Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin

"Ali bin Hussein" redirects here. For other uses, see Ali bin Hussein (disambiguation).
Ali ibn Husayn
علي بن حسين  (Arabic)

4th Imam of Twelver and 3rd Imam of Ismaili Shia

The historical tomb of Al-Baqi' was destroyed in 1925. Imam Ali ibn Husayn is one of four Shia Imams buried here.
Born c. (659-01-04)4 January 659
(5 Sha'aban 38 AH)[1][2] Or (15 Jumada al-awwal 36 AH)
Kufa, Iraq or Medina,[3] Hejaz[4][5][6]
Died c. 20 October 713(713-10-20) (aged 54)
(12 or 25 Muharram 95 AH)
Medina, Umayyad Empire
Cause of death Death by poisoning
Resting place Jannatul Baqi, Saudi Arabia
24°28′1″N 39°36′50.21″E / 24.46694°N 39.6139472°E / 24.46694; 39.6139472
Term 680–712 CE
Predecessor Husayn ibn Ali
Successor Muhammad al-Baqir according to the Twelver Shia, Zayd bin Ali according to the Zaidiyyah Shia.
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Fatimah bint Hasan
Jayda al-Sindhi
Children Muhammad al-Baqir
Zayd al-Shahid
Umar al-Ashraf Ibn Ali-e-Zainul Abideen
Hussain al-Asghar Ibn Ali-e-Zainul Abideen
Abdullah Albahar Ibn Ali-e-Zainul Abideen
Ali Al Asghar Ibn Ali-e-Zainul Abideen
and two Daughters
Umme Kulsoom and Khadija
Parent(s) Husayn ibn Ali
Lady Shāhzanān (aka Shahr Banu)[6][9][13]
Relatives Ali al-Akbar
Ali al-Asghar
Sakinah (Fatima al-Kubra) bint Husayn
Fatima al-Sughra bint al-Husayn

Ali ibn Husayn (Arabic: علي بن الحسين) known as Zayn al-Abidin (the adornment of the worshippers) and Imam al-Sajjad (The Prostrating Imam), was the fourth Shia Imam, after his father Husayn, his uncle Hasan, and his grandfather Ali. Ali ibn Husayn survived the Battle of Karbala and was taken,to the caliph in Damascus. Eventually, he was allowed to return to Medina, where he led a secluded life with a few intimate companions. Imam Sajjad's life and statements were entirely devoted to asceticism and religious teachings, mostly in the form of invocations and supplications. His famous supplications are known as Al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya.[14][15][16][17]


Ali ibn al-Husayn was born in Medina, modern-day Saudi Arabia, in the year 38/658–9.[lower-alpha 1] He may have been too young to have remembered his grandfather Ali; he was raised in the presence of his uncle Hasan and his father Husayn, Prophet Muhammad’s grandchildren. It is said that Ali ibn al-Husayn was related through his mother Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazdegerd, to the last Sassanian King of Persia.[lower-alpha 2] Ali ibn al-Husayn was said to be Ibn al-Khiyaratayn, the "son of the best two (the Quraysh among the Arabs and the Persians among the non-Arabs)".[1][18] According to some accounts, Ali ibn al-Husayn's mother was taken as a captive to Medina during the caliphate of Umar, who wanted to sell her. Ali instead suggested allowing her to choose a husband from among the Muslim men and paying her dowery from the public treasury. Umar agreed; she chose Ali’s son Husayn.[lower-alpha 3][15][15][18][19][20]

In Karbala

Main article: Battle of Karbala
See also: Day of Ashura

In 61/680, Muhammad's grandson Husayn ibn Ali and a small group of supporters and relatives were killed at the Battle of Karbala by the large military forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid, to whom Husayn had refused to give an oath of allegiance. Zayn al-Abidin accompanied his father on a march toward Kufa; he was present at the Battle of Karbala but survived the battle because he was ill. Once the Umayyad troops had killed Husayn and his male followers, they looted the tents and took the skin upon which he was laying. It is said that Shemr was about to kill Zayn al-Abidin but his aunt Zaynab made Umar ibn Sa'ad, the Umayyad commander, spare his life.[18][20] Zain al-Abidin and the enslaved women were taken to the caliph; eventually he was allowed to return to Medina. During the journey, he delivered speeches in Kufa and Damascus, and informed the people of his father's intentions.[17][18][21]

Several accounts record Zayn al-Abidin's deep sorrow over the massacre. It is said that for twenty years, he would weep when food was placed before him. One day a servant said to him, "O son of Allah’s Messenger! Is it not time for your sorrow to come to an end?" He replied, "Woe upon you! Jacob the prophet had twelve sons, and Allah made one of them disappear".[lower-alpha 4]

The aftermath of Karbala and his Imamah

Kufa's people invited Husayn to go to Kufa and be their Imam, but they did not back him and his family against Kufa's governor, who massacred them in Karbala. Thus they thought themselves responsible for the tragedy of Karbala and tried to compensate for it by throwing themselves into the struggle to obtain vengeance for Husayn's blood. They chose Sulayman b. Surad al Khuza'I as their leader and called themselves Tawwabun (penitents). They were seeking an opportunity for action, until Mukhtar al-Thaqafi came to Kufa and claimed to represent Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah.[23] He soon gained the authority of a leader and took vengeance on those who were involved in Husayn's killing. Umar ibn Sa'ad and Shemr were executed and their heads were sent to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah.[24] Ubaid Allah was also killed in the battle on the Zab; his head was taken to the place in Kufa where Ubaid Allah had received the head of Husayn. The governor of Medina did not consider that Zayn al-Abedin was responsible for Mukhtar's action, since he had already left Medina for its outskirts to avoid being involved in political movements. Moreover, there is evidence that he was unmolested and excepted from giving allegiance to Yazid, after the Battle of Harra, where Medinans were sacked and looted by Yazid's army.[20][25]

Around this time, the question of the right of succession between Ali ibn al-Husayn and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah gained the most attention. Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah was a pious, brave man who many considered him as their Imam. Other Shia sects said Zayn al-Abedin had the right to inherit the Imamah, for his father Husayn had designated him the next Imam. Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah said he was more worthy because he was the son of Ali. But Zayn al-Abidin replied to his uncle, Fear God and make no such claim. After the death of Ibn Zubayr, the governor of Medina, Zayn al-Abedin and Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah agreed to go to Mecca and appeal to the Black Stone of the Kaaba to try to determine which one of them was the true successor. They went to the Kaaba, where the Black Stone was placed. Muhammad prayed for a sign but no answer came. Afterwards, Zayn al-Abedin prayed and the Black Stone became agitated and nearly fell off the wall; thus came the answer that Zayn-al-Abidin was the true Imam after Husayn, an answer to which Muhammad consented.[20][lower-alpha 7] After this settlement, Zayn al-Abedin returned to Medina and led a quiet life with a few companions who referred to him for answers to religious questions.[lower-alpha 8][20][26]

Social status

Ali ibn al-Husayn was respected by his followers, who considered him as the fourth imam, and by the circle of Medinan scholars who considered him as an eminent traditionist. The lawyer Said ibn al-Musayyib and the jurist and traditionist Al-Zuhri—though attached to the court of the Umayyad—were among his admirers. Al-Zuhri gave him the honorific Zayn al-Abedin—the ornament of worshipers—and narrated many Hadiths from him. Evidence for his high position among people comes from an ode told by the well-known Arab poet Farazdaq. This ode mentions an occasion when the Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik was overshadowed by the respect people showed to the imam. It was the time of Hajj when both of them were trying to reach the Black Stone through the crowd turning around the Kaaba. The people gave way to Zayn al-Abedin while Hisham struggled desperately. This deeply offended the Caliph, who sarcastically asked to whom the people had shown such respect. Farazdaq, who was present there, composed an ode addressing Hisham's question; it is considered a masterpiece of Arabic literature and the most reliable contemporaneous document describing Zayn al-Abidin.[lower-alpha 9][18][27][28]


It is narrated from the Imam that when he saw a beggar weeping, he said: If the world was in his hands and suddenly it dropped from him, it would not be worth weeping for.[29] The Imam renounced worldly pleasures but did not give way to poverty and feebleness, rather he was "pious with what God prohibited".[30] The Imam was self-denying and turned away from the world,[lower-alpha 10] and Sufis consider him as sufi and wrote biographies about him.[31][32]

It is narrated from the Imam that while circumambulating the Kaaba, he heard a man asking God for patience, so he turned to him and said: "You are asking (God) for tribulation. Say: O God, I ask You for well-being and gratitude for it."[33] It is also related when asked about asceticism, Zayn al-Abidin replied, "Asceticism is of ten degrees: The highest degree of asceticism is the lowest degree of piety. The highest degree of piety is the lowest degree of certainty. The highest degree of certainty is the lowest degree of satisfaction. Asceticism is in one verse of Allah’s Book: 'Hence that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor be exultant at what He has given you.' "[lower-alpha 11]

Selected sayings

[S]eparation from You has wrapped me in the clothing of my misery! My dreadful crimes have deadened my heart, so bring it to life by a repentance from You![lower-alpha 14]

... Act toward me with the forgiveness and mercy of which You are worthy! Act not toward me with the chastisement and vengeance of which I am worthy! By Your mercy, O Most Merciful of the merciful![lower-alpha 15]

... My God, who can have tasted the sweetness of your love, then wanted another in place of You? Who can have become intimate with Your nearness, then sought removal from You?[lower-alpha 16]

...O God, three traits have prevented me from asking Thee and one trait has urged me on: I am prevented by a command Thou hast commanded in which I have been slow, a prohibition Thou hast prohibited toward which I have hurried, and a favour through which Thou hast favoured for which I have not given sufficient thanks. I am urged to ask Thee by Thy gratuitous bounty upon him who turns his face toward Thee and comes to Thee with a good opinion, ... knowing that pardoning great sins is nothing great for Thee. [lower-alpha 17] ... [T]ake me through Thy generosity to Thy gratuitous bounty and take me not through Thy justice to what I deserve! I am not the first beseecher to beseech Thee and Thou bestowed upon him while he deserved withholding, nor am I the first to ask from Thee and Thou wast bounteous toward him while he merited deprivation.[lower-alpha 18]

Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin[42]

Zayd: "Which authority is the most overcoming and strongest?.

Ali: “Caprice.”

Zayd: “Which lowliness is the most lowly?”

Ali: “Clinging to the world.”

Zayd: “Which poverty is the most intense?”

Ali: “Unbelief after belief.”

Zayd: “Which creed is the most devious?”

Ali: “Unreal creed.”

Zayd: “Which creature is the most miserable?”

Ali: “It is he who sells his world for the world of other than him.”

Zayd: “Which creature is the strongest?”

Ali: “The clement one.”

Zayd: “Which of men is the most clement?”

Ali: “It is he who does not become angry.”

Zayd: “Which of men is the most foolish?”

Ali: “It is he who is deceived by the world, while he sees its changeable conditions.”

Zayd: “ Which catastrophe is the most intense?”

Ali: “The catastrophe in the religion.”[43]


Al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya

According to William Chittick, the Al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya is the "oldest prayer manual in Islamic sources and one of the most seminal works of Islamic spirituality of the early period".[21] Shia tradition considers this book with great respect, ranking it behind the Quran and Ali’s Nahj al-Balagha. This prayer book deals with Islamic spirituality and provides teachings on levels from the theological to the social. The traditional category of "faith", for example, which forms the basic subject matter of most of Islamic thought as developed in kalaam philosophy and Sufism, has been discussed in this book. Zayn al-Abidin refers frequently to Islamic practices, emphasizing the necessity of following the Quran and the hadith's guidelines, and the necessity of establishing justice in society.[44]

The Fifteen Whispered Prayers

The Fifteen Whispered Prayers also known as The Fifteen Munajat, is a collection of fifteen prayers attributed to Zayn al-Abidin, which some researchers regard as a supplementary part of the latter collection.[45] These prayers enable a person to recite the prayer that is most in accordance with his present mood.[46][47] The prayers start with repentance, which is the first step towards a genuine communion with God.[47]

Supplication of Abu Hamza al-Thumali

According to Abu Hamza al-Thumali, during the month of Ramadhan, Imam Zayn al-Abidin would spend most of the night in prayer. At the beginning of the fast, he recited a supplication later known as Du'a Abi Hamzah al-Thumali (The supplication of Abi Hamzah al-Thumali). This supplication is recorded in the book Misbah al-Mutahijjid of Shaykh Tusi.[48]

Treatise on Rights

The right of charity (sadaqa) is that you know it is a storing away with your Lord and a deposit for which you will have no need for witnesses. If you deposit it in secret, you will be more confident of it than if you deposit it in public...[lower-alpha 19]

Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin[49]

Zain al-Abidin’s "Treatise on Rights" is the only work other than supplications, short sayings and letters, attributed to him. According to Chittick, this treatise is especially important because it deals with many of the same themes as the Sahifa in a different style and language. In this book, Zayn al-Abidin clarifies that a hierarchy of priorities must always be observed: The individual comes before the social, the spiritual before the practical, and knowledge before action. Each human being has a long series of social duties, but these depend upon his more essential duties; faith in Allah, and placing one’s own person into the proper relationship with the Divine Reality.[44]


Imam Zain al-Abidin desecrated grave at Al-Baqi' in Saudi Arabia

Zayn al-Abidin was poisoned by Umayyad ruler Al-Walid through the instigation of the Umayyad caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in Medina.[6][20] The date of his death is 95/713-14; He was buried next to his uncle, Hasan, in the cemetery of Al-Baqi' cemetery in Medina.[6][50][51] After his death many people discovered their livelihoods had come from him. He would go out with a sack of food on his back, knocking at the doors of more than 100 families, and gave freely to whoever answered while covering his face to avoid being recognized.[18][20]

See also


  1. Other dates mentioned are 33/653–4, 36/656–7, 37/657–8, 50/670[15]
  2. Her name has also been given as Shah-Zanan, Sulaafa, Ghazaala, and Shahr-Banuya, among others.[15]
  3. She is said to have died shortly after giving birth to her only son Ali.[10]
  4. His eyes turned white from constant weeping, his head turned grey out of sorrow, and his back became bent in gloom,[lower-alpha 5] though his son was alive in this world. But I watched while my father, my brother, my uncle, and seventeen members of my family were slaughtered all around me. How should my sorrow come to an end?"[lower-alpha 6][21][22]
  5. Quran, 12:84
  6. From Shaykh as-Sadooq, al-Khisal; quoted in al-Ameen, A’yan, IV, 195. The same is quoted from Bin Shahraashoob’s Manaqib in Bih’ar al-Anwar, XLVI, 108; Cf. similar accounts, Ibid, pp. 108-10
  7. Abū Khālid al-Kābuli was among those who confessed the Imamah of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, but turned to Zayn al-Abedin afterwards, saying "I served Mohammed b. al-Hanafiya for a time of my life. I had no doubt that he was the Imām till I asked him by the Sacredness of Allah, the Sacredness of the Messenger, and the Sacredness of the Commander of the faithful, so he guided me to you and said: ‘Ali b. al-Husayn is the Imām over me, you, and all the creatures.’"[26]
  8. Canon Sell, op. cit., p. II, quoting Sahifat Al-Abidin, p. 184.
  9. It goes as follows: "It is someone whose footsteps are known by every place / And it is he who is known to the bayt in Mecca,(i.e. the Kaaba) The most frequented sanctuary; / It is he who is the son of the best of all men of Allah;(i.e. the Prophet Muhammad) / and it is he who is the most pious and devout, the purest and most unstained, the chastest and most righteous, a symbol [for Islam]; / This is Ali [b. al-Husain] whose parent is the Prophet; / This is the son of Fatimah, if you do not know who he is; / Whosoever recognizes his Allah knows also the primacy and superiority of this man; / Because the religion has reached the nations through his House..."[20][27]
  10. It is said that al-Zuhri when he was asked about the most ascetic one, he answered: “The most ascetic of all the people is Ali b. al-Husayn.
  11. Quran, 57:23
  12. i.e. death
  13. “Let this boy of mine carry the flour instead of you,” asked al-Zuhri . “ But I do not disdain what will save me during my journey and makes good my going to Whom I will go." Said the Imam. After some days al-Zuhri met him and asked him: “Son of Allah’s Apostle, I do not see any mark of that journey which you ended?” And the Imām explained what he had meant by journey[40]
  14. Quoted from The Fifteen Whispered Prayers (first prayer)
  15. Quoted from the Fifteen Whispered Prayers(fifth prayer)
  16. Quoted from the Fifteen Whispered Prayers (ninth prayer)
  17. Quoted from Al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya (12th Supplication)
  18. Quoted from Al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya (13th Supplication)
  19. Quoted from the Treatise on Rights, Right of Charitty


    1. 1 2 3 Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 14
    2. "Imam Ali Ibn al Husayn (as)". Retrieved 4 July 2015.
    3. Shabbar, S.M.R. (1997). Story of the Holy Ka’aba. Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
    4. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 15
    5. Shaykh al-Mufid. "The Infallibles – Taken from Kitab al Irshad". Retrieved 2009-05-12.
    6. 1 2 3 4 5 WOFIS (2001). A Brief History of the Fourteen Infallibles (3rd ed.). Tehran: World Organization for Islamic Services.
    7. A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. 2004. p. 111.
    8. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 16
    9. 1 2 3 ibn Khallikan. Ibn Khallikan's biographical dictionary. 2. p. 209.
    10. 1 2 Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 58
    11. 1 2 3 Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 21
    12. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 20
    13. Tabataba'i, Muhammad Husayn (1979). Shi'ite Islam. State University of New York Press. p. 201.
    14. Imam Ali ibn al-Hussein (2001). The Complite Edition of the Treatise on Rights. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. p. 16.
    15. 1 2 3 4 5 Imam Ali ubnal Husain 2009, pp. 7–10
    16. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 450
    17. 1 2 Dungersi Ph.D., M. M. (December 1, 2013). A Brief Biography of Ali Bin Hussein (as). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 1494328690.
    18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Madelung, Wilferd. "ʿALĪ B. ḤOSAYN B. ʿALĪ B. ABĪ ṬĀLEB". ENCYCLOPÆDIA IRANICA. Retrieved August 1, 2011.
    19. Muh’sin al-Ameen al-A’mili, A’yan as-Sheea’h, Damascus, 1935, IV, 189.
    20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Donaldson, Dwight M. (1933). The Shi'ite Religion: A History of Islam in Persia and Irak. BURLEIGH PRESS. pp. 101–111.
    21. 1 2 3 Imam Ali ubnal Husain 2009, p. 10
    22. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 163
    23. Heli, Ja'far ibn Mohammad ibn Nama (2001). Mosirol ahzan [در سوگ امیر آزادی]. Iran-Qom: Hazeq. p. 399.
    24. Ibn Kathir. Al-Bidāya wa-n-nihāya"the beginning and the end". 8. p. 274.
    25. Lalani, Arzina R. (March 9, 2001). Early Shi'i Thought: The Teachings of Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir. I. B. Tauris. p. 31,78. ISBN 978-1860644344.
    26. 1 2 Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, pp. 94–96
    27. 1 2 Imam Ali ubnal Husain 2009, pp. 7–8
    28. jafri 1979, pp. 243–46
    29. Shaykh Hurr al-`Amuli. Al- Fuṣūl al-muhimma fī taʼlīf al-umma. Najaf: An-Naǧaf : Dār an-Nuʻmān li'ṭ-Ṭibāʻa wa'n-Našr,. p. 192.
    30. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, pp. 67–68
    31. Munūfī, al-Sayyid Maḥmūd Abū al-Fayḍ (1967). Jamharat al-Awliyā', vol. 2. Al-Qāhirah Mu'assasat al-Ḥalabī. p. 71.
    32. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, pp. 68–69
    33. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 229
    34. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000
    35. Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni. Usūl al-Kāfi, Vol. 2. p. 89.
    36. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 351
    37. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 355
    38. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 361
    39. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 53
    40. 1 2 Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 67
    41. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 258
    42. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, pp. 378–489
    43. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, pp. 474–475
    44. 1 2 Imam Ali ubnal Husain 2009, p. 28
    45. Chirri, Mohamad Jawad (1986). "Al-Sahifat Al-Sajjadiyya" (Revised ed.). The Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    46. "A glance at three translations and seyyed mehdi shojaee's viewpoint about the Ramadan's prayers" (in Persian). IBNA. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
    47. 1 2 Mesbah-Yazdi, Mohammad-Taqi (1390). Sajjadeha-e Soluk (in Persian). The Imam Khomeini Education & Research Institute.
    48. Māmqānī, ‘Abd Allāh (2002). Tanqīḥ al-maqāl fī ‘ilm al-rijāl (in Arabic). Qum: Mu’assasat Āl al-Bayt li-Iḥyā’ al-Turāth.
    49. Sharif al-Qarashi 2000, p. 500
    50. Moosa, Matti (1987). Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects. Syracuse University Press. p. 92. ISBN 9780815624110. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
    51. Shaykh al-Mufid. Imam Ali Ibn al Husayn (as). Retrieved 21 July 2014.


    External links

    Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin
    of the Ahl al-Bayt
    Clan of the Banu Quraish
    Born: 5th Sha‘bān 38 AH 657 CE Died: 25th Muharram 95 AH 713 CE
    Shia Islam titles
    Preceded by
    Husayn ibn Ali
    4th Imam of Twelver and 3rd Imam of Ismaili Shia
    680 – 713
    Succeeded by
    Muhammad al-Baqir
    Succeeded by
    Zayd ibn Ali
    Zaidi successor
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