On Eid al-Ghadir we celebrate the appointment of Imam Ali(a) as the successor to Prophet Muhammad(s). Imam Ali(a) was undoubtedly the greatest servant of God after the Holy Prophet(s). He was the Commander of the Believers, an undefeated champion in battle, a generous caretaker of orphans and widows by night, a just ruler and a devoted worshiper of God. Nevertheless, he was also a loving and compassionate father. Since the Twelve Imams are our role models, it is essential to learn from the relationships they had with their children and how they raised their children. It is particularly important to learn how Imam Ali(a), Abul Aimmah (the Father of the Imams), interacted with Imam Hasan(a) and Imam Husayn(a), whom he raised to become the Imams after him.
One of the earliest examples of Imam Ali’s training is found during the childhood of Imam Hasan(a) and Imam Husayn(a). Both brothers would always listen to the sermons of their grandfather in the mosque and then eagerly return home to inform their mother of what had been said. On one of these occasions, something unusual occurred. The usually eloquent Hasan(a) began to stutter. Lady Fatimah(sa) kindly enquired what the matter was, to which Hasan replied, “I sense the presence of someone who is more learned than me.” Imam Ali(a), who was standing in the corner of the room, embraced his son saying, “This is what I expected from you.” We see a father encouraging his son to relate the good he learns to other family members and to respect the more learned. He also provides an opportunity to his son to display his abilities and helps stimulate his speech.
Another incident from the childhood of Imam Hasan(a) was when Imam Ali(a) was returning from the Battle of Khaybar. Imam Hasan (a) asked him if he had brought them new clothes like the other soldiers had done for their families. Imam Ali(a) taught his young son the value of patience and generosity by responding that he had brought things for his family, but on his arrival to Madina, the poor had asked him for something. Hence, he had given everything away. Imam Hasan(a) witnessed first-hand the generosity of his father and observed his kindness to the orphans and needy. It is not surprising then that Imam Hasan himself became so generous that he is known as Karim Ahlul Bayt (the Generous One of the People of the House).
As his children entered youth, it was apparent they had inherited the bravery and courage of the Lion of Allah, the bearer of the Two-Edged Sword. The strength of Imam Hasan(a) is apparent from his participation in all the battles Imam Ali(a) waged. Imam Ali(a) trained Hasan, who in turn trained his own siblings, namely Abbas(a). Imam Hasan (a) was an expert in warfare and in using the weaponry of the time.
Imam Ali(a) taught Imam Hasan(a) to make decisions and judgments by always referring to him and seeking his advice, as wisdom is taught by giving and taking advice. He would always send Imam Hasan (a) as his deputy and representative; for example, Imam Ali (a) sent Imam Hasan (a) to convince Aishah to return home. Imam Ali (a) always made Imam Hasan (a) his successor and pointed out to other family members and the people of the community that Imam Hasan (a) is the leader after him. He even said to Imam Husayn (a), “You will be my successor too. Obey Hasan until he is alive.”
Imam Ali(a) trained his children in every facet of life; worshiping God was no exception. Since the Prophet(s) stated that it is discouraged to perform acts of worship whilst alone, Imam Ali used to pray during the night while his children were asleep. It is well-known that the Imam prayed 1,000 rakat (cycles) each night, so imagine what an effect hearing 1,000 takbirs (proclamations that God is Great) would have, even on those children who were asleep! This action should not be considered trivial. In fact, according to Sayyid Tihrani in Liberated Soul, his teacher Sayyid Hashim Haddad said that the souls of children are spiritually magnificent and we should thus honour our children because they are significant beings. “If a child is taken to a place of sin, it contaminates his soul; however, if he is taken to a place of remembrance, worship or knowledge, then he absorbs that purity and clarity. Let your children be in the room where you mourn for the Imams or engage in the remembrance of God. The impact and impressions that a child acquires at that age become firmly rooted in him, much like his instincts and natural attributes.”
Perhaps one of the most important examples of the training of Imam Ali is the invaluable letter he wrote to Imam Hasan(a) after the Battle of Siffin (Letter 31 of Nahj al-Balaghah). It is significant to note that the first and foremost instruction Imam Ali gives is of piety, “My son, I recommend you to God-wariness.” Clearly, Imam Ali(a) deems piety to be among the most important traits of any individual and makes it a priority in his son’s life. Regarding this letter, the famous Sunni scholar Abu Ahmad Hasan Ibn Abdullah Ibn Askari, the teacher of Shaykh Saduq, says, “If you can find a piece of practical philosophy which should be written in gold, it is this erudite treatise written by Imam Ali(a).” Of course, Imam Ali(a) is not only instructing Imam Hasan(a) and his other children, parents or rulers; in fact, he is outlining the duties of every individual, no matter what his or her situation in life.
Imam Ali(a) explains that he wrote down his will before death overtook him and before his advice would not be heeded. “So I hastened to mould you properly before your heart hardened up and your mind became occupied, so you might be ready to accept through your intelligence the results of the experience of others and be saved from going through these experiences yourself.” Imam Ali(a) then states that he studied the people and events of the past so much so that it was as if he had walked among their ruins and lived among them. He advises his children to learn lessons from the experiences of those in the past. In this letter, Imam Ali(a) makes a very poignant statement which best describes the relationship he had with Hasan, “I found you a part of myself, rather I found you my whole, so much so that if anything befell you, it was as though it befell me.” Therefore, he wrote this letter of advice so that his son could always seek his father’s help, even when he was no longer alive.
The cycle of training continued when Imam Hasan(a) gathered his children and those of his brother and said to them, “All of you are the children of today’s society and, it is hoped, the leaders of tomorrow’s society.”