Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was born the fifth of Sha’ban, year 38 AH/ 659 AD. His father was Imam Al-Hasan (‘a), and his mother was Shahrbano (also called Shahzanan, daughter of the Persian king Yazdgerd, son of Shahriyar). In his enunciations, The Holy Prophet (S) had named him Ali, and given him the title Al-Sajjad. This was due to his worship and endless prostration before God in sojood.
Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), like the Imams (‘a) preceding him, was of honourable character and knowledgeably superior and best implementer of Islam in his time.
At 23 years of age, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), in connection with the martyrdom of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), became the Imam of his time officially. Prior to the martyrdom of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), close relations to the Imam (‘a) were notified of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) succession, in accordance with the Prophet’s (S) enunciations.1
The rulers during the time of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) were:
1) Yazid Ibn Mu’awiya (60 AH/680 AD – 64 AH/684 AD)
2) Abdullah Ibn Zubayr (61 AH/681 AD – 73 AH/692 AD) – independent governance in Mecca
3) Mu’awiya Ibn Yazid ( 64 AH/684 AD)2
4) Marwan Ibn Hakam (64 AH/684 AD – 65 AH/685 AD [a duration of nine months]3
5) ‘Abd Al-Malik Ibn Marwan (65 AH/685 AD – 86 AH/705 AD)
6) Walid Ibn ‘Abd Al-Malik (86 AH/705 AD – 96 AH/715 AD)
During the battle of Karbala, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) had befallen severely ill and was the sole male in the company of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) to miraculously survive the many attempts carried out by the enemy to kill him. During some of those occasions, the illness of the Imam (‘a) was meant to his survival as the enemy presumed his near demise. But on many other occasions, Sayyida Zaynab (‘a) intervened to protect the Imam of her time. After the massacre in Karbala, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was captivated alongside the surviving women and children of the Prophet’s (S) offspring and brought to Damascus as a prisoner of war.
The prominent role of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) as an Imam was initiated as such. Following the atrocious murder of Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) father and Imam, Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), and his faithful companions, the events of Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) revolution were to be spread far and wide. Were it not for Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) and Sayyida Zaynab (‘a), the truth of what had happened and the reality of Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) uprising would be left in Karbala.
The day following Ashura, the family of the Prophet (S) was brought to Kufa as prisoners of war. Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad, who had made the kufans betray and turn away from Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), was ordered by Yazid to suffocate the Imam’s (‘a) revolution by all means possible. All of Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) we to be killed and so the lineage of the Prophet (S) extinguished. At the sight of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), Ibn Ziyad was surprised as he was informed Ali Ibn Husayn (‘a) was killed and cut into pieces in Karbala. Even the infant of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) was heartlessly shot with an arrow and slaughtered while being in the arms of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a). When a confused Ubaydullah beheld Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) and was filled in that Imam (‘a) was ill and that his brothers were killed, he immediately ordered for him to follow his brothers’ fates. But in an instant, Sayyida Zaynab (‘a) shielded her Imam, just as she had in Karbala when Shimr had attacked. She told them to kill her first. However, her striking power and determination had Ibn Ziyad knowing better than that and so stepped back.
At the end of their difficult journey, Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) survivors arrived at Damascus only to be welcomed by an adorned city, filled with jubilating residents celebrating the victory of defeating faithless rebels.
In Damascus, an elderly male, of Sham’s origin, who believed the rumours closed into the caravan and said:
“Glory be to God who has willed the caliph’s victory over you.”
Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), knowing the elderly man’s perception to be based on Yazid’s propaganda, answered:
“O Sheikh [title of respect], have you read the Qur’an?”
“Yes, how so?” – the man answered
The Imam (‘a) asked:
“Have you read the verses: ‘O’ (Muhammad), say, I do not ask you for any payment for my preaching to you, except [your] love of family.’”
“Yes, I have.” – the man replied
Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) said:
“By God, we are the family of the Prophet (S).”
And so, the Imam (‘a) asked:
“Have you not read the verse: ‘God intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household (Ahl Al-Bayt), and to purify you with [extensive] purification.’”?
“Yes, I have” – he replied
Then, the Imam (‘a) announced:
“We are the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) whom God has extensively purified!”
The older man was astonished and went quiet as he regretted his prior sayings. He turned to the Imam (‘a) once again and asked:
“By God, are you them?”
So, the Imam (‘a) replied:
“By God, we surely are them. By our grandfather, the Prophet’s (S) right, we are.”
When the elder male realized this was the household of the Prophet (S) indeed, in shackles, led through the city in such conditions, he fell and kissed the hands of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), crying. He asked for forgiveness and denounced Yazid and all those who were complicit in the oppression of the Prophet’s (S) household, and exclaimed:
“O God, I seek refuge in You from the enemies to YourProphet’s (S) household, from among djinn and men. O the son of the Prophet (S), is the path of tawba (sincere repent and ask God’s forgiveness) open for me?”
Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) answered confirming so and said:
“If you make tawba, you are with us.”
The man did so, and according to historical accounts, he called to the people and informed them this to be the household of the Prophet (S) and urged them to repent and protect them, until he was assaulted and killed by the orders of Yazid.4
When the caravan of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) was taken to the palace, Yazid had ordered a huge assembly to show off his victory and so humiliate the household of the Prophet (S). In spite of Yazid’s constant tries to humiliate and dishonour the survivors of Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) caravan by mocking and disrespecting them and the head of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), he was met by strong opposition.
Some of the conversations taking place, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) asked Yazid before the assembly:
“In what way do you imagine our grandfather, God’s Messenger (S), would react to our condition?”
Yazid mockingly tried to blame Ubaydullah for taking the army to Karbala, and asked Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a):
“Inform me, how did you feel by God’s doing to your father, Husayn (‘a)?”
Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) replied with a Qur’anic verse:
“No disaster strikes upon the earth or among yourselves except that it is in a register before We bring it into being – indeed that, for God, is easy” (57:22).
“In order that you do not despair over what has eluded you and not exult [in pride] over what He has given you. And God does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful.” (57:23).
That ended the pride of Yazid, and so he angrily attempted to recite the following verse as a reply:
“Whatever hardship befalls you is the result of your own deeds.”
So, the Imam (‘a) said:
“This verse applies to those who have wronged, not those who have been wronged.”
As Yazid could not reply to that, he ordered a speaker to go rise to the pulpit and humiliate Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) and his father, Imam Ali (‘a), something accustomed by Mu’awiya in the reign of the Umayyads. And so, the speaker spoke ill Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and mentioned Yazid and his father, Mu’awiya, good qualities until he reached the epitome of lies and was cut off by Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), who said:
“O you who preach! Woe be to you! You have bought the wrath of the Creator in lieu of the pleasure of the creatures, while your place is hell.”
Shortly after, the Imam (‘a) asked permission to speak in the presence of the attendants. Although Yazid refused, the people insisted until Yazid gave in.
Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) mounted the pulpit and gave the following sermon:
“O people, we were given six things and favoured by seven. We were given knowledge, gentleness, mercy, courage and the ability to influence and love for us in the hearts of the believers. We were favoured with the chosen Prophet Muhammad (S); one of us is Siddiq (the truthful) and Tayyar [Jafar Ibn Abu Talib]; from us is God’s and His Messenger’s (S) Lion [Imam Ali (‘a)], and from us are the two masters of this nation [the masters of the youth of paradise, Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a)], and from us is the Awaited [Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj)].
He looked around and continued:
“Whoever recognizes me, do you know who I am and for those who do not recognize me, let me inform you of who I am and to what family I belong.
I am the son of Mecca and Mina; I am the son of Zamzam and Safa; I am the son of the one who held the black stone with the ends of his mantle; I am the son of the best man who ever put on sandals and wanders barefoot; I am son the best man ever to make Tawaf and Sa’i (ceremony of running seven times between Safa and Marwa); I am the son of the best man who ever offered the Hajj and pronounced Talbiya[Here I am at Your (Lord) service]; I am the son of the one who was raised on Buraq; I am the son of the one who was made to travel from the Sacred Mosque [in Mecca] to the ‘Aqsa-mosque [in Jerusalem]; I am the son of the one who was taken by the angel Gabriel (‘a) to Sidrat Al-Muntaha; I am the son of the one ‘who drew near [his Lord] and suspended, so he was the measure of two bows or closer still’; I am the son of the one whom the heavenly angels sends blessings upon.
I am the son of the one to whom the Almighty revealed what He revealed; I am the son of Muhammad Al-Mustafa (S) [The Prophet (S)]. I am the son of Ali Al-Murtada [Imam Ali (‘a)]; I am the son of the one who fought against the enemies till they confessed; ‘There is no god but God’. I am the son the of the one who struck the enemies with a double-bladed sword before the Apostle of God (S) and stabbed [them] with two spears, emigrated twice, pledged twice [to the Prophet], prayed towards the two qiblas, fought [against the unbelieving Arabs] at Badr and Hunain and never disbelieved God, not even as much as the twinkling of an eye.
I am the son of the best of the believers, the heir of the Prophet’s (S), the destroyer of the unbelievers, the commander of the Muslims, the light of the Mujahedin [the holy warriors], the ornament of the worshippers, the crown of the weepers, the most patient of the patient and the best of the steadfast from among the family of Yasin and the Messenger of God (S) of the world’s inhabitants. I am the son of the one who was backed by Gabriel (‘a) and supported by Mikael (‘a).
I am the son of the one who defended the Muslims sanctity and put down the arrogant, transgressors and those who broke their oaths of allegiance to God and [the son of the one who] struggled against his stubborn enemies, the first to respond to God’s call from among the believers, the prior to all the previous ones; the destroyer of the polytheists; the arrow from among the archers of God against the hypocrites; the tongue of wisdom of worshippers; the supporter of the religion of God, the protector of the affairs of God, the garden of the wisdom of God, the container of the knowledge of God; forgiving and wise; generous and benevolent; noble and satisfied with God; courageous; the scatterer of ties to unjust relations; divider of tribes; the most resolute, the venerated and the firmest in determination; the boldest of them in tongue; a brave lion; the one who destroyed them at the battles and dispersed them in the wind, the lion of Hijaz; the ram of Iraq; one from Mecca, Madina, Badr, Hunain and Sahajar; Muhajir (emigrant); from the Arabs – their lord; the lion of war; the inheritor of the holy scriptures (Mash’arayn), the father of the two grandsons of the Prophet (S), Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a); the one who manifested miracles; the one who scattered the phalanxes; the piercing meteor; the following light; the victorious Lion of God; the request of every seeker; the victorious over every victorious – such is my grandfather, Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib (‘a). I am the son of Fatimah az-Zahra’ (‘a), the pious; I am the son of the mistress of all women; I am the son of the purified lady; I am the son of the apples of the Prophet’s (S) eyes. I am the son of the one smeared in blood. I am the son of the one slaughtered on the plains of Karbala. I am the son of the one who was lamented upon by the djinn in the darkness of the night and the one who was mourned upon by the birds in the sky.”
The Imam (‘a) continued saying ‘I am’ until people cried out and loudly wept, so much that Yazid feared it might end in a revolt. He called out to the prayer-caller to interrupt with azan, even when prayers had not occurred.
However, when the prayer-caller recited ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ (God is the greatest), the Imam (‘a) said:
“Verily God is Great!”
With ‘la ilaha illa Allah’ (I bear witness that there is no other deity except Allah), the Imam (‘a) said:
“My hair, my skin, my flesh and my blood bear witness that there is no other deity except God.”
When the prayer-caller came to: ‘Ashhad-o anna Muhammad -an Rasoul-Allah’ (I bear witness that Muhammad (S) is the Messenger of God), Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) turned to Yazid and said:
“Yazid! Is Prophet Muhammad (S) your [great] grandfather or mine? If you say that he is your grandfather, you speak a lie, and if you say he is my grandfather, then why did you kill his family?”
Yazid could not answer the Imam (‘a), and the truth was now evident. So he ordered the prayer-caller to continue before matters got out of hand and became chaotic among the attendants who started questioning the origin of the prisoners.5
The public sentiment was no longer the same as when the caravan of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) had arrived in Sham. As the people of Sham started to realize who had been massacred and witnessed the treatment of the Prophet’s (S) household as captives, they became anxious and worried. Yazid feared lest people revolt and dared not spill more blood. Accordingly, he was forced to release Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) and his company, who left for Medina.6
Until then, the people of Sham had only heard the lies and false claims against the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) from the Umayyad regime. However, the sermon of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) showed the attendants another reality and made them realize the truth, kept away from them.
When the people of Medina heard of the coming of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), they gathered at the mosque of the Prophet (S) weeping and mourning the martyrdom of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a). The news of the massacre had spread wholly, to the whole of the Islamic state, by then. Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was received by the people and told them of that which had taken place. Sayyida Zaynab (‘a) had an active role in spreading the truth of Karbala.
It is told by Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) that Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) mourned his father for all the remaining years after the tragedy Ashura. Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) and Sayyida Zaynab (‘a) laid the foundation of the first commemorations held by weeping for Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) and encouraged others who mourned him. The son of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), Imam Al-Baqir (‘a), only three years of age during the event of Ashura, relates that his father was never given water or food except that his tears would blend with them. This shows the level of Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) grief, which he lived with daily and was mirrored in his actions, also the way in which the Imam (‘a) kept the memory of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) and Ashura alive.
The grief of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) over Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) and his companions was greater than the sorrow of a son over his father. It was rather the sorrow of an Imam (‘a) over the oppression committed against God’s chosen ones and the Prophet’s (S) household, but also over the error committed by the people. The fact that Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) was the Prophet’s (S) only living grandson, despite everything the Prophet (S) had said and done urging people to protect and follow the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), did not stop the guilty from committing the abhorrent oppression. Barely fifty years after the demise of the Prophet (S) and by a people who seemingly followed the Prophet (S), were capable of slaughtering the noblest personality from the descendants of the Prophet (S). The nation of the Prophet (S) had in less than a century diverged from the teachings of the Prophet (S) to such a level they were able to murder his grandchild and remain silent during the massacre.
Nonetheless, by his blood Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) had awoken and reset the course. Now, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was responsible as an Imam to keep the message alive and convey the banner of true Islam. This was no simple task as the Imam (‘a) was on probation, his position among the people feared by Yazid and his successors. The remaining 35 years of his blessed life were spent in Medina, and he usually did not leave unless going on a pilgrimage to Mecca, or visiting the shrines of the Imams (‘a).
Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was under close government surveillance, attempting to limit his possibilities of spreading the message and knowledge.
The Umayyads worked hard to destroy Islam, from within. After disallowing notes to be taken of, especially, the Prophet’s (S) ahadith during the rule of the first and the second caliph, Mu’awiya imposed fabricated and distorted narrations instead. Many narrations and historical facts, influencing the teachings of Islam, were falsified. This mix of haqq and batil left people in a state of confusion, and so divisive opinions among various personalities and personal opinions were found here and there. The height of this was prominent in Kufa, among kufans. This whilst the propaganda machinery of the Umayyads progressed to prevent actual news from spreading, and if they did so anyway, they were distorted with disinformation.
Consequently, the public was either kept in the shadows of what occurred or held at bay with fright and bribes, or busying themselves in search of livelihoods and amusements. Only a few personalities and groups kept themselves well-informed and knew of the state of events. As such, they were determined in holding onto the household of the Prophet (S), uninterrupted line of religion. Except for those, the majority of people lacked deep insight into state affairs and were either apathetic or had other priorities. This happened whilst leading personalities joined the ruling body out of self-interest or, if they opposed the methods of Umayyads, held a distance.
Following the news of the Umayyad’s crimes came out, or the events such as the sermon of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) took place, many short-lived (except a few) uprisings were held, however, blew out before having any lasting effects. Alongside this, the Umayyads worked hard on spreading ruin all the way to Mecca and Medina, prior to Mu’awiya’s time were known to be the centre of religion and spirituality. Hence, these two cities were a greater target to attack and corrupt. Immorality spread in every possible way, notably by slowly familiarizing party spaces with music, dance and drinks and promoting prostitution and games. Those who could be subjected to those means were so whilst those in religious paths were provided with distorted forms of religiousness. The status of Imam Ali (‘a) and Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) was reduced among people, as they also could not reach Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) during his close surveilled house-arrest.
The Umayyad rule of terror aggravated the situation further and the common displeasure among people, who despite the fright, tried to protest and rise up, but were mercilessly brought down. One of the most known cases in history is the event of Harra, where among ten thousand people, among them pregnant women, were brutally killed in Medina. During a period of three days, Yazid allowed the army of Sham to act; however, they wished with people’s lives, belongings and honour. Crimes as murder and rapes were committed.7 Even bloodthirsty personalities as Hajjaj Ibn Yousof Al-Thaqafi, allowed to spill blood in the Umayyad dominion freely, contributed to the spread fright. As a result, many stopped following religious lifestyles other than shallowly, a serious religious and moral decay spread.
The time after Ashura was a very difficult period for Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a). The Imam (‘a) could neither speak freely nor have open contact with the people. Fearing an uprising led by Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), or the Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) companions at the Imam’s (‘a) request, pushed the Umayyads for intensive and secret surveillance of the Imam (‘a) and his contact with the outside world. However, the state of the nation did not yet tolerate a direct and open intervention against the Prophet’s (S) household, nor did Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) do anything that could serve as a reason for such action.
Many people, especially in Kufa, had realized their shortcomings in not having helped Imam Al-Husayn (‘a). Full of remorse, they intended to avenge Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) killer who was from the same city. Kufa was a major city that was geographically central. The residents were of all kinds of tribes and groupings. The city was therefore important to the Islamic nation, and the unrest there was dangerous for Yazid. Yazid could, therefore, do nothing but blame everything on Ibn Ziyad and even pretended to have respect for the Prophet’s (S) household.
On the other hand, Abdullah Ibn Zubayr had seized the opportunity and revolted in Mecca under the slogan of taking action against Yazid’s unbelief and taking revenge for the blood of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a). Therefore, the situation in Hijaz was no longer completely under Yazid’s control, and the Umayyads no longer had a popular opinion with them. Abdullah Ibn Zubayr’s false battle for the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) put Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) under further surveillance. Abdullah Ibn Zubayr was the one who had the leading role against Imam Ali (‘a) in the battle of Jamal.
It was under these circumstances, with limited communication and tightly guarded connections with the outside world, that Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) needed to preserve the religion and pass on its true message. Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) constant grief for Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) tragedy and the referencing of religious concepts through invocations became among the Imam’s (‘a) way to perform his duty.
Once again, the story witnessed how an Imam (‘a) navigated through the most difficult of circumstances and managed to preserve and pass on God’s message to the people in the best way possible, taking into consideration the circumstances of his time and the prevailing conditions. Admittedly, Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) uprising and martyrdom had shaken the community and rocked the Umayyad’s supremacy, but the divide among people and their self-interests prevented a full turning. Despite this, there were attempts and several popular movements, including the revolution in Kufa led by Mukhtar Ibn Abu Ubayd Al-Thaqafi, who managed to avenge Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) killer. Nevertheless, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) had to assume a publicly withdrawn role and was not directly associated with the uprisings that followed. Since Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) connection with these resurrections would give the enemies reason to kill the Imam (‘a) and end the Prophet’s (S) lineage.
Consequently, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) revolution continued to live through other methods since he was under close surveillance. In addition, there were very few loyal followers of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) left and even fewer who openly had the opportunity to seek the Imam (‘a). The Imam (‘a) spread the teachings of religion and the prophetic spirit through the most beautiful of invocations that united the deep meaning of the Qur’an with the teachings of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). This was possible because no one could blame the Imam (‘a) for worshipping God and through this path, the Imam (‘a) could generate religious consciousness for contemporary people, but above all, for the people of the future. Several of these beautiful invocations are available today and demonstrate Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) extremely important role in the preservation of religion based on the prevailing conditions and despite the extremely difficult circumstances of his time.8
While the Umayyads tried to distort and erase the Ashura tragedy from history, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) did the opposite. By keeping the grief of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) alive, the truth and the revolutionary spirit could live on and spread out. Not infrequently, it happened that the Imam (‘a) saw an everyday event that revived Ashura’s scenes of oppression and tragedy for him. Everything from the cry of an infant and the play of a little girl to the slaughter of a lamb, or something as simple as food or water being put before him, caused the Imam (‘a) to burst into tears. Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) crying was so heartbreaking that his cry made others cry. The recounting of what had happened in Karbala and Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) standpoint in connection with the crying of the Imam (‘a), spread the story and its lessons. The Umayyads could not stand in the way of the Imam’s (‘a) crying and mourning for his father. In this way, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) lived daily with Ashura and cried continuously for his father Imam Al-Husayn (‘a), and through this grief, the truth about Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) revolution spread.
When Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was asked why he cried so much, and if it was not enough, the Imam (‘a) explained that Prophet Ya’qoob’s (‘a) grief and crying over his son Prophet Yousef (‘a) never ended. From the word of God in the Qur’an, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) recounted how Prophet Ya’qoob (‘a) cried even though he had eleven other sons, one of whom was absent, and that while Prophet Ya’qoob (‘a) knew that Prophet Yousef (‘a) was alive. Yet Prophet Ya’qoob (‘a) cried in the absence of his son until his vision disappeared. Whilst the Imam (‘a) had seen the Prophet’s (S) daughter’s son and the best of God’s servants been slaughtered in the most brutal way. The Imam (‘a) demonstrated the foundation of his grief through the logic of the Qur’an, and therefore understanding and awareness of the grief spread alongside the grief itself. Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) also urged the people to constantly visit Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) shrine which also helped draw attention to Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) message and keep the spirit of Ashura alive.
Although Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) did not speak about himself and his position as Imam openly, he spoke of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) and emphasized the position of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), not least in his invocations. This when Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) knowledge constituted the very essence of the invocations. Therefore, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) sought to preserve the line of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) so that this line would not be lost with the death of the Imam (‘a).
Of the greatest achievements of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was a deep love, respect and trust of the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) that the Imam (‘a) revived, nourished, fortified and allowed to grow in the hearts of people through his actions. Although throughout Mecca and Medina, according to the Imam’s (‘a) testimony, there were not even twenty who devotedly loved the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a)9 enough to stand by their side, Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) love and care included all people regardless of their belief. Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) was keen on all the creations of God and helped all people. It is stated that the Imam (‘a) bought and released about one hundred thousand slaves during his life, but only after giving many of them shelter and education for a maximum of one year so that they would later manage on their own.10 The Imam (‘a) treated these slaves so fatherly that many of them became one of the Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) most devoted companions. The respect and compassion that Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) did treat these people with gave them back their suffocated worthiness and their deprived human dignity. When Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) eventually freed these enslaved people, he had not only freed their bodies but also their souls through the education they had received through the Imam’s (‘a) treatment. While some of them could not tolerate leaving the Imam (‘a), some of them returned to their home countries and then brought with them the Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) teachings.
History shows that the corruption and oppression that was revived after Imam Ali’s (‘a) time left many poor and needy. Many people suffered and encountered difficulties. But in Medina and Mecca, the needy got visits from someone who gave them exactly what they needed. The needy got used to spending the night waiting for the anonymous helper. One night, hundreds of people awaited the arrival of the unknown nightwalker; but no one came! Since this had never happened for many years, they realized that something serious must have happened. As the news of Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) martyrdom spread that night, people realized who the anonymous helper had been. In the 34 years that the Imam (‘a) had lived in Medina, he had been wandering around the city anonymously every night, helping people regardless of their beliefs or opinions about the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a).
The people had seen much goodness from Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) and knew of his outstanding greatness, morals and knowledge. The good way of life and the charisma of the Imam (‘a) caused people to show obeisance for Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), even though they did not accept him as Imam.11 But when they realized that the Imam (‘a) had for so many years helped them, everyone rushed to the door of Imam Al-Baqir (‘a). It turned out that Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) also helped those who were not among his followers and also those who showed disapproval towards him. He had done this without revealing his identity or calling them to himself. Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), with his Islamic morality, had planted the seeds of devotion for the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) in the hearts of people. It made the people turn to Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) to a greater extent.
Finally, the Imam’s (‘a) position among the people could not be tolerated by the Umayyads and the contemporary caliph, Walid Ibn Abdul Malik. The Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) had not been obliterated with the Karbala massacre. Rather, deeper love and devotion for the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) had emerged among the people. Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) had managed to preserve and spread the message that called for justice for all people. He bestowed on the people the spirit of resistance against oppression and preserved the aglow in people’s hearts.
At last, Walid Ibn Abdul Malik ordered to poison Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), who became a martyr on the 25th of the month Muharram in 95AD.
It is stated that when Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) performed the funeral rituals for Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), he stopped and cried several times while washing and wrapping the blessed body of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a). When asked about the cause, the Imam (‘a) told him of all the wounds that remained on Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) body following the chains he had carried all the way from Karbala, Iraq, to Damascus, Sham. But there were additional wounds on the shoulders and back of the Imam (‘a), like his grandfather Imam Ali (‘a), from carrying bags of supplies to needy people night after night for 34 years.
The Umayyads surveilled all movements by the Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), which made it difficult for the few companions of the Imam (‘a) to meet him. These rulers had shown what they were aiming for when they had directly and indirectly imprisoned, tortured and murdered many of Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a), followers.12 They had no limitation in bloodshed and the only thing that kept them from direct intervention against the Imam (‘a) after Ashura was the unstable situation in parts of the nation as well as the competition they had among themselves. But this did not prevent them from using other methods such as surveillance, punishment penalties and raids against those who were kind to the Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). The companions who remained were, therefore, very few and had limited opportunity to reach the Imam (‘a). The rulers of the time, by restricting access to Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), wanted to prevent him from gaining more followers and being able to spread the true teachings of Islam. These rulers were looking to keep the skin of Islam where people appeared to be Muslims, prayed and fasted, so as to be able to rule over the people by distorting the message to their own advantage. But the essence of Islam, which included demands for justice and resisting oppression, oppressors and self-proclaimed world masters, was not allowed. Therefore, the Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) teachings constituted, and in this case the very existence of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), a danger to them and when they had failed to kill the Imam (‘a), they used all methods to isolate him. This was a new phenomenon since people had previously had free access to the Prophet (S), Imam Ali (‘a), Imam Al-Hasan (‘a) and Imam Al-Husayn (‘a). People could easily and openly turn to the Prophet’s (S) Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) for their questions and concerns. Companions could reach their Imam (‘a), and get instructions without being pressured. But during the time of Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a), all this had changed. The companions needed to understand and follow an Imam (‘a) to whom they had extremely limited access, and this was the beginning of a new stage in the Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) preparation for the final Imam (‘aj), which is in occultation.
- 1. Among the sources where these facts about Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) are found and where also contemporary Sunni scholars testified to the high standing of the Imam (‘a) are Tabaqat Al-Kubra volume 5 p. 214; Helyat Al-Awliya’s volume 3 p. 135 and 141; Kashf Al-Ghumma volume 2 p. 80; Mokhtasar Tarikh Dameshq volume 17 1 236; Tahdhib at-Tahdhib volume 7 p. 305; Seyr A’lam an-Nobala’ volume 4 p. 391; Umdat at-Talib p. 193; Sharh Nahjul Balagha by Ibn Abil Hadid volume 15 p. 273; and Al-Irshad by Sheikh Mufid volume 2 p. 138; Kafi by Kulayni Volume 1 p. 188-189; A’lam Al-Wara by Tabarsi Volume 2 pp. 181-182; Ithbat Al-Huda by ‘Ameli volume 2 p. 285 et al.
- 2. This Mu’awiya was the son of Yazid and the grandson of the first Mu’awiya son of Abu Sufyan. After Yazid’s death, the governorship was passed to him, but his government did not last more than forty days according to some historical accounts, he resigned and did not die long after. The reason for his departure is narrated in historical accounts that he felt that the Umayyads had no right to governing at the same time as he distanced himself from his father Yazid’s and his grandfather Mu’awiya’s outrage, especially the war Mu’awiya had waged against Imam Ali (‘a) and Yazid’s massacre of Imam Al-Husayn (‘a) and his companion. The circumstances surrounding his death are also unclear, despite his young age, he passed away shortly after he resigned and some historical accounts indicate that he was murdered by his family, including Mas’oodi in Morooj ath-Thahab volume 3 p. 73 and Ya’qoobi in Tarikh Ya’qoobi volume 2 p. 254 and Daynoori in Al-Imama wa as-Siyasa volume 2 p. 17 et al.
- 3. Imam Ali (‘a), after the battle of Jamal when the opponents including Marwan suffered defeat, describes in brief terms Marwan’s unsuccessful procedure, speaks of his hidden intentions to take power and predicts that he will reach his wish but that his time in power will be brief. The Imam (‘a) resembles Marwan’s time in power to a “dog licking his nose” and also speaks about the fact that the people will endure bloody days through his sons, who then become true. These statements of the Imam (‘a), which also show his knowledge of the hidden and the link to divine knowledge, can be found in, among others Nahjul Balagha sermon 73.
- 4. This is narrated in several sources including Maqtal Kharazmi volume 2 p. 61; Lohoof by Seyyed Ibn Tawoos p. 177–178 and 211–212; Bihar Al-Anwar volume 45 p. 129; Ihtijaj volume 2 p. 120–122 et al.
- 5. Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) sermon and the events surrounding the caravan’s arrival and stay in Sham have been narrated in several historical accounts and sources including Maqtal Kharazmi volume 2 p. 70; Bihar Al-Anwar volume 45 p. 138 et al.
- 6. This is narrated, among other things in Tarikh Tabari p. 462; Al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh by Ibn Athir p. 88; as well as Al-Irshad by Sheikh Mufid p. 122; by A’lam Al-Wara Tabarsi p.476 et al.
- 7. The inhuman deeds committed in Medina are portrayed to be among the worst in history. The event is extremely brutal and is portrayed by all historical narratives including Tarikh Tabari volume 5 p. 484; Al-Bidaya wa an-Nihaya volume 4 p. 220; Al-Imama wa as-Siyasa volume 1 p. 179; Ansab Al-Ashraf volume 4 p. 37; Tanbih by Mas’oodi p. 305; Hawadeth wa Wafiyya by Thahabi p. 30 and 61-580 et al..
- 8. Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) invocations are collected in the supplications-collection, Sahifa Al-Sajjadiya, which is also called Aal Muhammad’s Zaboor, named after the Prophet Dawood’s (‘a) script. Sahifa Al-Sajjadiya is translated to Swedish and can be ordered in Swedish bookstores in paperbacks or read online at https://dvv.se/bok/sahifa/. Online in English and Arabic at: https://www.al-islam.org/sahifa-al-kamilah-al-sajjadiyya-imam-ali-zayn-a...
- 9. The Imam’s (‘a) description gives an idea of the enormous difficulty of the prevailing situation and the pressure that existed on the Ahl Al-Bait (‘a), and how alone the Imam (‘a) really was with the lack of faithful companions. This is narrated in Sharh Nahjul Balagha by Ibn Abil Hadid volume 4 p. 104; Bihar Al-Anwar volume 46 p. 143; Al-Gharat p. 573 et al.
- 10. Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) behaviour and his magnanimity towards other people were known to the people and examples of it are narrated in many sources including the book Zain Al-’Abedin by Seyyed Al-Ahl p. 7 and 47; A’yan ash-Shi’a volume 4 p. 468; Sharh Al-Akhbar volume 3 p. 260; Kashf Al-Ghumma volume 2 p. 101; Al-Athaf p. 137–138; Mokhtasar Tarikh Dameshq volume 17 p. 243; Tarikh Tabari volume 6 p. 526 et al.
- 11. The people’s obeisance for Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) had reached such a degree that they self-opened the way for the Imam (‘a) when he touched Hajar Aswad (Black Stone) under Hajj while the son of the then Caliph, Abd Al-Malik, could not reach it despite his and his companions’ attempts to get rid of people. When the famous poet Farazdaq saw how Hisham Ibn Abd Al-Malik denied his knowledge of the Imam’s (‘a) identity in front of his wondering followers from Sham, he rose with all courage and responded with his famous poem in the Imam’s (‘a) acknowledgment:
This is he whose ability the valley (of Mecca) recognizes,
He is known by the (Sacred) House and the Holy sanctuary and the lands outside the sanctuary.
This is the son of the best of God’s servants.
This is the pure pious man, the pure eminent man
This is the son of Fatimah if you do not recognize him.
He whom the prophets yielded to his grandfather’s
Farazdaq’s bold performance annoyed Hisham who had imprisoned him and withheld his share of Bayt Al-Mal (Treasury House). After this event, Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) sent a larger sum to Farazdaq’s assistance. Farazdaq thanked and returned the money with the statement that he was only after God and the Prophet’s (S) satisfaction with his standpoint, whereupon Imam Al-Sajjad (‘a) prayed for Farazdaq and asked him to accept the gift. Farazdaq’s poem became a strong historical testimony of Imam Al-Sajjad’s (‘a) and Ahl Al-Bait’s (‘a) position and right. The story is narrated, among other things in Manaqeb Aal Abi Talib volume 4 p. 169 and others.
- 12. Ashura and subsequent violations such as the incident in Harra, the burning of the House of God, Ka’ba and the defeat of Tawwabin (repenters) and Mukhtar’s resurrection are some of the brutal events witnessed by history through the hands of the Umayyads and the Marwanites.