A Message to the Travelling Pilgrims of Arba’een
Last year, we had the privilege of walking from Najaf to Karbala in the three days before the Arba’een of Hussain (AS). This year, however, we are amongst those who are left behind.
So I decided to write about the experiences I had last year, not only for it to be, God willing, a token of remembrance and a use to me in the years to come, but also for my friends who, this year, are on this journey for the first time, and who may be moved by these few words to think about me in such holy days.
• The Iranian caravans usually walk the 80 Kilometers distance between Najaf and Karbala. Such a journey takes around three days and two nights, and most of the caravans leave in the morning on the 17th of the month of Safar, arriving in Karbala in the evening of the 19th, or the night of Arba’een.
• During the journey , on the right and sometimes, left side of the sidewalks that had been made especially for the walkers there are pillars that are made in 50 meters of each other to keep track of the distance. From number 1, to 1000, to 400, 60. If you come across pillar number 1 after having passed pillar 200, don’t be surprised! This means that the numbers are restarting. These pillars are very helpful for the pilgrims. Not only does it count their journey towards Karbala, they also become indicators for meetings with friends and fellow pilgrims. For example, when you begin walking, make pillar 400 your meeting spot, so if anyone gets lost or wishes to walk alone, by night time they can meet the rest of the group at pillar 400.
Milepost number 1135
• One of the most important things to pack for this journey is footwear. Imagine walking for three days – what will you wear to provide the most comfort? Well, I made the whole journey in slippers, and personally, I think it was far better and more comfortable than wearing shoes. Slippers allow the air to move freely around your feet and between your toes, you can easily take them off at rest stops to wash your feet with soap and water to relax, and it prevents the formation of blisters that would make the journey very difficult for you.
• Restrooms and rest stations have been placed during each step of the way, all you have to do is decide to take a break and lie down for 30 minutes, the Mawkibs are in their tents along the path, ready to serve you. I recommend that you take a small bar of soap with yourself so you can wash your hands and sometimes your feet if necessary.
Drink in the remembrance of the thirst of Hussain(as)
• Try not to have a cheese based breakfast, especially for those who have a record of gout. The level of the uric acid in your body will increase, leading to pain in your ankles and difficulties during the walk.
• During these three days you’re the guest of the Iraqi Mawkibs who have been waiting the entire year to have the honour of serving the pilgrims of Imam Hussain in the best ways possible. Therefore, you do not need to take any snacks with yourself. However, if you have a sensitive habit, dried figs and dried apricots will be a good idea. Imagine that there is an 80 kilometer long market before you, filled with different types of snacks, meals and drinks, all for free. Actually, it’s not completely free, in return for what they have given you, they request that you allow them to wash and massage your feet. If your bags, shoes or even your baby’s carriage are broken, they will fix it for you without any costs. But why?! Because you have a high status, you are the pilgrim of Hussain…
Providing massage for pilgrims
Making free strollers and wheelchairs
• From around sunset until nine or ten in the morning, it is very cold. It’s best to bring warm clothing that you can easily wear and remove. And make sure that the place you choose to stop in the night is a concrete building – if you try sleeping in a canvas tent, you will surely freeze, even with two thick blankets! You should try to find your rest stop for the night before sunset, especially if you intend to make camp as a group. Blankets and mattresses are easy to find in caravan, just remember that, while on this journey, you shouldn’t be too sensitive or wishing for the cleanliness of a hotel room. And if you’re really touchy, bring along a thin blanket to use at night.
• Some Iraqis spend their whole year awaiting these days so that they can provide whatever they can for the pilgrims of Hussain (AS) passing through their land. On your way, you will surely see children holding bottles of perfume that the dab onto the clothing of the pilgrims. If you question them, they will tell you, “The only thing I had was this perfume, so I have come to offer it to Hussain (AS) and his pilgrims.” You may see a child who offers a box of tissues and says he bought it with his own pocket money, or an old man who does not even have the strength to stand and must use a wheelchair, but who invites you for a cup of coffee… Know to appreciate such moments!
• Try to pack whatever bag or satchel you have brought for this trip as lightly as you can. The lighter it is, the easier you will be able to walk, and the less of a back ache or foot ache you will get. Try to tightly bind your waist with a length of cloth, and the men should cover their heads with a scarf as well.
• Along the way, there are Mawkibs who have a variety of medicines to give to the pilgrims. In addition to this, the Iranian Red Crescent is also present along the way, so do not worry about sudden colds and headaches. However, if you know that you will be in need of any particular medication, piroxicam cream, or baby powder to relieve the pain of walking, make sure to bring them with you. Try to have at least one apple a day.
• Along the way, make sure you are socializing with other the pilgrims, especially those who are of different culture, even to the attendants of Mawkibs who are serving you during your journey. At times you will be surprised when the individuals who are offering you tea or snacks and are requesting to rub your feet are highly educated doctors, well known lawyers, city council members in an European country or elsewhere!
Serving the Pilgrims of Hussain
-The cell phone services in Iraq are weak during those days and using cellphones to communicate becomes a difficult task. Make sure to tell your families beforehand to not worry if you’re not capable of calling them during the days of walking, it’s due to the busy phone lines and lack of cellphone service. Of course, many of the Mawkibs on the way, will make their phones available to pilgrims and you can call to any place in the world that you wish for free.
-Make sure to take a camera with you. During this journey, you will see scenes that you will never come across again in your lifetime. Capture these precious moments. Here are some photos from my journey last year.
Pilgrims please drink
Falafels made right on the side of the road, given to us when they were still hot
Giving water in a blue pitcher to all the pilgrims
Even if we’re dying of thirst, we won’t give up
They were stitching ripped shoes and satchels
The journey of Karbala during Arbaeen is different from every other journey you will embark on in your life, it’s like a dream come true.
Live up to every second of it.