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Syed al-Sajjaad (a.s.) – Protector of Imamate and Shiaism

Syed al-Sajjaad Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) during his Imamat achieved such enormous feats that are very difficult to gauge. Our aim is to glance at the ocean of services rendered even if only a few drops of it for which it is important to understand the prevailing conditions at that time.

Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), during his twenty three years of propagation, introduced Ahle Bait (a.s.) at every stage. He (s.a.w.a.) reminded people of their greatness, position and proximity in near Allah the Almighty and His Messenger (s.a.w.a.). He (s.a.w.a.) explained their excellence and position on the Day of Judgment, made people aware of their leadership of Paradise and their greatest Intercession and always discussed about them (a.s.) from the pulpit of his mosque. Despite all restrictions and censorship on narrations of traditions, books of Muslims – regardless of sects – are replete with traditions in their praise. Traditions regarding the virtues and excellences of Ahle Bait (a.s.) are in no way less than the exegesis of the Holy Quran or traditions on laws and ethics. All such traditions have been narrated right from the time of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) till date by the scholars and traditionalists.

Question: Despite the presence of numerous such traditions and verses, how could Imam Husain (a.s.) be martyred with his family members and companions in the open plains of Karbala in front of companions, Taabe’een (those who saw the companions) and Tab’e Taabe’een (those who saw the Taabe’een) at their own hands and with their support? The people were not only not ashamed of his (a.s.) killing but were also expecting great rewards from Yazid the accursed for their heinous crime! How minds were transformed! How people were blinded towards the greatness and position of Ahle Bait (a.s.)!!

Reply: After the demise of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), not only was Caliphate, power and Fadak usurped from Ahle Bait (a.s.), but an attempt was also made to distance them from the hearts and minds of the people. Caliphate was usurped in such a way that others were unjustly appointed as successors of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Fadak was misappropriated. To undermine, rather to destroy these scholastic personalities, they referred to those unaware of even the basic tenets of religion. The exegesis of the Noble Quran was taken from those ignorant about it. Traditions and customs of paganism were being brought back to replace Islamic ethics. Ahle Bait (a.s.) were not only confined to their homes but their greatness and position too was undermined to such an extent that people would travel from Syria to Madinah just to malign them. This was a tool of false propaganda by the governor of Syria.

The martyrdom of Imam Husain (a.s.) and the captivity of Ahle Bait (a.s.) had completely demoralised the Shias of that time. One must ponder over the conditions of the followers and lovers of the time when the Leader of the youth of Paradise (a.s.), along with his companions, was killed mercilessly. Thereafter, some people tried to rise against the unjust rule but were unable to overpower the enemies. After a few days, such movements too stopped and this resulted in complete dejection and the disappointment of the Shias.

In this situation, enlivening the belief in Imamate, greatness of Ahle Bait (a.s.) and safeguarding the Shia faith was an onerous task. If any other belief and its adherents were to face even one-tenth of such oppression, they surely would have been exterminated.

Imam-e-Sajjaad (a.s.) not only had to protect Imamate and Shia faith but also had to keep afresh the tragic event that took place in Karbala along with its uniqueness. This task was also difficult since all historians and writers were under the influence of the government and any word against the government would invite death.

Imam Sajjaad (a.s.) faced many difficulties. On one hand was the unjust government of Yazid the accursed and the continuation of the Umayyad rule and on the other hand was the mischief of Abdullah Ibn Zubair, who in his few days of power in Makkah had stopped the practice of sending salutations in Friday sermons. Mohammed Ibn Hanafiyyah and Ibn Abbas were imprisoned in the well of Zamzam. The reason for this enmity towards Ahle Bait (a.s.) was the Battle of Jamal. On the third front were the people who exaggerated and attributed divinity to Ahle Bait (a.s.).

In such conditions, what would be the state of the one who bore troubles and grief, who saw dead unshrouded corpses of his loved ones beheaded, shackled in chains and who saw his mother, sisters and aunts with their heads unveiled in filthy and impure palaces of Yazid and Ibn Ziyad the accursed. However, the perfection of Divine Imamate and Mastership is that even in such situations, the duties of Imamat and protection was religion was undertaken due to which the holy religion of Islam is still alive.

Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) had to simultaneously fight on many fronts:

  • To enliven the sacrifices and the lofty aims of the sacrifice of Imam Husain (a.s.) i.e. is to protect the religion completed on the plains of Ghadeer after the announcement of Wilayat.
  • To narrate the atrocities of Karbala and thereafter. This wasn’t an easy task since it meant directly exposing the real face of the government.
  • To protect the heart-broken, demoralised and dispersed Shias, give them a new lease of life and their moral, religious and ethical training.
  • To defend against the exaggerators.
  • The protection of Imamate was of utmost importance and highlighting the position of Imamate and its importance in religious knowledge in the light of the Majestic Quran and the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) especially when the Imam of the time, the Proof of Allah was brutally and openly martyred was not an easy task.
  • To develop worthy students for Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) so that they may make the best use of that opportunity.

It should be borne in mind that these discourses required direct contact with people which, under the circumstances, was extremely difficult. Government surveillance was omnipresent. To give into and surrender to circumstances is not the peculiarity of the Divine Imams (a.s.).

Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) took a path where there was no possibility of restrictions and which was extremely effective.

  • Instead of speech, Imam Sajjaad (a.s.) conveyed the aims of Imam Husain (a.s.) and the tragic events of Karbala through his tears. No oppressor can stop the oppressed from weeping. Lamentation of the oppressed has a special impact and that too of an infallible Imam (a.s.).

The lamentation bore results. People asked about the reasons for weeping and Imam (a.s.), in reply, would narrate the tragic events of Karbala. When people advised patience, Imam (a.s.) would reply: “Janab Yaqoob (a.s.) lost only one of his sons and lost his eyesight due to that grief whereas eighteen members from my family were slaughtered.” When people mentioned that martyrdom is your legacy he would retort: “Indeed, martyrdom is our legacy but whether our womenfolk being taken as captives in the bazars and palaces of Syria was also our inheritance?” He would weep to such an extent that would moisten his beard. None had the audacity to reject these incidents. Moreover, Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) established mourning gatherings (Majaalis) where the ladies would mourn for the martyrs of Karbala and Imam (a.s.) would arrange food for them so that mourning continued and the tragic events of Karbala and Syria were constantly remembered. Women who mourned would also narrate the sufferings of the tragic event. Thus, the tragedy of Karbala reached the masses.

Besides, Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) mentioned the rewards of weeping over the sufferings of Ahle Bait (a.s.). These traditions had a great impact on the conscience of the masses. Imam (a.s.) adopted a practice that made the existing government helpless. An isolated man had rendered the government clueless. The city of Madinah, which Imam Husain (a.s.) was forced to leave, saw the foundation of mourning over Imam Husain (a.s.) being laid, which continues till date. Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) narrated the events of Karbala in such a heart-rending manner that those who took pride in killing Imam Husain (a.s.) and were desirous of earning rewards were now washing their hands off it and blaming each other. It seemed that those aforementioned suppressed revolutions were about to raise their voice.

  • When Imam (a.s.) realized it was impossible to contact the people or the conditions did not permit the same, he altered his approach. Imam (a.s.) propagated Islamic teachings in the form of supplications. After praising Allah the Glorious and sending blessings on the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), he stated the lofty aims of monotheism and Prophethood. On the one hand, there was propagation of correct beliefs, while on the other hand was the rectification or rejection of all deviant views and beliefs. We should once carefully read the supplications of Al-Sahifah al-Sajjaadiyyah to know its great and profound concepts. Supplications taught by Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) are not confined only to Al-Sahifah al-Sajjaadiyyah but are also found in numerous other similar books. It is apparent that the government can stop from preaching but not from supplicating. Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) taught us supplications concerning removal of calamities and patience during sufferings. For instance Dua 4 refers to followers and attesters to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), Dua 7 when faced with a calamity, Dua 8 for seeking refuge during trials and tribulations, Dua 11 for good outcomes, Dua 22 during hardship and difficult times, Dua 41 for asking cover and protection from the evils of enemies. These types of supplications were not only invocations in the presence of Allah but also a cause of comfort and strength for the depressed and dejected Shias. Had Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) not taken this path of training his followers there was no way that they would have regained control of their life.
  • The blessed presence of Imam Sajjaad (a.s.) in Madinah drew attention of a large group of common people from Syria and other ancient kingdoms lived considering their age-old customs to be an integral part of Islamic civilisation, and within those groups which were a paltry few as compared to the majority, there emerged a spur within them to understand the actual fundamentals of Islam. Within those groups, there were a few people who benefitted from the divine light of Imamate and guidance. On the other hand, there were also those who were bewildered at the miraculous being of Imamate and crossed their boundaries. They were drowned in their extreme love and ignored the traditions of Imams (a.s.). When such love separates from intellect and traditions, it takes the form of exaggeration. Some people became victims of elevating Ahle Bait (a.s.) to divinity. The Imams (a.s.) have strictly reprimanded such people. Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) warned the people of Iraq:

“Love us within the boundaries of Islam and do not exceed the limits.” On another occasion he (a.s.) said, “Love us for the sake of Islam and do not love us like people love their idols.”

He (a.s.) said to Abu Khalid Kabuli, “There are some among our Shias who claim to be our lovers and ascribe those things to us which the Jews said about Hazrat Uzair (a.s.) and Christians about Hazrat Isa ibn Maryam (a.s.). Neither are they from us nor are we from them.”

[Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 45, p. 288, H. 44]

Jews and Christians called Prophets Uzair (a.s.) and Isa Ibn Maryam (a.s.) sons of Allah respectively. They elevated them from the position of servants to that of divinity. Imam (a.s.) has clearly mentioned that we do not have any affiliation with such people. The approach of Imamate does not tolerate exaggeration to divinity.

  • The most critical issue then was to enliven and highlight the greatness of Ahle Bait (a.s.) and clarify the importance of Imamate in Islam. Truly, there was a small group accompanying Imam Husain (a.s.) in Karbala but majority were on the opposite side. Those who were not against him for any reason didn’t support him either. Abdullah Ibn Umar and Abdullah Ibn Zubair, who apparently enjoyed some status in front of the Muslims as sons of the companions had built a different world of their own. This was an attempt to distance Ahle Bait (a.s.) from the Islamic scenario and make people believe that Imamate did not possess any significance in the religion of Islam.

The belief that Caliphate and the Caliph elected or recognized by the people is the only important base was advocated. This ideology received support from the existing government; those who supported it were encouraged by the government. After the announcement in Ghadeer-e-Khumm, the emergence of such ideology in the Islamic society indicates that a planned strategy was carried out against Ahle Bait (a.s.) and Imamate. They tried to weaken the roots of Imamate while showing that they were keeping the belief and teachings of Prophethood intact. Moreover, such people were accorded great honour.

One of the greatest qualities of Imamate and Leadership is that an Imam is the spiritual medic who completely understands the illnesses and is fully aware of their treatment. In such a situation, Imam (a.s.) firstly attends to the beliefs, which were originally taught by the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.), through supplications so that belief in Allah and His Messenger (s.a.w.a.) can be renewed.

Supplications have a very high status in the life of a person especially in the teachings of Islam. It is a way of achieving divine cognition and realising one’s own helplessness. It means that Allah is the Creator, Most High, Self-Sufficient, Needless and man is a creature and needy. Supplication is a cause of believing in divine justice. Reward inclines man towards good deeds and punishment is a result of evil. Supplications remind us that this world is a field for Paradise. People had neglected this since a long time but Imam Sajjaad (a.s.) enlivened it.

Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) on every stage talked about the immaculate progeny of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) and sent blessings and peace on them. This shows the reality of greatness and position of Ahle Bait (a.s.) near Allah the Almighty. Such indication was a lesson for all those degrading the greatness and position of Ahle Bait (a.s.). Behold, Ahle Bait (a.s.) are those whose remembrances are in the invocations of Allah the Gracious. Those whose names are mentioned in supplications, upon whom salutations and blessings are showered regularly, are they worthy of being troubled and oppressed? Of course, oppression or imprisoning them does not in any way decrease their greatness and dignity.

In these supplications not only can one find blessings and peace upon Ahle Bait (a.s.) but when Muslims gathered at the time of Hajj from every nook and corner of the world on the day of Arafah, the day of supplication and repentance, where along with the Hajis, the spies of the government present in large numbers, at this sensitive gathering, Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) while reciting Dua al-Arafah pointed towards the importance of Imamat.  Here we will mention some extracts from this supplication.

This is Dua 47 of al-Sahifah al-Sajjaadiyyah. The supplication starts in a magnificent way with the praise and glorification of Allah i.e. the most important levels of monotheism – the root of all beliefs – have been elucidated and emphasized. In different ways, the power of Allah, wisdom, creation, mercy and kindness have been discussed. It has directed to a reality that human intellect can in no way comprehend the Essential Being of Allah.

In the same way, Prophethood has been explained:

“O my Lord, Salutations and Praise be upon Hazrat Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) and His Holy Progeny (a.s.), the distinguished, the chosen, the honored and near ones, bless them with excellent blessings and mercy”.

Salutations have been sent in different ways, which proves the position of Prophethood in the eyes of Allah the High and our responsibility concerning the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Each and every word of salutations is a door of the recognition of Prophethood.

After monotheism and Prophethood, the concept of Imamat has been explained. Imamat has been mentioned directly after Prophethood. This fact highlights the importance of Imamat. He (a.s.) prays,

“My Lord, blessings be upon his holy Ahle Bait (a.s.), those whom you have chosen for your rulership and mastership, appointed them as the treasurers of Your knowledge, guardians of Your religion, Your Vicegerents on the earth, successors and Your Proof among the people, purified from any type of uncleanliness and impurities, made them the medium to reach Your holy presence and the path to Paradise.” Then salutations and blessings have been mentioned in different ways.

After this, Imamat is indicated as a continuation of guidance, which continues in every era. He (a.s.) continues,

“O Allah, You have confirmed Your religion in all times with an Imam whom You have chosen as a guidepost for the people and a lighthouse for the lands; You have combined Your promise and covenant, obedience and servanthood to him. You have appointed him as a means to your pleasure, have made his obedience obligatory and cautioned against disobeying him; and commanded following their commands and abandoning what they have prohibited, that no one precedes them nor remains behind; they are the refuge for the shelter-seekers.”

Sending blessings through salutations is mentioned alongside the virtues of an immaculate Imam.

Every lover of justice would at least ask about the recipients of such salutations and blessings? If they are anyone other than Ahle Bait (a.s.), then let the world bring them forth. Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) on the plains of Arafah was firmly establishing the status of Imamat before those who had completely neglected it. Imam (a.s.) was indicating the evil consequences of turning away from Imamat. Thereafter, Imam (a.s.) explained about those who are steadfast on the path of Imamat.

“O Allah, send blessings upon their friends, their lovers, those who love and attach to their mastership, the confessors to their excellence and greatness and status, the keepers to their course, pursuers of their tracks, clingers to their handhold and mastership, adherents to their guardianship, obedience to their Imamat, submitters to their commands, those who strive to obey them, those who await their government, who set their eyes towards them.

Such mercy which is blessed, pure, ever increasing, which is revealed mornings and evenings, send peace upon them and upon their pure souls, accept their repentance. Surely, You are an Acceptor of penitence, the Most Merciful, the Best and oft-forgiving, by the medium of Your mercy, make us their companions in Paradise. O the Most Merciful!”

In today’s world, it is difficult to understand the importance of this supplication. But it was a magnanimous task to talk about the Divine Caliphate and Imamate at the time when most people assumed others as rightful caliphs.

5) Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) was aware of the fact that there would be a power struggle between the Bani Umayyah and Bani Abbas in future. His son, Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and his son, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) would get the opportunity to spread the real Islam of Ghadeer and its teachings.

For spreading knowledge, the presence of capable students is as necessary as a good teacher. Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) in his time of Imamat carried out this work in such a subtle way that it went totally unnoticed by the opponents of Imamat. To implement this strategy, Imam (a.s.) purchased slaves, trained them under himself and freed them. Such freed slaves and slave girls emerged as the best preachers of Imam’s (a.s.) Imamat, his morals and habits. Imam (a.s.) also trained his companions and those desirous of acquiring knowledge. When Imam (a.s.) went for performing Haj, approximately a thousand people would accompany him. Thus, Imam (a.s.) motivated the people to seek knowledge and sparked thirst for divine knowledge to such an extent that when Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) started delivering lectures, mosques were brimming with students. It is mentioned that four thousand students attended lectures of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.).

Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.) in those conditions enlivened and protected the Imamat and Divine Mastership. He underlined its importance, safeguarded Shia faith and its adherents in such a manner that it survives till day. We conclude this discussion with salutations and blessings on Imam Zain al-Aabideen (a.s.).

“O Allah, send blessings upon Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.), the chief of worshippers, whom You have purely dedicated to Yourself, and brought forth from him the Leaders of True Guidance, who guide to the truth and judge with it. You have chosen him for Yourself, purified him against filth, selected him, and made him guide and well-guided. O Allah, send blessings upon him, with the most excellent blessings that You have ever sent upon any of Your Prophets’ offspring so that these blessings raise him to what delights his eye in this world and the Hereafter. You are verily Almighty and Wise.”

[Mafaatih al-Jinaan by Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi (a.r.), Salawaat upon the Holy Infallible Proofs a.s.]

September 1, 2020