The early history of Islam is rich and replete with the practical examples of righteous deeds exemplified by the best of the Muslims i.e. those who lived during and after the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
As far as Prophets are concerned, most of us might think:
“How can I, a normal human being, ever aspire to be like the Prophets? It is not possible!”.
Thankfully, the first generation of Muslims had many exemplary heroes who led lives of piety and righteousness. They left behind a legacy we all can try to emulate and aspire to.
Al-Hasan ibn Ali, the first grandson of the Prophet, was one such example.
Introduction: A Leader is Born
Al-Hasan ibn Ali was the first child of Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad and his wife Khadijah bint Khuwailid, and Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s first-cousin. Prophet Muhammad expressed great joy at the birth of his first grandchild, and performed the Islamic custom of tahneek on the baby and named him Al-Hasan, himself.
Al-Hasan grew up to develop a close physical resemblance to his grandfather, Prophet Muhammad. He and his brother, Al-Husayn, who was born just a year after his birth, were loved dearly by the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with them all).
Trial of Muslim Disunity
The trial of political turmoil and discord among the Muslims, which had been predicted by Prophet Muhammad before his demise, began to take root in the years following his death. Political disagreements, especially over who had more right to occupy the post of caliph, were more or less settled without any bloodshed, until the reign of Utham ibn Affan, the third caliph.
Al-Hasan’s father, `Ali ibn abi Talib was the fourth caliph of the Muslims. By the time he assumed leadership, the situation had deteriorated to a great extent, fueled by the murder of the previous caliph at the hands of the deviant group. Then, during his reign, two groups of Muslims fought each other.
Authentic books on Islamic history provide details about what tribulations fell upon and troubled the righteous Muslims of that era, particularly Al-Hassan’s father, `Ali. Prophet Muhammad had, during his life, already mentioned that Al-Hassan would become the harbinger of peace during the imminent trials:
It was narrated that Abu Bakrah said:
“While the Prophet was delivering a sermon, Al-Hassan came. The Prophet said:
“This son of mine is a sayyid, and perhaps through him Allah will reconcile two groups of Muslims.” (Al-Bukhari)
This is in fact what really happened. After his father `Ali’s death, Al-Hassan entered into a peace treaty with the man who assumed the post of caliph after him, Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufiyan.
Humility: Eagerness to Reconcile
Despite being a highly deserving candidate for the post of caliph, Al-Hassan valiantly sacrificed his personal prestige and displayed his lofty character, by foregoing political power and authority in favor of peace and unity among the Muslims. He did this for peace and reconciliation between the opposing groups of Muslims, despite the existence of his huge ‘fan following’ among them, who ardently desired to see him acquire the post of caliph after the death of his father, `Ali.
Honorably, he agreed to a peace treaty with Mu’awiyah that would last until his death, ensuring that the fighting between the two opposing groups of Muslims effectively ended.
Indifference to Worldly Power
Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the history of the Arabian Peninsula, would be able to clearly see the large-heartedness, humility and sacrifice made by Al-Hassan through his gesture of acceding the leadership position.
Not only did he belong to one of the noblest families of Arabia, the Hashimites, but he was also the first grandchild of the last Prophet of Allah. He did not let pride and arrogance enter his heart, despite being labeled a “sayyid” (leader) by the Prophet himself. He gave the greater good of the Muslims a top priority, instead of his own ego.
Nobility, royalty, ‘blue-blooded’ lineages, and familial hierarchies have, since time immemorial, been the foremost criterion for passing on state rulership in monarchies, after the demise of rulers. Kings’ heirs would almost always be their sons or close blood relatives. Merit has historically not been taken into account when passing on the baton of kingship.
It is no surprise, then, that both the Prophet’s own grandsons were tested by the trial of political power. And they both relinquished it, to instead opt for the higher road, doing what would please Allah and ensure their salvation in the Hereafter.
Resigning to Low-Profile Political Anonymity
After agreeing to the historic peace treaty with Mua’wiyah, who went on to become the 5th caliph in Islamic history, Al-Hassan ibn `Ali led a quiet life in Madinah. Allah granted him an honorable status, tremendous dignity, and undying love in the hearts of people. Yet, he shunned the praise of his admirers, and was also not manipulated by his critics. He was blessed with deep knowledge of the religion and piety. He turned away from the allure of the world, and always kept his focus on the Hereafter.
He was also the most generous and compassionate. When the caliph Mu’awiyah would send Al-Hassan a monetary gift, the latter would gift chunks of it to whoever was present around him.
May Allah be pleased with him, and guide us to follow his example.
“Al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib: His Life and Times” by Dr. Ali M. Sallabi (translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab, edited by Huda Khattab); International Islamic Publishing House