Imam Zain al-‘Abideen(Ali bin Hussain): A concise biography

Imam Zain al-‘Abideen(Ali bin Hussain): A concise biography compiled by Moin.



All praises due to Allah and May His peace and blessings be upon the Last and Final Messenger Muhammad and upon his family and companions.

This concise biography on Imam Zain al-‘Abideen is compiled with the intention to paint a clear picture of him according to authentic Sunni sources, unlike Shi’a authors who generally do not care about authenticity and rather judge a narration based on their own preconceived beliefs. This short biography will make it clear that ‘Ali bin Husain was never a claimant of Imamate as per the concept propounded by Shi’ites.

The source for this compilation is Siyar A’alam an-Nubala of Dhahabi but mostly I have traced the original sources and added other beneficial points which are not in al-Siyar. Herein I have only mentioned those reports which are authentically established and if there is any considerable defect in Isnad then I have pointed it out.


A brief Life-Sketch

He was born around the year 38 AH. His Kunyah was Abul Husain[1] or Abul Hasan or Abu Muhammad[2] or Abu ‘Abdullah.

There is dispute regarding his mother’s name although historians are in agreement that she was Umm al-Walad (meaning a female slave). It is said that she was the princess of Persia, the daughter of Yezdgerd. She was brought as a captive during the caliphate of ‘Umar (ra) when the Persian Empire was conquered and she was given to Husain. It is also said that there were three princess who were given to Abdullah bin ‘Umar, Husain bin ‘Ali and Muhammad bin Abu Bakr. Each of them later on gave birth to the topmost clerics of their time; Salim, ‘Ali and Qasim respectively. The name of the mother of ‘Ali bin Husain is said to be Sallamah Sulafah.[3]

According to others, her name was Ghazalah.[4] In any case, she was Umm al-Walad unlike those who think that Husain manumitted her then married her. Also refer to Mawsu’ah Ahl al-Bayt vol.11 pg.7-11 by the Shi’i author ‘Ali Aashoor.

He has narrated from: His father al-Husain, Safiyyah Umm al-Mu’mineen, Abu Hurairah, ‘Aishah, Abu Rafi’, his uncle Hasan, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas, Umm Salamah, Miswar bin Makhramah, Zainab bint Abi Salamah and others.

Among the Taba’een through whom he has narrated include Marwan bin Hakam, Ibn Abi Rafe’, Sa’eed bin Musayyib, Sa’eed bin Marjanah, Dhakwan mawla ‘Aishah and ‘Amr bin ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan.

He had a ring in which it was transcribed:

الْقُوَّةُ لِلَّهِ جَمِيعًا

“The power is for Allah.”[5] [Qur’an 2:165)]


Zain al-‘Abideen in Karbala

During the Karbala incident, Imam Zain al-‘Abideen was ill and he couldn’t take part in the battle and was spared by Ibn Ziyad’s army. Al-Waqidi said: ‘Ali was with his father (at Karbala) while he was 23 or 24 years old. As for those who say that he was too young to reproduce then how could this opinion be relied on while (we know) his son Abu Ja’far met Jabir bin ‘Abdullah and narrated from him. And Jabir died in the year 78 AH.

Those who were killed along with Husain (ra) at Karbala include:

Four of Husain’s brothers: Ja’afar, ‘Ateeq, Muhammad, ‘Abbas al-Akbar; His sons ‘Ali and ‘Abdullah; Qasim son of Hasan bin ‘Ali; ‘Abdullah and ‘Abdur-Rahman sons of Muslim bin ‘Aqeel; Muhammad and ‘Awn sons of ‘Abdullah bin Ja’far.[6]


Zain al-‘Abideen as a hadith narrator

He by the unanimous agreement of scholars was a reliable narrator (Thiqah) among the Taba’een. That is why great scholars of hadith have narrated from him. Hence those who have narrated from him include the likes of Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri, Habeeb bin Abi Thabit, Hakam bin ‘Utaibah, Zaid bin Aslam, Abu Hazim Salamah bin Dinar, Abuz-Zinad, Tawus bin Kaisan, ‘Amr bin Dinar, his son Abu Ja’far Muhammad, Hisham bin ‘Urwah, Yahya bin Sa’eed al-Ansari, Abu Salamah bin ‘Abdur-Rahman and many others[7].

His narrations are included in each of the six major books of Hadith.

There is no dispute among scholars regarding his high status as a narrator so much so that some of them have claimed that the most authentic chain of narration is that which is through Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri from ‘Ali bin Husain from his father Husain from ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with them[8]. While Al-Bazzar said that the Isnad of ‘Ali bin Husain from Sa’eed bin al-Musayyib from Sa’d is the most authentic Isnad through Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas.[9]


‘Ali bin Husain as a Jurist

There is no doubt that Zain al-‘Abideen was amongst the topmost jurists of his time. An-Nasai lists the Jurists of Madinah among Taba’in as follows:

They were: Sa’eed bin al-Musayyib, ‘Urwah bin Zubair, Abu Salamah bin ‘Abdur-Rahman, ‘Ubaidullah bin ‘Abdullah bin ‘Utbah, Sulaiman bin Yasar, Kharijah bin Zaid bin Thabit, Abu Bakr bin ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham, ‘Ali bin Husain, Qasim bin Muhammad bin Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, Salim bin ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar, Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin ‘Ali and ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz. [Tasmiyah Fuqaha al-Amsar (p.126-127)]

All these Taba’een were the topmost scholars of their time in the blessed city of Madinah as listed by Imam Nasai. That is why we see their opinions being narrated and quoted in books written on the disagreement of Jurists.

Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri, who himself was a great scholar, said about ‘Ali bin Husain: “I have not seen anyone more intelligent than him.”

Ibn Hibban said in “Ath-Thiqat” (5/160), “He was from the Clerics of Madinah…”


A Fabricated Report in his praise

Ibn ‘Asakir reports in Tarikh Dimashq and Ibn Al-Jawzi in Al-Mawdu’at (2/44) through Muhammad bin Zakariyyah al-Ghulabi who said: Ibrahim bin Bashshar narrated us from Sufyan bin ‘Uyainah from Abuz Zubair al-Makki from Jabir bin ‘Abdullah (ra) in a long narration in which the Messenger of Allah(sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said regarding Husain(ra):

“…This son of mine will have a son by the name ‘Ali. On the Day of Resurrection a caller will call, “The leader of worshippers should stand.” Then he will stand up…”

Ibn al-Jawzi, As-Suyuti, Ibn ‘Araq, Al-Shawkani and others included this hadith in the compendium of fabricated narrations. [Al-Mawdu’at (2/44-45), Al-La’ali al-Masnu’ah (1/413), Tanzih ash-Shari’a (1/415)]

They and Al-Dhahabi accused Muhammad bin Zakariyah Al-Ghulabi of fabricating it. [Talkhees al-Mawdu’at (pg.158)]


His worship and charity

Imam ‘Ali bin Husain was well known for his worship so much so that he was given the title of Zain al-‘Abideen, Sayyid al-‘Abideen, Dhu Ath-Thafinat[10] etc. It is said that it was Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri who used to call him Zain al-‘Abideen.

Ibn sa’d (5/167) and Abu Nu’aym in “AL-Hilyah” (3/133) narrate through ‘Ali bin Muhammad al-Qarshi from ‘Abdullah bin Abi Sulaiman that he said:

كَانَ عَلِيُّ بنُ الحُسَيْنِ إِذَا مَشَى لاَ تُجَاوِزُ يَدُهُ فَخِذَيْهِ، وَلاَ يَخْطِرُ بِهَا، وَإِذَا قَامَ إِلَى الصَّلاَةِ، أَخَذَتْهُ رِعْدَةٌ. فَقِيْلَ لَهُ، فَقَالَ: تَدْرُوْنَ بَيْنَ يَدَيْ مَنْ أَقُوْمُ وَمَنْ أُنَاجِي

“When ‘Ali bin Husain walks, his hands would not cross his thighs nor would he move his hands (back and forth as he walks). When he would stand for prayer he’d start trembling. He was asked about it so he responded, “Do you know in front of whom I am standing and with whom I am communicating?”

Ibn ‘Asakir (41/378) through Mus’ab bin ‘Abdullah that Imam Malik reports:

“When ‘Ali bin Husain put on the Ihram for Hajj and intended to recite the Talbiyah he fainted and fell from his camel injuring himself. It has reached me that he used to offer a thousand Rak’ah in a day and night and he continued this practice till he died. He was called in Madinah Zain al-‘Abideen.”

The same has been reported through Jabir al-Ju’fi from Ja’far as-Sadiq and Abu Hamza Ath-Thumali. [Siyar (4/392)]

Hafiz Mughaltay quotes from the book of Ibn Khalfun through Sufyan from Az-Zuhri who said: I have not seen a worshipper like ‘Ali bin Husain. He would often pray until his nose would hurt.[11]

The famous Taba’i Ta’us bin Kaisan (d.106 AH) said:

سَمِعْتُ عَلِيَّ بنَ الحُسَيْنِ وَهُوَ سَاجِدٌ فِي الحِجْرِ يَقُوْلُ: عُبَيْدُكَ بِفِنَائِكَ، مِسْكِيْنُكَ بِفِنَائِكَ، سَائِلُكَ بِفِنَائِكَ، فَقِيْرُكَ بِفِنَائِكَ. قَالَ: فَوَاللهِ مَا دَعَوْتُ بِهِ فِي كَرْبٍ قَطُّ، إِلاَّ كُشِفَ عَنِّي

“I heard ‘Ali bin Husain while he was in prostration in his room saying: ‘Your servant in your court, your needy in your court, your seeker in your court, your destitute in your shelter.’
Ta’us said: ‘Never did I supplicate with it in a calamity except it was removed from me’.”[12]

Muhammad bin Ishaq said:

كَانَ نَاسٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ المَدِيْنَةِ يَعِيْشُوْنَ لاَ يَدْرُوْنَ مِنْ أَيْنَ كَانَ مَعَاشُهُم، فَلَمَّا مَاتَ عَلِيُّ بنُ الحُسَيْنِ، فَقَدُوا ذَلِكَ الَّذِي كَانُوا يُؤْتَوْنَ بِاللَّيْلِ

“People from the inhabitants of Madinah used to live without knowing from where their livelihood comes. When Ali bin Husain died they lacked that which they used to receive at night.”

Jareer reports that ‘Amr bin Thabit said: While giving a bath to ‘Ali bin Husain after his death they saw black marks on his back. So they asked, ‘What is this?’ They were told, ‘He used to carry food on his back during night giving it to the poor of Madinah.’[13]

Similar thing was reported by Abu Hamza Ath-Thumali.

Shaibah bin Na’amah said: ‘Ali bin Husain would show stinginess. When ‘Ali (Zain al-‘Abideen) died they found that he used to take care of a hundred houses in Madinah. It was reported in Az-Zuhd (922) by ‘Abdullah bin Ahmad.

Hafiz Dhahabi adds: This is why he would show misery with money because he used to spend it secretly. His household would think that he stores money. Some of them said: We did not miss the night charity until the death of ‘Ali. See Siyar A’alam an-Nubala (4/394)

Waqid bin Muhammad al-‘Umari reports from Sa’eed bin Marjanah that when he narrated to ‘Ali bin Husain the hadith of Abu Hurairah ((Anyone who manumits a Muslim slave, Allah will save from the Fire every part of his body for freeing the corresponding parts of the slave’s body, even his private parts because of freeing the slave’s private parts)). ‘Ali bin Husain manumitted his slave whom he bought from ‘Abdullah bin Ja’far for ten thousand Dirhams. [Sahih Bukhari (2517)]

Interestingly this hadith of Abu Hurairah is in Sahih Bukhari and Muslim and ‘Ali bin Husain has narrated this from Sa’eed bin Marjanah from Abu Hurairah. Zaid bin Aslam narrates it from Zain al-‘Abideen.

Abu Nu’aym relates in Al-Hilyah (3/141) through Hatim bin Abi Sagheerah, he relates from ‘Amr bin Dinar that while Muhammad bin Usamah bin Zaid was ill ‘Ali bin Husain visited him. So he (Muhammad) started crying. ‘Ali asked, “What is the issue with you?” He said, “I have debit on me.” ‘Ali asked, “How much?” He said, “Fifteen thousand Dinars.” ‘Ali said, “It is on me now.”


His humility and character

Abdur-Razzaq As-San’ani (d.211 AH) said: A slave-girl of ‘Ali bin Husain was pouring water on him while he was preparing for Salaat. Accidently the jug slipped from her hands and fell on his face causing his face to be injured. He raised his sight towards her in anger. She recited ((Those who restrain anger)). He said to her: ‘I have restrained my anger’. She then recited ((…who pardon people)). He said: ‘I have forgiven you’. She further recited ((…And Allah loves the doer of good)). He said: ‘Go now you are free’.

Ibn Sa’d reports in Tabaqat (5/164) through Nasr bin Aus At-Ta’i – Thiqah – who said: I came to ‘Ali bin Husain so he asked me, “Where do you hail from?” I replied, “From Tayyi’.” He said, “May Allah make you live and May Allah make the people you attribute towards live.” I said, “Who are you?” He said, “I am ‘Ali bin Husain.” I asked, “Wasn’t he killed with his father?” He said, “O son, if he was killed you wouldn’t be seeing him.”


Scholar’s praise for him

Ibn Sa’d narrates (5/164) and Ibn ‘Asakir (41/370) through Abu Ishaq from ‘Aizar bin Huraith: I was with Ibn ‘Abbas when ‘Ali bin Husain came to him. So Ibn ‘Abbas then greeted him, “Welcome O beloved and son of the beloved.”

Sufyan bin ‘Uyainah narrates that Imam Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri [d.125 AH] said regarding Imam ‘Ali bin Husain:

وَمَا رَأَيْتُ أَحَداً كَانَ أَفْقَهَ مِنْهُ

“I have not seen anyone more intelligent than him.”

The same statement has been reported from Abu Hazim al-Madani.

Ma’mar narrates that Az-Zuhri said regarding him:

لَمْ أُدْرِكْ مِنْ أَهْلِ البَيْتِ أَفَضْلَ مِنْ عَلِيِّ بنِ الحُسَيْنِ

“I have not found anyone among Ahlul Bayt better than ‘Ali bin Husain”

Al-Fasawi reports in his Tarikh (1/544) through ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Zaid from his father Zaid bin Aslam [d.136] said:

مَا رَأَيْتُ فِيْهِم مِثْلَ عَلِيِّ بنِ الحُسَيْنِ

“I have not seen among them anyone like ‘Ali bin Husain.”

Ibn ‘Asakir (41/373) also reports it through Husain bin ‘Ali from Waleed bin ‘Ali al-Ju’fi from Zaid bin Aslam.

Abu Nu’aym reports in “Al-Hilyah” (3/141) and Ibn ‘Asakir (41/373) through ‘Abdul-‘Aziz Ibn Abi Hazim from his father Imam Abu Hazim Salmah bin Dinar that he said: “I have not seen any Hashimite better than ‘Ali bin Husain.”

Similar statement have been reported from Yahya bin Sa’eed al-Ansari [d.144 AH] and Malik [d.179].

Hafiz Dhahabi said: “He was a Sayyid, the Imam, Zain al-‘Abideen.”

Ibn Hibban said: He was from the Jurists among Ahlul Bayt, a pious man from Bani Hashim and among the (famous) worshippers at Madinah. [Mashahir ‘Ulama la-Amsar (p.104)]


Couplets of Farazdaq

It is said that when Hisham bin ‘Abdul Malik came to Hajj and saw people were gathered around ‘Ali bin Husain, he asked about it as he did not recognize him. It was during this incident the famous poet Farazdaq said the following couplets. Hafiz Mughaltay has denied that these couplets were said regarding Zain al-Aabideen but his argument for such a claim are not strong enough to accept according to me. This poem is present with different additions and subtraction but I have translated only the portion quoted by Hafiz Dhahabi in his Siyar. Here are the couplets with translation:

هَذَا الَّذِي تَعْرِفُ البَطْحَاءُ وَطْأَتَهُ وَالبَيْتُ يَعْرِفُهُ وَالحِلُّ وَالحَرَمُ

هَذَا ابْنُ خَيْرِ عِبَادِ اللهِ كُلِّهِمِ هَذَا التَّقِيُّ النَّقِيُّ الطَّاهِرُ العَلَمُ

إِذَا رَأَتْهُ قُرَيْشٌ قَالَ قَائِلُهَا: إِلَى مَكَارِمِ هَذَا يَنْتَهِي الكَرَمُ

يَكَادُ يُمْسِكُهُ عِرْفَانُ رَاحَتِهِ رُكْنَ الحَطِيْمِ إِذَا مَا جَاءَ يَسْتَلِمُ

يُغْضِي حَيَاءً، وَيُغْضَى مِنْ مَهَابَتِهِ فَمَا يُكَلَّمُ إِلاَّ حِيْنَ يَبْتَسِمُ

   هَذَا ابْنُ فَاطِمَةٍ إِنْ كُنْتَ جَاهِلَهُ بِجَدِّهِ أَنْبِيَاءُ اللهِ قَدْ خُتِمُوا


This is one whom the earth knows well his footsteps. The House, the permitted and the sacred lands know him as well.

This is the son of the best of Allah’s servants ever. He is the Pious, the pure, the chaste and the icon.

When Quraish saw him, one of them said ‘To his generosity the generosity ends’.

The pillar of Hateem almost stopped him when he came to touch it.

He lowers his gaze due to his shyness while others lower their gaze owing to their reverence for him. He never speaks except while smiling.

This is the son of Fatimah if you are unaware of him. The prophets of Allah have ended with his Grandfather.


His death and the Year of clerics

He died in the year 94 and his age then was 56. He was buried in the Baqi’ graveyard in Madeenah.

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said: Abu Bakr bin ‘Abdur-Rahman, ‘Ali bin Husain, Sa’eed bin Musayyib and ‘Urwah bin Zubair died in the year 94. This year was known as the year of clerics [Sanat-ul-Fuqaha’]. [Ma’rifat al-‘Ilal (3/471)]

He had children by the name Hasan, Husain, Muhammad al-Baqir, ‘Abdullah, Zaid, ‘Umar, ‘Ali, Muhammad al-Awsat, Abdur-Rahman, Husain As-Sagheer and Qasim.


His beliefs

Qur’an word of Allah:

Ibn Abi Dhi’b narrates from Az-Zuhri that he asked ‘Ali bin Husain regarding Qur’an so he said, “It is the book of Allah and His words.”

This is a good example of early opinion of salaf regarding Qur’an. Qur’an is the book of Allah and His word and this was the opinion of each and every reliable scholar unlike the innovators who believed in the created nature of our Qur’an. To them al-Qur’an is not the word (Kalam) of Allah in the real sense. This view was invented by Ja’d b. Dirham and propagated by Jahm bin Safwan. From them it spread among Mu’tazila and Shia. Ma’moon enforced this among scholars and threatened them. Some accepted his call under pressure while others stood firmly on Sunnah.

His rejection of exaggeration in praise of Ahlul Bayt:

‘Ali Zain al-‘Abideen said:

يَاأَهْلَ الْعِرَاقِ، حِبُّونَا حُبَّ الْإِسْلَامِ، فَوَاللَّهِ إِنْ زَالَ بِنَا حُبُّكُمْ حَتَّى صَارَ عَلَيْنَا شَيْنًا

“O people of ‘Iraq! O people of Kufa! Love us the love of Islam. By Allah your love remains with us until it turns out to be a blame on us.”

This saying was reported by Yahya bin Sa’eed al-Ansari from Zain al-‘Abideen. See, Hilyat al-Awliya (3/136), As-Sunnah (996) by Ibn Abi ‘Aasim, As-Sunnah (996) by Abu Bakr al-Khallal etc.

This was also reported by Khalaf bin Hawshib from Zain al-‘Abideen as in Hilyah (3/137) in which he is reported to have said at the end, “…And do not raise us above our status.”

Ibn Sa’d (5/165) reports through Sufyan from Ubaidullah bin Abdur-Rahman bin Mawhib that a group of people came to ‘Ali bin Husain and praised him highly. So ‘Ali bin Husain said, “What great liars you are and how bold are you on Allah! We are from the righteous of our community. And it is sufficient for us that we are from the righteous of our community.”

Abu Bakr and ‘Umar

‘Abdullah bin Imam Ahmad narrates in Musnad (16709) and Fada’il (223), Al-Lalkai in As-Sunnah (2460), Al-Bayhaqi in “Al-I’itiqad (pages 510-511) and Ibn ‘Asakir (44/388) ‘Abdul ‘Aziz bin Abi Hazim from Imam Abu Hazim al-Madani who said:

“I have not seen a Hashimite more intelligent than ‘Ali bin Husain. I heard him while he was asked, ‘What was the position of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar near the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam)?’ He indicated towards the grave and said, ‘Similar to their position from him at this moment’.” See Tahdheeb al-Kamal (20/393) by Al-Mizzi and Siyar (4/394) by Al-Dhahabi.
This narration has also been reported through Sufyan bin ‘Uyainah from ‘Ali bin Husain.

Ad-Darqutni in Fadail As-Sahabah (60), Al-‘Ashari in Fadail As-Siddiq (52) and Ibn ‘Asakir (41/389) throug Yahya bin Katheer from Ja’far bin Muhammad from his father Al-Baqir:
A person came to my father and said, ‘Tell me about Abu Bakr?’ He said, ‘You are asking regarding the Siddiq?’ The person said, ‘You are calling him Siddiq?’ He said, ‘May your mother lose you! He was named As-Siddiq by the one who was better than me – the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) the migrants and Ansar. So anyone who does not call him Siddiq, May Allah not affirm his statement. Go love and befriend Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, and if anything happens then it is on my neck.’
Also see Tahdheeb al-Kamal (20/393-394) and Siyar (4/395).


Clarification regarding Tafdeel

Ibn ‘Asakir (30/359) (42/153) narrates through Hakeem bin Jubair that he said to ‘Ali bin Husain: I bear witness that ‘Abd Khair informed me that ‘Ali (ra) said on this Minbar, “The best of this Ummah after its Prophet is Abu Bakr and then ‘Umar. If you wish I can tell you about the third one” Hakeem said: ‘Ali bin Husain hit on my thigh and said, “Sa’eed bin Musayyib informed me that Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas said to him that he heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) saying to ‘Ali: ‘Your similitude to me is like that of Harun to Musa.’ ‘Ali bin Husain said, “A believer keeps himself low.”

This indicates that according to ‘Ali bin Husain his grandfather ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (ra) was the most superior among companions. However this tradition is weak due to its main narrator Hakeem bin Jubair. Imam Ahmad said, “He was Da’eef and Munkar al-Hadith.” Ad-Darqutni declared him Matrook. Bukhari said in Tarikh: Yahya and Ibn Mahdi abandoned his hadith. Shu’bah used to speak against him.
Ibn Ma’eed and Nasai declared him weak. See At-Tarikh al-Kabeer (65), Ikmal Tahdheeb al-Kamal (4/116-117), Al-Kamil (2/505-512) etc.

After narrating this in his Tarikh (30/359), Ibn ‘Asakir says, “The hadith of Sa’eed bin Musayyib from Sa’d is authentic but the interpretation of ‘Ali bin Husain is incorrect. The similarity drawn between ‘Ali and Harun is when (the Prophet) left ‘Ali while leaving for Tabuk just as Musa left Harun when he was going to talk with his Lord. So people spoke against ‘Ali which he disliked. So to purify his heart the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said it. As for the case of Tafdheel then it is taken from other narrations.”

I say: Attributing this opinion to ‘Ali bin Husain is not correct for the reason mentioned earlier. And Allah knows best.


The case of Mukhtar Ath-Thaqafi:

Ibn Sa’d reports in Tabaqat (5/164) through ‘Isa bin Dinar who said: I asked Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir) regarding Mukhtar Ath-Thaqafi. He said, ‘My father stood by the door of Ka’bah and cursed Mukhtar. He was asked, ‘He was slaughtered for your sake and you curse him?’ He said, ‘He used to lie on Allah and His Messenger (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).’


Praying behind rulers

Ibn Sa’d (5/164) narrates through Abu Isra’eel from Hakam from Abu Ja’far who said: We pray behind them without Taqiyyah and I testify over ‘Ali bin Husain that he used to pray behind them without Taqiyyah.

Abu Israeel is weak but truthful. He was a Shi’i. Refer to Tahdheeb al-Kamal.


Seeking knowledge from other than Ahlul Bayt

It has been already notified that Imam Zain al-‘Abideen would seek knowledge from each and every reliable person who had it. Hence those from whom he took knowledge include the likes of Mothers of believers Um Salamah, Safiyah, ‘Aishah, then Abu Hurairah, Ibn ‘Abbas. And among the Tab’een Sa’eed bin Musayyib, Ibn Abi Rafe’, ‘Amr bin ‘Uthman and others. It clearly proves that according to him the knowledge is not necessarily taken from the household of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi sallam). It also proves that during his time ‘Ali bin Husain never claimed to be an Imam because if he was then he wouldn’t be seeking knowledge from others.

‘Abdullah bin Muhammad bin ‘Aqeel said that ‘Ali bin Husain sent him to Rubayyi’ bint Mu’awwidh to ask her regarding the ablution of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). It was reported by Al-Baihaqi in As-Sunan al-Kabeer (340).

Ibn Sa’d record in Tabaqat (5/166) and Abu Zur’ah Ad-Dimashqi in Tarikh (p.406) with authentic Isnad through Malik who said:

مَالِكُ بْنُ أَنَسٍ قَالَ: جَاءَ عَلِيُّ بْنُ حُسَيْنِ بْنِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي طَالِبٍ إِلَى عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُتْبَةَ بن مَسْعُودٍ يَسْأَلُهُ عَنْ بَعْضِ الشَّيْءِ وَأَصْحَابُهُ عِنْدَهُ وَهُوَ يُصَلِّي. فَجَلَسَ حَتَّى فَرَغَ مِنْ صَلاتِهِ ثُمَّ أَقْبَلَ عَلَيْهِ عُبَيْدُ اللَّهِ فَقَالَ أَصْحَابُهُ: أَمْتَعَ اللَّهُ بِكَ. جَاءَكَ هَذَا الرَّجُلُ وَهُوَ ابْنُ ابْنَةِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ وَفِي مَوْضِعِهِ يَسْأَلُكَ عَنْ بَعْضِ الشَّيْءِ فَلَوْ أَقْبَلْتَ عَلَيْهِ فَقَضَيْتَ حَاجَتَهُ ثُمَّ أَقْبَلَتْ عَلَى مَا أَنْتَ فِيهِ. فَقَالَ عُبَيْدُ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ: أَيْهَاتِ! لا بُدَّ لِمَنْ طَلَبَ هَذَا الشَّأْنَ مِنْ أَنْ يَتَعَنَّى

‘Ali bin Husain came to ‘Ubaidullah bin Abdullah bin ‘Utbah bin Mas’ud to seek answer about something. His [‘Ubaidullah’s] companions were there and he was in prayer. So he sat until he completed his prayers. Then ‘Uaidullah came towards him so his companions said to him, “May Allah benefit us through you. This person who is the son of the daughter of the Messenger of Allah, and he has his status, came to you asking about something. So it would have been better if you had fulfilled his need and then continued with your work.” So ‘Ubaidullah said, “Anyone who looks into this matter must bear hardship.” –

Ya’qoob al-Fasawi records in “Al-Ma’rifah” (1/545) and Ibn ‘Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq (41/368) through Ibn Wahb who narrates from Imam Malik who said: Nafi’ bin Jubair said to ‘Ali bin Husain, “You sit with people who are not like us (in status)?” ‘Ali bin Husain said, “I sit with those who benefit me in my religion.” Nafi’ bin Jubair was a person who used to dislike it while ‘Ali bin Husain was a virtuous man. Then Imam Malik mentioned the incident with ‘Ubaidullah bin ‘Utbah.

‘Abdur-Rahman bin Ardak mentioned in his report that it was Zaid bin Aslam whom ‘Ali bin Husain used to sit with and to which Nafi’ bin Jubair objected. [Tarikh Dimashq (41/369)]

Ibn Sa’d narrates in Tabaqat (5/166-167) through Mas’ud bin Malik that ‘Ali bin Husain once asked him, ‘How is Sa’eed bin Jubair?’ He replied, ‘He is pious.’ He said, ‘He is the person who would pass by us and we would ask him regarding Fara’idh and issues through which Allah would benefit us. Indeed we do not have which these people accuse us of.’ He then indicated with his hand towards ‘Iraq.

Ibn ‘Asakir (41/369) through Jareer from A’amash from Mas’ud bin Malik that ‘Ali bin Husain said to him, “Are you able to fix a meeting between me and Sa’eed (bin Jubair)?” He said, “What is your need with him?” ‘Ali bin Husain said, “There are a few things I wanted to ask him. People came to us with things which are not with us.”


‘Ali bin Husain and his son Al-Baqir praying behind Jabir (ra)

Imam Bukhari narrates in Sahih (252) through Abu Ishaq who said Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir) narrated to us that he and his father were with Jabir bin ‘Abdullah and there was a group of people. They asked him regarding bath. He said, “A Saa’ is sufficient for you.” A person said, “It is not sufficient for me.” So Jabir said, “It was sufficient for someone who had more hair than you and who was better than you.” Then he led us in prayer in one cloth.

It is evident from this hadith that ‘Ali bin Husain and his son al-Baqir prayed behind Jabir bin ‘Abdullah. It is clear that Jabir (ra) did not believe in the concept of Imamah neither the father nor the son claimed such a thing. If that had been the case then neither Jabir would have led them as Imam nor would they have prayed behind him.


Marriage of Umm Kulthoom bint ‘Ali (ra) with ‘Umar bin Khattab (ra)

Abu ‘Abdullah al-Hakim narrates in “Al-Mustadrak” (4684) and Al-Bayhaqi in Sunan (13393) through Ja’far bin Muhammad from Abu Ja’far al-Baqir from‘Ali bin Husain who said:

‘Umar bin Khattab proposed to ‘Ali for Umm Kulthum. He said, ‘Marry her to me.’ ‘Ali said, ‘I have left her for my nephew ‘Abdullah bin Ja’far.’ ‘Umar said, ‘Marry her to me for no one is as much in expectation of her case as I am.’ So ‘Ali married him. Then ‘Umar came to the group of immigrants and said, ‘Will you not congratulate me?’ They said, ‘For what O leader of the believers!’ He said, ‘For Umm Kulthum the daughter of ‘Ali and the daughter of Fatimah the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). I have heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) say, “Every lineage and relation will be cut on the Day of Resurrection except my lineage and relations.” So I wished that there be a lineage and relation between me and the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).’
Its narrators are reliable. This is more famous as a report of Abu Ja’far al-Baqir.

In different narrations it says that ‘Ali (ra) asked Hasan and Husain, “Marry your uncle (with her).” They said, “She is from the women who can handle their own affairs.” So ‘Ali became angry. Looking at this Hasan held `Ali’s clothes saying, “There is no patience with your separation O my father.” So they married her to him.
This is reported by At-Tabrani in Al-Awsat (6609) and Al-Bayhaqi in Sunan (13394, 13660) through Hasan bin Hasan bin ‘Ali (ra). However it contains Sufyan bin Wakee’ who is disputed.

The marriage of Umm Kulthoom bint ‘Ali (ra) with ‘Umar (ra) is from those matters which had been passed down as knowledge and reached the status of Tawatur. Such things do not need any Isnad to back up rather this is a thing which could be classed under common knowledge. Those who reject it among Shi’a and some Sufi do so due to their lack of knowledge or their biased with regards to some issues of Fiqh. This was accepted by each and every scholar of the past and no one found it weird until some of the Qadris came with his pseudo-scholarship and denied it calling it impossible. May Allah guide them to the right path.

There is a big list of progeny of Sayyidah Fatimah being married in other families. Hence, Sukainah bint Husain (ra) was married to Mus’ab bin Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas and Fatimah bint Husain was married to ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan.



Ibn Abi Shaibah narrates in Musannaf (16589) and Tabari in Tafseer (13/243-244) through Hafs bin Ghiyath from Ja’far from his father Muhammad bin ‘Ali that ‘Ali bin Husain used to perform ‘Azl and interpret the verse ((And when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their loins, their seed)).

There had been three opinions among scholars regarding ‘Azl which is coitus interruptus[14]:

  1. Unconditional permissibility of ‘Azl. This is the view of Shafi’i.
  2. Permissibility of ‘Azl if the wife agrees. This is the view of majority of scholars.
  3. Prohibition of ‘Azl. This was the opinion of Ibn Hazm Az-Zahiri.

The permissibility is proven from companions like Zaid bin Thabit, Ibn Mas’ud, Ibn ‘Abbas, Jabir, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari. The permissibility is also reported from ‘Umar, ‘Ali among other companions. The disliking of ‘Azl has been reported from Ibn ‘Umar.


Wearing skull cap

Ibn Abi Shaibah (24855) and Ibn Sa’d (5/168) narrates through ‘Abdullah bin Sa’eed bin Abi Hind who said: I saw a white Egyptian cap on ‘Ali bin Husain.


‘Amamah or Turban

Ibn S’ad (5/168) relates through Muhammad bin Hilal who said: I saw ‘Ali bin Husain bin ‘Ali wearing white turban and he used to let the remaining part hang behind his back.


Description of Prophet’s funeral (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam)

Abdur-razzaq (6163) and Ibn Abi Shaibah (11074) through Az-Zuhri from ‘Ali bin Husain that he said: The prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) was shrouded in three clothes one of which was Habir Burd.

Sa’eed bin Musayyib also mentioned Burd in the description of shrouding of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). Ibn ‘Abbas also reportedly said it.

There is dispute regarding the Yemani Burd and Sayyidah ‘Aishah clarified that it was brought for shrouding but then taken back. It was of ‘Abdullah bin Abu Bakr who took it back for his own shrouding but later on he decided to give it in charity. [Refer to Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Jana’iz, Chapter on shrouding of deceased]

Most probably because of this Abu Ja’afar al-Baqir the son of Zain al-‘Abideen, when asked about the type of clothes in which the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) was shrouded, said, “They disagreed over it.” ‘Abdur-Razzaq reported it in Musannaf (6169) through Ibn Juraij who heard it from Al-Baqir. However Al-Baqir himself chose the opinion of his father as in Abdur-Razzaq (6377) and Ibn Abi Shaibah (11048).


Some of his narrations

[1] Shu’bah narrates from Hakam bin ‘Utaibah from ‘Ali bin Husain who narrates from Marwan bin Hakam:

I saw ‘Uthman and ‘Ali. ‘Uthman used to forbid people to perform Hajj at-Tamattu’ and Hajj al-Qiran, and when ‘Ali saw this, he assumed the Ihram for Hajj and ‘Umrah together and said, “Labbaik for ‘Umrah and Hajj together”. ‘Ali said, “I will not leave the practice of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) on the saying of someone.”

Imam Bukhari narrates in Sahih (1563), Imam Nasai in Sunan (2722) (2723) and may other scholars in their hadith compilations. It has other chain of narration in authentic hadith compilations but our concern is with the narrations of ‘Ali bin Husain.

[2] Ibn Shihab narrates from ‘Ali bin Husain from ‘Amr bin ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan from Usamah bin Zaid that he said, “O Messenger of Allah! Where will you stay in Makkah? Will you stay in your house?” He replied, “Has ‘Aqil left any property or house?” He then said, “Tomorrow we will stay at Khaif Bani Kinanah where Quraish took an oath of Kufr.”

This was narrated by Imam Bukhari in Sahih(3058) (1588) (4282), Imam Muslim in Sahih (1351) along with many other scholars. This hadith has further addition as a statement of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) who said, “A Muslim does not inherit a Kafir nor does a Kafir inherit from a Muslim.”

[3] ‘Ali bin Husain said: Husain bin ‘Ali informed me: ‘Ali (ra) said: I got an old she-camel as my share in booty and the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) had given me another from Al-Khumus. I let both of them kneel at the door of one of the Ansar, intending to carry on them to sell it and use its price for my wedding banquet for marrying Fatima. A goldsmith from Bani Qainuqa’ was with me. Hamza bin ‘Abdul-Muttalib was in that house drinking wine and a lady singer was reciting: ‘0 Hamza! (Kill) the (two) fat old she-camels (and serve them to your guests).’ So Hamza took his sword and went towards the two she-camels and cut off their humps and opened their flanks and took a part of their livers.” (I said to Ibn Shihãb, “Did he take part of the humps?” He replied, “He cut off their humps and carried them away.”) ‘He further said, “When I saw that dreadful sight, I went to the Prophet and told him the news. The Prophet came out in the company of Zaid bin Haritha who was with him then, and I, too, went with them. He went to Hamza and spoke harshly to him. Hamza looked up and said, ‘Aren’t you only the slaves of my forefathers?’ The Prophet retreated and went out. This incident happened before the prohibition of drinking (alcoholic drinks).”

Imam Bukhari narrates it in Sahih (2375) (3091) (4003), Muslim (1979), Abu Dawud (2986), Ahmad in Musnad and many others with this detail.

[4] ‘Ali bin Husain said: When they reached Al-Madina after returning from Yazid bin Mu’awiya after the martyrdom of Husain bin ‘Ali AI-Miswar bin Makhrama met him and said to him, “Do you have any need you may order me to satisfy?” ‘Ali said, “No.” Al-Miswar said, “Will you give me the sword of Allah’s Messenger for I am afraid that people may take it from you by force? By Allah, if you give it to me, they will never be able to take it till I die.” When Ali bin Abi Talib demanded the hand of the daughter of Abu Jahl to be his wife besides Fatima, I heard Allah’s Messenger on his pulpit delivering a Khutba (religious talk) in this connection before the people, and I had then attained my age of puberty. Allah’s Messenger; said, “Fatima is from me, and I am afraid she may be put to trials in her religion (because of jealousy).” The Prophet then mentioned one of his sons-in-law who were from the tribe of ‘Abd Shams, and he praised him as a good son-in-law, saying, “Whatever he said was the truth, and he promised me and fulfilled his promise. I do not make a legal thing illegal, nor do I make an illegal thing legal, but by Allah, the daughter of Allah’s Messenger; and the daughter of the enemy of Allah, (i.e., Abu Jahl) can never get together (as the wives of one man).”

Bukhari (3110) and Muslim (2449) narrated it in their Sahih.

[5] ‘Ali bin Husain said: Husain bin ‘Ali informed me: ‘Ali bin Abi Talib said: Allah’s Messenger, came to him and Fatima, the daughter of Allah’s Messenger, at their house at night and said, “Won’t you offer prayers?” ‘Ali replied, “0 Allah’s Messenger! Our souls are in the Hands of Allah, and when he wants us to get up, He makes us getup.” When ‘Ali said that to him, Allah’s Messenger left without saying anything to him. While the Prophet was leaving, ‘Ali heard him striking his thigh (with his hand) and saying, “But man is ever more quarrelsome than anything.” [Al-Kahf : 54]

Bukhari (1127) (7347) (7465), Muslim (775), Nasai (1611) (1612) and others narrated it.


Some of his sayings

Sufyan bin ‘Uyainah said that ‘Ali bin Husain said:

مَا أُحِبُّ أَنَّ لِي بِنَصِيبِي مِنَ الذُّلِّ حُمْرَ النَّعَمِ

“I do not like that I have red camels in place of my share of humbleness.”[15]

Ad-Darimi narrated in Sunan (603), Al-Bayhaqi in Shu’b al-Iman (1619) and Abu Nu’aim in Hilyah (3/133) with different chains going back to Jareer who narrates from Fudhail bin Ghazwan who said: “Ali bin Husain told me, ‘Whoever gives a laugh, throw a portion of knowledge away.’”

Ibn Abi Shaibah reports in “Musannaf” (10826) and Abu Nu’am in “Al-Hilyah” (3/134) through Hafs bin Ghiyath from Hajjaj bin Muhammad from ‘Ali bin Husain who said:

إِنَّ الْجَسَدَ إِذَا لَمْ يَمْرَضْ أَشِرَ، وَلَا خَيْرَ فِي جَسَدٍ يَأْشَرُ

“When the body doesn’t become ill it becomes insolent. And there is no benefit in the body which shows insolence.”


[1] As per Abu Ja’far al-Baqir in one narration. [Ibn Sa’d (5/164)]

[2] In another report from Abu Ja’far al-Baqir [Ibn Sa’d (5/164)]

[3] Siyar (4/386)

[4] Ibn Sa’d (5/162-163)

[5] Hilyah (3/140)

[6] Siyar A’alam an-Nubala (3/320)

[7] Tahdheeb al-Kamal (20/383-384)

[8] Fath al-Mughith (1/37-38), Tadreeb ar-Rawi (1/78)

[9] Tadreeb (1/87)

[10] Thimar al-Qulub (p.291) Abu Mansur Ath-Tha’alibi (d.429), Nuzhat al-Albab (1/283) by Ibn Hajar. He was called as such because his knees turned like the knees of camel [i.e. Thafin] due to offering prayer.

[11] Ikmal Tahdheeb al-Kamal (9/304)

[12] Tarikh Dimashq (41/380)

[13] Al-Hilyah (3/136)

[14] Ejaculating sperm outside the uterus while having intercourse to avoid pregnancy.

[15] Az-Zuhd (432) by Abu Dawud, Al-Hilm (63) by Ibn Abi Ad-Dunya, Hilyah (3/137)


Taken from [Al-Sunnah]

One thought on “Imam Zain al-‘Abideen(Ali bin Hussain): A concise biography

  1. Brilliant article. But why mention Azl? What was the point the need and how can you attribute it to the blessed Sayyid based on one sole opnion ? Was that your nawasib wahabhi genes losing self control. What a shame.

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