In Civility Report 2023, Peace Worldwide Organization Founder Mehdi Alavi reviews all countries within the United Nations and provides human rights, democracy, peace, and civility scores for 193 countries. We urge you to read Civility Report 2023 today.


In Civility Report 2023, Peace Worldwide Organization Founder Mehdi Alavi reviews all countries within the United Nations and provides human rights, democracy, peace, and civility scores for 193 countries. We urge you to read Civility Report 2023 today.


Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. Africa covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area. With 1.0 billion people, it accounts for about 14.72% of the world's human population.


Americas are lands in the Western hemisphere of the world. In English, the plural form of the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions.


Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. With approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population.


Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering about 10,180,000 square kilometres or 2% of the Earth's surface and about 6.8% of its land area. Yet the borders of Europe, can incorporate cultural and political elements.


The Middle East is a transcontinental region centered on Western Asia, Turkey, and Egypt.

How To Know God Exists

Spiral galaxy, illustration of Milky Way © Alex Mit /

The majority of the world believes in God. Evidence of His existence surrounds us, from the sense of sight we take for granted to the laws of our astonishing world. We have a unity with each other and the universe that can only come from an omnipotent Creator. Introspecting and observing God’s bountiful creation is all it takes to find Him.

Christmas is a proper time to introspect, ask forgiveness, forgive others, and express our gratitude to the Almighty for our abundant blessings. If we can still walk, talk, hear and see, we should be grateful. It is easy to underappreciate these God-given abilities.


Recently, when the question of God was raised, a good and canny friend of mine said, “I find the very idea of an omnipotent, omniscient god frightening.” That remark shocked me as if someone denied the light in the middle of the day. The truth is, I am indebted to an all-powerful, all-knowing higher power. I wish to share some of my reasons for having this perspective.

You see, all cultures regardless of language, race or religion have some sort of faith in the supernatural. People throughout the world have independently envisioned a unique, transcendent source. Aristotle christened it the First Cause, Hindus know it as Brahman and Muslims call it Allah. Many Native Americans refer to it as the Great Spirit. Others call it Father, Lord, Spirit, Source, Universe, Supreme Intelligence, etc.

In April 2022, a survey found that more than two-thirds of the world’s population believe in God, an afterlife and heaven and hell. Around 90% of the US population believes. This implies that God exists and that we are accountable for our actions before Him. That is, we each must assume responsibility and act wisely. Knowing this truth, we will thrive in a healthier, more peaceful world.


Despite this, there are doubters. These people shy away from God, thinking such a concept contradicts science. On the contrary, the belief in Him strengthens science and directs scientific results for good purposes.

Sir Isaac Newton, who is considered by many the father of classical physics, was a theist. In his book, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, he wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Michael Faraday, who gave us electromagnetism, held that “everything was created by God in a unified way—that if you opened up one little part of it you could see how everything was connected.” Max Planck, who initiated the concept of quantum physics, believed that being humble before a supernatural power “controls our weal and woe.”

God binds us together

The modern man sees himself as uniquely intelligent and separate from everything else. He fanatically strives to subordinate the world to his whim. He arrogantly asserts the theory of the Big Bang, insisting that the universe spontaneously sprung into existence 14 billion years ago without causation. He holds to Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinian theory of the “survival of the fittest” to explain human destiny. It never occurs to him that taking a silent pause, freeing all his senses from preconceptions and allowing himself to sense his inner peace might show him that he is one with the whole universe. Moreover, man’s role in this world is not to dominate the universe but to serve it. But that reality is achievable by knowing his actions imply accountability.

Like the realization of self-existence, the perception of a universal oneness climaxing in God represents a profound awareness that requires neither reasoning nor rationalization. Knowing one’s self or God is a feeling lying deep within our existence.

Science tells us that matter is energy, which can be visible or invisible. Energy does not have a finite boundary. One example is a lightbulb emitting light from its interior filaments.  Its light is not bound by the surface of the bulb. People on Earth can see light emitted by stars millions of lightyears away. All forms of matter, whether derived from humans, plants, animals, planets, stars or the rest of the universe, are forms of energy-emitting radiation. 

The personal radiation fields we all possess mingle with one another as well as other matters as if we are just one entity. In other words, we are one with each other, one with everything near or distant, and one with the universe as far as it stretches. And the power that perfectly connects us all as one defines the notion of God.

Creations have creators

Reason dictates that if I acknowledge the fact that most of the world’s population believes in God, I should give this further thought. Having looked at the world we inhabit and have made a few observations, I cannot escape the thought that it all points to the existence of an almighty Creator.

Let’s say you are walking in a park. Somebody tells you with a probability of 10%, 5% or even 1% that if you take one more step forward, the ground beneath you will give way and send you tumbling into a den of poisonous snakes. You quickly change direction to avoid the suggested peril. It is wise to do so. Similarly, many religious people say making ungodly choices results in damnation to hell. Wouldn’t this make some people want to believe in God?

Now let’s say you leave the park and walk through town. You see a building and instantly arrive at a builder. You see a car and find an automaker, then a piece of equipment and its manufacturer. The universe is the same way. How could you see the vastness of space and not think it has a Creator?

Then you pass through a beautiful mall, sports arena or market. You instantly know that none of it can exist without an architect, planner or intelligent designer. How can you then look at the elegance of the universe that surrounds you and dismiss the idea that this is the work of a perfect Designer?

Next, you enter a restaurant and consume a delicious meal. You immediately know that an experienced chef picked the right recipe and closely watched the stove, constantly checking on the temperature, fluid and heat. The recipe includes many ingredients like herbs and vegetables, and it was delicately assembled. Why can’t you conclude that a Master made each of those elements possible?

If the above reasoning seems too cumbersome, just look at your human body. It is composed of over 50% water and 99.9% void, constantly changing in space. But all that appears to you is connected as one, functioning without disruption. Why can you not admit that there is a perfect Operator?

Belief without seeing

Imagine you are lost somewhere, alone, and do not know the way back to safety. Or you are in a hospital bed and the doctors say there is nothing more they can do for you. Or you are in a plane facing a terrible windstorm, and you feel that death is imminent. Throughout all these ordeals, you have no time to think about money, position, family or friends. Instead, something deep within keeps giving you hope. Why can’t you admit that when you are free from the material world, you can feel God’s presence shining in your soul and giving you inner peace?

Like soothing comfort, phenomena exist in nature that you cannot see, but know with certainty they exist from their impacts on the environment. You do not see light but you know from its reflection that it exists. Astronomers do not see the dark matter in space but they know from its attractions that it is there. When you look at the universe in motion with such beauty and magnificence, why can’t you admit that it is operated and managed by an omniscient God?

As another hypothetical, let’s say you are visiting your mother across town. You get a feeling that you must hurry home. Although your mother insists you stay the whole evening, you follow the hunch and leave. That night, your phone rings. Your mother says there was a fatal car crash on that road after you left, one you unknowingly dodged. Did you fall to your knees to thank your Creator for giving you the inclination to leave early?

Eyes and brain reveal the divine

We can find more evidence of divinity by taking a closer look at the human eye. We have sight because light passes through our cornea, pupil, iris, and lens to the retina. Photoreceptors turn that light into electrical signals and send them to the optic nerve and then to the brain. For all that to work, we must have tears to keep the eye moist. This process involves 4-6 billion neurons organized in a sophisticated manner. From the cornea to the brain, if any component does not do its part correctly and in a timely way, we see nothing. For all that to repeatedly, continuously and flawlessly work, it requires a perfect Guardian. 

Among the over eight billion people on Earth, no two have identical eyes. As a measure of security, our eyes may used for identification. That implies a perfect Designer and Diversifier.

The eyes also express the state of our health. A good physician can look into a patient’s eyes and tell that they are sick. Evidence shows that some illnesses in our body with about 30 trillion cells can be seen through the eye. That implies a design done by a Perfector.

The brain is another amazing body part God has blessed us with. Not only does it provide us with conscious thoughts, but unconscious ones as well. Dreams are generated while we sleep, which entertain us, warn us of danger, and help us solve problems we have during the day. That implies a super Originator.

The brain is made of about 86 billion neurons. Each receives around 10,000 synapses per second. The probability of a synapse to release the right neurotransmitter is 10-50%. Thus, the probability of any synapse releasing the right neurotransmitters is 50% at best. Doing that correctly each time for even ten seconds, mathematically speaking, is nearly impossible. Thus, there must be a higher order to keep the billion neurons and trillion synapses in such a way for the brain to work. That power has to be an omnipotent, omniscient Sustainer.

Closing remarks

Try this experiment. Just lie down on your back, relax and look at the sky on a clear night. Clear your mind of all mundane thoughts. You will see the sky decorated with shiny stars, all moving in organized paths. While you are doing this, the Earth beneath you is traveling about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) per second around the sun. The sun is traveling about 230 kilometers (144 miles) per second around the Milky Way Galaxy. The moon that makes Earth livable is constantly revolving, circulating about every 28 days. You are created in such an ingenious way that you do not feel the impacts of all these movements. Yet all follow gravitational, centrifugal and quantum laws. Any reasoning person would conclude that there ought to be an omnipotent Creator and Lawgiver.

In God alone can we have prosperity and universal peace. His presence is so overwhelming that one has to be detached from reality to miss it. Finding Him requires no education, simply deep introspection. As the Persian proverb goes, “If something is everywhere, it cannot be seen anywhere.”


The article was originally published by Fair Observer on December 25, 2023.


Iran’s Future Lies Heavily in the Hands of its Mullahs

This handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows Chinese President Xi Jinping welcoming the Islamic Republic's President Ebrahim Raisi (L) during his visit in Beijing on February 14, 2023. (Photo by Iranian Presidency / AFP)

The global power balance is changing, and China has brought Iran and Saudi Arabia closer to itself. But Iranians may not see the benefits of this unless something changes. Ministers and oligarchs have created an unequal, exploitative society under the mullahs’ noses. Iran’s mullahs must improve the economy and calm further domestic disruption to reap the benefits of foreign alliances. 

Iran has the chance to benefit from new global alliances. China and Iran have had cultural, economic and political relations for thousands of years. During the colonial times in the last 200 years, they were isolated, but now they are restoring their ancient relations. As late as March 2021, they signed a 25-year cooperation agreement.

On March 10, in Beijing, Iran and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement restoring their diplomatic relations. This will have ramifications for the United States: That action was not in line with US policy, which sees China as a competitor and adversary. The Saudi action surprised the US since Saudi Arabia has been a client of the US since 1945. The Saudi move could have only happened in the changing world. 

The US can get clues from Saudi Arabia’s choice and face reality by adjusting its foreign policy. The US could stop interferences, coups and invasions in other countries, particularly Iran. It could give up on “regime change” in Iran and apologize for the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran’s first-ever democratic government. It must stop supporting ethnic cleansing and genocide against other people, especially the native Palestinians. By taking those vital steps, the US would improve relations with Iran and decrease tensions in the world. 

Iran’s mullahs, or religious leaders, can also take crucial steps to restore the economy and pacify the country’s young generation. Presently, the mullahs do not walk the talk. The father of the 1979 Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, purportedly warned the mullahs: “Clergy, wake up; now, it is not time to talk … think about people's problems! Discussion by itself is of no use.” Mullahs have a responsibility within the state of Iran: to listen to the people and adjust their policies accordingly.

Mullahs live in a fantasy world

In my recent visit to Iran, I noticed that the mullahs keep ignoring the advice from the Islamic Revolution’s father. They continue competing with one another for high political positions while the country faces serious economic issues. They claim that the main culprit for poverty is the US’ brutal economic sanctions against the nation that violate the UN Charter. Although that is partially true, the real threats to the regime are the mullahs who have failed to do what they say, listen to the people and address domestic issues. 

During my visit, Iranians kept saying that they get paid in local currency, rials, but buy in dollars. At the time, I could not understand their complaints after seeing perishable foods at low prices. 

However, when I returned to the US and looked further into the matter, I recognized the reasons why the youth are protesting in Iran. I realized that the government privatized most national industries, including refineries, petrochemicals and steel. It is still subsidizing them and providing them with cheap crude oil and other raw materials, expecting the finished products to include reasonable profit for sale in the country. However, those outfits have been exporting their products and selling them in dollar values in a country where the wages are low and labor is very cheap. The companies have no regulatory oversight. Their shareholders are profiting incredibly while contributing immensely to the nation's inflation and poverty.

Despite the arduous efforts of the new President Ibrahim Raisi, the economy of Iran is still in shambles with an inflation rate below 40%. Corruption and nepotism are widespread, ranking the country 147 among 180 countries in transparency. Women are still widely discriminated against by the government despite great women’s strides in law, medicine, journalism, engineering and other scientific fields. Ethnic groups such as the Baluchis and Kurds remain among the least educated. Thus, indigenous groups like them are easy prey to terrorist groups like Jundallah and Komalah, armed and financed by the US and allies.

How could Iran’s religious leaders let this issue grow so large? Due to their lack of knowledge of the modern world, the mullahs have entrusted running the government chiefly on their staff, ministers and supporting personnel, mostly educated in the West. The staff have pushed for free enterprise in a laissez-faire way without regulatory oversight. They have pressed to privatize the national industries, particularly oil and steel. Once these industries are privatized, they and their relatives and friends buy large shares, aiming for low production costs and maximal profits. They have formed Iran’s oligarchs. Like in Russia, the oligarchs manipulate the market. Consequently, Iran’s inflation has hit the roof and poverty is fast expanding!

On the surface, Iranians think that the mullahs are ruling the country. In reality, the oligarchs are running the nation. In the 1950s, Mohammad Mosaddegh fought with Britain for Iran's oil nationalization. For that effort, he lost his power and was forced into exile in his house until his death. Sadly, the mullahs have foolishly given away the national treasures to a selected group who have emerged as Iran’s oligarchs. 

The oligarchs convert much of their profits into gold and foreign currencies. Those actions have further devalued the local currency, causing public panic. With the money made in Iran, they buy properties in Istanbul, London, Montreal, Los Angeles and other popular foreign cities. In those foreign cities, their children whose mere existence and liberal lifestyle are indebted to the mullahs, are often among the instigators against the mullahs. 

The oligarchs own private banks that invest and operate commercial facilities across the country, unavailable for sale or rent, counting on higher profits in the future. This is when millions of families are looking for residence. 

Under the mullahs, it never occurred to the oligarchs that the investments were not earned by them or their parents but entrusted to them by the nation. Thus, they should make their products affordable to buy by Iranians. 

Seven simple steps for mullahs to save Iran

The forecast for Iran's future is gloomy. Execution and imprisonment are not the answers to domestic issues. For Iran to survive in its present form, drastic actions must be taken. As Mosaddeq brought the oil back to Iran from the British, the mullahs must bring back the economy to Iranians from the oligarchs. To start, they could take these seven steps. 

First, stop vying for power. Clean up corruption and nepotism. Choose qualified personnel who are clean from bribery, embezzlement, peddling, or any other activity financially benefiting them or people close to them. Learn how Singapore brought corruption under control.

Second, implement effective management, accountability and transparency programs. Train managers on how to use the resources effectively to meet the targets before deadlines. Learn how Switzerland managed affairs.

Third, address inflation by tightening government spending, overseeing banks and controlling trade. Limit ownership of foreign currency and precious metals like gold. Require the use of only national currency in domestic dealings. Ensure banks are involved in only banking (accepting deposits from the people with a guarantee that the funds will be there when needed and making loans available to them, based on certain reasonable conditions). Learn from Russia on how to manage the inflation rate. Despite facing tough sanctions, Russia managed an inflation rate of 11.9%, and even Afghanistan under the Taliban controlled an inflation rate of 5.2% in December 2022. 

Fourth, temporarily take over imports and exports for all essential goods and services. When the products are sold to distributors, define the profit margin clearly. Increase trade with neighboring countries. Implement regulatory oversight on at least all oil and steel industry production. Give attention to China’s trade regulations.

Fifth, attend to women’s issues and include more in decision-making processes. Remove all barriers that prevent women from rising to power. On equality, learn from Sweden.

Sixth, help the ethnic groups such as Baluchis and Kurds and address their economic and other issues. Promote ethnic diversity in all workplaces with an objective of ethnic equality. Sweden provides a good example.

Seventh, get away from depending on oil revenues for the budget. Promote investments and increase domestic production for exports. Look into the world’s top agricultural exporters.

Despite the benefits of these necessary steps, they are merely bandages on wounds. Above all, culture must be changed. Until the 1979 fall of the monarchy, the Shah made law at his will. He was accountable to no one. People adopted sycophancy to get royal attention. Powerful families practiced nepotism to strengthen their hold on power and demanded bribes to keep their living status. People lied to safeguard their lives and honors. Although Iranians finally got a constitution about 100 years ago, the monarch gave that little attention. Naturally, people followed the king, giving little attention to law and order. The long-term solution is to change the thoughts and false beliefs. From an early age in school, pupils must be taught to practice honesty and respect law and order. Overcoming poor habits takes a generation.


The article was originally published by Fair Observer on December 1, 2023.


Can You See the Link Between God and Justice?

Symbol of law and justice, law and justice concept. © corgarashu /

The majority of the world’s population believes in God and that there will be justice for the unrighteous. But when it comes to politics, we let famous murderers go unpunished and even praise them. It is time to ask ourselves how we are treating one another while going about our affairs in this transient life.

There is not a culture in the world that does not have some sort of belief in the supernatural. In many cultures, seemingly independently, people have conceived of physical reality as coming from some transcendent source that is unique, purposeful and good. Plato called this source the Form of the Good. Hindus call it Brahman. The Prophet Muhammad, in his Arabic language, preached of Allah. For simplicity, I will call this source God.

Many people who lack faith in God presume that he is just some sort of meme — an idea that got popular at some time, being repeated by enough people. They think that the idea of God will eventually fade away. On April 8, 1966, Time ran the cover story, “Is God Dead?” The article projected that people will have less and less God in their daily lives. 

Time’s projection has been proven wrong. Some evidence suggests that belief in the divine and religion are as natural as language or culture. Belief in God has coexisted with modern science for hundreds of years now, and so far, there is no sign that God has faded away from our lives. In an April 2022 survey, Gallup International discovered that more than two-thirds of the world’s population believes in God, a “life after death” and “heaven and hell.”

Most people do not just believe that there is a God, but that there is life after death, and that there are rewards and punishments there. We do not only believe that God exists, but that he is a just God. We believe that human beings are free agents responsible for their actions. If this is so, God must reward us for our good deeds and punish us for our bad ones. 

We feel in our bones that the good will not be unrewarded or the bad unpunished. But in this life, we hardly see it. In most places, a poor person stealing a loaf of bread is punished. Meanwhile, powerful people kill and get away with it. And they steal the bread of the poor. In the 2008 financial crisis, we all saw many executives who manipulated the market for personal gains causing much poverty and destruction worldwide. However, they walked away with large bonuses instead of being tried and going to prison. Murderers get away without a penalty. Sometimes, they are celebrities, like O. J. Simpson. Sometimes, they are heads of state.

The criminals of the world think that they can get away with their deeds because they are not punished by the laws of men. But most of humanity agrees that there will be a higher and more certain justice.

Let's think of global values, justice and peace

Right and wrong are not just social conventions, differing from place to place. Sure, different cultures may agree or disagree on the details of morality. But if you look at human beings as a whole, you will find that the content of morality is strikingly the same.

Universally, human beings admire consideration, compassion, love, empathy, forgiveness, charity, sharing, justice, looking after parents, helping the weak and so on. They condemn murder, harm, contempt, hatred, apathy, theft, revenge, selfishness, rape, lying, hoarding, ignoring parents, abusing the weak, etc.

Though we might sometimes like to deny it, human beings know the difference between right and wrong. We must be conscious of our thoughts and deeds. We must think and reason before embarking on any action by assessing its impact on other people. As the maxim goes, treat others as you want to be treated. 

Do we take this seriously? Do we really live as if we believed that good were good and evil were evil? Or do we allow ourselves to compartmentalize, to forget evil when it does not concern us personally? Do we fall into the habit of condemning in others what we excuse for ourselves?

If a police officer pursuing a criminal kills an innocent person in San Francisco, we rightfully stand on the side of the innocent victim and demand justice. However, if a drone pursuing a perceived enemy, kills thousands of innocent people in Kandahar, Afghanistan, do we make as much noise? If the atrocities are even reported by the biased media, we condone them as collateral damage. Where is the objectivity? In the eyes of a just God, is there any difference between killing an innocent person whether he lives in San Francisco or Kandahar?

We know this. We want to believe that this is how a just God would judge, but we do not wish to judge justly ourselves.

If we believe in justice, why do we let the wicked go free?

Recently, a gathering in New York City honoring Henry Kissinger, former US national security advisor and secretary of state, came to my attention. Numerous people came to celebrate the man’s 100th birthday, and mainstream media covered the event. I was shocked. How low have we gotten, honoring one of the world’s worst criminals?

As they say, the good die young. Kissinger has enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight for a century. According to most people, this world is all he has to enjoy. Once dead, he, like his boss Richard Nixon, will have to answer for the killings of millions of innocent people in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; supporting juntas in overthrowing Argentinian and Chilean democracies; empowering Pakistan and Indonesia in the genocides in Bangladesh and East Timor, and countless other atrocities across the world. God will demand an account from both of them for the killing, maiming and injuring of every innocent child, man and woman. Those who shared in their crimes by enabling, collaborating in or executing their designs, or by honoring them after the fact, will share in their punishment as well. After visiting Cambodia, Anthony Bourdain said, “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands ... and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.”

Perhaps there is still time for him to repent. I hope that he does — before the world. Repenting must mean acknowledging one’s misdeeds and trying to right them, to the extent that it is within one’s power.

Justice in the afterlife applies to all. We will all account for our deeds. None of us will get away with it if we have inflicted harm on innocent people whether in our own family, community, country or war.

Most of us believe that God will not forget the suffering of the innocent, but we behave as if he did. We treat murderers like respectable people, or even heroes, as if one’s inequities were forgotten when human beings forget about them. But if justice is real, God is not so fickle. Neither should we be.

We cannot allow ourselves to continue to be so deeply unserious. We have created a dangerous world by ignoring justice and God in our national affairs. Led by the US, all of the permanent members of the UN Security Council indulge in profits from armament. The huge US armory and arms production have turned the world into an arms race. We not only accept that nations own these instruments of death, but see them as a source of prestige.

The proliferation of these weapons is responsible for much of wars and destruction in our world. If only our political leaders paused and contemplated how to justify their actions in the afterlife, we would have had much less armament and a far better world. We would not provoke conflict with sanctions against nations like Cuba and Iran or turn a blind eye to conflicts in Libya and Syria and wars in Somalia and Ukraine. 

 Let’s honor the will of people

The majority of the world’s population believes that there is a higher justice. If we truly believe in democracy, the world’s order must change to reflect that reality. The UN must change, dismantle if necessary, to hold countries (powerful or not) responsible for waging unjustifiable wars and bring the responsible persons to justice.

No longer must we pretend that inequities will be forgotten with the mere passage of time. We all remember the US waged war on Iraq without any provocation and under a false pretext. None of the guilty parties ever faced justice. George W. Bush and his conspirators are freely moving across the country. Some like Donald H. Rumsfeld have already died without facing justice.

Never again should the scenario in Iraq be repeated anywhere in the world, where a powerful country wages an unjustified war on a weaker one. Human rights must be redefined to count for the innocent victims of wars. 

God is not dead. Dead, rather, is the pretense of wealth and power to impunity. Reportedly, two Saudi officers were recently executed for disobeying a command to bomb civilian targets in Yemen. These were men who believed in a higher justice, who preferred the judgment of God over the judgment of men. We should take a lesson from their brave example. We will all be held accountable for our deeds; we must hold each other accountable, too. If can be aware of this truth — a truth most of us already believe in — we will enjoy a far more prosperous and peaceful world.


The article was originally published by Fair Observer on October 1, 2023.

A First-Hand Look at Arba’een, the World’s Largest Annual Pilgrimage

Arba’een 2018, showing the path of pilgrims coming from Najaf to Karbala. Photo taken by the author’s family during their pilgrimage
 Arba’een draws millions of people together in a gathering where pilgrims’ needs are provided for out of generosity and without payment. I needed to see this with my own eyes and traveled to Iraq to take part. What I saw impressed me forever with the understanding that peace and compassion are possible here on Earth.

Arba’een, the immense annual gathering in Karbala, Iraq, got my attention after I read Sayed M. Modarresi’s Huffington Post article, “World’s Biggest Pilgrimage Now Underway, and Why You’ve Never Heard of It!” After researching it, I knew Arba’een was something that I must experience firsthand.

As the founder and president of Peace Worldwide Organization, I could not get the idea off my mind. In the US, we cannot have a concert with a few thousand attendees without some trouble. How in the world was it possible for millions of people to get together so lovingly and peacefully?

Finally, I took the journey. My experience with Arba’een opened my eyes to many possibilities to achieve global peace. I had never encountered such hospitality, love and generosity in my life. Although it was held in Iraq under the threat of terrorism, I spotted pilgrims from across the world eagerly participating. I was touched by the display of faith in humanity, the likes of which I had never seen anywhere else.

A multicultural gathering

Although it was originally initiated by Shi’a Muslims as a spiritual reawakening, I witnessed that Arba’een brought people together from all walks of life. It was a true representation of all people in the world. The participants included not just Shi’as but Sunnis, Ibadis, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Yazidis and Zoroastrians. There, we were all united in purpose and welcomed with the utmost respect, regardless of religion, culture, ethnicity, gender or race.

Four years earlier, I had participated in the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage. In Karbala, I noticed the much greater crowds; Arba’een attracts five or more times more people than the Hajj. In contrast to the Hajj, which is riddled with accidents and troubles, my experience with the Arba’een event was peaceful. While the Hajj consists exclusively of Muslims, Arba’een breaks across identity barriers. Arba’een is truly unique.

As I had read, it was embellished with the longest continuous free dining table with a variety of foods and personal sleep accommodations. Iraqis were stationed throughout the path of pilgrims to wash feet and massage feet, backs, shoulders and necks. Clinics and doctors were available to treat pilgrims. All amenities, down to baby diapers, were furnished free. All services, including the tight security, were provided by volunteers. None of these were paid for by any government or corporation. They were all offered by Iraqis and others who had been saving for a year to serve pilgrims with pure love and compassion. They expected no pay; rather, they felt honored when we accepted their offerings or lodging.

On my journey, I was told that among the servers were the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the Chinese Ambassador along with his wife. I wondered why US officials were absent, especially when the US was generally unpopular in the region and had the largest embassy and military presence in the country. It would have been a great PR opportunity.

Arba’een rarely makes headlines, but when it does, it gives hope to humanity that universal peace is realizable.

Arba’een memorializes the end of the 40-day mourning period for the brutal 7th-century killing of al-Husayn (Husayn), the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and third Shia Imam. His murder at the hands of the wicked Umayyad Caliph Yazid made him a martyr standing up against injustice. The event left an indelible mark on Islamic history.

As Modarresi says, Husayn’s “legend encourages, inspires, and champions change for the better, and no amount of media blackout can extinguish its light.”

For me, Arba’een was a life-changing experience

Starting in 2014, ISIS freely roamed much of Iraq and committed atrocities that shocked the world. Armed with weapons and vehicles of Western manufacture, ISIS tortured suspects, raped women and girls, robbed, enslaved, used child soldiers and carried out genocide.

I read Modarresi’s article in 2015 and learned that millions of people from all over the world ignored ISIS to attend Arba’een. ISIS, which takes an extreme anti-Shi’a stance, attempted to menace pilgrims into skipping Arba’een. The threat encouraged even more participation in defiance, a courageous audacity rarely seen anywhere around the world.

To the pilgrims, Husayn typifies the man who is spiritually connected to Allah, the Source of all things, which enables him to stand firmly against despotism and never submit to oppression or persecution. Husayn did so even though it cost him his own life and those of his brothers, sons and other loved ones.

To me, Arba’een appeared to be a truer representation of cross-cultural participation and cohesiveness than even the United Nations. Like other political entities, the UN is riddled with favoritism and corruption. Unlike in the UN, all people are treated with equal respect in Arba’een.

For days, nights, weeks and months, I was preoccupied. Something deep inside me urged me to participate. I wanted to be a part of it. I needed to see it for myself and experience the event known to millions. I felt a strong zeal to take the journey, despite the imminent threat of ISIS against the pilgrims. I became excited and eager knowing there was a purpose.

With ISIS controlling much of Iraq, my family was adamantly against me traveling in the Middle East, especially within Iraq. I was compelled to delay my journey.

Thanks to Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s late top general, things have since changed for the better in the region. In mid-2018, Iraq gathered strength with assistance from Iran and Russia to push ISIS out of Iraq. On the ground with Russian air support, Iraqi special forces led by Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis soundly defeated ISIS. That brave action gave me an opportunity to convince my family to let me participate in Arba’een. I assured them that I would be careful traveling there. Knowing how badly I wanted to go there, they reluctantly agreed.

In 2018, Arba’een was at the end of October. I was astonished. The journey exceeded all my expectations; every moment was breathtaking. I stayed in Iraq for 12 days, and it cost me not even a dime for food. My lodging would also have been totally free, but I chose to stay a few nights in nice hotels to reflect. The hotels were around $20 a night.

Step by step, side by side, I marched all 50 miles of the way on foot over three days, alongside millions of other pilgrims. The journey began at the mausoleum of Ali in the holy city of Najaf and terminated at Husayn’s mausoleum in the holy city of Karbala.

As I looked over my shoulder, I saw children in the arms of their mothers and young men assisting the women and elderly in their quest to make the journey. I saw folks with canes and crutches taking each intentional step forward. I found the weakened, aged or disabled rolling in wheelchairs as persistent and committed as those of us on foot beside them. There were no divides or differences. There, we were all one.

There was only hope in their eyes and love in their heart as the people moved beside me. Often, I would find myself interrupted in thought, taking in each individual, making individual picture frame memories of their faces, with the various Iraqi citizens lining the trail motioning to give us water and food or guiding us along the path. I could feel the energy pulsating throughout my body, my mind, my soul—the frequency around me was vibrating, unconditional, pure, wholehearted love.

It was with this powerful frequency that I then took each individual step. All of this beautiful, loving energy made what could otherwise be characterized as a marathon feel like a walk in the park. I had very little on me except for a backpack of clothes, yet I felt fully abundant. 

I had never seen generosity to that extent in my whole life. Various kinds of food and comfortable lodging were freely available along the path everywhere. I was astonished to see that even the poorest Iraqis traveled on foot for days to get there, simply to offer the pilgrims dates here and there.

Heaven on Earth

I thought to myself: If Iraqis could continue that spirit for the rest of the year by treating one another with the same compassion and love, Iraq would once again be the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8), a place of happiness and peace. Imagine what the world could be if we existed in this nature daily as well.

The instantaneous coming together of millions of people from across the world in Arba’een must be of Heavenly inspiration. It is equally magical how Iraqis work together providing the pilgrims safety and security along with free food, lodging and other services. As Oregon’s Southminster Presbyterian Church Pastor John Shuck described it, “… it is a divine interplay of an unchoreographed dance of love.”

In my journey, I learned that millions of the pilgrims began their journey on foot from Iran, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon, along with cities in Iraq and the Gulf Arab States, towards Karbala. For days, young and old traveled miles through mountainous and rocky trails in the burning sun of the day and the freezing cold of the night to reach the holy city. Regardless of where they came from, they all simply wanted to connect to Allah and live in harmony and peace. To accomplish these noble goals, they knew that a level of unrelenting self-will, accountability, good nature, kindness and endurance was required to win over oppression and persecution.

Husayn gave us many examples of courage in his stand against tyranny and injustice. Many of his quotes can be heard across the world, even if few are aware of the source of them. Over 1300 years ago, before he was viciously murdered, he said, “Death with dignity is better than a life in humiliation.”

More than ever, I am now convinced that we can all learn a lot from religion in pursuit of harmony and peace. Religion is not inherently good or bad. It can be used as a positive force or abused for personal gain. The event of Arba’een symbolizes a religious occasion that annually brings the largest number of people from across the world together in the hope of promoting compassion, love, harmony and peace.

My journey was exceptional. My life’s dream of unity and peace was realized in my travels. I watched people who were amazingly liberated from fear, judgment and the desire for control and power. I saw them all sharing their basic needs with strangers. I learned that the vision of the coming together of people from all walks of life united for the pursuit of compassion, love and peace ALREADY exists. Now, I can imagine an entire world through this vision, where I paint a picture in my mind as I lead the Peace Worldwide Organization and write about history, philosophy, politics, religion and spirituality.


This article was originally published in Fair Observer on August 28, 2023.

Iraq’s Massive, Peaceful Annual Arba’een Pilgrimage Is Beginning Now

karbala, iraq – september 27, 2021: photo of imam abbas shrine in karbala city in Arbaʽeen ilgrimage cermony © Mohammed_Al_Ali /

Preparations for the world’s largest annual pilgrimage are underway. Millions will gather in Karbala, Iraq, for Arba’een, a gathering that marks the end of a 40-day Shi’a period of mourning. Every year, Shi’as, joined by others, commemorate Husayn, the heroic grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was slain in Karbala.

Arba’een should be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records in several categories: biggest annual gathering, longest continuous dining table, the largest number of people fed for free, and the largest group of volunteers serving a single event, all under the imminent threat of suicide bombings.

Sayed M. Modarresi, “World’s Biggest Pilgrimage Now Underway, and Why You’ve Never Heard of It!”

We haven’t heard of Arba’een because the media is primarily interested in negative news, embellished tabloids and controversial matters. Positive news and inspiring stories are often ignored, especially when they relate to Islam. When a few hundred protest in Russia, China or Iran, it makes headlines. When millions gather for the world’s greatest peaceful annual event, with the longest continuous free dining table and sleep accommodations, none of it paid for by any government or corporation, all in defiance of imminent terror, it routinely fails to make a single headline. When it somehow does, it gives hope to humanity that universal peace is achievable!

Last year, despite the threat of the COVID pandemic still persisting and terrorist bombings among crowds, around 21 million people from across the world gathered in Iraq and participated in the event.

Pilgrims are not inhibited by terrorists from participating in Arba’een. In contrast, it draws out more pilgrims in masses in defiance, displaying a faith in humanity never seen before anywhere around the world.

Arba’een breaks across ethnic, racial, religious, and national barriers. Although it began as a Shi’a Muslim pilgrimage, its participants include Sunnis, Ibadis, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Yazidis and Zoroastrians.

Nevertheless, Arba’een has its roots in tragedy. The festival marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the 7th-century barbarous killing of Husayn ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and the third Shi’a Imam. That happened in Karbala, Iraq, around 1350 years ago by the order of the tyrannical Umayyad Caliph Yazid.

This year, Arba’een falls on Safar 20th in the Islamic lunar calendar, corresponding to September 6th. Millions of people from around the globe will gather in Iraq’s holiest city of Karbala to commemorate it, one of the most revered Islamic religious occasions.

Who was Husayn ibn Ali?

The death of Husayn is considered a formative tragedy in Islamic history. In The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon said, “In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene of the death of Hosein will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.” His heroic life and death inspired countless generations.

To know Husayn, we begin with when Muslims wanted to reward the Prophet Muhammad for his services. Allah commanded him, “Say: I do not ask you for any reward for my services except to love my blood family.” (Quran 42:23). The blood family of the Prophet was above all Fatima, his only living child, her husband Ali and their sons, Husayn and Hasan. Tradition holds that the Prophet said of the lad, “Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn.”

Husayn’s life was tragic from the very start. In 632, when he was 6 years old, his beloved grandfather, the Prophet, died.

Before his demise, the Prophet gathered the Muslims and gave them his farewell speech. On the return from his last pilgrimage to Mecca, he commanded all the over a hundred thousand pilgrims to meet him there. He said that it was his last pilgrimage and that he would leave them soon. People cried uncontrollably. In his long speech, he reminded people about their religious duties and Allah’s commands for them to love his blood family.

Then, he introduced Ali, his son-in-law and Husayn’s father, as his heir and the leader of all Muslims. At the end of the speech, the people rushed and gave their allegiance to Ali. This paved the way for Husayn himself to eventually inherit his father’s claim to leadership.

If the demise of his grandfather was not painful enough for Husayn, another tragedy was in waiting. Ignoring Ali’s claim, some men moved to the leadership for another claimant. The ringleaders rushed to Ali’s house to secure his allegiance since Ali’s influence was immense. According to Shi’a tradition, Fatima, Husayn’s mother, intervened to save her husband. The men attacked her. She was badly injured and miscarried her baby, whom the Prophet had named Muhsin. Consequently, she died within six months of her father’s death. At 6, Husayn had now lost both grandfather and mother within a short time.

Among Muslims, Fatima has been considered something like a First Lady of Islam. The outrage provoked by Fatima’s brutal death saved the rest of the Prophet’s family and their small group of supporters, Shi’as, from being killed by the authorities. However, they were mostly kept under house arrest.

After the death of the third Caliph, Uthman, the people rushed to Ali’s house begging him to take the power. Ali consistently refused. After three days of riots, Ali finally consented under certain conditions, ruling only by the Quran and the Prophet’s traditions. They all agreed.

Soon, the rich and powerful people realized that Ali was not giving them any favors as the previous Caliphs had done. They deserted him, rallying around the Umayyad governor of Syria, Mu’awiya. Ali’s rule lasted less than five years. In 661, while prostrating at the mosque of Kufa, a city in Iraq, Ali was fatally struck in the head by an assassin’s poisoned sword. He died three days later from the wound. Hasan, Ali’s oldest son, succeeded him, but Hasan’s rule lasted only a few months before he was forced to abdicate in favor of the Mu’awiya, the first Umayyad caliph. The group left Kufa and resettled in Medina.

In 670, Hasan was poisoned and died. At 44, Husayn had lost his mother, father and brother. Now, he was the only living son of Ali and Fatima. Husayn became the patriarch of the Prophet’s family and leader of the Shi’as. Mu’awiya did not find Husayn an existential threat to their power and chose to ignore him rather than force allegiance on him.

A heroic death in resistance to tyrants

In 680, all that changed when Mu’awiya’s son, Yazid, ascended to power. He wanted allegiance from everyone in the empire. Disobedience meant death. Husayn was no exception.

When Yazid’s ultimatum was formally presented to Husayn, he skillfully asked for a night time to think over it. After tough negotiation, he got the time. That night, when everyone was in deep sleep, he took his family and headed for the safe haven of Mecca. Muslims were strictly forbidden to fight in the holy city. Many of the Shi’as followed him.

In Mecca, Husayn received many letters from the people of Kufa imploring him to come there. He pondered over them. As the annual pilgrimage to Mecca neared, he realized that the holy city was not safe, either. Yazid had sent spies among pilgrims to kill him. Husayn hurriedly gathered his family and the Shi’as, and they secretly headed for Kufa.

Yazid soon learned of Husayn’s move towards Kufa. He sent one of his commanders, Hur, to block Husayn’s path. Husayn and his company were forced to reroute to Karbala, on the Euphrates River. There, Husayn and his male companions numbered about one hundred. Within a few days, they were surrounded by over 30,000 armed soldiers, all with orders to kill Husayn.

Husayn spoke before the enemy soldiers reminding them of what the Quran and the Prophet have said about him and his family. All fell on deaf ears, except for the ears of Hur, who had a change of heart.

Husayn managed to negotiate for one last night to be with his family and companions. That night was critical. Husayn wanted to ensure those who would remain with him truly believed in his mission. In a tent in the middle of the desert that night, Husayn had all the males gathered. He frankly told them all that the enemy wanted to kill him. They did not need to have themselves killed for his sake and should feel free to leave him. He even asked whoever owed someone a debt to leave. Then, he turned off the candles so that people would not feel embarrassed to leave. Some people left, but those who stayed uttered words that history would never forget. Zuhair ibn Qayn, Husayn’s devoted follower, said, “By Allah, I would love that I be killed, then revived, then killed a thousand times in this manner if it keeps you with the young ones from your family.”

On the next day, Muharram 10, 61 AH (October 9, 680 AD), Hur along with a few of his soldiers somehow deserted the camp and joined Husayn. He begged for forgiveness, which Husayn readily accepted. For what he had done, he insisted on being the first one to face the enemy. When Husayn consented, he and his company fought bravely and killed many soldiers before they were killed.

Abu Wahab Abdullah ibn Umayr, a Christian who had just married, overheard Husayn speaking before the enemy forces. Wahab was touched, embraced Islam and joined Husayn. When he was killed, his bride begged to go and fight the enemy. When Husayn tried to discourage her, she replied, “Please do not ask me to go back! I prefer to die fighting rather than to fall captive in the hands of the Umayyad clan!”

When the soldiers threw Wahab’s head to his mother, she threw the head back and said what we have given for Allah, we do not take back. With that statement, she grabbed a weapon and killed at least two soldiers.

The companions begged Husayn to allow them to be the first to defend him. One by one, they fought bravely until death. Next, his brothers volunteered, fought and died. Abbas, Husayn’s half-brother, known for bravery, attempted to save the family from thirst. He broke through enemy lines and reached the Euphrates. On the way back, he was brutally wounded and killed. Today, his mausoleum is across from that of Husayn.

There were around 80 who died in defense of Husayn and his family on that day. Just like today’s pilgrims, Husayn’s companions came from varied persuasions. They all knew that Husayn was right, standing for justice and against oppression.

As the day wore on, the hostile Umayyad force was restless and impatient to kill Husayn. Husayn prayed before facing the enemy: “I will be patient with whatever you decree, my Lord. There is no deity but you. You are the helper of those who seek help. I have no Lord except you, and no one to worship except you. I am patient with your wisdom, O rescuer of the one who needs rescue. O you who are eternal and everlasting. O you who bring the dead back to life. O you who observe the action of every soul. Judge between me and them, for you are the best of judges.”

Before being attacked, Husayn looked at the enemy asking them why they were so determined to kill him. According to Shi’a tradition, they responded, “We will kill you out of hatred for your father.” Husayn fought bravely, sending many of his assailants to their deaths. Finally, he fell. Killing him did not satisfy the enemy’s thirst. They severed his head and ran their horses over his corpse.

After the ordeal, only one male, Husayn’s oldest son Ali, who was sick with fever, survived.

Thereafter, the forces ransacked Husayn’s tents, captured its inhabitants and took them as slaves to Yazid in Damascus.

The Umayyads’ fury against the family of the Prophet knew no limits. They started the tradition to celebrate the occasion by urging people to fast on that day. Today, many Sunnis follow suit. Across the world, Shi’as follow the traditions of mourning that day and feeding the poor and needy.

Despite exhibiting the utmost savagery, though, the Umayyads spared the sick, women and children. Today, military forces are more ferocious. They indiscriminately kill men, women and children without feeling any remorse.

This year, Muharram 10 fell on July 28. Millions of people from around the globe gathered in Karbala to commemorate Husayn’s death. On September 6, they will break their period of mourning in the peaceful festival of Arba’een.

Husayn’s words should be written in gold: “Anyone who keeps silent when others are being oppressed is himself considered to be guilty of oppression.” I am unable to locate the source of this popular quotation, but it certainly encapsulates the meaning of his famous Sermon of Mina in which he condemned the Umayyad tyranny and the lackeys who failed to oppose it. Husayn refused to be like them and submit, uttering the words which would become his epitaph: “Death with dignity is better than a life of abasement.” 


This article was originally published in Fair Observer on August 22, 2023.