Millions of Iranians enter Iraq for Shiite Ritual

By Changiz M. Varzi for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

A day after millions of Shiite Muslims marked Arbaeen, the annual pilgrimage to the Hussein mosque in the Iraqi city of Karbala, the front pages of Iranian dailies on Nov. 21 carried large photos of the ceremony along with headlines comparing Arbaeen with the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.

Arbaeen, meaning “40” in Arabic, takes place on the 40th day after the anniversary of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein bin Ali in A.D. 680. It is the continuation of mourning that begins on Ashura, the day that marks the killing of Hussein in a battle in Karbala.

The ceremony, one of the world’s largest religious events, has gained more significance in recent years due to the wars and sectarian confrontation in the Middle East. This year, about 2 million Iranian Shiite faithful traveled to Karbala from border crossing points where only a few decades ago some of the fiercest fighting of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War took place.

On Nov. 21, with the headline “Hajj for Hussein,” the Reformist daily Etemad covered the religious ritual through a correspondent sent to the Iran-Iraq border. “One does not need to be in Iraq to understand the immensity of the biggest gathering of the Shiite world,” the report said. “All paths [from Iran] leading to Karbala were flooded with black-clad pilgrims walking tens of kilometers to reach Imam Hussein’s holy shrine.”

In addition, the daily published a literary piece on its front page that explains why Ashura and Arbaeen have contemporary political importance for Shiites. “Imam Hussein was the person who rebelled against the ruler of his time and against their complacent heaven and delectation,” wrote Etemad.

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