By Hasan Maqbool
I took an, arguably, out of place trip to Iraq for about two weeks in October. I had left the country amid a time of approaching college application deadlines and stressful test weeks — all the while missing three weeks of school. The weeks before I left and after I came back were extremely stressful as I struggled to fulfill my responsibilities. Why then would I take such a long excursion just as school was really getting into gear?
The reason was a religious pilgrimage called Arba’een. Shia Muslims traveling to major shrines in Iraq make up one of the largest gatherings in the world — about 22 million people gathering between two cities. What could these holy personalities have done to attract such a large number of people from all over the world?
Hussain was the grandson of Muhammad — the messenger of Islam. Following the example of his grandfather, Hussain promoted peace, coexistence, and righteous moral principles even as his birthright was usurped. When the tyrant leader Yazid demanded his pledge of allegiance, Hussain declined, saying that he would never bow to a man causing such moral decay and death.
Soon, Yazid’s forces cornered Hussain and his followers in the desert, denying them access to water. Hussain was faced with a decision: live and bow to the tyrant, abandoning all he and his family stood for, or die defending his family and principles from the onslaught of Yazid.
Hussain and his family died thirsty in the desert, fighting to preserve the true message of Islam — a message of charity, peace, virtue, and kindness.
As the army of Yazid pressed on, Hussain and his supporters stood alone that day. 1,400 years later, millions visit his shrine and those of his family — I was lucky enough to be one of them. I went to Iraq in order to relive the tragedy and revitalize my fidelity to the principles of Islam. I saw the shrines, envisioned the saints, cried at the gates, prayed for my friends and loved ones, and sympathized with those around the world suffering at the hands of tyrannical despots.
I felt a connection I can’t express in words and brought it back with me all the way here.
This pilgrimage reaffirmed what I should emphasize as priorities in my life — helping others, promoting peace, and taking a stand against injustice. Although Hussain and his family are buried peacefully in Iraq, I feel their presence every day and hope to advance and embody their principles as I go on.