Malik bin al-Harith al-Nakha’i (r.a.) was one of the most pious and loyal companions of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) and the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (a.s.). Al-Ashtar is a title given to him because he was struck on his eyelid in the Battle of Yarmouk. His date of birth is not available but it is reported that he was 10 years older than Imam Ali (a.s.) and 20 years younger than the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.). He was from Yemen.
He is recognized for his piety, humbleness as well as his fierce and steadfast defense for Islam. He was the fiercest warrior of his time and was the right hand of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.).
The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) sent Khalid bin Waleed to Yemen to invite people toward Islam, but his approach was such that the people started pelting stones at him. Then Imam Ali (a.s.) was sent. When he along with some Muslims reached Yemen, the Yemenis again threw stones, but Imam Ali advised his companions to be patient. When Imam Ali (a.s.) finished his invitation of Islam to them they were so impressed by his personality that the tribes of Kinda, Banu Nakha, Hamadan, and Thaftan converted to Islam. The prominent personalities like Hujr bin Adi, Kumail bin Ziyad and Malik were among them.
Encounter with Waleed bin Uqba, the Governor of Kufa:
Waleed bin Uqba was the half brother of the third caliph Usman bin Affan. He used to consume alcohol openly and was expelled from the country by the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.). Surah al-Hujarat Ayah 6 exposes his character stating him to be an evil man: “Believers, if one who publicly commits sins brings you any news, ascertain its truthfulness carefully, lest you harm people through ignorance and then regret what you have done.”
One day, he entered the mosque drunk and led the Morning Prayer four rakat instead of two rakat and at the end asked the Muslims if he should continue! Malik along with Kumail bin Ziyad and nine other Muslims complained to him. Instead of accepting his mistake he expelled them to Sham (Syria). Muawiya said: “How dare you speak about the governor and cause disunity. Quran says ‘Obey Allah, obey the prophet, and obey the leaders among you!” They were expelled from Syria as well. They were returning to Madinah and were stopped on the way at Rabza, where Abu Dharr Ghifari was in a very bad health after being banished by the third caliph. Malik and nine other Muslims returned to Madinah and complained about the behavior of Waleed and Muawiya but nothing was done.
Soon the caliph was assassinated by the Muslims. Now the multitude of Muslims requested the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (a.s.) to accept the caliphate but the Imam refused. Malik was among them. When the pressure increased, then Imam Ali (a.s.) accepted their demand. On assuming the caliphate, he immediately removed every unjust governor.
Battle of Jamal: Marwan played a vital role in arranging a large army along with Ummul Momineen Aisha, Talha and Zubair. They headed towards Basra. Imam Ali (a.s.) sent Malik to enlist support from Kufans and by his powerful speech enlisted support of over 18,000 people. When they joined the forces of Imam Ali (a.s.), he gave the command of the right wing to Malik and left wing to Ammar bin Yasser and the army’s standard to his son Muhammad bin Hanafiyah. As usual, Imam Ali (a.s.) ordered his men not to attack first. He asked for a volunteer to take the Glorious Qur’an to the rebels, a brave man came forward. When the man went to the rebels he was martyred. The Imam raised his hands and prayed. The war began and Malik’s men fought bravely. Imam Ali (a.s.) asked Malik to cut the feet of Hazrat Aisha’s camel and asked Muhammad bin Abi Bakr to support his sister when the camel falls. Thus the mission was accomplished and Hazrat Aisha was respectfully sent back to Madinah.
Battle of Siffin: Imam Ali (a.s.) removed all corrupt governors replacing them with honest, truthful, trustworthy, God-conscious ones. He appointed Malik as the governor of areas near the border of Shaam (Syria). The infamous and power-hungry Muawiya, who sought to eliminate the caliphate of Imam Ali (a.s.) and fearful of his removal, formed an army to defend his power. Imam Ali (a.s.) exchanged letters with him but he openly disobeyed. Imam Ali (a.s.) sent an army towards Sham. The two armies met at Kirkeesiya. Malik tried to persuade Muawiya to avoid bloodshed. Muwiya's army made a surprise attack at night but was suppressed. The real battle took place at Siffin. Muawiyah’s army captured the River Euphrates and denied water to Imam Ali (a.s.)’s army. Imam Ali (a.s.) sent Malik to recapture the river but it was the nobility of Imam Ali (a.s.) who allowed the enemy to take water!
Malik was a brave and fearless a warrior. During the war, Malik said that he had killed the same number as Imam Ali (a.s.). The Imam replied that before killing he was seeing if there was any believer in the next seven generations of the victim! At the height of the war, Muawiya tricked Imam Ali (a.s.)’s army and asked his men to raise Qur’an on their spears. Imam Ali (a.s.) tried to convince his men about the trick but about 22,000 Kharijites refused to obey him. Malik was only two rows away from Muawiya when the Imam recalled him. This was the discipline that Malik stopped the fight and returned to the Imam.
Imam Ali (a.s.)’s letter to Malik:
Imam Ali (a.s.) had sent a directive to Mailk regarding the governance. The former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi used to give this letter to any new cabinet minister. In the year 1997, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan had conducted a survey to search for the best document on Justice and found this letter to be the best document ever written.
Martyrdom of Malik by Mua’wiya: Muhammad bin Abi Bakr was the governor of Egypt. Muawiya’s companion Amr bin As wanted to become the governor of Egypt. He rallied 6,000 men and advanced toward Egypt. On hearing this news from Muhammad, Imam Ali (a.s.) dispatched Malik to help him. When Muawiya heard about it, he planned to eliminate Malik by poison. He sent a delegation to the owner of a service station at Qilzim City where travelers used to stop for rest. The owner was promised life time tax free facility. Consequently, Malik was poisoned in honey and died instantly. On hearing the news of Malik’s martyrdom, he was very sad and said: “Women would become baron to give birth to a man like Malik. Malik was to me like I was to Rasul Allah!” When his plan was successful, Muawiya was jubilant and said: “Ali ibn Abi Talib had two hands, I cut off one of them in Siffin; it was Ammar ibn Yassir. Today, I have cut off the other hand, it is Malik.”
Malik had two sons; Ishaq and Ibrahim. Ishaq fought in Karbala with Imam Hussayn (a.s.) and Ibrahim helped Mukhtar avenge the martyrs of Karbala.
Malik al-Ashtar by Kamal al-Sayyid