Maytham al-Tammar: the Orator of Ahlul Bayt
As usual, the lover of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) made his way to the palm tree near Amr ibn Hurayth’s house. With tender care, he watered the tree and made sure it was still healthy and strong. After praying under the sparse shade of the towering trunk and long leaves, these words escaped his lips: “May God bless you, for I have been created for you, and you have been created for me.” (Sharh of Ibn Abi Hadid)
This was the routine of Maytham al-Tammar, the freed slave of Imam Ali (peace be upon him). The humble fruit seller was one from among the circle of the Imam’s close companions, and he constantly uttered the praise of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon him). Eventually, he gained the status of being a carrier of knowledge taught to him by the Imam, and he propagated those teachings to others.
Imam Ali once predicted to his dear companion: “O Maytham, know that after my death, you will be arrested and hung from the gallows. On the second day, your beard will be reddened with the blood of your nose and your mouth, and on the third day, you will be pierced with a spear, and you will go to the presence of your Lord. The place where this will occur is near the house of Amr ibn Hurayth, and you will be the tenth person to die in that way, the only difference being that the scaffold from which you will hang will be shorter than the others. I will show you the tree from which it will be fashioned.” (Ibid.)
From the moment the Imam showed Maytham the specific tree, Maytham grew attached to it and looked forward to his martyrdom. For him, the tree symbolized the day that he would get closer to his Lord, so he yearned for that day and didn’t care for the sparkle of this materialistic world. Often, we get caught up in our everyday lives that we barely give a thought to the reality of our impermanence. If we were told the exact situation of our death, we could react in two ways: either try to live for this world in the time we have left, without a care for the teachings of Islam, or – like Maytham – we could try to live for the next world by being the best Shia of Ali that we can be.
In another account, after having been told that he will die from hanging one day, the first words that came from Maytham’s were, “O my Master! Will I die the death of a Muslim?” (Kitab al-Fazael) Maytham’s first concern was not how long he had left, where he would die, who would hang him, if it would be painful, or if there was any way out of it. All that mattered to him was whether or not his loyalty to the Almighty will still be firm when he will return to his Lord.
Like us, Maytham was a fallible human being – yet his mindset was so focused on getting closer to Allah. We need to re-adjust our focus to getting closer to Allah, so that we too can be like the strongest lovers of our Ahlul Bayt who guide us towards Him. When having to decide at a crossroads between the Right and the Wrong, we shouldn’t be intimidated by the whispers of Shaytan and his soldiers – we have to keep our focus. Death could come at any moment, and we definitely want to go as the followers of Allah’s beloved ones.
Whatever difficulties we may face, remembering Maytham’s dire situation helps to put things in perspective. When Ibn Ziyad came into power, he arrested the staunch supporter of the Ahlul Bayt, and after an exchange of words, Ibn Ziyad wanted to know about Imam Ali’s prediction about Maytham’s death. By the end of the description, an infuriated Ibn Ziyad vowed to disprove the Imam’s prediction. Yet Maytham’s supply of courage was not depleted – he said: “How can you do the opposite when, by Allah, Imam Ali had heard it from the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), while he had heard it from Jibra’il, who in turn heard it from the Almighty. How can you oppose them? And I even know the place in Kufa where I shall be hanged, and I shall be the first in Islam to be bridled.” (Nafasul Mahmum) Ibn Ziyad imprisoned Maytham, keeping him there until approximately two weeks before Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) reached Iraq.
Truly, whatever troubles we face, they are not likely to be as dangerous as that of Maytham’s. In the court of a drunken tyrant, he stood up for what he believed in and didn’t shy away from showing the strength of his love for the Prophet’s Family – so why should we compromise our beliefs just because of what others might think of us? Why feel embarrassed at claiming to be the followers of Imam Ali? If we are his followers, then we have the responsibility to uphold his name and the reputation that goes with it.
The brilliance of Maytham’s faith doesn’t fade after having replied to Ibn Ziyad’s foolish talk; rather, Maytham went on to give us more inspiration in his love for the Ahlul Bayt. While he was hanging from the very tree that he had tended during his life, he attracted crowds of people with his words of praise for the Pure Infallibles! The soldiers of Ibn Ziyad informed him that Maytham was about to start a revolution in Kufa with his brilliant oratory in praise of the Ahlul Bayt! An alarmed Ibn Ziyad ordered Maytham’s mouth to be muzzled, and two days later, a spear was thrust into his body by the soldiers of Ibn Ziyad. On the 23rd of Dhil Hajj, in the year 60 AH, Maytham’s soul was reunited with his beloved master Ali. Thereafter, other fruit sellers took down Maytham’s body and performed the proper burial rites.
When it comes to being a true lover of the Ahlul Bayt, Maytham is a timeless example for us. Without hesitation, without apology, without embarrassment, Maytham uttered the virtues of the Pure Household wherever he was. They are the ones who take us closer to Allah, and He is the ultimate goal – so how can we shy away from loving them?
In reference to another kind of tree – a beautiful, ever-lasting tree – Prophet Muhammad once said: “The parable of Ali is like a tree, in which I am the root, Ali is the branch, Hasan and Hussain are the fruits, and the Shia are the leaves.” (Lisan al-Mizan) This tree – the tree of the guardianship of Ahlul Bayt – is what takes us closer to Allah, so we have to strive to keep it full of lush leaves. In order to be among the leaves blossoming from this flourishing tree, we need to live and die like Maytham: with the love of the Ahlul Bayt in our hearts and on our lips.