The occasion reminds the faithful of the core message behind Husayn's martyrdom: establishing justice and fighting injustice, no matter what its incarnation—a message that strongly influenced subsequent Shi'a uprisings against the Umayyad and Abbasid rule.
In the first Arba'een gathering in the year 62 AH, Jabir ibn Abd-Allah, a companion of Muhammad, was one of the people who performed a pilgrimage to the burial site of Husayn. Due to his infirmity and probable blindness, he was accompanied by Atiyya bin Saad. His visit coincided with that of the surviving female members of Muhammad's family and Husayn's son and heir Imam Zain-ul-Abideen, who had all been held captive in Damascus by Yazid I, the Umayyad Caliph. Imam Zain-ul-Abideen had been too ill to participate in the Battle of Karbala. He later devoted his life to Azadari and spreading the message of Imam Hussain's supreme sacrifice.
The city of Karbala in Iraq, the third holy place of Shia Islam, is the center of the proceedings where, in a show of humility, many crawl through the streets of the city while others fall on their hands and knees as they approach the Shrines of Husayn and his brother Abbas ibn Ali. Many pilgrims travel miles on foot to reach Karbala.
Observance of Arba'een in Karbala was banned for many years when Saddam Hussein, was president of Iraq. For nearly 30 years under Saddam's regime it was forbidden to mark Arbaeen publicly in Iraq. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the observance in April 2003 was broadcast worldwide