Imam Sajjad (A.S.), the Ornament of Worshippers
The 5th of the month of Sha'ban, which is indeed an auspicious occasion, for it was on this day in the year 38 AH, a radiant boy was born in Medina in the Household of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA).
In fact, he was the great-grandson of the Prophet since his father was none other than the Immortal Martyr of Karbala, Imam Husain (AS). He was named "Ali" in honour of his Immaculate Grandfather, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), during whose exemplary rule of social justice, he was born.
He grew up into an exceptionally patient, prudent, pious, and wise person, to the extent that he acquired the epithets of Zain al-Abedin, which means the Ornament of Worshippers, and also Seyyed as-Sajedin or simply Sajjad, which means the Chief of those prostrating devotedly to the Lord Most High. As the Survivor of the heartrending tragedy of Karbala, he eventually became the 4th Infallible Imam of mankind.
Imam's birth anniversary is marked in the Islamic Republic of Iran as Day of the Freed Captives of the 8-year war imposed in the 1980s by the US through Saddam.
"O Allah, bless Mohammad and the Progeny of Mohammad, the tree of prophethood, the locus of apostlehood, the descent of the angels, the repository of divine knowledge, of the notables of the house of revelation!
"O Allah, bless Mohammad and the Progeny of Mohammad, the Ark faring through deep oceans; those who embark it obtain safety and those who forsake it are drowned. Those who try to get ahead of them leave the bounds of faith, and those who lag behind them perish, and those who attach themselves to them join their fold…
"O Allah, bless Mohammad and the Progeny of Mohammad, the secure sanctuary, the aid of the distressed and the oppressed, the shelter of the refugees, and the asylum of those seeking haven…
"This is the month of Your Prophet, the Chief of Your Apostles—Sha'ban, which You have enveloped in Your mercy and Your approval; the month wherein it was the practice of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and his progeny, to observe, until his death, its fasts and to perform acts of devotions during its nights and days, in order to honour it and revere it, out of humility before You!
"O Allah, so help us in following his example with regard to it and to succeed in gaining his intercession!"
What you heard were the words in the Divine Court expressed so beautifully, so eloquently, and so sincerely by the 4th Imam. These passages are part of the famous supplication for the month of Sha'ban which he taught to the believers for punctual recitation. The words and phrases are self-explanatory and unravel for us the keys of faith for a life of virtue in this transient world and salvation in afterlife. The dynamic wordings that open up the floodgates of Divine Mercy were taught to us by the person whose birthday we are celebrating today. It would be repetitive to say that Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) was the son of Imam Husain (AS), was the grandson of Hazrat Fatema Zahra and Imam Ali (peace upon them), and thus the great-grandson of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) and Omm al-Momineenm, Hazrat Khadija (SA). His peerless pedigree is crystal clear, including the fact that his mother was the Iranian princess, Shahrbano (peace upon her) – very virtuous lady. Born on the 5th of Sha'ban in the Prophet's city Medina in the year 38 AH, he was two years old when his grandfather, Imam Ali – the One and Only Commander of the Faithful was martyred in Iraq on the 21st of Ramadhan 40 AH, as a result of the fatal sword blow struck on his blessed head by the renegade Abdur-Rahman bin Muljim on 19th Ramadhan while engrossed in the Morning Prayer in the Mosque of Kufa. In his late teens he married his first cousin, Fatema (peace upon her) – daughter of his uncle Imam Hasan (AS) – who soon became the mother of his son and successor, Imam Mohammad al-Baqer (AS).
Those were the days of the 19-year long misrule by the Omayyad usurper Mu'awiyya bin Abu Sufyan, whose placing of his equally abominable son, Yazid, as caliph, in violation of the treaty signed with Imam Hasan (AS), brought about the tragedy of Karbala, and the subsequent captivity of members of the Prophet's Household including the 23-year old sick and bedridden son and heir of Imam Husain (AS). Although a captive and fettered in chains, Imam Zain al-Abedin along with his aunt, Zainab (SA) delivered electrifying sermons in Yazid's court that led to the release of the Ahl al-Bayt from imprisonment in Damascus and return home to Medina, It would be repetitive here to focus on details of his 34-year imamate during which, in addition to bequeathing to humanity the unique set of supplications called Sahifat as-Sajjadiyya and the dynamic code of detailed rights known as Risalat al-Hoqouq, he groomed a core of scholars, thereby laying foundations of the academy of Medina that would flower in the days of his grandson, Imam Ja'far as-Sadeq (AS).
The 4th Imam of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt who was neither sick all his life, as some conjecture, nor kept himself aloof from public affairs, as others allege, was quite active in various domains, as is borne out by events of his life, despite the huge political pressures he had to endure. For instance, during the initial years of his spiritual leadership of the ummah – 12 years to be exact – the Islamic state was torn between two imposters claiming to be caliphs and wantonly shedding Muslim blood. One was Abdullah bin Zubair in the Hejaz and the other was Abdul-Malik bin Marwan in Syria. The latter finally triumphed and killed the former in 73 AH after blasphemously ordering the storming of the holy Ka'ba and destroying it, and that too in Zilhijja, the month of pilgrimage. In between their tussles for power, these two criminals brutally massacred followers of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt, especially the Tawwabin (or Penitents) who had risen to avenge the tragedy of Karbala, as well as Mukhtar bin Abu Obaidah al-Thaqafi, who succeeded in bringing to justice almost all those involved in the Karbala tragedy.
These were indeed critical times for Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) who never had respite even after the fall of the Zubairis, for the tyrannical Ommayyad governor of Iraq, Hajjaj bin Yusuf al-Thaqafi, continued to slaughter the followers of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt for the next 20-odd years – as many 100,000. Yet despite the animosity of the Omayyads, the 4th Imam never hesitated when the progress and prosperity of the ummah was at stake. This is evident by his sending of his son, Imam Baqer (AS), to Damascus for setting up of the first mint in Islamic history – a move that saved the drain of bullion to the Byzantine Empire for coins that were designed to insult and undermine Islamic beliefs. Many other immortal events from the life of Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) are outside the scope of this brief radio programme, including the miraculous voice of the Hajar al-Aswad (the sacred black stone at the holy Ka'ba) testifying his imamate when his uncle, Muhammad al-Hanafiyya, was pressed by some persons, against his wish, to stake the claim for leadership of the ummah. No wonder we celebrate his birthday with more fervour every year and look forward to the day when his desecrated tomb in the Baqie Cemetery of Medina will be restored to its former glory.