Imam Ali, Zayn-al-Abidin, was the son of the King of the Martyrs, Imam Husayn (a.s.). His mother was Shaher Bano, daughter of the last Persian king, Yazd’jurd. He was born in Madinah on 5th Sha’baan 38 A.H. He was entrusted with the Divine Imamate on the Day of Ashura 61 A.H. After the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a.s.) in Karbala, he led the imprisoned women of Ahlul Bayt and children from Karbala to Kufa and then to Damascus. This was the most painful and humiliating journey.
When Yazid tried to talk in an insulting manner, he bravely spoke the truth whereupon Yazid threatened to kill him but Sayyida Zaynab (s.a.) intervened. During this journey, he delivered sermons introducing himself and the AhlulBayt and explained the objectives of their sacrifices which were to save Islam. When the news of Tragedy of Karbala spread far and wide and signs of revolt were apparent, Yazid released the AhlulBayt. Sayyida Zaynab (s.a.) asked for a house to mourn the martyrs of Karbala. This was the first assembly of mourning (Majlis) for the martyrs. Imam Zayn-al-Abidin and the AhlulBayt returned to Madinah on route to Karbala.
The Imam (a.s..) led a quiet life after his return to Madinah. Because of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a.s.), the Muslim Ummah realized the gravity of the sin and crime of Yazid and the people rose against his tyrannical rule. Yazid’s army ruthlessly suppressed the revolt in Madinah. They turned the Sacred Mosque of the Prophet into a stable for horses, killed hundreds of innocent Muslims including many companions of the Noble Messenger, and destroyed the chastity of numerous females on the clear instructions of Yazid. These beasts destroyed Madinah for three days.
The Imam lived 35 years after the tragedy of Karbala. Because of the unfavorable circumstances, the Imam started writing supplications, which demonstrates the immense knowledge of the progeny of the Noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.s.). His supplications were collected in the famous book, “Saheefa-e-Sajjadia”. In eloquence, the book is next to his grandfather, Imam Ali (a.s.)’ “Nahjul Balagha”.
Imam Zayn-al-Abidin (a.s.) also compiled a treatise known as “Risalat-ul-Huqooq” or a Treatise of Rights, which contains the rights of human beings, including the rights of every part of the human body. If one compares this book with the United Nation’s “Charter of Human Rights”, it appears to have been thoroughly influenced by this Treatise.
He loved and cared for the poor. The Imam would carry bags of bread on his back at night, without disclosing his identity, would go around the streets of Madinah and distribute it among the needy. Even when he gave alms to the needy, he would cover his face not to embarrass the recipient!
Hisham bin Abdul Malik, the heir of the caliph, was visiting Makkah for Hajj and was sitting in a chair waiting to kiss the Black Stone in Ka’ba, he saw that a young man came towards the Black Stone and the crowd automatically separated to give way to him. The man gracefully came and kissed the Black Stone and left. He knew who the man was. It was Imam Zayn-al-Abidin (a.s.) but to overcome his embarrassment, he enquired from his companions about the identity of the young man. The famous poet of Arabia, Farazdaq, compiled a poetry extempore praising the Imam. Some of the stanzas of his poem read as, “He is the one whom the whole Makkah knows. Every stone in Ka’ba knows him. He is the son of Fatima and Ali and the Noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.s.).” Hisham became furious, stopped the financial aid and imprisoned him. When Imam Zayn-al-Abidin (a.s.) heard about it, he sent some money to Farazdaq who said that he composed that poetry for the love of Allah and did not want any worldly compensation, but the imam insisted him to accept the gift.
It is said that after Karbala, the Imam wept and cried for a long time and when someone asked as to how long he was going to cry and said, “Martyrdom was the grace and inheritance of Ahlul Bayt”. The Imam replied that humiliation was not the inheritance of Ahlul Bayt!
The Imam through his supplications had spread the teachings of Islam. Abu Hamza al Thamali was one of his companions. The Imam had taught him a supplication known as “Duae Abu Hamza Thamali”. Abu Makhnuf was another companion who was instructed by Imam Mohammad Baqir (a.s.) to write the story of Karbala in a narrative form which he complied. It became a part of the authentic account of the tragedy of Karbala and became a source of majalis all over the Muslim world.
Walid bin Abdul Malik, the Umayyad monarch realized that Imam’s teachings were spreading all over the Arabia and influencing the Muslims, hence he poisoned the Imam and he was martyred on 25th of Muharrum 95 A.H.
Once a person asked Imam Zain-al-Abidin (A.S.), “What is the criterion for the acceptance of the prayers? The Imam replied, “Acknowledging our Wilayah and dissociating from our enemies.”
The reason why the Imam was given the title of “Zayn-al-Abidin” was that one night the Imam was praying and Shaitaan manifested himself as a huge serpent and tried to distract him. When the Imam did not take notice of him, he bite the toe of the Imam (ads.) causing great pain, but the Imam remained oblivious of him, and carried on with his prayers. After completing his prayers, the Imam realized that it was Shaitaan, he cursed him saying, “O’ Accursed! Go away” and once again engaged himself in the worship. It was at that moment that an angel called three times: “You are the embellishment of the worshippers.” Or “Zayn-al-Abidin”
Among the sayings of Imam Zayn-al-Abidin (a.s.) are, “The attributes of a believer are: piety in private, donating charity at the time of need, patience when misfortune comes, tolerance at the time of anger, and truthfulness when there is fear.”
Once, the young Imam fell sick. His father, Imam Husayn (a.s.) inquired about his health and asked if he had any wish. The Imam replied, “My only wish is that may Allah count me among those who do not have any wish against His “Divine Decree and Divine Fate” or “Qaza-o-Qadr” The Imam (a.s.) was very pleased with the answer.
The Imam’s face would turn yellow while preparing for wudu and he would tremble performing prayers due to fear of Allah. Once, Imam was praying and young Imam Mohammad Baqir (a.s.) fell in a well in the house and his mother was upset and called the Imam to rescue the boy. The Imam peacefully completed his prayer and after finishing it, he went near the well and put his hand in the well and pulled out Imam Baqir completely unharmed and without his clothes being wet.
After his return from Karbala, his uncle Mohammad-e-Hanafiyya, asked the Imam to give him the sacred assets of Imamate as he was then the elder in the family. The Imam first advised him that the imamate is a Divine responsibility and when he disagreed, he requested his uncle to accompany him to the Holy Ka’ba and let the Black Stone decide about the Imamate. Both offered salaam to the Black Stone but his salaam was replied by the Black Stone and further said, “Imamate is the right of Zayn-al-Abidin”
At the time of the destruction of Madinah, Marwan, who was an arch enemy of Ahlul Bayt, came to the Imam for shelter of his family. The Imam gladly provided the requested shelter!
Similarly, Haseen Ibne Numair, one of the murderers in Karbala, requested to buy food grains from the Imam. The Imam told him that he had recognized him and said that he did not want to sell it but can give him free!
One of his Shias from Balakh used to come for Hajj and visit the Imam (a.s.) in Madinah. Once his wife told him, “You always take gifts for your Imam but has your Imam ever given you anything?” Next year when he visited the Imam, the Imam asked him to join him for food. After finishing the food, the Imam wanted to pour water on his hands to wash. When the pot was full of polluted water, the Imam asked him, “What is it?” He said “water”. The Imam said, “Look again carefully” When he looked carefully he saw the red gems instead of water. The Imam told him to take it and give it to his wife.
Omer Ibne Abdul Aziz was the only exception in the corrupt Umayyad Dynasty. When he was the Governor of Hejaz, one of the walls of Prophet’s mausoleum fell. After the repair, he invited Imam Zayn-al-Abidin (a.s.) to perform the opening ceremony of the mosque. He was the one who returned the Gardens of Fadak to Sayyida Fatima Zahra (s.a.)’s progeny and ordered to stop the sinful tradition of cursing Imam Ali from the mosques as started by Moa’via bin Abu Sufiyan.
Source: Behar-ul-Anwar by Allama Baqir Majlisi