WASHINGTON, November 21, 2015 — After a long and hectic day of preparation and packing, this was finally it. I said goodbye to my parents, wife, siblings and some dear friends.
This is not the first time I am traveling, nor will it be the longest time I am away from home. However, the farewells were a bit different. As excited as my family was for me to embark on this once in a lifetime journey, they could not hide their sense of worry. And I don’t blame them.
First, I am going to Iraq, a land we know to be unstable, insecure, and hostile. Second, my flight will transit though Paris and Beirut, both cities still healing from the vicious and inhumane terrorist attacks perpetrated by ISIS.
This is the same ISIS that sheds the blood of innocent Iraqis every day; the same ISIS that threatened to blast the pilgrims of Arbaean; the same ISIS that will be less than 100 kilometers away from the city of Karbala in one of their strongholds.
Now you can see why my friends and family are worried. I don’t blame them, although I tried to reassure them I am not alone on this journey. I will be one of more than 15 million visitors. Yes, 15,000,000. Men and women, young and old, healthy and ill.
I can’t help but think and wonder: Why are millions visiting every year? What is their intended mission? Is it just a religious pilgrimage, or is there more to it? Do the visitors not fear the threats of terrorists? Are they walking in defiance?
The questions are countless. I hope we can answer some of them by living the experience first hand. Walking, eating, and talking with the pilgrims. To say I am excited is an understatement. But in the midst of all of this excitement, I can’t forget to update the fellows back home and assure them I am safe.
I gave them a heads up that phone service and Wi-Fi are generally poor in Iraq. However good the Wi-Fi service is, the networks will be busy and perhaps overwhelmed by millions of people trying to get online and to phone home.
But I guess we’ll do our best.