The Arbaeen Pilgrimage is the largest religious gathering that is held every year. It is held at the end of the 40-day mourning period following Ashura, the religious ritual for the commemoration of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hossein ibn Ali’s death in 680. Arba’een marks a “pivotal event in history”. in which the pilgrims make their journey to Karbala on foot. where Husayn ibn Ali, the third Imam of Shia, and his army were killed and beheaded by the army of Yazid I. Some of the pilgrims make their journey from cities as far as Basra, about 500 km away by road .
Over 19 million people from 40 countries of the world participate in this occasion, making it the second largest gathering in the world. The figure reached 22 million pilgrims according to Iraqi state-run media. Even though the Hindu Kumbh Mela is larger in population, it is only held every three years, and hence the Arbaeen pilgrimage is the largest gathering held annually.
Some Sunnis, Christians, Yazidis and people of other faiths also participate the festival. Ali Moamen, Academic and former director of Al Najaf Satellite TV Channel, said:
“What is interesting about this human crowd is that all society segments take part in it. Despite its religious character, nonreligious people also participate in it, in addition to illiterates and holders of high academic degrees, and ordinary people and leaders of the country.”
According to Sayed Mahdi al-Modarresi, writing for The Huffington Post:
Arbaeen should be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in several categories. The biggest annual gathering, longest continuous dining table, largest number of people fed for free, largest group of volunteers serving a single event, all under the imminent threat of suicide bombings.
The pilgrims face dangers such as “attacks that have been blamed on Sunni extremists, who have routinely targeted the pilgrims” using car bombs or rockets. The pilgrimage is performed under “tightened security” guarded by tens of thousands of Iraqi policeand soldiers backed by armored vehicles and military helicopters to protect the pilgrims. Iranian advisers also help protect the visitors through a joint operation room. On November 20, 2015 a major bombing plot in Hussainiya in Iraq, Baghdad have been foiled by the Iraqi police, where 18 booby-trapped dolls were seized by the security forces. Stuffed with bombs, were meant to be scattered on the roads leading to Karbala during Arbaeen.
Pavilions and free services
Along the roads to Karbala, many pavilions are devised with the aim of providing “accommodation, food and beverage and medical services,. and practically anything else the pilgrims need for free. 7000 number of such mawakeb were set up in city of Karbala in 2014.
A man holding a plate full of dates on his head waiting for passing arbaeen pilgrims have them, Arbaeen 20.
handicapped men participating Arbaeen pilgrimage, going from Najafto Karbala on foot.