Muslim b. Aqil b. Abi Talib

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Muslim b. Aqil b. Abi Talib
Shrine of Muslim b. Aqil.jpg
The Tomb of Muslim b. Aqil next to the Mosque of Kufa
Native name
مسلم بن عقیل بن ابی طالب
Medina, Hejaz (now in Saudi Arabia)
Cause of deathMartyred by Ibn Ziad
Resting placeThe Tomb of Muslim b. Aqil next to the Mosque of Kufa
ResidenceMedina, Hejaz (now in Saudi Arabia)
NationalityHejaz- Hejazi Arab
Opponent(s)Yazid I
Parent(s)Aqil b. Abi Talib
RelativesMuhammad b. Abd Allah (grandfather), Ali b. Abi Talib (paternal uncle), Hussain b. Ali (paternal cousin), Hasan b. Ali (paternal cousin)

Muslim b. Aqil b. Abi Talib (d. 60/680) was a leading supporter of Imam Hussain. He was sent to Kufa as a representative of Imam Hussain in order to measure the extent of Kufan support for the Prophet’s grandson. The aim was to make sure that people of Kufa are truthful in their invitation of the Imam. In a report to the Imam, he confirmed that Kufans were prepared for the Imam's arrival.

Fearful of increasing Kufan supports of Imam Hussain, Yazid appointed Obayd-Allah Ibn Ziad as the new governor of Kufa to frighten people and force them to leave Muslim. Finally, Muslim was arrested and executed in the day of ‘Arafa. The story of Muslim being left alone and his martyrdom in Kufa is a recurring theme of Rawza recited by the Shi'as.

Birth and Life Events[edit | edit source]

There are unusually large discrepancies in the sources as regards his date of birth: the difference between the extreme figures is more than 30 years. According to one report, he fought in Safar 37/July 657 in the right wing (maymana) of Ali’s army at the battle of Siffin, together with his cousins Hasan, Hussain and Abd Allah b. Jaʿfar.[1] The report implies that Muslim was born no later than the early 20s/640s. An even earlier date is suggested by an account that during Omar’s reign Muslim, took part in the conquest of al-Bahnasa [q.v.][2], in the course of which two of his brothers, Jaʿfar and Ali, were killed.[3] He is said to have been appointed as the first Muslim governor of the town, and to have retained this position until Othman’s caliphate, when he returned to Medina, leaving his brothers and sons behind.[4] Other accounts, in contrast, point to a date of birth in the late 30s/650s: according to these accounts, Muslim’s mother, an umm walad of Nabataean origin[5] whose name is variously given as Ulayya, Khalila and Hilya, was bought by Aqil in Syria, with the help of Muʿawiya. This purchase probably took place after Ali’s assumption of the caliphate (in Dhu ’l-Hijja 35/June 656), which is the time usually given as the beginning of Aqil’s friendship with the Umayyad ruler.

Departure to Kufa[edit | edit source]

Muslim came into prominence, when he was sent to Kufa as Imam Hussain’s personal representative. His task was to measure the extent of Kufan support for the Prophet’s grandson. He set off from Mecca on 15 Ramaḍan 60/19 June 680 in the company of a number of Kufans who had come to al-Hussain with messages of support. His first destination was Medina, where he took leave of his family and hired the services of two Qaysis to guide him on his way. The guides lost their way in the desert and were too weakened by thirst to be able to proceed; they just managed to show Muslim the right direction before they both (or one of them) died. Muslim saw in this a bad omen, and wrote to al-Hussain from al-Madiq asking to be relieved of his mission. Al-Hussain did not approve of this request and ordered him to continue.

In Kufa[edit | edit source]

On 5 Shawwal 60/9 July 680 Muslim reached Kufa. According to most sources, he went first to the house of al-Mukhtar b. Abi Ubayd al-Thaqafi [q.v.], later known as Dar Salim (or Salm or Muslim) b. al-Musayyab.[6] Other accounts[7] maintain that Muslim proceeded first to the house of Muslim b. Awsaja al-Asadi.

The Kufan’s Pledge of Allegiance[edit | edit source]

In his place of hiding, he received the oath of allegiance on behalf of al-Hussain; the number of men who gave the oath is put at between 12,000 and over 30,000. Muslim, encouraged by this response, sent a letter to al-Hussain urging him to come. The governor of Kufa, al-Nuʿman b. Bashir [q.v.], was told of Muslim’s arrival but he refused to attack him. Some supporters (or spies) of Yazid, regarding this as a dangerous sign of weakness, wrote to the caliph urging him to send a strong man to deal with the situation. Yazid thereupon had al-Nuʿman replaced by Obayd-Allah Ibn Ziad [q.v.], who was the governor of Basra at the time, and ordered him to have Muslim killed or banished.

Obayd Allah b. Ziad as the New Governor of Kufa[edit | edit source]

When Muslim heard of Obayd Allah’s arrival, he left the house in which he was staying and, under cover of darkness, went to the home of Haniʾ b. Urwa al-Muradi [q.v.] Haniʾ, aware that Muslim was a wanted man, was at first reluctant to admit him yet subsequently treated him with all due hospitality. During his stay there, Muslim missed an opportunity to kill Obayd Allah. According to one version, Haniʾ was behind the plot; he feigned sickness, knowing that Obayd Allah would come to visit him, thus providing Muslim with a chance to strike. But at the crucial moment Muslim’s nerves failed him, and Obayd Allah left unscathed.[8] A second version, more complimentary to Muslim, attributes the plot to Sharik b. al-Aʿwar al-Harithi, an ardent supporter of Ali who none the less enjoyed Obayd Allah’s confidence and had arrived with him from Basra. Sharik, who had been taken ill, also stayed at Haniʾ’s home, and his plan similarly called for Muslim to kill Obayd Allah when the governor came to pay him a sick call. Ubayd Allah came, but Muslim remained in the closet in which he was hiding. The reasons given by Muslim for his inaction are said to have been opposition by Haniʾ (or by one of his wives), as well as a Prophetic tradition forbidding the slaying without prior warning of someone who has been given an assurance of safety.[9] Sharik, who had hoped to deliver Basra to Muslim, died of his illness three days later.

Searching for Muslim[edit | edit source]

Meanwhile, Obayd Allah was making strenuous efforts to discover Muslim’s hideout. He dispatched a mawla of his (called Maʿqil in some sources) with orders to ingratiate himself with al-Hussain’s followers by swearing allegiance to al-Hussain and by donating 3,000 dirhams for the cause. The mawla succeeded in infiltrating the inner circle of followers, finally gaining access to Muslim himself. When he found out where Muslim was staying, Obayd Allah summoned Haniʾ, forced him to admit that he was harboring Muslim, and beat him on the face with an iron-tipped cane. One version has it that Haniʾ died on the spot from these blows. According to more widespread reports, he was badly wounded and then incarcerated in Obayd Allah’s fortress; Haniʾ’s clansmen thought that he had been killed, and the qadi Shurayh was sent to allay their fears.

Muslim’s Uprising[edit | edit source]

When news of Haniʾ’s arrest reached Muslim, he decided to tarry no longer and to revolt openly. The uprising is dated to 2, 7, 8 or 9 Dhu ’l-Hijja 60/3, 8, 9 or 10 Sept. 680. Muslim is said to have initially disposed of 4,000 men (other numbers are also given); he arranged them in military formation and, placing himself at their head, marched on the governor’s fortress, where Obayd Allah had locked himself with a small band of sympathizers. Although Obayd Allah’s situation seemed desperate, he managed, by a combination of threats and blandishments, to induce many tribal leaders to abandon Muslim.

Muslim at the House of Tawʿa[edit | edit source]

By nightfall Muslim was left with only 30 men, and these too soon disappeared. He wandered despondently in the alleys of Kufa, until he finally found refuge with a woman from Kinda called Tawʿa, whose son Bilal was a mawla of Muhammad b. al-Ashʿath [q.v.]. When Bilal discovered the identity of his mother’s guest, he waited until morning and then notified Ibn al-Ashʿath, who informed Ubayd Allah. Another version has it that the person whom Bilal informed (and who passed on the information) was Ibn al-Ashʿath’s son Abd al-Rahman.[10]

Muslim’s Arrest and Martyrdom[edit | edit source]

Obayd Allah sent Ibn al-Ashʿath (or his son Abd al-Rahman) at the head of 60 (or 70) men to Tawʿa’s house. Muslim, realizing that he was surrounded, came out with his sword in hand and, true to his reputation as a fierce warrior, chased off his attackers, inflicting serious losses on them.[11] His attackers responded by pelting him from the roof-top of Tawʿa’s house with stones and burning missiles. At this point Ibn al-Ashʿath gave him a guarantee of safety (aman) and Muslim, wounded and exhausted, gave himself up. Another version has it that Muslim did not trust Ibn al-Ashʿath’s aman and continued fighting until he was finally overcome. According to some accounts, Ibn al-Ashʿath was sincere in his offer but was overruled by Ubayd Allah. Other reports maintain that Ibn al-Ashʿath acted in concert with the governor, and never meant to honor his pledge.

Muslim was brought before Obayd Allah, and the two had a heated exchange. Muslim then received permission to give his final instructions (wasiyya). In most accounts he is said to have chosen for this purpose Omar Ibn Saʿd as the only member of his tribe (Quraysh) present. Muslim asked him to send a messenger to al-Hussain to inform him of the treachery of the Kufans and to urge him not to come; he also asked him to pay a debt of his and take his corpse for burial to prevent its being mutilated. In other reports, Muslim is depicted as receiving a promise from Ibn al-Ashʿath (rather than Omar) to inform al-Hussain. Obayd Allah entrusted Muslim’s execution to Bakr b. Humran al-Ahmari, whom Muslim had wounded before being taken prisoner. Bakr led Muslim to the top of the fortress, decapitated him in sight of the populace, and threw down first the head and then the rest of the body. Haniʾ was also executed, and the two bodies were dragged through the market-streets of Kufa. Muslim is said to have been posthumously crucified, and his head was sent to Yazid in Damascus and hoisted on a pole; he was the first Hashimite to be treated in this fashion.[12] An elegy on the fate of Muslim and Haniʾ which is cited in the sources is variously attributed to al-Farazdaq, to Abd Allah b. al-Zabir al-Asadi and to Sulayman (or Sulaym) b. Salam al-Hanafi. Muslim’s death, which followed his uprising by one day, is said to have coincided with al- Hussain’s departure for ʿIraq.

Muslim Under Arrest [edit | edit source]

Muhammad bin Ash’as took him to the palace of ʿUbayd Allah bin Ziyad. Muhammad entered therein alone and told him that he had arrested Muslim but had given him the promise of protection too. ʿUbayd Allah replied,

“You do not have the right to do so, rather I had sent you to bring him to me.”

Hearing this Muhammad became silent. When Muslim was seated at the gate of the palace, he saw a jug filled with cold water and asked for some. Muslim bin ‘Amr Bahili said,

“Do you see how cold this water is? By Allah! You will not get even a single drop from this until (Allah’s refuge) you drink the boiling water (Hameem) in hell.”

Muslim asked him as to who he was, to which he replied that,

“I am the one who has recognized the truth while you have abandoned it, I am the one who is a well-wisher of the nation and the Imam while you have desired evil for him, and am obedient to him whereas you have disobeyed him. I am Muslim bin ‘Amr Bahili.”

Muslim replied,

“May your mother weep over you! How cruel, unsympathetic and a harsh are you. O son of Bahila! Verily you are more worthy than me to taste the boiling water (Hameem) and abide eternally in hell.”

Then Ammarah bin Atbah called for water to give it to him.

In Irshad and Kamil of Ibn Aseer it is narrated, that ‘Amr bin Hurays sent his retainer to fetch water. The retainer returned with a jar of water along with a napkin and a cup, and gave the water to Muslim to drink. (Kamil) When Muslim took the cup to drink water, it became full with his blood thus he could not partake it. Thrice the cup was filled with water, and when water was filled for the third time, his front teeth fell in it. Muslim said,

“Praise be to Allah! If this water would had been destined for me, I could have drunk it.”

Muslim was then taken to the presence of ʿUbayd Allah bin Ziyad and he did not greet him. A guard told him, “Why do you not greet the commander”?

Muslim replied,

“Why should I greet him when he desires to kill me, and if he does not desire my death, then I have abundant greetings for him.”

ʿUbayd Allah said, “By my life! You shall surely die.” Muslim said, “So be it”? To which ʿUbayd Allah answered in the affirmative. Then Muslim said, “If this is the case then give me respite so that I may will to someone among my kinsmen”, to which ʿUbayd Allah agreed. Muslim turned towards Umar bin Sa’ad and said, “There exists kinship between us, I desire that I may relate to you something in confidence.” Umar refused to yield, to which ʿUbayd Allah said, “Do not refuse to fulfill the desire of your cousin”. Hearing this Umar stood up (Irshad) and sat with Muslim at a place where ʿUbayd Allah could see them. (Kamil)

Muslim said,

“I have become indebted in Kufa for a sum of seven hundred dirhams, so please pay it off by selling the property of mine which is in Madina.” (Kamil) “And take my corpse after my death from ʿUbayd Allah and bury it. Besides send someone to Imam Hussain (a.s.) who would return him.”

Umar went to ʿUbayd Allah and revealed whatever Muslim had told him. ʿUbayd Allah said,

“A trustworthy man does not commit treachery, but sometimes a traitor fulfils a trust. As regards his (Muslim’s) wealth, do whatever you desire to do with it. And as for Hussain, if he does intend towards us, we will not intend towards him. But if he challenges us, we shall not refrain ourselves from (harming) him. Regarding his corpse, we shall certainly not accept your intervention in that matter.”

While others quote him saying that,

“As regards his corpse, after we have killed him it is not our concern, you may do what you desire with it.”

Then he turned towards Muslim and said,

“O son of Aqeel! The people were unified and in accordance with one another, but you came and divided them and created discord.”

Muslim replied,

“It is not so, but the people of this town are of the opinion that your father (Ziyad) killed many of their virtuous men. He shed their blood and followed the footsteps of the Choesroes (the rulers of ancient Persia) and Caesers (the rulers of ancient Rome). We have come to enjoin justice and invite towards the Holy Book and Traditions (of the Prophet).”

ʿUbayd Allah said,

“O transgressor! What relation you hold with these? And why did you not do that among the people, while you were busy drinking wine (Allah’s refuge) in Madina”?

Muslim replied,

“Did I drink wine? By Allah! He knows that you are not speaking the truth, nor am I similar to what you have ascribed to me. While drinking wine is a practice of those (referring to ʿUbayd Allah and his father Ziyad) who in rage and enmity spill the blood of the Muslims, and who rejoices and delights as if he has never ever committed any indecency (referred to Yazid).”

ʿUbayd Allah was infuriated and said,

“May Allah kill me if I do not kill you in a manner as no one else has ever been killed in Islam.”

Muslim replied,

“It is befitting you that you introduce such innovations in Islam which have never taken place. You are an evil murderer, wicked chastiser, ill natured, and a degraded person than all those who preceded you.”

Then ʿUbayd Allah started abusing him, Imam Hussain, Imam Ali and Hazrat Aqeel while Muslim did not speak to him.

Historical Sources Narrating Muslim’s Martyrdom[edit | edit source]

Mas’oodi says that when their speech concluded and Muslim spoke harshly to ʿUbayd Allah, he ordered that Muslim should be taken to the roof of the palace and it was said to Bukayr bin Humran Ahmari to behead him and take his revenge.

Jazari says that Muslim told Muhammad bin Ash’as,

“By Allah! I would never have surrendered if you had not given me the promise of protec­tion. Then defend me with your sword for your promise has been broken.”

Then they took him on top of the palace when he was asking forgiveness from Allah and praising and glorifying Him. Then they took him to the place overlooking the shoe-makers and severed his blessed head which fell down.

(May Allah’s Mercy and Blessings be upon him). His murderer was Bukayr bin Humran, whom Muslim had previously wounded. Then his body too was thrown down. When Bukayr came down, ʿUbayd Allah asked him, “What was Muslim utter­ing when you took him to the roof”?.

He replied that,

“Muslim was glorifying Allah and seeking His forgiveness.”

When I intended to kill him, I told him to come near and then I said:

“Praise be to Allah who has given me an upper hand over you and thus I have taken the revenge from you.”

Then I struck a blow, which went waste. Then Muslim said:

“O slave! Haven’t you taken your revenge by inflicting this wound upon me”?

ʿUbayd Allah said,

“Such dignity even at the verge of death”?

Bukayr said,

“Then I struck him a second blow and killed him.”

Tabari says that Muslim was taken on the roof of the palace and his neck was severed and body thrown down to the people. An order was issued that his corpse be taken to that place where garbage is thrown and to be hanged there.

Imam Hussain departs for Kufa[edit | edit source]

Al-Hussain was at Zubala (or Thaʿlabiyya, or Zarud, or Sharaf) when he received news of the tragedy. Shi’i authors maintain that al-Hussain gave his entourage the option of withdrawing and that members of Muslim’s family were among those who chose to stay with him to the end. The lists of those killed at Karbala do indeed include Muslim’s brothers Abd Allah, Abd al-Rahman and Jaʿfar; some say that in all five brothers died on the battlefield.[13] Abd Allah, a son of Muslim from his marriage to Ali’s daughter Ruqayya, was also reportedly killed in the battle; some sources refer to two sons who perished there.[14] Two other sons (sometimes identified as Muhammad and Ibrahim) are said to have escaped from Obayd Allah’s camp a year after Karbala only to be brutally murdered by a Kufan who expected to be rewarded by Obayd Allah (but who was beheaded instead).[15] Their story, like that of their father, is re-enacted in the annual taʿziya plays.[16] In some versions of these plays, the two sons are said to have been decapitated at the same time as their father[17]; and the text accompanying several pictorial renderings of this event identifies their executioner as al- Harith b. Badr.[18]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Although Muslim did not die at Karbala, he is counted among its martyrs[19], and is even referred to as the first shahid.[20] The Shiʿis recommend visiting his grave in Kufa, and the text is preserved of a number of prayers to be recited there.[21]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Ibn Aʿtham al-Kufi, K. al-Futuh, Haydarabad 1388-95/1968-75, iii, 32; Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib, ii, 352.
  2. Ps.-Waqidi, Futuh al-Sham , Cairo 1354, ii, 136, 146, 153, 159, 160, 169, 181, 184, 185, 190.
  3. ibid., ii, 177.
  4. ibid., ii, 193.
  5. cf. Muhammad b. Habib, al-Munammaq , 505.
  6. cf. Muhsin al-Amin, Aʿyan al-Shiʿa , xxxiii, Beirut 1369/1950, 402.
  7. e.g. Muhammad al-Baqir, as reported in al-Tabari, ii, 228.
  8. Ibn ʿAbd Rabbihi, ʿIqd , iv, 378; al-Bayhaqi, Mahasin , 60.
  9. cf. Lane, Lexicon , s.v. f-t-k.
  10. This is one of several deeds for which ʿAbd al-Raḥman earned the title of “the most perfidious of the Arabs”; see Ibn Habib, al- Muhabbar , 244-6.
  11. One fanciful report has him kill 41 of them; cf. Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib, iii, 244.
  12. cf. al- Masʿudi, Muruj , § 1899.
  13. Ibn Maʿsum al-Shirazi, al-Darajat al-rafiʿa , Najaf 1382/1962, 165.
  14. e.g. al-Safadi, al-Wafi , xii, ed. Ramadan ʿAbd al-Tawwab, Wiesbaden 1399/1979, 426.
  15. Ibn Babawayh, Amali , Najaf 1389/1970, 73-9.
  16. Pelly, The Miracle play, i, 190-206.
  17. e.g. Metin And, The Muharram observances in Anatolian Turkey , in P.J. Chelkowski (ed.), Taʿziyeh : ritual and drama in Iran , New York 1979, 251.
  18. R. Milstein, Miniature painting, 101, 102, 104.
  19. cf. al-Tabari, ii, 387.
  20. al-Majlisi, Biḥar al-anwar , c, 428.
  21. ibid., 426-9.

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  • R. Milstein, Miniature painting in Ottoman Baghdad, Costa Mesa 1990, 25-7, 101-6.

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