Despite the ever-present risk of ISIS attacks, tens of millions of Muslims put their lives on the line to march through Iraq Nov. 19 and 20.
An estimated 17 to 20 million Shia Muslims made the pilgrimage to Karbala, Iraq, which is 62 miles southwest of Baghdad, to celebrate the holy day of Abaeen, reports MSN. Shiites traditionally celebrate the occasion, which ends Ashura, the 40-day mourning period of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein.
ISIS has condemned Shia Muslims and frequently targets them in attacks, and Karbala is frequently subject to suicide bombings and other efforts to spread the caliphate all across the Middle East. Indeed, on Nov. 24, when many of the pilgrims were returning from the destination in vehicles, a rigged truck exploded at a gas station, killing at least 70 people in an attack that ISIS has since taken credit for, notes The Washington Post.
The pilgrims knew the risk and came anyway, many of them on foot, in what has become more than just a religious ritual and is now a protest against ISIS, as well.
"We ask God to support us against [ISIS] members, to help us liberate Mosul and urge our politicians to remember the people who have sacrificed so much," said Pilgrim Umm Ali, who brought her son and two daughters with her, notes MSN. Her husband did not come, as he was on the front lines fighting for stability in the region.
Others, such as Jaber Kadhem Khalif, said that they were making the pilgrimage in part to pray for the safety and success of the troops fighting the zealots.
"I came walking from Basra with my wife and three sons," said Khalif. "This is the third time. We started walking 13 days ago and reached Karbala on Sunday night."
The religious journey is one of the largest in the world, and its number far exceed the 1.5 million people who make the Hajj to Mecca every year. But it gets little coverage by the media.
"Unfortunately [some] media outlets have gone for stories that to some extent can be divisive," volunteer Mohammed Al-Sharifi told The Independent during the 2015 pilgrimage, according to MSN. "If a group of Muslims do something good, it's not mentioned or the religion is not mentioned. But if someone does something [negative], it is on the front page and their religion is mentioned."