I live in California. This year, I had the opportunity to go to the Arbaeen walk. Before this trip, I had gone for ziyarah in Iraq four times, but I had never been for the walk. I had always wanted to go, and to understand the greatness. It’s one of the best times to go to Ziyarat of Imam Hussain and one of the signs of being a mo’men. It was for this reason that I wanted to go.

What I imagined was that you had to struggle and come to terms with all the hardships of it, just like Hajj, so I wanted to go when I was ready. Alhamdulilah I was able to go this year. It was really special. We started with visiting Hazrate Masoome (in Iran). When I went to Qom, it was really special. The whole year I was waiting to come to this place and these lands. You miss it while you’re away. These lands are pure lands, and lands that you get closer to God on by visiting the shrines of the family of the Prophet. In Hazrate Masoomeh’s shrine, you get a sense of peace and it’s beautiful. Making dua there is how we started. 

I had decided that this year I would enter Iraq through the southern border with Iran and it was really beautiful, to go from Dezful and Ahvaz. You really can’t explain these places, but they are historical and there are brave people there who have stood their grounds and resisted. There are a lot of families of martyrs. Being amongst them and seeing them really affects you. Especially for us coming from the West where we have a lot of comforts. It’s an obstacle for us, we get used to it and it separates us from reality, from sacrifice, and resistance. But coming to these lands is a reminder for me, of the truth. What the truth is, and what has true value. So, starting our trip here was really great.

Even before crossing the border into Iraq, there were mowkebs set up on the Iranian side of the border, and before I had seen pictures and heard, but seeing it in person was really different. You feel the strength of the Shias, the way we come together and serve each other and we bring about a sense of life. And there are a lot of hardships but your soul is happy. You feel alive. And no one complains because the people that are there, are there because they want to be there. They have picked this hardship and picked it with happiness. It is things that are not wajib. You don’t have to do this, but we have chosen it and this choice has gathered all these people and this is special.

It is a way of building yourself and attaching to a greater meaning. In some ways, it builds the soul and I felt this. In other ziyarats, I felt a lot of peace, it wasn’t crowded, and when I thought of the Arbaeen walk, thinking of the crowds was hard for me. I thought I may not be able to go into the shrines, and this made me really sad. To think that I had come all this way and not be able to enter the shrines. But in some way, in Najaf, I was able to even see the zarih. It was a very short ziyarat, but even with the little amount of time, you felt like it was a long time. And you felt the connection to the Imam and it was a very complete feeling. I thought, because of the shortage of time, I would not be able to do a good ziyarat but this wasn’t the case. I was able to do it.

Leaving the shrines is always hard, but being able to see these holy places was an amazing experience. I felt a sense of trust, I wasn’t worried if I left my bag somewhere, I felt that whoever is there has chosen to be here and is giving from themselves and so I felt safe. Feeling like brothers and sisters, in unity with everyone.

You hear from before that the Iraqis invite you to their homes, and it was truly like this. We were invited into Iraqi homes, and I don’t speak Arabic. With the kids and the women, even though we didn’t speak the same language, I felt like we did have many conversations. We understood each other and created connections. This was beautiful for me. I remember that when we stayed at these homes, our hosts truly acted in a way that as if the house was ours. They gave us comfortable places, fed us, washed our clothes. In one house, the kids cleaned all our shoes. They were so generous; no matter what was happening in their personal lives, what struggles they had, you couldn’t tell, they gave and served with the love of Ahlul Bayt. This generosity was a part of them and you saw it. If love is there, you see how much can be done. When I think of it now, I can’t imagine life without this experience of the Arbaeen walk. It’s so important and special, and such a big blessing, You must experience it at least once in your life, if not more, because it is special.

In our du’as and our talks, we say we wish we were with Imam Hussain, and we weren’t there but my view is that, in our own capacity, no matter how small, we must struggle for Imam Hussain and the Arbaeen Walk is one of the times that we can struggle for Imam Hussain. I will visit Imam Hussain during this time. You shouldn’t think it’s too crowded or it is filled with hardships, you must think about how can I pick a way that is valuable in the eyes of God.

Also, on the walk, being able to talk with people, hearing their stories, I felt I was becoming united with them. I imagine this is what we need for the coming of Imam Mahdi. We need this to unite us. It is through this way that we will be stronger.