The Betrayal in Kufa
An excerpt from Tears and Tributes by Zakir
Pin-drop silence prevailed in the mosque at Kufa where a large con- gregation had gathered to offer evening prayers. Outside the mosque the town-crier was reading out the proclamation. Every one of the congregation was straining his ears to listen to every word with rapt attention.
At the top of his voice the town-crier was shouting: "Be it known to the people of Kufa that Obeidullah, son of Ziad, has assumed the governor- ship of Kufa under the orders of the Khalif. He has noted with perturbation that the people of Kufa have extended their welcome to Muslim, son of Aqil, who has come from Medina as an emissary of Husain, son of Ali, who has declined to owe allegiance to the Khalif. It is hereby proclaimed for the information of all the citizens of Kufa that any person found associating with Muslim, son of Aqil, will be considered a rebel against the Khalif and, by way of punishment, he will be hanged, drawn and quartered, his entire family will be put to the sword and his property confiscated. In case of those who have hitherto extended their welcome to him, if they now repent and desist from doing so, amnesty will be given."
With bated breath every one listened to the proclamation. It was this same Muslim, son of Aqil, who was to lead the prayers that evening, and as the proclamation ended he arose to fulfil his duty. A few exchanged enquiring glances with their friends. Some others whispered some words to their neighbours. At this moment the call for prayers was given and Muslim silently rose to lead the congregational prayers.
When Muslim completed the prayers and turned back, he found the mosque empty, except for one person only Hanee Ibne Orwah at whose house Muslim was staying as a guest. The two looked at each other. No words were needed to tell Muslim why the penple of Kufa had deserted him. The people of Kufa, who had so persistently asked Husain to come over to them and take up the responsibilities of their spiritual amelioration had, on hearing the proclamation, got scared out of their wits. These were the people who had in the past betrayed Muslim's uncle Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, and shown cowardice in times of trouble and tribulations. These were the people who had deserted Muslim's cousin, Hasan, son of Ali, in his hour of need.
Muslim stood for a while motionless. His face was full of anguish. He was not dismayed at tha fate that awaited him, because a fighting death was the heritage of his family. He was only disconsolate at the thought that he had reposed confidence in these people's sincerity and written to his cousin, Husain, to come over to Kufa as their moral, mental and spiritual preceptor, to save them from sinking into the depths of moral degradation. How he wished he had not been hasty about judging these peoplel
A moment's reflection was sufficient to make up his mind. At least there was one man with him who could be relied upon. If he could only send a message to Husain through Hanee Ibne Orwah about the treachery of the people of Kufa!
With these thoughts Muslim turned towards Hanee. Before he could give expression to his thoughts, Hanee Ibne Onwah anticipated his words. In low whispers he said: "Muslim, my respected guest, I know what is uppermost in your mind. If God enable me to leave this cursed town in time, I shall rush post-haste to warn our master and Imam to turn back." He hung his head down and, in a tone which was hardly audible, added, as if muttering to himself: "Muslim, my duty towards you as your host demands that I should remain here to protect you and shed the last drop of my blood in your defence. But I know that you would like me to attend to the higher duty which we both owe to our Lord, Husain Ibne Ali. There is hardly time to be lost and so I bid you farewell. May Almighty God protect you and your innocent sons from the fury of these treacherous fiends."
Hanee Ibne Orwah rushed out of the Mosque. He knew that he had to act quickly, if at all he was to succeed in his mission. Before leaving Kufa he had to do something for the safety of the two young sons of Muslim who had not yet reached their teens. He was quickly revolving in his mind how he could hide these innocent boys and where. He could not think of anybody known to him who could be trusted to give shelter to them. He hardly had any time at his disposal to make arrangements because his paramount obligation was to convey Muslim's message to Imam Husain. His quick-working mind decided that the children of Muslim must be warned to get out of the house where they were no longer safe and leave the rest to God.
On reaching his house, Hanee asked his wife to whisk the children out of the house by the back door for their safety. He asked his servant to harness his horse as quickly as he could. Hardly Muhammad and Ibrahim, the young sons of Muslim, had been put on the road to face the world and its turmoils in a strange and unfriendly city, the house of Hanee was surrounded by armed troopers sent by Obeidullah. Hanee realised that the hope he had cherished to leave the town and carry the message of Muslim to Husain was completely frustrated. He unsheathed his sword and fell upon the hirelings of Obeidullah with the intention of selling his life as dearly as he could. The odds against him were too heavy. He was soon overpowered and chained and marched off to the court of the Governor.
* * * *
After Hanee's departure from the Mosque, Muslim reflected for a while. At first his mind was put at ease by Hanee's assurance that he would carry the warning to Husain about the happenings in Kufa. But on second thoughts he realised that there was every possibility of Hanee being captured before he could leave the town. What if that happened? He had fullest confidence in Hanee's sincerity, but how could he be so sure that Hanee would be able to make good his escape from Kufa? Although Muslim was fully alive to the lot that would befall his innocent sons on their capture, he realised that the right course for him was to find some other person whom he could trust to carry the message to the Imam. Kneeling down in prayer he muttered: "Merciful Allah, spare me for a while so that I can send the warning to my Imam."
He came out of the mosque slowly. He did not know which way to turn He only knew that the whole town had turned hostile to him. As soon as he stepped out of the mosque, he saw groups of people collected hither and thither and engaged in animated conversation. On seeing him coming out they scattered and walked away as if they had never known him. Muslim realised that they were, one and all, mortally afraid of the reprisals that would befall them if they stood by him. Now he saw how difficult it was for him to find a single person who could fulfil his purpose; where to look for him; where to find him?
With a heavy heart Muslim was now trudging the narrow by-lanes of Kufa. The sun was fast descending and the dark narrow lanes of Kufa becoming darker every moment. Making a hood of his gown, so as to cover his head to avoid identification, Muslim was walking on and on, almost aimlessly ambling. The deserted cobbled pavements were echoing his foot-steps. The only other sound to be heard was of the horses' hoofs as the soldiers were patrolling the streets and searching for him in all nooks and corners. Whilst walking aimlessly he was furiousty thinking how to find someone who could carry his message to Husain.
Soon darkness descended on the whole town. As curfew had been imposed by the orders of the Governor, not a soul was venturing out. It became evident to Muslim that, if he walked on there was every possibility of his being arrested by the patrolmen and, if that happened, his last hope of finding a messenger would vanish. The events of the day had made him tired in body and soul.
He sat on the doorstep of a house, hesitating whether to knock at the door and ask for water. Whilst he was still wavering, he heard the opening of the door against which he was leaning. An old lady stood there with a flickering candle in her hands. From her enquiring eyes he could understand that she was wondering why he was seated there. Muslim turned to her and requested a glass of water. She asked him to wait for a minute and, going into the house, returned with a tumbler of water. Muslim drank it to the last drop and thanked the lady profusely. He again sat Hown on the doorstep. The old lady looked at him for a while and then asked him: "My son, why do you not return to your house? Do you realise how your wife and children must be worrying about you by your remaining away from the house in such troubled atmosphere7 Don't you have a house with wife and children?" A lump came into Muslim's throat with the recollection of his family and home. Controlling his emotions and checking the tears which were gushing from his eyes he said: "Good lady, I have a house, but in a distant land. My wife and young daughters are at home and my sons are in Kufa but perhaps thev will wait for me for ever." After a brief pause he added: "In this unfriendly town I have no home and nobody to whom I can turn for shelter."
These words of despondency moved the lady. Sympathetically she said: "From where do you come and why are you here in there troubled times?"
Muslim murmured in reply: "I am from the city of the Prophet. I came on the invitation of the people of Kufa as their Wquest. Though thousands welcomed me on my arrival, there is now not a soul who will admit me into his house."
The venerable old lady was taken aback by this reply. She raised the candle she was carrving to bring it nearer Muslim's face. With an exclamation of recognition she bent down on her knees and said: "My God, you are Muslim, the emissary of my Imam, my beloved Husain, who is hunted by Obeidullah's soldiers. How did I not recognise you at the first glance when your words, your accent, your demeanour, all had the stamp of people of the Prophet's House?" Sobbing bitterly and overcome by contrition she added, "How will I face my Lady Fatima on the day of reckoning when she will ask me: "Taha, my Husain's emissary came to you, friendiess and shelterless, but you callously and relentlessly turned him out!" What reply will I give to her? The least that I can do for you is to give you shelter in my house till an opportunity arises for you to make good your escape from this cursed city whose people are steeped in perfidy."
Muslim felt reluctant to accept her offer for fear that the godfearing old lady might be victimised for giving him protection. But on second thoughts he decided to stay in her house with the hope that, if he could avoid arrest for some time, he might be abie to find some one to carry his message to Husain .
Taha asked Muslim to remain in the attic of the house. She qave him whatever food there was in the house but he could hardly partake of anything. How can a person in his predicament relish food7 He decided to pass the night in prayers as he had a premonition that this would be his last night.
Before retiring into the attic, Muslim told Taha about his desire to send a message to the Imam not to come to Kufa in view of what had transpired. She assured him that when her son, who was in the Government armed forces, returned from his beat, she would take him in her confidence and enlist his support in finding some reliable person for this mission.
Hardly a few hours had passed when Taha's son returned home. He looked tired and worn out. When Taha enquired from him the reason for his coming home so late, he told her that, along with other soldiers he was patrolling the streets in search of Muslim. She was aghast at the thought that her son, of all people, should be in the party searchinq for Muslim, when she herself was so devoted to the House of the Prophet. She strongly protested to her son at the role he was playing. That cunning man turned round and assured his mother that, though he had in the course of his duty to pretend as if he was searching for Muslim, in reality he was as much devoted to Muslim, and the House of the Prophet, as she was. His disingenuous assurances carried conviction to the simple old lady and, after making him swear by his faith, she took her son into confidence and told him everything about the happenings of that evening. The crafty son of Taha was inwardly elated at the thought that he would be able to collect the prize placed on Muslim's head. His first thought was to behead Muslim achieved in his sleep but, coward that he was, he got scared at the fate that would befall him if Muslim would wake up before he accomplished his purpose. He thought furiously for a few moments and then decided to go and inform Obeidullah Ibne Ziad that he had Muslim in his house and he could be easily captured. His warped mind quickly invented an excuse for going out in the dead of night, without arousing the suspicions of his noble mother. He told her that, as in his presence, Hanee Ibne Orwah, at whose house Muslim and his two sons had been staying, had been beheaded and as the two young boys were roaming the streets of Kufa, he thought it his bounden duty to search for them and bring them home so that the father and sons could be reunited. He told Taha that he would also see one of his trusted friends and through him arrange to convey Muslim's message to the Imam for which he was so anxious. Taha was taken in by the guiles of her perfidious son. She felt elated that her son was so keen to do the good work that he could not wait till daybreak.
The avaricious son of Taha hastened to the Governor's house and lost no time in getting himself admitted to his presence. In fact Obeidullah was awake waiting for the news of Muslims's arrest as he was mightly afraid that, if Muslim remained at large, he might succeed in rallying round him a few persons who could offer very stiff opposition to his forces and even upset his ugly plans. He felt relieved and overjoyed at the tidings brought to him by Taha's treacherous son. He immediately ordered one of the cornmanders of his forces to get together a well-equipped contingent for Muslim's arrest.
Accompanied by mounted soldiers, the traitor returned to his house for Muslim's arrest. Muslim was at that time engaged in prayers. When he heard the beating of several horses' hoofs on the paved roads, he understood that the soldiers had come for his arrest. He snatched his sword which was lying by his side and rushed out. Taha stood at the threshold of her house flabbergasted to see that her son had brought the soldiers for the arrest of her revered guest. She fell on Muslim's feet and cried: "Muslim, my prince, how can I explain to you that I have not betrayed you but my cursed son, whom I trusted and never suspected of such blatant treachery, has ruined me. I shall not let them cross my threshold except over my dead body." Muslim did not require to be told that Taha's averments were sincere. He gently told her, "My benefactor, I know that you have been very kind and considerate to me and the thought of betraying me cannot even cross your noble and pious mind. I do not in the least blame you for the treachery of your son. As your guest, who has partaken of your hospitality, I cannot allow you to be killed by these merciless brutes and let your house be reduced to a shambles. Let me go out of the house and sell my life as dearly as I can."
Muslim gently pushed aside Taha from the threshold and walked out sword in hand. By this time the soldiers had reached the house. They were taken by surprise at seeing Muslim emerging from the door like an enraged lion. The lane was so narrow that two horses could not come up abreast. This gave Muslim the best opportunity for single combat. Though he was on foot and the soldier opposite to him was mounted, he possessed the prowess which was the heritage of Ali's family. One after the other the soldiers were tasting the sword of this warrior and falling down from their horses. In the process they were getting crushed and trampled under the hoofs of horses of their own men.
The leader of the band of soldiers, who had discreetly kept himself behind his men, sent word for more men. Though more and more soldiers were pouring in, the topography of the scene of this street battle was such that they could not attack en masse. Heads of enemy soldiers were falling like nine-pins. Hours passed but still Muslim was fighting his defensive battle most courageously.
When Obeidullah Ibne Ziad's couriers, who were bringing to him the news of the fight, informed him that Muslim was giving a fight the like of which had not been seen since the days of Ali, the Khalif, he got infuriated. He tauntingly asked his generals how many thousands of warriors they needed to capture one solitary person. One of them angrily retorted to him that he was forgetting that the person to be captured was not an ordinary home-keeping youth or shop-keeper but a renowned warrior of the House of Ali. He even suggested that if Obeidullah had no confidence in the generals, he could himself demonstrate his skill with the sword by offering combat to Muslim. This suggestion scared the wits out of Obeidullah. He, of all people, knew what it meant to cross swords with Ali's nephew. Swallowing the taunt, he replied: "My good general, I fully know what it means to fight with a person so desperate who finds himself at bay. Instead of letting our men die by his sword in such large numbers, why cannot some one adopt some stratagem to make him leave his vantage position so that it may be easier to attack him from all sides?"
This suggestion appealed very much to the cowardly soldiers of Kufa. After some consultations amongst themselves, they decided to send soldiers to the top of the roof of an adjoining building and from there to hurl stones, burning ernbers and missiles at Muslim. It did not take them long to carry out their strategy. With showers of arrows, stones, fire and missiles, Muslim was so much'wounded that he decided to give up his vantage position. He charged on the soldiers in front of him and they fell back. He went forward, wielding his sword, and in the process, sending those who were within its reach to the perdition and doom which they merited.
Once again hasty counsels were held among the captains of the army. Some one suggested that, since Muslim was now desperately moving forward, a trench could be dug on the road and covered up with straw so that it was completely comouflaged. The idea was to trap Muslim as he marched forward. It was reaiised that, without such subterfuge, Muslim could not be killed or captured without sacrificing the cream of the army.
The treacherous ruse proposed by Obeidullah's mercenaries worked as planned. While rushing on and wielding his sword dexterously, Muslim fell into the trench. Now those who were avoiding to come within the reach of his sword swooped down on him. With gushing blood Muslim could not regain his feet. He toppled over and lay unconscious in the trench. It was now a matter of minutes to capture him and soon he was chained and bound.
When Muslim regained consciousness, he found himself a captive. His wounds had accentuated his thirst. The dawn was now breaking and the call for prayers was raised in the mosques of Kufa. Muslim requested his captors to give him some water to drink and for ablution. Instead of acceding to his request, they mocked and jeered at him. Muslim was extremely surprised and pained to see that the people of Kufa, who were claiming to be the followers of the Prophet, were flouting the injunctions of Islam for kindness to all in a helpless predicament. Little did Muslim know that these same people would behave with utter callousness and beastliness towards Husain and his children in the not too distant future.
Before being marched off to the Court of Obeidullah, Muslim was paraded through the streets of Kufa with heavy chains on his hands and feet. The people of Kufa, who only a few days before were vying with one another just to have a glimpse of him, were now watchinq him from their windows with perfect equanimity, as if he was an utter stranger to them. Some devils amongst them were hard-hearted enough to pelt stones at him.
When Muslim was presented before Obeidullah he stood erect with dignity. The Governor asked him whether he knew the fate that awaited him and his master Husain Ibne Ali. With utter disdain Muslim replied "O mercenary of Yazid, I do not care what you do to me, but I do not like to hear your cursed tongue mentioning Husain's name."
Obeidullah Ibne Ziad felt crest fallen at this bold rebuke of Muslim. With intention of creating an impression of his magnanimity on the people who were gathered in his court, he said to Muslim, "According to the age-old Arab custom I want you to mention your last desire before you are beheaded so that I may fulfil it."
A glint of hope came into Muslim's eyes. Could he take this man at his word and ask him to send the message which he wanted to be conveyed to his master? Like a drowning man who catches at a straw, Muslim decided that, if at all, this was his only chance. He immediately replied: "Obeidullah, if you are true to your word, fulfil my last wish and send a message to my master Imam Husain, asking him to go back to Medina and abandon the idea of his visit to Kufa."
Obeidullah had never expected this request from Muslim. He had thought that perhaps Muslim might request him to spare the lives of his two young sons when they were captured, as they were sure to be. For a while he was nonplussed; he was at a loss what to say. He knew that he could not fulfil this wish of Muslim without incurring the displeasure of Yazid; but to decline this request would betray him in his true colour. His crooked mind did not take long to find a solution to this problem. He beckoned to his executioners to take Muslim to the top of the Government House and to behead him. He immediately dismissed his court and hurried back to his apartment.
When the sword of the executioner was swaying over Muslim's head his last thoughts were with his master, Husain, whom he had loved and cherished more than anything in life. His only regret was that till the end he could not do what he wanted most, to warn Husain against the treachery of the people of Kufa. As the sword fell on his neck he silently muttered a prayer to God to so ordain that Husain might come to know of the happenings in Kufa. This was the last prayer of the brave warrior who stood steadfast in death as in life.
Merciful God did not allow Muslim's last prayer to go in vain. He who listens to the prayers emanating from the hearts of sincere devotees like Muslim, enabled one witness to the ghastly enactments of that day, who had some sparks of faith in him, to go riding out of Kufa at the earliest opportunity. He reached the camp of Imam Husain a few days after Muslim's martyrdom. He conveyed the sad tidings to Husain who wept bitterly as if his heart would rend. He called the young daughter of Muslim, who was travelling with him, and told her that henceforth she should regard him as her guardian. He gave one pair of earrings to her and one to Sakina. When the messenger asked him whether he was turning back and returning to Medina in view of what had happened to Muslim, he replied: "I am going forward to meet my destiny; to fulfil the purpose of my life. My death is beckoning to me and so there is no question of my retracing my steps."