The light of the existence of the third Imam, Imam Hussain (peace be upon him), has cast its rays and enlightened and brightened the hearts of Muslims for centuries. It is a tragedy in and of itself that we only recall Imam Hussain’s greatness in the context of the tragic events of Ashura. Indeed, the magnitude of the life of Imam Hussain demands we study his upbringing and sublime morality so that humanity benefits from both his life and martyrdom.
The Blessed Birth of Shaban
In countless narrations, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his household) has mentioned the merits of the holy month of Shaban. Due to the immense blessings and great worship found in the month, the Holy Prophet said, “Shaban is my month and Ramadan is the month of the Muslim nation.” It is therefore befitting that the Prince of the Hashemites Imam Hussain was born on the third day of Shaban in the year 5 A.H. He was after all born into the house that built Islam.
Shaikh al-Saduq narrates Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) as saying that when Imam Hussain was born, Allah commanded the angel Gabriel to descend upon the earth with a thousand angels and congratulate the Prophet on His behalf and himself. Gabriel descended and on the way he passed by an island where an angel named Fitrus, who was a bearer of the Arsh, lay banished. Allah had once assigned a job to Fitrus, who delayed it due to laziness; hence Allah took away his wings and expelled him to the island. Fitrus worshipped Allah there for seven hundred years until the time Imam Hussain was born.
When Fitrus saw Gabriel, he inquired as to where was he going. Gabriel answered that, “Allah, the Exalted, has bestowed His Blessings (Imam Hussain) upon Muhammad; thus, Allah has commanded me to go and congratulate him on His behalf and myself.” Fitrus said, “Then O Gabriel, take me too along with you to the presence of the Prophet; perhaps he might pray for me.”
Gabriel lifted him up and brought him to the Holy Prophet. When he reached there, he offered congratulations to him on behalf of Allah and himself. Then he presented the matter of Fitrus. The Prophet commanded Fitrus to touch himself with the body of Imam Hussain and arise. Fitrus did so and ascended upwards saying, “O Prophet of Allah! This son of yours will be mercilessly killed by your nation. Therefore it is incumbent upon me in exchange of this favor that I recompense. Hence there is no person who visits his grave except that I receive him, and there is no Muslim who offers salutations to him or who prays for him except that I take it to his presence and carry his message.”
Saying this Fitrus flew away. In another narrative, it is related that Fitrus flew away saying, “Who is similar to me? For I am a freed one of Hussain, the son of Ali and Fatima, whose Grandfather is Ahmad.” (Nafasul Mahmum)
The Paragon of Noble Men
Imam Hussain’s esteemed personality is an entire school that if studied and pondered upon can lead society into unprecedented virtue and perfection. The knowledge held by Imam Hussain was unrivaled by both his allies and foes. He was by all measurements an unsurpassed scholar of the Holy Qur’an, exegesis, and traditions. Imam Hussain upheld the image of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) being the foundation and vessels of knowledge among the Muslim world. Indeed, he continued the legacy of his father Imam Ali, who was declared as the “Gateway to the City of Knowledge” by the Prophet. Indeed, the scholars are in agreements that Imam Hussain was the most accomplished one of the people in knowledge and recognition of the Holy Qur’an and Examples of the Prophet Muhammad. (Al-Kawaakibut Durriya)
The third Imam had purposefully selected the mosque of his Grandfather as his school. His knowledge was clearly demonstrated as he taught and explained concepts and meanings of religious jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, traditional reports, and ethics and morals. Even his enemies flocked to his sermons in order to witness and gain from the training the Imam obtained from his father and grandfather, who were undeniably the leaders of Islam in all dimensions. In one particular incident, Muawiya arrived in Medina and requested that Imam Hussain give a sermon in hopes that the Imam would praise him. Instead, Imam Hussain reaffirmed the lofty position of the Prophet’s Household before God and the Muslims, “People, know that we are that divine group which is going to be victorious over the deviated people. We are the progeny of the Prophet and his closest relatives. We are his purified and clean Ahlul Bayt and one of the two weighty things. The Messenger of Allah has referred to us as the second book of Allah; it is the book having details about everything. Neither falsehood is before it or after it. We are the ones who know its interpretation and explanation. Its realities are hidden in our hearts. Our obedience is obligatory. Our obedience is connected to the obedience of Allah. Ask us whatever you want to ask about the Holy Quran. We are the shoreless oceans of sciences.” (Akhlaq-e-Aimma)
Just as the Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali had lived simple and extremely humble lifestyles, Imam Hussain too was free from the material wants of the world. He continuously gave up his belongings to the poor and destitute. On one occasion, the Imam received money from the public treasury. He stood in the street waiting for those in poverty and the orphans to pass by so that he could give the money to them. Someone said to the Imam, “O Son of the Messenger, your cloak is patched at many places, why don’t you take some money from this amount and buy a new cloak?” The Imam replied, “This is sufficient for me.”
The Leader of the Pious Worshippers
No one can claim piety without becoming familiar with the sincere devotion displayed by Imam Hussain. He provides Muslims with innumerable lessons on gaining proximity to God. Imam Hussain went to Hajj 25 times on foot, despite having more comfortable travel arrangements at his disposal. At Hajj, he held the black stone and pleaded to God saying, “O my Lord! You Bestowed favor on me and did not find me thankful. And You tested me and did not find me patient. Yet neither You took away the bounties due to thanklessness nor You continued to send difficulties due to my lack of patience. O my Lord! Nothing but kindness comes from the kind one…” (Al-Kawaakibut Durriya)
Great and sincere was the love and fear held by Imam Hussain towards God. His obedience was clear to those who came across him, and one of his companions asked the Imam, “How great is your fear of Allah?” The Imam replied, “On the Day of Judgment, no one will be secure except those who feared Allah in the world…” (Ayan al-Shia)
The Legacy of an Imam
Imam Hussain’s character and actions were a manifestation of his rightful title as an Imam and religious guide. His qualities are presented in the many titles given to him by the Prophet, who was aware of the radiance of piety and nobility stemming from his grandson. The second and third Imams are the Chiefs of the Youths of Paradise, according to Prophet Muhammad. Following Imam Hussain’s sacrifices in the blood-soaked plains of Karbala on the tenth of Muharram in the year 61 AH, he has come to eternally be known as Sayyid ash-Shuhada (the Leader of the Martyrs).