Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin

Zayn al-Abidin is the fourth imam from the People of the Cloak, after his father Husayn ibn Ali, his uncle Hasan ibn Ali, and his grandfather Ali ibn Abi Talib. The birth name of Zayn al-Abidin is Ali ibn Husayn and his epithets are Abu Mohammad, Abu Bakr and Abu al-Hasan. Zayn al-Abidin’s brothers Ali al-Akbar and Ali al-Asghar were martyred in the battle of Karbala and his two sisters were Sakina bint Husayn and Fatima bint Husayn.

Honorifics of Zayn al-Abidin

Zayn al-Abidin was famously known by the titles of:

  • Al-Sajjad (the one who is constantly prostrating in worship)
  • Zayn al-Abidin (the adornment of worshipers)
  • Sayyid al-Sajidin (the leader of prostrators)
  • Dhu l-Thafinat (the one with numerous calluses) This title is in reference to the calluses formed on his forehead from frequent prostration
  • Sayyid al-Abidin (leader of worshipers)
  • Al-Amin (the trusted one)
  • Al-Zaki (the pure one)

The Title Zayn al-Abidin

Imam Malik narrates that Ali ibn Husayn came to be known as Zayn al-Abidin because of his great extent of worship. (Nur-ul-Absaar)

Jami relates that once Zayn al-Abidin was engrossed in offering Tahajjud (late night) prayer when Satan appeared in the form of dragon and began torturing him and started biting his toe. However, Zayn al-Abidin remained vigilant in Allah’s worship. Satan failed to distract him and eventually gave up. Upon finishing his prayer, he struck the Satan to force him away. Satan went away after being defeated. At that moment he heard a voice from the unseen that was repeated three times, “You are the adornment of worshipers.” Since then, he came to be known by the people as Zayn al-Abidin. (Shawahid-un-Nabuwwat)

imam zain ul abideen

The title Al-Sajjad

Regarding the title al-Sajjad, it is related that Zayn al-Abidin used to make prostration of gratitude on every minor blessing or when sufferings drew away and even on the reconciliation among the believers. That is how he came to be known as al-Sajjad. Even on the day of resurrection of Karbala, he did not miss the prostration of Allah, and just as his father had prostrated under the dagger, he prostrated on the dust of Karbala.

Humility and Submission of Zain-ul-Abideen

One of Imam Zain-ul-Abideen’s condition was that as soon as he started ablution, his face turned pale, that it was time to stand in front of the Lord of the worlds. At times in prayer, his body shivered like a wicker that he was standing in the court of the Master of the day of Judgement. Occasionally he used to repeat the verse

ایاک نعبد و ایاک نستعین

((O Allah!) You alone do we worship and to you alone do we ask for help) by saying that I have appealed for help so there should come a promise of help as well. The humility and submission in Zayn al-Abidin was to the extent that his son fell in the well while he was engrossed in prayer. But he remained vigilant in Allah’s worship. After completing the prayer, he demanded his son from the well and took him out in a way that the water did not touch him. (Imam Zain-ul-Abideen – Ghulam Rasool Jamati)

Fear of Allah

One time his house caught fire while he was engrossed in praying. He did not shorten the prayer. Rather said that I was busy extinguishing the fire of hell. There was no worry about the fire here. It could be extinguished even by the neighbors. (Imam Zain-ul-Abideen – Ghulam Rasook Jamati)

Grandeur of Imam Zayn al-Abidin

How elevated that personality would be whose life was illuminated by the adornment of prostrations. Whenever a blessing was sent down, he made a prostration. If a calamity came, he would prostrate.  While reciting a verse, he made prostration. Whenever he finished the prayer, he made a prostration. When fears rose, he made a prostration. When Allah drew away from him a suffering, he made a prostration. Whatever the situation might be, if he turned his face, it was towards Allah. He turned only towards Allah, sought only his refuge, implored only to Him and expressed gratitude only towards Him.

Imam always remained in submission to Allah’s will. The prostration mark on forehead from the prayers was a sign of submission. This continuity of prostrations in Zayn al-Abidin’s life was worth seeing. Due to excessive prayers, the prostration points on his body formed calluses which were trimmed twice a year. Thus, the title Dhu l-Thafinat, which means the one with numerous calluses.

Zayn al-Abidin

Revelation of Zayn al-Abidin’s birth

Years before Zayn al-Abidin was born, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) had revealed that Allah would bless his grandson Husayn ibn Ali with a son named Ali. So, Ibn Kathir writes that Abu Zubair reported, “We were with Jabir ibn Abdullah, where Ali ibn Husayn (Zayn al-Abidin) came. Jabir ibn Abdullah said, ‘We were with the Messenger of Allah when Husayn ibn Ali came. The Holy Prophet embraced him, kissed his forehead, sat him beside him and said, “Allah will give a son to my son (Husayn ibn Ali) whose name will be Ali. An angel will call out on the day of resurrection, ‘Let Sayyid al-Abidin stand up, and he will stand up.’” (Al-bidayah Wan Nihayah)

This verifies that even before Imam Zain-ul-Abidin was born, Prophet (pbuh) had revealed his birth and said that on the day of resurrection, his title would be Sayyid al-Abidin. (Imam Zain-ul-Abideen – Ghulam Rasook Jamati)

Birth of Imam Zayn al-Abidin

Imam Zayn al-Abidin was born in Madina to the sacred family of Husayn ibn Ali on 15th Jumada al-Thani in 38 AH. According to some traditions the birth date is 5th Sha’ban. His mother, Shehr Bano is one of the greatest women in history and was the daughter of the Yazdegerd II, the last Sassanid emperor of Persia. Imam Zayn al-Abidin was born during the caliphate of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Thus, he spent almost two years of his life under the shadow of his grandfather Ali ibn Abi Talib.


At the time of his birth, Muslims were visibly divided into two groups. One group was of those who were steadfast in their loyalty to Ali ibn Abi Talib. On the other hand, there was a group who was demanding protection of their interests from him. However, Ali ibn Abi Talib clearly announced his economic policy immediately after becoming Caliph.

Zayn al-Abidin was still young when another group of opponents came to the fore. This group belonged to the Kharijites. Eventually one of the members of this group, Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam, martyred Ali ibn Abi Talib in Kufa mosque. After Ali ibn Talib, Hasan ibn Ali ascended to the throne of Caliphate. Once again, a Kharijite attacked him, too. Hasan ibn Ali made peace with them under expedience. He was martyred in 50 AH. Imam Zain-ul-Abidin was 12 years old at that time. After the martyrdom of Hasan ibn Ali in 50 AH, Zayn al-Abidin spent 10 years with his father Husayn ibn Ali. Then on 10th Moharram in 61 AH his own era of caliphate began.

Zayn al-Abidin’s wish to remain submissive

It is related that once Zayn al-Abidin fell sick and his father Husayn ibn Ali visited him and asked if he had any wish. He responded, “I do not have any wish except that I remain submissive and content on Allah’s will. What He chooses for me is better. How can I choose better than Him. Husayn ibn Ali embraced his answer and said, “O son! Your answer is very similar to that of Abraham. When he was offered the help, he refused, saying that He Who I am a slave of, knows my situation well. My duty is to surrender and submit to His will.”

Aftermath of Karbala

Imam Zayn al-Abidin was severely ill during the Karbala calamity. So, Husayn ibn Ali did not allow him to go to the battlefield. Ibn Ziyad tried to kill Zayn al-Abidin in his court, but Zaynab bint Ali stopped him. Zayn al-Abidin pursued responsibilities of imamat and his duties as head of the family from the time when Husayn ibn Ali was martyred on the day of Ashura, and the armies of Umayyad (Banu Ummaya) were plundering their possessions and setting fire to their camps.

Imam’s responsibilities after Karbala tragedy

Imam Zain-ul-Abideen was sapped by illness, but he had the responsibility of protecting his family and the devotees of Husayn ibn Ali. He ordered women and children to escape from burning camps to other camps until all camps were burnt down. Zain-ul-Abidin took up countless responsibilities from that day onwards.

Along with fulfilling the duties of his family, he had to protect sharia. Like his ancestor Abu Talib had fulfilled the right of protecting Holy Prophet (pbuh) among the enemies of Islam, Zayn al-Abidin had to protect the message of Holy Prophet among the enemies of sharia. Just like his grandfather Ali ibn Abi Talib, he had to enlighten people with the true principles of the message of Holy Quran through his intellectual abilities. Like Hasan ibn Ali, he had to step ahead in expressing righteousness fearlessly. The most important responsibility that Zayn al-Abidin had was to spread the message of Husayn ibn Ali.

The wicked enemies thought that they had demolished the standpoint of People of the Cloak by martyring Husayn ibn Ali. Whereas Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin intended to awaken people by spreading the standpoint, that Prophet’s vicegerency is not the prerogative of an ignorant, cruel, and dishonest person. Imam Zain-ul-Abideen was determined to spread the mission of Husayn ibn Ali and in this regard, he did not leave any opportunity to speak out about the oppression on Husayn ibn Ali and the causes of his martyrdom. Then be it the bazaars of Karbala, the court of filthy Yazid, the prisons or their way to returning to Madina.

zain ul abideen

The decision of Black Stone (Al-Hajar al-Aswad)

After the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali in the battle of Karbala, Mohammad ibn al-Hanafiyya came to Zayn al-Abidin and said, “O son! I am your uncle and older than you, so the first right of imamate is mine and also give out to me the war tools of Holy Prophet (pbuh). Zayn al-Abidin said, “O my dear uncle! Fear Allah and do not claim for what you are not deserving.” When Mohammad ibn al-Hanafiyya acted exaggeratingly, Zayn al-Abidin said, “O dear! Let us go to the ruler. It will be better if he decides between us.” Al-Hanaiyya said, “Who is that ruler?” Zayn al-Abidin responded, “It is black stone.”

When they both reached there, Zayn al-Abidin asked Mohammad ibn al-Hanafiyya to speak to the black stone. Al-Hanafiyya spoke, but it returned no response. Then Zayn al-Abidin raised his hands in prayer in Allah’s court and remembered him by His attributive name. It was then that black stone started talking. Zayn al-Abidin turned his face towards it and said:

Swear by Allah Who has placed the promises of His men on you, tell us who has the right to be the Imam and guardian of the minor?

Hearing this, the black stone trembled. It was close that it would fall from its place, but it spoke eloquently:

O Mohammad ibn al-Hanafiyya! It is granted that after Husayn ibn Ali, Ali ibn Husayn is deserving of imamate.

Black Stone (Al-Hajar al-Aswad)

Morals of Imam Zayn al-Abidin

In the family of Holy Prophet (pbuh), each sacred individual had distinguished morals. However along with the demonstration of best morals, Imam Zayn al-Abidin also established a world of philosophy of morals, following which an individual can build the best of his character. When a student of religion came in front of him, he used to stand up to honor him and said that it was the will of Holy Prophet (pbuh). This way he expressed the grandeur and importance of religion Islam and also encouraged its students. When a beggar would come, he used to welcome him and say that this is the person who transfers my wealth from this world to the hereafter and does not even ask for a reward.

Imam’s morals reflected the bright morals of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Just as the Holy Prophet (pbuh) never uttered the word no to a beggar, Zayn al-Abidin never used the word no for a beggar all his life.

Imam never lashed the camel on which he performed twenty Hajj. As a result, after Imam’s death, it left the world following three days of continuous mourning at his grave.

Zayn al-Abidin never ate food in front of his mother who brought him up and when someone inquired, he said, “I do not want her to hesitate in eating anything because of me or if she likes something and does not want to overtake me and I get ahead.”

Ibn Kathir relates the narration of ibn Ishaq that there were many households in Madina who did not know where their livelihood came from. After the passing of Zayn al-Abidin when it stopped, only then they found out that it came from Imam’s house. Ibn Kathir also writes that Zayn al-Abidin gave all his wealth in Allah’s way two times in his life. (Al-bidayah Wan Nihayah)

After the death of Zayn al-Abidin when he was given the bath, people found some marks on his back. It was then discovered that he used to carry sacks of food on his back and secretly delivered them to the families of Madina. Some also said that there were a hundred houses of poor people whom he supported continuously and delivered food items to them carrying on his back. (Al-bidayah Wan Nihayah)

Miracles of Imam Zayn al-Abidin

In the time of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, Zayn al-Abidin was taken captive again, heavy iron bars were put on him and guards were appointed. Seeing this ibn Shihab teared up and said, “I wish I had been in your place as my heart is unable to endure your suffering.” Hearing this Zayn al-Abidin said, “Do you think that this imprisonment is agonizing to me? The fact is that if I wish, none of it will remain. But there is a reward in it and this suffering is the remembrance of Allah.” Saying this, he removed his feet from the shackles and his hands from the handcuffs.

Such were the authorities bestowed upon them, but their patience and submission led them to sacrifice their lives, homes and wealth without worrying about anything. May their inward and outward beneficence become a source of prosperity and success for Muslims and may Islam always remain victorious and triumphant due to the blessings of their sincere sacrifices.

Al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik poisoned Zayn al-Abidin in 94 AH. And that is how he was martyred on 25th Moharram in 95 AH.

Sayings of Imam Zayn al-Abidin

  • People of knowledge are only those who gained Allah’s gnosis. They turned towards Him and performed righteous deeds. Do not find good in this world by committing sin.
  • He used to say, ‘O Allah! I seek your refuge that my outward becomes pious in the eyes of people and the inward ruins.
  • Some people worship out of fear, it is the worship of slaves. Some worship to gain paradise, it is the worship of traders. There are some who worship Allah only for Allah and it is the worship of the free.
  • He who gained the gnosis of Allah will be fearful of him. And this fear will lead him to the righteous deeds.
  • I am surprised at the intellect of a person who strives for this mortal world but has ignored the life of hereafter.
  • Closest to Allah is the one who is more moral among you, and the most desirable to Allah among you is the one who nurtures his family best and saved from the punishment of Allah is the one who has more fear of Allah in his heart. He who acts more is more beloved to Allah and the most gracious among you is the one who fears Allah more.
  • Whoever loves us (People of the Cloak) for the sake of Allah, on the day of resurrection, when there will be no shadow, Allah will grant him the shadow of His mercy. And whoever loves us for the sake of paradise in the hereafter, Allah will bless him with paradise. And whoever loves us for any worldly purpose, Allah will give him vast sustenance.
  • A believer is the one who has incorporated his knowledge into his intellect. He asks question to learn and remains silent to ponder and act.
  • One should avoid the company of five kinds of people:
    1. Transgressor, because he will make you lustful. That is, he will create in you a lust for useless things.
    2. Miser, for he will consider wealth above you.
    3. A liar, since he will turn strangers to dear ones, and the loved ones to strangers.
    4. A fool, for he will seek to benefit you in friendship, but will end up harming you.
    5. Do not associate yourself with an unkind person.

Who was Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin?

Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin is the fourth imam from the People of the Cloak, after his father Husayn ibn Ali, his uncle Hasan ibn Ali, and his grandfather Ali ibn Abi Talib. The birth name of Zayn al-Abidin is Ali ibn Husayn and his epithets are Abu Mohammad, Abu Bakr and Abu al-Hasan. Zayn al-Abidin’s brothers Ali al-Akbar and Ali al-Asghar were martyred in the battle of Karbala and his two sisters were Sakina bint Husayn and Fatima bint Husayn.

Why did Imam Husayn not allow Zayn al-Abidin to fight during Ashura?

Imam Hussain did not allow Zayn al-Abidin to fight during the battle of Ashura, due to his illness and because he needed to survive as the Divine representative on earth. Imam Zayn al-Abidin lived on as a voice of the revolution even in the very own palace of tyrant Yazid.

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