Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was a pure branch from the tree of prophethood, and a shiny bough from the tree of Imamate. By him and his fathers Allah has consolidated Islam and exalted monotheism. Before talking about the aspects of his great personality, we will discuss his pure origin, birth, and upbringing.
The father of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was Imam Muhammad al-Jawad bin1 ‘Ali bin Musa bin Ja’far bin Muhammad bin ‘Ali bin al-Husayn bin ‘Ali bin Abu Talib (peace be upon them). It is the most exalted lineage in Islam. Humankind, throughout all its ages, has never had a lineage more honorable and more exalted than this lineage that has lit the world with the essence of Islam and faith.
To this great, honorable family Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was born. His father, Imam al-Jawad (a.s.), was the wonder of the world through his talents and intellectual abilities. After the death of his father, Imam ar-Ridha (a.s.), he assumed the general religious authority and leadership of the nation while he was only seven years and some months old.
The Abbasid government seized this opportunity and charged Yahya bin Aktham, who was one of the great ulama’ at that time, to test Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) and deny his status, so that the fact that the Imam was the most knowledgeable one of his age, which was and is one of the basic elements in the Shiite doctrine, would be proven wrong.
Yahya asked Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) before a large crowd of scholars, viziers and officials of the Abbasid government about a jurisprudential question and Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) ramified the question into many branches. Yahya was astonished and he felt a failure and acknowledged the exceptional scientific abilities of Imam al-Jawad (a.s.). The news of this event and of others circulated in the meetings of Baghdad and everywhere.
Before we talk about the mother of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) we would like to say, as we have said many times before, that Islam has adopted the unity of society and struggled against all the means that might lead to disagreement or break that unity. The Imams of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) always acted in light of this fact. They did not differentiate between the White and the Black.
They got married to bondmaids in order to do away with all kinds of racial segregation. Imam ‘Ali bin al-Husayn Zaynul Aabidin (as-Sajjad) (a.s.) married a bondmaid who gave birth to Zayd the eternal martyr, and Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s.) got married to a bondmaid who gave birth to Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi (a.s.).
Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) bought this bondmaid and he himself educated her. She lived in the house of Imamate with the Alawi women and the daughters of the messenger of Allah (SwT), who were the example of honor, chastity, and purity. She was affected by their conducts and devoted herself to the worship of Allah. She spent her nights worshipping and reciting the Book of Allah.2
It sufficed her that she had given birth to a master from the masters of Muslims and an Imam from the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) whom Allah has sent for the safety and deliverance of the people.
Historians disagreed on her name. Here are some of the names as mentioned by historians:
There are other sayings but the details of this particular point is not so important to the subject.
‘Ali al-Hadi (a.s.) was born in Siriya8 in Yathrib (Medina)9 and by this birth the world was delighted. No one had ever been born in that age more pious, more devoted, or more knowledgeable than him. He inherited all qualities of good, honor, and nobility.
Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) performed the special rituals for his blessed newborn son. He performed Azan in his right ear and Iqama in the left, circumcised him on the seventh day after the birth, cut the hair of his head, gave silver, as much as the weight of the hair, to the poor, and slaughtered a ram as aqiqa10, as it was the norm for the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) to do with their children when they were born.
Most of historians agreed that Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was born in 212 AH11, and it was also said that he was born in 214 AH12, but they disagreed on the month and day of his birth. Here are some of their sayings:
1. He was born on the twenty-seventh of Thul Hijja.13
2. He was born on the thirteenth of Rajab.14
3. He was born on Monday, the third of Rajab.
4. Some sources mentioned that he was born in Rajab but without mentioning the day. It has been mentioned in some du’as (supplications) that, “O Allah, I ask you by the ones born in Rajab, Muhammad bin ‘Ali the second and ‘Ali bin Muhammad al-Muntajab”.
Some historians did not mention the month and the day of his birth but said he was born in Medina.15
His father Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) named him ‘Ali like the blessed name of his two great grandfathers Amir’ul- Mu’minin Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) and Imam ‘Ali bin al-Husayn Zaynul Aabidin (a.s.). He resembled his grandfather Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) in eloquence and rhetoric, and his grandfather Imam Zaynul Aabidin in piety, worship, and asceticism.
Giving a surname to a child was a way of honoring the child which helped his personality grow well towards perfection. The infallible Imams (a.s.) paid attention to this important fact and therefore, they surnamed their children in their early childhood. The Arabs were proud of their surnames.
Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) surnamed his son, Imam al-Hadi (a.s.), as Abul Hasan, which was the same as the surnames of his two grandfathers Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s.) and Imam ar-Ridha (a.s.). Narrators differentiated between these three Imams in this surname by saying Abul Hasan the First (Imam Musa al-Kadhim), Abul Hasan the Second (Imam ar-Ridha), and Abul Hasan the Third (Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi).
His epithets expressed the high qualities he possessed. His epithets are as follows:
1. An-Nasih (loyal); he was called so because he was the sincerest advisor to the nation.
2. Al-Mutawakkil (reliant on Allah); he disliked this epithet and ordered his companions not to call him with it. I think he hated this epithet because it was the epithet of the Abbasid caliph Ja’far al-Mutawakkil who held a bitter grudge and enmity, and was spiteful, towards the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.).
3. At-Taqiy (pious, devout); he was called so because he feared Allah and turned to Him. Al-Mutawakkil, the tyrant Abbasid caliph, tried his best to attract Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) to the fields of amusement and debauchery but he failed.
4. Al-Murtadha (being pleased with Allah); it was his most famous epithet.
5. Al-Faqeeh (jurisprudent); he was the most informed person of his age in jurisprudence, and was the authority that jurisprudents and scholars turned to.
6. Al-Aalim (knowledgeable); he was the most knowledgeable one among the people of his time, not only in the Islamic laws, but all branches of knowledge and sciences.
7. Al-Ameen (trustee on religion and life)
8. At-Tayyib (generous, kind-hearted, good-natured)
9. Al-Askari (military); he was called so because he resided in Surra Men Ra’a (Samarra’) which was called al-Askar.16
10. Al-Muwadhih (explainer of the verdicts of the Holy Book and the Sunnah)
11. Ar-Rasheed (wise, prudent); he was called so because he was the wisest and most prudent of his time.
12. Ash-Shaheed (the martyr) because he was martyred at the hands of the enemies of Allah.
13. Al-Wafiy (loyal); he was the most loyal of his people, and loyalty was a key element of his personality.
14. Al-Khalis (pure from every defect and bad)
He was brown17 like his father Imam al-Jawad and grandfather Imam ar-Ridha (peace be upon them). Narrators described that he was black-eyed, with thick hands, wide chest, hooked nose, pretty face, and good body odor. He was stout in body like his grandfather Imam Abu Ja’far al-Baqir (a.s.), neither short nor tall, with wide shoulders, big organs18…straight stature.19
Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) resorted to Allah the Almighty to protect his son Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) from the troubles and adversities of time and from every evil. Every day he charmed him with this du’a that showed his devotedness to Allah:
“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, there is no power save in Allah, the Exalted, the Great. O Allah, the Lord of angels and Gabriel, prophets and messengers, the Omnipotent over the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth, and the Creator and Possessor of everything, protect me from the harm of our enemies, and whoever wants to do us wrong from the jinn and human beings.
O Allah, blind their eyes and hearts and make between us and them a screen, guard, and defender. You are our Lord and there is no power and might save in Allah. On Him we have relied and to Him we have turned and He is the Mighty, the Wise. O our Lord, save us from every evil, and from the evil of every living creature you have control on, and from the evil of every thing that calms down on the day and the night, and from every harmful thing, and from the evil of every evildoer.
O Lord of the worlds and the Lord of messengers, send blessings on Muhammad and all his progeny and favor Muhammad and his progeny with the best of everything, and there is no power save in Allah, the High, the Great. In the name of Allah, and in Allah I believe, and from Allah I seek protection, and to Allah I resort, and with Allah I seek refuge.
And by the glory and might of Allah I seek protection from the devils of the humans and the jinn, and from their footing, knighting, and running, and from their cunning and evil, and from the evil of what they do under night and under day, from far and from near, and from the evil of the present and the absent, and of the witness and the visitor, alive or dead…and from the evil of people far away, and people close by, and from the evil of my self in its obsession, and from the evil of the devils, and the sense, touch, and dubiousness, and from the envy of the jinn and the humans.
And by the name, which the throne of Bilqees20 shook for, I protect my religion and self, and all those under my care from the evil of every figure or imagination, whiteness or blackness, statue or appearance, ally or not ally of whatever dwells in the air, cloud, darkness, light, shadow, hot, cold, seas, plains, badlands, ruins, building, hills, marshes, moors, churches, graveyards (of Christians), deserts and cemeteries.
From the emanations of those who appear in the night and disappear on day, evening and morning, afternoon and sunset. and from the suspicious and accusers, and the talebearers in the night, the devils, the Pharaohs, Satan, and from their soldiers, wives, tribes, and clans, and from their backbiting, slandering, speech, maligning, magic, beating, playing, deceit, and from the evil of every wicked one of magicians, the jinn, their wind, and all that they generate.
And from the evil of every wicked coming or going, accidental or intentional, calm or moving, and the beating of a vein, and headache and fever…and from the evil of every living creature you have power on, you are on the Right Path. O Allah, have blessing on Muhammad and the progeny of Muhammad and much peace…’
Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) prayed upon his great newborn son with this du’a so that he would live with confidence that the power which ran and managed this universe was none but Allah the Almighty, the Creator of everything and the Maker of life, and anyone other than Him had no power. Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) planted in his son the absolute faith in the powers of Allah, and taught him that resorting must be only to Allah Who saved from all misfortunes and distresses.
Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) grew up in a family different from all families in its noble conducts, high morals, and lofty virtues. Their young revered the old and the old respected the young. Historians mentioned wonderful anecdotes of the high conduct of the members of this great family. They relate that Imam al-Husayn (a.s.) never spoke before his brother Imam al-Hasan (a.s.) as a kind of reverence.
They said that Imam Zaynul Aabidin (a.s.) did not eat with his mother or nursemaid for fear that he might eat something that his mother or nursemaid had looked at to pick and then he might be undutiful to her. These morals were like the morals of the prophets that were, and are not found, in any other than this great family.
Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) grew up under the wing of his father Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) who was the most wonderful example of virtues and high morals. Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) shed light from his soul on his son and planted his virtues into him. He always praised his son and showed his admiration of his talents and intellectual abilities.
Historians said that when Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) wanted to go to Iraq, he seated Imam al-Hadi (a.s.), who was six years then, in his lap and said to him, ‘What do you like as present from the masterpieces of Iraq?’
Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) smiled and said, ‘A sword like a flame.’
Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) turned to his son Musa and said to him, ‘And you! What do you like?’
Musa said, ‘Some mats.’
Imam al-Jawad (a.s.) did not hide his admiration and he said to his son al-Hadi (a.s.), ‘Abul Hasan (al-Hadi) is like me…!’ He was delighted because this showed courage and valor that were from his and his fathers’ qualities.
The intelligence, intellectual abilities, and talents which Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) had in his childhood astonished the minds and amazed the intellect. He had a strong memory, excessive intelligence, and sharp wit. Historians have mentioned many examples of his intelligence.
They mentioned that al-Mu’tasim, the Abbasid caliph, after having assassinated Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (a.s.), charged Umar bin al-Faraj to go to Yathrib (Medina) in order to choose a teacher for Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) who was six years and some months old then. He asked him to choose a teacher that must be one of the enemies of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) so that he (the teacher) would feed him hatred towards the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.).
When Umar arrived in Yathrib, he met the wali there and informed him of his task. The wali and some others directed him to al-Junaydi who had intense ill will towards the Alawids. Umar sent for al-Junaydi who accepted the task. A monthly salary was assigned to al-Junaydi and he was charged to prevent the Shi’a from visiting or contacting Imam al-Hadi (a.s.). Al-Junaydi began teaching Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) but he was astonished at his sharp wit and acute intelligence. One day, Muhammad bin Ja’far met al-Junaydi and asked him,
‘What about this boy (Imam al-Hadi) whom you teach?’
Al-Junaydi said to him angrily, ‘Do you say “this boy” and not “this sheikh”? I ask you by Allah; do you know anyone in Medina more aware in knowledge and literature than me?’
Muhammad bin Ja’far said, ‘No!’
Al-Junaydi said, ‘I mention some matters of literature and think that I have elaborated upon them, but he (Imam al-Hadi) opens sections of literature where I myself learn from him. People think that I teach him, but, by Allah, I learn from him…’
After some time Muhammad bin Ja’far met al-Junaydi again and asked him, ‘What about the boy?’
Al-Junaydi said to him, ‘Let you not say so! By Allah, he is the best of the inhabitants of the earth and the best of the creatures of Allah. Many a time, when he wants to enter his room, I say to him, ‘You do not enter the room until you recite a surah.’ He says, ‘Which surah you want me to recite?’
I ask him to recite long surahs and he recites them in a way that I have heard no recitation better than his. He recites the surahs with a voice nicer than the pipes of Prophet David (a.s.). He has memorized the Qur'an from its beginning until its end and he knows its revelation and interpretation…’ Al-Junaydi added, ‘This young boy grew up in Medina between black walls. How did he obtain this immense knowledge? Glory be to Allah!’
Al-Junaydi gave up his enmity towards the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) and believed in them and in their Imamate.’21
Of course, there is no explanation of this phenomenon except that which the Shi’a believe, that Allah has endowed the infallible Imams of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.), whether young or old, with knowledge, wisdom, and virtue in a manner that He has not endowed anyone else of His people.
He inherited solemnity and dignity from his fathers. The mien of prophets and brightness of guardians appeared on him, and no one of his enemies or followers met him unless he revered and respected him highly.
Muhammad bin al-Hasan al-Ashtar al-Alawi said, ‘One day, I was with my father at the door of al-Mutawkkil (the Abbasid caliph) among a crowd of people. While we were waiting there, Abul Hasan (al-Hadi) came and all the people dismounted revering and honoring him until he entered the palace. Someone denied this reverence towards Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) and said, ‘Why do we dismount to this boy? By Allah, he is neither the noblest nor the eldest of us. By Allah, we do not dismount to him when he comes out.’
Abu Hashim al-Ja’fari replied to him, ‘By Allah, you shall dismount to him with meanness and lowness.’
When Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) came out, people began crying out with takbir and tahlil22 and all of them stood up glorifying him. Abu Hashim turned to people and said, ‘Did you not claim that you would not dismount to him?’
They said, ‘By Allah, we could not control ourselves until we dismounted.’23
Hearts revered and honored him, and this reverence did not come out of his authority or rulership, but it resulted from his devotedness to Allah, asceticism in the worldly life, and utmost piety. He left the meanness of disobedience of Allah and came to the honor of obedience. From the evidences of the great reverence that people held for him, was the fact that whenever he came to al-Mutawakkil in his palace, everyone in the palace hastened to serve him. They competed to raise the curtains, open the doors, etc., and they did not ask him to do anything by himself.24
All the Alawids agreed on revering and honoring Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) and acknowledging his leadership and virtue. Among them was the uncle of his father, Zayd, the son of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, (a.s.) who was a respectable old man. One day, Zayd asked Umar bin al-Faraj, who was the doorkeeper of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.), to ask permission for him to enter.
He was permitted to come in to have the honor of meeting Imam al-Hadi (a.s.). Zayd came in to Imam al-Hadi (a.s.), who was at the front of the meeting area. He sat before Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) in a manner of honoring, glorifying, and believing in his Imamate. The next day, Zayd came to the meeting of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) who was not present yet. Zayd sat at the front of the meeting area. When Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) came, Zayd jumped up and seated Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) in his place, although Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was too young then and Zayd was very old.25
The reverence towards Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was not limited to Muslims only. Even the People of the Book besides Muslims believed in his high position near Allah. When they faced a misfortune, they carried gifts to Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) and took him as means to relieve their misfortunes.
Hibatullah bin Abu Mansur al-Musily said that Yusuf bin Ya’qub the Christian was acquainted with his father. Once, he came to his father as guest and his father asked him why he had come to Baghdad. He said, ‘I was sent for to meet al-Mutawakkil and I did not know what for, but I brought with myself one hundred dinars that I gave to ‘Ali bin Muhammad bin ar-Ridha (Imam al-Hadi).’ Hibatullah added, ‘My father congratulated him, and then he left Baghdad towards Surra Man Ra’a.26
He stayed there for some days and then came back delightedly. My father asked him about his travel and he replied, ‘I arrived in Surra Man Ra’a, which I had not visited before. I wanted to take the one hundred dinars to the son of ar-Ridha (Imam al-Hadi) before going to meet al-Mutawakkil. I asked about him and it was said to me that al-Mutawakkil had prevented him from going out and that he kept to his house. I feared to visit him and refrained from asking about him. It came to my mind that I would ride on my stumper and go to the town so that I might find out more about him without asking conspicuously.
Walking in the streets and markets, I reached a house when it struck me that it might be the house of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.). I asked my servant to see whose house it was. The servant asked and it was said to him that it was the house of the son of ar-Ridha. My servant knocked the door and a black servant came out towards me and said, ‘Are you Yusuf bin Ya’qub?’ ‘Yes!’ I replied.
He said, ‘Dismount!’ I dismounted from my sumpter and he took me into a vestibule. He went in and then came out asking me, ‘Where are the one hundred dinars?’ I gave them to him and he took them to the Imam. After a while, he came and permitted me to come in. I came in. Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was alone. He looked at me kindly and compassionately and said, ‘Is it not yet enough for you? (He meant, has he not seen enough to be guided).’
I said, ‘O my master, a sufficient proof has appeared to me!’
Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) said, ‘How far! You will not be Muslim, but your son will, and he will be from our Shi’a. O Yusuf, there are some people claiming that our guardianship does not benefit ones like you. Go to what you have come to! You shall see what you like.’
Yusuf was astonished at the miracle he saw from Imam al-Hadi (a.s.). He went to al-Mutawakkil and got all that he wanted.
Hibatullah said, ‘Yusuf died and I met his son who was a good Muslim following the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.). He told me that his father was still Christian when he died, and that he (the son) became a Muslim after the death of his father. He often said, ‘I am the good tiding of my master’.27
The people of the Book believed in Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) and found in his life a continuity to the lives of prophets and saints.
All those, who wrote about the life of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.), saw honor, dignity, knowledge, piety, and charisma in his great personality and showed their admiration and high regard for him. Here are some sayings of historians and scholars about him:
Abdul Hayy Abul Falah al-Hanbali says, ‘Abul Hasan bin ‘Ali al-Jawad bin ar-Ridha bin Musa al-Kadhim bin Ja’far as-Sadiq al-Alawi al-Husayni, who is known as al-Hadi, was a jurisprudent, worshipping Imam. He was one of the Imams whom the Shiite exaggerators believe to be infallible like prophets…’28
Al-Yafi’iy says, ‘Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was worshipful, jurisprudent, Imam…’29
He says, ‘‘Ali at-Taqiy (pious) is one of the twelve Imams of the Shi’a. He is ‘Ali az-Zakiy bin Muhammad al-Jawad…’30
He says, “Someone of scholars said, ‘The virtue of Abul Hasan has established its domes on the galaxy, and stretched its ropes on the stars. No excellence is counted, unless with him is its conclusion, and no nobility is mentioned, unless with him are its details and totality, and no high quality is regarded, unless his proofs appear on it.
He deserved all that due to the essence of liberal qualities that he alone had, and glory that governed his lofty nature which was purified from any blemish, and so his nature and morals were pleHasant, his conduct was fair, and his qualities were virtuous. His gravity, calmness, certainty, chastity, honesty, and wit were like the Prophet’s and ‘Ali’s. He had a pure soul and high determination such that no one among men resembled him (in this respect), and he lived a coarse life of asceticism such that no human participated with him in it or looked forward to it.’3132
He says, ‘He (Imam al-Hadi) was the best and most truthful of people. He was the cleverest from near and the most perfect from far. When he kept silent, dignity was observed on him, and when he spoke, splendor was observed on him. He was from the house of prophethood and Imamate, and the abode of guardianship and caliphate. A branch from the lofty tree of prophethood was he, and a fruit from the tree of the mission was he…’32
He says, ‘As for ‘Ali bin Muhammad al-Hadi, all qualities of Imamate have gathered in him. His virtue, knowledge, and good merits have been perfected. All his morals were extraordinary like the morals of his fathers. He spent the night worshipping, facing the Qibla, wearing a wool garment and sitting on a mat. If we mention his high qualities, the book shall be prolonged with them.’33
He says, ‘‘Ali bin Muhammad bin ‘Ali bin Musa bin Ja’far bin Muhammad bin Zaynol Aabidin bin as-Sayyid ash-Sharif al-Alawi al-Husayni was jurisprudent and one of the twelve Imams. The Twelver Shi’a call him al-Manari.’34
He says, ‘‘Ali al-Hadi was the heir of his father’s knowledge and generosity.’35
He says, ‘‘Ali al-Hadi is surnamed as al-Askari because he lived in Surra Man Ra’a which was called al-Askar. His mother was Umm Walad (bondmaid) who was absolutely virtuous and noble…’36
Muhammad bin Talha ash-Shafi’iy says, ‘As for the qualities of ‘Ali al-Hadi, ears never received praise more pleHasant than them (the qualities) such that they surrounded him, as precious pearls in their shells. What is witnessed in Abul Hasan ‘Ali al-Hadi was that his soul was described with invaluable descriptions, and that it was in the position of prophethood in its honor of ranks and honor of roots…’3738
This great researcher says, ‘Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was the best of his brothers. He inherited the knowledge and generosity of his fathers. The Imamate transferred, and was limited to him from among his brothers because he had fulfilled all the conditions of Imamate. The conditions of Imamate are knowledge, justice, qualifications, soundness of senses and organs that does not affect one’s determination and action, being Arab from Quraysh, besides being from the Hashemites…’38
He says, ‘‘Ali al-Hadi bin Muhammad al-Jawad bin ‘Ali ar-Radhiy bin Musa bin Ja’far al-Husayni at-Talibi was the tenth of the twelve Imams for the Shi’a and one of the pious virtuous ones…’39
These were some words said by scholars and ulama’ showing their admiration towards Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) and some of his high qualities for he was the highest religious authority in the Islamic world.