Arbaeen literally means “fortieth” in Arabic and is used as a name for the day which marks the fortieth day from the date of the Tragedy of Karbala, according to Islam. This day falls on 20th Safar on the Islamic calendar. The shrines of the martyrs of Karbala are situated in the same city in Iraq.
Every year, a march is organized in which Muslims (mainly Shia Muslims) walk approximately 92 kilometers from Najaf city to Karbala.
The whole route is divided into 1,452 poles for the ease of pilgrims, where the distance between each pole is 50 meters. The approximate walking time is 16 to 23 hours, but pilgrims continue to arrive in Karbala after walking for about four to five days.
The walk officially starts on 16th Safar, four days prior to Arbaeen. Pilgrims are expected to arrive in Karbala on the night or evening before Arbaeen.
Throughout the Najaf-Karbala route, food and services like medical support, housing, prayer areas, resting spots, refreshments and even massaging services are provided free for those who participate in the walk. All these services are provided individually by Iraqi citizens and some foreign communities as well. Pilgrims are usually housed at night in gender-segregated mawkabs, which are places with all the necessary services for a night’s stay. In bigger, more well-equipped mawkabs, pilgrims are also provided with showers for bathing. At intervals, Iraqi locals are also seen offering the pilgrims a night’s stay or a meal in their own houses nearby. Guides and army soldiers are also seen throughout the route for guidance and security purposes.
Pilgrims usually carry a single backpack each, containing anything they might want to carry with themselves for the journey.
The Arbaeen Walk is very popular among Shia Muslims and millions of them partake in this epic journey every year and visit the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussain on foot. In 2016, according to AK Foundation, about 22 million pilgrims reached Karbala.
According to Sayed Mahdi al-Modarresi, “Arbaeen should be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in several categories. The biggest annual gathering, longest continuous dining table, largest number of people fed for free, largest group of volunteers serving a single event, all under the imminent threat of suicide bombings.”