Name: Ali
Title: al-Hadi; al-Naqi (the Guide; the Pure)
Kunya: Abu al-Hassan (al-Thalith/the 3rd)
Father: Muhammad ibn Ali al-Jawad (Peace be upon him)
Mother: Summana Khatun
Born: 2 Rajab, 212 AH/827 CE in the Holy City of Madinah
Died: 3rd Rajab, 254 AH/868 CE, after being poisoned by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu’tazz
Age at Martyrdom: 42
Period of Imamate: 34 years
Buried: Samarra, Iraq

The Tenth Imam

“…The imaginations of those who imagine are lost; the sight of those who see is short; the descriptions of those who describe disintegrate; and the words of the falsifiers vanish – before understanding the wonder of His state; or being able to reach the height of His station; For He is in the position which is unlimited; and in the place upon which (the gazes of) eyes have never fallen – neither though a signal, nor an expression; far (be it), far (it is)!”[i]

These were the words of ‘Ali, son of Imam Muhammad al-Jawad, while answering a question about the Originator of Existence, the Almighty God. The beauty of the awareness of God exudes from the words of such an individual, as if calling out, “This must be an immaculate Imam!”

Imam Muhammad al-Jawad, the ninth Imam, stated, “The Imam after me is my son ‘Ali. His command is my command, his words are my words, and obedience to him is obedience to me…”[ii]

The tenth Imam was known by many titles which designated his virtuous qualities. Two of the most famous of these titles were al-Hadi (the guide) and al-Naqi (the pure).[iii]

Throughout his life, Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi proactively worked to nourish the hearts and minds of the believers with Divine wisdom. The Imam’s words and actions called for an elevation of awareness toward realizing the purpose of life. By helping others reflect on the changing, impermanent nature of the world, Imam al-Hadi reminded people of the Hereafter. As the Imam said, “The world is a market; some people gained in it, while others lost.”[iv]

Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi

After Imam Muhammad al-Jawad was poisoned, Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi lived in Madinah, where he remained for several years. Although the Abbasid rule had been cruel under Mu’tasim, the levels of oppression increased drastically under the Abbasid ruler Mutawakkil. A companion of Imam al-Hadi by the name of Ibn Sharaf narrates the following, “I was walking with Imam al-Hadi in Madinah and he said to me, ‘Aren’t you Ibn Sharaf?’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ Then I wanted to ask him about a (religious) question, but before I asked him, he said, ‘We are in the middle of the road (in public); and this is not the situation for a (religious) question.’”[v]

This encounter hints at the terror exercised under Mutawakkil’s rule, such that it led Imam al-Hadi to keep Shia religious matters confidential. Indeed, it was Mutawakkil who persecuted and arrested several prominent Shia. Mutawakkil forcibly took Imam al-Hadi to Samarra’ (an Abbasid city north of Baghdad) and imprisoned him. Then this wicked caliph demolished the burial site of the Master of Martyrs, Imam Husayn, setting up police stations to prevent devotees from visiting…[vi]

The tenth Imam thus maintained secret communications with the Shia living in various areas. Through an intricate network of representatives, Imam al-Hadi would receive the religious dues from observant believers, as well as answer questions of faith, Islamic law, and politics.[vii]

In the face of political and intellectual challenges, Imam al-Hadi stood with wisdom and fortitude. From the foolish ones of Mutawakkil’s court to the twisted extremists making false claims, Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi uprooted the trees of distortion with his sound proofs and powerful reminders.[viii]

A Reminder through Poetry

On a dark night, Mutawakkil’s guards stormed Imam al-Hadi’s residence. Word had reached the Abbasid ruler that weapons and letters from loyal supporters were hidden in the Holy Imam’s home. The guards barged in and searched the premises for any sign of dissidence. They initially found nothing of the sort…

But then the guards opened the door of a closed off room, only to find the Holy Imam… Their gazes rested upon the devout master – who was dressed in wool, sitting on the sand and gravel, and directing himself toward the Almighty while reciting verses from the Holy Scripture. Reminded of their orders, the guards carried Imam al-Hadi off to Mutawakkil.

“We did not find anything in his house; and we found him facing the qiblah (direction of prayer), reading the Quran.” explained the guards. Mutawakkil had been drinking alcohol when the Holy Imam was brought before him. The corrupt ruler offered the Holy Imam his drink (which is forbidden by Islam). Imam al-Hadi refused, saying, “By God, never has it mixed with my flesh and blood at all, so excuse me.”

The corrupt ruler accepted. Then he demanded, “Recite poetry for me.” Imam al-Hadi replied, “I narrate little (when it comes to) poetry.” But Mutawakkil insisted. Therefore, the Holy Imam decide to recite the following lines of poetry, as a reminder for those who would wish to be reminded:

“They stayed on the beds of mountains, while guarded –

– by the overpowering (ones) among men. Yet these beds did not save them

And they were brought down – after glory – from their fortresses…

Then they were deposited into holes. What terrible (places to) stay!

A screaming caller yelled out to them after they were buried:

‘Where are the beds, the crowns, and the wardrobes?’

‘Where are those faces that used to be pampered –

– before them, veils and wreaths were drawn down?’

The grave then spoke out on their behalf as (the screaming caller) asked them:

‘Those faces…are what worms fight over (now)’

So long did they eat – for a time – and (for) so (long) they did drink…

But – after having eaten for so long – they are now being eaten

And for so long, they built houses to guard them…

But they departed the houses, the families, and moved on

And for so long, they treasured wealth and saved it…

But they left it behind for their enemies, and traveled on

Their homes have become neglected wasteland…

As the (original) inhabitants have gone to the graves”

Historians note that Mutawakkil was touched by this poem and started to cry, as did those present. But even so, the corrupt ruler failed to mend his ways.[ix]

Martyrdom and Words of Wisdom

Eventually, Mutawakkil was killed by his own son, Muntasir. While Muntasir was not as tyrannical as his father, his rule only lasted for about six months. Muntasir was succeeded by two tyrants, Musta’in and Mu’tazz, who followed suit with the traditional Abbasid oppression.[x]

Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi remained under close surveillance and political pressure, but he continued to reject injustice with steadfast resistance and never submitted to corruption. During Mu’tazz’s reign, Imam al-Hadi was poisoned… The holy tenth Imam was buried at his residence in Samarra’, Iraq.[xi]

Imam al-Hadi’s following words call for insightful contemplation on the topic of death. They specifically discuss the way to think of this world and the next. “Indeed, God has made this world an abode of trials, and the Hereafter an abode of outcome. He made the trials of this world to be a cause for the reward of the Hereafter, and the reward of the Hereafter to be a compensation for the trials in this world…”iv

“…Think of your death, in the arms of your family (members), while no doctor can stop you (from dying), and no loved one can do you any good…”[xii]


[i] Pg. 250 of al-Ihtijaj by Sh. Tabrasi

[ii] Pg. 118, Vol. 50 of Bihar al-Anwar by Allamah Majlisi

[iii] Pg. 113, Vol. 50 of Bihar al-Anwar by Allamah Majlisi

[iv] Pg. 483 of Tuhaf al-‘Uqul by Sh. Hurani

[v] Pg. 509 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[vi] Pg. 521-525 of Seeratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[vii] Pg. 510-511 of Seeratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[viii] Pg. 535-539 of Seeratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[ix] Pg. 519-520 of Seeratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[x] Pg. 506, 532 of Seeratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[xi] Pg. 544 of Seeratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[xii] Pg. 311 of Aalamu Deen by Sh. Daylami