A Journey through Maqtal-e-Abi Mikhnaf

The cultural and social revolution of Islam was born in Mecca and lossomed in Medina . As it progressed from adolescence to youth, selfish forces began to prey on Islam and perceived it as a medium to achieve their material and social motives. The sole objective of these destructive groups was to latch to the growing popularity of Islam to seize power and further their individual motives.

The effect of these self-centered forces was seen within a period of half a century of the demise of the Holy Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.a.). A web of fabricated traditions was carefully laid. Thousands of so called “traditionalists” busied themselves in creating and manufacturing sham traditions and narrations. The market for such phony traditions, encouraged by despotic governments, was hot. The young voice of Islam was in danger of being drowned by the sound of money which was fuelling these fabricated traditions. However, even in such a hostile environment, there remained a few individuals in whose hearts the true spirit of Islam continued to remain alive. While the repressive government in Shaam ( Syria ), headed by the despotic Moawiyah was on an upswing, the one in Kufa, led by Hazrat Ali (a.s.) remained the sole protective shield of Islam.

These were truly testing times for the young religion of Islam. The death of Moawiyah in Shaam paved the way for his depraved son Yazid to ascend the caliphate. The Ahle Bayt (a.s.), after the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (a.s.), shifted their base from Kufa to Medina . It would not be wrong to assert that for Islam and its adherents, this era was one of extreme imprisonment and severe captivity – an unfriendly era where the threat of the sword loomed large over the necks of the true believers.

 The book on the martyrdom of Imam Husain (a.s.) and the subsequent uprising of Hazrat Mukhtar-e-Thaqafi (r.a.) (terminologically referred to as ‘Maqtal’) authored by “Abu Mikhnaf” is a reliable and factual mirror of the events of history. The book, famous by the name “Maqtal-e-Abi Mikhnaf” is considered as a trustworthy account by all. To steer a boat of truth through a sea of deceit characterized by violent and tumultuous waves systematically generated by the Machiavellian politicians in power is no mean task. More creditable is the task of ensuring that the boat is guided safely to the shore in a fashion that it inspires future generations and becomes a beacon of guidance for those seeking the right path. Abu Mikhnaf has managed to achieve all this and more. The book, “Maqtal-e-Abi Mikhnaf” lies open before me and as I turn its pages, I am mesmerized by the life and times of its author. I therefore consider it appropriate that I enlighten my readers about Abu Mikhnaf before proceeding to his narration.  

The name of Abu Mikhnaf was Lut. He was son of Yahya bin Saeed bin Mikhnaf bin Saleem bin Thalbah bin Ad-daul bin Saad bin Manaat bin Aaed
Gamaedi. He became famous by the agnomen of Abu Mikhnaf. There is no doubt that he was a Shiah – Allamah Maamqaani (r.a.) in his compilation Tanqeeh al-Maqaal, Allamah Sayyed Sadiq’e Aal Bahrul Uloom (r.a.) and Shaykh Abbas Qummi (r.a.) in his Rauzaat al-Jannaat have mentioned and thrown light upon this aspect. Najaashi, Jamoudi, Tabarsi and others have, in their books of Rejaal (genealogy), mentioned that Abu Mikhnaf was a companion of Imam Hasan (a.s.), Imam Husain (a.s.), Imam Sajjad (a.s.), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Sadiq (a.s.). The elders of his family were companions of Imam Ali (a.s.). His respected father was Mikhnaf bin Saleem who lived in Iran and Iraq during the period of caliphate of Hazrat Ali (a.s.). Abu Mikhnaf enjoys a unique distinction among historians to the extent that Tabari and Ibne Katheer have reported narrations from him in their books without any alterations. He was the leading authority among historians in the Iraqi city of Kufa. His views were sought for clarifications in history and his opinions considered trustworthy in this regard.  

Abu Mikhnaf has opened several doors to Shiah history. It is estimated that he has authored close to thirty books on the subject. The atrocities rendered upon Hazrat Zahra (s.a.) after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), the wars fought during the rein of Hazrat Ali (a.s.), the crimes of Ibne Ziyaad and Hajjaaj bin Yusuf, the unlawful confinements and arrests of the Shiahs of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) – to summarize, all those difficult circumstances confronted by Ahle Bait (a.s.) and Bani Hashim are clearly outlined in his writings. His meticulous compilation of such events would have undoubtedly been arduous. Nevertheless, they have opened up the doors of recognition for those blessed with intellect – those who question their conscience and seek certainty for the Hereafter. They are those who ponder over history and are blessed with guidance for their efforts.  

“Maqtal-e-Abi Mikhnaf” was authored no less than 1,300 years ago. This first-ever chronology of the events of Karbala remains fresh till date. Time has not diminished its effect and its appeal remains unaffected by the passage of history. Its fragrance continues to captivate the intellects of mankind. Its text has been translated into several languages, prominent among these being Urdu and English. Karbala is the name of that ocean of grief, the force of which has not diminished over time, will never diminish in future and will continue to quench the thirst of humanity forever.

 The Preface of the Struggle between Good and Evil – the Peace Treaty of Imam Hasan (a.s.)

The effect of the truce between Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Moawiyah was more pronounced in Kufa. The elders of the city were shocked by the decision. Abu Mikhnaf narrates from Abul Manzar Hashem Muhammad bin Siayeb, who reports that Abdur Rahman Jandab narrated from his father that Sulaiman bin Sardokhzai, Mosayyeb Bin Bakheer and Saeed bin Abdullah Hanafi presented themselves before Imam Hasan (a.s.) and expressed their displeasure and unhappiness over the turn of events. After they took his leave, they paid a visit to Imam Husain (a.s.) who remarked, “This (the peace treaty) was such that I felt that my body was torn to shreds by a knife and its pieces were being cut into small parts by an axe. However, I preferred to pursue the obedience of my brother who is the Imam for the Age over opposition over my own desires and inclinations.”

 The sentences of Imam Husain (a.s.) outline the entire philosophy of Imamate. The responsibilities of Imamate are such that some of the decisions make their effect known only in the future. After the martyrdom of Imam Hasan (a.s.), his brother Imam Husain (a.s.) bore the political machinations of Moawiyah with resolve till such time that Moawiyah passed away and was succeeded by his son Yazeed. Subsequently, the same Imam (a.s.) declined to pay allegiance to Yazeed and preferred to leave Medina rather than see the bloodshed of innocent Muslims.

The Journey of Imam Husain (a.s.) towards Mecca

Amongst the first decrees passed by Yazeed after ascending to the caliphate was to governor of Medina  Waleed Bin Utbah wherein he ordered that he seek allegiance from  Abdullah Ibne Umar, Abdur Rahman Bin Abi Bakr, Abdullah Ibne Zubayr and Imam Husain Ibne Ali (a.s.). If any of them were to decline allegiance, then Waleed was ordered to behead him and send his severed head to Yazeed as a souvenir. Waleed made preparations for complying with the orders. History has recorded that Imam Husain (a.s.) refused to pay allegiance and preferred to leave Medina . Consequently, he left Medina along with his family members on the road frequented by travelers and covered well known cities. When he was questioned about his decision to choose the much-frequented road over one which would take him out of Medina secretly, he replied,

“When man finds no helper to protect his respect, family and his children, he becomes feeble and vulnerable. If Yazeed seeks something (my death) from me, he will find me a willing swimmer in the oceans of death in the East and the West. We will strike such a deadly and fatal blow with our swords that even a lion who confronts us will not be able to stand his ground.”

 Imam Husain (a.s.) continued on his chosen path till such time that he reached his destination.

 The journey through “Maqtal-e-Abi Mikhnaf” expands the horizons of knowledge and understanding; opens the doors to intelligence and discernment and furthers the boundaries of one’s insight and comprehension. The mission and purpose of Imam Husain (a.s.), which hitherto was in veiled signs and signals now becomes illuminated in our hearts; his objective clearly outlined for our understanding. On the one hand, we have the letter of the accursed Yazeed ordering the beheading of any person (clearly mentioned in the letter) who declines allegiance and on the other hand we have Imam Husain (a.s.) preferring to migrate from Medina and move towards Mecca along the path frequented by travelers through prominent cities. This bold step of Imam Husain (a.s.) is a shining example of his courage and bravery, which will remain unmatched till the day of Judgment. The reason for this is clear – it was not that Waleed bin Utbah and Marwan were mute spectators or that the armed forces were weak. On the contrary, the army was well equipped to carry out the orders of Yazeed; however none dared to confront the caravan of Imam Husain (a.s.).

 Abdullah Ibne Maleeh recommended that Imam Husain (a.s.) should stay back in Mecca . He apprised the Imam (a.s.) about the situation in Kufa and followed his counsel with a warning that these were the same people (of Kufa) who not too long ago had killed his respected father. Subsequently, the Holy Imam (a.s.) settled in Mecca where he was swamped with invitation letters from the people of Kufa. In response to these letters, Imam Husain (a.s.) dispatched his cousin, Muslim Ibn Aqeel (r.a.), to Kufa as his representative. Muslim reached Kufa and spent the night at the house of Sulayman bin Sardukhzaayi or Mukhtar bin Abi Abdullah Thaqafi (r.a.). The very next day, an announcement was made to the people of Kufa seeking their allegiance to Imam Husain (a.s.) through his representative Muslim Ibne Aqeel (r.a.). At that time, the governor of Kufa, No’man bin Basheer made a public announcement, “I will not attack the one who does not attack me.” Abdullah ibne Shobah Hazarmi wrote to Yazeed suggesting the weak leadership of No’man and urged him to replace him with a ruthless governor who would control the impending rebellion. He minced no words in his letter indicating that if this was not done, then Kufa would no longer remain under his control. Further to this letter, Yazeed dismissed No’man and wrote to Ibne Ziyad, who was the governor of Basrah to take up the responsibility for both Kufa and Basrah.

 During this period, a letter from Imam Husain (a.s.) to Manzar Ibne Jaarood, whose daughter was in love with Ibne Ziyad. Manzar handed over
the messenger of Imam Husain (a.s.) to Ibne Ziyad who immediately ordered his death. This messenger was probably the first in the battle of Karbala , who was killed for no fault of his.

 It was towards dusk when Ibne Ziyad entered Kufa. Since his face was veiled, the people mistook Ibne Ziyad for the holy personality of Imam Husain (a.s.). Consequently, the residents of Kufa stepped out of their houses to offer the son of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) a rousing welcome. However, they were visibly disappointed to learn that the veiled visitor was Ibne Ziyad and not Imam Husain (a.s.). History goes on to narrate that the people of Kufa, save a few, intimidated by the threats of Ibne Ziyad, deserted Hazrat Muslim (r.a.). Consequently, Hazrat Muslim (r.a.) and Hani bin Urwah (r.a.) were martyred in Kufa and their bodies dragged through its streets. Members of the tribe of Mazhaj waged a war against the administration to secure the bodies of the martyrs and finally buried them.