Imamah: Zaynul ‘Abidin Ali ibn Husayn

Imamah: Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib
May 25, 2018
June 13, 2018

Imamah: Zayn al ‘Abidin Ali ibn Husayn


Previously the true belief of the Ahlul Bayt concerning Imamah was discussed. The statements of Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu revealed an entirely conflicting portrait to that sketched out by the Twelver Shia. The implications of Sayyidina Hassan’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu abdication also became manifest. We now wish to continue with our investigation and also present the attitudes of the Shia themselves during those eras. Did the Shia also believe in the divine appointment of these Twelve Infallibles or does history reveal a completely antithetical version of events?

After the demise of Sayyidina Hassan in the 49th year after hijrah, Sayyidina Hussain still remained loyal to Sayyidina Muawiyah until the last days of the latter, refusing the pleas of the Kufan Shia to rise in revolt against Muawiyah. After the demise of Muawiyah, Hussain refused to swear fealty to Yazid in opposition to his hereditary ascendency. Instead he insisted on going to Iraq, which led to his martyrdom at Karbala’ in 61 A.H.[1]

There is no textual proof of Sayyidina Hussain ever citing divine Imamah as the reason for his revolt. Even in his correspondences with the people of Kufah—his Shia—there is no mention of this concept. In his description of a rightful leader, Sayyidina Hussain says:

A leader is not other than one who judges by the Qur’an, who establishes justice, who practices the religion of truth, and puts all his services for the sake of Allah.[2]


Divinely appointed being none of its prerequisites.

We find further confirmation of this theory being absent at that time in the speech delivered—boldly and bravely—by Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin in the court of Yazid after the horrible massacre at Karbala’. He said:


O people we have been granted six favours and have virtue due to seven. We have been given: Knowledge, forbearance, tolerance, elegance, bravery, and love in the hearts of people. We have been granted virtue by: the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, (Fatimah), al Siddiq (‘Ali), Tayyar (Jafar), Asadullah (Hamzah), Hassan, and Hussain.[3]


While the authenticity of this report might be considered dubious according to the standards of the Ahl al Sunnah, it is widely accepted and often quoted by the Shia in their mourning ceremonies. Yet even in this brave sermon, Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin did not hint to Imamah being the exclusive right of the Ahlul Bayt. He did not say that he is the rightful Imam to whom obedience is compulsory after his father.

Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin returned to Madinah after this, where he led a life of seclusion, devoting himself to worship. The renowned Shia scholar of the third century Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Babawayh al Qummi writes:


He withdrew from people and did not meet anyone nor allowed anyone to meet him except his closest companions. He devoted himself to worship of Allah, and only little knowledge has come from him.[4]


Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin made no claim of having divine right to rule nor did he answer the calls of his so called Shia to lead them during their rebellions against the Umayyad Khulafa’.

Instead we find that Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin pledged his allegiance to Yazid after the incident of Harrah, as recorded by al Kulayni[5] and exhorted others to remain obedient to their rulers. Ibn Babawayh al Qummi reports:


He exhorted the Shia to succumb to the ruler and obey him, not to separate from him, and to keep away from his wrath. He suspects the (very) rebels to be responsible for the oppression meted out to them (the Ahlul Bayt) from the ruler.[6]


The seclusion of Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin left a vacuum, which the Shia soon filled by aligning themselves with other individuals, even if not from the Ahlul Bayt. The Shia first rallied around Sulaiman ibn Surad, who led efforts to avenge the killing of Sayyidina Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu. They called themselves the Tawwabun (repentors) for having abandoned Sayyidina Hussain in his time of need, ultimately resulting in his murder.

Despite the rallying of the Shia to the cause of the Ahlul Bayt—a phenomenal 16000 rising to the cause—Zayn al ‘Abidin did not answer their call to lead them. Instead he encouraged them not to rebel against the leaders, as mentioned in the narration of Ibn Babawayh. He suspected those drawing swords in their name to be the villains actually responsible for the atrocities against them.

Zayn al ‘Abidin’s misgivings of their loyalty proved true and soon their numbers fell to a mere 3000, with a further 1000 fleeing on the second day of battle. Sulaiman ibn Surad and his few loyal supporters sacrificed their lives for the Ahlul Bayt but still Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin refused to lead.

At the same time we find another individual taking the reigns of leadership from the Shia. His name Mukhtar ibn ‘Ubaid al Thaqafi. Mukhtar after failing to woo Zayn al ‘Abidin to support his cause, and the Tawwabun for that matter as well, claimed the Imamah for Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah—the son of Amir al Mu’minin ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu— and named himself his chief deputy.

This group became known as the Kaysaniyyah, and it would be they who first advocated the notion of vertical hereditary rule. Thus we find the Shia of that era claiming Imamah for Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah and his progeny, Abu Hashim ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad considered to be the successor of his father.

In addition to establishing an exclusive line of Imamah in the progeny of Hanafiyyah, the Kaysaniyyah also claimed that Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah was the awaited Mahdi, making them also the first proponents for the theory of occultation or Ghaybah.

Al Nawbakhti writes about this sect in his Firaq al Shia:


(They claimed) Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah is Imam Mahdi and he was the successor of Imam ‘Ali. No one can oppose him and no one can rise up against his Imamah, and no one can raise his sword except with his permission.[7]


He continues:


After the death of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah, a group (amongst them) denied his death saying, “He is the Mahdi, ‘Ali named him as the Mahdi. He did not die and will not die, nor is it possible for that to happen. However he has gone into occultation and none know where he is. He will soon return and take control of the world. There is no other Imam from the time of his occultation until his return.”[8]


These were the followers of Ibn Karab and they became known as the Karabiyyah. Amongst the followers of this splinter group was man by the name of Hamzah ibn ‘Ammarah al Barbari. He later broke away from this sect and claimed that he was a prophet and that Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah was actually Allah incarnate, and Allah is far above that which they ascribe to Him.

Many of the Shia fell prey to the blasphemous and sacrilegious beliefs of these heterodoxies.

The idea of a hidden Mahdi and the theory of occultation was thus invented by the Kaysaniyyah as early as the eightieth year after hijrah, and then too not in favour of the Hidden Imam of the Twelvers. In fact the theory of twelve divinely appointed Imams was still non-existent.

Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin lived for thirty-four years after the incident of Karbala’, and passed away in the year 95 A.H, one year before the Umayyad Khalifah Sulaiman ibn ‘Abdul Malik came to power. He witnessed the Muslim world clambering for leadership, the so called Shia of the Ahlul Bayt rising up to their cause, and then even becoming infected with heretical ideologies. Yet the honourable Imam did not lead the Ummah through these turbulent times nor did he seek to save his Shia from the infectious diseases of incredulity which began to plague Shi’ism. All of which indicate that he had not been divinely charged with the task nor did he consider it his responsibility.

The absence of leadership forced the Shia to invent various arguments to justify their purpose and it also allowed their ranks to be infiltrated by deviants, ultimately splintering them into a number of sects, each with beliefs graver than the next. This division and splintering of the Shia was not the last that would occur, but rather the first of many which continue even in the present day.

This reveals to us that the doctrine of Imamah held by the Twelver sect is nothing more than a fictitious theory amongst many which were falsely attributed to the Ahlul Bayt, just as the theories of Ghaybah, Raj’ah, and Mahdism of the Kaysaniyyah.

Moojan Momen writes about the Kaysaniyyah in his book Shi’i Islam: A beginners guide:


This group of the Shia (i.e. the Kaysaniyyah) were thus the first to bring into prominence a number of key religious ideas that have played an important role in Shia Islam up to the present day.


The contradiction, division, and splintering of the Shia reminds me of the verse:


If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction.[9]

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[1] Mufid in Kitab al Irshad p. 199

[2] Mufid in Kitab al Irshad p. 204

[3] Bihar vol. 45 p. 137

[4] Ikmal al Din p. 91

[5] Rawdah al Kafi p. 196

[6] Al Amali p. 397 majlis 59

[7] Firaq al Shia p. 24

[8] Ibid p. 25

[9] Surah al Nisa’: 82

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