Encyclopaedia Iranica Online

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ZAYN-AL-ʿĀBEDĪN (d. ca. 712-13), the fourth Imam of the Emāmī Shiʿites.

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Volume I, Fascicle 8, pp. 849-850

ʿALĪ B. AL-ḤOSAYN B. ʿALĪ B. ABĪ ṬĀLEB, ZAYN-AL-ʿĀBEDĪN, the fourth Imam of the Emāmī Shiʿites. His konyas are given as Abu’l-Ḥasan, Abu’l-Ḥosayn, Abū Moḥammad, Abū Bakr, and Abū ʿAbdallāh. According to most sources, he was born in 38/658-59 in Medina. Other dates mentioned are 33/653-54, 36/656-57, 37/657-58, and 50/670. His mother was a slave variously named Ḡazāla, Solāfa, Salāma, Šāhzanān, Šāhbānūya, and otherwise. According to reports of a legendary character, she was a daughter of Yazdegerd, the last Sasanian king of Persia, captured in the Arab conquest; ʿAlī was thus considered “the son of the two elect” (ebn al-ḵīaratayn) among the Arabs and the Persians. This descent is commonly accepted by Shiʿite tradition but is not confirmed by the early sources and is rejected by some of the genealogists. According to Ebn Qotayba, his mother was said to be from Sind. ʿAlī was present at the massacre of his family at Karbalāʾ in 61/680 but did not participate in the fighting, since he was ill, and thus survived the battle. In order to distinguish him from an elder brother also named ʿAlī, who was killed, he is referred to as ʿAlī Aṣḡar, though some Shiʿite sources maintain that he was the elder ʿAlī (ʿAlī Akbar). Occasionally he is called ʿAlī Awsaṭ in order to distinguish him from an infant brother, ʿAlī or ʿAbdallāh, who was also killed. According to the battle accounts, Šamer b. Ḏi’l-ǰawšan wanted to kill him despite his illness but was prevented by others, including ʿOmar b. Saʿd. When he was led as a prisoner before ʿObaydallāh b. Zīād in Kūfa, the latter ordered his execution but left him alive at the entreaty of his aunt, Zaynab. He was sent with the women to Damascus, where the caliph Yazīd gave him the choice of staying at the court or returning to Medina with a gift of money; he chose the latter. In later life he avoided any involvement in seditious activity and tried to maintain good relations with the Omayyad caliphs. During the rebellion of Medina in 63/683 he sent a letter to Yazīd assuring him of his loyalty and sheltered the wife and movable property of the Omayyad Marwān, with whom he had a friendship pre-dating their departure for Ṭāʾef. He himself left Medina and stayed on an estate nearby. After the conquest of Medina, he was received and honored by Yazīd’s commander, Moslem b. ʿOqba, at the specific instruction of the caliph. In 62/684 he received Ḥosayn b. Nomayr, the successor of Moslem b. ʿOqba, on his return from Mecca and provided him with fodder for his horse at a time when ʿAbdallāh b. Zobayr was already widely acclaimed as the new caliph. He never pledged allegiance to the latter, though he evidently maintained some relations with the Zobayr party. He personally conveyed his sister, Sokayna, to her marriage with Moṣʿab b. Zobayr, ʿAbdallāh’s brother and viceroy of Iraq; and at that time he received a gift of 40,000 dinars from him. His relations with Moḵtār, the Shiʿite rebel in Kūfa, were cautious. It is unlikely that (as some sources state) the latter originally offered to put his movement under the auspices of ʿAlī b. Ḥosayn, rather than of his uncle Moḥammad b. Ḥanafīya, or that he sent the head of ʿOmar b. Saʿd to him, rather than to his uncle. Moḵtār is said to have presented him with an expensive slave girl, who became the mother of his son Zayd, and with a gift of 100,000 dirhams. After the death of Moḵtār ʿAlī wrote the caliph ʿAbd-al-Malek, offering him the sum and stating that he had neither wanted to use it nor dared to return it. The caliph persuaded him to keep the money. It is equally improbable that he publicly cursed Moḵtār in the Kaʿba, at least during the latter’s lifetime, as reported in some sources. Later he is said to have aroused the jealousy of the Omayyad prince Hešām, before his caliphate, when the pilgrims in Mecca paid more respect to the ʿAlid than to him. On this occasion Farazdaq improvised his famous eulogy of ʿAlī b. Ḥosayn widely reported in the sources. However, most or all of the poem ascribed to Farazdaq in varying versions has been judged inauthentic (see J. Hell, “Al-Farazdaḳs Loblied auf ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusain,” Festschrift Eduard Sachau, Berlin, 1915, pp. 368-74; J. Weiss in Der Islam VII, 1917, pp. 126ff.). In Sunnite collections of Hadith ʿAlī b. Ḥosayn appears as a transmitter from ʿAbdallāh b. ʿAbbās, his uncle Ḥasan, his father, ʿAmr b. ʿOṯmān, and others. The chief transmitter from him was Zohrī, who is said to have described him as the most excellent of the Hashimites. He was involved in a dispute with his cousin Ḥasan b. Ḥasan about the administration of the ṣadaqāt of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb but soon agreed to leave it to the Hasanid; nevertheless Imamite sources maintain that he became the administrator of ʿAlī’s ṣadaqāt. The date of his death is most often given as 94/712-13 or 95/713-14; other dates mentioned are 92/710-11, 93/711-12, 99/717-18 and 100/718-19. He was buried next to his uncle, Ḥasan, in the cemetery of Baqīʿ in Medina. He had four sons from his wife, Omm ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥasan b. ʿAlī, and numerous children from concubines.

In Shiʿite hagiography Imam ʿAlī b. Ḥosayn appears in particular as the perfect worshipper. Like his grandfather ʿAlī, he prayed 1,000 rakʿas every day and night. During the month of Ramażān, he would utter nothing but prayer, imploring God’s forgiveness and glorifying and magnifying him. His constant prostration in worship earned him his honorifics Saǰǰād, Zayn-al-ʿābedīn, and Ḏu’l-ṯafenāt, the latter referring to the seven calluses which every year formed on, and fell off, his skin in the sports touching the ground in prostration. He was also of matchless generosity in giving alms and presents to the poor. Thus he permanently provided 100 families in Medina with their sustenance. Every night he went out with a sack of food on his back, knocking at the doors of the indigent, and gave freely to whoever answered while covering his face in order not to be recognized. Thus he was held to be stingy during his lifetime, and only after his death did many people find out that their livelihood had come from him. Among the miracles he worked were: the speaking of the Black Stone of the Kaʿba in favor of his claim to the imamate in the presence of his rival Moḥammad b. Ḥanafīya, his conversing with a gazelle in the desert, and his restoring youth to a 113-year-old woman. Shiʿite tradition ascribes to him, besides some devotional poetry and short texts, a collection of prayers for various occasions known as al-Ṣaḥīfat al-kāmela, which enjoyed great popularity, especially in the Safavid period, when it was translated into Persian and received numerous commentaries. Several supplements to the original collection have been gathered by late scholars. A Resālat al-ḥoqūq, on the rights of God upon man, also ascribed to him, is reproduced in two versions in Ebn Bābūya’s Ketāb al-ḵeṣāl and Ebn Šoʿba’s Toḥaf al-ʿoqūl. Some Shiʿite sources assert that his death was due to poisoning by the caliph Walīd or by Hešām b. ʿAbd-al-Malek.


Ebn Saʿd, V, pp. 156-64.

Ebn Qotayba, al-Maʿāref, ed. Ṯ. ʿOkāša, Cairo, 1960, pp. 214ff.

Balāḏorī, Ansāb al-ašrāf IV/2, ed. M. Schloessinger, Jerusalem, 1938, pp. 34, 39.

Yaʿqūbī, Taʾrīḵ, pp. 363-66 and index.

Mobarrad, al-Kāmel, ed. M. A. Ebrāhīm, and S. Šaḥḥāta, Cairo, 1968, II, pp. 120ff. and index.

Ṭabarī, index.

Masʿūdī, Morūǰ, index.

Abu’l-Faraǰ, Aḡānī; see Guidi, Tables, p. 496.

Mofīd, al-Eršād, ed. K. Mūsawī Mīāmavī, Tehran, 1377/1957-58, pp. 237-44.

Abū Noʿaym, Ḥelyat al-awlīāʾ, Cairo, 1351-57/1932-38, III, pp. 133-45.

Ṭabresī, Eʿlām al-warā, Naǰaf, 1390/1970, pp. 256-64.

Ebn al-Jawzī, Ṣefat al-ṣafwa, Hyderabad, 1355-56/1936-37, II, pp. 52-57.

Ebn Ḵallekān (Beirut) III, pp. 266-69.

Ḏahabī, Taʾrīḵ al-Eslām, Cairo, 1367-/1947-, IV, pp. 34-39.

Ebn Kaṯīr, al-Bedāya wa’l-nehāya, Cairo, 1351-58/1932-39, IX, pp. 103-15.

Ebn ʿEnaba, ʿOmdat al-ṭāleb, ed. M. Ḥ. Āl Ṭālaqānī, Naǰaf, 1380/1961, pp. 99, 192-94.

Ebn Ḥaǰar, Tahḏīb al-tahḏīb, Hyderabad 1325-27/1907-9, VII, pp. 304-7.

Edrīs Qorašī, ʿOyūn al-aḵbār IV, ed. M. Ḡāleb, Beirut, 1973, pp. 142-79, 109-11.

Maǰlesī, Beḥār al-anwār, Tehran, 1956-, XLVI, pp. 2-209.

D. M. Donaldson, The Shiite Religion, London, 1933, pp. 101-11.

Aʿyān al-šīʿa IV/1, pp. 308-461. Sezgin, GAS I, pp. 526-28.

W. Chittick, A Shiʿite Anthology, Albany, 1980, pp. 113-22 (tr. of two prayers from al-Saḥīfat al-kāmela).

Cite this page
Wilferd Madelung, “ʿALĪ B. ḤOSAYN B. ʿALĪ B. ABĪ ṬĀLEB”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 31 May 2023 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_5159>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19851215

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