Karbala and its commemorative pilgrimage are more than just tragic bravery before unjust tyranny.

interview with Catherin Shakdam

Karbala and its commemorative pilgrimage are more than just tragic bravery before unjust tyranny. Karbala I have come to understand lately is not about martyrdom, but an understanding that we exist beyond ourselves, beyond the limitations we teach ourselves for we fear to think ourselves more than the objects of tyrants’ desire.

Arbaeen is the one Story which, beyond all cultural difference and belief systems, speaks to us, and moves us all. Arbaeen encompasses so many archetypes, it echoes so much of our struggles and pretty much speaks of the very essence of our humanity. How we can in the same breath prove capable of the noblest of deeds and yet fall prey to the very worst of our nature. 

If the Arbaeen Pilgrimage lies central to Shia Islam’s faith and tenets, I have come to believe that it belongs to no one and should be shared with everyone. One needs not to be religious to treasure its lessons or see the beauty in the millions, who, every year come together to commemorate. It is rather humbling actually to witness how so many different communities successfully congregate to share in a moment of quiet unity. 

If I could summarize the whole experience in a few words I would say that it still follows me – a spiritual haunting of a sort to remind me that I am a lot more than my circumstances. I am my choices!

I think the message of the Arbaeen has always been the same,that before tyranny ought to resist. And yet I would argue that it is not an allegory of martyrdom. And though for a time I did think that martyrdom was in fact central to Karbala and Arbaeen I think that my visit to Iraq made me look at it from a perspective. Yes there was immense suffering and yes many brave men, women, and children were martyred, but it is not their death which is mourned rather the ideals and morals they lived for, embodied, and defended to the bitter end. There is an inspiration to be drawn from that. 

It is also obviously a beautiful exercise intolerance, compassion, and generosity. Iraqis have made a point to open up their land and their homes to cater to pilgrims’ needs. I don’t think that there is anything quite like it in the world

today. Now The Onus is on Shia Islam and its people to speak of their faith, their culture, and their belief


September 28, 2021


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