|Part 9 : Piety of the Holy Imams (a.s)|
The piety of Islam is very different from that perceived by other religions. The austerity of Jewish and Christian faiths and the asceticism of Hinduism, in the view of Islam is obvious oppression and a deadly enemy of civilization. The teachings of Islam in clear words state: There is no asceticism in Islam. Asceticism implies that man completely dissociates himself with all worldly things and recedes to the mountain caves, forests or by the seashores to meditate and practice penance. He completely cuts off himself from the world and whatever is in it. Neither he does good to his relatives, nor he listens to the pleas of those in difficulties, or helps the deprived ones. He also does not have any connection with the principles of society and civilization. No spouse or children for him; he is also unconcerned about his parents relatives. If he is able to get pieces of bread in alms, he eats them otherwise he sits putting his head upon his knees. Such a person is an enemy of civilization. If all the people were to follow this path there would be no continuation of generations. No one would care for or help others. Islam considers such a life useless and degraded. The ascetics and monks have only to suffer a shock in the beginning when they adapt this way of life. But once they enter it they have no concern remaining, there is nothing that demands their attention. So what else can they do but spend their lives in meditation and worship? Therefore in the view of Islam there is nothing worthy of praise in such a life. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s) has mentioned in unequivocal words, “One who leaves the worlds for the sake of religion or leaves religion for the sake of the world is not from us.” Only that worship is worthy that one performs being among the worldly relationships.
In Islam piety is that you remain among the people, guarding the rights of others, fulfilling your lawful desires but at the same time not become attached to the world. Break off the wings of greed and ambitions. Cool down the emotions of sensuality. Use everything in such a little quantity that were you to reduce the quantity further, your life would be in danger. The Holy Imams (a.s) traversed this path in a beautiful way. They ate but only as much to avoid death. And ate such food that there was nothing simpler. They wore such clothes, that anything cheaper did not exist, and that it should only protect the body from cold and hot seasons. They kept so few things in the house, that anything lesser would have made life difficult. They constructed such houses for themselves that even the poorest of the poor would not be awed by it. They reduced the necessities to a stage that anything lesser meant death. The fact is that the life lived by the Holy Imams (a.s) requires great determination, will power and a perfect faith.
Piety Of Amir’ul-Mu’minin (a.s)
Imam Fakhruddin Razi has written in Arbaeen that in the lifetime of the Prophet (S) a group of companions was famous for its austerity; like Abu Zar Ghiffari, Salman Farsi and Abu Darda etc. All these great personalities followed the example of Ali (a.s) in simplicity and austerity.
It is narrated from Qabida in Majmaul Ahbab fil Manaqib al Ashab that: We have not seen anyone among the people more pious than Ali (a.s).
Ibne Athir has narrated from Hasan bin Salih in Tarikh Kamil that once in the presence of Umar Ibne Abdul Aziz the conversation steered towards piety. He said: Of all the people, Ali (a.s) was the most pious.
It is mentioned in Usud al-Ghaba that Ammar Ibne Yasir has narrated that the Messenger of Allah (S) told Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s), “O Ali! The Almighty Allah has bestowed you with such a merit as He has not bestowed anyone else. And that is piety in the world, which is an ornament for the people in view of Allah. Allah has made you such that neither you got anything from the world nor the world got anything from you. He gave you the love for poor people and He made you satisfied by their following you and He made them pleased by making you their Imam.”
It is narrated from Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) that he said, “The Messenger of Allah (S) told me, 'O Ali! When people became attached to the material world and forsake the Hereafter. Usurp the inheritance of others and destroy the religion and plunder the wealth of Allah; what would be your condition?' I said, 'I would leave them and forsake whom they follow. And I would betake Allah, His Prophet and the abode of the Hereafter. I would be patient on worldly calamities and difficulties, till the time I meet you.' The Prophet said, 'It is true, you will do this only.'”
Ahmad Ibne Hanbal has written in his Manaqib that one day the Satan suggested to Ali (a.s), “Always keep the public treasury full of wealth and gold coins.” Ali (a.s) came to the Baitul Maal (Public treasury) and ordered that people may be summoned. Then he started distributing till everything was finished and he said, “O Gold and Silver, defraud others.” When the public treasury became empty he ordered it to be sprinkled with water. Then he performed two rakats (Units) of prayers of thankfulness.
It is mentioned in Usdul Ghabah that Imam Hasan (a.s) narrated, “Neither my respected father collected wealth nor he left behind anything, except for six hundred Dirhams with which he desired that slaves may be freed.” In the same book it is narrated from Abu Naeem that he heard Sufyan say, “The Amir (Ali) never placed a brick upon a brick or a bamboo upon a bamboo to construct a house. If he wanted he could have inhabited from Medina to Jurab.”
Ibne Athir has written in Tarikh Kamil that Harun Ibne Antara narrates from his father that he went to Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) to obtain his share of poor people. It was a cold season and Ali (a.s) was shivering as he had only an old cloth thrown over himself. The narrator said to him, “The Almighty Allah has appointed a share for you in the Public Treasury. Why have you not taken anything for yourself?” He replied, “By Allah, I do not like anything of your property. By Allah, this is my own quilt that I had brought with me from Medina.”
It is narrated from Zaid Ibne Abi Wahab that one day Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) came out of his house in such a way that his lower garment was having patches all over it. Ibne Na'ja the Khariji, became angry on seeing him and said, “You are the Chief of the believers, such clothes do not befit you.” Imam (a.s) replied, “What concern do you have with my clothes. This dress of mine is remote from pride and it is deserving to serve as a model for Muslims.”
Ahmad Ibne Hanbal has written in Manaqib that during the temporal rule of Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) he purchased a shirt worth three dirhams. Its sleeves were somewhat long, which he got shortened. Then he said, “Thanks be to God Who bestowed such a dress.” One day he was standing in the Kufa market to sell his sword, and he kept repeating, “By Allah, if I had the money to purchase this garment, I would not have sold my sword.”
Ahmad Ibne Hanbal has written in Musnad that according to the narrator Suwaid Ibne Ghafla, “One day I went to Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) and found him sitting on an old and tattered sack. I said, “You are the ruler of the Muslims and owner of the Public treasury, and you sit on an old sack? You also have to receive foreign visitors. Don't you have anything better in your house?” He said, “O Suwaid, a wise man does not become attached to a house that one has to eventually leave. We have the abode of eternity before our eyes, towards which we would soon depart. The diet of the Imam consisted of dry barley bread or grains half filled with husk. One day something special was placed before him. He did not eat anything. He was asked, “Is it unlawful.” He said, “No, but I don't want to make myself used to things that the Holy Prophet (S) had never consumed.” Once someone said, “The Almighty Allah has made you the owner of a great kingdom, why do you not eat good food?” He replied. “I have heard from the Messenger of Allah (S) say that it is not allowed for the caliph to take more than two measures from public wealth. One measure for himself and one for the guest.”
It is narrated from Suwaid bin Uqbah that, “One day I went to the Imam at the Administrative Headquarters. At that time a loaf of barley bread and a cup of milk was kept in front of him. The bread was so hard and dried that he used to press it with his hands and sometimes with his thighs to break it. I was very disturbed to see it. I told his slave-maid Fizza, “You also do not pity the Amir'ul-Mu'minin? You should at least remove the husk from the flour before making bread. Don't you see there is so much husk in it?” Fizza said, “What can I do? The Imam has taken an oath from me that I would never sieve the flour to make bread.” The Imam said, “O Suwaid, the Holy Prophet (S) and his Ahl ul-Bayt have never eaten wheat bread to satiation for three consecutive days, and never was the flour sieved for them. One day I was hungry in Medina and I came out to find some work. I saw that a woman had collected mud and was trying to mix it with water (to plaster a wall etc). I told her to give me one piece of date for each bucket of water. I pulled out sixteen buckets for her and my palms became sore. I brought the dates to the Holy Prophet (S) and related to him the whole incident, then we both shared the dates.”
Zaid says that one day he went to Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) and saw a pot of water kept near him and on the other side was a canvas bag with its mouth sealed. “I thought he would remove precious things from it and give them to me. When the Imam broke the seal and opened the bag I saw that it contained parched barley meal. He took out a handful, mixed it in a cup of water, offered to me and took some himself. I could not restrain myself, and I said, 'Sir, living in Iraq you have such food? While different kinds of eatables are available here?' He said, 'This is sufficient for survival.' I said, 'Why do you keep the bag sealed?' He replied, 'So that my family may not mix oil etc. in it. I do not want anything to be a part of my diet except barley.'”
It is written in Sharh Nahjul Balagha that the Imam always observed a diet of vinegar and salt. If he exceeded in it he ate some vegetables and if he further increased it, he drank some camel milk. He used to eat very little meat and he said, “Do not make your stomach a graveyard of animals.”
Piety Of Imam Hasan (a.s)
Thrice, Imam Hasan (a.s) gave up all his wealth in charity and twice he gave away half his wealth. Like his father, he also spent his life with the bare necessities. But his food spread was very wide. He used to have different kinds of dishes prepared for the guests, but himself ate only barley bread with vinegar or salt. His cloak was patched in many places. The narrator says, “One day I came to Imam Hasan (a.s) during his rule and found him sitting on a tattered sack. Seeing me, he had a sheet spread over it. I saw that it was patched at many places and it was of a very coarse material. I said, 'O Amir'ul-Mu'minin, you are sitting on a sack. How is it possible for me to step on this blessed sheet?' He said, 'O Abu Salih, take a seat.' I sat down following the command of Imam (a.s) then said, 'O Son of the Messenger of Allah, you are the ruler, is there not even as much share in the kingdom that you can purchase a sheet for personal use?' Hearing this, the Imam became angry and said, 'Abu Salih, we Ahl ul-Bayt were not created for a comfortable life. We are created to provide comfort to others and to safeguard their rights. This sheet fulfills all my needs that an expensive one would do. Then what is the need for me to purchase a new sheet? O Abu Salih, would it not be better if I spend the same money on the poor and deprived people?' Hearing this I said, 'Amir'ul-Mu'minin, you are right. The fact is that, except for the Ahl ul-Bayt no one deserves this position.'”
Piety Of Imam Husain (a.s)
Imam Husain (a.s) also spent a simple and austere life like his father and maternal grandfather. He was never fond of expensive clothes or tasty foods. He used to give away all that he received to the poor and destitute. One day received an amount from the public treasury. He kept it before himself waiting for needy people to arrive so that he can distribute it among them. Someone said, “O Son of the Messenger, your cloak is patched at many places, why don't you take some money from this amount and buy a new cloak?” He said, “This is sufficient for me.” Very often people sent him gifts and presents, but he gave them all away to the orphans, the widows and poor people.
Piety Of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s)
The narrator says that one day he saw Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) in such a way that the straps of his sandals were broken, due to which he was walking with a lot of difficulty. The narrator asked him, “O son of the Messenger of Allah! Why don't you buy a new pair of shoes?” He replied, whatever amount I save for it, before I could purchase it some needy person comes with a request and I give it to him.” The narrator said, “Please permit me to buy you a pair of shoes.” Just then a beggar came and requested the Imam for something. The Imam said to the narrator, “Give him whatever you had intended to spend for buying me a pair of shoes. This person is more deserving of it. If I had the money, I would myself have fulfilled his need.”
Abdullah Damishqi says, “One day I went to Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) and found him patching his cloak. I had come with 5000 Dirhams as Khums money and I presented it to the Imam and said, 'Master, it is my desire that you take some money from this amount and buy yourself a new cloak, your cloak has become very old.' The Imam said, 'Keep the money here and announce in Medina that whoever is in need may come to me in the Prophets' mosque.' I made the announcement according to his directions and very soon people converged in hordes. The Imam distributed all the money and I was left astounded.”
Piety Of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s)
He also spent a simple and ascetic life and he never had regard for material wealth. He always wore patched clothes and sitting on a jute sack delivered admonitions to the people. Many a times he remained hungry and gave his share of food to the poor. Saeed bin Abdullah says, “One day I came to the Imam and saw him wearing a very worn-out dress. He said, 'O Saeed, I want to buy a shirt.' I said, 'Master, why do you take that trouble, I'll but one for you.' He said, 'No, I will buy it according to my requirements.' Thus Imam (a.s) walked to the market and I accompanied him. He purchased a dress from a shop costing four dirhams. It was of a very coarse material. I said, 'O son of the Messenger, this does not befit you. I am having the money, you may buy a good shirt, and I will pay for it.' The Imam said, 'Wonderful, O Saeed! You want to bear my burden! Are you prepared to bear my burden on the Day of Judgment also?' I became silent. The Imam moved ahead with the shirt. On the way he saw an unclothed Muslim. He moved towards him quickly and said, 'O man, why are you not wearing a shirt?' The man replied, 'O son of the Messenger of Allah, I have a family and whatever I earn is spent on it. I could not save enough money to buy a shirt.' The Imam gave him that shirt at once. I saw that the Imam was much happier than before. When he moved ahead, I said, 'O Son of the Messenger of Allah! Why did you give the shirt away when you were more in need of it?' He said, 'He was more deserving of it than me. Even though worn out, at least I have a dress on my body, but that person was naked.'
Piety Of Imam Ja'far As-Sadiq (a.s)
Most of the time the Imam was clothed in a dress of coarse material or wool, due to which his body was in great discomfort. This woolen dress was also patched. One of his companions was disturbed on seeing him dressed thus. He said, “Remember, one who has no modesty, has no faith. One who also does not spend according to his income may be involved in financial hardships. One who does not wear old clothes, makes himself prone to pride.”
The narrator says, “One day I saw Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s) sitting on bare floor. I said, 'O son of the Messenger of Allah, where is that floor spread on which you used to sit?' He said, 'I saw a person shivering in cold and told him if that spread could save him from cold he may take it. He said it would, so I gave it to him?' I said, 'Master! Then for how long could you continue to sit on a bare floor?' He said, 'I would not mind even if I have to sit on it all life long. O man, the Prophet (S) often sat on the bare ground with his companions. Why are you surprised if I also sit in the same manner?'”
Piety Of Imam Musa Kazim (a.s)
Imam Musa Kazim (a.s) was having a very high degree of piety and abstinence. Harun Rashid used to say that he had not seen among the Bani Hashim anyone more austere than Musa Ibne Ja'far. His dress, food and household belongings, all seemed to be ascetic. A better part of his life, that is fifteen years, were spent in prison. The prison guards used to be mesmerized seeing his austere way of life.
Piety Of Imam Reza (a.s)
During hot season he sat on a sack and during cold, he sat on a blanket. At home he wore a dress of coarse and thick cloth. This was very uncomfortable to the body. However, when he went out, he used to wear fine clothes, so that people may not ridicule him to be a miser. One day a Sufi of Medina saw him wearing fine clothes and objected to it. The Imam caught his hand put it inside his sleeve to show him that he was wearing coarse woolen clothes inside and the outward dress was only for the people so that they may not label him an outwardly pious man, and the dress of coarse wool was to keep the body in penance.
When Mamun appointed the Imam as his heir apparent, he reserved a section of his royal palace for the Imam. The Imam expressed to him his dislike in residing in it. He said that such mansions were for kings and not for Ahl ul-Bayt. So Mamun asked what type of a dwelling the Imam preferred. Imam said, “A very ordinary place having no inconvenience. It shouldn't have any means of comfort, there should not be a sentry at the door and there should not be any hindrance to the visitors. The floor should be covered with a mat.” Mamun said, “You are my heir-apparent, such a house is not suitable for you.” But the Imam said, “I like only such a kind of place.” At last Mamun relented and said, “You may choose any house for yourself.” Imam (a.s) selected a dilapidated house near the royal palace and began to reside in it.
Piety Of Imam Muhammad Taqi (a.s)
In spite of the fact that he was the son-in-law of an influential and wealthy ruler like Mamun, he had no regard for this relationship. He lived a very simple life, as was the way of his ancestors. And he remained in this way as long as he lived. All the luxurious items that his wife Umme Fadl had brought from her father's were kept in a separate building, and the Imam told her, “If you like to spend a life of luxury stay in that house and if you want to spend a life of poverty stay with me in this house.” Ummul Fadl chose to stay with him and that is why she was always unhappy with the relationship.
Piety Of Imam Ali Naqi (a.s)
Once someone lied to Mutawakkil that Imam Ali Naqi (a.s) lived a life of luxury. And that he has collected a lot of wealth and weapons in his house, and was secretly raising an army of his Shias.
Mutawakkil sent a battalion that surrounded the Imam's house and ordered that all that is there in the house may be taken out. When the soldiers entered the Imam's house they found a sack, a shirt of coarse wool and some clay utensils. That was all they found there! When this was reported to Mutawakkil he punished the man who has given the false report.
Piety Of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s)
Like his forefathers and ancestors, Imam Hasan Askari (a.s) also lived a simplistic and abstemious existence. By way of testing, one day, the ruler caliph sent him lots of delicious foods and luxurious clothes. He gave away all of it in charity. Someone instigated the caliph that the Imam had not accorded any respect to the royal gifts and that he has squandered them all away.
The caliph became infuriated and summoned the Imam at once and said, “You have belittled the gifts I sent you and you gave them to the beggars thus insulting me.” The Imam said, “It is not so. We Ahl ul-Bayt of the Prophet, have forsaken the pleasures of the world. We are used to betake very simple food and wear patched clothes. Thus I gave it all to those who were deserving of it.” The caliph had no reply to this.