Some Teachings from the Life of Imam Al-Hasan ('a) by Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

Some Teachings from the Life of Imam Al-Hasan ('a) by Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

There is no doubt that Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) possessed so many positive and noble characteristics that he was truly befitting of his name ‘Hasan’. We hope that we can also follow in his footsteps and become more like him as well.‌

The sad days of the month of Ṣafar bring to us the reminder of the painful events which took place in the past, such as the passing of the Holy Prophet (s), the events of Karbala, the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) and Imam al-Rida (ʿa). At the same time, these days are an opportunity for us to propagate our religion and so we must make good use of these days and not let them pass us by.  Thus, we will attempt to use this article to shed greater light on the life of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa), so that we can use these important lessons as an example to implement in our own day to day lives.

There is no doubt that Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) possessed so many positive and noble characteristics that he was truly befitting of his name ‘Hasan’. We hope that we can also follow in his footsteps and become more like him as well.  Let us use this article as a means of describing and explaining the key teachings which can be found in the life of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) by utilizing the knowledge and valuable viewpoints of Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi.

Being a True Servant of Allah (swt) according to Imam al-Hasan (ʿa)

Without any doubt, worship, with its various particularities, is one of the key elements in the life of the Second Shia Imam (ʿa).  This significant element is seen so clearly in the spiritual life of the Imam (ʿa) that it has been narrated that the state of the Imam (ʿa) would be completely transformed from the time when he would begin to perform his minor ablutions for prayer until the time that his prayer would finish.  

Similarly, it has been narrated that when Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) would arrive at the mosque for his prayers, he would stand shivering and he would be reciting the following words [1]: Allah O’ Lord! Your guest has arrived before you. O’ doer of good! The evildoer has come before you…So forgive the flagrant sins that I have committed for the sake of the beautiy of your Grace, O’ All-Gracious! [2]

Similarly, when the Imam (ʿa) would busy himself in worship, his body would shake out of the fear of Allah and he would worship with all of his heart, supplicating and speaking to his Lord…
It has been narrated that Junādah ibn Abī Sufyān, who was one of the loyal companions of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa), went to see the Imam (ʿa) during the last hours of his blessed life.  Even though the Imam (ʿa) was on his deathbed due to the effects of the poison, he began to advise Junādah. Amongst the things which he told him, there is a line which is particularly profound.

He said[3]: “Oh Junādah, if you wish to be strong without having a clan or tribe (to back you) and if you wish to have grandeur and greatness without having the throne and crown of a king, then leave the dark shadows of sin and disobedience to Allah and move towards the shade of Allah’s obedience”.[4] The Imam (ʿa) is telling Junādah to move forward in the obedience of Allah until he gains greatness and grandeur. This is because honor, greatness, and power belong to Allah (swt) alone and he is the one who will give it to whomever he wills.[5]

The Aesthetic Aspect of Worship as Reflected in the Life of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa)

According to psychologists, the faculty which recognizes beauty is one of the four spiritual faculties which human beings possess. The other three are the faculties of goodness, knowledge, and religion. These four faculties are what comprise the primary psyche of the human being.  These psychologists are of the opinion that the beauty which arises from various arts such as poetry, literature, handicrafts, and other things has its roots in this human faculty of beauty. In light of this, it is not possible for an authentic code of law to stifle this faculty in human beings.

This is why the utilization of beauty in nature, clothing, perfumery and other such things is not only considered to be permissible in Islam, but they are rather highly encouraged.  When we look at this issue and then look in to the details of the life of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa), we find that he lived his life in light of many of these things. For example, whenever the Imam (ʿa) would go towards prayer, he would wear the best clothes which he had.

One time, the Imam (ʿa) was asked why he would wear his best clothes when standing up in prayer. He answered with the following words[6]: “Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty; for this reason, I wear beautiful clothes when I am going to supplicate to my Lord. (In addition,) he has also commanded that we embellish ourselves when going to the mosques”.[8] These valuable words of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) indicate that if such things were to be impermissible or unlawful, then Allah (swt) would have never created them. He has created all of the beauties of this world and this is a potent proof that the creator loves these things.[9]

Forbearance and Patience: Moral Teachings in the Life of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa)

Among the key character qualities of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) are those of patience and forbearance. It is evident that these two characteristics, much like other human characteristics, possess certain roots. One of the most important roots of these two characteristics can be found in the self-control and domination which one has over their lower desires. This type of self-control gives rise to patience and forbearance which in turn allow an individual to maintain their composure during times of difficulty and to not become excessively angry or depressed. If someone does not possess the necessary patience and forbearance, they will become angry very easily.

According to history books, once someone asked Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) the meaning of forbearance. The Imam (ʿa) responded with the following words:[10] “Forbearance is the stifling of wrath and control over oneself in a way where a reaction is not shown”.   In another well-known tradition, it has been narrated that one day a man from Syria saw Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) as he was walking in the streets of Medina. When he saw the Imam (ʿa), he began to insult and slander him. The man continued to insult the Imam (ʿa) but the Imam (ʿa) did not say anything to him.

When the man had finished with his insults, the Imam (ʿa) faced him, greeted him with the Islamic greeting of the Salām, and smiled at him. He then said to the man: “O’ respected man! I imagine that you are a stranger here…  If you are hungry, we will feed you and if you lack proper clothing, then we will cloth you. Whatever you need, I will give to you. And if you accept our invitation and come to our house as our guest, then we will host you until the time that you wish to leave. We live in a large house and possess many means (meaning that taking care of you is not a problem for us).

When the man from Syria heard these words, he began to cry (and his attitude changed completely). He said to Imam al-Hasan (ʿa): I testify that you are the vicegerent of Allah on this earth; Allah knows best in what lineage to place the prophethood [and the Imamate]… The man then become the Imam (ʿa)’s guest until the time that he departed from Medina and he ended up becoming one of the steadfast followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa).  This story shows us how the Imam (ʿa) transformed an individual who hated him in to one of his steadfast followers through the power of his forbearance. Truly this was one of the exemplary characteristics of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa).

History shows us that Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) stood against all of the various difficulties and problems which he faced in his life. These included things such as the disloyalty of those who claimed to follow him, the influence of the hypocrites who had infiltrated his army, as well as the mercilessness of the Umayyads. All of these things worked hand in hand until the Imam (ʿa) was forced in to signing a treaty with Muʿāwīyah.  After all of this, the Imam (ʿa) was then sub-jected to criticism from both friend and foe for having signed the treaty. In spite of all of these issues, he continued to show an exemplary level of patience and forbearance.

It is worthy of mention that we, the Shias, must prove ourselves to be such based on our actions. We must increase our levels of patience and forbearance. Unfortunately, we see that in the society around us, there are some people who fight one another over the least issues; they end up causing huge problems as a result of their actions.  This is while if they adopted an attitude of patience and forbearance like that of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa), the world would become a veritable paradise for everyone.

Generosity and Charity

It must be acknowledged that the true meaning of charity needs to be learned from the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa). This is particularly true when it comes to the character of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) with the various incidents recorded in history.  One example which has been narrated is an incident when a poor man came to the Imam (ʿa) and told him that he had nothing else left but his dignity and he wanted to sell his dignity to the Imam (ʿa) in lieu of his charity. When the Imam (ʿa) heard this, he gave twelve thousand Dirhams to the man so that he could leave with his dignity and honor intact.

The Imam (ʿa) was known for being so generous that at times in his life, he would share all of his wealth with the needy. People knew that if they went to the Imam (ʿa) and asked him for something, they would not leave his house without having received something.  When we look at these incidents in the life of the Imam (ʿa), it becomes clear to us that we must follow the example of our Imam (ʿa) in our day to day lives.[11]  It is not enough to claim to love someone or to claim to follow someone; this love must come with the necessary actions. Therefore, we must strive to fulfill the needs of those who are needy amongst our family members, as well as others who are in need.

The Coming to Fruition of the Ashura Movement as a Result of the Peace Treaty Signed by Imam al-Hasan (ʿa)

When the Imam (ʿa) saw that the war which he faced would only result in bloodshed, whereby the enemy had already used bribes to purchase the various tribal leaders, as well as some of his army commanders, he realized that this was a war which would not yield any positive results. Things had even reached the point where some of the army leaders had written a letter to Muʿāwīyah telling him that they were ready to take Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) and turn him completely over to him. Things were in such a way where there was no other solution but to formulate a peace treaty with Muʿāwīyah.  When we examine the details of history, we find that the same people who had been disloyal to Imam ʿAli(ʿa) were disloyal to Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) as well. They even went so far as to threaten to kill the Imam (ʿa).

The Late ʿAllāmah Majlisī has narrated the reasons behind the peace treaty as stated by the Imam (ʿa) himself. He has narrated the following[12]: “My treaty with Muʿāwīyah was only done to prevent the blood of the Muslims from being spilled”.   When we examine the historical record, even after the passing of so many years, we find these to be very sound reasons. Yet in spite of this, Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) was forced to suffer from the criticisms of many people who failed to understand the reality of the situation. It is interesting to note that even some of those who had played a key role in forcing the Imam (ʿa) to sign the treaty began to criticize him.

In spite of all this, the Imam (ʿa) continued to do his work with an exemplary level of patience and forbearance. He passed these painful years and his treaty ended up creating the grounds for the movement of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa), as well as the many revolts which sprung up after his martyrdom. In reality, it was the actions of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) that finally led to the fall of the Umayyad government.

Another important issue which has been mentioned in history is the international situation which the Muslims faced during that time period which also forced the Imam (ʿa)’s hand in signing the peace treaty with Muʿāwīyah. This issue related to the Eastern Roman Empire which was looking in great detail at the internal situation of the Muslim world. They had been preparing themselves for a long time for an opportunity to strike at the Muslims and they felt that the coming situation would be a very ideal one for them.

If Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) went to war against Muʿāwīyah and the two sides became engaged in an internal conflict, this would leave the door completely open for an attack by the Roman Empire. This would have resulted in the complete destruction of the newly formed Muslim nation and all of the hard work of the past years would have been wasted. Due to these circumstances and the Imam (ʿa)’s foresight, the Imam (ʿa) ended up deciding to sign a peace treaty with Muʿāwīyah so that the Romans would not gain an opportunity to attack and the religion of Islam could continue to grow.

The Rejection of Secular Governance as Reflected in the Political Life of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa)

The life of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) shows us clearly that they did not consider religion to be separate from politics. In some supplications they would even refer to certain terms which were in reference to the deep connection that exists between religion and politics.[14]   Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) is narrated to have mentioned how the establishment of an Islamic government is a divinely ordained duty which is placed on the shoulders of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa).[15,16] During one point in history, Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) took hold of the government as the caliph of the Muslims but it was not long when the oppressors deviated things and took away the Imam (ʿa)’s position from him. The enemies continued to jockey for power and they did not allow any of the other Imams (ʿa) to take the reins of power either. [17]

The Imam (ʿa)’s Anti Spy Network and his Fight against the Infiltration Plots of the Enemy

It is interesting to note that during the time of the Prophet of Islam (ʿa) and the Imams (a), there existed an intelligence network. This intelligence network functioned both to uncover the plots of the enemies, as well as to neutralize the spies which had been sent in by the various enemy forces. It would also act to look in to the actions of government officials and to ensure that they were performing their duties well. Another function of these intelligence networks was to see what the hypocrites were up to and to unveil their various plots.

These important organizations played a key part in the management of the early Muslim government and it is an important element which can be found in the lives of the Imams (ʿa). When Imam ʿAli(ʿa) had been martyred and the people pledged allegiance to Imam al-Hasan (ʿa), Muʿāwīyah ended up sending two spies to gather further information on the situation at hand. One of these spies went to Basrah, while the other went to Kufah. These were two key cities and Muʿāwīyah wished to gather a greater deal of information on them. The spies were encharged to write out detailed reports and send them to Muʿāwīyah back in Syria.

Another duty which these two spies had was that they were supposed to utilize the hypocrites towards destabilizing the rule of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) as much as possible. In spite of these ef-forts, the counterintelligence network of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) was successful in uncovering these two individuals and the spy which had been sent to Kufah was captured and e x e c u t ed. The second individual in Basrah was also captured and punished for his actions. After this had taken place, Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) wrote a letter to Muʿāwīyah telling him that he knew that Muʿāwīyah was sending spies to Kufah and Basrah in order to foment dissent and sedition and that it seems that he wished to go to war. The Imam (ʿa) then told him that if he wished to go to war, he too was ready to fight.  

The Martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) Due to his Unswerving Fight against Oppression

It is evident that Muʿāwīyah knew that he could not achieve his goals of solidifying his power and the power of the Umayyads while Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) stood fully in his way. Such a clause had even been mentioned in the peace treaty between the two that Muʿāwīyah would not s e l e c t anyone as a caliph after his death and instead leave the decision in regards to the next caliph to the Muslims.[18] Due to this reason, Muʿāwīyah decided to push things in a different direction. Instead of allowing the caliphate to pass on to Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) (who was much younger than himself and would have been the next caliph), he instead decided to kill Imam al-Hasan (ʿa). In order to keep himself safe from any backlash which would have naturally resulted from this crime, he had the Imam (ʿa) poisoned in a secret way, so that this terrible crime could not be traced back to him.[19]

According to a group of Shia and Sunni historians, Muʿāwīyah sent a message to the wife of Imam al-Hasan (ʿa), who was the daughter of Ashʿath ibn Qays , and he told her that if she agreed to poison Hasan ibn, he would wed her to his son Yazīd. In order to show Jaʿdah bint Ashʿath (the wife of Imam al-Hasan) that he was a trustworthy individual and that his offer was legitimate, he sent her a sum of one hundred thousand Dirhams. When Jaʿdah saw this, she accepted the offer and ended up poisoning Imam al-Hasan (ʿa). It is not surprising that Muʿāwīyah later reneged on his offer and told her that he would never wed her to his son Yazīd when she had willingly poisoned her own husband![20,21] The well-known historian Abū al-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī has written in this regard: Muʿāwīyah wished to take the pledge of allegiance from the people for his son Yazīd. In spite of this, Imam al-Hasan stood in his way and he would not allow this to take place. Due to this reason, he had the Imam poisoned.  

A Final Word

In conclusion, it must be said that when Imam al-Hasan (ʿa) was martyred and this news reached Muʿāwīyah, he expressed great happiness and he and his officials even prostrated in their happiness. News of the martyrdom of the Imam (ʿa) also reached Ibn ʿAbbas, who happened to also be in Syria. Ibn ʿAbbas went to see Muʿāwīyah and when he arrived at the court, Muʿāwīyah said to him: “Oh Ibn ʿAbbas, I have heard that Hasan ibn ʿAlihas passed away”. Ibn ʿAbbas said to him[22]: “We belong to Allah and to Him we are ever returning”.  He then repeated this verse several times (in expressing his grief and sorrow).

Ibn ʿAbbas then said: I heard that when news of this was given to you, you expressed happiness. I swear by Allah that this expression of happiness will not close the way of the grave to you and the ending of his life will not extend your lifespan. If we are afflicted with the sorrow of the passing of Hasan ibn ʿAlitoday, we were afflicted with the sorrow of one who was better than he before (meaning the sorrow which they experienced with the passing of the Messenger of Allah (s))”. Ibn ʿAbbas then cried out loud and he began to weep bitterly in a way where everyone who was there was affected by it.

When we look in to the exemplary characteristics of the Imam (ʿa) and all that he has to offer us, we feel the tragedy of his martyrdom even more deeply. We hope that we can follow in his footsteps and implement his teachings in our day to day lives. In addition, it is an obligation up-on the society as a whole to attempt to implement these teachings as well.


Researched and edited at editorial deputy of his eminence office



[1]. إِلَهِی ضَیْفُکَ بِبَابِکَ یَا مُحْسِنُ قَدْ أَتَاکَ الْمُسِیءُ فَتَجَاوَزْ عَنْ قَبِیحِ مَا عِنْدِی بِجَمِیلِ مَا عِنْدَکَ یَا کَرِیم

[2]. Manāqib Ibn Shahr Āshūb, vol. 4, p. 17; Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 43, p. 339…

[3]. انْ ارَدْتَ عِزّاً بِلا عَشيرِةٍ وَ هَيْبَةً بِلا سُلْطانٍ فَاخْرُجْ عَنْ ذُلِّ مَعْصِيَةِ اللَّهِ الى عِزِّ طاعَةِ اللَّهِ عَزَّوَجَلَّ

[4]. Musnad al-Imam al-Mujtaba (ʿa), p. 556.

[5]. Surah Al-Nisā’, Verse 139.

[6]. فَانَّ الْعِزَّةِ لِلَّهِ جَميعاً

[7]. انّ اللّه جميل يحب الجمال، فاتجمل لربّى و هو يقول خذوا زينتكم عند كلّ مسجد

[8]. Wasāʾil al-Shīʿah, vol. 3, chapter on the rulings related to clothing.

[9]. Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 43, p. 344.

[10]. كَظْمُ الْغَيْظِ وَمِلْكُ النَّفْسِ

[11]. Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 30.

[12]. فَتَرَكْتُهُ لِصَلاحِ الْامَّةِ وَحِقْنِ دِمائِها

[13]. Safīnah al-Biḥār, section on Hasan.

[14]. وَساسَةَ الْعِبادِ

[15]. Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 45, hadith 5.

[16]. إنّ اللَّه تعالى ندبنا لسياسة الامّة

[17]. Manāqib Ibn Shahr Āshūb, vol. 4, p. 38; Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 65. According to the narration of Ibn Qutaybah in Al-Imamah wa al-Sīyāsah, vol. 1, p. 184, Muʿāwīyah had pledged to make Imam Hasan (ʿa) the next caliph after his own death. According to this narration, Muʿāwīyah’s intentions in killing the Imam (ʿa) become even clearer. ʿAllāmah Amīnī has also mentioned this same intention in his Al-Ghadīr, vol. 11, p. 9 from Abū al-Faraj Iṣfahānī (the author of Maqātil al-Ṭālibīyīn). Ibn ʿAbd al-Birr in his Istīʿāb (vol. 1, pgs. 438 and 439) has also written: Imam Hasan (ʿa) made a condition with him that after Muʿāwīyah, the caliphate would go to him.

[18]. Refer to the following relation historical books from both the Shia and Sunni schools of thought: Irshād Mufīd, pgs. 356 and 357; Manāqib Ibn Shahr Āshūb, vol. 4, pgs. 47-49; Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 44, p. 147; Tārīkh al-Khulafāʾ by Suyūṭī, p. 214; Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāghah by Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, vol. 16, p. 29; Mukhtaṣar Tārīkh al-Damishq, vol. 7, p. 39; Tadhkirat al-Khawāṣ by Sibṭ ibn Jawzī, pgs. 191 and 192. Ibn ʿAbd al-Birr in his Istīʿāb (vol. 1, p. 440) has mentioned some details in the life of Imam Hasan (ʿa) and he has written in this regard: Some have mentioned that the woman poisoned the Imam based on a plot hatched by Muʿāwīyah due to a sum of money that was paid to her. ( وَ قَالَتْ طائِفَةٌ: كَانَ ذَلِكَ مِنْهَا بِتَدْسِيسِ مُعاوِيَةَ إِلَيْهَا وَ مَا بَذَلَ لَهَا فِي ذلِكَ).

[19]. Maqātil al-Ṭālibīyīn, p. 48.

[20]. Surah Al-Baqara, Verse 156.

[21]. Al-Imamah wa al-Sīyāsah by Ibn Qutaybah, p. 175.

[22]. إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَ إِنَّا إِلَيْهِ راجِعُونَ