Twenty million pilgrims have converged on the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala to mark Arba'een, an annual event which marks the 40th day after the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shia Imam.
It is the world's biggest religious gathering, keenly observed in Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Lebanon and many other countries.
The black-clad pilgrims gathered at Imam Hussein’s holy shrine in Karbala on Saturday to culminate a week-long procession in commemoration of the martyrdom anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, who was killed along with his companions during the battle of Karbala in 680 AD.
Men, women, teens and elders came together in their millions in the Iraqi city to pay tribute and renew their allegiance to Imam Hussein (AS), who is the all-time icon of fighting injustice, oppression and despotism.
The annual event, which is one of the largest religious congregations in the world, brings together a deluge of Imam Hussein’s lovers and devotees from various nationalities who undertake an 80-km walk between the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Tents and special stands called Moukeb in Arabic are set up on the path leading to the shrine to provide pilgrims with food and other services.
In the past two years, attendance estimates were lower than usual due to coronavirus measures that limited the number of foreign pilgrims entering Iraq.
"We are happy to serve as many pilgrims as possible. We all noticed these exceptional numbers of pilgrims that came to Karbala after the coronavirus pandemic," said Ali al-Badri, an official in charge of Iraq's media services, adding that the teams covering departments such as cleaning and the provision of services were mobilized to cater for the needs of the pilgrims coming from Iraq and abroad.
"We distribute about 5000-6000 rations per meal, between breakfast, lunch and dinner - and we are continuing, God willing, we are happy," said Haider al-Kaabi, who heads a group providing pilgrims with shelter and food free of charge.
For the past weeks, pilgrims from countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, have been arriving in Karbala, located about 100 kilometers southwest of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Iran's government said on Wednesday that a record number of Iranian pilgrims, more than three million, flocked to Iraq to participate in the Arba’een commemorations.
Ali Bahadori Jahromi, a spokesman for the Iranian government, said around 1.5 million Iranian pilgrims have already returned from the pilgrimage.
The tradition, which attracts an average of 16 million people from across the world every year, is meant to sympathize with Imam Hussein (AS) on the pains he endured in the event of Karbala, where he and 72 of his companions were brutally slaughtered by Yazid's army.
The ceremony is also fervently observed by Muslims in their own countries across the world.
Millions of Iranians also flock to the holy shrines across the country and to local mosques to commemorate Arba’een.
People in the Iranian capital of Tehran, under the banner of 'Those left behind from Arba’een', take part in a symbolic march to the holy shrine of Hazrat Abdol Azim Hassani in the southern city of Rey.