Introducing STEPS – Shi’i Theology, Ethics and Practice Series. Click here to hear the Podcasts on your preferred platform.
The martyrdom of Imam Hassan al-Askari (a.s), the Eleventh Imam of the Shi’a.
Name: Imam Hassan al-Askari
Date & Place of Birth: 10th of Rabuil Akhar 232 Hijri ( 6.12.846 AD), Madina
Father: Alī ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Alī (10th Imam)
Date & Place of Martyrdom: 8th of Rabiul Awwal 260 Hijri (4.1.874), Samarrah ,Iraq
The 11th imam became known during his lifetime and after, by the term “Askari” who’s Arabic root word translates to “army”. This was with regards to the city in which he lived in, Samarrah, which was primarily a Garrison town (a town in which troops are permanently stationed).
Oppressed by the Abbasid ruler at the time, the life of our 11th imam spanned a mere 28 years, of which his Imamat spanned over a period of 6 years. However, these short years of Imamat are highly regarded, a tale of an imam who successfully spread the message of Allah and the decree of the Holy prophet whilst imprisoned within the four walls of his home. Through the divine power and knowledge bestowed upon him from the almighty, he was able to turn agnostics into god-fearing Muslims and train students to become masters in their respective fields.
There are many stories narrated to us of how the 11th imam, through his life of imprisonment, managed to spread the word of Islam. Once such story is as follows. During the reign of Caliph al-Muktadi and al-Mu’tamid, The imam received a visit by guards who took him to Baghdad after executing direct orders of the Abbasid rulers to put the imam in a prison. Upon arriving in Baghdad, there was a severe drought, and amongst the people of this city lived a Christian Priest. Rain fell, and word spread across the land that the priest was able to summon water through raising his hands to the sky and performing a miracle. The imam was consulted on this matter, of which he replied by saying that he would like to see this priest perform this miracle, the Imam was allowed to leave the prison to join the crowd to watch the Priest. The Priest raised his hands in prayer, and water fell from the skies. immediately the Imam spoke to a companion and asked him to approach the priest and shake from his hands the object in which he conceals in his grasp. Upon doing so, the Imam addressed the people and explained that this object that has been revealed is a bone of a previous Prophet of Islam. Thus, he was able to remove the doubt from people's hearts and raise his bare hands to the sky and pray for rain. The rain that fell, wiped out the drought, crops bloomed and the Imam was allowed to return to house arrest in Samarrah.
There is another amongst the narrations taught to us, of the matrimony between Nargis Khatoon, the granddaughter of the Emperor of Rum and our 11th Imam. The following narration is that which Majlisi recorded it in such detail in Bihar-al-Anwar. One day the 10th Imam presented a letter written in the script of rum, and some money, to his dear friend Bashir ibn Sulaiman. Our 10th Imam gave instructions to his friend to go and meet a slave girl at a harbour where boats would arrive, and he was instructed to use the money to buy the slave from the seller, and give the letter to the girl, and bring the girl to the Imam. These instructions were carried out as the Imam wished, and upon reading the letter, the girl by the name of Nargis Khatoon, began weeping and kissing the words of the letter. Bashir witnessed this and asked how such reaction is possible without knowing the author of these words. She began to explain her story to Bashir. The story she told was of herself, granddaughter of the emperor of Rum.
The scene was set in the castle of the Emperor, where elite members of the community gathered to witness the matrimony between the girl and the Emperor's nephew. The family was Christian, and hence the bible was opened as the ceremony was to begin. Upon doing so, it is said that the grounds began to shake and the pictures mounted on the walls of the castle became unhinged and fell to the ground. The men gathered at this event, upon witnessing this “freak” incident became frightened. The Emperor became distressed and angry at the sight of his guests frightened under his roof and immediately ordered for the pictures to be remounted and for the ceremony to continue undisturbed. However, to the surprise of the guests, once again the Bible was opened and the same incident took place. At this moment fear engulfed the room and the guests got up and left, and the occasion was cancelled. Later that night the girl had a dream, a dream in which Jesus son of Mary entered the palace of the Emperor, and welcomed the Holy Prophet of Islam into the room. The Holy Prophet addressed Jesus and asked for the daughter of his Wasi, Simon, for his son the 11th Imam. The Marriage ceremony was carried out soon after.
(Note that the wasi Simon is in reference to the girl's mother, who was a descendant of the disciple Simon, the vicegerent of Jesus)
The girl, Nargis, woke from this dream in fear of her life. For this reason she did not utter a word to her father or her brothers, however, the seed of love for Imam Hassan al-Askari (as) was planted deep within her heart. Through this love, she stopped the consumption of any alcoholic substance and refused to eat. As this princess fell Ill, her father addressed her and said O’you who have seen a light, tell me what is wrong with me. She narrated her dream to her father, requesting that he release some prisoners as a gesture to her. He did so, and she agreed to start consuming food and her health was restored.
As Nargis is narrating this story to the friend of the 10th Imam, Bashir, she says that a few days after her telling her father of her dream and the release of some prisoners, she once again had another dream in which the daughter of the Holy Prophet and Mary came to her and told her that should she want Imam Hassan al-Askari to take her, she must declare her religion as Islam and take the Holy Prophet to be the messenger of Allah. She continues to tell Bashir, that upon being told this she immediately declared her faith in Allah.
She continued to explain her story to Bashir, who then questioned as to why he as received her today as a slave girl. She said that the 11th imam warned her of the actions of her father against the Muslims, he was going to order an army whose target would be the Muslims. He instructed her to disguise herself as a servant amongst the army. She was consequently captured by the army guards and hence her state as a slave girl when Bashir received her on the 10th Imam’s orders.
Upon arriving in Samarrah, Bashir brought the girl to the 10th Imam, who informed her of the good news that she will be given to his son, Imam al-Askari. She was told by the 10th Imam that she will be the mother of the saviour of Islam. The story narrated above is the story of the Mother of Imam al-Mahdi’s Mother, Nargis Khatoon, Granddaughter of the Emperor of Rum and wife of Imam Al-Askari.
Main source: https://www.al-islam.org/story-of-the-holy-kaaba-and-its-people-shabbar/eleventh-imam-hasan-ibn-ali-al-askari
Updated 13 November 2013
Dedicated to the victims of the Gaza Massacre - 2008/2009
As we commemorate Imam Husayn's revolution of truth and justice, this poem considers our role as Hussaynis in a world wracked by oppression.
Muharram arrived with piercing screams
Playing children bombed to smithereens
Torn limbs shrouded in ash
Lost in the deafening blitz, blinding flash
I heard the echoes fade
As I sat in the mosque and prayed
Safe in His house of peace
Far from the blood and screams