The 9th of Zilhaj represents an important day in the Hajj pilgrimage. It is the day of Arafah on which the Hajj pilgrims make their way towards the plain of Arafa (or Arafat) from Mina. The day is followed by Eid ul Azha (Festival of Sacrifice). The day of Arafa holds a great deal of importance in Islam, as is evident from a hadith by Imam Zainul Abideen (A.S):
"O God, this is the day of Arafah a day which you have made noble, given honor and magnified within it. You have spread your mercy, showed kindness through your pardon, made plentiful your giving and by it you have been gracious towards your servants." (Sahifa as-Sajjadiyyah, Dua no. 47)
This significant day is a source of blessing for all Muslims. This day has special Aamaal (supplications) narrated from the Imams for the day as well as the night the follows it. The night of Arafat, especially, holds great importance as it is one of the seven nights in the Islamic calendar that hold special significance - the other six being Shab e Qadr, Shab e Mairaaj, Shab e Baraat, 15th of Shabaan, and the two nights of Eid. One hadith narrates that once Imam Zain ul Abideen (A.S) saw a man begging from people on the day of Arafah. Imam said, "Woe unto you that on a day like this you are asking from other than God. This is a day when the mercy and grace of Allah reaches (even) the fetus in the womb."
9th of Zilhaj also marks one of the darkest days in the early history of Islam when Hazrat Muslim ibn Aqeel was martyred on this day in 60 Hijri. Hazrat Muslim was the son of the Prophets (S.A.W.W) uncle Aqeel ibn Abu Talib, and therefore, a cousin of Imam Hussain (A.S). He had the distinct honor of being the emissary of Imam Hussein (A.S) as the Imam sought to gauge interest from the people of Kufa on their many invitations to visit their city. Imam Hussain (A.S) was on his way from Medina towards Mecca for Hajj pilgrimage. He wrote a letter for the people of Kufa, and handed it to Muslim. In that letter he said:
"I am sending my cousin and one of the most trusted ones from my family, Muslim ibn Aqeel, to report to me about your affairs. If his report agrees with what you have written I will soon be with you. You must be clear of the fact that the Imam is the only one who follows the book of Allah, and serves Allah in all matters and affairs with justice, honesty and truth."
- Syed Husian Mohammad Jafri, The Origins and Early Development of Shia Islam.
Yazid had spread a network of informants and secret agents in Mecca to assassinate the Imam during his Hajj pilgrimage. Imam learned about the spies, and carefully evaluated the situation in Mecca. Imam Husain knew that Yazid son of Muawiya had no regard for Islamic values and teachings, that he would do anything to enforce his illegitemate and tyrannical rule. Imam Husain also knew that giving allegiance of loyalty to someone like Yazid would place Islam at great jeopardy. Therefore, he decided to leave Mecca for Kufa to prepare for a confrontation with Yazid and his forces. Many friends and relatives urged Imam Husain not to go to Kufa, but he insisted on going. Imam Husain, along with family, friends, and companions began the journey toward Kufa (1,100 miles) in a long caravan in the blistering heat of Arab summer.
Meanwhile, Muslim ibn Aqeel received a warm welcome at first in Kufa. People pledged allegiance on his hand in the hundreds. Having witnessed such apparent fervor and passion of the people of Kufa, Muslim wrote to Imam Hussain (A.S) informing him that Kufiyaan are all loyal to his cause and await his arrival impatiently. Yazid had gotten word of Muslims arrival and the lack of action taken by the then Governor of Kufa - Noman ibn Bashir. Yazid immediately sent Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad to take over the helm in Kufa, and enforce the will of Yazid by any means necessary. Ibn Ziyad was a cruel and clever ruler, and arrived in the city dressed as a member of the Prophets household. The people of Kufa came out of their homes to greet him mistaking him for the great Imam (A.S) himself. Through this trickery, he was able to gauge the situation in Kufa. On his arrival, he delivered a sermon in the Grand Mosque threatening people with dire consequences if they chose to act against the government of Yazid.
Ibn Ziyad also deployed his spies to find out the hiding place of Muslim ibn Aqeel. He sent one of his servants Maqil to pose as a sympathiser of Imams cause and infiltrate the inner circles of Shias in Kufa. Maqil was successful in his mission, and found out that Muslim ibn Aqeel was staying at the house of Hani ibn Urwah. Hani was subsequently imprisoned, and the hunt for Muslim continued. Muslim took this opportunity to gather a large number of his followers and marched towards the mansion of Ibn Ziyad. Their number was close to 4000, and they heavily outnumbered the mansions guards and other law enforcement personnel. Seeing that there was no way to escape, Ibn Ziyad told the people that a large number of reinforcements were on their way to Kufa from Damascus. He warned the people of the evil consequences should they persist with their demands.
Following the hollow threats of Ibn Ziyad, the number of Muslims followers quickly started declining. Muslim used to lead prayers in Kufas Grand Mosque, and after the seige had lasted a couple of days, people became more weary of his cause, and ultimately left Muslim all alone. Having finished his Maghrib prayers, Muslim turned around only to find that no one was there. The large following that had vowed to shed their blood for Hussain (A.S) was nowhere to be found. Muslim was a complete stranger in Kufa. He was tired, hungry, and exhausted. He roamed the streets of Kufa all alone looking for refuge, until a lady named Tawah saw Muslim outside her home and offered him food, water, and shelter for the night. Tawahs son discovered Muslims identity and reported to one of the captains of Ibn Ziyads army.
The next morning a contingent of 500 soldiers came to Tawahs house and demanded Muslims surrender. Muslim realized that he had no means to escape, and came out with his sword drawn and ready to fight. A fierce fight took place, and Muslim fought bravely killing more than 40 soldiers. It had become apparent that Muslim could not be killed easily, so Ibn Ashas offered Muslim a guarantee of his life if he handed himself over. Muslim saw no point in continuing the fight and surrendered. He was taken to Ibn Ziyad who ordered that Muslim be executed immediately. Muslim was taken to the roof of the palace to be executed. He was decapitated and his body was thrown to the ground. He was mercilessly killed on 9th Zilhaj, 60 AH , the day of Arafah. The evil ruler did not settle for Muslims life. After Muslim was martyred, his body was dragged through the streets of Kufa as a warning to the people who opposed the rule of Yazid. Thus, he became the first martyr of the epic battle of Karbala.
May Gods curse be on the enemies of Ahl ul Bayt (A.S). Ameen.