Millions of Shiite Muslims from around the world are making their way this week to their sect’s holy shrines in the Iraqi city of Karbala, a pilgrimage that is as much about community as it is about religion.
The shrines are of two revered Shiite imams: Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his half-brother Abbas.
The annual commemoration, called Arbaeen, draws more pilgrims each year — according to Iraqi figures — than the hajj in Saudi Arabia, a pilgrimage required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it.
Pilgrims stream toward Karbala on foot from the cities of Najaf, 70 kilometers (45 miles) away, Baghdad, 90 kilometers (55 miles) to the north, and other places farther afield, resting along the way in tents lined with foam mattresses and fleece blankets.
“Our fathers and our grandfathers walked to Karbala, and God willing, our children will, too,” said Karrad Karim, a 24-year-old pilgrim journeying with four friends from Baghdad.
They brought with them large flags bearing devotional sayings to the Shiite saints, but little in the way of supplies for the four-day journey.
That’s because along the roads, stalls set up by charities, mosques, and devotional groups see to it that no traveler goes hungry.
Cooks prepare vast amounts of stewed lamb, grilled fish, fresh bread, and rice for the pilgrims, refusing payment for the meals.
The pilgrimage, known in Arabic as the Ziara, marks the 40th day of mourning of the anniversary of Hussein’s 7th century death at the hands of the Muslim Umayyad forces in the Battle of Karbala, during the tumultuous first century of Islam’s history.
Hussein was seen by his followers as the rightful heir of the prophet’s legacy.
When he refused to pledge allegiance to the Umayyad caliphate, he was killed in the battle, cementing the schism between Sunni and Shiite Islam.
Hussein’s half-brother Abbas was also killed in the battle.
Modern depictions of Hussein, stitched on banners displayed along the pilgrimage, show him with blood on his brow and bearing a Christ-like countenance.
But the pilgrims’ mood is not all somber. Spirits are high as they approach Karbala, and improve further upon arrival, with generous helpings of dates and tea.
“This is a walk to heaven,” said Alaa Dadi, 45, who was making his way with his wife and three children.
Sunnis outnumber Shiites by a wide margin among the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims, and Shiite rituals are far less known.
The hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam, and an obligation for all Muslims — Sunni and Shiite.
The Ziara is voluntary and holds little significance in Sunni tradition.
In recent years, the Iraqi government says Karbala received 10-20 million visitors during the event, with many Shiite pilgrims coming from Iraq; no figures have yet been released for 2018.
This year’s pilgrimage is the first since Iraq’s government declared victory over the Islamic State group in January, but the threat of insurgent attacks still lingers.
The militant group has deliberately targeted Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere to destabilize the region.
Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and special police forces have been deployed to protect the pilgrims along the routes.
Iranian religious affairs official Hussein Zulfighari said 1.7 million Iranians had already crossed into Iraq for the pilgrimage, and predicted the number could reach 2 million by the event’s climax on Tuesday.
Zulfighari, quoted in Iran’s Fars news agency, said the visitors include 50,000 Afghan Shiites living in Iran.
Source: Fox News
Brexit Will Not Happen Next Week
Brexit will not happen next week. The United Kingdom has been granted a bit more time to figure out the terms of its departure from the European trading bloc. The date could be April the twelfth or may the twenty-second.
European Council President, Donald Tusk, says he would push the departure date to May the twenty-second if the UK parliament approves a withdrawal agreement next week.
Parliament’s failure to approve the Brexit deal next week would mean deadline for departure from the European Union will be April the twelfth.
The decision to grant the delay came a day after may delivered a televised speech blaming parliament for the Brexit impasse. That speech angered the political spectrum.
May hopes with this European Council next decision, the House of Commons would pass a Brexit deal next week. She says that would help bring an end to the uncertainty and would help the UK to leave Europe in a smooth and orderly manner.
Chemical Factory Explosion In China Kills 47, Injures Over 600
An explosion at a chemical plant that occurred on Thursday in China’s eastern Jiangsu province has killed 47 people and injured over 600, among which 90 are critically injured, state media reported.
The fire which happened at a plant that contained highly inflammable chemical owned by the Tianjiayi Chemical Company spread to neighbouring factories was finally brought under control at 3.00 a.m. on Friday.
President Xi Jinping, who is in Italy on a state visit, ordered all-out efforts to care for the injured and to “earnestly maintain social stability”, state television said.
Reuters disclosed that some police at the scene were wearing face masks, sealed off roads to the plant. The blast smashed windows in the village of Wangshang two kilometres (1.2 miles) away, and shocked villagers likened it to an earthquake.
New Zealand Bans Sale Of Assault Rifles, Semi-Automatic Weapons
New Zealand has banned the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons after the country’s worst-ever attack in which fifty persons were killed in two mosques.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference the ban is in the national interest and it’s about safety… To prevent an act of terror from ever happening again in New Zealand.
Ardern said she expects the new law to be in place by mid-April. Buy-back schemes will be established for banned weapons.
Ardern said the suspect arrested in the attacks had purchased his weapons legally and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines “done easily through a simple online purchase.”
The changes in New Zealand’s gun laws are expected to curtail future acts of random violence like the mass mosques shootings in Christchurch.
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