The Arbaeen March, a remarkable pilgrimage event, carries profound historical and contemporary significance within the Islamic world. Taking place annually from the 7th to the 20th day of the Islamic month of Safar, this event witnesses millions of pilgrims journeying on foot to the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq.
The historical context of the Battle of Karbala in 61 AH (680 CE) adds a distinctive depth to the Arbaeen pilgrimage. The tragic event where Imam Hussein and his companions were martyred by the forces of Yazid has been etched into the collective memory of Shia Muslims. The pilgrimage serves as a powerful reminder of the principles of justice, sacrifice, and resistance against oppression.
Throughout history, the Arbaeen pilgrimage has endured various challenges and disruptions. Despite political and sectarian pressures, the practice persisted thanks to the unwavering faith of believers. Notably, during the Safavid era in Iran, the pilgrimage culture experienced a renaissance, with the Safavid rulers contributing to its promotion.
The modern era has witnessed a resurgence of the Arbaeen pilgrimage. After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iraq emerged as the epicenter of this global event. The post-Saddam era witnessed the revival of the pilgrimage, with participation not only from Iraqi Shia but also pilgrims from diverse countries, particularly Iran.
During periods of heightened regional tensions and threats from extremist groups like ISIS, the number of pilgrims surged. In fact, from 1993 to the present day, with the support of the Iranian government, the number of pilgrims has reached remarkable heights, ranging up to 20 million, predominantly foreign visitors.
Even in the face of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arbaeen pilgrimage demonstrated its resilience. Despite the limitations imposed by the pandemic, the event continued to draw a significant number of participants. In recent years, the average attendance has ranged from 12 million to over 20 million pilgrims.
Arbaeen’s significance extends beyond religious boundaries, reflecting its role as a symbol of unity and shared humanity. The event draws participants not only from Shia Islam but also from Sunni communities, as well as other faiths and nationalities. This collective participation underscores the enduring power of faith, solidarity, and resilience in the face of adversity.
In essence, the Arbaeen March is a living testament to the enduring spirit of devotion and unity among Shia Muslims and beyond. Its historical context, contemporary revival, and remarkable participation showcase the unwavering commitment of individuals to uphold the values of justice, resistance, and faith, making it one of the most significant and globally recognized religious gatherings in the world.