Commemoration of the anniversaries of the Holy Infallibles (‘a) is of two kinds: Commemorating their deaths and martyrdoms
Celebrating their birthdays and their joyful occasions
Commemorating the deaths and martyrdoms of the Holy Infallibles (‘a)
The Holy Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) counseled their followers to keep their memories alive and memorialize their anniversaries. The individuals of the virtuous community, therefore, commemorate the deaths and martyrdoms of the thirteen Infallibles; namely, the Holy Prophet (S), Lady Fatimah al-Zahra, and the eleven Imams, before Imam al-Mehdi (‘a), who is still living. The anniversaries of some eminent figures among their followers such as, Lady Khadijah al Kubra, Muslim ibn ‘Aqil, Lady Zaynab bint Ali, Zayd ibn ‘Ali ibn Husayn, Abu-Talib, Umm al-Banin, and others are also commemorated.
According to the belief of the virtuous community, Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi-Talib (‘a) and his son Imam al-Husayn (‘a) were slain by the sword, while the other Holy Imams (‘a), with the exception of the Awaited Imam al-Mahdi (‘a), who is still alive, were poisoned to death. Although this general concept has not been proven through historical events except for Imam Hasan, Imam al-Kazim, and Imam al-Ridha (peace be upon them all), orators and preachers accept it as truth on the basis of a validly reported tradition that quotes Imam al-Ridha (‘a) as saying: Not one of us—the Ahl al-Bayt—died, except that he was slain or poisoned to death.1
Another fact is that there is not complete consensus upon the dates of their martyrdoms and deaths. Nevertheless, the individuals of the virtuous community have generally committed themselves to certain traditions in this respect, relying upon the inference of their scholars and historians.
More or less, the dates of the Holy Infallibles’ deaths and martyrdoms are distributed over the months of the year (on the Islamic calendar) except for the month of Sha’ban2. Thus, associated ceremonies form an annual cycle, soundly entrenched in the social milieu of the virtuous community.
The related assemblies concentrate on the life of the commemorated Imam and the injustice he had to encounter. In addition, an analysis of the historical events that took place during his lifetime is presented. Other Islamic or Shi’ite beliefs and some of the ethical instructions and sermons of the commemorated Imam are also recalled. Usually, such meetings end by recounting the martyrdom of the commemorated Imam or some tragic aspects of Imam al-Husayn’s saga.
These meetings are another form of commemorating Imam al-Husayn’s martyrdom (al-Majalis al-Husayniyyah) with some concentration on the life of the commemorated Imam (‘a).
In the general milieu of the virtuous community, there is special interest in commemorating the Holy Prophet, Imam ‘Ali, Lady Fatimah al-Zahra', Imam Hasan, in addition to Imam al-Husayn—peace be upon them all. Special commemoration rituals of the other Imams (‘a) are often performed in the regions where they are buried. For instance, there is special interest in commemorating the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam al-Kazim (‘a) in the city of al-Kazimiyyah, Iraq, whose people, on that day, hold special ceremonies and rituals, shut down the marts, and participate in public processions. The same thing is applicable to the people of Mashhad, Iran, when they celebrate the anniversary of Imam al-Ridha’s martyrdom and the people of Samarra' on the anniversary of Imam al-Hadi’s martyrdom.3
Let us now mention a list of the familiar dates on which the deaths and martyrdoms of the Holy Infallibles (‘a) have been recorded and are well known by the individuals of the virtuous community:
1. Death of the Holy Prophet (S): 28th of Safar
2. Martyrdom of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi-Talib (‘a): 19th-21st of Ramadhan because he was injured on the nineteenth of Ramadhan and passed away on the twenty-first
3. Martyrdom of the All-veracious Lady Fatimah al-Zahra' (the Luminous) (‘a): 8th of Rabi’ II, 15th of Jumada I, and 3rd of Jumada II. There are several traditions mentioning various dates of her martyrdom. Ceremonies of commemorating her martyrdom are usually held on the last two dates although, sometimes, such ceremonies continue for twenty days between these two dates. In Iraq, some ceremonies are held on the earlier date.
4. Martyrdom4 of Imam Hasan ibn ‘Ali (‘a): 7th of Safar (in Iraq) and 28th of Safar in Iran, (which falls on the same date of the anniversary of the Holy Prophet’s demise).
5. Martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (‘a): 10th of Muharram.
6. Martyrdom of Imam ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-’Abidin (‘a): 25th of Muharram. This anniversary is also commemorated on the twelfth of Muharram.
7. Martyrdom of Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Baqir (‘a): 7th of Dhu’l-Hijjah.
8. Martyrdom of Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq (‘a): 25th of Shawwal.
9. Martyrdom of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far al-Kazim (‘a): 25th of Rajab.
10. Martyrdom of Imam ‘Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (‘a): 17th of Safar (in Iraq), or the last day of Safar (in Iran).
11. Martyrdom of Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Jawad (‘a): the last day of Dhu’l-Qa’dah.
12. Martyrdom of Imam ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi (‘a): 3rd of Rajab.
13. Martyrdom of Imam Hasan ibn ‘Ali al-’Askari (‘a): 8th of Rabi’ I.
Celebrating the Birthdays and Glad Occasions of the Holy Infallibles (‘a)
In addition to commemorating the anniversaries of the deaths and martyrdoms of the Holy Infallibles (‘a), the individuals of the virtuous community celebrate their birthdays and glad occasions, creating some equilibrium between the grievous occasions and joyful ones.
Of course, celebrating such joyful occasions differs from celebrating grievous ones; therefore, the individuals of the virtuous community celebrate these joyful occasions in a way different from celebrating the deaths and martyrdoms of the Holy Infallibles (‘a). These celebrations are therefore characterized by the following features:
1. Colorful decorations replace black flags of grief and sorrow.
2. Performances and discourses concentrate on remembering the virtues of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) by means of sermons and recitation of laudatory compositions and hymns with the participation of the audience.
3. Literary expressions of happy emotions is the general feature of these celebrations. Festivals and carnivals are held, and numerous poets, men of letters, and orators participate therein. However, on certain occasions, such as the birthday of the Awaited Imam al-Mahdi (‘a), educational and doctrinal discourses are delivered, because this anniversary is regarded as the best opportunity to put forth the topic of his blessed birth. Hence, these occasions bring together the two most required kinds of discourse.
Unlike commemorating the deaths and martyrdoms, which does not exclude any of the Holy Infallibles (‘a) who were martyred, the celebrations of the anniversaries of their birthdays are usually dedicated to some of them, because the individuals of the virtuous community aim at bringing into view the injustice, oppressions, and ordeals to which the Holy Infallibles (‘a) were exposed more than their joyful occasions. This is because injustice and oppression were the most eminent phenomena in the history of the Holy Infallibles (‘a) as well as the history of their followers.
Besides, the tragedies and sorrows of the Holy Infallibles further equip the individuals of the virtuous community with patience and steadfastness, and make them follow the examples of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) exactly as they are required to do.
Moreover, such interest may have come from instructions of the Holy Imams (‘a) such as the following sayings of Imam ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-’Abidin (‘a): Verily, our festivals are commemorations of our deaths.
Being slain is our propensity, and martyrdom is the honor that Almighty Allah confers upon us.
Finally, the most accurate understanding of these festivals and days of joy is to spend them doing acts of worship and true recognition of Almighty Allah, serving people and expecting rewards only from the Almighty.
A view at these joyful occasions demonstrates that they are utterly intermixed with the anniversaries of deaths and martyrdoms, except for the two months of Muharram and Safar, which are totally dedicated to grievous occasions, and the month of Sha’ban, which is dedicated to joyful occasions. However, the dates of the Holy Imams’ (‘a) birthdays are more expansive. Accordingly, equilibrium between the two kinds of occasions can be found in a better and more expansive way although there is a preponderance of the grievous occasions over the joyful ones.
Let us now mention a list comprising the dates of the Holy Infallibles’ (‘a) birthdays generally celebrated by the individuals of the virtuous community:
1. Birthday of the Holy Prophet (S): 17th of Rabi’ I, which coincides with the birthday of Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq (‘a). Although there are many narrations holding that the Holy Prophet (S) was born on the twelfth of Rabi’ I, which is celebrated by our non-Shi’ah brothers, the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) always celebrated the anniversary of his birthday on the seventeenth of the same month.5
2. Birthday of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi-Talib (‘a): 13th of Rajab.
3. Birthday of Lady Fatimah al-Zahra' (‘a): 20th of Jumada II.
4. Birthday of Imam Hasan ibn ‘Ali al-Mujtaba (‘a): 15th of Ramadhan.
5. Birthday of Imam al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali (‘a), the martyr: 3rd of Sha’ban.
6. Birthday of Imam ‘Ali ibn Husayn, Zayn al-’Abidin (‘a): 5th of Sha’ban.
7. Birthday of Imam ‘Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (‘a): 11th of Dhu’l-Qa’dah.
8. Birthday of the Awaited Imam al-Mahdi (‘a): 15th of Sha’ban.
It would certainly be asked why these holy Infallibles have been given such special interest other than the others—peace be upon them all—as regards celebrating their birthdays.
The answer is that the birthdays of the other holy Imams (‘a) are celebrated, yet limitedly. As for the previously mentioned Infallibles (‘a), the anniversaries of their births have been given special interest because definite historical events and moral particularities expressly appertain to these Imams (‘a), which highly motivate the individuals of the virtuous community.
The Holy Prophet (S), is the last Messenger of Almighty Allah to humanity.
Imam ‘Ali (‘a), being the first of the Holy Imams (‘a) and the successor of the Holy Prophet (S), represents the doctrinal epitome of the virtuous community.
Imam Hasan (‘a), the first grandson of the Holy Prophet (S), represents the first point in the extension of the Holy Prophet’s progeny.
Imam al-Husayn (‘a) is the martyred grandson of the Holy Prophet (S) whose birth was accompanied by grief and sorrow.
Imam Zayn al-’Abidin’s birthday falls a day after the birthday of his father, Imam al-Husayn (‘a). The followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) celebrate the birthdays of Imam al-Husayn, ‘Abbas ibn ‘Ali (‘a), and Imam Zayn al-’Abidin (‘a) on three successive days respectively; the third, fourth, and fifth of Sha’ban. These three persons are gathered under one topic: the tragedy of Karbala'.
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) represents the doctrinal and jurisprudential school to which the virtuous community belongs.
Imam al-Ridha’s birthday is widely celebrated in Iran because of the period of time he spent in the country and the existence of his grave therein. He therefore represents a symbol of the loyalty of the Iranian people to the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a).
The awaited Imam al-Mahdi (‘a) represents the everlasting symbol of the divinely commissioned leadership of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), who still exists among the Muslim nation.
1. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 102:32, H. 2.
2. - The month of Sha’ban is considered to be the month of birthdays and glad occasions.
3. - In the past, processions were held in the city of Samarra' on the occasion of Imam al-Hadi’s martyrdom and people from various regions of Iraq would participate. However, the ruling authorities of the tyrannical regime of the Baathists, out of their antagonistic attitude towards the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) and their followers, suppressed and then banned the activities of that day.
4. - It is well-known that Imam Hasan (‘a) was poisoned to death; he is therefore considered martyred. [Translator]
5. - The Islamic Republic of Iran has been interested in both of these dates and gathered them in one week, giving it the name of the Muslim Unity Week, because the Holy Prophet (S) is the best representation of unity among Muslims. More details about this topic will be cited in the coming chapter about the distinctive days.