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Slaves: The Helpers of The Faith

As the Prophet of Islam brought the message of universal brotherhood, it was inevitable that this message of emancipation of the human soul should have attracted the people of all races and creeds; but especially the oppressed groups. It was natural that the larger part of his early followers was made up of the slaves. The reactionaries were horrified; in desperation, they began persecuting the newly-converted Muslims. Apart from those whose descriptions have already been given above, the following names deserve particular attention:

Suhayb bin Sinan of Rome was a slave converted to Islam in its early days.62 He was a skilled iron-smith, making fine coats of mail and swords. Thus, he accumulated a good fortune. After his conversion to Islam, he was also brutally tortured by the infidels.63 When he wanted to migrate to Medina, the infidels pounced upon him and took every single dirham from his possession. Thus he arrived at Medina a destitute. He was entrusted by 'Umar, the second caliph, to lead people in prayers after his death till the next caliph was appointed.64

Khabbab bin al-Arratt was a famous companion of the Prophet. He was the sixth man to accept Islam. He was from the continent of Africa; and suffered for the cause of truth.65 He was among those who were known as "Shi'ahs (partisans) of 'Ali." His son, 'Abdullah together with all his family-members, was martyred by the Kharijites in 40 AH.66

The greatest sacrifice in the cause of Islam was offered in Karbala in 61 AH by Imam Husayn and his companions. A group of about 120 souls faced the host of Yazid bin Mu'awiyah's army (not less than 30,000 in number). It is noteworthy that in that God-loving, God-fearing group of 120 believers, about 16 were slaves or ex-slaves. They were as follows:

Shawdhab, an African martyr; was one of the most respected scholars of Islamic laws and traditions. People used to travel from far to listen to his discourses.67 On hearing Husayn's plight, Shawdhab and his ex-master (and now companion) 'Abis Shakiri joined him and fell on the battlefield of Karbala. John bin Huwai, of Ethiopia, was probably a convert from Christianity as his name suggests. He was a slave of Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, the famous companion of the Prophet. After the death of Abu Dharr, he attached himself to the Ahlul Bayt who were looking after him. He accompanied Imam Husayn to Karbala, and although by this time an old man he tried to go to the battle-field to fight. Imam Husayn at first refused; but John persisted and, at last, the Imam allowed him to go to the battlefield. When he fell down, Imam Husayn went to his corpse, put his head on his lap, and asked God to illuminate the face of John. When people of the tribe of Asad came after three days to bury the martyrs, they were astonished to find a corpse which was shining with heavenly light and enveloped in heavenly perfume. It was John's corpse.

Salim, Zahir bin 'Amr, Qarib bin 'Abdullah Du'ali, Munjih bin Sahm, Sa'd bin Harth, Nasr bin Abi Naizar, Aslam bin 'Amr and Sulayman were among the victims of the "first attack" - an attempt made by the cavalry of Yazid to wipe out the little group of Husayn by overwhelming them with a powerful, fast and surprise attack. The Yazidites failed in their attempt because of the superiority of the defence technique of the Husaynites and their fierce devotion to him. The cavalry of Yazid retreated, leaving behind a large number of dead. But this victory was won by the followers of Imam Husayn with a heavy price. More than fifty companions of Husayn were lying on the battle-field; among them were the six above-mentioned brave slave martyrs. There were six other slaves who were martyred in Karbala. Their names are: Harth bin Nabhan, Sa'id, Nafi', Salim, Shabib and Wadih. Description is also found in histories of a Turkish slave of Imam Zaynul 'Abidin who fought the army of Yazid and gave his life in the cause of Islam.68

'Aqabah bin Sam'an, also a slave, was one of the most trusted companions of Imam Husayn. The Imam left all his important documents in his custody. In modem terminology, way may say that he was a secretary of Imam Husayn. He was wounded in the battle of Karbala and taken prisoner along with Imam Husayn's family. Being one of the eye-witnesses of the massacre of Karbala, 'Aqabah bin Sam'an's chronicle is a valuable source of history. Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, the famous Muslim historian, has recorded 'Aqabah's chronicle in his Ta'rikh al-umam wa al-muluk. That chronicle was separated from al-Tabari's Ta'rikh and published in India with the notes by late Mujtaba Husayn Kamunpuri of Aligarh Muslim University. Muslims have always been proud of the sacrifices offered by the martyrs of Karbala for the cause of Islam. The descendants of Imam Husayn always offered their salutations to them, some times name by name, sometimes jointly. The Shi'ah Ithna 'Asharis, following their Imams, always salute these martyrs in the following term, almost everyday:-

Salutation to you, O saints of Allah and His beloved ones;
Salutations to you, O chosen ones of Allah and His dear ones;
Salutations to you, O helpers of the Faith;
May my parents have the privilege of laying down their lives for you, Pure and clean were you, and pure and clean became the earth in which you were buried;
you have indeed achieved the greatest success;
I wish to Allah that I were there with you to share the success.69

62. Abu Na'im, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 153; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 514.

63. Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 514.

64. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III:1, pp. 161-4; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 516.

65. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III:1, p. 116-7; Abu Na'im, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 144.

66. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III:1, p. 21; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 4, p. 739.

67. Qummi, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 266.

68. For more information on Imam Husayn and Karbala, see Rizvi, S.M., ed., Imam Husayn, the Saviour of Islam, (Vancouver: 1984).

69. Qummi, Mafatihu'l-Jinan (Tehran, n.d.) p. 427.

Adapted from the book: "Slavery; From Islamic and Christian Perspectives" by: "Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi"

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