Muslim bin Aqeel: The First Defender of Hussain (a.s)
When the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah comes by, we commemorate the occasion of the Day of Arafah where pilgrims from all over the world perform their Hajj rituals. However, many of us forget that the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah also marks a very important occasion; it is the martyrdom anniversary of the ambassador and cousin of Imam al-Husayn (as), Muslim ibn Aqeel, who was killed in Kufa by the orders of Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad (la).
In the first ten days of the month of Muharram, a night is usually dedicated in honor of Muslim ibn Aqeel. However, one night is not enough to understand the role or magnitude of this esteemed personality in the tragedy of Karbala. Muslim was the first martyr to fall defending Imam al-Husayn (as) in his mission and he was the emissary that the Imam (as) appointed to go the people of Kufa to respond to their letters of promised support.
Muslim ibn Aqeel (as) went forward to Kufa with full knowledge of the importance of his role in the Imam’s (as) mission to reform the nation of Prophet Muhammad (as); to awaken it from its drunken state by returning it once again to the standard of truth and justice. Destiny followed Muslim’s every step towards Kufa where one of the most luminous chapters of loyalty and sacrifice was to be written in history.
While in Kufa, Muslim was a guest at the house of Hani ibn Urwa, another true follower of Imam al-Husayn (as). In one of those strange moments of fate, the Umayyad governor Ubaidullah decided to visit Shareek, a companion who was staying at Hani’s and was bed-stricken with illness. Upon receiving knowledge of the governor’s intent to visit him, Shareek urged Muslim to seize the opportunity and kill Ibn Ziyad, and thus pave the way for the Imam’s (as) arrival in Kufa. Muslim ibn Aqeel at this moment displayed his integrity and principle by declining an offer that may seem otherwise enticing to an ordinary delegate. Through his actions, the trusted representative of the Imam (as) established the true basis for the uprising against Yazid (la) by setting extraordinary standards. Muslim recognized the saying of the holy Prophet (s), “The faith [Islam] has handcuffed assassination, a believer does not assassinate.” (Kitab Al-Kafi)
Muslim ibn Aqeel surely stands at the foremost of this chosen group of sincere companions. It is one thing when a group of companions together rise to defend their master and fight the enemy side by side, one companion encouraging the other, one believer inspired by the other, one devotee wiping the tears of the other and sharing their plight together. However, it is a much tougher position to stand in the struggle against falsehood alone, with no companion by his side. In Kufa, Muslim faced the enemy alone and represented Imam al-Husayn (as) without any supporter or companion (except Hani ibn Urwa), hence he also stands in the position of dying as ghareeb (estranged one).
After fighting courageously, Muslim succumbed to the onslaught by the numerous but coward forces of Kufans who attacked him from all sides, even hurling stones from the roof of the house. He could not even drink water due to the bleeding from injuries to his face which made his water impure. Following in line with the tragic traditions of Karbala, he was killed thirsty.
The sense of loyalty and sacrifice of Muslim ibn Aqeel was clearly manifested right before he was martyred, when he made his last request to Ibn Ziyad. Muslim with tears in his eyes said, “I want a message sent to Imam al-Husayn advising him not to come to Kufa.” (Kitab Al-Kafi) He was not thinking of himself or his impending doom. Imam al-Husayn (as) testified about the greatness and high status of his companions who defended him till their last breaths as he said, “I do not know companions more loyal and better than my companions, neither do I know a household more honorable and passionate than my household.” (Bihar al- Anwar).