Commemorating the Shahadat of Imam Ali an-Naqi (A)In: Ahlul-Bayt
Imam al-Hadi (A) reported from his fathers that:
“Ameer al-Mumineen Ali ibn Abi Talib (A) has said that he (A) once heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) saying: ‘When people shall be resurrected on the day of Judgement, a caller will call me: ‘O Messenger of Allah! Allah has permitted you to reward your lovers and the lovers of your progeny who have followed them for your sake; and opposed their enemies for your sake. You can reward them as you like’. I shall say: ‘My Lord! Paradise! Put them in whatever part of it You like. This is the praised estate, which You have promised’.” (Bihar al-Anwaar)
The period of Imamat of our 10th Imam coincided with the decline of the power of the Abbasid Empire. They were threatened by the Turks and had to move the Capital from Baghdad to Samarrah. He was only 6 years old when his father Imam Muhammad at-Taqi (A) was martyred in Baghdad when poisoned by Mu’tasim Billah Abbasi.
Our Imam lived in Madina for the remaining 8 years of the reign of Mu’tasim and 5 years of the reign of Wathiq Billah. It was when Mutawakkil became caliph in 236 AH the Imam was called over to the Abbasid capital Baghdad. Mutawakkil, was the most cruel and deadly enemy of the Ahlulbayt (A), who tried to drown the Grave of Imam Hussain (A) in Kerbala by diverting the waters of the Eupheretes River. But by a miracle the river water encircled the grave and did not go over it in spite of the fact that the surrounding ground was higher. When the Caliph failed in his action of drowning the grave he ordered that the whole area should be turned into farmland but when horses failed to take the plough over the grave, he realised his folly. Eventually he left the hallowed ground as it was but as long as he lived he forbade any pilgrimage to the Shrine of Imam Hussain (A). History tells us that pilgrims to the grave of Sayyidush Shohada (A) did continue to go in spite of the danger to their lives. Indeed many were killed on their way to the Shrine but the enthusiasm to visit the grave never subsided.
It was during the reign of Mutawakkil that our 10th Imam was brought to the presence of the Caliph from Madina to Baghdad. Yakubi writes in his history of the time that once the raiding party of soldiers found the Imam on his prayer mat and took him away to the caliph in the same state. Mutawakkil was engaged in his nightly drinking and frolics and asked the Imam to join him. Imam declined replying, “ A liquor such as that was never yet combined with my flesh and blood”. The half drunk caliph asked the Imam to read some po. Imam said that he did not indulge in such habits. But when the caliph insisted, the Imam recited the following lines (Ibn Khalikan narrated the story word for word).
“Protected by valiant warriors they passed the night on the summit of their mountains but these mountains did not protect them. After all their power and pomp they had to descend from their lofty fortresses to the custody of the tombs. O’what a dreadful change their graves had hardly received them when a voice heard exclaiming, “ Where are the thrones and the crowns and the robes of State? Where are now the faces of the delicate, which were shaded by veils and protected by curtains. To this the tomb replied. The worms are now revelling upon these faces. Long were these men eating and drinking, but now they are eaten by the worms in their turn.”
Many wept listening to these words uttered by the Imam. The Caliph left the Imam alone for a while, but still kept him under house arrest. In the end Mutawakkil died in the hands of his protectors, the Turkish guards, and his son Muntasir became the next caliph.
Mutawakkil died in 250 AH and Muntasir Billah assumed the caliphate. He ruled only 6 months. On his death Musta’een was enthroned. But soon he was also beheaded and succeeded by Mu’ta’z Billah. All this time our 10th Imam was either in Madina, or called by the Caliph to Samarrah where he spent the last days of his life under house arrest.
Hardships Suffered by the Imam During This Period
Caliph Mu’tasim remained preoccupied with war against the Byzantinians and also with the troubles created by the Abbasids tribesmen in Baghdad. But he did not harrass the Imam who carried his responsibilities peacefully. After Mu’tasim, Wathiq Billah too, treated the Imam fairly. But later when he was succeeded by his brother Mutawakkil, son of Mu’tasim, the period of persecution and tortures began in full scale for the Imam and for all members of his family. This ruler exceeded all his predecessors in bearing animosity towards Ahlulbayt.
Our 10th Imam’s main occupation in Madina, whenever he was left in peace by the Caliphs in Baghdad, was to impart his knowledge to the people. He attracted pupils in large numbers from the provinces where adherents of Ahlulbayt were strongest, namely Iraq, Persia and Egypt. During the eight years of the Caliphate of Mu’tasim and throughout the period of Wathik we do not hear that the Imam was molested. One of the most famous traditions he is said to have related, that had been written in the Sahifa by the hand of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (A) at the direction of the Apostle of God, and inherited by the Imams from generation to generation is related.
It was that the Prophet had defined faith (Iman) as contained in the hearts of men, and that their works (A’amal) confirm it, whereas surrender (Islam) is what tongue expresses which validates the union.
Although the person of the Imam was not touched by the tyrannical caliphs for a while, there was always suspicions about his activities. Masudi narrates one such occasion when our Imam was called by Mutawakkil who was not happy about the methods of teachings in the schools in Madina. Mutawakkil asked the Imam a question. “What does a descendant of your father have to say in regard to Al-Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib?” Imam answered, “What would a descendant of my father say O’Amir, in regard to a man whose sons required his people to obey, and who expected his sons to obey God.” Caliph was pleased with this reply and let the Imam go.”
And in the same connection Masudi quotes another incident, which Ibn Khalikan has incorporated in his description of our 10th Imam Ali Al-Hadi (A) “Secret information had been given to Mutawakkil that the Imam had a quantity of arms, books and other objects for the use of his followers concealed in his house, and being induced by malicious reports he was led to believe that the Imam aspired to the Empire. Once Mutawakkil sent some soldiers of the Turkish guard to break in on him when he least expected such a visit. They found him quite alone, locked up in his room, clothed in a hair shirt, his head covered with a woollen cloak and his face in the direction of Makka. He was reciting Verses of the Qur’an expressive of God’s promises and threats, and having no other carpet between him and the earth than sand and gravel. He was carried off in that attire, and brought in the depth of the night, before Mutawakkil. When the caliph asked his captors about the arms and ammunitions found they said, there was nothing in the house which presents a threat to the throne. The caliph was ashamed of his misdeeds and let the Imam go.
During the sixteen years of the Imamate, Imam al-Hadi (A) had become famous throughout the Islamic world. Those who loved to learn the teachings of Ahlulbayt always flocked around him. In the 4th year of Mutawakkil’s reign the Governor of Madina Abdallah ibn Hakim started harassing the Imam. He sent hostile reports against him to Baghdad. He wrote to the Caliph that the Imam was assembling lot of supporters here which could be a danger to the security of the State. Imam became aware of this animosity and in order to counteract, he wrote a letter to Mutawakkil explaining the personal enmity of the Governor of Madina against him. As a political step Mutawakkil was quick to dismiss the Governor.
At the same time he sent a regiment under the command of Yahya ibn Harthama who explained to the Imam in a friendly way that the caliph wished him to stay in Baghdad for a while. He can then come back to Madina. The Imam knew well the motives behind this request. He realised that the polite invitation meant his banishment from his ancestral city. But to refuse to go was equally impossible for it would have resulted in forcible departure. Leaving the sacred city was painful to him as it had been for his respected forefathers, i.e. Imam Hussain (A) in 60 AH, Imam Musa ibn Ja’afar in 170 AH and Imam Ali Al-Ridha in 200 AH and also of his father Imam Muhammad at-Taqi in 220 AH.
This type of harassment had almost become a heritage. Mutawakkil’s letter was respectful to the Imam and the military detachment which was sent to escort the Imam was actually a deceitful show. So when the Imam reached Samarrah and the Caliph was informed, he neither arranged for any reception no for his stay. He was ordered to be accommodated in the wilderness of the city with beggars. Although the Ahlulbayt as the descendants of the Prophet were gladly associated with the poor and the destitute, and they did not covet luxurious living, Mutawakkil meant to insult the Imam. The Caliph handed him over to the custody of his secretary Razaqi and prohibited his meeting with others. It was almost a house arrest for the Imam.
It has been seen during the imprisonment of Imam Musa ibn Ja’afar (A) that his moral charm had softened the cruel hearted guards attitudes towards the Imam. In the same way Razaqi was also impressed by the greatness of the Imam Ali Naqi (A) and began to provide for his comfort. This leniency could not remain hidden from Mutawakkil who transferred the Imam to the custody of Sa’id, a cruel and ruthless man in whose imprisonment he spent twelve years. In spite of all the hardships he had to suffer there, the Imam passed his time in Ibadah. He prayed during the night and fasted during the day. Although confined within the four walls of the house in Samarrah, his fame spread rapidly throughout the Provinces of Iraq. Every household in the city of Samarrah seemed to know the whereabouts of the Imam and somehow they got knowledge of Islam and of Ahlulbayt from him.
As stated, Imam Ali an-Naqi (A) had built a house in Samarrah and did not go back to Madina either of his own free will or under the orders of these rulers. Due to his continued stay there and the lack of interference by the regime, the students, thirsty for knowledge, thronged around him to learn the teachings of Ahlulbayt. This alarmed Al-Mu’taz so much that he decided to end the sacred life of the Imam. He arranged through some courtiers to mix poison in his food. The Imam died soon after eating the poisonous food.
During imprisonment, the Imam had a grave dug up ready by the side of his prayer mat. Some visitors expressed concern or surprise. The Imam explained, “In order to remember my end I keep the grave before my eyes.”
The Imam died in Sarammara, the funeral was attended only by his son Imam Hasan al Askari who led the funeral prayers and arranged his burial, laying him to rest in his house.
Story of the Holy Ka’aba And its People By S.M.R. Shabbar; Published by Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain