Practical virtues of the Holy Imams
By: Maulana Sayyid Zafar Hasan Amrohi
Knowledge and actions are the two arms of Islam. Just as a bird cannot fly without two wings the Messenger of Allah (S) has said: Knowledge without action is a curse and action without knowledge is deviation. Just as for knowledge it is necessary to have information about the realities of various things and the causes of all the phenomena, in the same way sincerity and purity of intention is needed for all actions. No matter how difficult and significant a deed is; if it is not accompanied by sincerity it has no value in the view of the Almighty and there is no reward for it. According to a tradition: The doer of the greatest deeds will be touching the fire of Hell. None of the deeds of Holy Imams were bereft of sincerity. They always performed the good deeds to obtain the pleasure of Allah and never allowed a personal motive to come in between. Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) says: My God! Neither I worship You for the fear of Hell nor for the desire of Paradise. It is because I find You deserving of worship. The beast proof of his sincerity was that every deed of his was accepted by the Almighty and this is clearly certified in the Holy Quran. The traditions of the Messenger of Allah (S) have also testified to the purity of his actions. Now let us study the practical virtues of the Holy Imams in some detail.
Apparently there is no relationship between worship and good morals, but actually it has a very profound connection. The root of the correction of morals is itself worship. One who does not perform the religions duties could never perfect his morals. Let us just consider the relationship of Prayer to morals. The Almighty Allah says: Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil… (Surah Ankabut 29:45)
We should know that indecencies and unlawful things are roots of all evils. When prayer has protected one from those things, the morals of that person would definitely bloom into a beautiful form. Now just make an analogy with other worship acts. Worship denotes getting oneself connected to the Almighty. The result is that divine Graces fall upon the worshipper. Now what can be said about the perfection of morals of a person who is the recipient of divine graces? One who leaves the worship acts can never put forward his good morals. Therefore it became necessary that first of all we must discuss the worship of the Holy Imams. It is our challenge that the type of sincere worship they had performed in the world was not possible by anyone else. Those who worship do so in any of the following ways (1) Merely performing worship in a mechanical way. There is no benefit in such a kind of worship (2) Worship for showoff - Leave alone benefits, it is a sin (3) Worship with sincerity - It earns rewards (4) Worship with divine realization (wijdaan) - It creates a spiritual aura. The worshipper experiences such pleasure that he cannot obtain it in anything else in the world. It causes one to become more proximate to the Almighty. The worship of the Holy Imams was of this category.
Worship Of Imam Ali (a.s)
When the time for prayers arrived he used to pale. Once, someone inquired about this. He said, “It is the time for fulfillment of that duty, the burden of which was refused by the heavens, the earth and the mountains. But despite my feeble physique I agreed to carry the burden.” The Imam used to say, “I do not know anyone in this community who has prayed with the Messenger of Allah (S) before me. I have prayed nine years before others did.”
It is mentioned in Sharh Nahjul Balagha that during the battle of Siffin, Ali (a.s) used to spread his prayer mat between two rows of fighters and perform the prayers even as arrows rained from all sides and the battle continued to rage. He had not a slight fear of those arrows. Even after the completion of prayers he did not leave his place before reciting additional supplications and devotions. Allamah Ibne Abil Hadid writes that Ali (a.s) was so habitual of recommended prayers (Nafila) and performed such lengthy prostrations that his forehead began to resemble the knee of the camel. He used to be so much engrossed in Prayers that he became absolutely oblivious of everything else. So much so that he was not even aware of his body. It is mentioned that once an arrow pierced his foot but it was very painful to him if someone tried to remove it. So they were advised to wait till Ali (a.s) was engrossed in prayers. Thus when Ali (a.s) was praying, the people removed the arrow and Ali (a.s) was hardly aware of it.
The way of their fasting was such that when Imam Hasan and Imam Husain were indisposed, all made a vow to keep three fasts. When it was time to fulfill the vow they all fasted for three days. But everyday at the time of breaking the fast a beggar approached their door and each of them gave him their shares and broke their fast with only water. Again the next day they fasted without eating anything else. Thus they fasted for three days continuously. The Almighty accepted their fasts and Surah Dahr was revealed in their praise.
Imam Ali (a.s) fasted most of the days and was busy in prayers all night long. So much so, that the neighbors report hearing one thousand Takbiratul Ehram (Allaho Akbar) in one night.
Many times his condition became so serious that people used to think that his soul has departed from him.
Worship Of Imam Hasan (a.s)
Imam Hasan (a.s) used to perform excessive worship and devotions. He used to spend a better part of the night in the worship of Allah. He used to pray and supplicate with such a devotion and pleading that people used to think he was weeping due to the passing away of a close relative.
Like his respected father, Imam Hasan (a.s) also kept many fasts. He performed twenty-five Hajj pilgrimages on foot. He used to say: I am ashamed to meet my Lord in a condition that I fail to reach His House on foot. Once he was traveling for Hajj and his mount was being led alongside. When after walking a long distance swelling appeared on his legs someone suggested, “O Son of Allah's Messenger (S)! When your mount is present why do you not travel upon it?” He replied, “I have not kept the mount with me to ride upon it myself. It is there in case I find a traveler too tired to walk and I may give him a lift.”
Worship Of Imam Husain (a.s)
What can be said about the worship of the one who was brought up in the laps of the Messenger of Allah (S) and Imam Ali (a.s), and had benefited from their company. Imam Husain (a.s) was fond of worship since his early childhood. He often used to pray with the Messenger of Allah (S). Hafas bin Ghayas reports that one day the Messenger of Allah (S) stood up to pray and Imam Husain (a.s) also came and stood besides him. When the Messenger of Allah (S) recited the Takbir (Allaho Akbar), Imam Husain (a.s) who was aged five or six at that time also tried to recite it but could not do so properly. The Messenger of Allah (S) repeated the Takbir. But again it didn't come out perfectly from Imam Husain (a.s). Thus the Messenger of Allah (S) had to recite the Takbir seven times altogether. Therefore since that time it became a Sunnat (recommended act) to recite seven Takbirs before Takbiratul Ehram (Allaho Akbar at the beginning of Prayers).
Someone asked Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) why his respected father had so few children. He replied, “The reason is that he used to recite one thousand rakats (units) of prayers every night,” Imam Husain (a.s) also performed twenty-five Hajj pilgrimages on foot though his vehicles used to remain with him during the journeys.
He was so much fond of the worship of Allah that on the eve of Ashura he obtained respite with a lot of difficulty from Umar Ibne Saad. Such a difficult night the eve of Ashura was that all the calamities had surrounded the Imam (a.s); even then he was engrossed in prayers and devotions all night long with utmost sincerity, humility and devotion. Only a person like Imam Husain (a.s) could have performed such worship. The most difficult was the time of the noon prayers. The opponents were showering arrows and Imam Husain (a.s) was performing the prayers. More significant was the time of the afternoon (Asr) prayers. A wounded and oppressed creature was surrounded by the enemies who attacked him from all sides while he performed his Asr prayers in gestures. The climax was that they beheaded him while he was in prostration.
Worship Of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s)
At the time of worship, such a fear used to overcome Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) that the color of his face used to become yellow (Pale). This condition endured from the beginning till the end. At the time of ritual ablution (wuzu) the same condition occurred. Once someone asked the reason for it. Imam (a.s) replied, “At this moment I am standing before a glorious and a divine Emperor Who is the Creator of all the worlds, in Whose hands is the reward and punishment of every creature. What is so surprising that my condition is such due to His fear?”
Once he went to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. When he reached the point where pilgrims put on the ritual dress he was about to recite the Thalbiya (Labbaik) and put on the dress when all of a sudden the color of his face underwent a change and the body began to shake terribly. At last, he could not even utter Labbaik. People asked him why he didn't recite the thalbiya. He said, “I was afraid to say Labbaik (here I am at your service) lest Allah may reply: La-Labbaik (I am not for you).” Saying this he wept so much that he lost consciousness. He performed all the rituals in this fearful condition. Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) used to recite altogether one thousand rakats (units) of prayers in twenty-four hours, and in every prayer he used to tremble severely.
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) says that whenever his respected father mentioned a bounty of Allah, he used to perform a prostration of thanks, whenever he recited a verse of Quran his condition used to be such that whether it be an obligatory prostration or a recommended one he used to invariably perform it. When he got relief from a particular difficulty he performed a prostration. He used to prostrate after the obligatory prayers. The signs of excessive prostration were apparent on his forehead? That is why he had earned the title of Sajjad (one who prostrates too much). Due to such excess two corns had formed on his forehead like the knee of a camel. Such was his sincerity and humility that once there was a fire in his house. At that time he was in prostration, people began to shout, Fire! Fire! But he did not raise his head from prostration. Finally the fire was brought under control. Someone asked him, “You did not even notice that there was a fire? What made you so oblivious of everything?” “The fire of the Hereafter,” replied the Imam.
Once Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) fell down in a well. Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) was reciting the prayers. The mother of Imam Baqir (a.s) screamed, “O Son of Allah's Messenger! Our son has fallen in the well.” However, as was his practice, he remained engrossed in his prayers. When he finished the prayers he came to the well, put his hand inside it and pulled out Imam Baqir (a.s) and told his wife, “If I had become negligent of Allah, He would not have restored this boy safe and sound to me.”
After half the night had passed, he used to come to his private prayer room and recite devotional prayers aloud: O my Lord! The fear of meeting You on the Day of Gathering did not allow me to remain on my bed. And sleep abandoned my eyes. Saying this he used to place his cheeks on the ground and wept so profusely that the ground became wet with his tears. Seeing this condition his family members used to gather around him but he paid no attention to them. He continued to weep and supplicate in the same plaintive way.
O my Lord! Here I do not seek rest, but on the day I am summoned in Your presence, please look at me with a glance of mercy.
Tawus Yamani narrates that Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) was seen during the Hajj season rubbing his cheeks on ground near the black stone and reciting devotions to his Lord.
“O my God! Your slave has come to Your House. Your impoverished one has come to Your House. Your beggar has come to Your House. Your pleader has come to Your House.”
The Imam used to say that three types of people worship in this world: The first type worship due to fear. It is the worship of slaves. The second type worship for rewards - It is the worship of business people. The third type worship with thankfulness - This is the true worship of the servants of Allah.
He used to subject his body to utmost penance. One day Imam Baqir (a.s) asked him why he practiced such a severe penance? He replied, “Don't you like that I should obtain divine proximity?”
Worship Of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s)
Like his respected father, Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) was also fond of worship. Most of his nights passed in wakefulness and in remembrance of Allah. The better part of the day was also spent in worship. Similar was the case of his fasts. Most of the time he used to observe fasts. When he stood up in the prayer niche his body shook with the fear of the Almighty. As long as he sat in a gathering, the glorification of God was on his lips. Once someone asked him why he worshipped so much? He began to weep and said, “Ugh! You call it excessive worship? While I consider it nothing with regard to the glory and the magnificence of the Lord.”
Worship Of Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (a.s)
People used to be astounded seeing the glory of his worship. Thus once Abu Hanifah saw him praying and was left perplexed by it. When the Imam completed the prayers he said, “O Aba Abdillah! How torturous is your prayer!” Imam (a.s) replied, “Don't you know that among all the worship acts, prayer is the greatest cause of divine proximity?”
Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s) used to prolong the recitations of his bowing (ruku) and prostration (Sajdah) so much that sometimes he recited them more than sixty times. The narrator says: One day I went to Imam (as.) to inquire something from him. I found him lying in prostration in the Prophet's mosque. I sat down near him thinking that when he completes his prayer I can ask him the question. The Imam prolonged the prostration so much that I was fed up sitting there. I thought up of some idea to somehow convey to him that I was present there. I decided to also go into prostration and recite the recitation of prostration loudly so that the Imam would hear my voice and complete his prayer. Thus I began to pray and when I went into prostration I recited the recitation loudly. When I had recited it more than 360 times I realized that the Imam has concluded his prayer. I also concluded my prayer then addressed the Imam, “Master, if this is the level of your prayer, what is the worth our prayers?” He said, “More or less, both are accepted from our Shias (followers)”
One day the Imam was passing by the orchards of Kufa. After walking for sometime he sat under a date palm. There he performed the ritual ablution and began to pray. He prolonged the recitation of his prostration so much that it exceeded five hundred times.
Worship Of Imam Musa Kazim (a.s)
It is mentioned in Faslul Khitab that at the time of sunrise he used to go into a prostration for the Creator and he used to so much prolong this prostration that it extended upto noontime. Due to intensive worship he had become so lean and emaciated that people barely recognized him. It seemed as if only a white cloth was lying on the prayer mat. Seeing the level of his worship, once Harun Rashid said: You are the monk and the pious one of Bani Hashim.
During the period he was in prison, it was customary for him to complete his morning prayer, recite the additional supplications and devotions and then go into a prostration and remain thus till noon. After the decline of the sun from its zenith he used to raise his head and perform the Noon (Zuhr) Prayer. Then he spent the whole day in worship. At night he slept for a few moments and spent the rest of the night in worship. After the Noon (Zuhr) and Afternoon (Asr) prayers he used to go into prostration and remain in this position till sunset. As soon as it was evening he stood up for the evening (Maghrib) prayer. After the evening prayer he recited the supplications till the time of the Night (Isha) prayers. Again after the Night (Isha) prayers he began to recite supplications and invocations. When he finished all this he broke his fast and used to eat a little food then go into prostration of thanks. Then after sleeping for a little while he was engrossed in the Midnight prayer till it was the time for Morning Prayer.
One day Harun Rashid sent a very attractive slave girl to the prison to seduce the Imam in any way possible. She came to the prison and employed all the tactics but to no avail. The Imam was not even slightly attracted by her. On the other hand the intensive worship of the Imam and his devotional recitations in the court of Allah had such profound effect on the maid that she began to regret her own evil intentions and became engrossed in Allah's worship. When Harun was informed of this he summoned her and asked, “Why did you not perform the job I sent you for?” She said, “O Chief! Listen! This man is not human. He is an angel. How could I have attracted him? I had gone to attract him towards myself but on the contrary his spirituality affected me.” After that, the slave girl receded into seclusion and spent the rest of her life in worship.
Worship Of Imam Reza (a.s)
Like his forefather, Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s), Imam Reza (a.s) also used to pray a thousand rakats (units) of prayers in a day and night. He concluded his prayers before a little while before noon and till the time of sunset at the end of the day. Otherwise most of the time he used to stand on his prayer mat. He also remained very thoughtful and contemplative. After completing the Morning Prayer he used to be engrossed in recitations and supplications and he prolonged the glorifications of God to such an extent that it was mid-morning. At this time he went into prostration of thanks to remain therein till noon. After that he issued admonitions and advices and returned to his prayer mat for the noon prayer. He recited the supererogatory (nawafil) till the sun began to decline from its zenith. After the noon prayer he prolonged his recitations and then performed the prostration of thanks. He used to recite: Thanks be to Allah (Shukran Lillaah) a hundred times. Thus, this type of worship continued till midnight. Then he slept for sometime and arose for the midnight prayer.
Mamun tried his utmost to involve the Imam in the affairs of the government but how could he do that? One day Mamun said, “O son of the Messenger of Allah! I fear that you may perish due to excess worship.” Imam (a.s) replied, “Such a death is everlasting success.” Mamun said, “What sins have you committed that you pray day and night for their forgiveness?” Imam (a.s) replied, “Not for the forgiveness of sins, it is for the thankfulness of His bounties. It is the demand of my servitude.”
Worship Of Imam Muhammad Taqi (a.s)
The worship of Imam Muhammad Taqi (a.s) was such that not a moment was without remembrance of Allah. Once he went for the Hajj. Seeing the intensive worship of the Imam, the pilgrims were left bewildered. Mutasim had also come for Hajj at that time. His officials reported to him the account of the worship of Imam Muhammad Taqi (a.s) and his sincerity and humility in prayers. They said, “We have never seen a more pious person.” The Imam used to weep the whole night in Allah's remembrance and when people restrained him he intensified his lamentations and said, “When have I worshipped the Almighty as befits Him, that you ask me to reduce it?”
A significant proof of his excessive worship is that his wife Ummul Fadl the daughter of Caliph Mamun wrote in a complain letter to her father: You have married me to a person who spends the whole night standing in the prayer niche, and fasts during the day. Neither is he fond of beauty and embellishments nor there is any means of comfort and luxury in his house. Daughters of the kings cannot spend their life with such ascetics.
Worship Of Imam Ali Naqi (a.s)
Like his forefathers, Imam Ali Naqi (a.s) was also a lover of the remembrance of Allah. When Mutawakkil summoned him from Medina to his capital and put him into prison, he appointed a stonehearted person named Zarraqi as the warden who had no mercy for anyone. But he was also astounded by his excellent manners and his worships all day and night long. And gradually he became the Imam's devotee and supporter. When Mutawakkil was informed about the condition of his spiritual inclinations he called him one day and said, “I appointed you so that you behave with your prisoner in the utmost vicious and ill-behaved manner.” He said, “O Chief! This person seems to be higher than angels in spiritual accomplishments. Since he is in my charge, I have never seen him eat during the day and sleep whole night. How do you expect me to deal harshly with one who is mostly busy in the worship of Allah, who fasts everyday, who does not demand anything, who never has a bad word for anyone, whose favorite activity is remembrance of Allah? How can I oppress him and destroy my Hereafter? O Chief! He laments so intensely due to the fear of Allah that his beard gets wet with his tears. He recites the Quran in such a melodious way that if one who hears it had a heart of stone, it would melt like wax. I think that you have put an angel under my charge. I have seen many worshippers but I haven't seen anyone like him.”
Worship Of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s)
Imam Hasan Askari (a.s) also had maximum fondness for the worship of Allah. In the prison where he was meted out every type of discomfort, where fresh air was not available and for two years at a stretch he was given nothing but cold water and two loaves of bread to eat. In such a place the condition was such that he used to spend the whole night in the worship of Allah. He fasted on most of the days. The servants of Motamid used to be perplexed on seeing his worship and they used to say to each other: If only we could freely be allowed to serve this noble personality. Thus Muhammad bin Ismail Alawi says that some persons from Bani Abbas went to Salih bin Wasf, under whom Imam Hasan Askari (a.s) was imprisoned and said, “Be very harsh with him and do not have the slightest mercy.” He said, “I had appointed two men over him. Both were the harshest and most vicious persons but after sometime seeing the excessive prayers of this prisoner, his worship of Allah and his spiritual strength they became his obedient servants ready to kiss his feet. They accompany him in prayers during the night.” After this Salih called those two servants from the prison and said, “What is this condition of yours?” They said, “Whose condition should we describe? Ours or that of the one who fasts during the days and prays the whole night? He does nothing other than pray. When people see his illuminated face, such a demeanor is radiated from it that we cannot show any ill manners. He is such a worshipper that he has converted evil-doer like us into worshippers.”
Worship Of Imam Mahdi (a.s)
Since the age of five he used worship the Almighty. During the period of Minor occultation (Ghaibat Sughra) when his special deputies had the honor of visiting him, they always found him engrossed in worship and prayers. Abul Hasan Ali Ibne Muhammad as-Saymoori relates: One day I came to Imam (a.s) and said, “O son of the Messenger (S)! Whenever I have the honor to be in your presence, I find you busy in worship?” Imam (a.s) replied, “Then what else do you expect from me? O Abul Hasan! People are created for this only. That they spend their lives in Allah's remembrance.”
We have dealt very briefly regarding the account of the worship of the Holy Imams. Otherwise, every movement and every rest of theirs was worship. There was nothing from the Divine Law upon which they had not acted. Since Prayer and fasting are the best worship acts, that is why we have particularly mentioned them. Though no one has the capacity to describe them fully.
It is possible for someone to remark at this juncture that many holy saints have passed who spent their lives in Allah's worship. Then what is the precedence of the Holy Imams over them? The reply is that merits in worship are due to some factors:
(1) Magnitude: That is the quantity of worship. For example one who keeps ten fasts in better than one who keeps only one. One who recites a hundred rakats (units) of prayers is better than one who recites fifty. From this aspect no one can be superior to the Holy Imams. Because their prayers, fasts and Hajjs exceeded those of all other people. No one in Islam can challenge that even one prayer of his has not lapsed. Neither can anyone claim that all his life he prayed the whole night and fasted all the days.
(2) Condition: That is to perform each worship act according to the prescribed rituals and manners. On the contrary someone else does it without caring for the fulfillment of all its requirements. Both of them have performed the same act but the former would indeed be superior to the latter. From this aspect also, the Holy Imams' (a.s) worship was better than all others, because they used to perform all the worship acts in the perfect manner. Till date no one has even mistakenly, pointed out their shortcomings in this regard. If there had been any shortcoming in any of their acts, they would not have received the certificate of excellence of their deeds from the Almighty Allah and the Holy Prophet (S).
(3) Essence: That is, the action of one person is better than that of another. For example, the actions of the one who fulfills the obligatory acts are superior to the actions of one who performs supererogatory acts. From this aspect also the acts of Ahl ul-Bayt were the best, because they did not even allow Tark-e-Awla (omitting the preferable option) to enter their actions. They also never ever omitted any recommended deed, and performed each act with utmost precaution and care.
(4) Intention: That is two people perform the same type of deed but each has a different aim in it. For example, one acts for seeking the pleasure of Allah and the other does it for show-off. Since the Holy Imams did everything for the pleasure of Allah and no personal interest was present therein, and they did everything for the sake of the Love of Allah, therefore in any case their actions were the most superior. If it hadn't been so, their excellence would not have been mentioned in the verses of Quran.
(5) Precedence: For example someone started worshipping Allah since childhood and another one started after a part of his life had passed. Since the Holy Imams had begun worship from their early childhood, they had superiority over others from this aspect also.
(6) Attention and Humility: That is one prays with absolute concentration and certainty while another performs it sans these qualities. It is obvious that except for the Holy Prophet (S), no one excelled the Ahl ul-Bayt in this regard. No one else possessed such concentration and humility in worship.
All Muslim scholars agree that the Holy Imams (a.s) excelled all the people in knowledge, merits, worship and austerity and not a single lesser or greater sin was ever committed by them. Therefore the rank of their worship would also always remain superior and better than all the worshippers of the world.
 Arjahul Matalib