Chapter 18 : IMAM ALI IBN MUHAMMAD AL-HADI
The tenth Imam of the Muslims, Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Hadi was born in Surya in Medina in the middle of the month of Dhu al-Hijja 212 AH / 828 CE of Samana, the Moroccan wife of his father, Imam Muhammad al-Jawad. With Nass or the Explicit Designation and inheritance of the ‘Ilm or Special Sum of Knowledge of Religion from his father, Ali Ibn Muhammad became the new Imam at his father’s death when he was just 6 years old and remained the Imam for 33 years..
When Caliph al-Ma’mun, who was the contemporary of the Imamate of his father died, the ‘Abbasid Caliphate was transferred to al-Mu’tasim. This Caliph did not persecute the young Imam and neither did his successor Caliph al-Wathiq who held the office for five years after al-Mu’tasim died in 227 AH / 842 CE. Al-Wathiq’s successor, al-Mutawakkil however was different in this respect.
The harassment by al-Mutawakkil did not began immediately because for the first four years, the Caliph was very much occupied with the affairs of the state. Imam al-Hadi who had been devoting his time to the Divine mission of preaching in Medina was earning the trust, allegiance and recognition of the people for his great knowledge and attributes. This reputation evoked the jealousy and malice of al-Mutawakkil. To make matters worse, the Governor of Medina, ‘Abd Allah b. Muhammad wrote to al-Mutawakkil accusing Imam Ali al-Hadi of manoeuvring a coup against the government and informed the
The Imam was of course well aware of al-Mutawakkil’s treacherous intentions and anticipated fatal consequences should the invitation be refused. Reluctantly he left Medina for Samarra but when the he arrived, instead of being met with eager hospitality, the Imam was simply ignored and put in an inn called the Inn of al- Sa’alik, for the destitute and homeless.
Al-Mutawakkil then ordered Imam Al-Hadi to be put under the custody of a stone-hearted brute named Zurafah but within a short time Zurafah was transformed with love and devotion to the Imam. Undeterred, the Caliph sent the Imam to the custody of another cruel man called Sa’id where the Imam remained under strict vigilance for a few years during which time he devoted himself to worship.
When Al-Fath ibn Khaqan, who was of those who recognized the Divine legitimacy of the Imamate, became the vizier of al-Mutawakkil, he naturally became upset at Imam al-Hadi’s captivity. He endeavoured to have the Imam released and even personally arranged for a residence for him in Samarra but Al-Mutawakkil was unrelenting in his antagonism of the Imam and appointed spies to watch him in the hope of creating some fabrication to prove the Imam’s activity against the Caliphate or
some sort of entrapment.
During the time of al-Mutawakkil there appeared a woman named Zaynab who claimed to be a descendant of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (pbh). In light of the belief that wild beasts are prohibited by Allah to eat the flesh of the descendants of Imam Husayn, the Caliph decided that he might test Zaynab on her claim by throwing her to the animals. Zaynab was terrified and confessed her lie but when al-Mutawakkil threw Imam al-Hadi instead, he was shocked to find the beasts submissive to the Imam.
Incredible occurrences like this did not discourage al-Mutawakkil from abusing the Imam. Once, the Caliph even became ill with boils on his body and was declared incurable by his physicians. Al-Fath ibn Khaqan recommended to al-Mutawakkil that perhaps the Imam would know a cure. The Imam suggested that dregs of fat from a sheep be mixed with rose-water and the mixture put on the boils. This was done despite the scoffs of the courtiers and the Caliph indeed became cured. The Caliph’s mother was overjoyed and kept her vow that should her son get better, she would give a great deal of wealth from her own fortune to the Imam. A few days later a courtier named al-Batha’i slandered the Imam to the Caliph saying that Imam al-Hadi was amassing money and weapons. A search at the Imam’s room revealed the purse with the seal of al-Mutawakkil’s mother, still unopened and the Caliph finally learned about his mother’s vow if her son recovered.
It is reported in Kitab al-Irshad or The book of Guidance by Shaykh al-Mufid (b. circa 337 AH / 949 CE d. 413 AH / 1044 CE) that al-Mutawakkil was frustrated that he was unable to be a confidant of the Imam. It was suggested to him that he should try to use the Imam’s brother Musa, who was a reveller and a
Al-Mutawakkil therefore brought Musa in great pomp and ceremony to Samarra and sent the rest of the Banu Hashim and military leaders to meet him. The Caliph also ordered that an estate be set aside for Musa where a luxurious house was to be built where Musa could stay when he visited. Wine-merchants and dancers were also sent for. After the Caliphal gifts and honours were bestowed to Musa, Imam al-Hadi went to meet his brother at the bridge of Wasil, a common meeting palace at that time. The Imam tried to warn Musa not to disgrace himself and lessen his dignity and that he should instead be fearful of Allah but Musa could not be convinced that the Caliph intended malice. Imam al-Hadi told his brother that the Musa will never even meet al-Mutawakkil as he desired. True enough, for three years Musa continued to go early every day to the door of al-Mutawakkil but would always be given an excuse that the Caliph was not free. When the Caliph was killed three years later, Musa still never met him.
The successors of the Caliphate, al-Mustansir, al-Musta’in and al-Mu’tazz all continued to harassed the Imam and severely limited communications between Muslims who acknowledged the Imams as the legitimate successors of the Prophet (pbh) and the Imam of the time, Imam al-Hadi. Through an ambassador, Caliph al-Mu’tazz contrived to assassinate the Imam and succeeded to poison him. Imam Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Hadi died on the 3rd Rajab 254 AH / 868 CE at the age of about 41 and was buried in Samarra, Iraq.