Procession of Arba'in

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Procession of Arba'in
A picture of the procession of Arba'in in 1970
A picture of the procession of Arba'in in 1970
Ritual information
TimeFrom the month of Safar to the day of Arba'in
PlaceRoads leading to Karbala, the most popular one is the Najaf to Karbala.
Iraq and neighboring countries
Supplication(s)Ziyarat al-Arba'in

Procession of Arbaʿīn (Arabic: مسيرة الأربعين) is a great march of Shi'as in Iraq from different parts of the country towards Karbala on the occasion of Arba'in to pay a visit to the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) and perform ziyarat al-Arba'in.

Millions of people participate in this annual procession. Many people from other countries travel to attend this procession as well.

Enjoining the Ziyara of Arba'in

A glance at Procession of Arba'in

In a hadith from Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (a), the faithful are said to have five signs and attributes. One of those signs is ziyarat al-Arba'in.[1]

There is also a ziyara narrated for the day of Arba'in from Imam al-Sadiq (a).[2] Shaykh Abbas Qummi mentioned it with the title of ziyarat al-Arba'in in the third chapter of his Mafatih al-jinan.[3]


Qadi Tabataba'i wrote that procession towards Karbala on the day of Arba'in has been common among Shiites since the time of the Infallible Imams (a) and Shiites practiced this tradition even at the times of Umayyads and Abbasids. He considered this action permanent conduct of Shi'a during history.[4]

The author of Adab al-Taff, published in 1388/1968-9, reported the gathering of Shiites in Arba'in in Karbala and likened it to the gathering of Muslims in Mecca and mentioned the attendance of groups of mourners who recited poems in Turkish, Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. He said that it would not be exaggerating saying that more than a million people attended the pilgrimage of Arba'in at that time.[5]

Saddam's Government and Ban on Procession

Toward the end of the fourteenth/twentieth century, Ba'ath party of Iraq opposed procession of Arba'in and sometimes treated those who went on procession harshly which withered this ritual on the vine. In a period, Ayatollah al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr declared procession toward Karbala obligatory.[6]

Uprising of Arba'in

Ba'ath party limited holding religious rituals, and also setting up any mawkib[7] as well as the procession toward Karbala were banned.[8] However, on Safar 15th, 1397/February 5, 1977, people of Najaf prepared for procession of Arba'in.[9] Thirty thousand people moved toward Karbala. Government forces first opposed this movement and some people were martyred. Finally, in the path of Najaf toward Karbala, army forces attacked people and arrested thousands of people.[10] Some people were killed, some were executed and some others received life sentences. Al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim played key roles in this uprising.[11] Imam Khomeini approved this uprising of people too.[12]

Expansion of Arba'in Procession

After the fall of the Ba'th regime in Iraq which banned any mourning ceremony, Shiites moved towards Karbala for the first time in 2003.[13] In the first years of the procession, they were only two or three million people. In the next years, the number of pilgrims reached more than ten million people.

In 2013, some reports mentioned the number of fifteen million pilgrims attending Karbala.

Iraq's Ministry of Interior gave the statistics showing that in 2013, at least one million and three hundred thousand foreign pilgrims came from Arabic and Islamic countries as well as from among Muslim minorities in European countries to Iraq, and all of them moved towards Karbala to attend the ceremonies and renew their allegiance with Imam al-Husayn (a).

Distance of the Procession

Iraqi pilgrims move toward Karbala from their cities. But many Iranian pilgrims choose the path between Najaf to Karbala for their procession. The distance between the two cities is about eighty kilometers. There are 1452 marked utility poles between Najaf and Karbala, and the distance between every two poles is fifty meters. About twenty to twenty-five hours is needed for the whole walking. The best time for beginning the procession is Safar 16th.

Manners and Customs

  • Reciting Hawsa: One of the manners and customs of Iraqis on the way to Karbala on the day of Arba'in is reciting "hawsa". Hawsa refers to poems special to Arab tribes of the south of Iraq. These poems express heroism and valor and are used for urging men to do great and difficult tasks. After a recitation by the poet, people repeat one couplet of the poem and move on in a circle.[14]
  • Beginning of the ceremony: The mourning ritual begins from five days before Arba'in by entering the caravans of ta'ziya. Then, groups of chest-beaters and chain-beaters enter, and the main ceremony begins on the day of Arba'in, two hours after noo. Pilgrims stand near the entrance of the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) and recite a lament and repeat it while they beat their chests and at the end of chest-beating, they raise their hands as a sign of greeting and respect.[15]
  • Receiving and serving pilgrims: During the days of the procession, nomads living beside the Euphrates set up large tents called mawkib or mudif (guesthouse) on the path of the procession and receive and serve pilgrims and accommodate them for rest.[16] Religious communities of Iraq set up many mawkibs and provide pilgrims with free services. Management of mawkibs is carried out by people independently from the government.[17]

The Longest Congregational Prayer

In 2014, the pilgrims formed the longest congregational prayer during the procession. This congregational prayer was under the guidance of Ayatullah al-Sistani and the lines of the prayer continued for as long as 30 kilometers.[18]

See also



  1. Ṭūsī, Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, vol. 6, p. 52.
  2. Ṭūsī, Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, vol. 6, p. 113.
  3. Qummī, Mafātīḥ al-jinān, p. 642.
  4. Qāḍī Ṭabāṭabāyī, Taḥqīq darbāra-yi awwal-i arbaʿīn, p. 2.
  5. Shubbar, Adab al-ṭaff, vol. 1, p. 41.
  6. Maẓāhirī, Farhang-i sūg-i shīʿī, p. 102.
  7. Stations en route to Karbala, providing services for Imam al-Husayn's (a) pilgrims in the procession of Arba'in.
  8. Muʾmin, Sanawāt al-jamr, p. 165.
  9. Asadī, Mūjiz tārīkh al-Iraq al-sīyāsī al-ḥadīth, p. 101.
  10. Wiley, The Islamic movement of Iraqi Shi'as, p. 81.
  11. Muʾmin, Sanawāt al-jamr, p. 169.
  12. Muʾmin, Sanawāt al-jamr, p. 170.
  13. Maẓāhirī, Farhang-i sūg-i shīʿī, p. 102.
  14. "Farhang-i zīyārat", p. 146.
  15. "Farhang-i zīyārat", p. 147.
  16. "Farhang-i zīyārat", p. 163.
  17. Maẓāhirī, Farhang-i sūg-i shīʿī, p. 100.
  18. Website of


  • Asadī, Mukhtār al-. Mūjiz tārīkh al-Iraq al-sīyāsī al-ḥadīth. [n.p]: Markaz al-Shahīdayn al-Ṣadrayn li-l-Dirāsāt wa l-buḥūth, 2001.
  • Group of authors. 1393 Sh. "Farhang-i zīyārat." Faṣlnāma-yi Farhangī Ijtimāʿī Sīyāsī wa Khabarī 19, 20.
  • Maẓāhirī, Muḥsin Ḥisām al-. Farhang-i sūg-i shīʿī. Tehran: Nashr-i Khiyma, 1395 Sh.
  • Muʾmin, ʿAlī al-. Sanawāt al-jamr. Beirut: al-Markaz al-Islāmī al-Muʿāṣir, 2004.
  • Qāḍī Ṭabāṭabāyī, Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAlī al-. Taḥqīq darbāra-yi awwal-i arbaʿīn. Qom: Bunyād-i ʿIlmī wa Farhangī-yi Shahīd Āyatollah Qāḍī Ṭabāṭabāyī, 1368 Sh.
  • Qummī, Shaykh ʿAbbās. Mafātīḥ al-jinān. Translated by Anṣārīyān. Qom: Dār al-ʿIrfān, 1388 Sh.
  • Shubbar, Sayyid Jawād al-. Adab al-ṭaff wa shuʿarāʾ al-Ḥusayn (a). Beirut: Dār al-Murtaḍā, [n.d].
  • Ṭūsī, Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-. Tahdhīb al-aḥkām. Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmīyya, 1407 AH.
  • Wiley, Joyce N. The Islamic movement of Iraqi Shi'as. Translated to Farsi by Mahwash Ghulāmī. Tehran: Muʾassisa-yi Iṭilāʿāt, 1373 Sh.

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