‘Alī (‘a), the Grandson of ‘Alī (‘a): Communicating With the Almighty
Written by: Shabbir Agha Abbas
(Grave of Zayn al-ʿAbidīn (‘a) in Madinah)
On the 5th of Sha’bān (38 AH) arrived a newborn in the household of ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (‘a) a blessing for not just him, but for humanity as a whole; the child being his eponymous grandson ‘Alī, who grew up to be known as Zayn al-ʿAbidīn (the adornment of the worshipers) and Sayyid al-Sājidīn (the master of the prostrators).* Both grandfather and grandson are remembered today for their mastery of the Arabic language, using it to draw mankind closer to their creator; the former by his thought-provoking sermons and exhortations and the latter with his arousing supplications.
The distinction between the two does not at all suggest that one was greater or lacking, but instead signifies the differing circumstances they were in. The grandfather, albeit shortly as the Caliph, was given utmost command over the pulpit whereas the grandson lived in an antagonistic era wherein he was restrained to the ṣaf (prayer rows) amongst the common worshippers, hence the essence may have been the same but the appearance not at all. As Zayn al-ʿAbidīn (‘a) was largely restricted to being just one amongst the worshippers, the means for the believers to be exposed to and ultimately guided by the inherited Prophetic teachings was limited to observing the Imam in his worship, in his prayers.
As the magnificent words of the grandfather, ‘Alī, have been preserved beautifully in the Nahj al-Balāghah, the words of the grandson ‘Alī have been preserved in al-Ṣaḥīfat al-Sajādīyah. However, unlike the Nahj, the Ṣaḥīfah was not compiled by scholars centuries after, it instead was inscribed by the Imam’s son Zayd ibn ‘Alī (‘a) whilst the Imam was narrating these divine supplications. It was written in the presence and on the command of the Imam. Hence, this special book is regarded by the historians as one of the earliest works to have been preserved in such pristine manner, and according to the hadith specialists this work is considered mutawātir, therefore unquestionably authentic. Therefore, in importance this work comes second only to the Qur’ān, and its relationship with the Qur’ān is like no other.
The Qur’ān in function is the divine speech of God to mankind, whereas in function the al-Ṣaḥīfat al-Sajādīyah is the perfect response of mankind to this speech. When reading the Qur’ān alongside the Ṣaḥīfah, it doesn’t seem as if they are two distinct texts instead they read as if they are in the form of discussion. How can this be so? It is, by not being a mere supplication in the form of petitioning the Almighty; instead it is a supplication surrounded by exegesis of the Qur’ān. To demonstrate this, the supplication that the Imam recited in Sha’bān in anticipation of Ramaḍān is a worthy example, an excerpt:
“وَ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي جَعَلَ مِنْ تِلْكَ السُّبُلِ شَهْرَهُ, شَهْرَ رَمَضَانَ, شَهْرَ الصِّيَامِ، وَ شَهْرَ الْإِسْلَامِ, وَ شَهْرَ الطَّهُورِ، وَ شَهْرَ التَّمْحِيصِ، وَ شَهْرَ الْقِيَامِ الَّذِي أُنْزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ ، هُدًى لِلنَّاسِ ، وَ بَيِّنَاتٍ مِنَ الْهُدَى وَ الْفُرْقَانِ“**
“And praise belongs to God who appointed among those roads His month, the month of Ramaḍān, the month of fasting, the month of submission, the month of purity, the month of putting to test, the month of standing in prayer, in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance to the people, and as clear signs of the Guidance and the Separator!”***
As all proper supplications begin with an adoration of the Almighty, the Imam does so, but in doing so he mentions the month of Ramaḍān, briefly extolling its virtues. After listing them, when he continues on by saying ‘in which’ (الَّذِي) at that moment the words transition from his to Allah’s, however, the transition is entirely seamless. One cannot by the words alone discern the distinction between the two sources; it very well feels as though the train of thought is one of unison.
Nevertheless, being interspersed with verses is a general motif of the supplications, therefore the communiqué that is the Ṣaḥīfah can be understood as a petition to the Almighty using the Almighty’s own words, therefore the efficacy in communication is ultimate. It can quite simply be surmised as such, that the Prophet (s) introduced us to the Almighty (His oneness), whereas ‘Alī described the ṣifāt of the Almighty, and Zayn al-ʿAbidīn showed us how to communicate with the Almighty. As the month of the Qur’ān descends upon us, it would benefit us immeasurably to use this Ṣaḥīfah as our means of communication with Allah ‘azza wa jal, and to attain His proximity.
* There are disagreements on whether he was born in Kufa or Madinah, but it is agreed that he was born during the Caliphate of his grandfather.
** al-Ṣaḥīfat al-Sajādīyah, Supplication 44
*** Qur’ān 2:185