The Fourth Imam Sayyid As-sajidin, Zain Al-abidin (a.s.)
BIRTH AND PARENTAGE
IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) was born on the fifteenth of JAMADA II, A.H. (November 19, 658 A.D) At that time, IMAM ALI IBN ABU TALIB (AS) was administering the affairs of caliphate at KUFA. The family, especially the newborn's grandfather IMAM ALI (AS), rejoiced to see the new born, and it was probably IMAM ALI (AS) who, noticing his own features in the babe's face, named him after himself.
He is ALI son of IMAM HUSAIN (AS), commonly known by his titles ZAIN AL-ABIDIN, AS-SAJJAD, and SAYYID AS-SAJIDIN. His graceful personality was the combination of Arab and Persian nobility. On paternal side, he inherited the spiritual grace of the Prophet, while through his mother, SHAHR BANU, daughter of the last Persian emperor YAZDEJERD, he inherited the dignity of the Persian royal dynasty. After the final victory of the Arabs over Persia, SHAHR BANU was brought in custody to Medina. With the age-old racist attitude still alive, not too many Arabs would have expressed due respect to her. But it was the humane chivalry of IMAM ALI IBN ABU TALIB (AS) who paid full regard to this royal prisoner whom he married to his noble son HUSAIN (AS). IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN was, thus, the grandson of Imam Ali (as) and the Persian emperor YAZDEJERD, making him regarded by both Arab and Persian nations.
ZAIN AL-ABIDIN could not enjoy the love of his mother for a long time. She died soon after giving birth to him. At the age of two, his grandfather Imam Ali (as) was also martyred. He was, thus, brought up and instructed by his father HUSAIN (AS). He was twelve when IMAM HASAN (AS) died and the burdens of Imamate fell on HUSAIN'S shoulders. The cunning of MU'AWIYA, the UMAYYAD ruler of Syria, led to the tragedy of KARBALA' during the reign of his son YAZID; therefore, youthful ZAIN AL-ABIDIN watched the pace of the events which culminated in that grievous massacre. IMAM HUSAIN (AS), who was leading a peaceful life in Medina, arranged the marriage of his son to Fatima daughter of IMAM HASAN (AS), thus ensuring that the series of Imamate would continue even in the face of coming events.
When YAZID demanded in the year 60 A.H., that IMAM HUSAIN (AS) should swear the oath of allegiance to him, IMAM HUSAIN (AS) had no choice but to leave Medina, taking ZAIN AL-ABIDIN, who was twenty-two years old then, with him. It cannot be ascertained whether ZAIN AL-ABIDIN fell ill during the journey or after reaching KARBALA'. On the tenth of MUHARRAM, 61 A.H. (October 10, 680), he was too ill to move. As access to the Euphrates was blocked for three days and water was extremely scarce, the illness of ZAIN AL-ABIDIN intensified. For the most part of that day, he lay unconscious and could not participate in the battle which was carried on by all the male members of his family. So when IMAM HUSAIN (AS) bade his family farewell and went to the battle-field, he could not talk with his son ZAIN AL-ABIDIN to be tested in another way when he was to lead his distressed family as prisoners.
Immediately after the martyrdom of IMAM HUSAIN (AS), the ruthless enemies turned to his tents to burn and plunder. The overwhelming grief, the flames of burning tents, the tumult among the widowed ladies and orphans must have taken its toll on the sensitive SAJJAD. No tongue nor pen could have described the psychological impact. But the son HUSAIN (AS) maintained his composure and spiritual serenity. In spite of illness and crushing distress, he kept the grace of a true believer. Having said the night prayers on that fateful eve, he lay prostration with his forehead on the ground and his tongue repeating these phrases all night long till day dawned:
"No deity but Allah in all certainty:
There is no god but Allah in justice and truth; I bear witness to this in submission and humility".
Next day UMER IBN SA'D assembled all his slain soldiers, performed the funeral prayers for them and arranged for their burial, leaving the corpse of IMAM HUSAIN (AS), Prophet Muhammad's grandson, and those of his faithful adherents uncovered, enshrouded, and unburied, simply lying on the ground. It was a most painful sight for ZAIN AL-ABIDIN to pass through the site of the onslaught accompanied by the ladies, all being captives. He was shocked to realize that he could not bury his kith and kin due to his captivity.
Not less heart-rending might have been the event when this pillaged caravan was brought to the court of ZIYAD, governor of KUFA. SAJJAD might have remembered that it was the same town where once his grandfather IMAM ALI IBN ABU TALIB (AS) ruled as caliph and the ladies of the household were the royalty. IBN ZIYAD now rejoiced over his victory as the Prophet's family was brought as captives. But even the, AS-SAJJAD stood as a granite rock, calm and dignified. IBN ZIYAD broke the silence when he asked SAJJAD what his name was. "ALI son of HUSAIN" was the reply. "Was not Ali son HUSAIN slain by Allah?" asked the tyrant. AS-SAJJAD answered by saying that his brother of the same name had been slain by IBN ZIYAD'S soldiers.
The haughty ruler still asserted that ALI was killed by Allah. But AS-SAJJAD again quoted the QUR'ANIC verse: "Allah takes away the souls at death", meaning that God does not kill; He only takes the souls away. The well-argued contradiction maddened furious ruler who ordered his swordsman to execute IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) immediately. It was then when ZAINAB darted to cling to her nephew and ask to be put to death along with him. But ZAIN AL-ABIDIN asked her to stay aloof and to let him reply to IBN ZIYAD who was sure that, having witnessed his people being slain, the surviving youth might shudder at the execution order. But the gallant son of dauntless IMAM HUSAIN (AS) sternly replied: "Do you threaten me with death, O IBN ZIYAD? Have you not come to know that to be slain is our tradition and martyrdom is an honor from Allah?". These courageous words forced the tyrant to lower his head in shame, and the death order was withdrawn. It was obvious that even after such a horrifying onslaught, IMAM HUSAIN'S family was not afraid of death.
From KUFA these people were sent to Damascus. When their caravan entered the capital, it noticed how the bazaars were festively decorated and people were embracing each other congratulating. The agony of humiliation suffered by IMAM HUSAIN'S helpless folk was immeasurable, yet ZAIN AL-ABIDIN still stood and carried out IMAM HUSAIN'S mission of guiding the nation. As the prisoners were passing through the market-place, an UMAYYAD flatterer tauntingly asked AS-SAJJAD: "O son of HUSAIN, who won this battle?" "Wait a little", replied AS-SAJJAD, "you will know who is the victor when the Prophet's name is loudly proclaimed as the prayer call is made". Again, when the captives came before the gate of the grand mosque of Damascus, an aged man looked on and said: "Thank God who destroyed you; Who killed your men and made the country peaceful, granting victory to the caliph YAZID", AS-SAJJAD had perceived that the old man did not know who he was, so he asked him if he had read this verse of the QUR'AN: "Say, O Prophet: 'I ask no compensation for it except that you be kind unto my kith and kin (QUR'AN, 42:23)". The old man answered in the affirmative. AS-SAJJAD then told him that he and the other captives were the kith and kin of the Prophet referred to in that verse, and that they were the ones for whom respect was enjoined upon all Muslims. They are the "relatives" in the verse of KHUMS (QUR'AN, 33:33), AS-SAJJAD continued.
The old man, astonished at such a answer, stood silently for a few moments, then he asked AS-SAJJAD; "In the Name of God tell me are you really those people?" AS-SAJJAD said: "Yes; I declare in the Name of God that we are the persons referred to in these verses". At this, the old man burst into tears, threw his turban away and raised his head to the sky exclaiming; "Bear witness, O God, that I dissociate myself from the enemies of Your Prophet's family". Turning to IMAM AS-SAJJAD, he asked: "Can my penitence be ever accepted?" "Yes, if you repent, your penitence will surely be accepted, and you will be among us". The old man said that he sincerely repented for the impertinence committed through his ignorance. At the courts of IBN ZIYAD in KUFA and YAZID in Damascus, the courageous discourses of AS-SAJJAD (AS) and the forbearance of his family acquainted the world with the purpose behind IMAM HUSAIN'S martyrdom. Thus IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN accomplished that mission which IMAM HUSAIN (AS) had carried on all his life.
AFTER HIS RELEASE
Having been released from confinement in Damascus, IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) went with his family to Medina to lead a quiet life, but that city was now in revolt against YAZID'S cruel regime. Political parties pressured IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN to join them, but he knew their unreliability and he declined from joining them. So, when YAZID'S army invaded Medina, the invaders did not harass IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN'S family.
Yet he was greatly shocked to see how for three days the invading host, led by MUSLIM IBN UQBA who was charged with invading Medina, tied their horses at the Prophet's mosque, turning the sacred place into a filthy stable, killing hundreds of innocent people and playing havoc with chaste women. YAZID had instructed Muslim to let his troop confiscate all cash or animals or arms they could lay their hands on for three continuous days. It was too intolerable for the Imam who had to practice a great deal of control over his feelings. When different revolutionary parties rose to avenge IMAM HUSAIN'S innocent blood, he wisely kept aloof from them whose uprisings he deemed untimely, and he busied himself in worship and preaching through excellent supplications, setting an example of forbearance and endurance.
No doubt, SULAYMAN IBN SURAD AL-KHUZA'IOR AL-MUKHTAR IBN UBAIDA ATH-THAQAFI avenged IMAM HUSAIN'S precious blood. IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) had compassion for them; he prayed fro AL-MUKHTAR'S success and used to often inquire about those who were captured and executed. Certainly AL-MUKHTAR relieved the Imam's wounded heart by punishing the culprits. But the Imam was so cautious that his outward appearance gave the impression that he was indifferent, so much so that the cruel government could not suspect him of any subversion.
His whole life-span was a time of trouble for the Prophet's family and for their supporters. A few years after YAZID'S death, the ruthless UMAYYAD government put to death a large number of supporters of the Prophet's family at the hands of AL-HAJJAJ IBN YOUSUF ATH-THAQAFI. It kept a constant surveillance over their activities and communications through its undercover agents. Under such circumstances, it was impossible for IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) to propagate the Prophet's teachings or guide the public in the open, so he lived Islam and made his life an example for others to emulate.
After the tragedy of KARBALA', the Imam lived 34 years under very odd circumstances. During that entire period of time, patience and fortitude were his main characteristics. Staying away from worldly pursuits, he kept himself busy by either worshipping his Lord or narrating the heart-rending events of KARBALA', thus keeping its memories alive. He wept whenever he remembered his father, and whenever he saw food or water, he reflected upon the thirst and hunger of IMAM HUSAIN (AS) and wept excessively to the extent that his family members thought that his very existence was in jeopardy. Having been asked if there would be an end to sorrow at all, he replied: "Jacob had twelve sons; the separation of only one of them (Joseph) shocked him so much that he lost his eyesight through weeping. I have seen eighteen members of my family being slain, to whom there was no equal on earth. How can I possibly restrain my tears?"
In spite of the quiet life IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) was leading, the UMAYYAD government considered him a potential threat to the regime. ABD AL-MALIK IBN MARWAN ordered the governor of Medina to arrest him and take him into custody to Damascus. There, he remained confined for two or three days, but the Almighty God and the spiritual influence of IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) made ABD AL-MALIK ashamed of his cruel behavior and he ordered to have him released and sent back home.
CHARACTER AND VIRTUES
It was characteristic of the Prophet's family, particularly twelve Imams, to personify the excellence of the human perfections. IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS), the 4th of the noble series of the Infallibles, was a true facsimile of his ancestors. In both KARBALA' and KUFA he displayed extreme patience and courage, and in Medina he proved to be most tore-bearing and forgiving. His pardoning of some ill-tongued foes did not indicate his weakness but rather his firm grace and the greatness of his forbearance. Once an insolent person spoke to IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) in an abusive and blaming tone, the serene, high-spirited Imam replied saying, "My God forgive me if you have told the truth or forgive you if you are wrong". The man was impressed by his noble conduct and lowered his head in shame as he said: "In reality, what I said was wrong'.
Likewise, when another tried to slander him, he ignored him. The impudent fellow raised his voice saying, "it is you whom I meant". AL-IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS), with an air of loftiness, replied, "And it is you whom I ignored". The Imam's reply echoed the QUR'ANIC verse in which the Almighty asked the Prophet to "Hold to forgiveness; command what is right, but turn away from the ignorant (QUR'AN, 7:199)". HISHAM BIN ISMA'IL behaved insolently towards IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS). UMER IBN ABD AL-AZIZ, the UMAYYAD caliph, came to know about it and he wrote to IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) saying that he had all intention to punish the rogue, but IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) nobly replied, "I do not like that the man should be harmed on my account".
Service of the nation and generosity thereto were his outstanding traits. In the darkness of dreary nights, he used to carry flour and loaves of bread to the needy. Many of them did not know who the benefactor was. It was only when IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) died that those needy people came to know who he was. In addition to all these virtues, even opponents acknowledged his knowledge and admitted that none could match him in jurisprudence and religious sciences. Yet he told people that one should not boast about the nobility of his ancestors. Whenever he went to another town, he avoided revealing his name or illustrious lineage. When asked about the reason, he humbly said: "it is not fair for me to trace my lineage to the holy Prophet since I do not have his virtues".
His ocean of knowledge was sought by the most distinguished scholars and theologians of the time, and many rose to a lofty status after obtaining such knowledge from him. They came to him from all parts of Arabia, the Middle and Far East's, and from Africa. The list of individuals who benefited from his knowledge and thus became scholars in their circles includes, according to BIHAR AL-ANWAR of ALLAMA MAJLISI: ABU HAMZA ATH-THUMALI, THABIT IBN DINAR, AL-QASIM IBN MUHAMMAD IBN ABU BAKR (grandson of the first caliph), ALI IBN RAFI', AD-DHAHHAK IBN MUZAHIM AL-KHURASANI, HAMID IBN MUSA AL-KUFI, ABU AL-FADL AS-SUDAIR IBN HAKIM AL-SAIRAFI,
ABDALLAH AL-BARQI, the poet AL-FARAZDAQ, FURAT IBN AHNAF, AYYUB IBN AL-HASAN, ABU MUHAMMAD AL-QARSHI AL-SADDI, TAWUS IBN KAISAN AL-HAMADANI, ABAN IBN TAGHLIB IBN RABAH, QAYS IBN RUMMANA, ABU KHALID WARDAN AL-KABULI (of AFGHANISTAN), SA'ID IBN AL-MUSAYYAB AL-MAKHZUMI, UMER IBN ALI IBN AL-HUSAIN and his brother ABDALLAH, JABIR IBN MUHAMMAD IBN ABU BAKR (another grandson of the first caliph), and many, many others. The most distinguished among his followers were names with whom the student of Islamic history is quite familiar: JABIR IBN ABDALLAH AL-ANSARI, AMIR IBN WA'ILA AL-KINANI, SA'ID IBN AL-MUSAYYAB IBN HAZAN, and SA'ID IBN JIHAN AL-KINANI. Among the TABI'IN, the most distinguished were: SA'ID IBN JUBAYR, MUHAMMAD IBN JUBAYR IBN MUT'IM, AL-QASIM IBN AWF, ISMA'IL IBN ABDALLAH IBN JA'FAR, IBRAHIM IBN MUHAMMAD IBN AL-HANAFIYAH and his brother AL-HASAN, HABIB IBN ABU THABIT, ABU YAHYA AL-ASADI, ABU HAZIM AL-A'RAJ, SALAMA IBN DINAR AL-MADANI,
and many other. The most famous of those who narrated HADITH from him were: AL-ZUHRI, SUFYAN IBN UYAINAH, NAFI', AL-AWZA'I, MUQATIL, MUHAMMAD IBN ISHAQ, among others. Authors who quoted the traditions narrated from him were: AT-TABARI, IBN AL-BAY', IMAM AHMED IBN HANBAL, IBN BATTA, ABU BATTA, ABU DAWUD, authors of HILYAT AL-AWLIYA, ASBAB AN-NUZUL, AL-TARGHIB WA AL-TARHIB, AL-MUSTAFA, and others. These were certainly not his contemporaries, yet they verified and recorded the traditions he had narrated.
His chief quality which earned him the titles of "ZAIN AL-ABIDIN" and "SAYYID AS-SAJIDIN" was his sincere worship of the Almighty. He was an eye-witness to the tragedy of KARBALA', and the scenes of his near dear ones being slaughtered were always fresh in his memory. Such depressing events naturally make any ordinary person indifferent to all other normal activities of everyday life, but they could not make IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) relax his fear of God and His worship. His complexion faded and his whole frame shook whenever the water for ablution was presented to him, or whenever he stood to say his prayers. When asked about the reason, he explained, "Can you at all imagine in Whose presence I am going to stand?!" It is in the presence of the Lord of lords".
While putting on his pilgrimage garb, intending to utter "LABBAYKA" (I am answering Thy Call, O Lord!), color disappeared from his face. His whole frame shook, so much so that those who saw him inquired what was wrong with him. IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) said: "I tried to say 'LABBAYKA' but I feared lest the Lord of the House calls out: 'No admittance for you". Tears flooded his eyes so excessively that he ultimately fainted. When everyone else prostrated before the pomp of haughty UMAYYAD monarchy, it was IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS) who demonstrated as to how the King of kings should be worshipped.
It is also called the ZABUR of Muhammad's family.
The reign of the antagonistic UMAYYAD rulers never permitted IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) to deliver discourses and addresses as his grandfather IMAM ALI (AS) did, nor to illustrate the creed as he had done. Later, IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-BAQIR (AS) and IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS), IMAM AS-SAJJAD'S son and grandson respectively, had the opportunity to fathom the depths of religious problems at study circles attended by inquisitive students. But such a favorable atmosphere was not available to IMAM AS-SAJJAD (AS).
He, therefore, adopted a quite different method which no worldly power could obstruct. He suspended all worldly contacts and took to hymns and prayers. The words of those prayers are a treasure-house of theological mysteries and a mirror of the relationship between the Creator and His creation. A collection of these hymns and prayers, known as AS-SAHIFA AL-KAMILA, or AS-SAHIFA AS-SAJJADIYYA, has survived despite all the odds. In the pages of this collection, we can find what we cannot perhaps attain even from reading lengthy addresses and discourses presented in a similarly appealing manner, if such can be found at all.
The calm and peaceful life of Imam could not be tolerated by the cruel UMAYYAD regime. The Syrian monarch WALID IBN ABD AL-MALIK had him poisoned, and the Imam died inside the Medina jail on the 25th of MUHARRAM, 95 A.H. (October 20, 713 A.D.). Imam MUHAMMAD AL-BAQIR (AS) arranged the burial and laid him to rest in the graveyard of JANNAT AL-BAQI' beside IMAM HASAN (AS)