The Secret Helper of the Poor
The view common people have towards one who isolates himself from society and devotes his life solely to performing his religious rituals, such as praying, ablution (Wudu), supplicating, Hajj, etc, is a stranger to the society. Such a person cares nothing about his materialistic and social life, and spends his life in worship. The life of Imam Ali ibn al Hussain, Sajjad (A.S.) however, contradicts this view.
Despite his long unique prayers and supplications, Imam Sajjad (A.S.) was never ignorant of his society, its needs, and the realities of the time. In fact, in regards to interactions with society, he was a role model in the social and moral duties.
Muhammad Is’haq narrates: Many of the poor citizens of Madinah had experienced the generosity and kindness of Imam Ali ibn al-Hussain. Yet, they never found out it was the Imam as he would visit them during the nights, until Ali ibn al-Hussain (A.S.) passed away, and that anonymous man never came to them any more. It was then that they found out that that anonymous helper was Imam Zein al-'Abedin (A.S.).1
Abu Hamzah al-Thomali also narrates: During the night, Imam Zein al-'Abedin (A.S.) would carry food on his shoulders for the poor and needy people. He would say, "Giving charity in secret will subside the anger of Allah." 2
Ibn Sa'ad who died around 200 A.H. has narrated:
There were many poor people who would come to the Imam for help, and before they even asked for anything, the Imam would give them what they wanted. Imam Sajjad (A.S.) would then say, “Giving charity is received by Allah before it is received by the poor."3
It was from the examples mentioned above that when the Imam was martyred, and some were helping in washing his body (giving him Ghusl), they noticed the wounds on his shoulder and back. They asked about it, and found out that the wounds were the result of carrying the food for the poor.4 (Taken from the book "Imam al-Sajjad (A.S.) the Beauty of Worshipers”, by Ahmad Torabi)
1- Kashf al-Ghummah, vol. 2, p.266
2- Aghani vol. 14, p. 74; Hilyah al-Awlia' vol.3, p. 135; Kashf al-Ghummah, vol.2, p.266; A'yan al-Shia vol.1, p. 633
3-Tabaqat ibn Sa'ad vol.5, p. 160
4- Aghani vol. 14, p. 74; Hilyah al-Awlia' vol.3, p. 135; Kashf al-Ghummah, vol.2 p.266; A'yan al-Shia vol.1, p. 633