Ali b. al-Hussain

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Ali b. Al-Hussain
Native name
زین العابدین
BornSha'ban 5, 38/January 6, 659
DiedMuharram 25, 95/October 20, 713 in Medina
Resting placeAl-Baqi' cemetery
  • Hussain ibn Ali (father)
  • Shahrbanu (mother)
RelativesMuhammad (maternal great grandfather), Ali ibn Abi Talib (paternal grandfather), Fatima (maternal grandmother), Hasan ibn Ali (uncle), hussain ibn Ali (father), Umm Kulthum bint Ali (aunt), Ali al-Akbar ibn Al-Hussain (brother), Ali al-Asqar (brother)

Ali b. al-Hussain b. Ali b. Abi Talib, Zayn al-Abidin (“Ornament of the Worshippers”), is the fourth Imam of the Twelver Shi’a. His kunya (his other names) is variously given as Abu Abd Allah, Abu Bakr, Abu’l-Hussain, Abu’l-Hasan, etc. According to most sources, he was born in 38/658-59 in Medina. At Karbala, Zayn al-Abidin is said to have been too ill to join in the fighting; after the battle Shimr b. Dhi ‘l-Jawshan found him lying on a mat in the women’s tent and ordered him to be killed but was overruled by Omar b. Saʿd, the commander of the Syrian army. When Ali was brought before Obayd Allah b. Ziyad in Kufa, the governor ordered his execution, but relented after pleas by al-Hussain’s sister Zaynab. Ali and the other survivors were taken to Yazid in Damascus, and he sent them back to Medina.[1]

Birth[edit | edit source]

According to many sources he was born (in Medina) in 38/658-9, though the years 33, 36 and 37 are also given. If accounts that he had not reached puberty at the time of the battle of Karbala (61/680) are to be trusted, this would put his birthdate forward to the 40s/660s; these accounts are, however, rejected by al-Waqidi and other authorities.

His mother’s name is variously given as Barra, Qazala, Solafa, Jayda, etc.; some say that she was an umm walad [q.v.] from Sind (or Sijistan), while Shiʿi tradition has it that she was a daughter of the last Sasanid emperor Yazdagird III and that her Persian name was Jihanshah, Shahrbanu or Shahzanan. Some say she threw herself into the Euphrates after the battle, but others maintain that she was among the survivors of Karbala. Shiʿis refer to Ali as ibn al-khiyaratayn “the son of the two elect” since, according to a tradition of the Prophet, the Quraysh are the elect of the Arabs and the Persians are the elect of the non-Arabs.

In Karbala[edit | edit source]

Ali was present at the battle of Karbala in 61/680 but did not participate in the fighting, since he was ill, and thus survived the battle. Zayn al-Abidin was not the only son of al-Hussain called Ali; For many Twelver authors, the title Ali al-Asqar refers to an infant brother who was also killed at Karbala; some of these authors maintain that Zayn al-Abidin was the middle brother (hence Ali al-Awsat), while the eldest was Ali al-Akbar;

According to the battle accounts, Shimr b. Dhi’l-Jawshan wanted to kill him despite his illness but was prevented by others, including Omar b. Saʿd. When he was led as a prisoner before ʿObayd-Allah b. Ziad in Kufa, the latter ordered his execution but his aunt, Zaynab did not let this happen. He was taken with the women to Yazid in Damascus, and he sent them back to Medina.

The Aftermath of Karbala[edit | edit source]

In Medina[edit | edit source]

In Medina Ali led a pious life which earned him the honorifics Zayn al-Abidin, al-Sajjad (“he who constantly prostrates himself”), al-Zaki (“the pure”) and Dhu ’l-Thafinat (referring to the calluses on his skin in the places touching the ground in prostration). He was counted among the bakkaʾun [q.v.], since for years he would weep for his father and the other martyrs of Karbala. He used to go out at night with his face covered in order to distribute charity (ṣadaqat al-sirr), and it was only after his death that people discovered the identity of their benefactor.

Ali studiously avoided any involvement with the authorities and adopted a quiescent attitude towards the Umayyads and the Zubayrid anti-caliphate. Shiʿi authors maintain that Ali’s dealings with the authorities were based on taqiyya. Ali proved magnanimous even when wronged: Hisham b. Ismaʿil used to insult him during his four years as governor of Medina, yet after Hisham’s dismissal by al-Walid (7 Rabiʿ I 87/26 February 706) Ali forbade his family and friends to speak ill of him. A famous story has it that when the future caliph Hisham b. Abd al-Malik came to Mecca on pilgrimage, he was unable to approach the Kaʿba because of the crowds; for Ali, however, the crowds parted, allowing him unhindered access. On that occasion, al-Farazdaq [q.v.] is said to have improvised a poem in praise of Ali, thereby arousing Hisham’s ire; but the eulogy, which exists in various versions, has been judged to be mostly or entirely unauthentic. [2]

Contemporary Uprisings[edit | edit source]

Mukhtar's Uprising[edit | edit source]

His relations with Mukhtar, the Shiʿite rebel in Kufa, were cautious. It is unlikely that (as some sources state) the latter originally offered to put his movement under the auspices of Ali b. Hussain, rather than of his uncle Muhammad b. Hanafiya, or that he sent the head of Omar b. Saʿd to him, rather than to his uncle. In Sunnite collections of Hadith Ali b. Hussain appears as a transmitter from Abdallah b. Abbas, his uncle Hasan, his father, Amr b. Othman, and others. The chief transmitter from him was Zohri, who is said to have described him as the most excellent of the Hashimites.

In Shiʿite hagiography[edit | edit source]

Imam Ali b. Hussain appears in particular as the perfect worshiper. Like his grandfather Ali, he prayed 1,000 rakʿas every day and night. During the month of Ramazan, he would utter nothing but prayer, imploring God’s forgiveness and glorifying and magnifying him. His constant prostration in worship earned him his honorifics Sajjad, Zayn-al-Abidin, and Dhu’l-thafenat, the latter referring to the seven calluses which every year formed on, and fell off, his skin in the spots touching the ground in prostration. He was also of matchless generosity in giving alms and presents to the poor. Thus, he permanently provided 100 families in Medina with their sustenance. Every night he went out with a sack of food on his back, knocking at the doors of the indigent, and gave freely to whoever answered while covering his face in order not to be recognized. Thus only after his death did many people find out that their livelihood had come from him. Some Shiʿite sources assert that his death was due to poisoning by the caliph Walid or by Hisham b. Abd-al-Malik.

Death[edit | edit source]

Zayn al-Abidin is said to have died in 94/712 or 95/713; other dates mentioned are 92, 93, 99 and 100. He was buried in al-Baqi cemetery. Shiʿi authors maintain that he was poisoned on the orders of the reigning caliph al-Walid or his brother Hisham. He is said to have had between eight and fifteen offspring, of whom four were sons from his wife Umm Abd Allah bt. al-Hasan b. Ali, the rest being from his other wives.

Works[edit | edit source]

A number of short texts are ascribed to Zayn al-Abidin, including a certain al-Sahifa fi ’l-zuhd.[3] He is also credited with a Risalat al-Ḥuquq , preserved (in two versions) in two 4th/10th century works: Ibn Babawayh’s al-Khisal [4] and Ibn Shuʿba’s Tuhaf al-ʿuqul.[5] Ali’s collection of prayers known as al-Sahifa al-kamila or al-Sahifa [ al-kamila ] al-sajjadiyya gained wide popularity; there are numerous redactions and over twenty commentaries, and it was translated into Persian in the Safavid period. Fifteen “whispered prayers” (munajat) ascribed to Zayn al-Abidin have been added to several modern editions of the Sahifa: an English translation of the entire work is now available.[6]

Sources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. cf.L. Pouzet, Damas au VIIe /XIIIe siècle ,Beirut 1988, 352
  2. see J. Hell, “Al-Farazdaḳs Loblied auf ʿAli ibn al-Ḥusain,” Festschrift Eduard Sachau, Berlin, 1915, pp. 368-74; J. Weiss in Der Islam VII, 1917, pp. 126ff.
  3. Kulini, Kafi , viii, 14-7
  4. Najaf 1391/1971, 529-36
  5. Beirut 1394/1974, 184-95
  6. Imam Zayn al-ʿAbidin ʿAli b. al-Hussain, The Psalms of Islam: al-Sahifat al-kamilat al-sajjadiyya , tr. with an introd. and annotation by W.C. Chittick, London 1988