Brief about Imam Zainul Abideen by Muzzaffer Alidina
The fourth Imam of the Shi’a was born in Madina, in the year of 38 A.H. Named after his grandfather; he was brought up under the guise of his Uncle Imam Hasan (a.s) and his father Imam Hussain (a.s).
From his birth, Ali ibn Hussain was given the title Bin al Khiyaratayn, or the son of the best two because of the intertwining of two fairly distinct cultures. His mother was Bibi Sheherbanoo, or Shazanane, who was the daughter of Yazdegard, the last Sasanian king of Persia. And of course from his father’s side, he was an Arab. Hence, he was a Qurayshi among Arabs and a Persian among non-Arabs. To those who know the story of the mother of Imam Mehdi (a.t.f.s), the story of Bibi Sheherbanoo sends some reverberations. A princess in her own right, Bibi Sheherbanoo is narrated to have been brought as a captive to Madina during the rule of the Caliph Umr, who had decided on selling her. However, under the instructions of Imam Ali (a.s) she was offered her choice of Muslim men as a husband, and she picked Imam Hussein (a.s).
The story is quite similar to that of our awaited Imam, and it brings to us a few lessons of note. Quite contrary to present-day opinion, our third Imam was involved in a cross-cultural marriage, much like a few of our later Imams. And the actions of our first Imam managed to kill two birds with one stone. Not only did Imam Ali (a.s) encourage the removal of slavery, but he also allowed a woman to choose her own spouse.
Under Umayyad rule, the Caliph at the time was Hisham ibn Abdul Malik. With a convoy from Syria, he once visited Mecca to perform Hajj. It is narrated that Hisham tried to come close to the Black Stone (Hijr-ul-Aswad) but everytime was overcrowded. As he waiting on a pulpit for the masses to leave, he saw that a man was granted easy access to the Black Stone with great respect. Having kept the legacy of Imam Sajjad quiet to the Syrian people, he sarcastically asked his people, who this is. Fortunately, or unfortunately for him, the poet Farazdaq was nearby. He then famously addressed Hisham with an ode. Here is a short excerpt from it:
It is someone whose footsteps are known by every place
And it is he who is known to the Bayt in Mecca
the most frequented sanctuary;
It is he who is the son of the best of all men of God
and it is he who is the most pious and devout,
the purest and most unstained
the chastest and most righteous
a symbol [for Islam]
This is Ali [b. al Husayn] whose parent is the Prophet
This is the son of Fatima, if you do not know who he is
Whosoever recognizes his God knows also
the primacy and superiority of this man
Because the religion has reached nations
through his House.
We normally hear about our fourth Imam as the one who suffered in Karbala, who lied on a skin in a tent on the night of Ashura. How he was shackled at his feet and throat under horrendous circumstances. How he was humiliated in the Bazaar of Damascus/Sham, and paraded infront of Yazid. But he stood firm, and in very uncertain times, took the reigns of Imamate by the throat. If it were not for the likes of Imam Sajjad and Bibi Zainab, then the message of the Prophet would never have made it to where it is today. Any Muslim will attest to the role of these two individuals in reestablishing the principles of the Ummah as instituted by the Prophet.
One of the very many titles of the fourth Imam is As-Sajjad (the one who constantly prostrates), because of his continuous worship. Interestingly, Imam wrote a number of supplications down and transmitted them to his children Muhammad al Baqir and Zayd. In later days, his supplications and whispered prayers were compiled and titled As Sahifa As Sajjadiya (the book of Sajjad). Some editions of his compiled book also contain the Risalatool Huqooq,(treatise of rights) which deals separately with specific rights of relatives, of actions, of leaders and so on.
The common misconception is that since he was an infallible Imam, he was never required to plead, beg, cry and ask from his Lord. But he did. Of course infallibility is an intrinsic quality of each and every Imam, but the need to implore, and beg traces back to the Prophet. On a shallow level, it is a guide for us, as humans to reach such levels of gratitude. On a much deeper level, it shows the extent of love these individuals have to turn back to their Lord.
Here is a brief excerpt from dua #31, entitled: “his supplication (a.s) in mentioning and asking for repentance”
if remorse is a repentance toward Thee,
then I am the most remorseful of the remorseful!
If refraining from disobedience is a turning back to Thee,
then I am the first of those who turn back!
If praying for forgiveness alleviates sins,
surely I am one of those who pray for Thy forgiveness!
as Thou hast commanded repentance
and guaranteed acceptance,
as Thou hast urged supplication,
and promised to respond,
so also bless Muhammad and his Household,
accept my repentance,
and return me not to the returning place
of disappointment in Thy mercy!
Surely Thou art Ever-turning toward the sinners,
All-compassionate toward the offenders who turn back!
 Sahifa Sajjadiyah, page 3.