The single most phenomenal aspect of Karbala is undoubtedly the glorious personality of Imam Husain (a.s.). His station is unmatched and unparalleled. Nevertheless, certain other figures have also contributed significantly in making this event monumental. Companions of Imam Husain (a.s.) individually, with their steadfastness and fortitude, as well as collectively, with their martyrdom have displayed outstanding quaities of sacrifice and self-denial. Each companion in every aspect of his llfe, viz. his convictions, his beliefs, his objectives, his reflections, his ardent desire to embrace death, has flashed glimpses of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) character. Their devotion and
submission to him was the reason that caused Imam Husain’s chest to swell with pride. Which is why he (a.s.) has acclaimed them thus.
“I am not aware of companions more faithful and exalted than mine”.
Besides this, Imam Sadiq (a.s.) in his discourses to `Safwaan’ (his companion), on the subject of Ziarat of Martyrs of Karbala, said
“May my father and my mother be sacrificed for you”.
This tribute from an infallible is the last word in exemplifying the greatness of martyrs of Karbala.
Zuhair b. Qain al-Bajali was one such brave individual from among these selfless companions.
The earlier parts of his life are hidden in obscurity. However, what little one can gather (from what
is known) about him is that, Zuhair a noble, valiant Arab, was a resident of Kufa and a veteran
warrior. Then, supporters of Muawiyah were called Usmanis’ and partisans of Ali b. Abi Talib were
called ‘Alawis’. Zuhair, belonged to the former and therefore remained aloof from the Ahle Bait (a.s).
ZUHAIR’S TRYST WITH IMAM HUSAIN (A.S.)
This meeting which proved to be the turning point in Zuhair’s life has been covered by Shaykh Abbas Qummi in ‘Nafasul Mahmoom’ page 180 as also by Tabari in his ‘Tarikh’ vol. 3 page 224.
Abu Mikhnaf narrates from Sades b. Faraarah that an `Usmaani recounted to him thus,
‘In one of our journeys with Zuhair b. Qain al-Bajali, we happened to coincide with Hussain b. Ali (a.s.). Now, nothing was more repugnant for us than to assemble with the latter at the same place. And Zuhair given his resentment tried to avoid Husain (a.s.) in every possible way. However, despite our best efforts and much to our consternation, we ended up with Hussain (a.s.) at the same spot. Hussain (a.s.) pitched his tents at one side of the road and we on the other side. We had just got started with our food when a messenger from Hussain’s (a.s.) side interrupted us. He saluted us and addressed Zuhair,
Zuhair! I have been sent by Hussain (a.s.) to persuade you to meet him.’
These words of the messenger took us completely by surprise, so much so that we dropped what food we were eating in our astonishment. All of us were loath to go. Dillaam binte Amr, wife of Zuhair, who was a witness to the entire scene exclaimed `Glory be to Allah! Son of the Prophet (s.a.) wishes to see you and you refuse to go. At least see what Hussain (a.s.) has to say. Zuhair, heeding this counsel, reluctantly crossed over to Imam Hussain (a.s.) side. Before long, he returned looking very grim and solemn. He ordered his tent be relocated next to Imam Hussain (a.s.). He turned towards his wife and said “I release you from matrimony. Return to your family. I do not want to be responsible for any distress or misfortune that may befall you”. Then Zuhair declared “I have decided to accompany Hussain (a.s.). I will sacrifice my life in order to save him”. He then left his wife in the custody of a relative who would escort her back to her family. Dilham b. Amr stood up, sobbed bitterly and bidding farewell to Zuhair said, “May Allah (the Glorified) help you in your affair and attract only goodness and virtues towards you. My only plea is that you remember me on the Day of Resurrection in front of Hussain’s (a.s.) grandfather Muhammad (s.a.).” Zuhair then turned towards his companions and declared, “Those of you who still hold me dear may accompany me. The rest may take this as our last meeting.” Subsequently his friends also joined Zuhair in Imam Hussain’s army.’
Some notable points from the above mentioned incident are worth highlighting:
Only Imam Hussain (a.s.) could have been aware of the turbulence within Zuhair that prevented him from discerning the truth. Only he could have perceived the anguish in Zuhair’s soul and the raging upheaval in his mind. This tumult that made him evade Imam Hussain (a.s.) throughout his journey. It is possible that the conspiracy hatched in Mecca to assassinate Imam Hussain (a.s.)
opened Zuhair eyes. It is also quite possible that his wife’s advice to meet Imam Hussain (a.s.) was that crucial turning point. Certainly, his meeting with Imam Hussain (a.s.) was marked with awe and wonder. His conversation with Imam (a.s.) though brief, left an indelible impression on his anguished soul. Imam’s (a.s.) words cut through that anguish and struck Zuhair at the very core of his
existence. The Zuhair who left Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) tent (after meeting him) was not the same as the one who had entered it only a, few moments before. Those crucial minutes in the tent proved to be the turning point in his life and rewrote his destiny. Moreover, he was also quick to discern the future course of events. He seemed to be well aware of the hardships and grievances that would follow. This can be gauged from his words to his wife, “I do not want to be responsible for any distress or misfortune that may befall you”. Of course, Zuhair had that innate sincerity and virtue to readily acknowledge Imam’s exhortations. His heart heeded those words without any prejudice and malice. All the factors necessary for transforming his destiny were very much inherent in him. Imam’s words therefore had the desired impact.
THE EVE OF AASHURA
Zuhair’s contribution in Karbala is by no means restricted to his valour alone. Ample evidence of his eloquence is also available in historical accounts. Tabari in his ‘Tarikh’ on vol. 3 page 237 writes,
‘On the 9th of Muharram when Habib b. Mazahir was admonishing Yazid’s army, Gazwah
b. Qais (from Yazid’s side) interrupted him and mocked at him. This prompted Zuhair to rise
and address Gazwah, “Undoubtedly Allah has purified Habib and guided him. Gazwah, I advise you for the sake of Allah disassociate from this party that is the guardian of evil and the annihilator of immaculate souls”. His speech left the opponents confounded and overwhelmed. Gazwah having rightly guessed Zuhair’s inclination exclaimed `Zuhairl You were never a supporter of this group. You were an `Usmani’. To this Zuhair retorted ‘My standing in their midst now should make my disposition obvious. By Allah! Neither had I ever written to Hussain (a.s.) offering my help nor had I ever pledged him my support. It was, but sheer coincidence, when we met on the way. When I saw Hussain (a.s.) I was reminded of the Prophet (s.a.) and his sinless progeny. I realised that Hussain (a.s.) was in reality a victim of hatred and animosity. I then decided to join his army, assist him in his cause and sacrifice my life in order to safeguard his. I did this so as to observe the rights of Allah and his Prophet (s.a.) on me, those very rights that you have squandered.’
Then on the eve of Ashura, Imam (a.s.) assembled all his companions and proclaimed that he was releasing them from their allegiances that they had taken earlier. This prompted some companions viz. Muslim b. Awsajah and Saeed b. Abdullah to deliver sermons reiterating their fealty towards Imam Hussain (a.s.). Zuhair also delivered one such sermon, which has been narrated by Imam-e-Zamaana (a.tf.s.) himself in the `Ziarat of the Martyrs’. Imam (a.s.) says:
“Peace be on Zuhair, the one who when permitted by Imam Hussain (a.s.) to return, said thus, ‘By Allah We shall never forsake you! Should we desert the Prophet’s son and leave him amidst the enemies and save ourselves? May we never witness such a day!”
(Kalemaat al-Imam al-Mahdi page 27)
“By Allah! I prefer that I get killed once, then get resurrected, then killed again, and repeat this a thousand times, in order that you and the youths from your family may survive”
On hearing this, Imam Hussain (a.s.) said,
‘May Allah (s.w.t.) reward you”
and then entered his tent.
(Behaar al Anwaar, v. 44,p.316)
THE DAY OF AASHURA
Zuhair’s conversation with the enemy on the Day of Ashura provides another instance of his eloquence. Before the battle, Imam Hussain (a.s.) had delivered a sermon at length, admonishing Yazid’s party from shedding his blood. By this sermon, Imam (a.s.) had hoped to complete all arguments. On the completion of this sermon, Zuhair too addressed the army. Tabari in his ‘Tarikh’, vol. 3 page 243 and Shaikh Abbas Qummi in his Nafas al-Mahmum, page 242 have recorded this discourse. Zuhair said,
“O people of Kufa! Fear Allah’s chastisement! I am responsible as a Muslim to counsel you as we are brothers even now. We belong to the same creed. As yet, we have not drawn our swords. You are entitled to advice from us. Undoubtedly, when we draw our swords, these ties of brotherhood will get severed leading to discord and factionalism. For surely Allah has tried us through the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.) and his progeny (a.s.) so as to see how we deal with them and our conduct towards them. We invite all of you to help Hussain (a.s.) and disassociate from Ubaydillah b. Ziyad. For you will only experience ignominy and disgrace under Yazid and Ubaydillah.”
On hearing this, some of Ubaydillah b. Ziyad.’s cronies retorted
“We will never rest until we have killed your leader and his followers or at least have apprehended them before Ubaydillah”.
Even this response did not deter Zuhair and he exhorted them even further. Till such a time that Shimr shot an arrow at Imam’s army and invoked Allah to strike Zuhair dumb. But Zuhair did not relent even after Shimr’s salvo and continued his exhortations with Shimr who gloated by saying
“In a few moments from now, you and your chief shall both he killed”
Zuhair rejoined with amazing strength of faith,
“You try to intimidate me with threats of death ?! By Allah! Death with this party is dearer to me than a life with yours!”
He then faced the army and entreated them thus
“Servants of Allah, do not he deceived by talks of such people. I swear by Allah, the Prophet will never intercede on behalf of those who have massacred his children and their friends.”
When Hussain (as.) witnessed the futility of Zuhair’s efforts, he asked Zuhair to return, since his beseeching only invited scorn and arrows and in any case all arguments had been exhausted.
Imam (a.s.) told Zuhair
“Certainly you have fulfilled your obligation and presented your proofs like the believer from Firaun’s party. However, advice and proofs must at least yield some fruit”.
Zuhair’s arguments however, did nor go completely unheeded. His appeals left their im-
pression on at least one individual from Yazid’s army. Hurr, who had seen this entire episode, was
finally convinced that a battle between the two forces was imminent He then asked Umar b. Sa’ad
whether he was in favour of a battle. Umar b.Sa’ad replied,
“If it is my prerogative, I would rather not fight, but your leader Ubaydillah b. Ziyad has ordained otherwise.”
On hearing this Hurr decided to leave Umar b. Sa’ad’s army and went over to Imam Hussain’s side at the first opportunity. When it was obvious to Imam Hussain (a.s.) that a confrontation with Umar b. Sa’ad was inevitable, he began organizing his small army. He appointed Zuhair in charge of
the right flank, Habib b. Mazahir of the left and designated his brother Abul Fazl Abbas, as the
standard bearer of his army. Zuhair’s appointment as the leader of the right flank bears ample testimony of not only his gallantry but also the confidence of Imam (as.) in him.
ZUHAIR AND HIS PROTECTION OF AHLUL BAYT (A.S.)
In the course of the battle, Shimr attacked Imam (a.s.) tents from the rear and wanted to set
it ablaze along with its inhabitants. Screams and shrieks of terror emerged from the tents. Imam
“Shimr! You wish to burn my tent along with family members! May Allah torment you with fire!”
Meanwhile Zuhair with ten other companions assaulted Shimr with such a vengeance that
Shimr was forced to beat a hasty retreat. One of Shimr’s trusted lieutenants, Abu Gazah Zabaabi
was killed in this skirmish. Yazid’s forces on witnessing this episode retaliated and charged at
Zuhair and his companions. But the latter warded off this latest attack courageously and destroyed
At noon, Abu Samaamah Amr b. Abdullah Sa’edee requested Imam (a.s.)
“Master, Yazid’s army have advanced alarmingly and I sense that I have very little time left before I am martyred and meet my Lord. I, therefore, wish to pray Namaz-e-Zuhr with you today”.
Imam (a.s.) raised his head towards the skies and said,
“You have remembered namaaz. Allah will account you among the upholders of namaaz and among those who were never negligent of it. Indeed, this is the time of Namaaz-e-Zuhr. Proclaim to the enemy to refrain from fighting till such a time that we may complete this namaz.”
Imam (as.) then ordered Saeed b. Abdullah and Zuhair to shield him till he they had finished their namaaz. By the time Imam (a.s.) had finished his namaaz, Saeed b. Abdullah had sustained lethal injuries so much so that he succumbed to them. And even Zuhair’s arms had all but fallen off their sides. Nevertheless, when the enemy had converged on them, Zuhair summoned what little strength he had left, to display remarkable aggression and belligerence in his battle. He used to say
“I am Zuhair, the son of Qain! I will safeguard Hussain with the sword. Because Hussain (as.) is from among the grandsons of the Prophet (s.a.). He is from the pure, immaculate and honourable sons. He is Allah’s proof. There is no lie in this. I will strike you all. He is flawless. I wish that I could be split into two”
It is narrated that Zuhair placed his hand on Imam’s shoulder and said:
“O Hadi! O Mahdi!You shall soon meet your grandfather (s.a.), Murtuza Ali (a.s.) and Hasan and those martyrs overwhelmed by swords viz. the two winged [Jaffar-e-Tayyar (a.s.)] and the valiant martyr [Hamza (a.s.)], all of whom are still alive.”
Zuhair then battled with shocking bravado killing 120 enemy soldiers. However, Kaiser b. Abdullah Sho’bee and Muhajir b. Aws Tamimee, led a combined assault on him which led to his martyrdom. When his body finally came to rest on the earth, Imam (a.s.) said:
“O Zuhair! May Allah never deprive you of His mercy! And may Allah curse your murderers that they be transformed into apes and swine.”
This then was the life sketch of Zuhair b. Qain al-Bajali which holds some very pertinent points for us even in this age. The most valuable lesson we can glean from his life is, how at all times we must be prepared to defend our Imam with everything we possess, not the least, our lives.
To protect our Imam, we must never flinch from confronting the enemies. In our way, we must all try to be Zuhair of our Imam. O Allah! We ask you for the sake of the fourteen infallibles (a.s.), that you hasten the reappearance of our Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.), so that he may avenge the shedding of Zuhair’s blood and O Allah account us among the servants and slaves of Zuhair(r.a.). Inshallah.