By Qasim A. Moini
12 October 2016
IMAM Hussain’s valiant stand at Karbala on Muharram 10, 61AH, is an established fact of history and Islamic lore. How the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) grandson rose against the Umayyad imperial state and resisted the diktat coming from Damascus has been described vividly in the literature and culture of most Muslim societies; the tragedy of Karbala is recounted every year to refresh memories as man is, by nature, forgetful.
Much space is rightfully given to the tribulations and hardships faced by Imam Hussain, his family members and companions in their journey from Madina to Karbala, until this noble personality — and his faithful supporters — were ruthlessly martyred in the deserts of Iraq. Any heart that is not completely void of compassion cannot but grieve at the cruel treatment meted out to Imam Hussain, a figure who was very dear to the Holy Prophet.
Today there is also greater awareness of the indignities the members of the Prophet’s household — led by Syeda Zainab, Imam Hussain’s sister, and the martyred Imam’s son, Imam Ali ibn al-Hussain, better known as Zain al-Abidin and Sajjad — faced as prisoners of war, cruelly treated on their journey from Karbala to Damascus via Kufa.
But perhaps we do not devote enough time to analyse the central role played by Imam Sajjad in the aftermath of Karbala, particularly in rebuilding the moral, spiritual and ethical foundations of Islamic society after a person like Yazid had attained rulership over the lands of Islam. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Imam Sajjad was the architect of Islamic spirituality and ethics in the post-Karbala period.
Imam Sajjad — also known by his titles Zain al-Abidin (ornament of the pious) and Syed as-Sajideen (master of those who prostrate Before Allah) — could not participate in the battle of Karbala as he was suffering from high fever. In fact, he was the only adult male left alive from the household of the Prophet after the massacre had ended. Imam Sajjad’s battles would take place in the courts of Kufa and Damascus, where he used his eloquent speech and faultless logic to silence the tyrants of the day.
Throughout the journey from Iraq to Syria — in which Imam Sajjad was kept in chains — he was subjected to abusive language and conduct from the partisans of the Umayyads, yet kept his composure. A glimpse of his eloquence can be witnessed as he introduced himself in Damascus, as quoted in A Probe into the History of Ashura by Dr Ibrahim Ayati: “I am the son of Makkah and Mina. I am the son of ZamZam and Safa. I am the son of the Prophet of Allah (PBUH).”
Without fear of the rulers, in both Kufa and Damascus Imam Sajjad retold the events of Karbala, asking why his father, family members and supporters had been so mercilessly murdered when they had not wronged anyone. Through his courageous oratory, he exposed the brutality of the regime and upheld the virtues of Imam Hussain’s struggle.
The post-Karbala period was one of great internal dissensions, tumult and crises in the lands of Islam. People were fearful of challenging or questioning the Umayyad imperial order, not wanting to attract the wrath of the state. It was a morally and spiritually decaying society, in which many of the basic tenets of faith were being distorted and ethical norms were being openly violated. It was in this suffocating atmosphere that Imam Sajjad began his mission of rebuilding the moral foundations of Islamic society.
While some accounts say Imam Sajjad taught in Masjid-i-Nabavi, others quote the fact that the state had imposed severe restrictions on who he could meet, while the government’s spies were always keeping an eye on his activities. Therefore, Imam Zain al-Abidin used a novel method to get his message to the people: by using supplications to the Almighty as a way to teach people about the basic tenets of faith and ethical standards. Today, the prayers taught by Imam Sajjad are preserved in the compilation known as Al-Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah, also known as the ‘Psalms of Islam’ or the ‘Psalms of the Prophet’s Household’.
The Duas and supplications found in Al-Sahifah al-Sajjadiyyah are an ocean of knowledge, gnosis and spiritual truths, with the overriding themes being tauheed (monotheism) and submission to the Almighty. In fact, the refinement and beauty of Imam Sajjad’s language is reminiscent of the text of Nahjol Balagha, the compendium of Hazrat Ali’s sermons and letters.
As we mourn the tragedy of Karbala, we should also remember the crucial role Imam Zain al-Abidin played in preserving and disseminating the message of the Holy Prophet, which was also the goal of Imam Hussain’s mission. Imam Sajjad’s sublime supplications — which have been passed down through the centuries — have an alchemic effect in building a spiritual personality based on faith and devotion.