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Arbaeen pilgrimage brings millions to Iraqi city of Karbala | Religion News

Irfan Gangjee is one of the millions of Shia Muslims who have travelled on foot for days to reach the holy city of Karbala in Iraq to participate in Arbaeen – one of the largest annual religious events in the world.

The Pakistani citizen, who lives in the United States, started his journey on Monday in Najaf – 180 kilometres (111 miles) south of the capital city of Baghdad – walking nearly 80km (50 miles) to reach Karbala on Thursday, the site of al-Husayn’s shrine and resting place.

Arbaeen itself will begin on Friday evening and end on Saturday evening.

“The experience was surreal … there are oceans and oceans of people here. People on crutches and wheelchairs were walking with us … women and children too,” the 35-year-old Gangjee, on his first Arbaeen in Iraq, told Al Jazeera.

The occasion is observed 40-days after Ashura – the commemoration of the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn, in the Battle of Karbala, which took place in 680 AD on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar.

Shia pilgrims have gathered from a number of different countries to attend the pilgrimage [Anmar Khalil/AP Photo]

Husayn and his small party were vastly outnumbered, and killed after a short battle against the forces of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I.

The event is regarded as one of the foundational moments of Shia Islam.

In 2019, it was estimated that the annual pilgrimage had brought together more than 14 million people from across the world, including Iran, Lebanon, Indonesia and the US.

The journey can be strenuous.

Sarah Mushtaq, a 35-year-old woman from Karachi, Pakistan, said at one point during the walk that her “feet just wouldn’t move” and described briefly collapsing on the side of the road.

“Physically it’s a pain I have never felt before, but spiritually I have never felt more alive,” Mushtaq, a henna tattoo artist, told Al Jazeera.

The journey is especially challenging during daytime, when temperatures range between 36 and 41 degrees Celsius. Together with packed crowds, reports of people fainting due to exhaustion or feeling dehydrated are not uncommon.

An aerial view shows the shrines of Imam al-Abbas ahead of the holy Shi'ite ritual of Arbaeen in Kerbala
An aerial view shows the shrines of Imam al-Abbas ahead of Arbaeen in Karbala, Iraq, September 15, 2022 [Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen/Reuters]

To facilitate zaireen (pilgrims), local volunteers, as well as foreigners, setup mawakeb (rest areas), makeshift stalls and clinics all along the roads to provide essentials such as food, water and beds.

“This one mawakeb I stayed overnight had served some 1,000 people a day. And its all for free … they don’t ask for anything in return,” Gangjee, a finance professional, said. “It is hard to fathom the scale at which this gathering is taking place.”

‘Searching for inspiration’

According to Mehdi Hazari – a Shia religious scholar and the head of education and research at the Imam Mahdi Association of the Marjaeya (IMAM) in the United States –  a major reason for the non-obligatory pilgrimage is “searching for “inspiration in this world for which Imam Husayn died for”.

“In this world where there is so much noise … things are happening everywhere. Today we can hear about one event in one part of the world to the next with the press of a button our phone. It creates a blindness of sort … we have become complacent,” he said from North Carolina.

“So the walk … is where a person can find their heart awakened … meaning there is this sense overwhelming sense of giving, of sharing without asking for anything in return that creates this humanity, a type of brotherly and sisterly love.”

Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims rest during walk to the holy city of Kerbala,
Pilgrims rest during the walk to Karbala ahead of Arbaeen in Najaf, Iraq [Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters]

Echoing Hazari’s sentiments, Mushtaq said that the trip had completely broken her down “physically, mentally and spiritually” and that she now had the chance to rebuild herself.

“What I hope to gain is to take this feeling with me back to reality. Here people see the best version of you. When you go home, this feeling will last a week, a month maybe?” she said.

“I want to incorporate this experience into my daily life … and teach my kids what it really means to be a lover of Husayn.”

Pandemic, political instability

This year is the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020 that Arbaeen will take place without restrictions or a cap on foreign travellers.

Last year, Iraqi authorities limited the number of foreign travellers to 40,000 people, with 30,000 allowed from Iran.

There has, however, been political instability to worry about this year.

Tensions between Shia political forces led to an outbreak of violence on the streets of Baghdad at the end of August, leaving more than 30 people dead.

Some countries began urging their citizens not to travel to Iraq as a consequence.

However, for Gangjee, nothing was going to stop him.

“Sometimes you just have a calling. In the first 10 days of Muharram this year I made the decision to go … I spoke to my wife and booked my trip immediately,” Gangjee said.

“It never occurred to me after that to cancel my flight. The only way I would not go is if they didn’t allow me in.”

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King Charles III to host South African leader in state visit

King Charles III will welcome South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to the U.K. for three days of high-level talks next month, celebrating the first state visit of his reign with the leader of a Commonwealth member with close ties to the royal family

LONDON — King Charles III will welcome South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to the U.K. for three days of high-level talks next month, celebrating the first state visit of his reign with the leader of a Commonwealth member with close ties to the royal family.

Ramaphosa has accepted Charles’s invitation for a state visit from Nov. 22-24, Buckingham Palace said Monday. The South African leader will be accompanied by his wife, Dr. Tshepo Motsepe.

Charles has visited South Africa on several occasions since 1997. At Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013, he said the world would be a “poorer place” without the man who led South Africa’s transition from apartheid to a multi-ethnic democracy, adding that Mandela was owed “an enormous debt of gratitude” for his achievements.

The King and Camilla, the queen consort — then the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall — welcomed former South African President Jacob Zuma to the U.K. at the start of a state visit in 2010.

Charles’ sons, Princes William and Harry, have also visited South Africa a number of times.

———

Follow all stories on the British royal family at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii

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With 52% of Brazil votes tallied, far-right incumbent Bolsonaro has a slight lead over ex-President Lula da Silva

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Haiti reports cholera deaths for first time in 3 years

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s government on Sunday announced that at least eight people have died from cholera, raising concerns about another potentially catastrophic epidemic like the one that broke out a decade ago and killed nearly 10,000 people.

The cases – the first cholera deaths reported in three years – came in a community called Dekayet in southern Port-au-Prince and in the gang-controlled seaside slum of Cite de Soleil, where thousands of people live in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

“Cholera is something that can spread very, very quickly,” warned Laure Adrien, director general of Haiti’s health ministry.

Food or water contaminated with the cholera bacteria can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration that can be deadly.

The United Nations said in a statement that it is working with Haiti’s government to “mount an emergency response to this potential outbreak,” stressing that health teams need to be guaranteed safe access to areas where cases have been reported.

The deaths come as a lack of fuel and ongoing protests shut down the availability of basic services across Haiti, including medical care and clean water, which is key to helping fight cholera and keep patients alive.

Haiti’s most powerful gang continues to control the entrance to a main fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince, leading to a lack of fuel amid soaring prices that have unleashed widespread protests that have paralyzed the country for more than two weeks.

The absence of fuel and increasing number of roadblocks have prevented water trucks from visiting neighborhoods to provide potable water to those who can afford it. It also has prompted some companies to temporarily shut down operations.

On Sunday, Caribbean Bottling Company said it could no longer produce or distribute potable water because its diesel reserves were “completely depleted,” adding that the lack of such a vital resource would affect “all sectors of society.”

Adrien said health officials were trying to visit communities where cholera has been reported, but that his agency, too, has been affected by a lack of fuel as he called on people blocking the gas terminal and organizing protests to “have a conscience.”

“This is a real problem,” he said of how the country has virtually been paralyzed. “We’re hoping this will not spread.”

Adrien noted that all those who died were unable to reach a hospital in time.

Haiti Health Minister Alex Larsen said people have a right to protest but asked Haitians to allow potable water supplies into neighborhoods that have been cut off by roadblocks and protests.

“Water has not been in these areas for a long time, and people are not drinking treated water,” he said, adding that cholera cases could spike again. “We ask people who can afford it to add a little chlorine to the water.”

Haiti’s last cholera epidemic sickened more than 850,000 people in a country of more than 11 million, marking one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the preventable disease in recent history.

United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal were blamed for introducing cholera into Haiti’s largest river in October 2010 by sewage. The U.N. has since acknowledged it played a role in the epidemic and that is has not done enough to help fight it, but it has not specifically said it introduced the disease.

Haiti would have been declared cholera-free by the World Health Organization only after reaching three consecutive years with no new cases.

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Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed.

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