Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017, marks the birth anniversary of Imam Ali ibn al-Hussain (p), 5th of Sha’ban, 1438 A.H.

Name: Ali
Title: Zayn al-Abideen (Ornament of the Worshippers); Sayyid al-Sajjadeen (Master of the Prostrators)
Kunya: Abu al-Hassan
Father: Hussain ibn Ali (Peace be upon them)
Mother: Named “Ghazalah” or “Salafah”, also narrated that she was called “Shahrbanu” or “Shahzanan”
Born: 5th Shaban, 38 AH/659 CE in Makkah, Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula
Died: 25th Muharram, 95 AH/713 CE, after being poisoned by Walid
Age at Martyrdom: 57
Period of Imamate: 34 years
Buried: al-Baqi’, Madinah, Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula


Ali ibn Hussain (p)

The Best of Worshippers

Hisham, a prominent political figure, struggled to push through the sea of pilgrims in an attempt to reach the holy black stone. His attempts were unsuccessful. Suddenly, a man who was undeniably pious approached. The pilgrims swiftly made way for the devout master until he reached the stone.

Upon seeing this, a crowd near the politician asked, “Who is that?”

Hisham responded dismissively, “I don’t know him,” even though he did.

The celebrated poet, Farazdaq, heard the exchange and declared, “But, indeed, I know him. This is Ali, the son of Hussain – Zayn al-‘Abidin (the Finest of Worshippers).” Farazdaq then proceeded to recite some verses of poetry on the spot:

This is the one whose footsteps are known to the soil

He is known by the House of God, the sanctuary and its surroundings

This is the son of God’s finest servants, in their entirety

This is the pious, the untainted, the pure, and the beacon

This is the grandson of (Lady) Faṭimah, if you do not know who he is

With his great-grandfather, the Prophets of God have been concluded

And your utterance, “Who is this?” does no harm to him

The citizens and foreigners alike know the one you have denied…”[i]

The Fourth Imam

He was the only adult male to have survived the onslaught of ‘Ashura’. His role would reach beyond the plains of Karbala’. Imam Ali, the son of Hussain, lived on as the voice of the revolution, even in the tyrant’s very own palace. Imam Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin was the fourth immaculate Imam.

Imam Hussain did not allow Zayn al-‘Abidin to fight during the battle of ‘Ashura’, due to his illness and because he needed to survive as the Divine representative on earth. For indeed, when Imam Hussain was asked about who the authority would go to if he passed, he said, “To Ali, this son of mine. He is the Imam, and the forefather of the (following) Imams.”[ii]

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin had a long journey ahead of him. A journey of spreading awareness and sparking an awakening. The fourth infallible Imam struggled, but not on the battlefield as Imam Hussain did. The struggle was the same struggle – the struggle of Awareness, Truth, and Love. But the methods and tools varied.

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin pursued his struggle by speaking out, teaching, and praying…Yes, by praying. Not the prayer of one who has given up and surrendered to injustice or ignorance. Rather, the prayer of one who encoded the secrets of awakening into the words of his prayer. The Imam taught of rights and detailed the prescription required for true balance. He educated, inspired and invigorated the people. He revived true life by preparing the hearts of the people to ignite with the fire of purpose.

The Aftermath of ‘Ashura’

After ‘Ashura’, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin led the caravan of women and children who were taken as prisoners of war. In shackles, along with the noble Lady Zaynab, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin challenged injustice. When threatened with execution, the Imam stated:

“Is it through killing that you threaten me…?! Don’t you know that getting killed has become a habit for us (the Imams), and that our honor is in martyrdom?!”[iii]

In the court of the tyrant Yazid, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin spoke out in front of the crowd. He announced who he was and what had happened to his family, the protectors of faith. As the Imam eloquently spoke, the people present were spontaneously awakened to the tragedies that had come to pass. The entire court was shaken in an outburst of tears and emotional cries.

Yazid feared that the crowd would turn against him so he ordered that the call to prayer be made. When the call to prayer reached the phrase, “I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin turned to Yazid and said:

“This Muhammad, is he my grandfather or your grandfather, O Yazid? If you say that he is your grandfather, you have lied and rejected the truth. And if you say that he is my grandfather, then why did you kill his family?”[iv]

As people heard these words, they saw through Yazid’s deception. The court was overtaken by commotion and division. With Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s words, people saw the ugly face of evil that Yazid represented.[v]

Prayers from al-Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah

A famous compilation of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s prayers is called al-Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah (The Book of the One in Frequent Prostration). The title refers to Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s devotional worship in which he constantly humbled himself before God. This compilation of prayers can be regarded as fuel for spiritual development. Reflecting on the words of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin in relation to God creates a healing, motivational, and uplifting effect, to say the very least. Consider, for instance, the following excerpt from the Supplication in Asking for Release from Sins:

“…so here I am, O Lord, thrown down before You! I am the one whose back is weighed down by mistakes! I am the one whose lifetime has been consumed by sins! I am the one who – with his ignorance – disobeyed You, while You did not deserve that from him!”

“O God, would You have mercy on the one who prays to You, such that I should exert myself in prayer? Or would You forgive the one who cries to You, such that I should hurry to cry? Or would You pardon the one who smears his face (in the dirt) out of humility before You? Or would You free from need the one who complains to You of his poverty, with confidence (in You)?”

“O God, do not disappoint the one who finds no Giver other than You… Do not let down the one who cannot be freed from his need for You through anyone but You…O God, bless Muhammad and his family, and do not turn away from me – for I have turned to You…Do not deprive me, for I have sought after You…and do not confront me with rejection, for I have stood before You…”[vi]

Treatise on Rights

The fourth infallible Imam is also known to have written a comprehensive treatise on rights. In this unique treatise, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin eloquently discusses the rights of each faculty the human being has control over, then the rights of various members of society, spanning from a person’s children to the nation’s ruler. Here is a brief selection on the right of one’s mother:

“The right of your mother is that you know she carried you where no one carries anyone, she fed you from the fruit of her heart that which no one feeds anyone, and she protected you…with all of her organs…She did not mind going hungry as long as you ate, if she was thirsty as long as you drank, if she was bare as long as you were clothed, if she was in the sun as long as you were in the shade…You will not be able to show her gratitude except through God’s help and granting of success.”[vii]

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s educational and motivational presence threatened the rulers of his day. It was during the reign of Hisham – yes, the politician from the anecdote – that the Imam was assassinated. Hisham’s relative, Walid, had the holy Imam poisoned. While Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s noble qualities cannot be encompassed, knowing of even a few seeds which the fourth Imam planted tells us stories of blossoming greatness.[viii]

[i] Pg. 65-66 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[ii] Pg. 60, Vol. 4 of Ithbat al-Hodat by Sh. al-Amili

[iii] Pg. 187 of Siratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[iv] Pg. 190 of Siratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[v] Pg. 191 of Siratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[vi] Supplication #16 of Sahifah Sajjadiyyah

[vii] Pg. 564-570 of al-Khisal by Sh. Saduq

[viii] Ch. 41 of Islam: Faith, Practice & History by S. Muhammad Rizvi