Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin: The Adornment of Worshippers

The auspicious occasion of the fifth of Sha‘ban commemorates the birth of the venerated fourth pure Imam of Twelver Shias, none other than Imam Ali ibn al-Hussain Zayn al-‘Abidin (a). Notably, the Imam was amongst the revered individuals present during the heart-wrenching tragedy of Karbala, where he endured immense suffering. His lifelong devotion to Allah the Almighty earned him the title Zayn al-‘Abidin, which translates to the adornment of worshippers, as he was renowned for his unrelenting dedication to Allah and continuous acts of worship. This article, hosted on Islam4u, delves into this noble Imam’s remarkable life and character.

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s Birth

His holiness, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (a), graced this world on Sha‘ban 5, 31 AH. His father was the third Shia Imam, Imam al-Hussain (a), and his mother was the former Iranian princess Shahr Banu who was taken captive, then freed to marry Imam al-Hussain (a). Alas, his mother’s life was brief, passing away soon after his arrival into this world. Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (a) was named Ali after his grandfather, the esteemed Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (a), a name his father had vowed to give all his sons, just like his elder son Ali Akbar and his youngest son Ali Asghar. Thus, the household of Imam al-Hussain (a) shone with the radiance of their future successor and heir. He passed on the torch of imamate to his son, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a), who continued his legacy and paved the way for the future Imams, leading up to the twelfth Shia Imam, Imam al-Mahdi (a), the savior of humanity.

Names and Titles of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s name was Ali, meaning the high. In fact, Ali is one of the names of Allah. His agnomen was Abul Hassan. He also had several titles, such as Zayn al-‘Abidin, the adornment of worshippers; Sayyid al-Sajidin, the leader of those who prostrate; and al-Sajjad, the one who prostrates very much. Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (a) was also known as one of those who wept greatly.

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin’s Worship and Supplications

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin was known for his acts of worship. He would fast during the day and keep vigil at night. He would recite beautiful supplications late at night. He would recite extremely well-expressed supplications during, before, and after his prayers. Later, these supplications were compiled into a book called Sahifa al-Sajjadiyyah (i.e., the Psalms of Sajjad). Through these supplications, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin indirectly instructed his followers on what they must have done and how they must have behaved. This was because, at that time, it was not possible for the Imam to directly instruct his followers because of the political repression that existed. Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin prolonged his prostrations so much that the seven parts of his sajdah, his forehead, palms, knees, and the tips of his big toes, had calloused.

The Treatise on Rights

The Treatise on Rights, also known as Risalat al-Huquq, is a remarkable work by Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin, elucidating the fundamental principles of ethics and morality in Islam. This extraordinary piece of literature is a hadith that meticulously outlines the fifty rights human beings must acknowledge and respect towards Allah, people, neighbors, rulers, parents, and children.

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin, the fourth Imam of the Shia Muslims, penned this treatise to guide and counsel one of his intimate companions on the essential obligations and duties of a Muslim towards society and its individuals. The Imam’s emphasis on the rights of Allah and fellow human beings epitomizes the Islamic teachings of compassion, kindness, and benevolence towards all of Allah’s creation.

The hadith, which is considered authentic and trustworthy, was narrated by Abu Hamza al-Thumali, who was a sincere companion of the Imam. The meticulous and profound insight provided by the Imam in this treatise reflects his deep-rooted understanding of Islamic values and his commitment to upholding them.

The Treatise on Rights is a timeless masterpiece that continues to inspire generations of Muslims worldwide. Its significance lies in its comprehensive and concise guidance on the essential human virtues that serve as a foundation for a just and prosperous society. Therefore, this treatise remains a crucial text for those seeking to understand and apply Islamic ethics and morality in their lives.

For an English translation of this treatise, click here

The Traits of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin

As previously mentioned, the Imam possessed an intense devotion to his faith and exuded remarkable piety and virtue. Moreover, his compassion and kindness, especially towards those in need, were truly exceptional. In a manner akin to the other Imams before and after him, he actively engaged in the noble acts of providing assistance to the destitute and nourishing the hungry.

The Imam also remained acutely mindful of his father’s martyrdom and sufferings. His poignant remembrances were evoked whenever provisions were brought forth. Tears would flow unabatedly as he remembered his father’s hunger at Karbala whenever food was offered, and his father’s thirst would be brought to mind whenever water was brought to quench the thirst of others. The slaughter of animals also triggered profound grief in the Imam as he wept over his father’s sacrifice and martyrdom.

When questioned regarding the intensity of his emotions towards his father’s memory, the Imam would reply with a heartfelt sentiment. He would say, “Jacob wept for Joseph so much that he lost his eyesight, even though Joseph’s fate was unknown. They killed my father, family, and relatives right before my eyes. Why should I not weep for him?” Therefore, it was only natural that he mourned for his father with the utmost sincerity and ardor.

Imamate of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin, the noble scion of the Ahlul Bait (a), ascended to the exalted position of imamate following the tragic martyrdom of his father, the revered Imam al-Hussain (a), in the year 61 AH. Although he was present in the fateful battleground of Karbala, his fragile physical state was such that he could hardly traverse its treacherous terrain. It was the divine decree that his infirmity would safeguard the imamate, ensuring its continuity and preservation.

Thus, the esteemed Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin remained at the Shia community’s helm for 33 or 34 years until his martyrdom in the year 94 or 95 AH.


The Imam’s martyrdom occurred in Medina, where he lived under the oppressive rule of the Umayyad Caliphate. The Imam, who was revered for his piety, knowledge, and generosity, remained a thorn in the side of the Umayyads, who saw him as a threat to their illegitimate rule.

Imam al-Sajjad’s martyrdom resulted from a poisonous plot hatched by Walid ibn Abdul Malik, the Umayyad Caliph at the time. Walid was known for his animosity toward the Imam and saw him as a significant threat to his illegitimate rule. To eliminate this perceived threat, Walid ordered the poisoning of the Imam’s food, which ultimately led to his martyrdom. His holiness was buried in the Baqi‘ cemetery in Medina, next to his uncle, Imam al-Hassan (a).

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