On this long and dusty path, as we walk with a heavy heart and tears in our eyes towards the Holy City of Karbala, towards the Master of the Martyrs and with every step we take, let the ground bear witness that we walked with the love of Hazrat Hussain Ibn-e-Ali (A.S) in our hearts..
Before embarking upon the journey from Najaf to Karbala, I offered my midday prayers facing the shrine of the Commander of the Faithful, Hazrat Ali ibn-e-Abu Talib (A.S). I turned towards the shrine of this great man and professed my allegiance to his Wilayat and to the love of his great son – Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S). In some respects, the journey between Najaf and Karbala draws a parallel to our own lives. As with the beginning of this journey, we turn our hearts and minds towards the Commander of the Faithful acknowledging his status as the Wali of Allah and the successor of the Holy Prophet. Similarly, when we are born into this world, one of the first sounds to enter our ears and ultimately our consciousness is that which profess’ the Wilayat of Ali ibn-e-Abu Talib (A.S).
Much like life, you embark upon the walk conscious of your obligation and debt to the Ahlul Bayt. You strive in hardship to remain steadfast on the right path which will lead you to Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S). You undergo many physical and emotional trials and tribulations but take solace from the surrounding zawars of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S) who walk with you side by side, helping you and providing you with motivation to continue on the long road ahead.
The first time I decided to walk from Karbala, I knew that I would be on the road for 3 days and decided to take a backpack of supplies which included various snack-bars and energy drinks as I did not know whether there would be any food or drink available along the road. Much to my surprise, I did not require any of the items I brought with me. At the exact time you suddenly become hungry or thirsty, by the grace of the Almighty you will at that point come across a make shift food stand where hot food is being distributed to the zawar. The amount of the food will be a single, small portion but it will be the sweetest food you have ever encountered. Furthermore, it will satisfy you like no other meal you have ate – these are
the blessings associated with those that are the zawar of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S). Along the journey, I came across an Iraqi man on the side of the road who was cutting the bark of a tree, slicing it into pieces and offering it to the zawar of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S) as they walked past. I took a piece and ate it and still remember that it tasted as sweet as a pear. I was in awe of the greatness of the Creator, that something which grows all around us (even in the desert lands of Iraq) can provide us with the nutritional sustenance we require. Yet, in our daily lives we remain obsessed with the conquest for sustenance (which is already guaranteed), at the expense of our objective to follow in the path of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S) in pursuit of excellence (which is our responsibility to achieve in his world).
This is the confidence of a true zawar of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S) who comes to this land from far and wide, walking towards his Mater without so much as a worry or thought about where his next meal will come from, where he will take shelter for the evening and certainly no backpack full of snacks and energy drinks for he is all too familiar with the word of his Lord:
“There is not a creature that moves on the Earth but on Allah is the sustenance thereof…” (Holy Quran chapter 11, verse 6) Everyone walks from near and far, on hand and foot, some crawling whilst others run to the Master of Martyrs, this is the greatest marathon on Earth! The only difference is that there is no underlying agenda or motivation for this journey, among the millions of people walking on this road – their intention is the most honorable of all – purely for the love of Hazrat Hussain Ibn-e-Ali (A.S), the Master of the Martyrs. By the mercy of our Lord and the status of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S), whether you are first, in the middle, last, do not finish or even intend to take part but circumstance prevents you – the reward is the same – eternal paradise!
If you want to truly know and understand the importance of this great man who was killed in a desert land more than 13 centuries ago than you just have to look to the sands of Iraq and the road which leads to Karbala. For on this road you shall see the true greatness of a man for whose love and pain continues to burn in the heart of millions of people around the world so much so that they come by the millions on hand and on foot walking from their hometowns on foot for days on end, in the coldest of nights and the hottest of days, with no provision for food, water or medical supplies but only with a final destination in mind. What is that? To be present in the shrine of this holy personality on the day of Arbaeen.
If you ask the average person in the street the name of his/her grandfather, you may get a response. If you then go further and ask the name of their great grandfather, you may still get a response. However, if you ask the name of their great, great grandfather or even the location of the grave you will be met with a blank face and no response. Yet, on this dusty desert road which leads to Karbala, you will see millions of men, women and children who are walking towards a man that they have no blood relation with, a man they have never met nor seen, but the greatness of this man and love of this man is manifest in their hearts so much so that they will endure the hunger, thirst and physical hardship of walking on foot for days over a distance of hundreds of kilometers to commemorate his death which took place 13 centuries ago and pay their respects to his grave.
As well as reflecting on Hazrat Imam Husain (A.S) and what he stood for, apart of the experience is to meet and speak to the local Iraqi people along the journey. I can truly say that these were the most hospitable people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The selfless acts of kindness and generosity you will experience are truly amazing. This truly reminds us of the stories we are accustomed to hearing about the Ahlul Bayt and the key driver for them is that they are serving a zawar of Hazrat Imam Hussain. When you offer them money or ask them how you can repay them for their food, tea, shelter or kindness they will take great offence, for the simple reason that they are not looking for any acknowledgment or remuneration from you – instead they only desire to take recompense from Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S) in the hereafter.
I had the pleasure of speaking to an elderly man from Najaf. Whilst he was unable to speak English, a friend of his was able to translate into English for my benefit. When the man found out I was from London, he became so happy and emotional. Upon parting, he asked me to remember him in his duas when I return back to London. I was slightly taken aback by this comment and said that it is he who should pray for me in the presence of Hazrat Imam Ali (A.S) since he resides in Najaf and has the great honour of visiting the holy shrine of Hazrat Imam Ali (A.S) everyday. I will never forgot the look on this old man’s face when he cried and said to me (through the translator), words to the effect that it would be my duas that are accepted given that I have come from such a foreign land and travelled such a great distance to do the ziyarat of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S). Even though we may feel we have not done anything special nor deserving and can still feel ashamed in front of our Imam due to the number of sins we have accumulated, we can only pray and hope that our efforts (despite how minimal and trivial) is considered of some worth in the eyes of our Lord.
Each time I have had the honour and privilege to take part in this journey, I have had a completely different experience filled with so many personalities and stories. Whilst it is important to read and attend lectures before departing on this journey, I don’t think any of these preparations will truly equip you for what lays ahead. Much like with many things in life, it is something each person needs to experience themselves on an individual basis. The journey from Najaf to Karbala is a ziyarat in its own right. Almost a rite of passage for the true lover of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S), as Hazrat Imam Jaffer Al Sadiq (A.S) explains – if people knew the true reward of visiting the shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S), they would come from their homes crawling.
For everyone intending, hoping and aspiring to take part in this truly epic journey, we pray to the Almighty that He grants us true sincerity and recognition of the highest order and we lift our hands up in dua and recite the following:
“Oh Lord, in the name of Hazrat Bibi Zehra (A.S), may we be blessed with the opportunity to see the Holy Land of Karbala before we die and may we have the opportunity to prostrate on that Holy Land”.