When In Despair Remember Imam Sajjad
He walked in the unforgiving heat, toward the city of Kufa, with the sands of Karbala still latched on to his clothes – each particle of dust slowly withering away with the humid winds. His neck and hands were locked in chains – a captive of war. Hussain Ibn Ali his beloved father, had just been lost to ruthless slaughter. The body of his infant brother, Ali Asghar, pierced with a 3-pronged arrow, will forever be imprinted in his memory. His uncle Abbas, also no longer among the living, was mercilessly shot down with a swarm of arrows, as he bravely attempted to make his way through enemy lines, hoping to bring water to the children in the camp of Hussain.
And so the son of Hussain Ibn Ali, one among many captives, headed toward Kufa, compelled by the forces of Yazid ibn Muawiyah. Chained, resigned to his fate, seemingly in defeat, this man’s sorrow was to be Yazid’s moment of triumph.
The name of this man, who walked in quiet but dignified resignation, was Imam Sajjad (also known as Zain Ul Abiden) and he was from the blessed house of Muhammad.The ladies of this blessed house were among the captives, similarly chained and dishonored, with their veils ruthlessly stripped off of them. And this young man, noted by historians as being in his 20’s during this time, could do nothing but walk toward his destiny; a destiny he patiently embraced, never once questioning the Beauty and Mercy of God even while facing such immeasurable tragedy.
Imam Sajjad faced what would be called moments of despair, moments which would shatter the will of a weaker man. But Imam Sajjad did not despair. Indeed, he cried an ocean of tears, the tragic memory of Karbala, the men lost to ruthless slaughter, the women so mercilessly dishonored, was never to be forgotten. Yet the tears and tragic remembrance were not of a man rendered hopeless.
Imam Sajjad reminds those facing trials and tribulations, to express our sadness, our loss and our heartbreak, whilst never forgetting nor questioning the Mercy, the Benevolence and the Justice of Allah. He tells us to prostrate before our Lord, to plead to Him for deliverance, hope and strength through the trials of life.
Whether it is the mother who has to deal with the torment of burying her infant child, lost to a incurable disease; or the orphan who tearfully sleeps alone at night, or those facing crippling poverty, absent hope and direction; for all of them and for us, the message of Imam Sajjad is the same. He teaches us to turn toward Allah, and pour out our inner most emotions. He reminds us to not fall into despair. The Mercy of Allah is infinite he says, and if the scales of justice are not balanced in our temporal existence, and the deliverance of God not granted in this world, they most certainly will in the next world.
Imam Sajjad is known to us for his tears, and his noble ascetic spirit. Imam Sajjad may not have heroically battled the pagan warriors of Quraish as Ali did, he may not even have fought in the battle of Karbala, in which he was relegated in the fragile protection of a tent, overtaken by crippling illness. Yet Imam Sajjad, absent sword and the physical scars of dueling in the trenches, fought with the far more profound struggle with the soul, triumphing in his ascent toward the Divine, overcoming odds that would cripple most.
The inner battles he must have fought to remain resolute; to transform from trial into a leader of a fragile community; to spend his life serving God through charity and worship, and finally, to leave us with a collection of sermons, that can be categorized as nothing less than one of the most profound reflections about the nature of Allah, is a spectacular testimony to this man’s character and resilience. For this, and all that he has done to make his mark on Islamic history, and more importantly, in our hearts, he is Lion of God no less than Ali.
Imam Sajjad turned trauma into endless charity, asking for nothing in return but a higher station with his Lord; he turned solitude into a means toward God consciousness,allowing the Divine flame to enlighten the deepest recesses of his soul. And that is why he is called Al-Sajjad, “The Prostrating Imam,” and why his collection of sermons, compiled as Saḥīfa al-Sajjadiyya, is one of the most soul-touching conversations about God.
Acts of vengeance he abhorred. A man so emotionally tortured, would perhaps be justified in the eyes of some, in seeking perverted justice, given the ruthless slaughter of his father, his infant brother, and the dishonor brought upon his family.
But Imam Sajjad did not plot vengeance, nor did he seek to torture those who tortured and humiliated him. Much to the contrary, reflecting the remarkable mercy and patience Prophet Muhammad, Imam Sajjad showed exceptional fortitude in dealing with those who dehumanized him.
Imam Sajjad is the light we turn to in our moments of darkness. He is the hope we cling to through the vicissitudes of life. For whatever tribulations befall us, Imam Sajjad tells us to kneel before God, to channel our frustrations; our sadness and our sorrows, and use it as an ascent toward the Divine. He is the helping hand reaching out to us, as we desperately try to avoid falling into the endless pits of despair. For Imam Sajjad knows the pain of a lost mother; he knows the misery that comes with seeing a father brutally taken from him; he knows the anguish that comes with remembering the unfathomable murder of an infant brother. Imam Sajjad knows pain; he has dealt with torment, and yet, Imam Sajjad, he did not despair.