The tragedies which befell the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) in Kufah and Syria can be considered to be more bitter and painful than what happened in Karbala. In Karbala, Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) prepared his only son, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa), for the position of the imamate; through his sacrifice, the tree of Islam was saved and the imamate was transferred to the next in line. The last testament of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) was given to his son, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa), and his sisters and daughters were told to obey his commands as their next Imam. This is because the Imam (ʿa) would never forget his followers at even such a critical juncture; the message of what was happening to him would be conveyed to these followers through his only remaining son and the Shias would learn of what had taken place in Karbala.
Furthermore, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) was the inheritor of the knowledge and eloquence of Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) and the inheritor of the courage and bravery of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa). During his journey after Karbala, he delivered many fiery sermons in Kufah and Syria . Through these sermons, he was able to awaken the unaware people to the reality of what had happened and their failures as human beings. Through these sermons, they were given all the proof they needed to understand how they had failed to recognize good from evil.
In light of this issue, the political aspects of the speeches of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) in Kufah, Syria, and Medina all manifest the essential nature of this historical reality. Let us now delve in to some of the most important aspects of the political role of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) in reviving the revolution of Ashura through the valuable viewpoints offered to us by Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī.
Telling the People of What Took Place in Karbala as a Guarantee of Keeping its Memory Alive
The sermon of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) in Kufah and Damascus was one of the elements which shook the foundations of Yazīd’s rule and it awoke the people of those cities to the reality of what was happening around them. It showed the people the evil role which the Umayyads were playing in destroying the religion of Islam. In the end, the event of Karbala was saved from being soon forgotten and it turned in to a memory which was permanently etched in to the memories of the people.
For example, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) mentioned the following while he was in the city of Kufah: O’ people! Whoever has recognized me, knows who I am. As for those who do not know me, they should know that I am ʿAlī the son of Ḥusayn, the one who was beheaded for no reason while (he was thirsty) next to the Euphrates River. I am the son of the one whose sanctity was violated, whose wealth was plundered, and whose family was taken as captives. I am the son of the one who was killed after much persecution and torture, and this is enough of an honor for us! The Imam (ʿa) then concluded his speech with a poem, the contents of which are as follows: It is not surprising that Ḥusayn (ʿa) and his father, who was greater than him, were both killed [as they constantly sought an honorable death]. O’ Kufans, do not be happy at what happened to Ḥusayn… May I be sacrificed for the one who was killed next to the Euphrates (while thirsty). The punishment of the one who killed him will surely be the fire of Hell.
Spreading Word of the Crimes of Yazīd in regards to the Martyrdom of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa)
Exposing the corrupt government of Yazīd and his many criminal acts was one of the key elements in keeping the Ashura movement alive. When he was in his court, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) said to Yazīd: Woe upon you, O’ Yazīd! If you were only able to understand the gravity of the crimes you have committed against my father, brother, uncles, and relatives, then certainly you would flee to the mountains (in fright). You would sit upon ashes and you would cry out in sorrow for having cut off the head of Ḥusayn, the son of Fāṭimah and ʿAlī, and having hung it on the gate of the city. This was in spite of the fact that he was a trust given (to the Muslim community) by the Prophet (ṣ). (O’Yazīd), I give you tidings of disgrace and abjectness on the Day of Judgment when all the people are gathered together.
Of course Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) knew that these words would not have any effect on the dark heart of Yazīd. That was a heart which was void of any faith, mercy, or belief in the Day of Judgment; his words would not have the least amount of effect. Yazīd was a man who was addicted to every type of sin, such as drinking and fornication; the killing of the innocent, even someone such as Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) was of no issue to him. The goal of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) was to affect some of the notables of Syria who were present there and the Imam (ʿa) was in reality directing his words to them.
Similarly, Syria was the center of rule and due to this reason, whatever word spread in Syria, it would soon spread to the other parts of the Islamic world. In this way, the true reality of Yazīd and the Umayyads overall would be exposed and their lack of faith and human qualities would become known to all of the Muslims. In essence, Allah (swt) wanted these people to disgrace themselves through their actions so that they would be disgraced not only in front of their peers, but also in front of the common people as well.
Embracing Martyrdom as a Custom and Characteristic of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa)
One interesting political aspect of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) can be understood in an exchange between Ibn Ziyād and the Imam (a). When some of the soldiers wished to kill the Imam (ʿa), Ibn Ziyād said in derision that they should leave him alone, since his illness was enough of a torment and pain for him. When Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) heard this, he turned towards Ibn Ziyād and said to him: Do you threaten me with death? Do you not know that being killed (in the way of Allah) is an ancient custom for us and that martyrdom (in the cause of Allah) is a source of honor and glory for us?
An Emphasis on Political Wisdom and Understanding: A Key Element in the Sermon of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) in Kufah
When we are examining the lack of political wisdom of the people of Kufah, we can look at a part of the words of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) when he stated: O’ people! I adjure you by Allah! Do you not admit that it was you who wrote letters to my father (and invited him to come to Kufah)? In spite of this, you acted dishonestly towards him. You swore your lives to him and you pledged allegiance to him but then you left him alone and you fought against him? May Allah destroy you for the bad provisions which you have sent ahead for yourselves [to the Hereafter] and for the bad decisions which you have made. Will you dare to look the Prophet (ṣ) in the eye on the Day of Judgment when he says to you: You killed my family members and you violated my sanctity and respect; you are not from my Ummah.
When the Kufans heard this, they all began to cry out: O’ son of the Messenger of Allah, we will fight with whomever you fight and we will make peace with whomever you make peace… When the Imam (ʿa) heard this, he responded to them, saying: Never! O’ you treacherous traitors! (One can never trust your promises) since there is a veil between you and your desires (a veil of ignorance, negligence, and inability)… My request from you is that you neither support us, nor fight against us (meaning there is no hope in your goodness…at least do not do evil towards us).
When we reflect upon this important sermon of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa), we can easily under-stand that the Kufans were too disloyal and they lacked sufficient wisdom to fight fully against their enemies, the Umayyads. Due to this reason, the Imam (ʿa) rejected their request and he said to them: It is enough for me that you do not take steps against us since there is no hope in any good from you, O’ you disgraced ones!
The Explanation and Propagation of the Genuine Islam Necessitated the Rejection and Negation of the Distorted Version of Islam Promoted by the Umayyads
Another aspect of the political activities of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) in regards to keeping the Ashura movement alive can be found in his explanation of what true Islam actually is. When the Imam (ʿa) was in Syria, he mentioned the following to the people: The chosen one by Allah, the Prophet (ṣ) Muḥammad, is from us. The truthful one (Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) who confirmed all of the words of Allah and his Prophet (ṣ) and truthfully submitted to them) is from us… The Imam (ʿa) then introduced himself and his link with the Prophet (ṣ) and Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) by saying: O’ people! I am the son of Mecca and Minā; I am the son of Zamzam and Safā; I am the son of Muḥammad al-Muṣṭafā and ʿAlī al-Murṭaḍā; I am the son of the one who unsheathed his sword so much in front of the rebellious ones until they said: There is no deity but Allah.
Thus, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) explained the true Islam brought by the Prophet (ṣ) to the people of Syria until they had no excuse in front of Allah (swt). These people (in Syria) had lived a lifetime under the leadership of the Ummayads and their false version of Islam. Their ‘Commander of the Faithful’ included people such as Muʿāwīyah and Yazīd. These were the same leaders who named themselves as the leaders of Islam, while condemning the family of the Prophet, such as Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa), as being rebels against the religion.
Strengthening the Links between Religious Practices and the Revolt of Ashura
In both Kufah and Damascus, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) connected various religious practices with the revolt of Ashura and the goal of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa). Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) said the following to Yazīd in a confrontation that took place in Damascus: Oh Yazīd, was Muḥammad (whom you claim to follow) my grandfather or yours? If you say that he is your grandfather, then you are lying and if you say that he is my grandfather, then why did you murder his grand children?
In a tradition narrated from Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), it has been mentioned that: After the martyrdom of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa), Ibrāhīm ibn Ṭalḥah ibn ʿUbaydallah asked Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) a question. He asked: Oh ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn, who was victorious in the battle? Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) replied: If you wish to know who was victorious (Yazīd or Imam al-Ḥusayn), simply recite the two Calls to Prayer when the time of prayer has arrived!
Fighting the Attempts of the Umayyads to Defame Imam Ali (a), as Another Political Pursuit in Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa)’s Revival of the Ashura Movement
It is worth mentioning that while in Syria, Imam al-Sajjād protected the teachings and movement of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) at Karbala by introducing the virtues and noble characteristics of Imam ʿAlī (ʿa). He did this so that the propaganda of the Umayyads against Imam ʿAlī (ʿa), which had been going on for many long years, would be neutralized and the people would realize the truth. In a historical sermon in Damascus, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) mentioned the following: I am the son of he who fought under the Messenger of Allah (s) with two swords and two spears, and who emigrated twice , gave his pledge to the Prophet (s) twice, fought bravely in the battles of Badr and Ḥunayn, and who did not reject faith in Allah even for a blink of an eye.
…I am the son of the best individual of the Quraysh, who followed the Prophet (s) before anyone else and preceded everyone in his faith in Islam (he was the first to become Muslim). He was the adversary of the rebels, the destroyer of the polytheists, the divine arrow in annihilating the hypocrites, the source of the wisdom of the worshippers, the supporter of Allah’s religion, the leader appointed by Allah, the garden of divine wisdom, and the heart of divine knowledge… The same person… who fasted often, was pure from every type of sin, and was often praying and worshipping Allah. He was the father of… Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. Indeed, he is my grandfather ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ʿa).
It goes without saying that this extraordinary sermon created a veritable storm in the palace of Yazīd and in Syria. The Umayyads felt that their grip on power was slackened and their long years of propaganda (forty years’ worth) against Imam ʿAlī (ʿa), was being unraveled.
The Confrontation Based Politics of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) and the Disgrace of Yazīd’s Despotic Regime
Imam al-Sajjād’s (ʿa) confrontation against the despotic regime of Yazīd can be seen as an example of how one can combat the oppressive superpowers. The social atmosphere of Damascus became so bad for Yazīd due to the words of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) that Yazīd eventually began to seat the Imam (ʿa) at his own table for food! This was the same Yazīd that had ordered the merciless killing of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) and the enslavement of his family members just a short while before.
Obviously, these actions by Yazīd were not due to his regret or sorrow over what he had himself ordered. They were rather a type of political retreat due to the changing situation at hand. The people had become angry over what had happened after the enlightening sermons of Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) and Zaynab, and it was in Yazīd’s best interest to slowly disassociate himself from what had taken place in Karbala. This fact is further corroborated by the later behavior of Yazid and the rest of the Umayyads towards the Ahl-al-Bayt (a) and their Shias, as they did their best, even after the event of Ashura, to persecute the Ahl-al-Bayt (a) and their Shias. This shows that Yazid’s sudden change of attitude towards Imam al-Sajjad (a) on that day was merely a political retreat to avoid a general riot caused by the enlightening sermons of Imam al-Sajjad (a) and Lady Zaynab (a)..
The Political Implications of Imam al-Sajjād’s Mourning (a) for Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa)
One of the most powerful weapons of the Infallibles (ʿa) towards reviving the movement of Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa) was contained in their lamentation and mourning for the Imam (ʿa). Throughout the era of his imamate, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) would continuously cry and mourn for his father, Imam al-Ḥusayn (ʿa); he cried to such an extent that he was given the title of: ‘the one who cries often’. This shows us that the mourning of the Imam (ʿa) was a means of awakening the people and not allowing the Ashura movement to be forgotten.
A Final Word
When we look at the heavy atmosphere which came about after the tragedy of Karbala, the merciless despotism of the Umayyads, the captivity of the survivors, and the emotional, psychological, and physical wounds suffered by them, it would be thought that the survivors of Karbala would not have anything left in them in order to speak even in regards to normal topics. In light of this, it is interesting to see Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) speaks with so much fire and energy at the various points of his journey, particularly in the cities of Kufah and Damascus.
Through his words, Imam al-Sajjād (ʿa) was able to change the opinions of the general masses in these two cities and turn them against the rule of Yazīd. An environment of safety was transformed in to one of danger and unrest for the Umayyads. This all took place while Yazīd gloried in his victory and power. When Yazīd gathered all of the representatives of the various nations to his grand gathering, he was in reality inviting them all to see his own disgrace and downfall.