(PA, United States)
All praise is to Allah, The Omnipotent and Most powerful and for it is with His blessing that I and a modest group of 20 were afforded the honor of being able to make the Trip to perform the Pilgrimage (Ziyarat) of Khadhimain, Najaf and Karbala in Iraq. Ziyarat is a pilgrimage to sites associated with Prophet Muhammad (SAW), his family, his companions and other venerated figures in Islamic history such as Shia Imams. Sites of pilgrimage include mosques, graves, battlefields, mountains, caves and houses. “Ziyaarat” comes from Arabic word “Zur” meaning “to visit”. The word actually pronounced “Ziiyarah” with a silent “t”.
Iraq is the holy Land of the Shias because Imam Ali (AS) and his son Imam Husain (AS) are buried there. The four cities of Iraq – Najaf, Karbala, Kadhimain, and Samarra are sacred to the Shia world and it is said that over five million Shia pilgrims (Zawar) visit every year, most of them from Iran, India, Pakistan, Middle East, Europe and US. Extremist groups like Wahabi and Salafi – believe the pilgrimage should be classified as shirk or idolatry, and bid’ah or innovation. Whenever Wahabis or Salafis have held political power, they have destroyed pilgrimage sites. The government of Saudi Arabia is strongly Wahabi, and as the guardian of the two holy shrines, makes every effort to prevent Shia or traditionalist Muslims from doing Ziyarat while visiting Mecca and Medina during Hajj. Large billboard proclaiming the sinfulness of shirk and grave worshiping surround one of the popular pilgrimage sites, the Baqi Cemetery.
My trip to Iraq was two-dimensional; on the spiritual level, it was an intensely personal process. One is alone and reflective but on the political/material level, one is constantly bearing the burden of the society, which is to be tolerated patiently and peacefully. What is the significance of pilgrimage? Is it a physical journey or spiritual journey? My Pilgrimage to the Holy land of Iraq, from March 13 to March 30th 2006, has enabled me to relinquish the pain of my past and the uncertainties of my future, while I am convinced that the lessons and realization of my adventure will continue to affect my daily life and make my faith (Iman) stronger. My time at holy sites in Karbala, Najaf and Khadhimain was an important event in my faith and emotional development. We were twenty-one in-group with one child of six year old, five men (brothers), and seventeen women (sisters). I had named this group Sepai-e-Zainab (soldiers of Janaabe Zainab).
Admittedly, I was very apprehensive about my journey and especially the comments from my co-workers, fellow coaching staff and my friends. However my wife and family were very happy, supportive and encouraging. I naively expected to see roadside bombs, draw machine guns and other act of violence, but to my surprise when I did not encounter any incident I realized that most Iraqis want to peacefully exist in their home country. While few, those who catch the media’s attention, wish to disrupt the Holy land with fighting.
During my journey, I experienced many events for the first time for example kissing and holding of the shrines of Imam Ali (AS), Imam Husain (AS), Hazrat Abbas (AS)and other shines, which allowed me to remember weekly sermons, history and poetry I used to listen. It also gave me the new appreciation and significance of the martyrdom, battle of Karbala and Imam Hussein’s sacrifice for humanity for peace and justice. While I was visiting the shrines and walking the street of Karbala and Najaf, I constantly found myself reciting the verses of the Holy book – Qur’an. I could not believe that I was in Karbala and Najaf. The sermons and poetry, which I had read and heard many times, began to come alive in exciting ways. I could picture the battle of Karbala; I could picture Imam Husain (AS) delivering the sermon, pleading for water for his six-month-old baby Aliasgher, I could picture the tents on fire, I could picture the mount Zainab (Tila-e-Zainabiya) where Saint (bibi) Zainab watching the battle of Karbala. The battle of Karbala is filled with reality, its words springing forth vibrantly in my mind.