Visiting Karbala on Foot

Memoirs of Hojjat-ul-Islam Sayed Aliakbar Mohtashamipour

By Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by: Zahra Hosseinian


During the year, there are several occasions when the pilgrimage of Hazrat Abi Abdullah’s shrine is highly recommended on those days, and there are many authentic traditions about the virtue of visiting Imam Hussain’s shrine on those days. Special occasions for pilgrimage are: Friday nights, Arafah Day, Arbaeen Day, first day of Rajab, night of 15th Rajab, night of 15th Shaban, Qadr nights in the holy Ramadan, and Eid al-Fitr. In Iraq, on at least four occasions, Shiites and those interested in Ahl al-Bayt and Sayed al-Shohda, marched to Karbala on foot in a caravan or individually from all corners of Iraq. The famous occasions are: the first day of Rajab, 15th Sha'ban, Arafa day, and Arba'een Day, when pilgrims come from distant cities such as Basra, Samawa, Nasiriyah, Baghdad, Halla, Najaf, etc. to visit on these occasions. Whispering mystically and romantically, crowds of people participate in this mystical and enlightening journey with enthusiasm and guileless. Apart from ordinary people, scholars and students, and even some jurist and religious scholars like Ayatollah Shahroudi and others (as long as they were able to walk) also went to Karbala in groups from Najaf. Najaf had several famous and big official caravans. In these caravans, there were about forty to fifty permanent members, and some were added to them every time. Some of the caravans were special and related to the Grand Ayatollahs or Najaf schools, such as the caravan of Beit Ayatollah Shahroudi or the caravan of the Qazvini school, where there were usually no strangers in such caravans, but there were one or two very prestigious caravans that interested students mostly traveled with:

1) The caravan attributed to the Martyr Hazrat Ayatollah Madani, in which many pious students tried to be in his presence, considering his mystical spirit and moral qualities.

2) Mr. Halimi's caravan[1], which was moving from the late Ayatollah Boroujerdi's school. The late Ayatollah Haj Agha Mustafa Khomeini used to visit Karbala with this caravan.

The distance between Najaf and Karbala from the main and paved road is about 80 kilometres, and from the side road and the side of the Euphrates River and the Nakhlestan route, it is more than 100 kilometres. Najaf caravans usually chose the side route and the road by the water. Except two or three times when I travelled personally, the rest of the time I went to Karbala with Mr. Halimi's caravan. Traveling alone or with a caravan, each has its own characteristics. The advantage of traveling with a caravan was the services that were provided in terms of supplies and food and luggage carrying. Those who travelled individually had to take their luggage with them, and it was very difficult to walk with a backpack and a load in the hot and scorching air of Iraq; but the caravans usually rented horses, carts or large vans, and the luggage of the caravan were moved to the next camp, and pitched a tent there. If someone stopped walking in the middle of the road, they would be taken to the camp location with the same vehicle.

These caravans moved in two stages: The first stage was from Najaf to “Chafal”[2], this route was about 35 kilometres from Najaf along the main road to Baghdad, covered in one day. The first camp was in Hosseiniyeh Chafal. Some people were agile and young who moved from Najaf as the forerunner, but there were some people who missed the first stage; therefore, they joined the caravan in Chafal and started their journey from there, which was the second stage. From Chafal onwards, the route was changed, and the caravan marched along the Euphrates River and through the groves on the way to Karbala - the late Mustafa Khomeini and Mr. Ashkevari and Mr. Sayed Mohammad Bojnordi and some elderly people usually joined the caravan in Chafal - during the rout there were small and big villages, whose people were engaged in agriculture, horticulture, date palm cultivation, and animal husbandry.

The groves, gardens and fields were watered by the Euphrates River. The exploitation of Euphrates water was done by "Naour".[3] Every village had a guesthouse, where everyone who passed through village during the year, especially during the pilgrimage season, was entertained. The guesthouses are large buildings in the shape of a rectangular square, whose walls and roof are completely made of wood and palm mats. In the middle of that area there is a wood stove, used in winters and tea and coffee are also prepared by it. Arabic carpets and cushions are arranged around the area. Iraqi villagers are very hospitable. They welcomed the pilgrims of Imam Hussain in the middle of the day with tea, coffee, milk, and doogh, and at noon and in the night, they warmly welcomed them by cooking fresh lamb. Mr. Halimi, of course, tried to set up his own tent in the middle of way and prepare Iranian food. But along the way, there were occasions when we were forced to accept the invitation and stay in that guesthouse due to the great insistence of the villagers. Caravans usually marched this route in five to six days, but people who travelled alone reached Karbala in less than three days.

In the morning, noon, and evening, prayers were performed under the leadership of Ayatollah Mustafa Khomeini, and at night, after the Maghrib and Isha prayers, the Tawassul and Ashura prayers were recited. If we were on the way on Friday night, the Kumayl prayer would be recited by some travellers. One of the characteristics of the late Mustafa Khomeini was that he got up every night before the morning adhan and perform the night prayer. He was very good-natured, and was friendly with his companions on trips and always tried not to make it difficult for anyone. He was careful not to let anyone fall behind. In the discussion sessions, which were mostly at night, the fellow-travellers gathered together and talked to each other. Mustafa Khomeini was constantly reciting and chanting under his breath. In the summers, due to the extreme heat of the weather, we left after the morning call to prayer and walked until two or three hours after sunrise, then we camped somewhere and had breakfast and lunch. In the evening, when the heat of the air decreased a bit, the march was resumed. In the middle of the day, some travellers swam in the Euphrates River, some recited the Quran and prayed, and some rested or studied. About 25 kilometres to Karbala, a side road reached the main Baghdad-Karbala Road and we had to continue along the asphalted road. Near Karbala, there is a large village called "Tuweerij". Every year at noon of Ashura, a huge group of people from that village went to Karbala in mourning status. Because it has been repeatedly reported from elders that they have seen Imam Zaman among this group, a huge crowd comes from far and near to participate in this ceremony and many great scholars and authorities have been also seen among the crowd. In Tuwayrij, most of those who have arrived with blistered feet and sunburned body, wash themselves in the Euphrates, perform the ghusl for visiting the shrine of Imam Hussain, and enter the Karbala with purity. while they are fatigue and dust has covered their face and clothes, they rush to visit the sacred shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his companions, children, and brothers. Some travellers prefer to rest for a while and then go to visit the shrine.[4]


[1] Mr. Sheikh Mohammad Ali Halimi Kashani was one of the students interested in Imam Khomeini, and he stayed at the school of Ayatollah Azami Boroujerdi. He was one of the devotees of Islam and the Safavid Nawab himself, and he cooperated with them.

[2] Chafal or Dhu al-Kifl is the name of one of the divine prophets.

[3] Naour is a water wheel placed in the Euphrates River in the form of a merry-go-round, and movable buckets are attached to outside rim. As the water wheel rotates, the buckets are filled with water and on the return the water flows into the streams which directs the water to the fields.

[4] Source: Mohtashamipour, Sayed Aliakbar, Memoirs of Hojjat-ul-Islam Sayed Aliakbar Mohtashamipour, 1st Edition, Surah Publications, 1997, p. 122.


Number of Visits: 516


Full Name:

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