Imam al-Hassan al-Askari (a)
Imam al-Hassan ibn Ali al-Askari (a) is the eleventh Shiite Imam and the father of Imam al-Mahdi (a). His imamate was six years during the reign of the Abbasid caliphs. He was called al-Askari because he was forced to stay in Samarra in an army camp known as al-Askar in Arabic. In this article, we will go over the life, character, and martyrdom of Imam Hassan al-Askari (a).
The Birth of Imam al-Askari (a)
Based on the most authentic Shia sources, Imam al-Askari (a) was born on Rabi‘ al-Thani 8, 232 AH, in Medina. However, some have said he was born in Samarra. His father was the honorable Imam, Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi al-Naqi, and his mother was Hudayth (حُدَيث), an extremely honorable, pure, and pious lady. When the Abbasid caliphs decided to take his father forcefully to Samarra, Imam al-Askari (a) was a year old or four years old, according to some reports. He lived there until the end of his life.
The Imamate of Imam al-Askari (a)
Imam al-Askari (a) was only 22 years old when he succeeded his father, who was martyred. Imam al-Askari (a) had an elder brother named Muhammad, who was also very virtuous and pious. People thought he would become the Imam after Imam al-Hadi (a). However, he passed away while his father was still alive. On many occasions, Imam al-Hadi (a) pointed to his son Imam al-Askari (a) and said he would be the Imam after him. Imam al-Askari’s imamate lasted six years.
The Character of Imam al-Askari (a)
Like his father and forefathers, Imam al-Askari was at the pinnacle of piety, devotion, and virtue. Once, the Abbasid caliph of the time made two individuals who were very evil in charge of taking care of Imam al-Askari (a) when he was imprisoned. This was so that they would treat him harshly. A while later, they noticed that those two individuals had become pious devotees of Imam al-Askari (a). They said that Imam al-Askari (a) used to fast during the day and worship Allah from night to dawn. “Every time he looked at us, our bodies would tremble,” they said.
On another occasion, the Abbasid caliph cast Imam al-Askari (a) in the chamber of lions and other predators so they would eat him. However, they noticed that Imam al-Askari (a) was standing in prayer while the lions and other predators had circled him. The caliph then freed Imam al-Askari (a).
Imam al-Askari himself and before him his father were put on house arrest. Several reasons have been stated for this. The Abbasids feared the Shia Imams because they believed their supporters would stage uprisings leading to their fall. Moreover, the Abbasids had heard the narrations from Prophet Muhammad (s) and Imams about the twelve Imams who would succeed the Prophet (s). Because Imam al-Jawad’s name was Muhammad, his son’s name was Ali, and Ali’s son was Hassan, they feared that the son of Hassan, meaning the Mahdi (a), would bring about their downfall. The Prophet and the Imams had stated the name of the last four Imams in this order. The third reason is that the Abbasids tried their best to stop the Mahdi (a) from being born. They were most suspicious of him being born from Imam al-Askari (a) based on the narrations from the Prophet (s) and Imams.
Under house arrest, it was very difficult for the Shia to communicate with the Imam. Therefore, the Imam had deputies and representatives who would convey his messages to the Shia mainly through correspondence. It is said that some of his servants played this role. His most famous deputy was Uthman ibn Sa‘id, who later became the first special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a).
Imam al-Askari’s Marriage With Narjis
Imam al-Askari married his maid named Narjis. She was a Roman princess who came to the Muslim lands after being taken captive. Her birth name was Melika, the daughter of Joshua, who was the granddaughter of Caesar. According to the hadith, she was the descendent of Simon, one of Jesus’ disciples. She sees in a dream Lady Maryam (a) and Lady Fatima (a), who invite her to Islam. They tell her to make herself the captive of the Muslim army. Then Imam al-Hadi (a) tells one of his servants to buy her and marries her to his son Imam al-Askari (a). She gave birth to Imam al-Mahdi (a) in secret. Imam al-Askari (a) did not reveal the birth of his son Imam al-Mahdi (a) to anyone but his trusted companions.
The Marytrdom of Imam al-Askari (a)
Imam Hassan al-Askari (a) was martyred on Rabi al-Awwal 8, 260 AH, at the age of 28 in Samarra. Reports say that Mu‘tamid al-Abbasi poisoned him. His brother Ja‘far claimed to be the Imam after him. While he was praying before Imam al-Askari’s body, a young boy pushed him aside and prayed before his father in his stead. That young boy was Imam al-Mahdi (a). Imam al-Askari (a) was buried in his own house in Samarra.
Imam al-Mahdi’s Imamate
After the martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a), the imamate of Imam al-Mahdi (a) officially began. At that time, he was only five years old. Soon, Imam al-Mahdi (a) went into occultation so the enemies could not harm him. Uthman ibn Sa‘id al-Amri, who was also one of the trustworthy companions of Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam al-Askari (a), became the first special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a). Imam al-Mahdi (a) had three other special deputies who lived during the minor occultation. When the fourth one died, the minor occultation ended, and the major one began. We are currently living in the major occultation. When Imam al-Mahdi (a) reappears, he will fill the earth with justice and equity, as it is filled with tyranny and oppression.