This is not a hotel!

The Need for Culture Developing to Eliminate Misunderstandings

Compiled by: Faezeh Sassanikhah
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


After saying goodbye to the shrine of Commander of the Muslims, Ali (PBUM) in the afternoon of 15th October 2019, we started moving towards Karbala. We were supposed to start the walk at 2 o'clock, but the men returned late from the shrine and the movement was delayed. After an hour, we left the city and reached Pillar 1 at the exit of Najaf city, and started walking. Next to Hussainiyas[i], the children were standing with the perfume in their hands in the way and there were various receptions and the request for drinking tea, coffee, or water and the distribution of various eulogy had given a special atmosphere to the road. There were eight of us moving and resting together.

We stopped before reaching Pillar 40, and some of our fellow travelers insisted that we should find a house or a Hussainiya around it and stay because it was difficult to find a suitable place for accommodation at night for another hour, but others were against it. They believed that it was too early and we should go a little ahead. The reason to stop and stay was that Hussainiyas would be occupied in the evening. We were standing on the side of the road talking about stopping here or looking for a place to stay. Meanwhile, a twenty-five-six-year-old woman wearing a neat and organized Arabic chador approached me and said very quietly, "The house is available." Bathrooms are also available.

I told my companions, "This lady said that we could come to her house." The young lady asked, "How many are you?" I replied, "Six people." We consulted whether or not we should stay or continue to move when we were supposed to go with him. I was very happy that we were the guests of the Iraqis on the first night. Unlike some of my fellow travelers who liked to rest in the Iranian Hussainiya, I would like to be a guest of the Iraqis. They treated the Iranian pilgrims and all the pilgrims so warmly and intimately that we did not think we had entered the house of a stranger, but we felt that there was the house of one of our close relatives with whom we had no bashful to refuse their requests. Not only me but many Iranians who had been on the Arbaeen[ii] Walk for many years would like to be the only Iraqi guests during the trip and enjoy their hospitality, especially the smaller the houses and the smaller the number of guests, the greater the interaction between the pilgrim and the host.

We crossed the main roads, and there was a car on the side roads that we had to ride. I guessed the distance from the house to the road must belong. The fellow travelers did not object and we all boarded. I had already heard that Iraqis come from faraway places and invite pilgrims to their homes. Before us, a young man and woman and a middle-aged Iranian woman had ridden in a car. They said that they came from Alborz province. The young man was smoking. My eyes fell on the nails of the young girl who had manicured them, applied red nail polish, and put a flower design on them! The young couple was constantly talking about having fun during these few days in Najaf.

The driver started walking towards the houses that were far from the road. Black flags were hung on the walls of alleys or the roofs of houses. The streets and alleys we passed were not paved properly and it was clear from the shape and appearance of the houses that the area is one of the poorest areas in Iraq. The young couple, seeing the surrounding scenery, mockingly named the lower parts of Tehran and said that we were going there. Their behavior was unbearable for me. I felt that they have come to Iraq and looking for big and stylish houses and eating such food, and they did not know anything at all about the philosophy of these sincere receptions in the Arbaeen, and they had only found the appearance of this event.

About five or six minutes later, the driver stopped in front of a house in an old neighborhood with dusty streets, and we got out of the car one by one. I looked at the house that had been built many years ago and it turned out that it is one of those houses whose owner or owners save their daily living expenses so that they would receive pilgrims in the Arbaeen. A crimson water-colored tanker could be seen on the roof.

On the wall of the house, there was a black cloth with the photo of Imam Hussein (PBUH) and Hazrat Ali Akbar was painted on it and it was written Al-Salam Alik or Aba Abdullah and Salama or Ali Akbar and there were two large black flags in front of it. The young girl and boy said we would not stay here and would return, and the middle-aged woman, who was in the car and we found out she was the boy's mother, had to return with them.

We entered the house. The house had a small yard about twenty meters. They took us to the first room near the entrance of the house respectively and led the men to a room at the end of the building. The room was very clean, either freshly painted or not used all year round, and was only devoted to Arbaeen guests. Several black inscriptions were mounted on the wall. There were some new and clean blankets on the corner of the room. We each one used a blanket to sit.

There were eleven of us in that room. Our roommates were some old Iraqi women wearing long, simple clothes, and only with a handbag! Their legs were swollen and very sore. The companions said that lets to ask them where they came from." By attending the Arbaeen Walk, I understood the need to learn Arabic well, and I tried to learn things throughout the year. I asked. They said they came from Nasiriyah. They said ask how many days they were on the way. I asked. They replied that" six days!" They had just arrived in Najaf. Everyone was looking at them surprisingly because they had walked at this age. Especially Zahra, our youngest companion, who had come to the Arbaeen Walk for the first time, and these things were new to her. I explained to him that many Iraqi pilgrims from cities near and far go on this route and it takes them a few days to reach Najaf, and there are not many pilgrims yet. Some did not come from the same route; the pilgrims reach the Karbala Ocean like small streams from different roads.

I took the piroxicam ointment out of the bag and gave it to my Iraqi roommates to relieve some of the pain.

I left the room and went to the yard. The landlady, a middle-aged woman in her fifties, was sitting on a chair in the yard with two young women, one of them invited us to the house. It seemed to me that two young women were the daughters-in-law of this landowner. All three wore black Arabic long dresses and scarves. During all these years, I have not seen an Iraqi woman wearing colored or short clothes, and it has always been strange and even a sign of disrespect to the Ahl al-Bayt (Innocent Imams) for Iranian women to wear colored clothes, put on make-up, and apply henna to their feet. Some Iranian pilgrims apply henna to the soles of their feet so that their feet do not blister, while Iraqis still use henna for joy, and this and similar behaviors can be a source of much misunderstanding. Not paying attention to such seemingly insignificant issues shows that we should develop a culture of respect for the host culture in Arbaeen.

The women smiled when they saw me and I responded. I felt that they were talking about me and my Iraqi robe. I stepped forward and entered into their conversation. They asked why I was wearing a robe and who sewed the robe for me, and I explained that my Iraqi friends who living in Iran bought the fabric and sewed it themselves. It was interesting for them that I was wearing a robe. I explained that it is easier to walk on it.

I saw a few small children come into the house and return to the alley. The interesting thing about the Iraqis is that every house or Hussainiya we have visited in the last few years is full of happy children who are supposed to keep the future of Iraq young; it does not matter if the landlord is rich or poor.

It was time for prayer. We came to the yard to perform ablutions. The toilet and the bathroom were made in the same place. Narrow water came from the pipe and tanker water had to be used to use the toilet. One of the house’s daughter-in-law said with a smile, "Iraq is ruined and we have a lot of problems."

The landlord had placed a few seals next to the room. Ms. Fatemeh, the woman who had invited us to this house, came to the room with her two little girls and prayed there.

After the prayer, we talked with our fellow travelers. At around 8 pm, they spread the dinner table and brought food including bread, kebab with tomatoes, lemons, and fresh vegetables. We had dinner. The Iraqi guests ate their full meal, but our food remained. "Didn't you eat because there was no rice?" Said the landlady when she looked at the leftovers. I was very embarrassed. I said, "No, as we had lunch late today and ate falafel on the way, we did not ate more."

After dinner, Mr. Fatemeh brought tea in narrow cups. Iraqi tea for Iraqi guests and Iranian tea for Iranian guests! "But I like Iraqi tea," I told Ms. Fatemeh. She laughed and said, "You are also an Iraqi in robes." That means you are close to our culture.

Iraqis like tea very rich and with a lot of sugar, the color, and taste of which does not match our taste. And some of our compatriots show their reluctance to drink this concentrated tea in their behavior, so to solve this problem, many Iraqis also took into account the tastes of Iranians and asked when they wanted to pour tea: "would you like Iranian or Iraqi tea?" Whenever I was asked this question, I thought that they try to bridge the gap between us and themselves by considering the guests' taste and respect for them, and instead of the wordشای   /ʃ˄i:/ (I.e. tea in Arabic) they say چای /tʃɑ˄i:/ / (i.e. tea in Persian) so it was better than I like I would treat them and bring myself closer to the host culture, and answered: "Only Iraqi tea." when I said these words, a satisfied smile sat on their lips and they were very happy; it was as if the boundaries between us were falling apart and they felt that we were familiar with them and were from a single culture. These days, nothing matches a normal account! It was wise for them, as hosts, to expect a guest who used their facilities for free to follow their roles and traditions and to bring themselves closer to the culture of the Iraqi people, but the fact is that the pilgrims have the dignity of being their host these days that resemble and close themselves to the guest culture. Even along the way, I had heard many times that God was pointing to tea loudly and saying to the Iranian pilgrims: "here you are, here you are"

Shortly after tea, the lights went out for the pilgrims to rest. We were going to leave at midnight. Before going to bed, I took some small gifts such as Mashhad blessed candy, and cocoa chocolate, etc. from my bag and presented them to the landlord and thanked them for their warm and loving reception. I told the landlady that they were honorable and noble people, and hopefully, their table would be more blessed and I hope we could compensate for these troubles. Ms. Mohammadifar, another fellow traveler, presented them with other gifts.

We rested for a few hours and, according to the previous appointment with the men, got ready to leave at around one and a half in the morning. The man who brought us to this house drove us to the road, and the lady of the house, who was the eldest, accompanied us there. When we reached our destination and got off, we all went to the driver and his mother and thanked them for their warm hospitality. We said goodbye to them and crossed the road and joined the group of pilgrims who were walking on the path toward Karbala in the dark of night.


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

[ii] It is a Shiite religious observance that occurs forty days after the Day of Ashura. It commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Muhammad.( cited in Wikipedia)

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