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Chapter 3: Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘A) Life From Birth To Imamah (Leadership)

This period of the Imam’s life starts from birth (in 37-38 A.H.) till Karbala in 61 (A.H.). Mu‛awiyah was the first caliph during Imam Al-Sajjad’s lifetime and was at the helm of government from the period of his childhood and during his teenage years. One notable aspect of this period was the chaotic climate in regards to specific circumstances, some of which led to the murder and imprisonment of the opposition in Iraq and the major problem in the Hejaz.
This, coupled with the loss of tradition and the Islamic boundaries protecting social culture, made way for confusion and disorder.

In the year 40 A.H., Imam ‘Ali (‘a) was killed (in Kufah) while he was busy preparing people for a new war with Mu‛awiyah. After this, the Iraqis voted for his son, Imam Hasan Al-mujtaba (‘a), to take on the position of caliph. Many of the Iraqis were not sincere, and very little could be expected from those in his army who pretended to be Shi’ah with Imam ‘Ali (‘a). These people proved they were not genuine and hurt the Imam (‘a) many times, causing him to wish for death from God in order for them to behave better with his son.

Throughout Imam ‘Ali’s (‘a) last years, Kufah encountered different groups. There were power hungry dogs including city people eager for the new caliph to award them high governmental positions. There were new Muslims, who had left their cities and travelled to the capital Muslim countries, full of great hopes and wishes, and there were hordes of opportunistic slaves who joined certain tribes in efforts to continue working for the Arabs.

In those days, Kufan society had its fair share of agitators content to blame and hurl stones at Imam Hasan’s (‘a) government. This behaviour continued until Qais Ibn Sa’ad Ibn Obadeh gave his oath of allegiance, on the sole condition that he would fight the sham citizens and their leader, Mu‛awiyah. However, it later became clear to the Imam that most of his army were plotting against him and his loyal followers. One group went to join Mu‛awiyah, and another
spread malicious rumours in an attempt to break the army’s spirit. Some of them even sent a letter to Mu‛awiyah telling him that they were ready to surrender their Imam and leader to him, which forced Imam Hasan (‘a) to make a peace treaty.

Pressure of uprisings and the suppression of the followers of the Ahl Al-Bayt (in Iraq) also occurred during this period (between the year 41 and 60 A.H.). Mu‛awiyah’s anger and irritation towards the Iraqis was discernible from his reactions during his occasional encounters with Iraqi tribal leaders. The Iraqis who fell for Amur Ibn Al-’Aas’s trick in the Siffin war, handing him control of their fate, slithered back to their homes, awaiting new opportunities during Mu‛awiyah’s reign.

The true Muslims (with the real Islamic nature and outlook reaching far beyond that of tribal loyalties), suffered more than the initial group, because in the twenty years of Mu‛awiyah’s reign, they witnessed the disappearance of Islamic traditions and the Sunnah of the Messenger of God (S). They saw the bid’ah (heretics) become publicly known figures, and the monarchic regime take over the Islamic caliphate, taking charge of Muslims’ affairs, while simultaneously devising ways to eradicate Islam and the Muslims. These figures opposed Islamic rules to such a degree and an illegitimate son of the Thaqif household actually became Mu‛awiyah’s brother, with the testimony of a vintner.1

Mu‛awiyah positioned spies amongst people, who counted the breaths contrary to the Qur’an’s clear rules. He dishonoured all promises and treaties and killed Hijr Ibn Uday, after making a failsafe guarantee to him. Although he had a treaty with Imam Hasan (‘a), he plotted with Jodah, the daughter of Ashath Ibn Qays, to poison her husband, Imam Hasan (‘a), the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (S). There were scores of other dreadful things that happened which clearly opposed the holy Qur’an’s rules and the Prophet Muhammad’s (S) Sunnah, all of which contributed to stain and shame Muslim history during that period.

As a consequence of these actions, no Islamic government existed in Iraq or Sham, despite the fact that this was counted as one of the most important Islamic centres at the time. Religious jurisprudence was contained in praying, fasting, pilgrimage, alms and jihad, while, at the same time, faithfully religious Muslims suffered from the spread of bid’ah (heretics) thoughts and beliefs, while biding their time for the opportunity to oust them.

1. Iraq’s Political State In Parallel To Mu‛Awiyah’s Death

Mu‛awiyah’s death provided important opportunities for the two strongest groups in Iraq.

1) Loyal Muslims who were suffering for Islam and watching the destruction of the Sunnah of the Messenger of God (S), foresaw an opportunity to dispose of the monarchic regime and return to an Islamic government and order of the previous caliphs.

2) The professional opportunist politicians who were chasing after power tried to limit the power of the governors in shame and control the events in Iraq.

At the time, Iraq had many significant important events occurring during this period, in contrast to the climate in Sham. At the time of Mu‛awiyah’s death, Yazid, his son, was in the village of Haoarin.2 He was brought back, albeit with great difficulty, by the governor of Sham (Al-Dahak Ibn Qais), in order for him to be able to swiftly pronounce Yazid as caliph. Once Yazid became caliph, he sent a letter to Madinah’s governor, ordering him to take the oath of alliance from Imam Husayn (‘a), Abdullah Ibn Ummar and Abdullah Ibn Zubair. It was clear from the beginning that Imam Husayn (‘a) would never give his oath to Yazid.

Abdullah Ibn Zubair wanted to be caliph, although he didn’t have the people’s acceptance. As he did not have an important opportunity in the situation, he, therefore, didn’t mind plighting his oath, so the only one for Yazid to fear, in this regard, was Imam Husayn (‘a). At the time, it was natural for the Iraqis to seize the opportunity to swear alliance to the Prophet’s (S) grandson, in order for him to gain the support of genuine Muslims and professional political players.

With his unique inborn nobility, honour, virtue, greatness and generosity, the Imam (‘a) was the one who could bring back the Sunnah of the Messenger of God (S) and destroy all bid’ah, while fighting injustice cruelty and tyranny.

This was the reason he refused to give his alliance to Yazid. Meetings took place and, as a result, letters were sent from citizens of Kufah to Imam Husayn inviting him to Kufah, with an emphasis that they were ready to fight the tyrant alongside Imam Husayn (‘a). Imam Husayn (‘a) answered them via his cousin, Muslim Ibn ‘Aqil (‘a), who was welcomed by them. For the second time they gave their word to Imam Husayn (‘a), reassuring him that they would go to war alongside him, against Sham’s tyrant.

Muslim Ibn ‘Aqil (‘a) sent a letter to Imam Husayn (‘a) telling him that there were 100,000 loyal followers that gave their word to fight under Imam Husayn (‘a), urging him to quickly come to Kufah. Perilously, while the letters were being sent to Imam Husayn (‘a), others were being sent to Yazid in Sham, advising him that, if he still wanted Kufah to stay under his control, he needed to send a strong governor because Al-Nu’man Ibn Bashir was actively weak regarding the current circumstances. Yazid conferred with Sargon, his Roman chief adviser, who suggested sending Obaidullah Ibn Ziad.

As soon as he arrived in Kufah, the people around Muslim Ibn ‘Aqil left him, enabling Ibn Ziad to kill him and his host, Hani Ibn Urwah. At the same time, Imam Husayn and his family, including Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) and followers were on their way to Iraq.3

2. The Clear Evidence Of Zayn Al-’Abidin’s (‘A) Imamah (Socio-Political And Religious Leadership)

The Prophet (S) specified and named 12 Imams of his grandsons (‘a), Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari and many other followers quoted in prestigious Shi’ah and Sunnah books, as is known from the ahadith narrated from Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari.4

In addition, each Imam before his death, depending on his current condition, named the next Imam many times. The name was written down and left with a trusted person and in asking for the letter and the name from this trusted person, it was behoved that the asker be an Imam. This happened during Imam Husayn’s lifetime, regarding Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) Imamah in Madinah and in Karbala before his death (martyrdom).

One of Imam Husayn’s Hadiths, proving his son’s Imamah, was revealed through Shaykh Al-Tusi, and he acquired it through Imam Abu Ja’afar Al-Baqir (‘a). When Imam Husayn (‘a) moved from Madinah towards Iraq, he wrote his will and left his letters and all things related to Imamah with Umm-Salamah, the Prophet’s (S) wife, as a trustee, telling her: "When my oldest son comes to you and asks you about my trustee, give it to him."

When Imam Husayn (‘a) was killed, ‘Ali Ibn Husayn (‘a) visited Umm-Salamah and she gave him the trustee.

In another Hadith, Imam Husayn (‘a) told Umm-Salamah, "Asking you for the Trustee is evidence of the person’s Imamah." Zayn Al-‘Abidin (‘a) asked Umm- Salamah for it.5

Kulayni, mentioned from Abi Al-jarod from Imam Al-Baqir (‘a): "During Imam Husayn’s (‘a) last days, he asked his daughter, Fatimah Al-Kubra, to come and then he gave her his will and a sealed letter. That was when Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was very ill and they didn’t have any hope of his survival, but when they returned to Madinah, Fatimah then gave the letter to Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a)."6

We will soon see that Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) used the letter when engaged in an argument with his Uncle Muhammad Ibn Hanafiah and said:

"Before Father went to Iraq he gave me his Will and an hour before his martyrdom, he blessed me by giving me the status of Imamah."7

3. Imam Zayn Al-’Abidin (‘A) On The Day Of ‘Ashura

The thing that hurt the hearts of the Ahl ul-Bayt’s followers most was the story of the eyewitness of Hamid Ibn Muslim on the day of Ashura soon after Imam Husayn’s Martyrdom. He said: "I saw them pull the clothes and Hijab from Imam Husayn’s (‘a) family, so that they couldn’t retain them; I mean they even robbed the clothes they were wearing."

Then they reached ‘Ali Ibn Husayn (‘a) who was very ill. A few of the infantry, who were with Shimr, asked him, "Aren’t you going to kill this ailing person?"

I said: "Oh my God! Are you killing the children now? He is young and his illness will kill him for you. And I kept on repeating my words until they changed their mind."

At that time, Ummar Ibn Sa’ad came beside the crying and wailing women and children and when he saw them he told his army: "None of you are allowed to go inside the tent of these women.... and if anyone took anything from them he must return it. I swear to God that no one returned anything."8

Thus Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) shared jihad with the idolatrous beside his father Imam Husayn (‘a), but God didn’t give him martyrdom like his pure father, brothers, family and loyal friends. However, He put him in charge of the leadership after his father, so he could carry on the dangerous duty of safekeeping the tradition of his grandfather (S) from impudent rogues, stray usurpation and the infesting matter spreading so quickly in Islamic civilisation.

  • 1. Tarjamat Sumayyah, mother of Zayd in the footnotes of Waq'at Al-Taff for Abi Mikhnaf, pp. 211-212.
  • 2. A village between Tadmur and Dimashq.
  • 3. Waq'at Al-Taff for Abi Mikhnaf, 70-141; edited by Muhammad Hadi Yusuf Al-Gharawi.
  • 4. Muntakhab Al-Athar p. 97 part 8; Shaykh Al-Mufid, Kitab Al-Irshad Al-Tabarsi, I‛lam Al-Wara bi-A‛alam Al-Huda 2/181-182; Qadatuna 5/14, Ithbat Al-Huda bi-‘l-Nusus wa ‘l-Mu'jizat 2/285; Ihqaq Al-Haqq 1-25; Kamal Al-Din wa Tamam Al-Ni'mah p. 253; Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib Ali Ibn Abi Talib 1/242.
  • 5. Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi 1/242; Al-Ghibah of Tusi, p. 195; Ithbat Al-Huda 5/214-216; Shaykh Al-Mufid, Kitab Al-Irshad 2/139.
  • 6. Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi 1/241-1; Ithbat Al-Wasiyyah p. 142; Al-Tabarsi, I‛lam Al-Wara bi-A‛alam Al-Huda 1/482-483.
  • 7. Al-Ihtijaj of Al-Tabarsi, 2/147; Ihtijaj Al-Imam Zayn Al-'Abidin (‘a), Basa'ir Al-Darajat p. 522; Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi 1/348.
  • 8. Shaykh Al-Mufid, Kitab Al-Irshad 2/112; Waq'at Al-Taff by Abi Mikhnaf, pp. 256-257; Rawdah Al-Wa'izin p. 189; Tarikh Al-Tabari 4/347; with a slight difference.