A narrative from a pilgrim:

The Role of Women in Managing the Arbaeen Walk

"Simple but peaceable houses"

Faezeh Sassanikhah
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad

2020-10-21


After all, it was the promised day.  We left the city of Najaf to attend the Arbaeen walk[1] on 25 October of 2016 at 11:00 am. Besides us, other people were leaving the city. After an hour of walking, we arrived at the exit of the city and Pillar-1.

The road was divided into three parts. There were two roads for walking and one road for cars.

There was a commotion. Crowds fluttered on sidewalks. There were people from almost all nationalities and countries; they were from Indians, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Iranians, Iraqis, Azerbaijanis, Turks, Canadians, etc., whatever we went ahead, it seemed there were more crowds.

A little further, there was an overpass that the crowds were much denser on it... All these people, with their backpacks and flags in their hands, were moving to one side. I was shocked to see this crowd for a few moments. I remembered the sermon of Zainab (PBUH)[2] in Yazid's[3] palace:  she said to him: "I swear by God, you will never erase our memory and you will not be able to silence our revelation and you will not harm our position!" The some Hosayniya[4]  were set up on the right side of the first road, pilgrims were served with tea and water. Several young people were standing in the middle of the road, offering bitter coffee! The peddler was selling next to the flag. Some of the Hosayniya, which were like kiosks, gave charcoal tea, and some of them brewed tea on large samovars. Elsewhere, dates were placed in large trays and dishes on stools in the middle of the road. "Welcome to the shrine of Sajjad's[5] Father!" said loudly the owners of some of the Hosayniya.

Except for the owners of the Hosayniya, everyone did everything they could. Two young Iraqis stood on stools and sprinkled roses on the heads of pilgrims. A young Iranian cleric was standing on a stool with two Qur'an in his right hand and another in his left, and pilgrims passing under the Qur'an. On the way, little girls between the ages of five to twelve had a bottle of perfume in their hands and smelled perfume on the hands of the pilgrims, or they held jugs and glasses and offered water to them.

 

 

Because the water was not safe and there was a possibility of illness and many of people used these glasses, we did not use of these glasses but kissed the girls and one of the companions gave them colored bracelets.

Step by step, the small children gathered together and formed a semicircle and shouted:  Labbaik Ya Hussain![6]

In some places, the sound of Arabic praise could be heard from the Hosayniya. I felt cheerful and deep calm reigned. We did not walk, we flew, and we went to heaven. From the beginning of the route, the photos of the martyrs of the war against ISIL were posted on the beams in the middle of the road as far as we could look ahead.

We stopped for prayer and lunch. Contrary to what I had heard, there were clean toilets with enough water. We prayed under a blue nylon tent and had fish for lunch. It took a while for everyone to pray, have lunch, and gather. We set off again around three o'clock in the afternoon and the group's leader told the companions to stop close to Pillar-14"This is enough today and we have to look for the right place to take a rest," said he.

In the afternoon, it was difficult for us, who were relatively numerous, to find a suitable Hosayniya or house. On the other hand, all the pilgrims were tired. We had arrived in Najaf at the night before, and it took a while for the men to find a hotel and settle down. We were only able to go to the holy shrine of Imam Ali (PBUH)[7] for an hour and return to the hotel. The men drove to the Chazabeh border from morning to night before arriving in Iraq, and we stayed in Chazabeh for the night. The day before, we were on our way from morning to evening to reach Najaf. There was traffic near Najaf and it was night until we entered the city. In order not to move on the sidewalk and not to get stuck in the pilgrims' traffic, the driver had chosen a route rather than the usual route, which took about seven hours to arrive in Najaf Ashraf. For this reason, the group's leader did not want to walk too much that day and decided to find a suitable Hosayniya or house before sunset.

I was thirsty, but despite being tired, I wanted to go again and move on the road. I was not tired enough to welcome the stop. I could not believe that after all these years of waiting, I could now take a walk in this route. In 2014 and 2013, I had come to Karbala for the Arbaeen pilgrimage, but I had not participated in the walk. In 2013, our hotel was on a street where pilgrims intended to participate in a walk. When they passed in front of us and went to the exit of the city, I looked at their departure with regret and wished I could participate in the walk like them, but we had come with the caravan of the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, and we were not supposed to participate in the walk.

Near one of the Hosayniya, which was offering tea and praising, we sat on the chairs there so that the group manager could find a suitable place to stay.

The crowd continued on its way. A few minutes later, I saw a group’s leader talking to a young boy of about 19 or 20, who was inviting him to his house. The group’s leader accepted his invitation and motioned for us to go with them. When we approached them, the boy put his hand over his eye and said: "You are welcome!" He brought Wi-Fi, which means that the house is also connected to the Internet! He described the facilities of the house in detail so that we would not hesitate to stay there!

The house was in an alley behind the Hosayniya. "The houses in the back alleys are more suitable for rest, there is no sound of mourning and there is no traffic," said one of the companions, who were walking on the Arbaeen for the third time.

The alley had not been covered with proper asphalt. At the suggestion of the group's leader, in addition to the backpack, we brought a carriage to put the backpacks on and walk more easily. They were walking slowly so that the wheels on these hills and heights would not break.

We did not know which house we would choose to stay, but I thought that if this was the alley where we want to choose, it didn’t have appropriate situation.

The house was at the end of the same alley and was in close distance. The women's residence was separate from the men's. The men were to settle in the house in front of us. Before all the members entered the house, another lady and I were supposed to go inside and check the conditions, and if it was suitable for accommodation, the others would come and stay there.

We pulled back the curtain in front of the door and entered the courtyard, which was relatively small. On the left, several women were baking bread on metal ovens. We greeted and entered the building. There was a nine-meter kitchen. Several young women and girls were making salads. All the women and girls of the house wore long black shirts and scarves. We greeted them too, and they replied. A fifteen- or sixteen-year-old teenage girl with a smile on her face motioned for us to go with her.

We followed her. The end of the corridor was a narrow staircase leading to the second floor. We climbed many crooked stairs. There was no one on the second floor except the three of us. The girl eagerly showed us the whole building.

The house was not newly built but was very clean and tidy. There was a relatively large living room in the middle. There was a bathroom on the left side of the building and a little further there were small portable kitchens that were built like a small room for pilgrims to use. At the end of the living room, the beds were arranged neatly under the staircase leading to the roof.

Beside the living room, there were two nine-meter rooms next to each other. Everything was very good, the house was so clean; what else did we want? There was only one major problem, and that was untidy stairs. The mother of our group's leader, who was in a wheelchair all the time, could not go up all the stairs. Were we hesitant to stay or not?!

My companion told me: "We cannot stay here because a lady cannot go up these stairs." I thanked the teenage girl and nodded that we could not stay. The girl went and looked at us with extreme sadness and regret! It was as if we had come to buy or rent their house, and he had thought to herself that we would definitely like it, and now, contrary to her supposition, we did not like and accept it! Something shook my heart! I think she thought that the pilgrims of Imam Hussein did not consider us worthy. "It is better to discuss the situation with the group and see what they think? Maybe they accepted," said I to my companions.

I was supposed to stay there until to know what we should do. A few minutes later, my companion came back." No problem. We stay here. The lady said that she has no problem to stay here." said she. That is, we were accompanied by an elderly but compatible companion.

The landlady's daughter was overjoyed when she found out we were going to stay. I wished I were able to speak Arabic! I have had a language problem since I first came to Arbaeen. In 2014, when we came to Arbaeen, we were staying in the Heday al-Wali Hotel in Karbala. In addition to us, there were Lebanese pilgrims in that hotel. One morning, at breakfast, several of them asked us for permission to sit at a table with us and have breakfast. They were very willing to talk to each other, but communication was very difficult. I was mixing Arabic and English to get what I meant! Although I had attended in language classes for several courses, I forgot to use many words and grammar.

I went upstairs and picked up a blanket from the beds under the stairs and spread it out in a corner of the room where it has belonged to me two of our relatives. The blankets were all new and stylish. It was clear that it was used only by pilgrims at this time of year and the family did not use them during the year.

The rest of the companions came and settled down. I was relieved. I was still thinking about out of the house, thinking about what I had seen from morning until that moment. I wanted to go downstairs and help the hosts in the kitchen. When I was entering the kitchen, I saw that the dishwasher in front of the entrance door was full of small cups, saucers, and dishes and that the servants had not had time to wash them. We did not have a house here and we did not have a Hosayniya to receive the pilgrims of Imam Hussein. The least we could do was to help the owners of the house.

From two days before, I had seen how everyone, young and old, could do everything for the pilgrim of Imam Hussein in Ahvaz, and especially in Chazabeh and from Iraq to Najaf. This hospitality did not start from here, it started from Chazabeh. The hospitable and kind people of Chazabeh, just like the Iraqis, had mobilized all their life to receive the pilgrims of Arbaeen Hosseini. They stood near the middle of the street, begging the pilgrims to drink their tea and food and rest in their Hosayniya.

I put on a colored tent and went downstairs. Young women and girls were still making salads. They are definitely expected to have a lot of at night. I was embarrassed. I did not know if they would let me help them or not. "I want to help you," said I to one of them in Persian. And I went to the dishwasher! They did not understand why I was standing there and they looked at me in surprise.

First I arranged the dishes and gave the cups priority to be washed. I left the dough containers for the end, which took time more to wash.

I was tidying up the dishes when the kind and warm-hearted girl who showed us the pilgrims' accommodation and brought a woman over 50 years old who might know what I wanted!

"Tea?" asked the woman in Arabic. "No!" said I. "Water?" asked she. "No!" replied I. I pointed to the dishes and help them to understand that I wanted to wash them. They were not satisfied. They did not know anything about Persian and only knew the word "Rest!"

"Lady, rest!" said one of the girls in Persian.  "I love to be a servant of Al-Hussein (peace be upon him)!" replied I. They were very pleased to hear this sentence, a satisfied smile settled on their lips and they did not say another word.

I was washing the dishes. The water was warm and great for washing oily dishes. I concentrated so that the sugar did not stick to the cups. They used a lot of sugar because of bitter tea.

A few minutes later, several Iranian pilgrims arrived. They glanced at me with a colored headdress and glanced at the Iraqis wearing long Arab dress. They have wondered whether it was the house of the Iranians or the Iraqis.

"This is the house of the Iraqis, and we are pilgrims like you," replied I. "Is there a bathroom here?" asked one of the pilgrims, a young girl. "Yes," said I," on upstairs, there is also a good bedroom." I stopped doing dishes and showed them the way.

Little by little, other pilgrims arrived; Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims. I unwittingly played the role of translator for Iranian pilgrims and guided them to the front of the stairs.

The landlords made no distinction between the guests. Some Iraqis who came there, landlords greeted them warmly; I realized that they are not relative of each other unless they are compatriots and maybe they came to this house, years ago. The old women sat in the kitchen next to the servants and started smoking and talking.

I felt tired but I did not want to give up washing dishes and miss the golden opportunity to serve the pilgrims." Your lady, rest!" came the Iraqi teenage girl said to me again. "I will stay until the night prayer," said I. I looked at the yard. The women have finished cooking bread and wanted to fry the chicken on the stove. They were about the same age. I did not understand whether they are sisters or neighbors, co-wife, or sister-in-law. But, in any relation, they acted very harmoniously. The house was being managed by all members, young and old; men certainly could not have run the big ceremony alone without the help of women and girls. Only children, who were indifferent age and height, were playing together, walking down the alley and back into the yard.

There was a curtain in front of the house, and every once in a while a middle-aged man wearing a black thobe[8] entered the yard and talked to the women, as if he was preparing dinner for guests.

The washing of the cups and dishes was over, and it was the turn of the steel dishes on which the dough was attached, and they should be washed with difficulty and slowly.

After washing the dishes, I came into the yard. The bread oven was removed and there was no bread, but the fried chicken was still in the large frying pans. I took a picture of fried chickens with my phone and went upstairs. As I walked down the living room, I saw a room in the first floor while I was passing collider. It had been very simple equipment. The housewife's sewing machine and rugs were very ordinary ones.

The rooms were almost full of guests upstairs, and I was happy that we arrived early. I prayed and sent the photos I had taken of the road, and this house, sent to my family using WiFi and informed them of my situation.

The guests bathed, washed their dresses in the laundry in the hallway before the bath, and hung them on the wooden railings of the room. Women are usually very sensitive to their household items and have a lot of affection for them and do not like to be used by anyone, but there were no such common feminine sensibilities. I waited for family members of the landlord to come and see what these guests were doing with their belongings, but they did not come to ask what you are doing with our lives, Or say to be careful of mattresses and blankets and not to throw anything on the carpet, not to throw anything in the laundry, not to waste water, etc. I was observing all things. It was strange to me that they gave their lives to people who were unfamiliar with them!

The pilgrims wanted tea and asked me to go and get some tea if I had become friends with the servants. "Is tea available?" went I downstairs and said to the hosts. "We would make tea after dinner," replied they.

The bottom of my dress was dirty. I washed it by hand and hung it on a rope in the yard. From one of the houses came the sound of mourning. The landlord came to the yard and talked to the women. On the corners of the yard, vegetables and bananas, tangerines and apples were placed in separate containers for each person. I helped the hosts and moved the trays up close to the stairs. When we did works, we went upstairs. They put the tablecloth on the floor; they gave each person some rice, vegetables, salads, chicken, and a bowl of fruit. They show their hospitality and kindness well. In addition to chicken, there was Iranian food as well. Imam Hussein’s servants had done their best to greet and welcome the Iranians in the best possible way. There were two pitchers of water on the table without a glass. The Iranian pilgrims did not use the pitcher, but two Iraqi pilgrims drank the water of the pitcher with no glass.

After dinner, we helped and cleaned the tablecloth. I no longer had to go down to help. The pilgrims were talking. One of the women, who was with a middle-aged woman and a young girl, explained that we had come to Iraq last week. We had visited Najaf and then we had gone to Karbala and we have visited the shrine and returned to Najaf. Now we are going to Karbala on foot! I did not think it was the right thing to do. The Iraqi people have been involved in the war against ISIS for the past few years; they were certain conditions. Arbaeen, which is crowded enough in Iraq, is no longer a good place to stay for a long time because everything is free and you should not prolong the trip! It has long been said that the guest should stay at the host’s house for one day or two days!

 

 

When we were talking, one of the young girls in the house whom we had become friends with came up and called me: “Ma'am! Tea!" She didn’t have a tea tray in hand. That means that I should help them to bring tea for gusts. I went to help her. The tea not ready; I went back upstairs, I sat next to my friends and we start to speak with my friend when I saw the girls behind me brought the tray of cups and put it in front of me. They also brought a teapot and a kettle and pointed at it. She meant that I pour the tea. I was surprised. They thought that because I came to bring tea, I wanted to pour it into cups myself! It was weird for me! They wanted the request of Imam Hussein's pilgrim to be responded in any way. We were interested in their warm and loving behavior I found here that "Empathy is better than having same language! I filled the cups, and one of the young girls carried the tea tray among the guests.

After dinner and tea, the guests fell asleep. All the small family members gathered in one of the rooms and gave most of the house space to the pilgrims.

At about eleven o'clock we woke up with the sound of three newly arrived Iranian women. They inadvertently spoke loudly to each other and one of the girls of the house sitting next to them. The host did not understand what they meant; the young Iranian girl laughed. I was very upset. This laughter, which was perhaps without purpose, could have caused a misunderstanding for that Arabic-speaking girl, and I warned them, but it doesn’t work! Little by little, the pilgrims started complaining and wanted them to be silent and not to disturb their calmness.

We had an appointment with a group of men and out of the house at one and a half o'clock at night. We woke up at one o'clock. Everyone was asleep. We got up and got ready to go out quietly. There was no sound from the servants' room. I was very sad because we wanted to leave the house without saying goodbye and thanking them. We went down the stairs slowly.

a man was in sleep with an Arabic thobe in front of the kitchen entrance. I think it was the landlord who slept here to take care of the women.

I was very sorry that I did not have any small gifts to give the landlord and go to express my gratitude and appreciation for their efforts.

We left the house and waited for the men to come. It was cold. The same young boy who had invited us home was standing in front of the entrance door or show ordinary hospitality with a world of love and affection, He insisted that we stay there until the morning, have breakfast, and then leaves. He insisted as if we were his relatives. We thanked him and set off to continue walking on the Al-Hussein route in the middle of the night when the road is quieter and the weather is cooler.

This text is dedicated to the martyr Haj Qasem Soleimani, the martyr Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and all the martyrs who defended the shrine and sacrificed their lives to protect the lives of Imam Hussein's pilgrims.

 


[1] It is a religious observance that occurs forty days after the Day of Ashura. It commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, who was killed on the 10th day of the month of Muharram.  

[2] She was the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatimah bint Muhammad. The Islamic Prophet Muhammad was her maternal grandfather, and thus she is a member of his Ahl al-Bayt.

[3] He was the second caliph of the Umayyad caliphate. He ruled for three years from 680 until he died in 683. His appointment was the first hereditary succession in Islamic history.

[4] It is a congregation hall for Twelver Shia Muslim commemoration ceremonies, especially those associated with the Mourning of Muharram. 

[5] He was a Shiʻi Imam after his father Hussein ibn Ali, his uncle Hasan ibn Ali, and his grandfather, Ali.

[6] It means, I accept Imam Hussein (PBUH)

[7] He was a cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who ruled as the fourth caliph from 656 to 661. He is one of the central figures in Shia Islam and is regarded as the rightful immediate successor to Muhammad as an Imam by Shia Muslims.

[8] It is an ankle-length garment, usually with long sleeves, similar to a robe, kaftan, or tunic



 
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