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The Socio-Political Circumstances in the Life of Imam As-Sajjad (peace be upon him)

"Discussing Imam As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) and writing his biography is a difficult matter. The reason is because people got acquainted with the Imam in totally inconvenient circumstances. Most writers of biographies and analysts think that this great person retired for worship and did not interfere in politics, and some historians and writers of biographies even mentioned this matter explicitly. As for those who did not expressly state this idea, their notion of the Imam's life is not something different. This meaning is found in the titles which are attributed to him and the expressions with which people describe him. Some people give him the title: "The Ill One", even though his sickness did not last for more than a few days in Ashoura. It is natural that every person gets sick for a few days during his life, and the Imam's sickness was an act of divine providence so that this great figure would not be entrusted with the duty to fight in the Way of Allah in those days. This would enable him to carry the great load of the entrustment and Imamate in the future. He lived 34 or 35 years after his father's martyrdom, and this phase is considered to be the hardest phase of Imamate for Shiites. When you contemplate the life of Imam As-Sajjad (peace be upon him), you will find various and very striking incidents just like what happened to our other Imams. Perhaps if we combine all the biographies of the Imams together, we will not find a biography like that of Imam As-Sajjad (peace be upon him)." Sayyed Ali Khamenei
 
His Birth
Imam Ali As-Sajjad (the Oft-Prostrating) was born on the 5th of Sha'ban in the year 38 of the Hegira. He spent the first 23 years of his life with his father Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) until the tragic battle of Karbala which he witnessed but did not take part in due to his sickness.

The Movements of Imam Ali As-Sajjad and the Continuation of the Enterprise
After the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him), Imam Ali As-Sajjad became the Imam. His duty was to proceed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, and to continue their enterprise. The Imam (peace be upon him) fulfilled this during the time he was taken prisoner all throughout the journey of suffering from Karbala to the Levant, passing through the city of Kufa.

-In Kufa: When Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) entered as a captive into the city of Kufa, he was well aware of the betrayal of the people of that city and their abandonment of his father. He addressed them with a speech which shook them to the core and which includes the statement: "I am the son of the one who was beheaded at the bank of the Euphrates...”[1]

-In the Levant: The main aim of the Imam (peace be upon him) during the journey of captivity and during his presence in the Levant was to annul the misguiding propaganda of the Umayyad dynasty which had striven to debase the Household of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his Household) and to distort the revolution of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him). Thus, he directed his speech to individuals and to the public.

a- Speech directed to individuals: Whenever he met a person who was willing to hear him, the Imam (peace be upon him) would clarify the preeminence of the Household of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his Household) and would explain the oppression their enemies inflicted them with.

b- Speech directed to the public: Whenever he found a chance, he would address the public with a speech to clarify matters for them. In the Levant in the court of Yazid, people gathered rejoicing at the arrival of captives whose true identities they were actually unaware of. Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) stood in front of them reminding them of the high rank of the Prophet's Household and its relation to him (peace be upon him and his Household). He said: “O people! I am the son of Mecca and Mina. I am the son of Zamzam and the Safa… I am the son of the one who led the angels of the sky in prayer. I am the son of the one whom Exalted [God] inspired. I am the son of Fatima Az-Zahraa, I am the son of Khadija Al-Kubra… I am the son of the one beheaded in Karbala.”[2]

Through this way, Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) was able to shake people’s emotions and expose the truth. This compelled Yazid to comply with the Imam's demand for the captivity journey to end and the return to Medina.

The Role of the Imam (peace be upon him)
Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) lived during his Imamate in the city of his grandfather, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his Household). He proceeded in the footsteps of the previous Imams, and he employed calm methods in instructing people in order to reach their hearts. The Imam fulfilled his role through a series of actions:

1-Constantly reminding people of the oppression which was inflicted on the Prophet's Household: Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) was known for crying a lot for the tragic martyrdom of his father.[3]

2-Spreading correct Islamic concepts: Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) offered supplications to God which contained educational content that served numerous aspects. The supplications of the Imam were combined in what was later known as: As-Sahifa As-Sajjadiya. The Imam would also arrange religious and intellectual gatherings in the Mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his Household). These gatherings became a destination for clerics and scholars. Leading intellectuals gained their knowledge from this seminary, and they dispersed in all Islamic lands teaching and guiding people.

3-Caring for people’s affairs: One of the most important aspects which the Imam cared for was the humane and social aspect. It is emphasized in narrations that the Imam would go out on dark nights carrying a sack on his back. He would knock on the doors of the needy and bestow alms upon their inhabitants without being known. Every year, he would buy hundreds of slaves. He would teach them Islamic concepts and set them free on the days of Eid Al-Fitr or Eid Al-Adha.

The methods which the Imam followed were fruitful during his life and after his martyrdom. These methods established the religious and intellectual rank of the Prophet's Household. This rank became widely known among people in spite of the fact that political authority was not in the hands of the Prophet's Household and people revered them far more than they revered the rulers.

It is related that Hisham the son of Abdul-Malek was at the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to perform the rites of pilgrimage. He tried to touch the Black Stone but was not able to do so due to the great crowds of people. He stood aside and saw Imam Ali As-Sajjad approaching to touch the Black Stone. People parted for him and stood aside in reverence of him so that he could touch the Stone. The Imam (peace be upon him) touched the Black Stone, kissed it, and proceeded. Hisham was disconcerted by this sight. One of his companions asked him about the identity of the Imam, and he denied knowing him. When Al-Farazdaq heard this denial, he answered: “This is Ali the son of Hussein the son of Ali”, and he recited his famous poem which remains till this very day.

The Martyrdom of Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him)
The spies whom the Umayyad Caliph Abdul-Malek son of Marwan had spread in Medina to observe the movements of the Imam were not oblivious to his reformatory enterprise. Thus, the Caliph arrested him and brought him in chains to Damascus. However, the strong personality and majesty of the Imam (peace be upon him) inspired the Caliph’s respect for him. He ordered that the Imam would be set free and returned safely to Medina.

The martyrdom of Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) was at the hands of Al-Walid son of Abdul-Malek who decided to assassinate the Imam. Al-Walid ordered his brother Suleiman to do this, and the latter poisoned the Imam (peace be upon him).


[1] Ibn Tawus, The Sorrowful, 92
[2] Al-Majlisi, The Seas of Light, volume 45, 138
[3] A narration of Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) states: “The Criers are five: Adam, Jacob, Joseph, Fatima daughter of Muhammad, and Ali the son of Hussein…Ali the son of Hussein cried for twenty years. Whenever food would be placed in front of him he would cry to the extent that a slave of his said to him: ‘O son of the Messenger of God, may I be sacrificed for you. I fear that you will perish!” Imam Ali As-Sajjad (peace be upon him) answered: “I only complain my distress and anguish to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you know not. Whenever I remember the deaths of the sons of Fatima, I am choked by tears.” (Sheikh As-Suduk, The Traits, 272)

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