If you belong to the Shia or more specifically the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Muslims then you already know that going for ziyarat to Karbala is something that each one of us prays and longs for. It is in Iraq, where Shia’s are just as safe as a goat in a slaughter house. If you are not then let me explain. Imam Husain and 71 of his followers were martyred here in the most brutal killings that the world has ever seen. No, these people did not come to fight. They came there with their women and children because they were invited by the residents of Kufa. On route, they were stopped, barred for having water from the Euphrates River, stayed hungry and thirsty for three days (including a child who was 6 months old) and on the 10th Day of the month of Moharram, killed. Deceit and terrorism like this has not been seen before or after and neither has courage and determination. Imam Husain did not give into terror, rather he chose to give up his head. As followers, we mourn the loss to this day and Inshallah, will continue for the days to come.
Coming to my trip now. There are plenty of travel agents that will set up a 10 to 11 day tour which can cost upwards from Rs. 60,000. The more places, privileges and luxuries you add, the more it costs. Just a trip to Karbala and Najaf in Iraq for my family of 6 (Parents in law, husband, 3 year old daughter and 1 year old son, apart from me) cost us about Rs. 3 Lakhs. We opted for stay in hotel rooms (had our fingers crossed they would be good) and food and other things taken care by the jamaat. This is our main body out there which has its own premises, permits, infrastructure and people to take a person through this trip.
The trip started with a flight to Muscat with Oman Airways, a 6+ hour’s halt and the next flight to Najaf. The children enjoy playing on the mini truck at the Oman Duty free stores for a while and were then inconsolable for the rest of the time. Joys of motherhood! Moving along, upon reaching Najaf the 45 people group was to meet with the group leader, who conveniently did not show up! Imagine feeling stranded while you are in Iraq! Yeah, true story! Thankfully a jamaat person picked us up and took us to Karbala in two mini buses, luggage and all. Delicious dinner offered by the jamaat at Karbala and still no sign of the damned group leader. So what do we do? We have some delicious coffee at the jamaat and make small talk because we are too tired to do anything else. Finally the “leader” arrived and gave us our rooms. No, we did not even bother about fighting for the best rooms there.
Two days and many ziyarats later we still did not have a proper leader to advice what is to be done and how. We tagged along with other groups and our heads down just to understand things. Success was ours. Some elders even spoke with the jamaat management team about this and get things like some remote ziyarats arranged for our group. Day 4, a group of the same name arrived there but the leader refused to recognize us as a part of her group. We went along our business keeping in mind that when back home we have to screw the respective travel agents who booked our trips. In the meanwhile (after a little bit of fighting, name calling and complaining. Alright alright a lot!) the lady leader from the other group accepted that the goof up was theirs. But she still would not take responsibility for us (More name calling continued, obviously)!
Cut to day 5, we were headed to the city of Najaf without any leaders or knowing if anyone would even greet us there. But the aunty with the big bum, our “leader” came along and arranged for things there. She coordinated the remote ziyarats in Najaf and did a decent job of it all eventually. We prayed namaz at the Kufa Masjid twice and managed to seek the blessings that we had come for from such a distance.
The group was amazing and without the leader we helped each other a lot. Example – we shared whatever food we had so that only a minimum amount would be spent on food at the Oman Airport. The children in the group (OK, my children) were taken care of by all the adults when we tried to get into the rush or if there were long walking paths.
About Iraq and its people, you would think that in a country full of hate and crimes the mood would be grim. I admit that it looked like that from the plane too. When the descend started I saw a few fires (Yes, I took the window seat in spite of having children along who would have liked it. I like it too)! Pointed them to my husband and we discussed how things are complicated here. But on route to Karbala we saw a wedding party which was full of music, dance and merriment. They danced on the streets just like we see here in India! Albeit they were dancing in moving cars and waving to all of us as we passed them.
Another noticeable point was the check posts. There were a lot of them reminding of the grim situation but the guards always played with the children that came by. They touched their cheeks and heads affectionately, you know after checking them for bombs and stuff. They would allow old people and kids to pass without queuing and even when the lines were massive the bigger Iraqi ladies would pick my children up so that they don’t get roughened up in their small Indian mother’s arms.
Some do’s and don’t’s if you are planning a trip there –
- 1. If you are a Bhori, then jamaat food is the best and they are extremely generous. DO NOT opt for a package with hotel food, you’d miss out massively.
- Take minimalistic belongings when going for the ziyarats. You do not need a bag full of rubbish since that would mean a lot of time wastage at the many many check posts on route. Yes, they will remove every time from your bag and scrutinize.
- This is a shame but because of security threats and possibly attempts of people trying to carry things inside, the security posts outside the zari mubaraks will do a really good check-up before you are allowed to enter. While I mentioned about the purse earlier, this is more brutal and has a lot of touching and feeling involved. The husband not touching me intimately was not a problem at this trip. The check posts made up for it. You can’t complain it is for security reasons!
- On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays you will see a massive number of people coming there. Do not get alarmed. Plan your ziyarat timings so that you get to encounter as little of them as possible. Not all of them smell nice.
- If you like your tea / coffee with your breakfast, then take a flask with you. Hot beverages are only available outside the food halls in the jamaat.
- Do not exchange your home currency for Iraqi Dinars more than you need. They are virtually useless after you get out of the country. Spend everything that you have exchanged or get it changed back right there.
Ziyarat – what we do at the mausoleums. They include prayers.
Zari Mubarak – The outer covering at the tombs. The parts of the tombs that are accessible to hold on to, kiss and pray at.
Namaz – Daily prayers.
Kufa – Name of a place in Iraq.
Masjid – Place of worship.
Jamaat – Clan. Could refer to a group of people or place belonging to that group.