When the Prophet, peace be on him, returned to Madinah from the Farewell Pilgrimage in the tenth year after the Hijrah, he fell ill, News of his illness spread rapidly throughout the Arabian peninsula. Sincere Muslims everywhere were greatly saddened by the news but for others it was a time to disclose hidden hopes and ambitions and reveal their real attitudes to Islam and the noble Prophet.
In al-Yamamah, Musaylamah the Imposter renounced Islam. So too did Tulayhah al-Asadi in the land of the Asad. And in the Yemen, al-Aswad al-Ansi also became an apostate. More than that, these three imposters claimed that they were prophets sent to their respective peoples just as Muhammad the son of Abdullah was sent to the Quraysh.
Al-Aswad al-Ansi was a soothsayer who practised magic arts. But he was no minor magician or fortuneteller who dabbled in his evil arts in obscurity. He was powerful and influential and possessed a strange power of speech that mesmerized the hearts of his listeners and captivated the minds of the masses with his false claims. With his wealth and power he managed to attract not just the masses but people of status as well. When he appeared before people he normally wore a mask in order to surround himself with an air of mystery, awe and reverence.
In the Yemen at that time, a section of the people who had much prestige and influence were the “Abna”. They were the scions of Persian fathers who ruled Yemen as part of the Sasanian Empire. Their mothers were local Arabs. Fayruz al-Daylami was one of these Yemeni Abna.
At the time of the appearance of Islam, the most powerful of the Abna was Badhan who ruled Yemen on behalf of the Chosroes of Persia. When Badban became convinced of the truth of the Prophet Muhammad and the Divine nature of his mission he renounced his allegiance to the Chosroes and accepted Islam. His people followed him in tiffs. The Prophet confirmed him in his dominion and he ruled the Yemen until his death shortly before the appearance of al-Aswad al-Ansi.
Al-Aswad’s tribe, the Banu Mudh-hij, were the first to respond positively to his claims to prophethood. With this tribal force he mounted a raid on San’a. He killed the governor, Shahr the son of Badhan and took his wife to himself. From San’a he raided other regions. Through his swift and startling strikes, a vast region from Hadramawt to at-Taif and from al-Ahsa to Aden came under his influence.
What helped al-Aswad in deceiving the people and drawing them to him was his guile and cunning which knew no bounds. To his followers he alleged that an angel visited him, disclosed revelations to him and gave him intelligence of people and their affairs. What allowed him to appear to bear out these claims were the spies he employed and despatched everywhere, to bring him news of people and their circumstances, their secrets and their problems, their hopes and their fears.
Reports were brought back in secrecy to him and when he met anyone, especially those in need, he could give the impression that he had prior knowledge of their needs and problems. In this way he astonished people and confounded their thoughts. He acquired a large following and his mission spread like wildfire.
When news of al-Aswad’s apostasy and his activities throughout the Yemen reached the Prophet, peace be on him, he despatched about ten of Iris companions with letters to those of his companions in the Yemen whom he felt he could trust. He urged them to confront the blind fitnah with faith and resolve, and he ordered them to get rid of al-Aswad by any means possible.
All who received the Prophet’s missives set about to carry out his orders implicitly. In the forefront of these was Fayruz ad-Daylami and those of the Abna who were with him. Let us leave Fayruz to relate his extraordinary story:
“I and those of the Abna who were with me never for one moment had any doubt about the religion of God. No belief in the enemy of God entered the heart of any one of us. (In fact) we waited for opportunities to get hold of al-Aswad and eliminate him by any means.
When we received the letters of the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, we felt strengthened in our mutual resolve and each one determined to do what he could
Because of his considerable success, pride and vanity took hold of al-Aswad al-Ansi. He bragged to the commander of his army, Qays ibn Abd Yaghuth, saying how powerful he was. His attitude and relationship towards his commander changed so much so that Qays felt that he was not safe from Iris violence and oppression.
My cousin, Dadhawayh, and I went to Qays and informed him of what the Prophet, peace and blessings be on him, had told us and we invited him to “make lunch” out of the man (al-Aswad) before he could “make supper” out of him. He was receptive to our proposal and regarded us as a Godsend. He disclosed to us some of the secrets of al-Aswad.
The three of us vowed to confront the apostate from within (his castle) while our other brothers would confront him from without. We were all of the view that our cousin Dadha, whom al-Aswad had taken to himself after the killing of her husband, should join us. We went to al-Aswad’s castle and met her. I said to her:
‘O cousin, you know what harm and evil this man has visited upon you and us. He has killed your husband and dishonored the women of your people. He has massacred their husbands and wrested political authority from their hands.
‘This is a letter from the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, to us in particular and to the people of Yemen in general in which he asks us to put an end to this fitnah. Would you help us in this matter?’ ‘On what can I help you? she asked. ‘On his expulsion…’ I said. ‘Rather on his assassination,’ she suggested. ‘By God, I had nothing else in mind,’ I said, ‘but I was afraid to suggest this to you.’ ‘By Him Who has sent Muhammad with the Truth as a bringer or’ good tidings and as a warner, I have not doubted in my religion for a moment. God has not created a man more detestable to me than the devil (al-Aswad). By God, from the time I saw him, I have only known him to be a corrupt and sinful person who does not promote any truth and does not stop from committing any abominable deed.’ “How can we go about eliminating him?’ I asked.
‘He is well-guarded and protected. There is not a place in his castle which is not surrounded by guards. There is one broken down and abandoned room though which opens out into open land. In the evening during the first third of the night, go there. You will find inside weapons and a light. You will find me waiting for you…’ she said.
‘But getting through to a room in a castle such as this is no easy task. Someone might pass and alert the guards and that will be the end of us’ I said. ‘You are not far from the truth. But I have a suggestion.’ ‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘Send a man tomorrow whom you trust as one of the workers. I shall tell him to make an opening in the room from the inside so that it should be easy to enter.’ ‘That’s a brilliant suggestion you have,’ I said.
I then left her and told the two others what we had decided and they gave their blessings to the plan. We left straightaway to get ourselves prepared. We informed a select group of believers who were assisting us to prepare themselves and gave them the password (to signal the time they could storm the castle). The time was to be dawn of the following day.
When night fell and the appointed time came, I went with my two companions to the opening in the room and uncovered it. We entered the room and put on the lamp. We found the weapons and proceeded to the apartment of God’s enemy. There was our cousin standing at his door. She pointed out where he was and we entered. He was asleep and snoring. I plunged the blade in his neck and he bellowed like a bull being slaughtered. When the guards heard this, they ran quickly to his apartment and asked: ‘What is this?’
‘Don’t worry. You can go. The prophet of God is receiving revelation,’ she said, and they left. We stayed in the castle until the break of dawn. Then I stood on a wall of the castle and shouted:
‘Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!’ and went on with the adhan until I reached’: ‘Ashhadu anna Muhammadur Rasulullah ! (Then I added) ‘Wa ashhadu anna al Aswad al-Ansi kadh-dhab ! I testify that al-Aswad is an imposter.’
By sunrise, the mission was accomplished. When it was full light, we sent a letter to the Messenger of God giving him the good news of the death of God’s enemy.
When the messengers reached Madinah they found that the Prophet, may the blessings of God be on him, had passed away that very night. They learned however that Revelation had been communicated to the Prophet informing him of the death of al-Aswad al-Ansi the night it took place.”
Years later, the Khalifah Umar ibn al-Khattab wrote to Fayruz ad-Daylami, may God be pleased with them both, saying:
“I have heard that you are busy eating white bread and honey (meaning no doubt that he was leading an easy life). When this my letter reaches you, come to me with the blessings of God so that you may campaign in the path of God.”
Fayruz did as he was commanded. He went to Madinah and sought an audience with Umar. Umar granted him permission. Evidently there was a crowd waiting to see Umar and a Quraysh youth pushed Fayruz. Fayruz raised his hand and hit the Quraysh youth on the nose.
The youth went to Umar who asked: “Who did that to you?”
“Fayruz. He is at the door,” said the youth. Fayruz entered and Umar asked: “What is this, O Fayruz?”
“O Amir al-Muminin,” said Fayruz. “You wrote to me. You didn’t write to him. You gave me permission to enter and you didn’t give him permission. He wanted to enter in my turn before me. Then I did what you have been told.”
“Al-Qisas,” pronounced Umar in judgment, meaning that Fayruz had to receive the same blow from the youth in retaliation. “Must it be so?” asked Fayruz. “It must be so,” insisted Umar.
Fayruz then got down on his knees and the youth stood up to exact his retaliation. Umar said to him then: “Wait a moment, young man, so that I can tell you something which I heard from the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace. I heard the Messenger of God say one evening: ‘This night, al-Aswad al-Ansi the Imposter has been killed. The righteous servant Fayruz ad-Daylami has killed him’ Umar then asked the youth:
“Do you see yourself taking retribution on him after you have heard this from the Messenger of God?” “I forgive him,” said the youth, “after you have told me this from the Prophet.” “Do you think,” said Fayruz to Umar, “that my escape from what I have done is a confession to him and that his forgiveness is not given under duress?” “Yes,” replied Umar and Fayruz then declared: “I testily to you that my sword, my horse and thirty thousand of my money is a gift to him.”
“Your forgiveness has paid off, O brother Quraysh and you have become rich,” said Umar no doubt impressed by the sense of remorse and the spontaneous generosity of Fayruz, the righteous.