From Beirut to Najaf – Resistance and Resilience
I departed from London on the 1st of November 2017, and had a stop over in Lebanon before reaching Iraq. My journey to the Imams (as) really and truly began in Lebanon, and I say this because the Lord blessed me with the opportunity to visit those that sacrificed their lives on the front-lines, and through this they now reside in the proximity to our beloved Ahlulbayt (as). I had the blessings of God to be with them on the way to visiting the Imams (as) that embodied everything these martyrs resembled: valour, loyalty and love of God. I stood beside their graves and looked at their pure faces, and felt bewildered that I was given this honour. I stood there silently recalling the stories I’ve read, and the lessons I’ve learnt, and ultimately acknowledged how little we are in comparison to these individuals.
Upon leaving the site, I reminded myself that my next stop was the land of Ameer Al-Mu’mineen (as) – the land of resilience and the land of resistance. Throughout my journey everything felt surreal, and when my eyes saw the dome of Imam Ali (as) it all made sense – I was destined to be here, at this very moment, to renew my allegiance besides millions of other believers – what a privilege. I spent 3 days in the Holy City of Najaf before beginning the walk to Karbala. Upon arriving in Najaf, I personally felt a hybrid of emotions, for you stand in front of the one most beloved to the Prophet (pbuh), the one known for being the Father of the Orphans, but also the one who knew the destiny of his family, and the one who endured immeasurable pain after the demise of Lady Fatima (sa). It’s a bitter-sweet feeling, but in the end the sadness ultimately overshadows any other emotion. The black flags and the black banners make you feel this pain on a complete different level; you’re consumed by grief.
From Najaf to Karbala – Revolution and Victory
On the 5th of November 2017 just after Fajr we began our journey. I began the walk alongside Shaykh Mahdi Taeb, a brilliant scholar from the Holy City of Qom. It’s always a pleasure to have a spiritual guide with you on a journey like this; for it prevents you from forgetting the purpose of the pilgrimage, and prevents you from pondering over the material world. The motivation you feel at the beginning of your walk stays with you till the very end. You see children as young as 3 walking on the same road, you see disabled men and women on the same road, you see the visually impaired on the same road, all flocking to the beloved Grandsons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – flocking to those who taught us the meaning of life. Whilst you walk you are greeted by strangers, and they serve you without thinking twice.
They offer you food, tea, and water, they offer to clean your shoes, they offer to massage you, they offer to charge your phones – you witness altruism and love like no other. It really leaves you to reflect on yourself, you begin to wonder what you can do for them in return for this love they offer you. Let’s not forget, the people of Iraq have faced devastation after devastation, from dealing with Saddam, to facing the wrath of western backed terrorists such as ISIS – the bloodshed in Iraq hasn’t ended; thousands of children have lost their parents, yet these same children smile when they see the visitors of Imam Hussain (as) and they serve the lovers of Imam Hussain (as) despite facing trials of their own; how many of us would do the same?
Another beautiful aspect of the walk is that millions of believers from across the globe come together for one sole purpose. You see brothers and sisters from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia all on the same path walking together, lamenting together, praying together – under the banner of our Imam (as), when you observe your surroundings you are reminded of your purpose, you’re reminded of the importance of uniting and dismissing the differences that tear us apart. On the road to Karbala it is emphasised to the believers that Imam Hussain (as) is not limited to a certain group of people, and that the message of Karbala is indeed universal.
Further to this, day after day you are constantly reminded to honour those that are no longer with us today, there are tents with displays of the martyrs throughout the walk, you learn about the legacies of so many beautiful personalities, from Malcolm X to Shaykh Al-Nimr, to Jihad Moughniyeh to Shaheed Hojajji – you appreciate their sacrifice whilst walking on the path to the pristine representatives of God. It is these individuals that stood up to corrupt entities, in order for us all to understand and recognise our duties against the enemy of our time. What do all of these men have in common? They used every atom in their body to distinguish truth from falsehood and to physically and intellectually fight for the cause of God. You’re reminded what it means to be loyal to the cause, you’re reminded what it means to be a true servant of the creator, and everything you see, hear and say transforms you on this journey with every step you walk.
Reaching Karbala – Heaven on earth
I began walking on the 5th and entered Karbala on the night of the 6th and rested before continuing the final part of the journey. To be very honest, after walking for 2 or 3 days you feel tired, and some become unwell. However when you step foot on the soil of the Imam (as) it is as if that tiredness fades away and you feel energised to set your eyes on the majestic golden minarets. The story of Karbala is a story like no other. When you walk, and you feel thirsty – you think of the six-month old baby Ali Al-Asghar, when you walk and feel tired – you think of Lady Zaynab (sa) and the women that had to walk despite everything they had already endured, when you walk and you’re in pain you think of Imam Zain Al-Abideen (as) and the pain he endured in captivity. This journey symbolises resistance, and it is a journey like no other.
When I finally saw the dome of Abal Fadhl Abbas (a) I felt a connection like no other; for it was as if He was welcoming me with his love, as if I was selectively chosen to walk to God’s heaven on this planet. You stare at the dome and you know this is the brother of Imam Hussain (as) that epitomised the meaning of loyalty, the one that manifested the qualities of the Imam Ali (as). Only the heart can say what the mouth cannot in the city of lovers. This was the best experience of my life, and an experience I would implore everyone to undertake. You see, when you listen to lectures and you supplicate especially in the month of Muharram you feel empowered, but it is the journey in Arbaeen that truly awakens you further.
I thank the Almighty for blessing me with Ziyarat Al-Arbaeen, and for allowing me to reevaluate my purpose on this journey.
Author: Afreen Rizvi