was reminded of Neil Armstrong’s words when he touched down on the lunar surface. It was a small step but a giant leap. The feeling was overwhelming. I had made it.
After a walk of few kilometers in ‘no-man’s land’ that divides the two countries, I boarded another bus on the Iraqi side of border to Najaf. It was a long and arduous journey in a bus teeming with pilgrims but the excitement and eagerness to reach the destination overshadowed everything. All minds and eyes were glued to the golden dome of Imam Ali’s (AS) mausoleum in Najaf. Despite weariness, no one slept on the way. When the bus finally halted at the terminal in Najaf, it was unreal. We were in the city of the ‘commander of the faithful’.