The grave of ‘Ali

taken from:

Hereafter mention is made of the discovery of the grave of Sayyiduna ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiyallahu ‘anhu at Najaf 150 years after his death. Shirazi explains the initial secrecy surrounding the location of the graves in light of fear that the Umayyads would desecrate the grave. However, what he doesnot explain is why the location of the grave was revealed by Imam Musa al-Kazim to the Khalifah Harun ar-Rashid when the Abbasids, according to the Shi‘ah, were no less cruel to the ‘Alawis than were the Umayyads.

Hasan al-Amin writes in his Shorter Shi’ite Encyclopaedia: “Then came Abbasid rule. They were more severe upon the Alawides in their persecution and cruelty as well as upon the Shi’ites as compared to the Omayyides. Their rule was more troublesome and bitter for them, as a poet has said: ‘By God, the Omayyids did not do one-tenth in their case, as Banu Abbas did.’ Amir Abul Faras al-Hamadani says: ‘Banu Harab (Omayyids) did not succeed in these crimes even though though they intended to, as compared to your success.’ (p. 36)”

Harun ar-Rashid is the Khalifah to whom Imam Musa al-Kazim is reported to have revealed the location of the grave. This same Harun is described by Hasan al-Amin as having “made himself notorious for his cruelty to the Alawides and their friends and took to extremes in their persecution.” (p. 40) It is interesting that just a few lines earlier Shirazi was recalling how his “ancestors” were slaughtered by the Abbasids, and now he presents the Abbasids as benevolent enough for Imam Musa al-Kazim to reveal to them the location of his grandfather’s grave.

He cites the martyrdom of Zayd ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn, and that of his son Yahya ibn Zayd as examples of Umayyad cruelty. If the cruelty that was visited upon these two great personalities gives one reason to believe that the Umayyads were given to desecrate graves, why is it that the alleged slaughter of Shirazi’s ancestors and others gave no one reason to fear that the Abbasids would desecrate the grave of Sayyiduna Ali radiyallahu ‘anhu?

Shirazi appears ignorant of the fact that the exact manner and time of the “discovery” of the grave at Najaf is a matter of contention in the Shi‘i hadith literature. He cites the story of Harun ar-Rashid and Musa al-Kazim as the point at which the grave became known, but fails to take note that Mulla Baqir Majlisi has recorded in Bihar al-Anwar (vol. 97 p. 164) a report according to which the location of the grave was known to Abu Ja‘far al-Mansur, who was Harun ar-Rashid’s grandfather. Abu Ja‘far is reported to have actually excavated the site to see if it really contains a grave. He also mentions that Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq revealed its location in the time of the first Abbasid ruler Abul ‘Abbas as-Saffah, who died in 130 AH. Shirazi is therefore clearly mistaken to claim that “the grave remained virtually unknown until the days of Harun ar-Rashid.”

His claim that Harun built a structure over the location shown to him by Imam Musa al-Kazim clashes headlong with a report documented by Majlisi in Bihar al-Anwar (vol. 42 p. 185) in which a person by the name of Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Duhaym reports visiting the site secretly sometime after the year 260 AH, and found no building. All they found was a few black stones around the grave. Harun ar-Rashid died in the year 193 AH.

Furthermore, the discovery of a tablet in Syriac that bore an inscription declaring this grave to have been prepared for ‘Ali radiyallahu ‘anhu by the Prophet Nuh ‘alayhis salam 700 years before the Deluge presents an anomaly in itself. Although Shirazi promised to use only authentic sources, he fails to provide a source for this fantastic story. There is also no trace of this aspect of the story in Bihar al-Anwar, a source which has given considerable attention to the issue of the location of the grave. What Majlisi does record is that the grave of Sayyiduna ‘Ali radiyallahu ‘anhu is in fact the grave of Sayyiduna Nuh ‘alayhis salam (vol. 97 p. 171) and not only that of Nuh, but also Adam, Hud and Salih ‘alayhimus salam. (vol. 97 p. 173)

But let us turn to another matter now. Shirazi has cited as examples of Umayyad atrocities the martyrdom of Zayd ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn and his son Yahya. However, there is an element in the tragedy of Zayd, and even in that of his grandfather Husayn radiyallahu ‘anhuma which the Shi‘ah always carefully avoid. That element is the role of the Shi‘ah themselves in those lamentable tragedies. The Umayyads were only half the problem. The other half was the Shi‘ah.

When Zayd ibn ‘Ali declared revolt against the Umayyads, 40 000 of the Shi‘ah pledged allegiance upon his hand, 15 000 of them from the city of Kufah alone. With a force this mighty, the Umayyad army would have been easily vanquished, and justice would have been established. What happened that at the hour of the battle Zayd was left with only 300 men? The story behind the disgraceful desertion of Zayd by the Shi‘ah is told by virtually every historian who has given a biography of Zayd or recorded the events of the year 122 AH.

Just before the battle could start they decided upon a whim to ask Zayd’s opinion about Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiyallahu ‘anhuma. His reply was, “I have never heard any of my family dissociate himself from them, and I myself have nothing but good to say about them.” Upset with this reply, they deserted him en masse, and decided that he could not be the Imam, but that the true Imam was his nephew Ja‘far as-Sadiq. Out of the 40 000 who had pledged loyalty to him Zayd was left with only a few hundred. On the departure of the defectors Zayd remarked, “I am afraid they have done unto me what they had done unto Husayn.” It was here too that for the first time in history the Shi‘ah were given the name “Rafidah”, meaning “the rejectors”. This name was given to them by Zayd when they rejected him after his refusal to dissociate himself from Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiyallahu ‘anhuma.

If the Umayyads were guilty on that day of shedding holy blood, then just as guilty as them were the thousands of Shi‘ah who would rather see a distinguished member of the Ahl al-Bayt and the son of their Imam perish at the merciless hands of the Umayyads than hear him speak favourably of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiyallahu ‘anhuma. It is perhaps for this reason that Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq is reported in the Shi‘i hadith literature to have said that “no one bears us greater hatred than those who claim to love us.” (Miqbas al-Hidayah vol. 2 p. 414)

However, Shi‘i rancour against Zayd did not stop at that cowardly act of desertion. To this very day their hadith literature is filled with sayings attributed to their Imams in which Zayd is denounced as misguided innovator, and even an unbeliever for falsely claiming to be an Imam. (Tanqih al-Maqal vol. 1 p. 467-471) The Umayyads killed Zayd once, and crucified his body once. The Shi‘ah, on the other hand, insult the memory of Zayd ibn ‘Ali every time that they assert, in terms of the hadith which they ascribe to their Imams, that “whoever raises the standard of revolt before the coming of the Mahdi is a taghut (tyrant)”; and “whoever unrightfully claims Imamah is a kafir” and “a mushrik”, “even if he be a descendant of ‘Ali and Fatimah” and “whoever revolts and calls people towards himself, while there is amongst them someone who is better than him, is a deviant innovator”. (Bihar al-Anwar vol. 25 pp. 325-328)

It was not only Zayd who was maligned by the Shi‘ah. Even his faithful followers, who courageously kept up the resistance against the Umayyads, were branded as “enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt” (Rijal al-Kashshi vol. 2 p. 494) despite the fact that they too, follow Imams from the Ahl al-Bayt. It is a strange philosophy which denounces those who refused to submit to injustice and humiliation as “enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt” while lauding those who deserted the Ahl al-Bayt at the hour of need, and whose opposition to perceived injustice was limited to the ritual cursing of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiyallahu ‘anhuma in the safety of their private gatherings.

Therefore, if Zayd’s martyrdom was a tragic event, then so much more lamentable is the attitude of the Shi‘ah towards Zayd, both at the hour of his martyrdom and all the way down history up to the present day. Therefore, it is blatant opportunism for Shirazi to tell only half of the story, and to conveniently omit any sort of reference to the treachery of his ancestors, the Sh‘ah, and their disgraceful role in that tragic martyrdom.