Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) and Altruism
Compiled by: Allama Husayn Ansariyan
Self-sacrifice and preferring others interests above their own is an inherent feature of Ahl al-Bayt (a.s.). It can be seen in the life of each of them so much so that they helped both those who were and those who were not entitled to it. The Holy Prophet has said: We give away to all out of fear of rejecting a needy person.183
Abu Tamzah Thamali says: I heard Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a.s.) saying to his slave-girl, “Feed any needy person who passes by my house.” At this time, I said to the Imam, “But everyone who wants something and stretches out his hand is not needy.” The Imam said, “I fear to reject the one who asks for help as a needy and we fail to feed him. Then it may happen to us Ahl al-Bayt, what had happened to Prophet Jacob.”184
Ahl al-Bayt’s self-sacrifice was such that they sometimes gave away whatever they had in the way of Allah.
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) has said, “Hasan ibn Ali gave away his shoes, garments and dinars in the way of Allah.”185
An Extraordinary Example of Altruism
Hasan Basri says: One day, Imam Husayn (a.s.) approached his orchard to find his slave sitting and eating some bread. He sat under a palm-tree closely observing him. The slave threw a piece of bread for a dog nearby for every piece of bread, which he ate himself. At the end, he thanked Allah saying, “O Allah, bless me and my master as You blessed his parents. You are the best of the Merciful.”
At this time, Imam Husayn rose up and called him by name. The slave who was frightened rose up and said, “My master! O master of all believers! I did not notice you. Forgive me.” The Imam said, “You should forgive me, for I entered the orchard without permission!” The slave said, “Are you saying this because of your excellence, magnanimity and generosity?” The Imam said, “I saw you feeding the dog while you were eating yourself. Why?” The slave said, “My master, while I was eating, the dog was looking at me and I was ashamed of its look. Besides, it is the dog, which guards your orchard and I am your slave. We both live on what you give us.”
Imam Husayn started crying and said, “You are free in the way of Allah and I give away one thousand dinars to you!” The slave said, “Even if you set me free, I would like to work in your orchard.” The Imam said, “One must practice what one preaches. I entered the orchard without your permission and I am now giving it away to you with whatever in it.” The slave said, “If you have given away this orchard to me, I too will give it to your followers.”186
Generosity under the hardest conditions
It is noteworthy that Ahl al-Bayt did not cease to give away even under the hardest conditions. In this connection, they have related: When a needy person heard that a community had gathered in the desert of Ninawa on the Day of Ashura, he set off for that place. Seeing him, Imam Husayn asked about his situation. The man said, “I am a needy man and I have heard that a large group of people have gathered here. I said to my self perhaps they might give me something.” The Imam said, “Stand here and do not go away.” The Imam went to his camp and wrapped in a cloth what the man needed and gave it to him. The man became happy and went away!
Forgiving the Guilty
Ubaydullah ibn al-Hurr al-Jufi was a moody person who was for justice at one moment and for injustice at another. Sometimes, he was neutral too! Although he was from Iraq, he rushed to help Muawiyah in the Battle of Siffin. He was at the service of Ahl al-Bayt’s archenemy that is Muawiyah throughout the battle and fought against Imam Ali (a.s.). Thinking that he could not live in Iraq any longer, Ubaydullah went to Syria along with Muawiyah after the end of the battle.
There was a rumor in Iraq that Ubaydullah ibn al-Turr had been killed in the battle. Hence, his wife married Ikrimah ibn al-Khabis. Hearing this news, Ubaydullah who was very fond of his wife decided to return to the city of Kufah to make his wife divorce her new husband. Muawiyah warned him against going to Kufah, saying, “If you go there, you will be killed by Ali’s sword!” Yet, he answered, “I have no fear of going there, for I am going towards justice. Ali’s morality is different from yours. He is heavenly and will dispense justice.”
So, Ubaydullah came to Kufah. First, he went to see the new husband of his wife but the man refused to divorce her. Ubaydullah, who could not resist him, went to Kufah Mosque to see Ali (a.s.). He found a large group of people surrounding Imam Ali and lodged his complaint. Imam Ali (a.s.) said, “Aren't you the same person who helped Muawiyah against me in the Battle of Siffin and drew sword against believers?” He answered “I have not come here to be questioned rather I have come here to find a solution. Return my wife to me.”
Imam Ali ordered to his servant to bring the husband of the woman. He called on him to divorce his wife so that she will marry her first husband. The man said, “My wife is pregnant.” Imam Ali ordered a house to be hired and the woman was transferred there. A nurse too was hired at the cost of Amir al-Muminin to take care of her until the time of delivery so that she will later marry her first husband after observing all the legal procedures.187
Forgiving offences and ignoring unkindness of others was an act of manliness for the Ahl al-Bayt. Allah’s Messenger has said: The manliness of us, Ahl al-Bayt, means to forgive one who has done injustice to us and to give to one who has withheld from us.
Ahl al-Bayt did not utter this truth just verbally. They always practiced it. Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) has reported: A Jew woman poisoned a piece of meat and brought it to the Holy Prophet (S) so as to kill him. When her plot was divulged, the Holy Prophet interrogated her, “What made you to do this?” She said, “I said to myself that this meat will not harm him if he is Allah’s Messenger and will rid people of his rule if he is a king.” Hearing this, the Holy Prophet pardoned her.188
Ibn Abil-Hadid, in Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, describing Imam Ali, has said: He was the most tolerant in forgiving the offenders and the most forgiving towards the guilty ones. The truth of this claim is proved in the Battle of the Camel when he defeated Marwan ibn Hakam, the most hostile enemy, but forgave him.189
Forgive Me for the Sake of Hasan and Husayn
Allah’s Messenger ordered an offender to be arrested to punish him. The fugitive offender tried to hide himself in one house then another to escape punishment. He kept himself from being seen by the people for sometime but it was hard to continue with this act. One day, he was looking through a small window when he saw Hasan and Husayn (a.s.) passing by. He opened the door, came out, put them on his shoulder and set out for the Prophet’s Mosque. When he entered the mosque, the Holy Prophet was on the pulpit. So he loudly said, “O Allah’s Messenger! I ask you by these two honorable persons to forgive me.” The Holy Prophet forgave him with kindness and tolerance.190
Forgiving the corrupt on the Earth and Anti-Islam Fighters
A person who was in the presence of Imam Ali in Basrah asked him, “What is the punishment of a person who enters battle against Allah?” The Imam said, “Banishment, amputation of hand or foot, or execution, based on the Quranic order.” He asked, “If this person is Harithah ibn Zayd, what will be the order?” The Imam said, “He is subject to the same order.” He said, “O Amir al-Muminin! Harithah had come to ask you for forgiveness!” The Imam said, “Let him come here.” When Harithah entered, he fell to Imam Ali’s feet, but the Imam took his arms and said, “Rise up! Allah has forgiven you.”191
183. Uddat al-Dai: 101
184. Ilal al-Sharau: 45/1, Chapter: 41, H. 1
185. Tahdhib al-Ahkam: 11/5, H. 29
186. Maqtal al-Husayn: 153/1
187. Al-Kamil: 287/4
188. Tuhaf al-Uqul: 38
189. Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah: 22/1
190. Bihar al-Anwar: 318/43, Chapter: 13, H. 2
191. Fiqh al-Quran: 368/1