Faithful believers mark Arba’een as COVID-19 restricts pilgrimage to Karbala

Faithful believers mark Arba’een as COVID-19 restricts pilgrimage to Karbala

Muslims around the world commemorate Arba’een, the 40th day after the martyrdom anniversary of the third Shia Imam Hossein (AS) amid coronavirus-related restrictions placed by Iraq on the number of foreign pilgrims.

The occasion, which falls on Thursday, marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hossein (AS), grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who was martyred along with 72 of his companions in the Battle of Karbala, in southern Iraq, in 680 AD after fighting courageously for justice against the much larger army of the Umayyad caliph, Yazid I.

Each year, millions of Muslim mourners set off on a symbolic 80-kilometer walk to Karbala, where Imam Hussein's shrine is located, from the holy city of Najaf, where his father Imam Ali (AS) is buried.

Accommodating the pilgrims along the road, as well as in both Najaf and Karbala, are thousands of make-shift tents, also known as mawkibs, that provide a wide range of services from votive food to medical care.

In 2019, an estimated 14 million Shia pilgrims travelled to Iraq to attend Arba’een processions, including about two million from neighboring Iran.

Arba’een is the largest annual religious gathering in the world, with the number of pilgrims far exceeding the almost 2.5 million visitors who descend on the holy Saudi city of Mecca for the Hajj.

This year, however, only 1,500 pilgrims per country are being allowed to fly into Iraq due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 391,044 Iraqis and killed 9,604 others.

All Iran-Iraq border crossings have also been closed and Iranian citizens have been barred from travelling to Iraq.

Muslims have been advised to observe the mourning in other ways such as watching online or televised commemorations from home.

Iraq's Hashd al-Sha’abi says will oversee security of Arba’een processions

Meanwhile, local Iraqis, undeterred by the outbreak, marched to Karbala from all over the country while observing health protocols.

On Thursday, the English-language Twitter account of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei described Arba’een as “a lofty sign that God is showing to the world.”


We Shias take pride in being #ImamHussain’s followers, but he doesn’t belong only to us. All Islamic denominations - Shia & Sunni – stand under Imam Hussain’s flag. #Hussain belongs to humanity and #Arbaeen is a lofty sign that God is showing to the world.

— 🏴 (@khamenei_ir) October 7, 2020


The occasion is viewed as an overwhelmingly powerful display of Shia solidarity and conveys a message of unity among Muslims against the global arrogance. 

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