ARBAʿĪN, fortieth day after ʿĀšūrāʾ . A day of mourning, preferably at the shrine of Imam Ḥosayn, Arbaʿīn forms part of a cycle of days commemorating the burial of the imam and his companions and the various stages of the return journey of the women captives to Medina. Many pious tales, which have come to form an important part of the ʿĀšūrāʾ tradition, have sprung up around this journey (see M. B. Maǰlesī, Beḥār al-anwār XLV, Tehran, 1384/1964, pp. 107, 112ff., and passim). A special pilgrimage of visitation, the zīārat-e arbaʿīn, is associated with the day, which is still widely observed.
According to hagiographical tradition, on the night of ʿĀšūrāʾ the inhabitants of Medina heard a voice announcing the death of Ḥosayn. One of those who heard this was Jāber b. ʿAbdallāh Anṣārī, well-known companion of the Prophet and a friend of the imams. He immediately set out for Karbalāʾ and arrived at the tomb of the martyred imam forty days later. Meanwhile, on their way to Medina, the captives begged their escort to pass by Karbalāʾ, and thus they reached the sacred spot at the same time as Jāber. The entire company performed the first zīāra, and held the first lamentation, ʿazādārī, at the sacred tomb (see ʿAlī b. Mūsā b. Moḥammed b. Ṭāʾūs, al-Lohūf ʿalā qatlat al-ṭofūf, Naǰaf 1385/1965, p. 82).
This tale, which is commonly taken as the basis of the zīārat-e arbaʿīn, would seem to be a pious invention, for both the observance of the day and the zīāra attached to it appear to be late. No mention is made of Arbaʿīn in the earliest and most authoritative zīāra collection, the Kāmel al-zīārāt of Ebn Qawlūya (d. 367/977; partly tr. in ʿA. Qomī, Kollīyāt mafātīḥ al-ǰenān, Tehran, 1379/1959, pp. 322-571). The sanctity of the number forty and especially of the forty-day period in the religious lore of the region is most probably one of the reasons behind this tradition. Fortieth-day observances honoring the dead are still common in the Middle East.
See also Ḥorr ʿĀmelī, Wasāʾel al-šīʿa, ed.
ʿA.-R. Šīrāzī, Beirut, 1391/1971, V/3, pp. 373-74.
ʿA. Qomī, Kollīyāt mafātīḥ al-ǰenān, Tehran, 1389/1969, pp. 925-29.
M. B. Maǰlesī, Beḥār al-anwār CI, Tehran, 1388/1969, pp. 329-36.
Originally Published: December 15, 1986
Last Updated: August 10, 2011
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Vol. II, Fasc. 3, pp. 275-276