‘Ali ibn al Hussain

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‘Ali ibn al Hussain


Today we stop and admire a man who worshiped Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala with such fervour, exertion, and sincerity that he was given the title Zayn al ‘Abidin! [The adornment of the worshipers] Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala had instilled with him such sublime character that other greats too would find themselves falling short. His father a martyr, his mother royalty, his grandfather the Khalifah, his grandmother the best of women, and her father the Prophet of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Perhaps you, dear reader might have an inkling of whom we converse of, he is Abu al Hussain Zayn al ‘Abidin ‘Ali ibn al Hussain ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Truly a profound personality.

All his brothers were martyred at Karbala’ whilst he did not fight nor was he affected by the fighting as he was indisposed. He was brought to Damascus with the rest of those who survived and as mentioned before they were then escorted to Madinah. He was once asked why he cried excessively to which he replied, “Prophet Ya’qub ‘alayh al Salam cried at the loss of his child till he lost his eyesight not knowing if he had died. I had seen 14 men of my family being butchered in front of me in one day, do you think the pain will ever leave my heart?”[1] He was twenty-three at Karbala’ and lived thereafter for thirty-five years. A life filled with goodness, generosity, and honour.

He was a practicing scholar and amongst the top tier of the Tabi’in. Imam al Zuhri says regarding him, “I have not seen an individual of Qurashi descent superior to ‘Ali ibn al Hussain, neither have I seen anyone with deeper knowledge than him.”[2]

Al Dhahabi says:

‘Ali ibn al Hussain was trustworthy and strong in the narration of ahadith, noble and pious.

A man once came to Sa’id ibn al Musayyab and said, “I have not seen a more pious man than so and so.”

Sa’id ibn al Musayyab replied, “Have you seen ‘Ali ibn al Hussain?”

The man replied in the negative.

Sa’id ibn al Musayyab then said, “I have not seen a man more pious than him!”[3]


He was extremely eager in seeking knowledge and would sit in the company of the scholars and freed slaves who were more knowledgeable than him. He would say:

انما يجلس العاقل حيث ينتفغ

An intelligent person sits where he benefits.


He was once rebuked as he sat in the gathering of Zaid ibn Aslam who was a freed slave. His response was, “Knowledge is sought wherever it may be.”[4]

Humility was a distinguishing feature of his. Al Zuhri says that once he narrated ahadith to ‘Ali ibn al Hussain. When he was done narrating he said, ‘Excellent! This is how we have narrated it.’ Al Zuhri said, “Any narration I narrate you have more knowledge regarding it than me!” ‘Ali ibn al Hussain replied:

لا تقل ذاك، فليس من العلم ما لا يعرف، إنما العلم ما عُرف، وتواطأت عليه الألسن

Do not say this, knowledge is not what is strange. Rather it is what is well known and common amongst the people.[5]


Ibn al Jawzi has recorded the following in his book Sifat al Safwah:


كان علي بن الحسين إذا توضأ يصفر فيقول له أهله: ما هذا الذي يعتادك عند الوضوء؟ فيقول: تدرون بين يدي من أريد أن أقوم

‘Ali ibn al Hussain would turn pale when he would perform ablution. His family would ask him what is this that happens to you at the time of ablution? He would reply, “Do you realise in front of whom I intend to stand?”


Subhan Allah, ultimate cognisance and awareness of the greatness of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala had penetrated his heart. ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Salim says, “When he would stand for prayer he would shiver and shudder.” Fear and consciousness of standing in the court of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in prayer had led him to this. Dear reader, worship when carried out in this fashion has a profound effect on a person and stops one from falling into lewdness and evil.

A fire once broke out in his house whilst he was in prostration. People began shrieking, at him to alert him to the fire. He however stayed in prostration till after the fire was extinguished. When asked what made him unaware of the fire he replied, “The fire of the hereafter made me oblivious of the fire of this world.”[6] Allah Akbar!

قد زانها الدين والأخلاق والشيم

مناقب كنجوم الليل ظاهرة

 Virtues like stars they appear; embellished with faith and noble character.


His concern for the poor and needy was unmatched. When a beggar would come to him he would say:


مرحباً بمن يحمل زادي إلى الاخرة

O welcome, one who will take my provisions to the hereafter


‘Ali ibn al Hussain came to see Muhammad ibn Usamah ibn Zaid whilst he was on his death bed. Muhammad was crying and upon inquiring the reason for his sobbing he told ‘Ali ibn al Hussain that he had a debt of fifteen-thousand Dinars which worried him greatly. ‘Ali ibn al Hussain without second thought took it upon himself to fulfil the debt.[7]

This was his life. Filled with the passion of spending and humanitarian efforts. His title, Zayn al ‘Abidin, was earned after much sacrifice and reaching high stages in worship and piety.

Dear reader, do you see anyone who sees to the needs of the poor as he had? Muhammad ibn Ishaq says:


The people of Madinah lived not knowing where their expenses came from. Upon the demise of ‘Ali ibn al Hussain the money that would anonymously be placed at their doorstep at nights stopped coming.[8] The people of Madinah would say, “We hadn’t thought of secret charity till after the death of Zayn al ‘Abidin.”[9] After his death the amount of homes supported by him were numbered at one hundred!


وَيُطْعِمُوْنَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيْمًا وَأَسِيْرًا إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيْدُ مِنْكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُوْرًا إِنَّا نَخَافُ مِنْ رَّبِّنَا يَوْمًا عَبُوْسًا قَمْطَرِيْرًا فَوَقَاهُمُ اللَّهُ شَرَّ ذٰلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُوْرًا

And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, [Saying], “We feed you only for the countenance of Allah. We wish not from you reward or gratitude. Indeed, We fear from our Lord a Day austere and distressful.” So Allah will protect them from the evil of that Day and give them radiance and happiness[10]


Wit and intelligence though lacking in many was found brimming in him. A man once asked him what the status of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma was in relation to Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He replied, “Just as they are now.” And indicated towards their graves, i.e. side by side.[11]

Forgiveness and overlooking featured strongly in him as well. On one occasion a man slandered him. He simply replied, “If what you have said is true then may Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala forgive me and if it is false then may Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala forgive you.” The man stood up kissed his forehead and said, “May I be sacrificed for you. It is certainly not as I had said. Seek forgiveness on my behalf.” When Zayn al ‘Abidin had done so the man commented, “Surely Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala knows best where he places his messengers.”[12]

Zayn al ‘Abidin would fervently pray to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. One of his prayers was, “O Allah! Do not leave me to my own devices that I become helpless, nor to the creation that they leave me to waste.”[13]

His obedience and servitude to his mother was unparalleled. It is narrated that he would not eat in the same dish as her. When asked about this peculiar behaviour, he said, “I fear that my hand advances to a morsel of food which she had intended on taking thereby causing her the slightest of discomfort.”[14] Subhan Allah! What great respect.

Zayn al ‘Abidin went to the Makkah to perform the pilgrimage. Meanwhile Hisham ibn ‘Abdul Malik (the crown-prince of the Umayyad dynasty at the time) went there for the same purpose.

Hisham ibn ‘Abdul Malik tried his best to reach the Ka’bah but he was unable to do that, for the people were overcrowded around it. Every time he would try pushing and forcing his way through, he would be pushed back by the crowd circulating around the Ka’bah. He decided to give up and wait till the crowd became less so would be able to go through with ease. He began looking at the crowds of the people from above. Then Zayn al ‘Abidin came to perform his circulation of the Ka’bah.

With great respect, they parted, made way for him, and allowed him to pass through to kiss the Hajar.

One of Hisham ibn ‘Abdul Malik’s companions asked him: “Who is that man whom the people have honoured very much?”

Hisham looked at the man, saying: “I do not know him.”

The great Arab poet, al Farazdaq, was there and he said: “I know him.”

“Who is he, Abu Firas?” They asked.


The poet, al Farazdaq, then composed the following:

والــبـيـت يـعـرِفُـه والــحـلُ والــحـرمُ

هــذا الــذي تـعـرف الـبـطحاء وطـأته
إلـــى مــكـارم هـــذا يـنـتهي الـكـرم

اذا رأتـــــه قـــريــش قــــال قـائـلـهـا

بـــجــدّه أنــبــيـا الله قـــــد خــتــمـوا

هــذا ابــن فـاطـمةٌ إن كـنـت جـاهله
أو قـيل مـن خير أهل الأرض قيل همُ

إن عــد أهــل الـتـقى كـانـوا أئـمـتهم

هــذا الـتـقي الـنـقي الـطـاهر الـعلمُ

هـــذا ابـــن خــيـر عِــبـاد الله كـلـهـم
عـن نيلها عرب الاسلام والعجم

يـنمي إلـى ذروة الـدين التي قصُرت

كــفــر وقـربـهـم مـنـجـى ومـعـتـصمُ

مــن مـعـشرٍ, حـبـهم ديــن ٌوبـغضهم
الـعُـرب تـعـرف مــن أنـكرت والـعجم

ولــيـس قـولـكم مــن هــذا بـضـائره

 This is he whose ability the valley (of Makkah) recognizes; he is known by the (Sacred) House, and the Holy sanctuary, and the lands outside the sanctuary.

When the Quraysh saw him, their spokesman said; Liberality terminates at the outstanding qualities of this (man).

This is the son of Fatimah if you are unaware; his grandfather, the seal of prophethood.

If the pious were gathered he would be their leader; the best of those that reside on the earth.

This is the son of the best of Allah’s servants; This is the pure pious man, the pure eminent man.

He belongs to the top of glory which the Arabs of Islam and non-Arabs fall short of reaching.

He is from the people whose love is religion, whose hate is unbelief, whose approach is refuge and protection.

Your words, “Who is this?” do not harm him. All the Arabs and non-Arabs recognise him whom you deny.


This poem was an answer to every such man who claims ignorance of such august personalities and scholars of repute. Al Farazdaq complied what was the translation of love for the Ahlul Bayt.

والحب يقتل احيانا بلا قود

ترى المحبين صرعى في ديارهمُ

 You see the lovers strewn in their homes; love kills, at times without cause.


From amongst his sons are, Muhammad al Baqir, ‘Abdullah al Bahir, ‘Umar al Ashraf, Zaid, Hussain al Asghar, ‘Ali ibn ‘Ali al Hussain, ‘Abdul Rahman, Muhammad al Asghar, Qasim, ‘Isa, Sulaiman, ‘Abdullah al Asghar, and Dawood. He had eight daughters, Khadijah who was married to Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al Atraf, Umm al Hussain, ‘Abdah, Fatimah, Umm Kulthum, ‘Ulayyah, and Zainab.[15]


NEXT⇒Zaid ibn Ali ibn Hussain

[1] Hilyat al Awliya’, vol. 3 pg. 136.

[2] Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 41 pg. 366; Tahdhib al Kamal, vol. 20 pg. 384.

[3] Hilyat al Awliya’, vol. 4 pg. 141.

[4] Tabaqat ibn Sa’d, vol. 5 pg. 216; Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 41 pg. 369.

[5] Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 41 pg. 376.

[6] Mukhtasar Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 1 pg. 2348.

[7] Hilyat al Awliya’, vol. 3 pg. 141.

[8] Hilyat al Awliya’, vol. 3 pg. 136; Ahmed fi al Zuhd, vol. 1 pg. 166; Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 41 pg. 383.

[9] Hilyat al Awliya’, vol. 3 pg. 136.

[10] Surah al Insan: 8-11.

[11] Tarikh al Islam, vol. 2 pg. 267.

[12] Sifat al Safwah, vol. 2 pg. 95.

[13] Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 41 pg.382.

[14] Wafayat al A’yan, vol. 3 pg. 268.

[15] Al Shajarah al Mubarakah, pg.20.