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Imam Zayn al-Abidin's Acts of Worship - Part 1

The Muslims unanimously agreed that Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin, peace be on him, was the most worshipful of all the people, and the most obedient of them to Allah, the Exalted. The people never saw a person like him in great turn to Allah in repentance and worship. The pious and the righteous admired him, and it is sufficient for him that only he was given the nick-name of Zayn al-'Abidin (the ornament of the worshippers) and Sayyid al-Sa`jjidin (the lord of those who prostrate themselves in prayer).

As for his worship, it was not traditional; rather it resulted from his firm faith in Allah, the Most High, and his perfect knowledge of Him. He worshipped Allah not due to desire of His garden, nor did he worshipped him out of fear of His fire; rather he found Him worthy of worshipping, Hence he worshipped Him.

He was similar to his grandfather, Ima`m 'Ali, the Commander of the faithful, the Lord of the knowers, and the Ima`m of the Allah-fearing, who worshipped Allah with the worship of the free, Hence his grandson, Zayn al-'Abidin, peace be on him, followed him when he said:

"I hate to worship Allah and I have no objective except His reward; therefore I will be like the desirous servant, who works when he is desirous; otherwise he does not work. I hate to worship Him because of fear of His torment, Hence I will be like the bad servant, who works when he is afraid."

One of those who were sitting interrupted him and said to him: "How do you worship Allah?"

The Ima`m answered him faithfully: "I worship Allah through his bounties and blessings (toward me), Hence He is worthy of (worship).( Al-'Askari, Tafsir, p. 132).

The Ima`m's worship resulted from his knowledge which was void of doubts and imaginations. It did come out of desire or fear; rather it issued from firm faith (in Allah). He, peace be on him, talked about the kinds of worship, saying: "If people worship Allah, the Great and Almighty, because of fear (of Him), their worship is (similar to that) of slaves.

If they worship Him because of desire, their worship (similar to that) of traders, and if they worship Him to show gratefulness toward him, their worship is that of the free."(Siffwat al-Safwa, vol. 1, p. 53. Shadhrat al-Dhahab, vol. 1, p. 105. Hulyat al-Awliya', vol. 3, p. 134. Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, vol. 9, p. 105. Durrar al-Abkar, p. 70).

These are the kinds of worship and obedience; the heaviest of them in scale and the most lovable of them for Allah is the worship of the free, which is gratefulness to the Almighty Benefactor, not because of craving for His reward nor because of fear of His punishment. The Ima`m, peace be on him, underlined this in another tradition of his, saying: "The worship of the free is thankfulness to Allah, not because of fear and desire."(AlKawakib al-Durriya, vol. 2, p. 139).

The Ima`m's love for Allah was firm in his heart and sentiments, Hence it was among his qualities. The narrators said: "He (Zayn al-'Abidin) always worshipped Allah and obeyed him." A slave girl of his was asked about his worship and she answered: "Shall I elaborate (on it) or shall I (talk about it) briefly?"
"Briefly," was the answer.

"I did not bring him food by day nor did I spread for him bed by night," the slave girl answered.(Al-Khisal, p. 488).

Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin, peace be on him, spent most his lifetime fasting by day and praying by night. He was busy praying or giving charity in secret. It is certain that there is no person in the history of the ascetics and worshippers like 'Ali b. al-Husayn in loyalty and obedience to Allah. Now, we will mention some acts of his worship:

His Ritual Ablution

As for ablution, it is light and purity from sins and is the first act for prayer. The Ima`m, peace be on him, always performed the ritual ablution. The narrators talked about his humility to Allah during his ablution, saying:

"When he used to perform ritual ablutions, his skin would turn yellow. Hence his family asked him: 'What is it that has afflicted you?'"

He answered them with fear of Allah, saying: "Don't you know Whom I am preparing to stand before?"(Durr al-Abkar, p. 70. Nihayat al-Irab, vol. 21, p. 326. Siyar A'lam al-Nubala', vol. 4, p. 238. Al-Ithaf bi Hub al-Ashraf, p. 49, Akhbar al-Diwal, p. 109. Hulyat al-Awliya', vol. 3, p. 132. Al-'Aqdd al-Farid, vol. 3, p. 103).
He took great care of his ablution to the extent that no one helped him with it. He himself brought water for his ritual ablutions and prepared it before he slept. When he got up at night, he started with tooth cleanser (siwak) , and then he performed his ablution. Having finished it, he began praying.( Saffwat al-Siffwa, vol. 2, p. 52. Siyar A'lam al-Nubala', vol. 4, p. 38).

His Prayer

As for prayer, it is the journey of every believer (to the seven heavens) and is the sacrifice of every pious one, as it is in the tradition. Prayer was among the most important desires of the Ima`m, peace be on him. Through it he communicate with Allah, the Creator of the universe and Giver of life. He shook all over when he wanted to pray, Hence he was asked about that, and he replied: "Don't you know Whom I am preparing to stand before and to Whom I am going to whisper (in prayer)?"(Wasilat al-Mal, p. 207. Siyar A'lam al-Nubala', vol. 4, p. 38. Saffwat al-Saffwa. vol. 2, p. 52).
We will mention some of his affairs during his prayers and perfuming himself:

Perfuming his Garments

When the Ima`m wanted to pray, he perfumed himself from a bottle which he put in the room of his prayers,(. Al-Majjlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 46. p. 58).

which was full of musk.

His Garments during his Prayer

When the Ima`m wanted to pray, he wore coarse woolen garments(Al-Majjlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 46. p. 58).in order to behave humbly before the Almighty Creator.

His Humbleness during his Prayer

As for the prayer of the Ima`m, peace be on him, it represented full devotion to Allah, the Exalted, and freedom from the material world. He did not feel the things around him; rather he did not feel even himself, for his heart clung to Allah. The narrators described him during the time of his prayer, saying:

"When he stood to perform the ritual prayer, his skin would turn yellow, and he shook all over because of fear of Allah. He stood during his prayer as the abased slave who stood before a great king. He prayed with the prayer of the one who would leave (the world). He thought that he would never pray again."

Ima`m al-Ba`qir talked about the humbleness of his father during his prayer, saying: "When 'Ali b. al-Husayn stood to perform his ritual prayers, he was like the trunk of a tree. Nothing of him moved except that which the wind moved."(Wasa'il al-Shi'a, vol. 4, p. 685).

Aba`n b. Taghlub related to Ima`m al-Sa`diq, peace be on him, the prayer of his grandfather, Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin, peace be on him, saying: "When 'Ali b. al-Husayn stood to perform the ritual prayers, his skin would turn yellow." Hence Ima`m al-Sa`diq, peace be on him, admired his grandfather and said: "By Allah, 'Ali b. al-Husayn knew Him before

Whom he stood."(Tahdhib al-Ahkam, vol. 2, p. 286. Al-Majjlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 46, p. 79). Yes, Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin completely knew the mightiness of the Wise Creator, Hence he worshipped Him due to knowledge and obeyed Him because of faith.

Among the aspects of his humbleness during his prayer was that when he prostrated, he did not raise his head until he oozed sweat as if he sank in water, for he wept abundantly.(Al-Majjlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 46, p. 108).

The narrators reported on the authority of Abu` Hamza al-Thuma`li, who said: "I saw the Ima`m praying and his clock falling off one of his shoulders. He did not set it right, Hence I asked him, and he answered me: 'Woe unto you! Didn't you know before Whom I had been? (Allah) does not accept the servant's prayer unless his heart clings to Him."('Ilal al-Sharai', p. 88. Al-Majjlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 46, p. 61. Wasa'il al-Shi'a, vol. 4, p. 688).

Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin clung to Allah to the extent that one of his sons fell into a well, and the people of Medina hurried to him and saved him from the well, while the Ima`m was standing in prayer in his mihrab and did not know that. When he had finished his prayer, he was told about that, and he said: "I did not feel that, for I was whispering to the Almighty Lord.(Akhbar al-Diwal, p. 110. 3. Majjlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 46, p. 99).

A fire occurred in the Ima`m's house, but he paid no attention to the fire, for he was busy praying. When he had finished his prayer, he was asked about that, and he replied: "The greatest fire (in the hereafter) distracted me from this fire!"(Saffwat al-Saffwa, vol. 2, p. 52. Al-Muntazam, vol. 6, p. 141. Nihayat al-Irab)
'Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri explained this wonderful aspect, which accompanied the Ima`m during his prayer, saying: "The heart sometimes becomes heedless of knowing the affairs of creatures, for it is busy pondering that which comes to it. It becomes inattentive of feeling itself or other than it when it remembers a reward or a punishment.."

A one thousand Ruk'a` Prayer

The biographers unanimously agreed that Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin, peace be on him, prayed one thousand Ruk'a`s by day and night., and that he had five hundred date-palms, Hence he said two ruk'as by each date-palm.. As he prayed abundantly, he had calluses like those of the camel on the places of his prostration. Some calluses fell off every year, and he put them into a bag. When he passed away, they were buried with him.

His Performing the Superfluous Prayer (nawa`fil)

No superfluous prayer escaped the Ima`m throughout his life. He performed at night the prayers that escaped him by day. He advised his children to perform such prayers and said to them: "My children, these (prayers) are not obligatory for you, but I want you to habituate yourselves to them.."

His Abundant Prostration (in prayer)

The servant is close to his Lord when he is in the state of prostration, as it is in the tradition. Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin, peace be on him, prostrated himself abundantly for his Lord to show submission to Him and lowliness before Him. The narrators said: "One day, he (Zayn al-'Abidin) went to the desert, and a retainer of his followed him. The retainer found him prostrating on a coarse stone and heard him saying one thousand times: There is no god but Allah in all certainty! There is no god but Allah in worship and slavery! There is no god but Allah in faith and truth!(Wasa'il al-Shi'a, vol. 4, p. 981)

He performed the prostration of thanks and said during it one hundred times: "Praise belongs to Allah, thanks (be to Allah)!" After that he said: "O Possessor of favor which never ceases, and which none other than Him can count! O Possessor of kindness which never comes to an end! O Generous! O Generous!" Then he prayed humbly (to Allah) and mentioned his need.(Wasa'il al-Shi'a, vol. 4, p.1079)

His Abundant Glorification

The Ima`m was always busy mentioning, glorifying, and praising Allah. He glorified Allah with these brilliant words: "Glory be to Him whose light illumines every darkness. Glory be to Him Who predetermines every power through His power. Glory be to Him Who has concealed Himself from the servants through the ways of their souls, Hence there is nothing to conceal Him. Glory and praise belong to Allah."(Al-Quttb al-Rawandi, Da'awat, p. 34)

His Performing the Night Prayer frequently

Among the superfluous prayers (nawafil) which Ima`m Zayn al-'Abidin, peace be on him, performed was the night prayer. He frequently performed it during travel and at home 1 until he met the Highest Comrade (Allah).

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