The ambitious tree-planting mission was the brainchild by 85-year-old retired Pakistani businessman Mohammedi Durbar from Karachi. The octogenarian seeks to plant around 50,000 trees between the two Iraqi cities, that will provide much-needed shade to Shia Muslim pilgrims traveling on foot between the two holy sites.
Najaf and Kerbala receive millions of pilgrims every year, who seek to partake in the ritual of Arbaeen, which marks the 40-day mourning period for Husayn ibn Ali, martyred grandson of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
The tree-planting idea struck Durbar last year, when his grandson and daughter-in-law returned from the pilgrimage, sharing pictures of barren landscapes and sporting heavy tans.
“I immediately realized there was no shade,” Durbar said.
The man then traveled to Iraq, scouting the location himself and getting permission from local authorities for his project. He also planted a few trees in Najaf to see if they could grow there – and the plants appeared to thrive.
The first truckload of saplings –9,800 specimen of eight tree types– set off for Iraq on Friday. The trees will be kept in a nursery in Baghdad during the winter and the planting program will begin in March.
Durbar estimates planting all the trees will take him and his helpers around three years, while the whole project is expected to cost him around $160,000. While the man fears he might not live to see the pilgrims walking in the shade of his trees, he believes he has found his calling in life.
“I thank God, at this age, he has put me on the right path,” Durbar said. “Partnership with nature is good.”