The Evil Tree : Shimr b. Zil Jawshan

The murderers of Imam Hussain (a.s.) have been discussed in the earlier issues under the caption, ‘The Evil Tree’.  Among the Imam’s killers, Shimr, the accursed, stands out for his malevolence and notoriety.

Allah, the Glorified, states in the Holy Quran,

“…the example of an evil word is like that of an evil tree..”

(Ibrahim : 26)

i.e. neither its  roots  are  firm nor are its branches lofty. It is not firmly planted and can be uprooted easily.   Likewise Allah says,

“And the accursed tree is also a source of depravity among the people.”

 (Bani Israaeel : 60)

Both the verses mentioned above have been elucidated in the earlier issues. But it is pertinent to reiterate here that, under  these verses, both Shia and Sunni scholars have recorded  traditions that ‘accursed  and damned tree’ allude to the enemies of Ahle Bayt (a.s.). Among the antagonists  of  Ahle  Bayt (a.s.), some account for the roots of this tree while some constitute the branches and Some others make up  for the leaves.

Shimr, the son of Zil Jawshan, occupies a despicable position among the killers of Imam Hussain, for which lovers of Imam  (a.s.) single him out and curse profusely. Even the angels hold him in contempt and inflict unceasing abuses on him. So  damned  is  he  that  even  the  one  who has
sympathies with him is liable for this damnation.

“O Allah curse those who took up arms against Imam Husain! And curse those who were satisfied with his killers and curse those gave their fealty to them and those who subscribed them! O Allah curse them all!”

“O Allah curse Umar b Sa’ad and Shimr!”    

Shimr played a pivotal role in the massacre perpetrated  at  Karbala  in  general  and  Imam Hussain’s murder in particular.

In order to evaluate the gravity of his role, a derailed portrayal of Shimr’s life has been undertaken below


Shimr was named Sharhabeel at birth. His agnomen (kuniyah)   was Abu as-Saabegah. His father Zil Jawshan al-Ziyaabi was from the clan of  Bani  Kilaab.  His  name was mentioned among the affluent individuals  of  Hawaazan. Janabe Ummul Baneen, mother of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.), was from the same clan. This is why Shimr on the 9th of Muharram, approached Imam Hussain’s camp, offering amnesty to Hazrat Abbas and his brothers. But they shunned his overtures and chose to stay with Imam (a.s.) and embrace martyrdom. They had recognized their Imam and their duties vis-à-vis the Imam and everything else to them seemed a mere distraction that would distance them from this recognition.


Tabari records that Umar b. Sa’ad’s inclination was for peace with Imam (a.s.), and was  not favorably disposed towards a confrontation. When Ibne Ziyad  learnt of this disposition, he wrote
a letter to Shimr and commanded him to take it to Umar b. Sa’ad. He instructed him to ensure that Umar b. Sa’ad took the pledge of allegiance from Husain and his friends. If they acceded, then Shimr was to bring them to Ibne Ziyad, in a manner akin to slaves. However, if they did not, Shimr was to confront them. If Umar b. Sa’ad was also for confrontation then Shimr was to simply obey him. But, if the former desisted from waging a battle, then Shimr was to behead Umar b. Sa’ad, take charge of his army and wage a battle against Hussain. At the same time Ibne Ziyad also wrote a letter to Umar b. Sa’ad. He reprimanded him for trying to seek means of salvaging the situation and preventing a confrontation with Hussain .If Umar did not wish to submit then he was to surrender charge of the army in favour of Shimr who was given suitable instructions.


When Shimr received his letter, he along with Abdullah b.  Abi  Mahal,  approached Ubaydillah LA to plead exemption for the sons of his paternal  aunt,  Ummul  Baneen  binte Khuram.  She was wife of Ameerul  Mo’mineen,  Ali,  and had  four  sons  from him viz. Abbas,  Abdullah,  Ja’far  and
Usman. Ahdullah b. Abi Mahal explained  to  Ubaydillah  that Ummul Baneen’s  sons were in
Hussain’s  camp  and  beseeched Ubaydillah to write a letter of amnesty for them.  The latter
complied with this request and issued a letter. Abdullah b. Abi Mahal ordered his freed  slave,
Karman, to deliver the letter to his  nephews.  Karman  did  as ordered and handed over the letter to  Ummul Baneen’s sons. However, the latter did not even bother reading the message. They said that they would never accept any immunity from Ibne Ziyad as Allah’s promise of deliverance was more veracious than that of  Ibne Ziyad.


Tabari writes further, that on the eve of Ashoora, which happened  to be a Thursday,
Shimr approached Imam Hussain’s  camp. He demanded,

 Where are my nephews?

Hearing him, Abbas, Abdullah, Usman and Ja’far, stepped out of their tents. They asked him,

What do you want with us?’

Shimr replied,

I bring tidings of reprieve for all of you?

They retorted contemptuously,

Curse be upon you and your reprieve! You, our uncle, are willing to offer us immunity but deprive the Prophet’s son of it..

(Tarikh-e-Tabari part IV, page, 241-242, printed by Nafis Academy, Karachi)


Shimr’s low pedigree can be gauged from an incident that occurred on the day of Ashoora.
Imam Hussain’s tent was pitched on a low-lying land. Imam (a.s.) had amassed some reeds and
woods near his tent. The idea behind this was that in the event of a raid he could set alight the firewood and curtail the attack to only one direction.  On the day of Aashoora, Imam (a.s.) was forced     to resort to this move. When Shimr witnessed  this spectacle, he rushed past Imam’s tents. The tongues of flames leapt high in the air blocking the tents from his view. He cried out to Imam (a.s.) in his insolence,

‘O Hussain! You seem impatient to enter the fire and could not wait for Qiyamat.’ 

Imam (a.s.) inquired from his companion,

‘This seems like Shimr’

Imam’s companion affirmed.  Imam (a.s.) cried,

 ‘O son  of a herdsman!  It is you who shall be engulfed in the fire.’

(Tabari part IV, 250-251)

Umar b. Sa’ad had stationed Amr b. Hajjaj on his right and Shimr on his left.

When Zuhair h. Qain  (r.a.) exhorted Umar b. Sa’ad’s men to refrain from fighting against Imam Hussain (a.s.), Shimr shot an arrow at Zuhair. He castigated Zuhair thus,

 ‘May Allah strike you dumb! You talks have pestered us no end!

Zuhair retorted,

‘I am not addressing you! By Allah, I know that you will find it difficult to comprehend even a couple of verses from the Quran!  May the hereafter greet you with destruction and a painful chastisement!’


Shimr in the course of the battle at Karbala, attempted several forays on Imam Hussain’s tents with the intention of setting them ablaze. However, his henchmen chided him for his intention to raid helpless women and children. A person named Hameed remarked,

“The murder of men by you is sufficient to please your master.”

At that moment Zuhair assaulted Shimr with a group of ten soldiers. He forced Shimr to withdraw, but not before killing Ahu Farah Zababi, one of Shimr’s close companions.

 (Ibid, 265)


Shimr  along with  a  band  of ten Kufans advanced  towards  Imam’s  tents  which  were
inhabited by the Ahle Bayt (a.s.). They intercepted Imam (a.s.) and stood between him and the tents.
On seeing this, Imam (a.s.) said,

“Woe on you! You are devoid of any faith and if you don’t fear the hereafter, at least observe the basic human rights!”


When Shimr saw Imam (a.s.), he advanced towards him with his infantry. Among these were Abul Junoob Jo’fee, Qash’am b. Amr Jo’fee, Saleh b. Wahab Yazalee, Sinaan b, Anas Nakha’ee and
Khulee b. Yazeed Asbahee. Shimr tried to instigate them into murdering Imam (a.s.). He commanded
Abu Junoob to advance towards Imam (a.s.). The former rejoined.

‘Why don’t you (do it)?’ 

Stung with this reply, Shimr said,

‘You dare speak to me in this way!’

Abu Junoob shot back similarly,

‘You dare speak to me in this way!’

Shimr accused him of being slothful.  Abu Junoob  replied menacingly,

`I will tear your eyes with my dagger’.

This had the desired effect and Shimr left him alone. But he kept muttering under his breath about getting even with Abu Junoob.

 (Ibid 276)


Mukhtar Saqafee sent forth his slave Zarbi to track down Shimr. Muslim b. Abdullah Zababi, one of  Shimr’s  henchmen,  relates,

“Mukhtar’s slave,  Zarbi gave us a chase. We had left Kufa behind  us,  riding on  our skinny horses.  He continued in hot pursuit, not willing to relent. When he  closed in  on  us, Shimr cautioned, `Distance yourself from me, I think he is only after me.’ We hustled our horses. When Zarbi, the slave had reached within striking distance, he assaulted Shimr. Shimr, warded off the blow. But meanwhile, Zarbi had patted from his companions. Shimr saw his chance and struck him so hard that he broke his spine, killing him. Later, when Zarbi’s corpse was taken  to Mukhtar, he was aggrieved and said that he would never have permitted  Zarbi  to  combat  Shimr.  Anyhow, Shimr, after killing Zarbi, fled to  Saaneedma  where he took shelter in a village called Qultaneesa, located on a riverbank. He hid near a hillock. He chanced upon a farmer from the village.  He roughed him up and ordered him to pass on a letter to Mu’sab b.Zubair. That farmer took the letter and on his way had to traverse through a village. Incidentally Mukhtar had posted Abu Umrah in that village as a conduit between himself and the people of Basrah. A farmer from
that village met this farmer (sent by Shimr) and complained to the latter of Shimr’s excesses. One
of Abu Amarah’s men overheard this conversation and inquired about Shimr’s whereabouts from them. The farmer disclosed Shimr’s exact location, which was only some distance away. All
of them set forth in that direction. On reaching the shack where Shimr had taken shelter, they
encircled him and launched a concerted onslaught. Shimr was attired in only a cloak and nothing
else. He tried to retaliate with his lance but in vain. His opponents were in a merciless mood
and did not even spare him the chance to put on his clothes. Meanwhile, we were watching the
entire episode from a distance. When we saw Shimr in this condition we decided to  make
ourselves scarce and fled silently. We had only gone a little distance when we heard the triumphant cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’ rejoicing Shimr’s death.”

Abdur Rahman b. Abul Kunood recounts,

‘I was  the one who saw Shimr’s letter with the farmer and took him to Abu Umrah. And I was the one who finally killed Shimr.’


All Akbar Dehkhuda has chronicled in his ‘Na’at Namah’ that Shimr actually fought the battle of
Siffeen from Hazrat Ali’s side. He then settled down in Kufa. Eventually he participated in the carnage at Karbala and killed Imam Hussain (as.).

Indeed it is most ironical that one who fought the battle of Siffeen from Ameerul Mo’mineen’s army, a few years later slays his beloved son. However, it is not really astonishing. History is replete with such instances. Ibn Muljim is a case in  point.  He  was one of the  supporters of Ameerul Mo’mineen before he actually killed his own Imam. Therefore, one must never take the light of guidance for granted. On the contrary, one must allow for intense introspection to safeguard this light. God forbid, the generations to follow must not mention our names in the same breath as Shimr and Ibn Muljim.

Anyhow,  Mukhtar Saqafee  threw  Shimr’s corpse to the dogs after slaying him.

Most of Shimr’s children migrated towards the west and settled down in Andaloos (Spain). The one to achieve some prominence was his grandson, Samil b. Hatim b. Shimr b. Zil Jawshan.