Every year on the 20th of Safar, the second month in Hijri Calendar, a huge number of people from all over the world, Muslim or even non-Muslim, gather in Iraq to take part in a symbolic walk. People of Iraq for months before this day, eagerly prepare themselves to welcome the visitor of Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine. They find it a great honor to serve those who are participating in this event and are paying a visit to Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine. Iraq on this period becomes the site of the purest and most humane manifestations.
But, one might wonder what is the reason behind all these efforts? Why would someone walk a long distance, bearing all the difficulties on his/her way, to reach a shrine? What is it that drives this huge number of people here?
In what follows, you will find out about Arbaeen and the ceremonial walk on this day.
Arbaeen is the Arabic word for forty, and it marks the 20th of Safar, the fortieth day after Imam Hussain’s (AS) martyrdom on the day of Ashura, who was martyred in the event of Karbala along with his companions in the cruelest and most inhumane way possible.
After the event of Karbala, Imam Hussain’s (AS) family including his sister Lady Zainab (AS) and his son Imam Sajjad (AS), were taken as prisoners to Sham (Damascus) to Yazid’s court. Imam Hussain’s (AS) head was also sent to Yazid’s court along with his family .
According to some historical accounts , some of the members of Imam Hussain’s (AS) family after being released from the bondage of Yazid forces, returned to Karbala from Sham (Today’s Damascus) to visit Imam Hussain’s (AS) grave. Also, some believe that Imam Hussain’s (AS) head which was taken to Sham by Yazid’s army was brought back to Karbala on this day and buried with his body  & .
But these are not the only reasons behind the commemoration of Arbaeen every year. Visiting Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine is one of the recommended deeds at any time of the year, especially in Arbaeen [i]. Also, Imam Baqer (AS) enumerates the several benefits of this action. These include the increase in wealth, acceptance of prayers by Allah, longer life, and pardoning of the sins .
But, why would visiting Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine be of such importance? It is not where we are visiting, but who we are visiting and what he taught us that makes this action so worthy of attention. In fact, in paying a visit to Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine, we try to remind ourselves of these two messages:
1. To never surrender to injustice and oppression, as Imam Hussain (AS) did not yield to the tyrant of his time.
2. To always be eager in improving and reforming ourselves and our society, as Imam Hussain (AS) answered people’s call for improvement and did his best to help them, despite the fact that his will remained unfulfilled due to his enemies’ deception.
Now, we can better understand the Prophet’s (AS) conviction that Imam Hussain’s (AS) personality would forever guide the humanity toward everlasting peace and success. And ignoring the values he emphasized would cause eternal distress and calamity .
Visiting Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine is more recommended on some occasions, especially Arbaeen which could be because of the history of this day. Yet, this does not mean that this action cannot be done on any other days of the year.
But, this is not the only reason for this huge number of people to gather together on this day. In fact, they are all driven by the lasting message that Imam Hussain (AS) left for us through his courageous and rightful movement. That is the urge to stand against injustice, oppression and to strive in the way of improving their situation socially or individually. Arbaeen walk is where people reunite to commemorate these lessons of Imam Hussain’s (AS) revolution together.
The journey on foot from Najaf to Karbala which is called Arbaeen walk takes almost three days. But, everything is ready for those who want to take part in this life-changing walk. Many camps (Mawkib) are prepared on this way by people voluntarily which provide free food and accommodations for the respected pilgrims of Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine.
Muslim or non-Muslim, a large number of people take part on this journey. According to the Independent: “Nusayyef al-Khattabi, who heads the Karbala provincial council, said he expected the total number of visitors over several days to range ‘between 17 million and 20 million’” .
While Arbaeen Walk is one of the greatest Muslim gatherings, it is not an obligatory ritual. In other words, it cannot be considered as one of the practical principles of Islam (e.g., prayer (Salat), fasting (Sawm), Khums, Hajj, etc.) which a Muslim is required to perform. Participating in this journey is totally up to your choice, decision, and interest. Yet, Arba’een walk is a recommended ritual which carries many spiritual benefits for the one who takes part in it.
Anyone, from any nationality, religion or any age, can join this walk. This is a gathering of those who respect humanity and peace, are after making changes for the better and do not surrender to injustice. As Imam Hussain (AS) believed being free-spirited and honest is what guarantees human dignity . So, as long as you believe in these values, you are most welcomed on this journey.
It only takes your decision. And you might need to prepare some necessary things to carry with you in this walk. Also, it is better to be both physically and spiritually ready for this experience. Since, like many other life-changing experiences, it has its own hardships and challenges.
Note that the walk starts three days before Arba’een so that you will reach Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine on Karbala on this day. So, you should start your journey from the 17th of Safar and finish it on 20th.
While visiting Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine on Arba’een is a recommended deed, what matters most is to be aware of the philosophy behind this action. Imam Hussain’s (AS) universal and all-encompassing message, is not limited to an especial location or a specific time .
We can declare our commitment to Imam Hussain’s (AS) cause anywhere and at any time. So, if you couldn't manage to take part in Arba’een’s ceremony, there are some actions that would help you benefit from this occasion spiritually, such as reciting the Ziarat al-Arba’en or Ziarat al-Ashura. The least you can do is to send your peace and salutations to Imam Hussain (AS) wherever you may be:
Peace be upon Hussain (AS) and Ali ib al-Hussain and Hussain’s children and Hussain’s companions 
[i] Imam Hassan al-Askari (AS) told in a hadith that, among the signs of a faithful person, is visiting Imam Hussain’s (AS) shrine .
- for more information see Salam Islam’s ebook: 40 Points about Imam Hussain (AS) and the Event of Karbala
- Ibn Tawus, 'Ali b. Musa, Al-Luhuf 'ala qatla l-tufuf, Uswi, Qom, 1414 AH.
- Al-Biruni, Abu Rayhan, The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries, p.331.
- Qazi al-Tabataii, Muhammad Ali, A Research on the first Arba’een of the Leader of Martyrs (Imam Hussain (AS)), vol.3, p.304.
- Mustadrak al-Wasail, vol.10, p.239.
- Hashim al Bahrani, Al-Burhan Fi Tafsir al-Quran, vol.3, p.232.
- Shaykh Tusi, Tahdhib al-Ahkam , vol.6, p.52.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 45, p.49.
- Mustadrak al-Wasail, vol.10, p.309.
- Ziarat al-Ashura
On the last days of the year, we usually look back at what we did and what were the things we gained in that 365 days that passed. Sometimes, we would regret the times that were wasted or the opportunities that were lost, but at the end of the day, we feel grateful for what we achieved and for having the chance to enjoy the rest of our lives.
Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities that make us stop for a moment and look closer at our life, embracing what has been given to us freely, that is the love and support of our family, and be grateful for what we have gained so far.
Let’s have a quick glance at the history of Thanksgiving and Islam’s attitude toward celebrating it.
Thanksgiving roots back to some traditions held during English Reformation in Britain. However, in 1621 the first Thanksgiving day was held by “the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians” in North America, after a successful autumn harvest. However, “It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November” .
Whatever be the history of this day – having some explicit or implicit negative points aside from its positive aspects -, Islam holds a positive attitude toward the concept of thanksgiving. In what follows we will have a brief look at this view of Islam.
As we said in the article on Halloween, Islam is not against celebrating and having fun. There are four points that we, as Muslims, should observe in any tradition or celebration that we intend to take part:
1. It should not be harmful to ourselves and others, physically and mentally. A superstitious ceremony which is not based on any logical reason, and has no benefit for our mind and soul is not considered a proper kind of celebration according to Islam.
2. It should not result in ignoring our Islamic duties. Meaning that participating in a celebration should not lead us toward doing what we are not supposed to do as Muslims (e.g., drinking alcohol, eating Haram food, wearing immodest clothes, etc.) or forgetting what we must do as Muslims (e.g., praying, fasting, etc.).
3. It should not be a worthless and aimless pleasure that would only waste our time. “Islam always recommends us to be aware of what we are doing and think about our intention before any action. Even when we are having fun, there should be something behind it that makes it worthwhile. When enumerating the characteristics of a faithful person in Quran, Allah also mentions those who avoid vain actions (23:3); i.e., those activities that have no use for us and would only waste our time” .
4. Participating in that celebration should not make us like atheists or those who are against the belief in one God. That is to say, “A Muslim’s life should mirror his beliefs in every aspect. So, if an action even in appearance, represents what is against Islam or far from its teachings, then it should be avoided by Muslims” .
Thanksgiving is one of those celebrations that are very close to Islamic teachings. Being grateful to the creator for the blessings He had bestowed upon us  and also thanking other people for what they did for us, is one of the encouraged manners in Islam.
Also, Thanksgiving is a chance to gather with family and relatives and enjoy their company which is very much recommended in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (PBUHHP) said that: “I command all the people of my followers (Umma), whether present or not, and those generations which are to come … to maintain family kinship even if they live at a distance of a year's journey.” . The family is one of the most significant blessings of Allah to us, so we should give thanks to Allah for this precious blessing.
As a way to thank for God’s blessings, some people would give charity to those who are less privileged or are under financial pressures . This is one of the most praised actions in Islam and is highlighted in many narrations [i] as well as verses of the Quran: “You will never attain piety until you spend out of what you hold dear, and whatever you may spend on anything, Allah indeed knows it.” (3: 92). Thus, Allah would consider helping others as an act of gratitude.
Some American families would watch football games together, and some would play football together. Some others would pack up and go on a journey. Islam always recommended having fun, playing sports and traveling [ii]. Muslims should not keep themselves from enjoying Halal and lawful activities [iii].
As Muslims, we should keep in mind that whatever we have is granted by Allah. Thus the ultimate one to whom we give thanks is Him. That is the least we can do in return for Allah’s blessings. According to Imam Ali (AS), those who worship Allah as a way to appreciate His favors, are the most free-spirited ones, comparing with others who worship Allah with other purposes .
Thanksgiving Day is only a reminder. We should always thank Allah, in every breath and every moment of our lives. A Muslim knows the reason that he/she is alive, and is enjoying all kinds of opportunities and blessings is only Allah. Therefore, every day is a Thanksgiving Day for a Muslim.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have the opportunity to be thankful for what they have. Sometimes we find more things to complain than to be grateful. While if we consider what we have instead of what we don’t, our life would be much happier and more satisfactory. So, giving thanks is itself a blessing that Allah bestows upon the ones who believe in Him. Thus He says in the Quran, “And few of My servants are grateful” (34:13).
The more we are thankful, the more blessings will rain down on our life . A simple Physics formula that every action will have a reaction. The result of our thankfulness will be Allah’s favor on us. Therefore, Allah says: “If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]” (14:7).
Being thankful is not limited only to significantly great things. Even small or seemingly insignificant favors should be appreciated. Sometimes what we consider small or insignificant is far more important than what we think. Like having the chance of embracing our parents, kissing our kids, finding the nature’s beauties, being healthy or even breathing clean air. When we appreciate these favors and much more that are less seen by others, we realize Allah’s great love and care that includes every living creature, especially us.
It is not enough only to say you are thankful. You should show it in your actions as well. Whether it is God that you are grateful or your fellow human beings, you should do something that represent your thankfulness. Knowing that all we have is from Allah and not participating in sinful actions with the use of Allah’s blessings are only two ways of showing your thankfulness . Also, helping others and giving away to the needy are other ways of appreciating your privileges .
Having said that, don’t forget that expressing your gratitude in words is cherished by Allah and there are many recommended and specific manners in doing so. For instance praying to Allah, performing a two Rak’aa prayer (Salat) with the intention of giving thanks to Allah, repeating some Zikr (short Islamic phrases for praying; e.g. Alhamd-u-lillah (praise be to Allah), Shukr-an-lillah (Thanks to Allah), Allah-u-Akbar (Allah is the greatest), Subhan Allah (Glorious is God)), etc.
[i] Imam Reza (AS) stated in a narration that after having faith in Allah and his messengers, there is no better way of thanking Allah than to help your fellow human beings in their worldly matters .
[ii] Quran (29:20)
[iii] Quran (5:87)
Looking at Imam Hussain (AS)'s movement and the incidents that took place on Karbala, one might wonder if Imam Hussain (AS) ever had the intention of going to war with Yazid or not. In what follows, we raise some questions that will reveal Imam Hussain (AS)'s real attitude toward war.
He did not wish to take the oath of allegiance of a ruthless and corrupt person as Yazid, so he decided to peacefully migrate from Medina to Mecca in which many people had not accepted Yazid’s oath of allegiance yet. In his will which he wrote before leaving Medina, he says:
“I am not leaving here out of selfishness or with the aim of oppression or corruption, but for the sake of improving Muslims’ condition of life. I want to enjoin the right (Amr bi-l-ma’ruf) and forbid the wrong (Nahy’ ani-l-munkar) and to act according to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP)’s and Imam Ali’s (AS) way”.
His first motivation to leave Medina was migration, not war. So he left Medina to Mecca along with his family and companions without making any violent move against Yazid. On the day of Ashura on which Imam Hussain (AS) was martyred, 17 to 19 people of his family and relatives were among his companions, including some women and children. Among the martyrs of Karbala, also, there were five teenagers and children. One might ask, as Charles Dickens once asked if Imam Hussain (AS) were after worldly desires as taking over the throne, why would he take his family and children with him and risk their lives?
Imam Hussain (AS) had no intention of going to Kufa, but he was persuaded to do so by the many letters he received from Kufa people asking him to help them against Yazid’s tyranny. His speech in front of Hur’s army proves this fact:
“O’ people! This is my last word to you so that there would be no excuse in Allah’s presence. I would not come to you if you had not sent your letters and messengers and asked me to come to you. You told me that you didn’t have a leader and wanted Allah to guide you through me. So, if you still keep your words, I will come to your city, and if you don’t want me to come, I will return.”
When surrendered by Hur and his army, Zuhair, one of Imam Hussain’s (AS) companions, suggested fighting them. Since they were not still much in number and Imam Hussain’s (AS) camp had the strength to defeat them. However, Imam Hussain (AS) rejected his view and told him that if there would be a war, he did not wish to be its initiator, though he would defend himself if necessary.
Imam Hussain (AS) wanted to postpone the war as much as possible, not because he was afraid of fighting, but to give the enemy more time to think twice about their wrong decision. So, when on the evening of the 9th of Muharram, Umar ibn Sa’ad gathered his army and got them ready for the war, he sent them a message and asked them to postpone the war until the day after and he spent the night praying to Allah.
Even on the very day of Ashura, Imam Hussain (AS) did his best to dissuade the enemy of choosing the wrong path and losing the God-given blessing of life for a ruthless tyrant as Yazid and his vain intentions. That is because Imam Hussain (AS) who was the spiritual leader of Muslims and cared about their fate more than his own life, found it his responsibility to guide them toward what is right before it was too late [i].
[i] For more information see Salam Islam's ebook: 40 Points about Imam Hussain (AS) and the Event of Karbala