You have certainly been watching the telecasts. Millions of pilgrims are assembled today at Karbala, the Rendezvous of Martyrs. They have come from the all over the globe and from all directions of Iraq, and from almost all towns and cities of Iran, undaunted by the dastardly terrorists triggering bomb explosions on their way. It is indeed a spectacular sight to see men and women, and people of all ages, and of all skin colours and ethnicities, ranging from the elderly on wheelchairs to toddlers in prams, proceeding with enthusiasm towards the shrined of Imam Husain (AS). Among the devotees there are some new Muslims. They have come from Thailand, from China, from Africa, from the Americas, and from Europe. They are all eager to pay homage at the shrine of the Chief of Martyrs. With tears streaming down their eyes, and with hands banging incessantly on their chests, they fervently recite the Ziyarah or salutation. Part of the Ziyarah reads: “O, the son of the Messenger of Allah. I know and bear witness that you were “light” in the sublime loins and in the pure wombs, never touched you the dirt of ignorance, nor ever obscurity concealed you in its folds; I bear witness that you are the Pillar of Religion, the Support of the Muslims, and the Refuge of the Faithful. I bear witness that you are truthful, well-aware, content, pious and rightly-guided Imam. I bear witness that the Imams among your descendants are the symbols of “conscious piety” and signs of “true guidance”, the “safe handle” of Islam, and the decisive arguments over mankind.”
This particular Ziyarah, whether it is recited in Karbala near the holy shrine or whether it is recited from any place around the globe, is among the five signs of a truly faithful person. In essence, by reciting this Ziyarah on the 40th day after the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, we make a promise to continue to mold our lives according to the teaching of Imam Husain (AS). But why is it that we mourn and remember Imam Husain (AS) for a period of forty days? The answers are logical. According to Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) “The earth mourns the death of a believer for forty mornings.” Therefore it appears that the deceased should be remembered and mourned over for a period of forty days. As for the martyrs, the observance of 40 days is highly recommended, since according to ayah 154 of Surah al-Baqarah of the holy Qur’an, God Almighty says: “And do not call those who were slain in Allah’s way ‘dead.’ Rather they are living, but you are not aware.”
Performing an act for a continuous period of forty days is also known to help one to not just form a habit, but also to carry on the practice for the rest of his life. If we look at studies dealing with bringing a lifestyle change, we notice the time period emphasized to bring about a change is usually 6 weeks which is about the same time period as 40 days. American Yoga expert, Baron Baptiste in his book titled “40 Days to Personal Revolution: A Breakthrough Program to Radically Change Your Body and Awaken the Sacred within Your Soul,” explains the significance of forty days. He asks: Why forty days? Then provides the answer, saying: Because the number 40 holds tremendous spiritual significance in the realm of transformation. Jesus wandered in the wilderness for forty days in order to experience purification and come to a greater understanding of himself and his mission. Moses and his people traveled through the Sinai Desert for forty years before arriving in the holy land. Noah preserved the sacredness of life by sailing his ark for forty days and forty nights. Baptiste adds that according to mystical texts, it takes forty days to ingrain any new way of being into our system.
In Islamic texts we find that reciting particular supplications for a period of 40 days is highly recommended. The unit 40 (forty) is said to be very effective. If a particular supplication is recited forty times or 40 people gather to recite it, or it is recited for 40 days then its effectiveness is highly increased. It is reported from Imam Ja’far Sadeq (AS), the 6th Infallible Heir of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) that whoever recites Dua al-Ahad or the Supplication of the Covenant for forty days, after the Ritual Morning Prayer, would be amongst the supporters of the 12th and Last Imam of the Prophet’s Household, who would rise in the end times as Mahdi al-Qa’em (AS) to cleanse the world of all vestiges of oppression and corruption by establishing the global government of peace, prosperity, and justice. It is also written that visitation to the shrine of Imam Husain (AS) as well as the famous Masjid Sahla in Kufa for 40 consecutive Thursdays is also very highly recommended and is one of the acts that promises a return visit from the 12th Imam (may God expedite his reappearance to avenge the innocent blood of the Martyr of Karbala). Thus, as we perform the Ziyarah of the Day of Arba’een and commemorate the 40th day mourning ceremonies of Imam Husain (AS), we hope and pray that this forty days of remembrance of history’s most heartrending tragedy, brings about a transformation in us. By following the path of Imam Husain (AS) and promoting his message of upholding justice with true faith and a strong sense of sacrifice, we endear ourselves to God Almighty.
As the Chief of Martyrs, Imam Husain (AS), is not just alive and provided amply by God the Most Merciful, but by the permission of the Creator of life and death, he responds to the calls of all those seeking his intercession in the Divine Court. Accordingly, all those who drank the elixir of martyrdom in Karbala on the Day of Ashura, 61 AH, ranging from the 6-month infant, Ali Asghar to the nonagenarian Muslim Ibn Awsaja, and including the Prophet’s carbon copy, Ali Akbar, as well as the valiant standard-bearer Abbas – who preferred to depart thirsty from the world even after taking control of the banks of the River Euphrates since the Imam and the children were thirsty – are all alive, well provided by their Lord, and, with the permission of God, responsive to the calls of the devotees. That is the reason we commemorate the Martyrs of Karbala, and hold special ceremonies on the traditional 40th day in order to keep alive in society, the fundamentals of faith and the ideals of justice, compassion, valour, magnanimity and patience. No wonder, this Arba’een, as many as 16 million faithful from all over the world have gathered in Karbala to pay their homage to the person who salvaged Islam and all humanitarian values by offering the Greatest-Ever Sacrifice (Zibhin Azeem). So intense are the consciousness of God and the love of the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet of God in their hearts that the pilgrims are unfazed by the terrorists trying to waylay them and take their life. The devotees of Imam Husain (AS) know that no modern day Yazidis will be able to dampen their spirits or obstruct their journey to the shrine of the Leader of the Youth of Paradise. So let us join them from afar by turning towards the direction of Karbala on this day to salute Imam Husain with a worthy salutation: “Peace upon you O Aba Abdullah! Indeed, you are not only the Heir of your martyred father, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (AS) and your grandfather Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), but the heir of all Prophets of God, beginning from the Father of the human race, Adam.