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Islam Portal
Kerbela Hussein Moschee

Millions of Shia Muslims gather around the Husayn Mosque in Karbala after making the Pilgrimage on foot during Arba'een.

Arba'een (Arabic: اربعين‎, means "forty"), or Chehlum, as it is known by Urdu-speaking Muslims, is a Shi'a Muslim religious observation that occurs 40 days after the Day of Ashura, the commemoration of the martyrdom of Husayn bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad which falls on the 20th day of the month of Safar. Husayn and 72 supporters died in the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 AH (680 CE), killed by Yazid's army of hundreds of thousands. Forty days is the usual length of the time of mourning in many Islamic cultures.

The occasion reminds the faithful of the core message behind Husayn's martyrdom: establishing justice and fighting injustice, no matter what its incarnation—a message that strongly influenced subsequent Shi'a uprisings against the tyranny of Umayyad and Abbasid rule.

In the first Arba'een gathering in the year 62 AH, Jabir ibn Abdullah, a companion of the Prophet, was one of the people who performed a pilgrimage to the burial site of Husayn. Due to his infirmity and probable blindness, he was accompanied by Atiyya bin Saad. His visit coincided with that of the surviving female members of the Prophet's family and Husayn's son and heir Imam Zain-ul-Abideen, who had all been held captive in Damascus by Yazid I, the Umayyad Caliph. Imam Zain-ul-Abideen had been too ill to participate in the Battle of Karbala.He later devoted his life to Azadari and spreading the message of Imam Hussain's supreme sacrifice.

The city of Karbala in Iraq, the third holy place of Shi'a Islam, is the center of the proceedings where, in a show of humility, many crawl through the streets of the city while others fall on their hands and knees as they approach the Shrines of Husayn and his brother Abbas ibn Ali. Many pilgrims travel miles on foot to reach Karbala.

Observance of Arba'een in Karbala was banned for many years when Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq. For nearly 30 years under Saddam's regime, who was not a Shia Muslim, it was forbidden to mark Arbaeen publicly in Iraq. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the observance in April 2003 was broadcast worldwide.[1]

In 2008, approximately nine million religious observers converged on Karbala to celebrate Arba’een.[2] However, in 2009, the number of people visiting karbala on arbaeen significantly increased. According to official website of BBC News and Press Tv (Iran), over ten million people had reached the city of Karbala one or two days before arbaeen. The number of pilgrims was expected to rise to 14 million during next two days.[3][4]

Use in political protest

Arba'een commemoration of death has sometimes been used as political portest, at least in Iran. It was first used there to protest the killing of supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini in Qom in June 5, 1963 when a general strike was announced. A cycle of Arba'een public observance of mourning rituals of martyred protestors — where an arba'een public observance/demonstration was held to commemorate protester killed in the preceding Arba'een protest demonstration — is often credited as part of the reason for the success of the Iranian Revolution in overthrowing the shah in the 1978-78,[5] although the explanaton has also been questioned.[6]

Arba'een in the Gregorian calendar

While Arba'een is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year due to differences between the two calendars, since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. Furthermore, the method used to determine when each Islamic month begins varies from country to country (see Islamic calendar).

  • 2005: March 31
  • 2006: March 21
  • 2007: March 10
  • 2008: February 28
  • 2009: February 15


  1. Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival. New York: Norton, 2006; pp 18–19.
  2. Official website of Multi-National Force - Iraq -
  3. BBC News -
  4. Press Tv - 10 mln people commemorate Arbaeen -
  5. Kurzman, Charles, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, Harvard University Press, 2004, p.54-5
  6. Kurzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, (2004), p.57

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