The contagion of love and service: The tale of Rida and Murtada

The idea of service that flows from love is as important a part of the journey to Karbala as the destination.

Image: Jalal Moughania

NAJAF, Iraq, December 1, 2015  – On the road to Karbala on the outskirts of the old city of Najaf, there is a small “mawkib” run by a group of enthusiastic young men with amazing passion. They displayed a vigor and commitment that was truly inspirational.

For this traveler, it was nothing short of pleasant to see their youth reflected in the service they were providing.  From free Internet access and higher speed phone charging to helping with reading Quran and simplified educational literature, these young men were really on top of things.

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“Welcome to the Tent of the Hussaini Youth,” one of the young men said with his beaming smile while serving water to those entering the tent. We saw dozens of people come in and out of that small tented tech hub. The comfort they offered was wide. A place to rest.  Water to drink. The ability for walkers to reach out to their families to reassure them of their wellbeing. The chance to recharge their phones to continue taking pictures of their journey.

A place to reset aching feet following a long day of walking.

Leaving the small tent, there was the acting out of a well known modern parable of “passing it on”.  A visitor, Rida, stopped at a massage station to rest his feet. As he sat down, Murtada quickly came and took off Rida’s shoes. At first Rida simply said that he just wanted to sit down and rest for a bit. The volunteer, Murtada, insisted on giving him a massage. Rida smiled and conceded.

It was so humbling to see Murtada so readily take off Rida’s shoes, asking him where he was feeling pain in his feet and massaging with the sole intention to bring Rida comfort, and helping him on his journey to Karbala.

What was even more humbling was to see what Rida would do next.

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After a few minutes Rida got up, kissed Murtada on the forehead and joined him in the service. Rida went to the ground and began taking off the shoes of other visitors to massage their legs and feet. He would go on like this for almost an hour.

Before getting back on the road, he and Murtada embraced again and they both kissed each other on the forehead – a sign of endearment and respect.

It was in that moment that I saw yet another pure illustration of what so many claimed as their driving purpose, “The love of Hussain.”

At first, Rida and Murtada were strangers. After meeting on the road to Karbala they became brothers, bound by that driving purpose… bound by that love.

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