Arba’een is a religious observance and national holiday that is observed on the fortieth day after the Day of Ashura. This holiday commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, who was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and was martyred on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram.

Husayn ibn Ali, along with 71 of his companions, was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE by Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad. Arba’een means “forty” in Arabic, and the significance of the number 40 can be traced back to a Hadith of Muhammad that says: “On Judgment Day, among my people, God will consider whoever memorized forty Hadiths as an erudite man.”

The History of Arba’een

Husayn ibn Ali was a revolutionary leader who lived during the 7th century and made a stand against the ruler Yazid. Yazid was a ruler who used corruption, intimidation, and force to violate the basic rights of the people. Husayn ibn Ali fought him at the Battle of Karbala, and Yazid’s men took the children and women of Husayn’s family as their prisoners.

They were forced to walk in chains through the towns of Kufa and Damascus, where the crowds in those locations abused them. After that treacherous journey, they were then presented to Yazid and imprisoned. Husayn was martyred, but his movement continued on without him.

Both his son and sister gave speeches speaking out against Yazid and labeling his regime as corrupt. All of this was done in front of Yazid’s ministers. Yazid eventually came to the conclusion that if he allowed Husayn’s family to remain at the palace, then he would continue to be humiliated by them, so he knew he had to free them.

Husayn’s family would then spend the rest of their lives spreading Husayn’s message, as well as the story of his stand against Yazid’s corruption. The Day of Arba’een is the day on which Husayn’s family returned back to the land of Karbala to grieve for those they had lost and to pay homage to the fallen heroes.

Observing Arba’een

On this holiday, millions of people all over the world celebrate the Day of Arba’een. One of the main traditions observed on this day is the walk from Najaf to Karbala. This 80 km trek is walked by anywhere from 17 to 25 million people a year.

All along the route, volunteers pass out food and drinks to anyone who has made the pilgrimage. People are also offered places to sleep, wash, and rest. That makes this holiday one of the biggest peaceful gatherings in the world that happens on a yearly basis. It’s also a day for people to reflect spiritually on their own life and their spiritual journey.

Where is it celebrated?
Iran (National holiday)
When is it?
This year (2024)
August 26 Monday
Next year (2025)
August 15 Friday
Last year (2023)
September 6 Wednesday