"… And he (Imam Hussein (AS)) put his life at the disposal of Your mission to liberate the people from the yoke of ignorance and evil of bewilderment.”
The number of Shias and devotees of Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) taking part in the annual Arbaeen march (marking the 40th day after Imam Hussein’s (AS) martyrdom) has been growing year after year since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. According to some estimates, as many as 20 million people have attended the march in recent years. Given the massive participation of people, length of the route, annual frequency, popularity and its peacefulness, the event is unprecedented in the Shia and Islamic history, and even in human history.
What should be noted is that while the Saudi government has been making extensive attempts, with huge financial backing and support from other governments and countries, to expand the holy sites (in Mecca and Medina) for participation of more pilgrims in Hajj, it has failed because not only the number of pilgrims has just increased by about six million, but also there have been tragic incidents during the annual Hajj rituals such as the collapse of a construction crane and the Mina disaster in 2015.
The divine phenomenon of Arbaeen march has provided Shia Islam with an historic opportunity to promote the teachings of Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS), enhance cultural diplomacy and pave the ground for the justice-spreading rule of Hazrat Mahdi (may God hasten his glad advent), through conscious and smart management.
Some of the accomplishments of this movement include:
Drawing a distinction between Shia Islam and violent Wahhabism in the world public opinion
Promoting the culture of pure Muhammadan Islam in the world
Drawing world attention to Shia thoughts and true Islam
Providing the ground for the Shia world’s enhanced unity and accord in taking global stances and having influence on world affairs
That is why the world media in recent years have made every effort, in a coordinated and calculated way, to distort this great event and prevent its news from spreading, because a united Islamic front under the reformist banner of Imam Hussein (AS) whose aim is reviving the traditions of the pure Muhammadan Islam, would be a potential threat for bullying powers and the World Arrogance.
Thus, this essay is presented with the aim of taking advantage of the capacities of the Arbaeen world march to integrate and develop Islam’s global move, promote the culture of true Islam, and enhance the Shia world’s cultural diplomacy.
2. Imperialism’s Strategy to Control Shiism
One of the main strategies of the world imperialism to control Shiism is preventing the development of ties between Shia Islam’s political center (Iran) and its religious center (Iraq) and spreading Iranophobia and Islamophobia. Some of the attempts made to that end are as follows:
- Attempts to alienate Iraq from Iran through
* Openly expressing concern over Iraq’s getting closer to Iran
* Warning Iraq against getting closer to Iran and development of the two countries’ relations
* Making attempts to deploy military forces to Iraq again
* Spreading fear among Iraqi Sunnis about closeness between the Shias of Iran and Iraq
* Provoking the Arab and non-Arab issue
* Making attempts to keep members of the Ba’ath Party and their affiliates in the Iraqi government structure
- Undermining Iraq’s Shia government and strengthening its opponents
- Making attempts to split up Iraq
- Voicing concern over the formation of Shia popular establishments in Iraq by Iran
- Hindering efforts to defeat Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) and its affiliates
- Portraying the criminal and blood-thirsty Takfiri group, Daesh, as an Islamic government and global symbol of Islam
- Spreading propaganda against Islamic Iran on every occasion and by any means, including cultural, art, etc
3. Current Status of Arbaeen March in Iraq
A) Massive participation of Shias and devotees of Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) from different nationalities
The first and most evident issue in the march is the presence of Shias as well as those who love Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) from various countries. There may be no other historical event at the international level or religious teaching that can bring together so many Shias and Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS) devotees from all over the world as Arbaeen march does.
B) People from Various Social Classes
An interesting issue about the participants in the march is their diverse social and economic status. People from all social strata gather together around the theme of love for Imam Hussein (AS) and Shia Islam. There are both highly-educated and minimally educated individuals, wealthy and poor, those living in cities and those living in rural areas, men, women, children, elderly, and so on.
C) People with Different Languages and Cultures (Materialization of Ethnic, Racial, Linguistic, Geographical, Sectarian, Religious, … Unity despite Pluralities and Differences)
One of the main features of the march is the various languages and cultures of those attending in this great event. People from a variety of countries and nationalities take part in Arbaeen march and showcase unity in diversity and realization of a united global Ummah.
D) High Religious and Human Motivations
The existence of religious and human motivations at a high level is perhaps one feature common among all of the participants in the march. Such motivations can be clearly seen both in those marching and those serving them. The love for Imam Hussein (AS) creates such a warmth in the hearts of people that no other divine figure or world reformer is capable of creating. All consider themselves indebted to Imam Hussein (AS) and, therefore, everyone willingly offers whatever they have.
E) Sense of Cooperation, Self-Sacrifice, Forgiveness, and Kindness to Fellow Human Beings
All of those attending the march, showcase a sense of cooperation, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and kindness to fellow human beings at the highest level, which result in amazing scenes of assistance, support, compassion and self-sacrifice.
F) Providing Food for Millions of Mourning Pilgrims
The issue of feeding so many people and providing diverse meals and drinks is unique in itself. The extent of providing meals is such that everyone anywhere on the route can benefit from the meals and drinks offered as soon as they feel hunger of thirst.
4. Favorable Expectations from World Arbaeen Gathering
Favorable expectations from the world Arbaeen march can be categorized as follows:
A) Establishment of Unity in the Muslim World and Shia World
B) Maintaining and Safeguarding Previous Generations’ Tradition of Marching on Arbaeen
This tradition, which started in the year 61 Hijri (687 AD) and has been maintained and safeguarded by religious figures and scholars, should continue in the same traditional way. Extensive efforts should be made to prevent emergence of useless and modern changes in the march.
C) Global Information Dissemination
Tapping into the capacities of governments, people and NGOs, this unique event should be used for global dissemination of information.
D) Rise in Number of Participants in Arbaeen March
One of the objectives of the Arbaeen march management is increasing the number of those taking part in the march. This event should bring together and unite all Shias, devotees of Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS), Muslims and freedom-seekers around one theme and create a unique gathering, and become an increasingly thriving phenomenon.
E) Development of Arbaeen Model in Human Societies
It is necessary that the culture of Arbaeen march spread among the world’s Shias in such a way that similar models would be shapes among Shias in other countries during the Arbaeen march period and the move become international and based on it Islamic lifestyle be formed.
F) Creating Links among Shia Communities
Shias who attend the march from around the world have a good opportunity to form bonds among themselves based on the love for Imam Hussein (AS) and the Shia school of thought.
5. Arbaeen, Focal Point of Cultural Diplomacy in Shia World
Cultural diplomacy as the fourth pillar of diplomacy is a people-oriented process in which, even if governments play a role, the main players are people. Hence, the march on Arbaeen of Imam Hussein (AS) martyrdom, in addition to its religious manifestations, should be also considered a cultural diplomatic measure.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, as the chief supporter of Shia Islam in the Muslim world, is the main government in charge of the Arbaeen march process, and, in other words, is the source country in this diplomatic measure. The main players, meanwhile, are the people from different countries who participate in this exceptional event.
The assistance provided to the Iraqi government in all scenes, especially in the fight against Daesh and in the management of Arbaeen march, signifies Iran’s key and leading role in the Muslim world and the Shia world’s issues and they consider the Islamic Republic as their main supporter and the major supporter of their school of thought.
The glorious organization of Arbaeen march and Iran’s support for it, convey significant messages to the world. The following are some of those messages:
5-1. Shiism’s reading of Islam is a human, compassionate and reforming one in which blind violence and stubbornness has no place.
5-2. Arbaeen march is a peaceful and peace-seeking march against Salafism, extremism and Arab racism.
5-3. The Iranian people and government in this march rush to support people with whom they fought a war three decades ago but against whom they now hold no grudges. They fought against the wrong and aggressive policies ruling Iraq (during Saddam Hussein’s era). Therefore, Iranophobia is only the result of Western governments’ ailing thought.
Given what was mentioned so far, a number of recommendations are put forward in order to make the most of this historic and unique opportunity and benefit from the favors of Imam Hussein (AS) to the Muslim world and humanity:
6-1. Creation of a joint management institution in Iraq to improve the management of the march and provide better services to the pilgrims of Imam Hussein (AS) holy shrine
6-2. Establishment of a multi-national institution to manage the capacities created by the march and paving the way for participation of Muslim world governments, institutions and NGOs
6-3. Globalizing Arbaeen and preventing attempts to limit it to Shiism or Islam
6-4. Promoting and disseminating the peaceful, ethic-based, kind, humanitarian, altruistic and genuine messages of the great march of Arbaeen