Millions descend on Karbala for celebrations

KARBALA: Millions of pilgrims are descending on Iraq’s holy city of Karbala to celebrate the birthday anniversary of Imam Hussein, the third Shia Imam and the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

People from Iraqi cities as well as several countries have gathered for the occasion, defying terrorists who have frequently targeted such events.

Mahmoud Swaidan, from southern Lebanon, said people can take lessons from Imam Hussein’s struggle against infidelity and injustice.

Tufail Shah, a Pakistani pilgrim, said Imam Hussein saved the religion by “sacrificing his whole family in the way of Islam and Allah.”

Head of the information committee of Imam Hussain’s holy shrine, Afdhal ash-Shami says, “It is impossible to present an accurate figure about the number of pilgrims that keep pouring in, but they are roughly over three and a half million, many of them on foot, from near and far places inside and outside Iraq.”

A Karbala police officer, too, predicted that the arrival of pilgrims to Karbala would continue up to Wednesday night.

Imam Hussein is adored by Muslims who also revere him, as Sayyid ash Shuhada, the “prince of martyrs”. He was slain in Karbala in 680 A.D on Ashura, the tenth day of the lunar month of Muharram, having refused to pledge allegiance to the second Umayyad caliph, Yazid I. 

Imam and his family and friends were isolated in the desert, starved of food and water and then beheaded. Their bodies were mutilated. 

After Imam Hussein’s death, his remaining family members, mainly women and children, were taken captive by Yazid.

Karbala became a focal point for Shia Muslims after its sacred sites were thrown open for pilgrimage following the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

However extrmist militants have been frequently targeting pilgrims to deter them from visiting the shrines.

On Wednesday a horrific bomb blast in Baghdad, claimed by Daesh terror group, killed more than 50 Shia residents readying for the pilgrimage.

“The massive blast which also wounded hundreds, illustrate the dangers facing the pilgrims. 

So it is striking to see so many people — young and old, Iraqis and foreigners — making the dangerous journey to Karbala”, said Syed al Moderresi, a writer.

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