The tomb of Malik al-Ashtar in Egypt
|Full Name||Malik b. Harith al-Nakha'i|
|Companion of||Imam 'Ali (a)|
|Well Known As||Al-Ashtar|
|Wellknown Relatives||Ibrahim b. Malik (his son)|
|Place of Birth||Yemen|
|Place(s) of Residence||Yemen, Kufa|
|Cause of Martyrdom||He was poisoned|
|Activities||One of the prominent commanders of the army of Imam 'Ali (a) in the Battle of Jamal and Battle of Siffin|
Mālik b. Hārith al-Nakhaʿī (Arabic:مالک بن حارث النخعي) (b.? - d. 39/659-660) well-known as Malik al-Ashtar (مالک الأشتر) was one of the especial companions of Imam 'Ali (a). During the caliphate of 'Uthman b. 'Affan, he participated in the funeral of Abu Dhar and because he objected to the governor of Kufa, he was exiled to Hums. After he returned from Hums, people made him the governor of Kufa. During the besiege of 'Uthman's house, Malik was among the the besiegers. Supporters of Mu'awiya accused him of being an accomplice in the murder of 'Uthman.
After the murder of 'Uthman, Malik was one of the most influential people in calling people to pledge allegiance with Imam Ali (a). During the caliphate of Imam Ali (a), Malik participated in the Battle of Jamal and the Battle of Siffin and eventually he was appointed by Imam 'Ali (a) as governor-general in Egypt. However, he was martyred before arriving to Egypt. His son, Ibrahim b. Malik al-Ashtar was one of the people who were seeking the revenge of Imam al-Husayn (a) and was one of Mukhtar al-Thaqafi's allies.
The famous treaty of Malik al-Ashtar is a letter that Imam 'Ali (a) wrote to him while he was in Egypt.
Lineage and Epithets
Malik was known as "Ashtar"; because in the conquest of Rome, he was hit in the eye by an arrow which tore the veins in his eye. He was then called Malik al-Ashtar. Ibn 'Asakir believes this happened in the Battle of Yarmuk.
From Yemen to Kufa
Malik al-Ashtar emigrated from Yemen on 11/632-633 or 12/633-634. He was one of the commanders and head of his tribe. He settled in Kufa and because of his move, his generation started living there. He participated in the Battle of Yarmuk and lost one of his eyes in the battle.
Malik al-Ashtar was a companion of Imam 'Ali (a) everywhere. He killed Muhammad b. Talha in the Battle of Jamal. All the biographers have praised him. Some poems are recorded in historical sources in which he has been praised.
Burial of Abu Dhar
Ibn Abi l-Hadid who was a Mu'tazili Sunni, narrated a hadith from Abu Dhar al-Ghifari that the Prophet (s) said a group of the believers will bury Abu Dhar. Since Malik al-Ashtar was among that group in Rabadha (the place that Abu Dhar was banished) to bury Abu Dhar, Ibn Abi l-Hadid considers this hadith as a certain testimony for faithfulness of Malik al-Ashtar and concluded that according to the hadith of the Prophet (s), Malik al-Ashtar was faithful. People present in the burial of Abu Dhar chose Malik as the leader for the Funeral Prayer.
Banishment to Syria and Hums
Sa'id b. al-'As al-Umawi, Uthman's governor in Kufa, said in a banquet that Sawad (an area in the Iraq that has many gardens) belongs to Quraysh and Banu Umayya. Malik al-Ashtar and some other people, rebelled against the governor's proclamation and fought with the head of security in Kufa. After this incident, Sa'id b. al-'As by the order of Uthman, banished Malik al-Ashtar and nine persons to Syria.
According to the narration of Ibn Abi l-Hadid, in addition to Malik al-Ashtar, there were other displaced persons: Malik b. Ka'b al-Arhabi, Aswad b. Yazid al-Nakha'i, 'Alqama b. Qays al-Nakha'i, Sa'sa'a b. Sawhan al-'Abdi.
Malik al-Ashtar had a conversation with Mu'awiya in Syria, and Mu'awiya wrote a letter to 'Uthman and 'Uthman decided to allow Malik al-Ashtar to return to Kufa. However, when they came back to Kufa, they started to denounce Sa'id b. al-'As and Sa'id wrote a letter to 'Uthman and he banished them to Hums.
According to another report, it was Mu'awiya who banished Malik al-Ashtar and his companions to Hums because he was afraid that Malik al-Ashtar's speeches might attract people of Syria. According to the letter of Sa'id b. al-'As, the protesters were: 'Amr b. Zurara, Kumayl b. Ziyad, Malik b. Harith (Malik al-Ashtar), Harqus b. Zahir, Shurayh b. Awfa, Yazid b. Muknaf, Zayd b. Sawhan, Sa'sa'a b. Suhan, Jundab b. Zuhayr.
Governor of Kufa
After the return of Malik al-Ashtar to Kufa, the elders of the Kufa made a covenant with Malik al-Ashtar to not let Sa'id b. al-'As return to Kufa. Thus, Malik al-Ashtar became the governor of Kufa and the Friday prayer leader. He appointed Imams for other congregational prayers, and chose a person to be in charge of treasury.
After correspondence between Malik al-Ashtar and 'Uthman, Malik al-Ashtar suggested that if 'Uthman appointed Abu Musa al-Ash'ari and Hudhayfa as governors of Kufa, he will agree with them. So, 'Uthman sent letters to al-Ash'ari and Hudhayfa to be in charge of the government of Kufa.
Siege of the 'Uthman's House
When different groups gathered to protest against 'Uthman and his commanders, Malik al-Ashtar was the head of Kufan protesters. However, when 'Uthman was surrounded and threatened to death, Malik al-Ashtar and Hukaym b. Jabala (head of the protesters of Basra) resigned but Ibn 'Udays and his Egyptian followers, insisted to continue the offense.
The fact that Malik al-Ashtar wasn't among the murderers of 'Uthman could be realized through his conversation with Jarir b. 'Abd Allah al-Bajali. Imam 'Ali (a) sent Jarir to Syria to talk with the Mu'awiya but he wasn't successful in his mission. Malik al-Ashtar told Imam 'Ali (a) that "if you decided to send me, it would be more fruitful." When Jarir heard this idea, he said: "I swear by God that if you went there, they would kill you because they think (Arabic:زعم) that you were one of the killers of 'Uthman." Since the verb "زعم" is used for false idea, it can be understood that Malik al-Ashtar wasn't among the killers of 'Uthman, otherwise they should use a verb like "know" (Arabic: علموا) which indicates the certain knowledge.
Battles of Imam 'Ali (a)
Battle of Jamal
- Main article: Battle of Jamal
In the Battle of Jamal, Malik al-Ashtar was the commander of Maymana (the right wing of the army of Imam 'Ali (a)). In this battle, Malik al-Ashtar fought a one-on-one battle with 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr, who had the bridle of the camel of Aisha. During this one-on-one battle, both of them fell on the earth but Malik al-Ashtar had a better position. 'Abd Allah begun shouting and his solders came and rescued him.
At the end of the battle, Malik al-Ashtar went to Aisha and said:
- Aisha said: "Who are you? May your mother mourn for you!" she answered.
- "I am your son, al-Ashtar," Malik al-Ashtar said (wives of the prophet were titled as Umm al-Mu'minin (Mother of the Believers) and hence Malik called himself as her son).
- "You have lied, I am not your mother," Aisha said.
- "You are my mother even if you don't like it," he answered.
- "You were the guy who wanted to kill my nephew ('Abd Allah b. Zubayr)?" she asked.
- "My apologies to God and to you. If I wasn't hungry for three days, I would have relieved you from this nephew," he answered.
At the end of this Battle, Malik bought an expensive camel and gave to Aisha, to make up for her camel that was killed.
Battle of Siffin
- Main article: Battle of Siffin
Malik al-Ashtar was one the commanders of the army of Imam 'Ali (a) who would reach the vicinity of the camp of Mu'awiya in the Battle of Siffin. The victory of the army of Imam was evident. In such a situation, the soldiers of Mu'awiya tried a ruse and put Qur'ans on the spears and invited the followers of Imam 'Ali (a) to finalize the battle by the command of the Qur'an. A group of the soldiers (approximately 20,000 persons) of the army of Imam became confused and fell for the ruse. They gathered and asked 'Ali (a) to order to Malik to return, otherwise they would kill 'Ali (a), their Imam and leader. Imam explained the situation and the ruse of the Mu'awiya but they did not accept and forced 'Ali (a) to order Malik al-Ashtar to return immediately. Imam had no choice except to send a courier to Malik al-Ashtar with the message to retreat.
It was the morning of the Laylat al-Harir and Malik was in a dominant location and could attack to Mu'awiya. He answered to Yazid b. Hani (the courier of Imam) that he could've move at that time was hopeful that he could overcome the opposing forces and Allah will help them.
Yazid b. Hani returned to Imam and delivered the message of Malik al-Ashtar. In light of the message, the protesters became suspicious of 'Ali (a) and they swore that he sent a message to Malik al-Ashtar to continue the battle. Imam answered that they witnessed the order for Malik al-Ashtar to come back. Then Imam asked Yazid b. Hani to go back to Malik al-Ashtar and give him Imam's order to return and to tell him there is a sedition. Yazid went to Malik al-Ashtar and delivered the message.
Malik al-Ashtar questioned Yazid if the problem is due to the Qur'ans on spears. Affirmative, Yazid answered.
- "I swear to God that I knew that raising the Qur'ans will cause division but is it proper to leave the situation when I am close to victory?" asked Malik al-Ashtar.
- "Do you like to be victorious here but Imam lose on the camp?" asked Yazid.
- Subhan Allah! (Exalted be Allah) I swear to God, I don't like for this to happen," Malik al-Ashtar replied.
- "Protesters said that either Malik al-Ashtar return or we will kill 'Ali as we killed 'Uthman or we betray 'Ali to his enemies," stated Yazid.
Thus Malik al-Ashtar came back to the camp and talked to protesters and denounced them. They had a contention and Imam asked them to stop it. Malik al-Ashtar was against arbitration, or al-Tahkim but since Imam had accepted it, followed Imam.
Travel to Egypt and Martyrdom
After the Battle of Siffin, Malik al-Ashtar went back to Iraq. Since Egypt had unrest, Imam 'Ali (a) called Malik al-Ashtar who was in Nasibayn and appointed him as governor of Egypt. When Mu'awiya knew about the appointment through his spies, he realized that if Malik al-Ashtar reaches to Egypt, Mu'awiya could not easily gain victory in Egypt (which was under the rule of Muhammad b. Abi Bakr at that time). So, Mu'awiya sent a letter to one of the taxpayers and requested him to kill Malik al-Ashtar in exchange for lifelong freedom from taxes. Hence, when Malik al-Ashtar arrived to Qulzam, the taxpayer welcomed Malik al-Ashtar and invited him for food. After Malik al-Ashtar had the food, the man offered a toxic beverage of honey to him, and after drinking that, Malik al-Ashtar passed away from the poison.
Ibn Abi l-Hadid wrote in his book: "Malik al-Ashtar passed away on 39/659-660 when he was going to Egypt by the order of 'Ali (a). It is been said that he was killed by poison and also some said that he passed away by natural causes."
'Alqama b. Qays al-Nakha'i says: "When Malik passed away, 'Ali (a) was very sad in a way that we thought he is the only stricken and we (the tribe of Nakha') are not as rueful as he is. This grief was apparent in his face for several days."
Letter of Imam 'Ali (a) to Malik al-Ashtar
- Main article: Letter of Imam 'Ali (a) to Malik al-Ashtar
Imam Ali (a) wrote a letter to Malik when he (a) wanted to appoint him as the governor of Egypt. A great part of this letter is about how the government should treat people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and what responsibilities the government has for the development of the country. This letter has been translated and commented on many times.
In the Words of Others
Imam 'Ali (a)
- "I am sending a servant of the servants of God to you. He who doesn't slumber in the days of fear and isn't afraid of enemies and is like fire to villains. He is Malik b. Harith from the ancestry of Madhhij. Listen to him and obey his commands because he is a sword of the God's swords that is strong and sharp. If he asks you to travel then travel and if he orders to stay then stay, because if he does something or avoids something, it is by my order. I am putting him in a prior position to you because he is a sincere man and I know that he is an unfailing man against your enemies."
When Imam 'Ali (a) heard that Malik al-Ashtar was martyred, he said:
- "Malik! How was Malik!, I swear by God, if he was a mount, he was a distinguished one. And if he was a rock, he was a firm one that no bird could reach it's height."
Also it is narrated that after his demise, Imam said:
When Mu'awiya became aware of the martyrdom of Malik, he said to people: "'Ali had two hands, one of them was cut in the Battle of Siffin, who was 'Ammar b. Yasir; and the other was Malik who died today."
Ibn Abi l-Hadid
According to Ibn Abi l-Hadid, Malik al-Ashtar was a brave horseman, chief of the tribe, and one of the great Shi'as of Imam 'Ali (a) who was faithful to Imam during his life. "Malik would combine lenience with rigor, he was rigorous in its proper situations and he was lenient in its appropriate cases."
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