THE LIFE OF ALI (Zain al-Abideen) IBN Al-HUSAIN(A)
by the late Dr. Syed Haider Hussain Shamsi
(Excerpt from his book, ” And the Message Continues … the Lives of the Twelve Imams of Ahlul Bait. )
Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen (a) was only two years of age when his grandfather, Imam Ali (a) was killed during prayers in the month of Ramadan in the main mosque of Najaf (near Kufa). He was a youth of fourteen years when he saw the life and the painful death of his uncle Imam Hasan (a). He was about twenty-three years of age when he accompanied his father, Imam Husain (a) and witnessed the events of the tragedy of Karbala. Before he finally left his camp, Imam Husain (a) came to the bedside of his sick son Ali, and bestowed the onerous duty of Imamate on him.
Imam Ali ibn al-Husain (a) survived the massacre only because he was physically unable to go out to the battlefield due to his sickness. However, on the next day after the blood bath of his family and friends, he was hand tied and put in shackles, and marched on foot from the battlefield, first to Kula and then to Damascus. On this journey of painful suffering, his aunt Zaina binte Ali ibne Abi Tallb, the sister of Imam Husain and other surviving widows and children, accompanied him.
After Karbala, he lived for another thirty-four years under the tyrannical rule of several Marwanid caliphs who took personal gratification in inflicting abuse and torture to him and his followers.
THE JOURNEY OF THE CAPTIVES OF KARBALA
The hand-tied captives were not tongue-tied. Despite the recent inflections of the loss of loved ones in the battlefield, lack of recuperation from the torturous thirst and starvation of women and children, the rag tag caravan manifested tremendous courage by defying their physical difficulties and continuing to preach the truth to the on-lookers who had gathered to line up the caravan route.
The apparent victors were pleased with their achievement of the decimation of the Imam’s carnp. During their passage through the streets and bazaars of Kufa, the eloquent speeches made by the captive sister of Imam Husain, and his son Imam All Zain al-Abideen told their painful story to the onlookers who had come to line up the caravan route. When they learned and realized who the captives were, they cried out aloud and openly rebuked the killers of the family of the Prophet of Islam. From then on, the caravan was led to Damascus via an unfrequented route to prevent possible reprisals.
The retelling of the story by the captives continued every inch of the way to the palace of Yazid. This rendered an extremely valuable service to the cause of Imam Husain and made the victors look aggressors thirsty for the blood of the Imam and his family. They were then thrown in prison for a period of over one-year. Many children and the weak succumbed to fatigue and grief throughout the caravan route as well as within the prison.
RETURN OF THE CAPTIVES TO MADINAH
When the caravan of the survivors arrived in Madinah, the family and friends of the Imam met and told the events of the previous year to each other. Some devotees were so overwhelmed with grief that they took a trip to Damascus in 63 AH to protest against Yazid and his deeds. This infuriated the tyrant caliph. He unleashed his Syrian army on to Madinah under a most ruthless Umayyad commander named Muslim bin Uqba. There was a bloody battle at Harrah al-Waqim, a small town just north of Madinah. Thousands of Madinan Muslims perished along with many learned and respectable elders. After the battle the soldiers ravaged the city for three full days, burning property, and looting freely homes and businesses. They drank without any inhibition and thronged the streets throwing obscenities on the surviving residents.
Horrible was the havoc the Syrians played on life and limb and chaste womanhood. It is said that when they departed, they left many families and the city in utter ruins.
After the sack of Madinah, Muslim bin Uqba proceeded to Makkah to subdue and arrest the separatist Abd Allah bin Zubayr. However, on the way Muslim died near the town of Jaffa, and the command passed over to Haseen bin Numayr al-Sakooni. Approaching Makkah, they occupied the surrounding hills, and laid siege to the city for sixty-four days. They threw projectiles of fire and rock on the city causing ruinous damage to the holy sanctuary. It was at this time that the news of the death of Yazid was received and the siege of Makkah was lifted. The tyrant Umayyad captain withdrew to Damascus. This gave the much-needed reprieve to the self-proclaimed caliph of Makkah, Abd Allah bin Zubayr. He started to rebuild the holy mosque and to repair the damages caused by the Umayyad army.
There was not even a single day in the life of the Imam after Karbala that he was seen without tears in his eyes. He used to pray to Allah with such intensity and devotion that he earned the names of Syed u’s-Sajad,
al-Abid and Zain al-Abideen.
THE LIFE OF IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDEEN DURING OTHER UMAYYAD CALIPHS OF HIS TIME
The tragedy of Karbala brought a wave of turmoil in the heartland of the Muslim world as well as to the house of Abu Sufyan.
After the death of Yazid bin Muawiyah in 64 AH, the succession to the throne came to his son Muawiyah bin Yazid. However, he declined it. He considered the Caliphate to have been usurped by his family, and refused to have any thing to do with it. For forty days, he did not leave his quarters in the palace. It is said that he died there with the cause of death unknown. Marwan bin Hakam, who had been managing the govenunent during this period of lull, declared himself the next caliph. However, the caliphate of Marwan was only short lived. He died in the year 65 AH and his son Abd al-Malik became the Caliph.
After Karbala, there was a faction of the believers who felt penitent over their betrayal of Imam Husain, and having the Umayyads butcher the innocent members of his family. This is known as the Tawwabun movement. They mustered a force of 16,000 strong under Sulayman bin Surad and marched towards Syria. The Umayyad force met them at Ain ul-Wada on the Euphrates. The Tawwabun charged with desperate passion, but perished at the hands of the superior Syrian army. Only a few returned to tell the story of the disaster.
There were others who were confused over why Imam Ali Zain al Abideen was not taking up arms against the tyranny of the Umayyads. They converged towards Muhammade Hanafia, the pious uncle of the Imam and wanted him to lead them against the tyrants. However, the question over the rightful successor to Imamate was settled in favor of Imam Ali Zain al Abideen the two met for Haj in Makkah. The separatists were not satisfied as the Imam refused to take up arms against the ruler or to participate in any political ambition.
The death of Yazid did bring a new wave of revolution in the province of Hijaz. Abd Allah bin Zubayr became more active in Makkah in pursuit of his campaign for a separatist movement which he had started in 64 AH. He was able to gather support for his claim from Hijaz, as well as the provinces of Iraq and Yemen. After establishing his rule in these provinces, he started his own campaign of revenge against the friends and the family of Imam Ali on account of the disposition of his father who had joined the army of Ayesha in the battle of The Carnel. The veterans like the pious Muhammad Hanafia and Ibne Abbas, among others, were arrested for execution. However, they were salvaged by the short rule of Muk-htar that had just been
established in Kufa in 64 AH.
After the disaster of Ain ul-Wada, the Kufans rose again under Mukhtar bin Abu Ubaid al-Thaqafi. They sacked the governor of Abd Allah bin Zubayr and installed Muk-htar as their caliph. Muk-htar approached Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen to endorse his political venture against the Umayyad tyrants, and to lead his followers. The Imam declined his invitation. However, Mukhtar then turned to Muhammade Hanafia and was able to enlist him to be his patron. Thereafter, in the year 66 AH, in a series of successful battles, his forces rounded up the captains of the Umayyad army who were responsible for the massacre of Karbala and the sack of the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah, and had them beheaded for their despicable crimes.
In 67 AH, Abd Allah bin Zubayr regained control of the province of Iraq and sent his own brother Mus’ab bin Zubayr against Mukhtar. The city of Kufa was besieged and taken. Muk-htar was defeated and killed in battle.
When Abd al-Malik became the caliph, Abd Allah bin Zubayr was fairly established in Hijaz and Iraq. He decided to reclaim Hijaz and Iraq under the Umayyad rule. He chose Hujaj bin Yusuf as his right hand commander and dispatched him to Iraq to subdue the rebel provinces. To this end, the caliph and his governor together earned for themselves the title of the most cruel and tyrannical rulers in the history of Islam. Hujaj achieved his goals by a whole sale massacre of all those who claimed any connection with Imam Ali or his progeny. The holy city of Makkah was ransacked once again, and slaughtered the separatist Abd Allah bin Zubayr in Makkah in 73 AH. His head was hung over the main road leading in and out of the city. Most Aliyyids and their followers ran for their lives and escaped to the relative safety of lands on the outer periphery of the kingdom. With the elimination of Mukhtar in Iraq, and Abd Allah in Hijaz, the entire Muslim world once again came under the rule of a single Umayyad Caliph. New conquests started at the Far West and Far East of the Caliphate, and the Caliph was able to attend to the consolidation of the internal affairs as well.
However, in the same vein as his predecessors regarding the Hashimite clan, the Caliph Abd al-Malik also kept a watch eye on the Imam and his family. He used to call the Imam periodically to his court in Damascus. When Abd’al-Malik died in 86 AH, his son Walid succeeded him to the throne.
Walid was also a tyrant ‘in his own ways. For the next ten years of his rule, he maintained the tradition of his predecessors and did not spare the Imam from his abuse. When he decreed that the Prophefs mosque at Madinah be enlarged the contiguous grounds were obtained by evicting the Hashimites from their homes without compensation.
The few devout believers that survived the relentless persecution of the rules of the time were grieved at the amount of abuse thrown at the Imam. Once some one taunted the Imam while he was heading to Makkah for Haj, and said, “You have chosen the relative ease of the Haj in favor of the difficulty of Jihad.” The Imam replied, “Only if I had true believers behind me, I would change my Haj to Jihad.”
Despite the difficult times faced by the Imam, he continued his service to Islam and to all those who sought from him the interpretation of al-Qur’an or the Sunnah of the Prophet. He managed to convey the lessons of the belief and the practice of Islam by a unique medium. He did this through prayers and supplications. These have been collected in the form of a book popularly known as SAHIFAHAS-SAJJADIYYA. An elegant English translation of this book is now available.
THE MARTYRDOM OF IMAM ALI IBN Al-HUSAIN
Even the very existence of the pious Imam was considered a threat by the rulers of his time. Hisham, a brother of Abd al-Malik, poisoned the Imam who died in Madinah in the year 95 AH, at the age of 57 years. He was buried in the graveyard of Jannat ul-Baqic. Before his death, the Imam called his son Muhammad and entrusted the responsibility of the Imamate to him.
Although his son Muhammad al-Baqir fulfilled the needs of the believers by carrying out the functions of his assignment with spectacular brilliance, the painful death of his father left a void in the lives of his companions. People remembered the Imam for his, forbearance, piety, patience, and knowledge, and for the sufferings he had to endure throughout his life.
His aunt Zainab, the sister of Imam Husain, shared the life and suffering of the Imam. Together they had turned the tide of aggression into a lasting lesson for humanity. Whereas Imam Husain had laid down his own life along with that of his beloved family and friends in the desert of Karbala, Imam Ali ibn al-Husain and his aunt Zainab binte Ali ibne Abi Talib completed the vital mission of disseminating the Truth to the ignorant and confused nation of the Muslims and their rulers.
The Book of as-Saijad
Imam Zain ul-Abideen is also known as-Sajad. Both names denote to his constant prostration in prayers. This book has another popular name as-Sahifah al-Kamila as-Sajjadia (Me Complete or Perfect Book of as-Sajad).
The book contains fifty-four supplications (and fourteen addenda), and fifteen munajat (whispered prayers). Many supplications were handed down from the Imam and carried by oral tradition from generation to generation. These were collected in later times by researchers and added to the written works. They are called the Second Sahifa, through to the Fifth Sahifa. Only the authoritative chain of traditions was used for the addenda in’ the subsequent Sahifas. The first addenda were appended to the Sahifa by ash-Shaheed alAwwal (the first martyr) Shams ud-Din Muhammad ibne Makki (d. 786 AH). The fifteen munajat were appended by Allama Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d.II10 AH). The Sahifa was updated with addenda by various authorities in the same era as Allama Majlisi.
In Islam, supplications have a pivotal role in all forms of prayers.
The supplicant first offers his prayer to Allah, and then spreads his hands to seek His bounty and benevolence. The supplications have the several names of Allah describing His various qualities. The supplicant glorifies Allah and begs for His forgiveness and mercy. It elevates the humble human from his prayer mat to the ethereal heights of spirituality.
Imam Ali ibn al-Husain used this method to reach out to his followers and preach them on the Oneness of Allah and His role as the Creator of all things. He focused on the role of man in the universe and his duties to Allah and his fellow human beings. He gives lessons on obedience to Allah and to fine human behavior in society.
Many devotees of Ahle Bait used to attend majalis (religious gatherings) held by the Imam. Much of the collection of his lectures quotations and teachings are owed to these devotees who leamt them by heart, or wrote them down for safe keeping and for future reference.
The Testament of Rights
One extremely valuable treatise has been passed down to the devotees of Ahle Bait directly from Imam Zain al-Abideen. This epistle describes the rights of man in society. It accounts for over fifty circumstance by which the believer is obligated to observe the rights of others.
To mention just a few, it starts with:
-the rights of man toward Allah,
-the rights of prayers,
-the rights of self and the rights of the parts of one’s own body.
It goes on to enlist:
-The rights of women towards men,
-the rights of men toward women.
It reminds one towards:
-The rights of children to their parents and elders,
-the rights of parents and elders to their children.
-The rights of students towards their teachers,
-the rights of the teachers towards their students.
-The rights of neighbors,
-the rights of friends
-the rights of adversaries and foes!
It is evident that this epistle contains such wealth of ethical conduct that if followed, it would make any ordinary human being into a saint. Even if one does not aspire to become a saint, it would certainly foster tolerance and harinony with the self and the society.
(Taken from Dr. Syed Haider Hussain Shamsi’s book ” The Message Continues… the Lives of the Twelve Imams of Ahlul Bait “. It can be read online on this website’s ” Book Section ” )