An estimated 2 million faithful mourners are expected to travel to Iraq for the festival of Ashura, despite ongoing threats from self-proclaimed Islamic State fighters.
Hundreds of Australian Muslim Shiites are expected to make the pilgrimage for the 40-day holy commemoration festival in Karbala, but this year the Australian government is warning worshippers to think twice about their travel plans, reported Rasa News.
The festival commemorates the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein (PBUH), and is a long held practice in Shiite Islam.
Tradition holds that the esteemed Imam Hussein (PBUH) was decapitated and his body mutilated in the historic battle of Karbala in 680 AD.
Representative of ‘Spiritual Journeys Australia’, Zoubeida Moubarak, said the threat is real and the Australian government was limited in what they could do if an attack occurred.
“It is unsafe and a lot of people are concerned,” Zoubeida said.
“I have called the Australian Embassy, they will issue visas, and they won’t stop anyone from getting a visa… They have said we will not have any consulate help, we don’t have an embassy there. So if you go, you go on your own terms.”
Twenty-one-year-old Zainab Mohammed will be travelling to Iraq next week to fulfil her pilgrimage dream.
She told SBS she’s not too concerned about Islamic State militants.
“No matter what they do, we will always visit our Imam and people in Iraq are used to war and conflict,” she said.
“It won’t stop us because it’s a spiritual journey we make and it’s beautiful.”
Earlier this week, two deadly bomb blasts ripped across Shiite regions, one hit a Baghdad mosque killing 17 worshippers while another suicide car killed another 16 people in Karbala.
Zoubeida Moubarak says, “Imam Hussein stood for what it is to be a human being… people are going to go because if we stop visiting his shrine and Karbala then the story might end there.”
The Iraqi government has stepped up security measures in Karbala and Najaf in an effort to protect local and visiting pilgrims but warned people to vigilant and alert.