From the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) till this day, Muslims have been on a quest to find the perfect model of Islam – a person whose worship, disposition, and leadership are unrivaled. The legacy of the 10th Imam (peace be upon him) has demonstrated the ability to withstand the test of time and remain steadfast despite years of intellectual and historical oppression. The character of Imam Ali al-Hadi reflects the guided spirit of his father, the esteemed and ranked Imam al-Jawad (peace be upon him). The Imams, known for their piety and humility in addition to being adorned with the most exalted of virtues, were opposed on every level by the tyrannical regimes of their time.
The Remarkable Merits
Those who met Imam Hadi, including his enemies, were not blind to his remarkable merits. At the time of Imam Hadi, the tyrant and illegitimate ruler at the time – Mutawakkil al-Abbasi – ordered that he be imprisoned in Medina. Mutawakkil appointed the cruelest warden possible, Zarraqi, to watch over the Imam and make his existence miserable. However, just as the guards of Imam al-Hadi's great-grandfather became his most loyal followers, Zarraqi would witness the Imam's love and submission to God and profess his loyalty towards Imam Hadi. This demonstrates a natural human inclination towards the excellent manners and sincere worship of the Imams. When the caliph was made aware of this, he told Zarraqi, "I appointed you so that you behave with your prisoner in the utmost vicious and ill-behaved manner!" The guard responded to the caliph by narrating the sublime attributes of his prisoner, "O Chief! This person seems to be higher than angels in spiritual accomplishments. Since he is in my charge, I have never seen him eat during the day and sleep whole night. How do you expect me to deal harshly with one who is mostly busy in the worship of Allah, who fasts everyday, who does not demand anything, who never has a bad word for anyone, whose favorite activity is remembrance of Allah? How can I oppress him and destroy my Hereafter? O Chief! He laments so intensely due to the fear of Allah that his beard gets wet with his tears. He recites the Qur'an in such a melodious way that if one who hears it had a heart of stone, it would melt like wax. I think that you have put an angel under my charge. I have seen many worshipers but I haven't seen anyone like him." (Akhlaq al-Aimma)
The House of Islam
In the history and entirety of Islam, there has not been a lineage more noble than that of Imam al-Hadi, and no family has lit the world with the light of Islam more than that of Prophet Muhammad and his blessed Household. Imam Hadi was born on the 15th of Dhil Hijjah in the year 214 AH (828 AD) in city of Medina. (Some historians have reported his birth to be on the 27th of Dhil Hijjah and also the 3rd of Rajab, both in the same year.) His father was Imam Muhammad al-Jawad, the ninth Imam whose Imamate (leadership) was a miracle and his generosity a legacy recorded to this day. The mother of the tenth Imam was Lady Samana, an African bondmaid the ninth Imam married. When looking at the status of Lady Samana al-Maghribiyya, it suffices to state she was honored to be the wife of one of Islam's highest men of caliber and to be the mother of the 10th Imam, whose guidance saved the Muslim world from a plunge into darkness.
The Imam was certainly the heir of his father and grandfather's nobility, generosity, and piety, and his superior moral standing has been expressed by all the writers and scholars who have attempted to compose his life in literature. Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Shahrashub, a historian who has produced numerous works on the lives of the Prophet and his blessed Household, provides reflections of the life of the 10th Imam in Al-Manaqib as follows: "He (Imam al-Hadi) was the best and most truthful of people. He was the wittiest from near and the most perfect from far. When he kept silent, gravity appeared on him, and when he spoke, splendor appeared on him. He was from the house of prophethood and Imamate, and the abode of guardianship and caliphate. A branch from the lofty tree of prophethood was he, and a fruit from the tree of the mission was he."
An Age of Struggle
Muslims at the time of Imam al-Hadi were afflicted with countless misfortunes at the hands of the caliphate. Mutawakkil al-Abbasi and the Abbasid rulers lost authority and power to their Turkish advisers who, while maintaining power and decision-making abilities, were horridly ignorant of how to conduct the affairs of a state. The Turks were more inclined towards policies of invasions, wars, and conquests and did not bother themselves with civilized concepts such as religion, medicine, education, or the sciences which the Imams had worked steadfastly to establish. The caliph built the city of Samarra as a garrison to house these Turkish soldiers, and shortly thereafter forced the Imam to migrate there from Medina in an attempt to intimidate the Imam by his military might and curtail his activities by surrounding him with soldiers.
However, as a result of being forced to live in Samarra, Imam al-Hadi had the perfect opportunity to educate the thousands of animistic Turkish soldiers about Islam, God, concepts of Monotheism, and the Guardianship of Imam Ali (peace be upon him). Therefore, Islam and Shiism quickly spread to many parts of Central Asia, including Turkey, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan.
While the caliphs enjoyed a lifestyle of greed, music, illegitimate relationships with women, and alcohol, they also placed an economical blockade on Shias living under their rule. Although the descendants of the Prophet lived in utmost poverty, these conditions did not limit the God-consciousness and generosity of Imam Hadi, who continued to give all material wealth up to the poor and destitute. Mutawakkil al-Abbasi would send the Imam trays of gold and excessive wealth in order to win his allegiance, knowing quite well the basic conditions Imam Hadi lived on, and the items were rejected by the Imam consistently. At night, Imam Hadi would take food and place it at the doors of the orphans and the widows.
One day, the caliph was led to believe that the Imam possessed great riches, and began to send his soldiers to raid the Imam's home in Samarra. However, each time the soldiers returned and told their leader that the home contained no actual furniture, and the Imam was leading a rather modest lifestyle.
The caliphs became increasingly fearful of the inclination of people towards the Imams, who possessed nothing but divine attributes and placed the Imam under house arrest. When he was secretly visited by his followers, they saw that the Imam had dug up a grave by the side of his prayer mat. They inquired and expressed concern as to the cause of this action. Imam Hadi's response demonstrated his piety and worship, "In order to remember my end, I keep the grave before my eyes."
On Deviant Religious Practices
In addition to the threat posed by the caliphs and their Turk allies, a danger lurked from within the Muslims. The Imam continuously warned his followers from the misguidance being produced by the Sufis in the community. They were a source of deviation and showed asceticism to seduce simple and naïve people. Al-Husayn ibn Abul Khattab said, "One day, I was with Abul Hasan al-Hadi in the mosque of the Prophet when some of his companions, among whom was Abu Hashim al-Ja'fari, came to him. Abu Hashim was an eloquent man and had a high position near Imam al-Hadi. While we were standing, a group of Sufis came into the mosque. They sat in a corner of the mosque and began saying 'la ilaha illallah'; there is no god but Allah.
"Imam al-Hadi turned towards his companions and said to them, 'Do not pay attention to these deceivers for they are allies of the Devils and destroyers of the bases of religion. They become ascetic to relieve their bodies and watch to hunt cattle...they do not practice rites except to deceive people, and do not decrease food except to...cheat the fool...their worships are but dancing and clapping, and their praises are but singing. No one follows them except the stupid, and no one believes in them except the fool. Whoever went to visit any of them alive or dead as if he went to visit Satan and idolaters, and whoever supported any of them, as if he supported, Mu'awiya, Yazid, and Abu Sufyan."
"One of the companions said, 'Even if he acknowledges your rights?'
"Imam al-Hadi scolded him and shouted, 'Do not say that! He who acknowledges our rights does not disobey us. Do you not know that they are the worst group of Sufis, though all Sufis are dissentient to us and their way is contrary to ours? They are but Christians and magi of this nation. They do their best to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, and Allah will not consent save to perfect His light, though the unbelievers are averse...'" (The Life of Imam Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi)
It is important to note that it is not the labels that matter, but rather the characteristics the Imam has highlighted. There may be many "Sufis" today who do not engage in these practices, and similarly, there may be many "Shias" who possess many of the traits the Imam mentioned and the practices he condemned.
Loyal and Reliant on Allah
Imam Hadi had many epithets that reflect his admirable and esteemed qualities. They are a demonstration of his nobility and rank before God, and lessons should only be derived from such individuals. Among the titles of the Imam are: Al-Naqi (the pure); since he was also the highest authority of his time on religious rulings and matters, he earned the title Al-Faqih (The Jurisprudent); Ar-Rasheed (wise, prudent), to reflect his standing as the most knowledgeable scholar of his time; and An-Nasih (loyal), considering he was the most sincere and steadfast guide to the Islamic world at his time.
Imam Hadi was martyred at the age of 40 by the oppressive leadership. He passed away on the 25th of Jamadi al-Thani, 254 AH. However, his knowledge and guidance not only saved the Islamic world from a plunge into darkness at the hands of the Turks and the compliant caliphs, he actually was responsible for the spread of Islam and Shiism among these very Turks!
His pearls continue to reflect light upon the hearts and minds of those who believe. Among his numerous narrations, Imam Hadi advises us on the world and its trials: "God made the worldly life a place of trying and the afterlife a place of reward. He made the misfortunes of the worldly life as a means for the reward of the afterlife, and the reward of the afterlife as a compensation for the misfortunes of the worldly life."
(1) Akhlaq al-Aimma by Sayyid Zafar Hasan Amrohi
(2) The Infallibles: Imam Muhammad al-Taqi
(3) The Life of Imam Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi by Shaikh Baqir Sharif al-Quraishi
(4) Al-Manaqib, vol.4, p.401.