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The Excellences of the Imam Hussein in Sunni Hadith Tradition - Part 2

In another tradition, the Prophet promises his intercession to those who honor his descendants, provide them with whatever needs they may have, and those who love them with their heart and profess this love with their tongues.

It has already been stressed that the ahl al-bayt share with the prophets of old and their descendants a high status and divine favor, but not the office of prophet-hood. They share, moreover, with the Prophet Muhammad the prerogative of intercession. This is expressed in hagiographical language, a language common to both Sunni and Shiite tradition. One such common example may suffice to demonstrate the devotion in the piety of both traditions to the Prophet and the people of his household.

The Qur"an tells us that Adam received certain words of God which earned him God"s forgiveness and mercy: Adam received words from his Lord, and He turned towards him; for He is relenting, compassionate (2:37). Suyuti reports that Ibn Abbas, the famous traditionist and authority on the Qur"an, asked the Prophet about the words which Adam received. The Prophet answered: "He prayed saying, "O God, for the sake of Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussein, do turn toward me", and He turned toward him." In another highly dramatic version of this tradition, Adam is taught the words as the only means by which God would accept his repentance and forgive him. Ali, we are told, enquired of the Prophet concerning the verse under discussion. The Prophet told him that when Adam and his wife were expelled from Paradise, Adam wept bitterly over his sin for a hundred years. Finally, Gabriel came to him and spoke thus on God"s behalf:

"O Adam, did I not create you with my own hand? Did I not breathe into you of my spirit? Did I not command my angels to bow down before you? Did I not provide you with Eve my servant?" "Yes", Adam answered. Gabriel asked: "What then is the cause of this weeping?" Adam replied, "Why should I not weep when I have been expelled from the proximity of the All-Merciful?" The angel then said: "You must pray fervently with these words, and God will accept your repentance and forgive your sin. Say: "O God, I beseech you for the sake of Muhammad and the people of the household of Muhammad; nor is there any god but you. I have done evil, and have wronged my soul. Turn towards me for you are relenting, compassionate."



Islamic tradition has preserved numerous anecdotes depicting the tender care and love which the Prophet showed Hassan and Hussein. They were both born inMedina, and thus knew the Prophet only as children. It is therefore with the intimacy and love of a grandfather that the early life of the two Imams is colored. Once more, these family anecdotes also reflect clearly the theological and political tension within the community, a tension which largely centered on Hassan and Hussein. One such anecdote is the following:

One day, Hassan and Hussein were lost, and their motherFatima came to the Prophet greatly alarmed. The angel Gabriel, however, came down and told the Prophet that the two youths were asleep in an animal fold some distance away. God, the angel reassured the anxious family, had charged an angel to keep watch over them. The Prophet went to the spot and found the angel had spread his two wings: one under them and the other over them as cover. The Prophet stooped over the two children and began to kiss them until they awoke. He then carried them on his shoulders back to the city. A large crowd of Muslims followed the Prophet and his two grandsons to the mosque. The Prophet then addressed the assembled people and said: "O Muslims, shall I inform you of those who have the best grandfather and grandmother of humankind?"

"Yes, O Apostle of God", they all replied.

"They are Hassan and Hussein", he said. "Their grandfather is the Apostle of God, the seal of the Messengers, and their grandmother is Khadija, daughter of Khuwaylid, mistress of the women of Paradise."

The Prophet then declared Hassan and Hussein to have the best maternal uncle and aunt: Jafar and Umm Hani", son and daughter of Abu Talib. Their maternal uncle and aunt were likewise the best of all uncles and aunts: they were al-Qasim, son of the Messenger of God, and Zaynab, daughter of the Apostle of God. The Prophet concluded: "O God, you know that Hassan and Hussein shall be in Paradise, their uncles and aunt shall be in Paradise, and those who love them shall be in Paradise, while those who hate them shall be in the Fire."

Abu Hurayra, the famous hadith transmitter, related that often when they prayed behind the Messenger of God Hassan and Hussein would jump on his back while he was prostrate in prayer. When he lifted his head, he would move them gently and place them beside him.

One evening, after prayers, Abu Hurayra offered to take the two youths home, but the Prophet wished them to stay. Soon, however, a flash of lightning illuminated the sky, and they thus walked in its light until they entered their home.

The friends (awliya") of God, like the prophets, are favored with miracles. These are not miracles proper (mu"jizat), but rather karamat (divine favours). The lightning incident was one such divine favor by means of which the Prophet wished to inform the community of the special status with which God had favored the two Imams.

There is a unity between the Prophet and the ahl al-bayt, a unity not simply of blood, but also of the spirit. It is a unity symbolized by the kisa" event. It is, therefore, a unity of love, as the following statement of the Prophet clearly indicates. He said, as related on the authority of Salman the Persian: "Whoever loves Hassan and Hussein, I love him, and whomsoever I love, God also loves, and whomsoever God loves, He shall cause him to enter into the gardens of bliss." Likewise he who hates Hassan and Hussein shall be consigned to the Fire, because both God and his Messenger will hate him, "and a terrible punishment awaits him".

Muslim hagiographical piety extended this unity and intimacy between the Prophet and his two grandchildren to include the angels of heaven. Thus Hudhayfa, a well known companion and traditionist, reported that the Prophet said: "An angel is here who never came down to earth before this night. He sought permission from his Lord to come down and greet me, and to bring me the glad tidings that Fatima is the

mistress of the women of Paradise, and that Hassan and Hussein are the masters of the youths of Paradise."

There is no doubt that the special status of the Imam Hussein in Muslim piety and devotion has in large measure been due to the Imam"s great

sacrifice of family, wealth, and life itself in the way of God. Hussein"s martyrdom - his courage, steadfastness, dignity, and true devotion in times of great crisis - have inspired Muslims of all walks of life. Hussein has inspired the best poetry in all Islamic languages; even non-Muslim poets celebrated his great virtue and valor. Above all, however, the Imam Hussein"s martyrdom became a source of strength and endurance for Muslims in times of suffering, persecution and oppression. He has stood with every wronged man or woman before oppressive rulers, reproaching wrongdoers and encouraging the oppressed to persist in their struggle for freedom and dignity. The following encounter between Zayd bin Arqam, a venerable companion of the Prophet, and "Ubayd Allah bin Ziyad is a living testimony to the struggle between illegitimate authority and the power of right. When the head of the Imam Hussein was brought before him, Ibn Ziyad began to poke its teeth and lips with a stick.

Zayd protested: "Take away your stick! For, by God, I saw the Apostle of God often kiss these lips." Saying this, Zayd began to weep. Ibn Ziyad reprimanded him, saying: "May God cause your eyes to weep! Had it not been that you are an old and senile man, I would have cut off your head." Zayd then walked away, exclaiming: "O men, you are slaves after this day. For you have slain the son of Fatima and set as amir over you the son of Marjana [i.e., Ibn Ziyad]. By God, he shall kill the best of you and enslave the most wicked among you. Perish those who accept humiliation and shame." Zayd then said, "O Ibn Ziyad, I shall tell you something that will enrage you even more. I saw the Apostle of God seating Hassan on his left leg and Hussein on his right, and say, "O God, I commend them and the most righteous of the people of faith to your trust." How have you dealt with the trust of the Prophet, O Ibn Ziyad?"

Divine wisdom in creation can be best discerned, according to the Qur"an, in the order of nature, and in the human individual and his society. Muslim hagiography has recorded the dramatic effect the death of Hussein had on nature. Thus the famous traditionist al-Bayhaqi reported that when Hussein bin Ali was killed, the sun was so deeply eclipsed that

stars were seen at midday. People feared that it was the Day of Resurrection. Nadra al-Azdiya, a woman who was contemporary with the Imam Hussein, is said to have reported: "When Hussein bin Ali was killed, the sky rained down blood, so that next morning we found our wells and water jugs filled with it."

The memory of the martyred Imam has been kept alive and nourished by the tears of the faithful who vicariously share in the tragedy of the Imam Hussein and his loved ones and friends. Here again, tradition has extended the grief displayed by the pious for the tragedy of Karbala to the cosmic order. Thus al-Suyuti reports in his commentary on the verse describing God"s compassion towards the ancient martyr John son of Zachariah that

"The heavens did not weep for the death of anyone except John son of Zachariah and Hussein bin Ali. Its redness [at sunset] is the sign of its weeping."



It has already been argued that there is an existential and all-inclusive unity between the Prophet and his daughter Fatima, her husband, Ali, and their two sons. This unity makes it impossible to discuss one without discussing all the others. We have, therefore, been concerned throughout this study with the Imam Hussein in the context of this essential unity. It must be added, however, that the Imam Hussein was especially close to the heart of his grandfather, the Prophet Muhammad. It is of Hussein alone that he declared: "Hussein is of me and I am of Hussein. May God love those who love Hussein." When sura 108 (al-Kawthar) was revealed, the Prophet announced this great favor to his close companion Anas bin Malik, on whose authority this tradition is reported.

Anas asked: "What is al-Kawthar?"

He answered: "It is a river in Paradise, but neither those who violate my covenant (dhimma), nor those who shall kill the people of my House will be allowed to drink of it."

Finally, Shiite tradition has always insisted on the great merit the faithful earn in making pilgrimage (ziyara) to the tomb of the Imam Hussein and the tombs of the men who were martyred with him.

Yet Sunni tradition has likewise seen great merit in this pious act. The ziyara to the tomb of the martyred Imam has acquired this great significance in all Muslim tradition because the Imam and his fellow martyrs are seen as models of jihad in the way of God. It is related that the father of the Imams, Ali bin Abi Talib, passed by Karbala after the battle of Siffin. He took a handful of its soil and exclaimed: "Ah, ah, on this spot some men will be slain, and will enterParadise without reckoning!"

The spiritual unity of the ahl al-bayt, symbolized by the kisa", is in turn a symbol of the unity of all Muslims. It is for the sake of this unity in faith and commitment (Islam) to God and the truth that the Imam Hussein sacrificed his life. He refused a partisan Islam when he refused to legitimize Umayyad rule. Because he refused humiliation, wrongdoing and deviation from the ideals of Islamic leadership as exemplified by the Prophet and his own father Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, the Imam Hussein drew once and for all the distinction between a true khalifa (representative) of the Apostle of God and the kings of this world. But above all, the Imam Hussein and his fellow martyrs accepted God"s bargain with the people of faith to exchange their lives and wealth for the eternal bliss of Paradise. This divine challenge is no less relevant to the Muslim community today than it was fourteen hundred years ago. It invites us still to "a garden whose breadth is greater than the heavens and earth, prepared for those who fear God".

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