While sitting amongst a group of companions, Imam Zain ul-Abideen (as) remarked that a believer possesses five characteristics. A companion named Tawus ibn al-Yaman asked the Imam to mention them, and the Imam replied, â€œ[The epithets of a believer are five, and they are] piety in private, donating charity at the time of need, patience when misfortunes befall, tolerance at the time of anger, and truthfulness at the time of fear.â€  Our Imamâ€™s conduct exemplified all of these traits. He was of the most pious people both in public and in private, spending his days advising people to remember God and spending his nights in prayer and worship. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as), he would also give generously, going from house to house in the night and leaving food for the poor. He kept his identity hidden so as not to humiliate those that were in need but were too ashamed to ask explicitly.
It can surely be said that Imam Zain ul-Abideen (as) was the epitome of patience. Watching his beloved uncle Abbasâ€™ arms be severed, watching his young brother Ali Asgharâ€™s neck receive a three-pronged arrow, and watching his own father calls for help go unheeded, required a level of unsurpassed patience. He also set an example for us in his conduct following the battle of Karbala. In the courtyard of the tyrant Yazid, he fearlessly spoke the truth and stood up for the household of the Holy Prophet (s) when the enemies of Islam were slandering them. Imam Zain ul-Abideen (as) had every reason to be afraid as these were the same people that had viciously murdered his relatives and could very easily do the same to him. Despite this, our Imam did not shy away from standing up from what was right.
We can learn how to use the emotion of anger properly by looking at the life of the Imam Zain ul-Abideen(as). From his behavior with people like Shimr and Yazid, it is apparent that we are to be firm towards the enemies of Islam, and express our rightful anger towards those that attempt to demoralize and dehumanize Islam and its adherents. However, when it comes to defending our own egos, we must swallow our pride. It is reported that in the later period of the Imamâ€™s (as) life, a stranger visiting Medina who had been brainwashed by Bani Ummayah, approached the Imam (as). This man began to hurl insults and accusations at the Imam (as). The Imam (as), instead of retaliating in the same manner, calmly waiting for the man to finish and said, â€œIf what you have said about me is true, then may Allah (swt) forgive me. And if what you say is not true, then may Allah (swt) forgive you.â€ The stranger that had spoken fallacies felt ashamed of his words, apologized, and later went on to become one of the Imamâ€™s (as) close companions.
Imam Zain ul-Abideenâ€™s (as) birth name was Ali ibn Hussain, as his father Imam Hussain (as) vowed to name all of his sons after the exemplary personality that was Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as). His other titles emphasize the excessive amount of worship he immersed himself in. His title â€˜Zain ul-Abideenâ€™ translates to ornament of the worshippers, or the one who beautifies those who worship. He was also known as â€˜al-Sajjad,â€™ meaning the one who prostrates excessively. For the roughly thirty five years after the event of Karbala that he lived, he spent much of that time in worship. It was only in this worship of Allah (swt) that his bruised and broken heart found comfort.
Imam Zain ul-Abideen (as) was also known for his worship of Allah because of his writing of Sahifah al-Kamilah al-Sajjadiyah, the Psalms of Islam. The beauty and eloquence of this collection of supplications is unsurpassed. There is no other collection in history that provides such a comprehensive list of prayers. Within it is found a dua (supplication) for nearly every occasion and written in the most beautiful of language. Reading and reflection upon just one prayer from this book can be a life changing experience. Also attributed to Imam Zain ul-Abideen is a famous dua that he narrated to his companion Abu Hamza Thumali, which became known as Dua Abu Hamza Thumali. Frequently recited on Laylatul Qadr (night of power) and during the nights of Ramadan, this is a lengthy plea for forgiveness with very powerful words. Very few can recite this dua from start to finish without shedding a single tear. Risalat al Huquq, the Treatise on Rights, is a work also attributed to Imam Zain ul-Abideen (as). This book deals with the rights of other people and things that we must respect. Listing various categories like the rights of Allah (swt) upon oneâ€™s self, the rights of womb relatives (mother, father, child, etc.), the rights of leaders, amongst other rights, this is a very useful tool for Muslims today.
One simply needs to read an excerpt or two from one of the aforementioned works to see the sheer eloquence and level of spirituality that Imam Zain ul-Abideen (as) possessed. Even 1400 years later, valuable lessons from his life story can still be taken and we can still benefit greatly from the gems he has left us.
Â Al-Khisal by Saduq, p. 127