Every existence is coupled with signs. These signs are a reflection of its essence. Often times, we follow the signs to reach the existence; other times we start with the existence and seek the signs. The faith of a Muslim is no different and is accompanied by specific signs.
The Qur’an and the narrations of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) point out a variety of signs that we Muslims should not only learn, but also incorporate into our everyday lives. This article will focus on the following narration that lists five signs of the believer: Imam Hasan al-Askari (peace be upon him) says, “[t]he signs of the believer are five: praying fifty-one Rak’at [including mandatory and optional prayers], Ziyarat al-Arba’een, wearing a ring in the right hand, prostration on dirt, and saying ‘Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem‘ in a raised voice.” (Wasa’il ush-Shi’a)
At first glance, one can easily infer that some of the reasons behind these acts being considered signs of a believer include that in some cases they are considered from the Mustahibbaat, and in others cases pay tribute to a representative of Allah.
However, we shall examine these signs from a different perspective and hopefully reach a common intersecting point.
Praying 51 Rak’at
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) says “Prayers is the ascension of the believer.” (Safinat al-Bihar) The person who is in love with Allah and wants to reach Allah will seek the path to Him, and prayer is that path. Prayers include speaking to Allah. Prayers include supplications. Prayers include deepening our beliefs. When prayer is all that and more, the believers will surely want to fulfill their obligatory duties – but they will not stop there as they will want to take advantage of every opportunity to communicate with Allah, and the optional prayer is exactly that: opportunity.
It is the optional prayer that should be the main focus of our examination, as it is already obvious that praying the five mandatory prayers is part of the circle of Islam. For the sake of completeness, the 34 optional Rak’ats are: 2 Rak’ats before Fajr, 8 Rak’ats before Duhr, 8 Rak’ats before Asr, 4 Rak’ats after Maghrib, and 2 Rak’ats from a seated position (thus considered as one) after Isha, and 11 Rak’ats (8 Nafila, 2 Shafa’, 1 Witr) for Salat al-Layl. Along with the 17 Rak’ats of the five mandatory prayers, the total becomes 51 – the count referred to by Imam Hasan al-Askari.
The optional prayers have been emphasized by our Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) on numerous occasions, and for the sake of example, consider that Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) asked Lady Zainab (peace be upon her) to remember him in her night prayers. His emphasis on the night prayers is worth analyzing.
This alone shows the importance of these optional prayers and a true believer will not let this opportunity slip by. But optional prayers go further than that. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) was struck by Ibn Muljim (may Allah remove His mercy from him) on the 19th of Ramadan while the Imam was praying the Nafila of Fajr. When one considers that our beloved Imam was martyred while he was praying the optional prayers, those who love Imam Ali would find it only logical to be like him and follow his ways. It is truly a sign of faith when the person wants to love Allah the way the Imam does, and the optional prayers help reinforce his/her love for the Imam and ultimately for Allah.
According to history, the 20th of Safar is the day Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari (may Allah be pleased with him) visited Imam Hussain – the first Ziyarat (Misbah al-Mutahajjid). It is also the day that the caravan of the Ahlul Bayt returned to Karbala from Damascus. The person who follows the path of Imam Hussain will want to be part of that caravan. The 20th of Safar was emphasized by the Ahlul Bayt due to the tragedy of “returning to Karbala” after the massacre. Visiting Imam Hussain on Arba’een follows in the footsteps of Lady Zainab and Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him). It is a commemoration of the tragedy. Who else will want to bother with the Ziyarat other than those who understand the status of Imam Hussain and the meanings of his revolution – who else other than those who love Imam Hussain, the Prophet, and the Ahlul Bayt? And those who love the Prophet and his holy household are those who love Allah. And whoever loves them follows them. That is the path of every true believer and Imam Hasan al-Askari emphasizes that. It is important to realize that the term “visiting” is not limited to being physically there (although it the best realization of visitation); rather, narrations from the Ahlul Bayt allow the believers to do Ziyarat from a distance. Also, one should not limit the Ziyarat to only one day of the year. In fact, Ziyarat al-Arba’een is to be recited on the 20th of Safar and on other days of the year, independent of whether the believer is physically at Karbala or not. When done regularly, the connection with Imam Hussain and the Ahlul Bayt deepens as the sign of belief shines.
Ring on Right Hand
Symbols are common in today’s world and can be seen in many different political, academic, cultural, professional and other kinds of organizations. During the Battle of Siffin, Amr ibn al-Aas (may Allah remove His mercy from him) set a trend by putting his ring on his left hand and falsely claimed that Imam Ali not be the Imam and the Caliph. The followers of the Umayyid dynasty made it a symbol of remembering that incident by wearing rings on their left hands. Thus, wearing the ring in the right hand goes beyond blessings and rewards. It has become a symbol of following Imam Ali. It is a revolution against those who hate our Imam. And clearly, those who hate and do not follow the Imam have gone astray. On numerous occasions, the Prophet said, “Oh Ali! Only believers will love you and only hypocrites will hate you.” (Sahih al-Tirmidhi).
Prostration on Dirt
The true believer understands that they are nothing without Allah and their pride and ego is to be put aside when connecting with Allah. When the person puts their head on dirt, they are in a position of humility before Allah. Prostration on dirt goes even further as it represents the beginning and end of this life. We began from clay and we will end up buried in dirt. True believers always remember their genesis and their destination. The prostration on dirt is a reminder of that. But the significance of prostration goes even further: when this dirt comes from the holy city of Karbala, then the prostration on dirt takes the believer to a much higher level. It becomes a form of remembering the tragedy of Karbala. It serves as a reminder of how Imam Hussain was left on the blazing desert sands of Karbala for three days. It reminds us of how Shimr (may Allah remove His mercy from him) slaughtered Imam Hussain from the back of his neck while his was on the ground. Indeed, prostration on dirt is a connection between us and Imam Hussain, the Ahlul Bayt and ultimately Allah.
Finally, the topic of saying “Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem” (the Basmala) has been addressed in more detail in the article “In the Name of Allah“. It is enough to quote the following narration by Imam Ali that ties the Basmala to him: “Know that all the secrets in the divine books are in the Qur’an. All that is in the Qur’an is in al-Fatiha. All that is in al-Fatiha is in the Basmala. All that is in the Basmala is in the ‘Baa’ [of ‘Bism’]. All that is in the ‘Baa’ is in the dot under the ‘Baa’. And I am the dot under the ‘Baa’.” (Yanabee al-Mawadda)
The Intersection Point
The completion of the religion of Islam was the Wilaya of Imam Ali and his successors. From the above discussion, it is clear that these signs listed by Imam Hasan al-Askari, in one way or another, lead us back to our infallible Imams. These signs are a source of blessings and they are signs of followers of Prophet Mohammad and his holy family.
In order to be included among those followers, we should start incorporating these signs into our lives. Wear a ring in the right hand – it is such a simple task to make a habit of. Start to pray the optional prayers – the Ghufayla prayer and Salat al-Layl is a great place to begin. Prostrate on a Turba from Karbala, as it is widely practiced by the followers of the Ahlul Bayt, and so is the loud recitation of the Basmala. On the day of Arba’een, the number of visitors to Karbala has exceeded 10 million people and Insh’Allah will continue to increase. We should be putting in the effort not to miss out on these great blessings. Along the way, we should always remember our Imams, especially Imam Ali and Imam Hussain, both of whom these five signs seem to remind us of the most. Let us hold tight onto these signs and let us do our best to be among the true believers, in this world and the Hereafter.