To the jurist, the scholar, to the man of law,
To the Knight who guards his master still
Love; that timeless emotion which connects people takes many shapes and forms. One such form is the enduring love that exists among true and loyal friends.
Picture the scene; a young prince is walking in the streets of Madina. Behind him is a young man. This young man is doing something strange. He is picking up the dust off the footsteps of the young prince, kissing it and in adoration placing it upon his eyes.
Witnessing this scene is a tearful Prophet Muhammed (SAWW). He is visibly moved by this display of affection and respect. He calls out to the young man, hugs him and kisses him. This young man is none other than Habib Ibn Mazahir Al-Asadi, and the young prince is Imam Al-Hussain (AS) no less.
The Prophet famously foretells to Habib’s father: “O Mazahir! This Habib will come to my Hussain’s aid one day.” The rest, of course, is history.
Habib Ibn Muzhair was a Kufan belonging to tribe of Bani Asad. As well as being the childhood friend of Imam Al-Hussain (AS), Habib was among the lofty companions of the Holy Prophet. He was counted amongst the obedient and special group of companions of Imam Ameer Al-Momineen Ali (AS) known as the شرطة الخميس. He accompanied Imam Ali (AS) in the Battles of Jamal, Siffeen and Nahrawan. Habib, after each battle and especially when one of his companions would fall, would eagerly approach Imam Ali (AS) inquiring of the time of his own martyrdom. Imam Ali would answer: “your martyrdom is certified”, Habib’s eagerness giving indications of a man who was prepared and unfazed at the prospect of death.
Aside from his bravery in battle, Habib was an exegetist (muffasir) of the Holy Quran and a well-regarded jurist (faqih) in the city of Kufa. This is much evident from the letter he receives from Imam Al-Hussain (AS). One morning, nearly 50 years after that incident in Madina, Habib is sat having breakfast. He is anxious of the news of Imam Al-Hussain (AS), not knowing where exactly to find him. He receives a letter from his master, which begins:
من الحسين بن علي إلى الرجل الفقيه حبيب بن مظاهر
أما بعد ياحبيب فأنت تعلم قرابتنا من رسول الله وأنت اعرف بنا من غيرك وأنت ذو شيمة وغيرة فلا تبخل علينا بنفسك يجازيك جدي رسول الله يوم القيامة
“From Hussain Ibn Ali to the man of law (jurist) Habib Ibn Muzahir…”
Only a man of special rank and calibre would be addressed as “Al-Rajalul-Faqih” by an Imam. Some scholars highlight that one of the reasons why Imam Al-Hussain (AS) addresses Habib as “Al-Rajalul-Faqih” is that on the day of Ashura when Imam Al-Hussain (AS) is leading congregational prayers, the enemies of Allah begin showering arrows at the Imam. Habib in the midst of prayer moves himself in front of the Imam to shield him from the oncoming attacks and yet he carries on in the state of prayer! An individual who neither gives up being in the state of prayer, and nor does he compromise in his duty to protect the life of his Imam. He has the mindfulness and jurisprudential foresight to prioritise his duties accordingly.
When on the 4th of Muharram Imam Al-Hussain (AS) writes to Habib from Karbala, it is at a time when his camp is surrounded and he is vastly outnumbered. Some scholars indicate that Habib is the only person the Imam writes to, asking for support, highlighting not only Habib’s rank but also the confidence the Imam holds him under. When Habib arrives in Karbala, the spirits of the whole camp are uplifted. He is greeted with salutations from Sayyeda Zainab (AS) no less, an honour afforded to a handful.
On the day of Ashura even at the senior age of 75, he is given charge of the left flank (maisara) of the army of Imam Al-Hussain. Fighting bravely he vanquishes over 62 foes. But even in the midst of battle, Habib does not forget prayer and the importance in praying it with the rightful Imam. Herein Habib’s example is a lesson for us all, where in the busy lives that we live, prayer is often side-lined and carried out as an afterthought, if at all.
Habib was eventually killed by a group of soliders, whilst fighting valiantly to defend the honour of the household of the Prophet. He was among the first of the companions to be beheaded, with his head paraded whilst tied to the neck of a horse. And thus, the prophetic foretelling reaches its conclusion.
At one point, much like us, Habib did not know where his Imam was. He anxiously waited for his news, and when his Imam called out to him he responded. Even though he faced many obstacles and barriers in reaching his Imam, through his perseverance, his strength of character and faith, he found a way to be with him. He aided his Imam and died at his side whilst protecting his honour. And even now his separate shrine outside the shrine of Imam Hussain (AS) in Karbala reflects as though he still stood guarding his master, as he did on the day of Ashura.
In reality, not much is known about the 75 year life of the beloved Habib Ibn Muzahir, the details are few and far between. And yet the few snippets of his life captured within the leaves of history inspire a never ending remembrance, a revolution of thought and action, of love, loyalty and faithfulness.
Written by Musa Naqvi