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Do We Have to Live Like Imam Ali or Imam Sadiq?

Many people have asked why Imam Hussain decided to go and fight against the tyrant of his time, and why Imam Hasan entered into a peace treaty. Why did Imam Ridha cooperate with the government, while Imam Sajjad distanced himself from the government?

We are taught that things in life are not always what they appear to be and to not judge a book by its cover. We are also taught to be wary when hearing rumors until we have verified them ourselves. We are taught these things because they are part of wisdom. It is only foolish people who carry out knee-jerk reactions to unfounded rumors without verifying the reality of the situation. One famous proof in the Qur’an that being patient and fully assessing a situation before reacting to it is a sign of wisdom can be seen in the story of Prophet Khidr and Prophet Musa (peace be upon them both).

The story of Prophet Khidr and Musa is found in Sura Kahf, chapter 18 of the Holy Qur’an. In this famous story, Musa meets Khidr, seeking to gain knowledge from him. When they first meet, and Musa expresses his desire to learn from Khidr’s knowledge, Prophet Khidr warns Musa, telling him that “You will not be able to have patience with me.” (18:67) Musa says he will be patient, and the two continue their journey. During their journey, Prophet Khidr puts a hole in a boat, kills a child, and repairs a wall. These acts perplex Musa, and he questions Khidr after each one. When Prophet Khidr ends the journey because Musa did not have the patience to learn from him, he explains the wisdom behind each act. He damaged the boat so the local tyrant would not usurp it, he killed the child so that his actions would not make the parents lose their faith, and he repaired the wall so the orphans could have their father’s treasure that belonged to them. On the surface, all of Prophet Khidr’s acts seemed strange to Musa. But those with wisdom know that in any action there is more than meets the eye, and we should do our best to be patient and learn all we can about the context of the situation before acting on it. This story provides good background for an issue that has been discussed in the Shia world for years: the apparent contradictory actions of some of the Imams (peace be upon them) versus the others.

Many people have asked why Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) decided to go and fight against the tyrant of his time, and why Imam Hasan (peace be upon him) entered into a peace treaty. Why did Imam Ridha (peace be upon him) cooperate with the government, while Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) distanced himself from the government? There are books devoted to answering these specific questions, so we won’t go into it here. But the short answer is that every Imam that we have has had a different situation and lived in different and varied environments. This is actually a blessing for us, as we can study the lives of the Imams and how they acted, given all of their different situations. Thus, we can apply these to our lived the best we can. In Ayatollah Mutahhari’s book A Survey into the Lives of the Infallible Imams, he goes deep into this subject and relates a story involving Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him). We shall end with this story as the Imam beautifully explains the superficial differences in the lives of the Infallibles and what we should really be focusing on in terms of religion.

Sufyan al-Thawri visited Imam Sadiq and objected to the Imam wearing fine clothing, since the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) did not wear such garments. The Imam said, “Are you inferring that since the Prophet used to live in that way, everyone else should o the same until the end? Do you not know that this is not a part of the Islamic commandment? You must act and think upon wisdom. You must use your intellect and take time and place into consideration. The Prophet used to live a middle class lifestyle appropriate to his time. Islam commands equality and compassion. We must observe that this was the lifestyle of the majority at that time. Of course, as the Prophet was the leader, people used to give up their wealth and their life for him, and it was possible for him to have all kinds of lifestyles. However, he never took advantage of that, even though it was all available to him. Islamic commandments denote sympathy compassion and equality. They stand for justice and fairness. It is the soft and delicate methods which stop the frustration in the soul of the poor and prevents a friend or a neighbor, or whoever may be watching your acts, from becoming upset. If the luxurious lifestyle that is available now were possible during the time of the Prophet, then he would not have conducted his life in that way. People are given personal choices on the aspect of dressing up, and may choose whether to wear old or new clothes, in whichever material or style they prefer. Religion does not pay attention to such matters. What is important in religion are issues such as sympathy, compassion, equality, justice and fairness.” The Imam then added, “And as you see me now, I am aware of the responsibilities towards my possessions; thus, there is no logical or spiritual difference between my method and the Prophet’s.” (A Survey into the Lives of the Infallible Imams by Ayatollah Mutahhari, page 8)

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