By: Seyyed Ali Shahbaz
“I am the son of the person who was beheaded on the bank of the Euphrates although he had not shed the blood or usurped the right of anyone. I am the son of the person who was attacked by a huge number of people and martyred when he was no longer capable of fighting and had fallen on the ground owing to weakness. It is a sufficient honour for us that our blood was shed, our property was looted, we were insulted and our women and children were made prisoners.”
The above passage is a self-introduction from the person who we mourn today every year on the 25th of Muharram. His immaculate pedigree and the tragic events to which he is referring are obvious.
He was the son of the Immortal Martyr Karbala, Imam Husain (AS), who despite being hailed by Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) as the “Beacon of Light”, the “Ark of Salvation”, was martyred in the state of acute thirst beside the fresh flowing waters of the River Euphrates, along with at least seven of his brothers, two of his sons, five of his nephews, some of his cousins, and several of his companions.
As a 23-year old sick and bedridden youth in Karbala, when he opened his eyes from the state of semi-unconsciousness on the afternoon of the fateful day of Ashura or the 10th of Muharram, he was shocked to see the severed head of his father raised on spear-point by the bloodthirsty Omayyad hordes of the Godless tyrant, Yazid.
He saluted his father, and realising that there was now no grown up male in the encampment of the Prophet’s household, he overcame his physical weakness to bravely take charge of the bereaved women and children at a time when fires were raging all around.
Now, as the Divinely-designated heir to the legacy of the Prophet of Islam, he was clamped with chains and fetters by the Omayyad forces. The next day, along with the noble women and children of the Prophet’s Household, he was taken to Kufa to the court of Obaidullah Ibn Ziyad, the bloodthirsty governor of Iraq, and thence to Damascus to the court of the accursed Yazid in Syria.
Yet, in spite of these hardships and sufferings he carried himself with dignity and through his bold sermons made Islam triumphant in the capital of the enemy.
This was Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) or the Ornament of the Pious Worshippers, the Survivor of Karbala, who met martyrdom 34 years after history’s most heart-rending tragedy.
Born in 38 AH in Medina and named Ali (AS) in honour of his grandfather, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), his proverbial piety and devotion to God Almighty, also earned him the epithet “Seyyed as-Sajedin” (Chief of the Worshippers).
His mother was the virtuous Princess of Persia, Shahrbanu (SA) who died in childbirth. He was hailed by poets as “Ibn al-Khiyaratayn” or the Son of Two Noble Lineages, in view of the fact that the Hashemite clan was considered the most dignified amongst the Arabs, while the Persians were considered the elite of the Ajam or Iranians.
As said earlier, his imamate started on the tragic twilight of Ashura amidst the flames of the burning encampment of the Ahl al-Bayt, and the head of the martyrs mounted on lances by the Godless Omayyad hordes, who the next day took him as a prisoner to Kufa, along with the noble ladies and children of the Prophet’s Household tied in ropes, which included his first cousin and wife, Fatema bint Imam Hasan al-Mujtaba and his 4-year old son, the future Imam Muohammad al-Baqer (peace upon them).
It was in this city of Iraq, when people lined the streets in amusement as the Caravan of the Noble Captives approached that Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) delivered a brief but moving sermon to introduce himself and to make the Kufans realize the consequences of their sin in inviting his father, Imam Husain (AS)
to Iraq, and then treacherously betraying him to the forces of Yazid.
Now, as the Fourth Infallible Heir, the sermon of Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) brought memories to the elders of the eloquent sermon of his grandmother, the Noblest-ever lady, Hazrat Fatema Zahra (peace upon her), who half-a-century earlier in Medina, following the usurpation of the right of political leadership of her husband, Imam Ali (AS), the Prophet’s divinely-designated vicegerent, had exposed the falsity of the caliphate of the coup leaders of the scandalous gathering of Saqifa Bani Sa’da.
Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) further said in his sermon to the people of Kufa:
“O people! I put you on your oath to tell me in the Name of Allah, whether you know that at one time you wrote letters to my father and then deceived him. You made firm promises with him and then rose to fight against him. May Allah destroy you, may you reap the harvest of your misdeeds in both the worlds, and may you be disgraced for the indecent policy which you have adopted. How will you face the Prophet of Allah when you are brought before him on the Day of Judgment and with which eyes will you look at him? At that time the Holy Prophet will tell you: “You have killed my children and behaved towards me dishonourably. You are not my followers”.
The 4th Imam, following release from captivity in Damascus, where he shamed Yazid in the front of the whole court through another historic sermon, returned to his hometown Medina. For the next 34 years, he embarked on the gargantuan task of piecing together the tattered fabric of the Islamic shari’ah and safeguarding from distortion the genuine teachings, practice, and behaviour (Sunnah and Sirah) of his great-grandfather Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
Through his expounding of the tenets of Islam, through his elaborating of rights (including the rights of our own bodily organs upon us), and through his “munajaat” (or whispered prayers) and supplications to God Almighty, whose contents range from the fundamentals of faith and moral virtues to scientific issues, he bequeathed to humanity a treasure trove of guidance for success in life and salvation in afterlife.
His period of imamate was a critical situation, in view of the tussle for power between Abdullah ibn Zubair and the Omayyads. Both were hostile to him and the Bani Hashem Clan. Both wanted to wipe out the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt, especially after the two uprisings in Iraq to avenge the blood of Imam Husain (AS) – the uprising of the “Tawwabin” (Penitents) led by Sulaiman ibn Surrad Khuzai, and the uprising of Mukhtar ibn Abu Obaidah, who managed to bring to justice the main killers of the Prophet’s grandson.
In 95 AH, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) was martyred through a fatal dose of poison given by Waleed I, the self-styled caliph of the Omayyad usurper regime, but not before he had delivered the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt from the thorniest periods of their lives – Abdullah bin Zubayr’s 10-year rule in Hijaz, the Omayyad usurper Abdul-Malik’s regaining of power in Damascus, and his tyrannical governor Hajjaj’s twenty-year rule of terror in Iraq.
He was 57 years old when he departed from the mortal world and was laid to eternal rest in the sacred Baqee Cemetery of Medina besides his uncle and father-in-law, Imam Hasan al-Mojtaba (AS), the elder grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Alas, the Grand Mausoleum that also housed the holy tombs of his son Imam Muhammad al-Baqer (AS) and Imam Ja’far as-Sadeq (AS), was destroyed by the heretical Wahhabi cult 1926.