Short Narrations on Arbaeen

Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


Ali Ansari, employee, Najaf, Mukeb-owner

The people you see here have left their work and life totally for twenty days. They are not in their homes too. They leave one in the house to entertain the people. They themselves come here to entertain people in the Mukebs (service stations). The service of the Najafi people is well-known in general. In Iraq, the first Hey’ats (religious congregations) were launched by the people of Najaf. They were the first ones who went toward Karbala on foot. At that time, pilgrimage on foot was forbidden.
They traveled along the Euphrates at night. The people of the villages along the way also welcomed them. The Ba'athists also came among the people. Did they work too? They were told to come to our house ... go ahead ... go ahead. They were received, and then the Ba'athists called the security services and exposed the people.
This Mukeb inside which we are now was a tent until a few years ago. We used to have three tents here. The area of one tent was fifty meters by eight meters on this side, and another tent was fifty by eight meters on the other side. This was not our kitchen either. At present, a Hey’at was built in the whole area. It has been arranged a little. It was harder in old times. At first, there was a walk about one hundred years ago. They returned by carriage.
They used to walk on the nights of Friday. Now, some people also do this on the nights of Friday, but they are few. I myself travel the route in one day. The length of the route from Najaf to Karbala is eighty kilometers. I walk the route in twenty-four hours. Now, anyone who does not want to tire himself or herself and not put pressure on himself or herself will go in three days.
The more Saddam said the pilgrimage was forbidden, the more they went for walking. They did not afraid of such things. He arrested and imprisoned many of our children. But nobody cared. I mean, if he arrested and detained one thousand people this year, the next year, four thousand people went for walking. The more Saddam arrested the people, the more their number increased and more people went for walking. 
The people themselves guided each other. They told us to go or not to go from this route. These Ba'athists have ambushed to capture you. Be careful ... In 1977, on the same road from Najaf to Karbala, Saddam captured and executed by shooting a group of our youth. They had come on their way with tanks and personnel carriers. Eight of them were from Najaf. Those figures are famous even now.
In 1999-2000, chanting the slogan “Labbaik Ya Hussein” was also forbidden, because chanting any slogan was forbidden under Saddam in general. Saddam had appointed a series of agents around the courtyard and inside the shrine with color sprays in their hands. They drew a line behind someone who chanted, for example, Labbaik Ya Hussein. He or she did not know that the color line was behind him or her. When he or she came out of the door, they caught him or her. We no longer knew where he or she was being taken.
We did not go to fight for Saddam or to military service. We had escaped. We were anti-Saddam, because Saddam had capture three members of our family. Our father and two brothers. They were executed.
In this Mukeb, we do not know where the money comes from. We come to the Mukeb with the capital of five million dinars in order to service the pilgrims. When the work is done, our pockets are full. Whatever we spend will be doubled in our pockets! Ten million remain in our pockets. Whatever we spent, it has doubled, and we will spend the next year for reconstruction of the Mukeb.
Previously, our table was eighty kilometers from Najaf to Karbala. The table of Imam Hussein was spread for eighty kilometers. There used to be a series of few Mukebs. Now the people have started launching Mukebs from their own cities like the city of Hillah, which is about fifty kilometers or forty kilometers near Karbala. They did not launch Mukebs from Baghdad anymore. The people started walking from Najaf toward Karbala. But now everybody has launched Mukebs. People from their own cities start walking; it means the Baghdadis from Baghdad, Hillah, Kout, Samaveh, Ammareh, Basra, Diwaniyah. At present, the length of Imam Hussein table from these cities has become about seven hundred kilometers; the people of Diyalah, the people of Mosul which has now fallen into the hands of Daesh. Some people from Samarra came to the holy shrine of Askariyya, starting from there. The Sunnis also came. Some who work in the Mukebs are Christians or Sabeti (The Sabetis are the followers of Hazrat Yahya).
These Mukebs do not sleep at all; I mean if they want to sleep, they sleep for an hour to two hours. As soon as they finish their dinner, they think of twelve o'clock at night. The pilgrim is tired and must rest. We give him or her some soup, some porridge, a light food to get some energy in cold weather.

A few Afghanis came here, asking us allow them to work here. I said we do not have construction work now. They said let us come and take a benefit, leaving a fingerprint form ourselves here in this Mukeb.  
Some Iranian women living in Kuwait had come by car. We had fish for lunch when they arrived by bus or minibus. They got off here. They came to the Mukeb to pray. We asked them to stay as it was lunch time. One of the women said we do not like your fish. I asked her to eat and if you don’t like it, we will bring you another food, we spread the table and after eating the lunch, her husband came out and thanked, saying it was really delicious. He said that his wife was a doctor and a specialist in fish. I had never eaten such a fish. He asked whether we accept if he gives us a help. I said we don’t say no. He said I would like to have a share. Some 25 people were eating lunch. He gave us 1000 dollars. He said that I want to share this with you. 
That's why the food is delicious, because people make vows from the bottom of their hearts. They work heartily. We have a saying in Iraq. Our grandmothers used to say that when the walls of Najaf to Karbala are connected and the wall-to-wall rooster reaches Karbala from Najaf, then the Imam Mahdi (may God hasten his reappearance) will reappear. Now we have become wall to wall. We no longer have empty land; That is, there is not empty land from Najaf to Karbala, all of it has turned into Mukebs.
We held Unity Prayer here last year. The length of the congregational prayer lines was approximately six kilometers.
Last year, I talked to a man in the Mukeb. He said: I am very upset with myself. I hurt people of Iraq very much. I said: Why? He said: I am from Mashhad. I did not give the correct address to the Iraqis who came and took an address. I did not like talking to them. But in this Arbaeen pilgrimage, when I came, I felt guilty. I say God forgive me, I was wrong. I bothered all these people. But now I see how they treat us.
This route has created a family relation. Now you have come here with the family. Later, I and my family will come to you in Iran. We cannot separate from each other. The friendship of the Shiites is increasing day by day. Their relations are growing increasingly. The Iranians had no Mukeb until three years ago. They were not able to do any service, but now, the Iranians have Hey'ats here, and it is growing year by year.
On this route from Diwaniyah to Najaf, two nomadic tribes had clashes about ten years ago. One of the tribes had killed three members of that tribe. They did not take blood money from them. They said we would take our children's rights from you. We have to kill three of you. Then, the pilgrimage of the Arbaeen of Imam Hussein (PBUH) arrived. Both tribes had Mukebs. One night, the tribe that owed blood of its youths had no guests. They sent a message to the other tribe that if you send your pilgrims tonight, we will forgive the blood of your youths and forgive the blood of our youths, that is, for the love of Imam Hussein, a dispute over the revenge of the tribe that could have caused a war was over.
We are waiting day by day. We await ... we also help the popular forces involved in the war. Our love is to serve the pilgrims, but our hearts are on the border alongside the popular Basiji forces who are defending our city and other cities and these people. One of our eyes is here, the other there, because we are worried about them more. Why? They are fighting to open the way so that the Imam Hussein pilgrims can travel through those routes safely. God knows that we are waiting for the day they announce that the route has also been liberated for the pilgrims of Imam Hussein (PBUH).
Iraqi Shiites did not accept Saddam's war with Iran; but they had to; if someone did not go to the battlefield or fled, they imprisoned his family, they capture his mother, his sister so that the fugitive surrendered himself to the government. The Iraqi fronts were compulsory. It was not just two years of military service. Seven or eight years after the end of military service, they were called again to serve in the military. My uncle shot himself in the leg in a way that he is still limping, just because he could escape from going to the war. Many did so because they had to. The Shiites were forced to fight at the frontline to clash with the Iranians. They made the Shiites fight against each other but there are still some Iranians who are upset with us because they think we have killed their children. Some of them have told me this. I talked to them. We didn’t do that. Those who did this were either forced or Ba'athists. They did this in order to kill the Shiites so that they would kill each other and be reduced. I myself saw a retired Iranian colonel. He was seventy-two years old. He had come to Iraq for the first time. There were tears in his eyes. He said, "I never wanted to come to Iraq. I hated the enemies, but now that I have come and seen this love, I do not feel bad anymore."[1]

[1] Daneshgar, Behzad, Jafari; Mohammad Ali, Kings On Foot, Short Narrations on Arbaeen, Ahdnameh Publications, 1397 (2009), ninth edition, p.132

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