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ZAYN AL-ABIDIN (61-94/680-713), 3RD IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Abu Muhammad Ali bin Hussain, known as Zayn al-Abidin (ornament of the pious) and by the titles of as-Sajjad (the prostrator) and az-Zaki (the pure), was born in Medina on 38/658. He would feed the hungry persons at night, from one to three hundred families; and in daytime, he would have a hundred sheep a day killed for meat, which would be distributed to the needy people. Much of his time he spent sitting on an old piece of matting, fasting all day, or eating a little barely bread. D.M. Donaldson writes in The Shi'ite Religion (London, 1933, p. 110) that, "One day, he claimed to get nourishment from merely the smell of food."

Shahr Banu, the mother of Imam Zayn al-Abidin was the daughter of the last Sassanid emperor Yazdigard (d. 31/652) of Iran. She is reported to have died soon after the birth of her son, Zayn al-Abidin. In memory of his mother, Imam Zayn al-Abidin used to utter these words: "I am the son of the two chosen stocks (ibn al-khairatain). The Prophet was my grandfather, and my mother was the daughter of Yazdigard."

When the soldiers of Yazid were bent on destroying Imam Hussain and his dear ones at Karbala, sparing neither old nor young, the survival of Imam Zayn al-Abidin was nothing but a miracle. His severe illness had prevented him from taking up arms, and confined him to bed. The morning of 12th Muharram saw a peculiar procession leaving Karbala for Kufa. After reaching Kufa, the captives were presented to Ibn Ziyad. It is however not quite clear how long the captives were detained in Kufa, but it seems that before long they had been sent to Damascus at Yazid's court. The reaction of Yazid is reported to have been different from that of Ibn Ziyad, and he regretted the haste with which his governor had acted.

One Friday in Damascus, the congregation in the cathedral mosque, requested Imam Zayn al-Abidin to address them. Taking Yazid's permission, the Imam delivered a sermon. The congregation was moved - some heaved sighs, some wept when suddenly Yazid beckoned the muazzin to call for the prayers. Yazid resolved not to keep Imam Hussain's family in his capital, and finding that Imam Zayn al-Abidin preferred a quiet and virtuous life, he made arrangement for them to return to Medina.

A storm of grief and anger raged in every heart in the Muslim world because of the tragic event of Karbala, putting great deal of thrill of horror. It caused rise to a universal feeling of revulsion against the tyrants. From the start of 62/681, the people of Medina turned out the Umayyad governor, and beleaguered the Umayyad ashes in the town. Ibn Athir (d. 630/1234) writes in Kamil fi't Tarikh (Beirut, 1975, 1:186) that Marwan bin Hakam, the sworn enemy of Ahl al-Bayt was also unable to stay safely in the city. The only person he could find to offer protection to his wife was Imam Zayn al-Abidin, who sent her safely to Taif escorted by one of his sons. Yazid sent an army under Muslim bin Aqba to suppress the rising in Medina. According to Tabari (7:6-7), "He ordered that for three days on end, Medina should be given over to rapine and murder, and that the army might appropriate to its own use whatever it might capture including the prisoners of war." Dinawari writes in Akhbar at-Tiwal (p. 260) that the instructions to Muslim bin Aqba were given that, "If you obtain victory over the people of Medina, plunder the town for three days without break." The orders were carried out on the 28th Zilhaja, 63 and for three full days and nights, Medina was given over to plunder. The Umayyad forces gained such ascendancy that the remaining citizens of Medina avowed allegiance specifying that they would be the slaves of Yazid who would possess plenary powers over their lives, properties and dependents, but Imam Zayn al-Abidin and his family were left unmolested, and when the citizens of Medina were forced to take oath of allegiance of Yazid, the Imam was exempted.

The Meccans too had been aroused against Umayyad. Abdullah bin Zubayr, who had long yearned to secure the office of caliph for himself, considered it an opportune moment to advance his interest. He delivered a forcible speech, decrying the inconstancy of the Kufans, and paying rich tributes to Imam Hussain. The Meccans became alienated from Yazid and agreed to pledge their allegiance to Abdullah bin Zubayr. After the savage massacre and ravage of Medina, Yazid's commander, Muslim bin Aqba advanced on Mecca as ordered by Yazid. On his way to Mecca in 64/683, he was picked up by death. Before his death, he had made Haseen bin Namir the head of the army. Thus, Haseen invaded Mecca and laid siege to the Kaba. Tabari (7:14) writes that, "Not only stones but also live wood were catapulted at Kaba which caught fire." This was Yazid's last operation after which he died in 64/683.

As soon as Yazid died, the people of Mecca rose once again, and began to hunt the Umayyad soldiers in the city. Thus, it was difficult for Haseen bin Namir and his forces to move from Mecca to Syria. They started their journey from Mecca in secret, and meanwhile they felt acute need of fodder for their horses. Tabari (7:342) writes that when Imam Zayn al-Abidin knew the difficulties of the Umayyad forces, he came down from Medina with grass and foods and rescued them from starvation. Haseen bin Namir was highly touched with the generosity of the Imam, and offered him to accept the caliphate of Damascus with his all supports. Imam Zayn al-Abidin did not answer him, and went away after casting a smile.

The tragic event of Karbala stirred religious and moral sentiment, particularly among those of the Kufans who had so zealously invited Imam Hussain to Iraq to guide them on the path of God. But when the Imam came to Iraq, they did not stand with him in the hour of trial. Soon after the event of Karbala, the Umayyad governor Ibn Ziyad returned to Kufa from his camp at Nukhayla, the Shiites, according to Tabari (7:47), "were stung with shame at their faint-heartedness. They took to mutual recrimination as they painfully realized the enormity of neglecting to go to Imam Hussain's help, and thereby leading him to his death in their close neighbourhood, since he had come to Iraq only to their invitation." They thought that they must make similar sacrifices to obtain God's forgiveness. They believed that they could only prove their real repentance by exposing themselves to death while seeking vengeance for the blood of Imam Hussain. Hence they named themselves as the tawwabun (the penitents).

The movement of the Tawwabun began under the headship of five of the oldest trusted associates of Ali, with a following of a hundred diehard Shi'ites of Kufa. The five leaders of the Tawwabun, Suleman bin Surad al-Khuzai, Al-Musayyab bin Najaba al-Fazari, Abdullah bin Sa'd bin Nufayl al-Azdi, Abdullah bin Walin at-Taymi, and Rifa'a bin Shaddad al-Bajali; had always been in the forefront of all Shi'ite activities in Kufa. At the end of 61/680 they held their first meeting in the house of Suleman bin Surad. According to Tabari (2:498), the first to speak was Al-Musayyab bin Najaba al-Fazari, who said: "We invited the son of the daughter of our Prophet to come to Kufa to guide us on the right path, but when he responded to our call, we became rapacious for our own lives until he was killed in our midst. What excuse would we have before our Lord, and before our Prophet when we must meet him on the day of resurrection, while his most beloved son, family and progeny were massacred in our midst. By God, there is no other way for us to expiate ourselves for the sin except to kill all his murderers and their associates or be killed. Perhaps by doing so our Lord may forgive our sin. You must, therefore, now select someone from among you as your leader, who can organize and mobilize you under his command and proceed with the plan of seeking God's forgiveness by taking the action which has been proposed."

Finally, Suleman bin Surad had been chosen as their leader, who also made a forceful speech in the meeting, and said: "We used to crane our necks eagerly in looking for the arrival of the members of the Prophet's household, but when they arrived, we acted with such indifference and laxity that in our land and not far from us, the Prophet's son was put to the sword. When he raised his voice in demanding justice and help, there was none to respond to him to say, `Here I am, standing in thy service'. The man of sin made him the target of their arrows and spears, and killed him. Now if you wish to get up, rise! God's wrath has been stirred. Resolve here and now not to return to your wives and children till you have taken steps to win God's pleasure. Now that you consider sinners, prepare yourselves for sacrifice. Sharpen your swords, and straighten your spear-heads." (Tabari, 7:48) He then entered into correspondence with Shi'ite leaders in other cities, namely Sa'd bin Hudhayfa al-Yamen in Madain and Al-Muthanna bin Mukharriba al-Abdi in Basra. The movement of Tawwabun, however, went on secretly for three years, increasing in number and strength, and waiting for an appropriate time. Meanwhile, the death of Yazid induced the Tawwabun to come out in the open. They succeeded in gaining support of 16,000 Kufans. Suleman started final preparations for action, and the penitents embarked upon a course of direct action against Yazid's rule.

Mukhtar also spurred his horses towards Kufa, and tried to bring the Tawwabun in his mission. The main body of Tawwabun, however, refused to join Mukhtar, though at least 2,000 of these had registered their names with Suleman bin Surad did switch over to him. According to their plan, the Tawwabun raised their call for "revenge for the blood of Hussain" (la latha'rat al-Hussain) in 65/684, and gathered at Nukhayla, a suburb of Kufa, from where they had to march against the forces of Ibn Ziyad, the Umayyad governor who had been responsible for the massacre of Karbala upon the instructions of Yazid. Only 4,000 out of 16,000 enrolled members of Tawwabun assembled at Nukhayla, where their supporters from Madain and Basra yet not arrived. Meanwhile, another 1,000 out of 4,000 had left the field. Thus Suleman led the remaining 3,000 and marched to Karbala to the grave of Hussain, where they mourned. They then proceeded to the village of Qarqisiya, the fifth stage of Karbala, and ultimately reached Ayn al-Warda, and engaged the twenty thousand Umayyad horsemen fiercely, shouting: "Paradise! Paradise! for the Turabites." The battle lasted for three days, in which Suleman bin Surad was killed. Finally, Rifa bin Shaddad, advised the survivors to return, and brought them to Qarqisiya after getting defeat.

An exhaustive scrutiny of the earliest sources suggests that the small number of Tawwabun survived the battle of Ayn al-Warda, went over to Mukhtar and accepted Ibn al-Hanafiya as their Mahdi. These Kufans, who formed the backbone of Mukhtar's movement, called themselves Shi'at-i Mahdi, Shi'at-i Haqq or Shi'at-i Muhammad. Consequently, a sect emerged with the name of Kaysaniya. The power of Mukhtar soon ended by his being killed with the majority of his followers, Kaysaniyas. These sectarians, some of who lived as far away as Khorasan, continued to recognize Ibn al-Hanafiya as their Imam Mahdi, who died in 81/700, who believed in his concealment and return, while the majority accepted the eldest of his sons, Abu Hashim as the next Imam, who himself also claimed to have inherited the scrolls of his father.

Mukhtar Thaqafi appeared in Kufa as a revenger of Imam Hussain's blood. His mission was the same as that of the Tawwabun insofar as the revenge of Imam Hussain's blood, but differed in that he intended to achieve political authority. Mukhtar, therefore, tried to persuade the Tawwabun not to take any hasty action and to join him for a better success. The Tawwabun refused to join Mukhtar, as they had no wish to participate in any doubtful adventure. Mukhtar then turned to Imam Zayn al-Abidin to seek his support. Baladhuri writes in Ansab al-Ashraf (5:272) that, "Mukhtar wrote to Imam Zayn al-Abidin to show his loyalty to him, asking if he could rally the Kufans for him. He sent with the letter a large sum of money. Imam refused this offer and declared Mukhtar publicly to be a liar who was trying to exploit the cause of Ahl al-Bayt for his own interest." Mukhtar then turned to Ibn al- Hanafiya, the third son of Ali from a Hanafite woman. On his part, Ibn al-Hanafiya did not repudiate Mukhtar's propaganda for his Messianic role, he nevertheless, maintained a non-committal attitude and never raised his claims to the heritage of Imam Hussain. In the event, however, the hesitation and political inactivity of Ibn al-Hanafiya emboldened Mukhtar more and more to exploit his name for his own interest. Mukhtar propagated that Ibn al-Hanafiya was the Mahdi, and he himself was his minister (vizir) and commander (amir).

Abdullah bin Zubayr proclaimed his caliphate in 61/680 and established his power in Iraq, southern Arabia and in the greater part of Syria. One week after Mukhtar's arrival in Kufa, Abdullah bin Zubayr sent Abdullah bin Yazid al-Khatmi as governor of Kufa. While, after the departure of Suleman bin Surad, Mukhtar's activities aroused the suspicions of the nobles of Kufa, who reported the new governor to warn him against the movement, saying that it was more dangerous that of Suleman bin Surad, for Mukhtar wanted to revolt against the governor in his own city. Mukhtar was hence imprisoned, where he remained until the return of the remnant of Suleman bin Surad's followers from the battle of Ayn al-Warda. He was however released only after the request of his brother-in-law, Abdullah bin Umar and other ten influential men, on the condition that he would not engage in any subversive activities against the governor of Kufa as long as he was in power. Abdullah bin Zubayr, considering Mukhtar's movement dangerous, appointed a new governor for Kufa, Abdullah bin Muti in 65/685. Meanwhile, Mukhtar became enough capable and began to prepare to seize Kufa in 66/685. He stationed near Dair Hind in the Sabkha, and his army contained about five hundred soldiers. To counter him, the governor sent Shabath bin Rabi al-Tamimi with three thousand soldiers to Sabkha, and Rashid bin Iyas with four thousand soldiers from Shurta. Mukhtar sent his nine hundred men in command of Ibrahim to meet Rashid, and three hundred men in command of Nuaim bin Hubaira against Shabath. In this battles, Mukhtar succeeded and captured Kufa. Nevertheless, the circumstances eventually changed when Abdullah bin Zubayr proclaimed himself caliph in 64/683, Ibn al-Hanafiya and Abdullah bin Abbas, with their followers, refused to pay him homage on the grounds that he had not yet been unanimously recognized as caliph. In 66/685, Abdullah bin Zubayr detained Ibn al-Hanafiya and his family and threatened them with death if they did not pay homage within a specified time. Ibn al-Hanafiya sent a letter to Mukhtar, apprising him of his perilous condition. Thus, Mukhtar marshalled out four thousand men and managed to liberate to Ibn al-Hanafiya, who left Mecca for Taif. In 67/686, Mukhtar subdued Ibn Ziyad and killed him. At length, Kufa was brought under an incursion by Musab bin Zubayr with a huge army, in which Mukhtar was killed in 67/ 687. On the other hand, Abdullah bin Zubayr was killed in a battle against Hajjaj bin Yousuf in 73/692 after ruling for almost nine years.

Imam Zayn al-Abidin died in 94/713. He had seven wives by which he had 11 sons and 4 daughters. His first wife was Fatima bint Hasan bin Ali, who gave birth of Muhammad al-Bakir. His other sons were Abdullah, Zaid, Umar, Hasan, Hussain Akbar, Hussain Asghar, Abdur Rahman, Suleman, Ali Jawad and Asghar. His daughters were Khadija, Fatima, Umm Kulsum and Aliya.

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