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Sahifa-e-Sajjadiya (sahifae sajjadia) book of imam sajjad a.s.




AL-SAHIFAT AL-SAJJADIYYA is the oldest prayer manual in Islamic sources and one of the most seminal works of Islamic spirituality of the early period. It was composed by the Prophet's great grandson, `Ali ibn al-Husayn, known as Zayn al-'Abidin (`the adornment of the worshippers'), and has been cherished in Shi'ite sources from earliest times. Zayn al-'Abidin was the fourth of the Shi'ite Imams, after his father Husayn, his uncle Hasan, and his grandfather 'Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law. Shi'ite tradition considers the Sahifa a book worthy of the utmost veneration, ranking it behind only the Qur'an and `Ali's Nahj al-balagha.


`Ali ibn al-Husayn was born in Medina, according to most sources in the year 38/658-9. He may have been too small to have remembered his grandfather 'Ali, who was killed in 40/661, but he was brought up in the presence of his uncle Hasan and his father Husayn, the Prophet's beloved grandchildren. Many Shi'ite sources state that his mother was Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazdigird, the last Sasanian king of Persia. Thus he was said to be `Ibn al-Khiyaratayn', the `son of the best two', meaning the Quraysh among the Arabs and the Persians among the non-Arabs. According to some accounts, his mother was brought as a captive to Medina during the caliphate of `Umar, who wanted to sell her. `Ali suggested instead that she be offered her choice of the Muslim men as husband and that her dower be paid from the public treasury. `Umar agreed and she chose 'Ali's son Husayn. She is said to have died shortly after giving birth to her only son `Ali.

There is no need to recount here the tragedy at Karbala' in 61/680, when Husayn and many of the male members of his family were killed by the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid, an event which shook the Islamic world and precipitated the nascent Shi'ite movement. Zayn al-'Abidin accompanied his father on the march toward Kufa, but he had fallen deathly ill and was lying on a skin in a tent. Once the Umayyad troops had massacred Husayn and his male followers, they looted the tents, stripped the women of their jewellery, and even took the skin upon which Zayn al-'Abidin was prostrate. The infamous Shamir (Shimr) ibn Dhi l-Jawshan was about to kill Zayn al-'Abidin in spite of his helplessness, but Husayn's sister Zaynab threw herself on top of him to save him, and `Umar ibn Sa'd, the Umayyad commander, told Shamir to let him be. Zayn al-'Abidin was taken along with the women to the caliph in Damascus, and eventually he was allowed to return to Medina.

Several accounts are related concerning his grief over this tragedy. It is said that for twenty years whenever food was placed before him, he would weep. One day a servant said to him, `O son of God's Messenger! Is it not time for your sorrow to come to an end?' He replied, `Woe upon you! Jacob the prophet had twelve sons, and God made one of them disappear. His eyes turned white from constant weeping, his head turned grey out of sorrow, and his back became bent in gloom [cf. 12: 84], though his son was alive in this world. But I watched while my father, my brother, my uncle, and seventeen members of my family were slaughtered all around me. How should my sorrow come to an end?'

Zayn al-'Abidin resided in Medina until his death in 95/713-4 (or 94/712-3). He was the object both of great sympathy because of the massacre of his family and of veneration as the great grandson of the Prophet. He dedicated his life to learning and worship and became an authority on prophetic traditions and law, but he was known mostly for his nobility of character and his piety, which earned him his sobriquet already in his lifetime. The details that have reached us about his life in Medina mainly take the form of anecdotes affirming his constant preoccupation with worship and acts of devotion. He fathered fifteen children, eleven boys and four girls.

After Karbala', there were a number of different factions in the Shi'ite community, not all of which supported Zayn al-'Abidin as the rightful Imam of the Muslim community. Many Shi'ites, such as those involved in the `Tawwabun' movement, felt that the Umayyads had to be overthrown and that it was the duty of the Imam to lead a revolt. But Zayn al-'Abidin himself refused to become involved with politics. After his death, a split occurred between his eldest son and designated successor Muhammad al-Baqir, the fifth Imam, and his second son, al-Baqir's half brother Zayd, who advocated active resistance to Umayyad oppression and gained a large number of followers as a result. Al-Baqir continued to pursue his father's policy of rejecting any sort of involvement with political movements until his death (probably in 117/735). Zayd revolted toward the beginning of the imamate of al-Baqir's son Ja'far al-Sadiq and was killed in Safar 121/January 739; his son Yahya, who plays an important role in the preface to the Sahifa, continued in his father's path and was killed three years later at the age of eighteen. The Zaydi Shi'ites, still strong in the Yemen today, trace the lineage of their imams back to Zayd.


The title Al-Sahifat al-Sajjadiyya means simply `The Book of al-Sajjad'. Al-Sajjad is one of the titles given to Zayn al-'Abidin and signifies `the one who constantly prostrates himself in prayer'. The book is often called Al-Sahifat al-Kamilat al-Sajjadiyya, that is, `The "Perfect", or "Complete", Book of al-Sajjad'. According to its commentator Sayyid `Alikhan Shirazi, the word kamila refers to the perfection of the style and content; some sources state that the adjective was added to differentiate it from another, incomplete version of the work, which is known among the Zaydis, but this seems less likely, given the manner in which the title is employed in the preface (verse 20). The Sahifa has been called by various honorifics, such as `Sister of the Qur'an', `Gospel of the Folk of the House', and `Psalms of the Household of Muhammad'.

According to Shi'ite tradition, Zayn al-'Abidin had collected his supplications and taught them to his children, especially Muhammad al-Baqir and Zayd. In later times the text became widely disseminated among Shi'ites of all persuasions. The specialists in the science of hadith maintain that the text is mutawatir; in other words, it was generally known from earliest times and has been handed down by numerous chains of transmission, while its authenticity has never been questioned. Nevertheless, the arrangement of the text allows us to draw a certain distinction between the fifty-four supplications which make the main body of the text and the additional supplications which make up the fourteen addenda (including the prayers for the days of the week) and the fifteen munajat or `whispered prayers'. The original fifty-four supplications show an undeniable freshness and unity of theme and style, while the latter, especially the munajat, add a certain orderliness and self-conscious artistry which may suggest the hand of an editor. The addenda are said to have been collected and added to the text by Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn Makki, known as al-Shahid al-Awwal (the `first martyr'), the famous author of Al-Lum'at al-Dimashqiyya in jurisprudence (fiqh) who was killed in Aleppo in 786/1384. The fifteen munajat have been added to several modern editions of the Sahifa and seem to have been brought to the attention of the main body of Shi'ites by `Allama Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1110/1689-9 or a year later), author of the monumental compilation of Shi'ite hadith, Bihar al-Anwar.

Many supplications have been handed down from Imam Zayn al-'Abidin in addition to those recorded in the text of the Sahifa as given here, and various scholars have collected these together in a series of works known as the `second Sahifa' the `third Sahifa' and so on. The second Sahifa which is about as long as the Sahifa itself, was compiled as the `sister' of the Sahifa by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Hurr al-'Amili (d. 1104/l692-3), author of the famous Wasa'il al-Shi`a in the year 1053/1643. A third Sahifa was put together by the author of Riyad al-'ulama' Mirza 'Abd Allah ibn Mirza `Isa Tabrizi, known as Afandi and a student of Majlisi. The longest of the published versions is Al-Sahifat al-Sajjadiyyat al-khamisa (`The Fifth Sahifa of al-Sajjad') by Muhsin al-Amin, the well known contemporary author of A'yan al-shi'a. It includes all the supplications included in the previous Sahifas; 130 of these are found in the first and second Sahifas and 52 are added. In her sympathetic study of Islamic prayer manuals, Muslim Devotions, Constance Padwick made use of this fifth recension of the text, which fills more than six hundred pages.

Any serious attempt to sort out the relative historical reliability of the individual supplications found in all the versions of the Sahifa on the basis of modern critical scholarship would be an undertaking of major proportions. The result of such a study - if one can judge by studies of other ancient texts - would probably be that, after years of toil, we would have a series of hypotheses, leaving varying degrees of doubt. This would be of interest to Western scholars and modernized Muslims, both of whom, in any case, have no personal involvement with the contents and teachings of the Sahifa. But the attitude of most Muslims has been to look at the content of the texts established by the authority of tradition and not be too concerned with who actually wrote the words in `historical fact'. In this regard the saying of 'Ali is well known: `Look at what has been said, not at who has said it', since only the truth or untruth of the words is of real concern. From this point of view, if the author of the Sahifat al-kamila was not Imam Zayn al-'Abidin, he - or they - would in any case have to have been a spiritual authority of equal rank, so the whole exercise leaves us where we started: with a text which expresses the highest aspirations of the Muslim soul.

However this may be, we can be satisfied to have the core text which has been attributed to Zayn al-`Abidin by centuries of Shi'ite tradition. In other words, in the fifty-four basic prayers of the Sahifa we have the Zayn al-'Abidin who has been known to Shi'ites for more than a thousand years and who has helped give to Shi'ism its specific contours down to the present day. Scholars may eventually reach the conclusion that the Zayn al-'Abidin of 'historical fact' differs from the Zayn al-'Abidin of tradition, but this will remain a hypothesis, since at this distance 'historical facts' are impossible to verify and as open to interpretation as literature. Whether or not historians accept the text as completely authentic will not change the actual influence which Zayn al-'Abidin and the Sahifa have exercised upon Islam over the centuries, nor is it likely to change the way they continue to influence practising Muslims. The 'real' Zayn al-'Abidin is the figure enshrined by the text as it now stands.

The opinion of the writer of these lines concerning the authenticity of the Sahifa - admittedly based only upon an intimate acquaintance with the text gained through many months spent in translation - is that the original fifty-four prayers go back to Zayn al-'Abidin, that the addenda are nearly as trustworthy, and that the munajat may have been worked upon by others. But the Sahifa in its larger forms probably contains a good deal of material from later authors. It is interesting to note Padwick's comments on the Sahifat al-khamisa: `The great body of devotion attributed to him is characterized by a deep humility and sense of sin, and by an intransigent, undying resentment against the foes of his house.' Only the first half of this statement is true about the present Sahifa. Though the Imam makes a number of allusions to the injustice suffered by his family and the fact that their rightful heritage has been usurped, no one can call this a major theme of the Sahifa or an 'intransigent, undying resentment'. In the one instance where Zayn al-'Abidin speaks rather explicitly of the injustice suffered by the Imams (48.9-11), this is accompanied by an admission of God's wisdom in His ordainment.


The Arabic text of the Sahifat al-kamila which forms the basis for the translation was established by al-Shahid al-Awwal. The modern Iranian editions are based mainly on the version of this text transmitted by the father of the above-mentioned Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Mulla Muhammad Taqi Majlisi (d. 1070/1659-60), also an important scholar of the Safavid period. and another son, Mulla `Abd Allah (d. c. 1084/1673); but at least one of these editions goes back to the famous Safavid jurist, philosopher, architect, poet, and mathematician Shaykh-i Baha'i (d. 1031/1621-2). The elder Majlisi had at his disposal numerous manuscripts of the text, which he had received from the foremost Shi'ite authorities of his day. In one of his works he refers to all the chains of transmission by which he had received the Sahifa, and, we are told, these number more than a million.

The question naturally arises as to why Majlisi chose the particular chain of transmission mentioned in the preface out of the many he had at his disposal, especially since the chain itself is exceedingly weak (as indicated by the commentators and recorded in the notes to the translation). The reason for this seems to be the accuracy of this particular version going back to al-Shahid al-Awwal, as confirmed by another 'special' route through which Majlisi received the Sahifa. This special route is worth mentioning in detail, since it provides a good example of the aura which has surrounded the text in Shi'ite circles.

One day, lying in bed half asleep, Majlisi saw himself in the courtyard of the 'Atiq mosque in Isfahan, and before him stood the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam. Majlisi asked him about a number of scholarly problems which he had not been able to solve, and the Mahdi explained their solutions. Then Majlisi asked him for a book which he could put into practice, and the Mahdi directed him to seek out Mawlana Muhammad al-Taj. In his vision Majlisi found the book, and it appeared to be a book of supplications. Waking up, he saw that his hand was empty, and he wept until morning at his loss. At daybreak it occurred to him that perhaps the Mahdi had meant Shaykh Muhammad Mudarris, calling him by the title `Taj' (the `crown') because he was so famous among the scholars. Hence he went to see Shaykh Muhammad, and, entering his circle, saw that he held a copy of the Sahifa in his hand. He went forward and recounted his vision to Shaykh Muhammad, who interpreted it to mean that he would reach high levels of gnostic and visionary knowledge. But Majlisi was not satisfied with this explanation, and he wandered around the bazaar in perplexity and sorrow. Upon reaching the melon market, he met a pious old man known as Aqa Hasan, whom the people called, Taja (`Crown'). Majlisi greeted him, and Aqa Hasan called to him and said that he had a number of books which were consecrated for religious purpose (waqfi) but that he did not trust most of the students to put them to proper use. `Come', he said, `and take whichever of these books which you think you can put into practice.'

Entering Aqa Hasan's library, Majlisi immediately saw the book he had seen in his dream, so he said: `This is enough for me.' It was a copy of the Sahifa. He then went back to Shaykh Muhammad and began collating his newly acquired copy with that of Shaykh Muhammad; both of them had been made from the manuscript of al-Shahid al-Awwal. In short, Majlisi tells us that the authenticity of his copy of the Sahifa was confirmed by the Mahdi himself.

At least forty commentaries and glosses have been written on the Sahifa mostly during the period extending from the Safavid era (907-1125/1502-1722) to the present. Among famous Safavid scholars who wrote commentaries are Shaykh-i Baha'i, the philosopher Mir Damad (d. c. 1040/1630), and the younger Majlisi. The most well-known of the commentaries is Riyad al-salikin by al-Sayyid 'Alikhan al-Husayn al-Hasan al-Shirazi (d. 1120/1708-9).


The Sahifa has been called a `prayer manual', but this description may be misleading to Western readers not familiar with the different varieties of prayer in Islam. The best introduction to these - as well as to the contents of the Sahifa - is provided by Padwick's Muslim Devotions which also analyzes the major themes common to all supplications and explains many of the important Arabic terms employed. Given the existence of Padwick's study, we can be excused for providing only a few comments to situate supplication in the larger context of Muslim prayer and to suggest the importance of the Sahifa for gaining an understanding of Islam as a religion.

`Prayer' in Islam can be divided into obligatory and voluntary. The obligatory prayer includes the daily ritual or canonical prayer (salat) which the Prophet called the `pillar of Islam', and various occasional prayers such as the Friday congregational prayer (according to most opinions), which need not concern us here. Nothing is more basic than the daily prayers to Muslim practice except the testimony of faith or shahada: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger.' Every Muslim must perform the salat five times a day, exceptions being made only for children and for women during periods when they cannot fulfill the requirements of ritual purity. Even the bedridden must pray the salat if they are conscious and coherent, though they are excused from the physical movements which normally accompany it. `Perform the salat!' is one of the most common injunctions in the Qur'an.

Most of the many forms of recommended prayer can be classified either as salat, dhikr or du'a'. The recommended salat involves the same movements and recitations that are contained in the obligatory salat while the Prophet's sunna sets down various times during the day or occasions when various specific salats may be performed. In addition, the worshiper is free to perform salat as he desires, and thus it is related that Imam Zayn al-'Abidin used to perform one thousand supererogatory cycles of salat every night, in imitation of his grandfather 'Ali.

Dhikr - which means literally `remembrance' or `mention' and which is frequently translated as `invocation' - is the mention of a name or names of God, often in the form of the repetition of a Qur'anic formula such as There is no god but God, Praise belongs to God, Glory be to God, or God is great. Most Muslims recite such formulas a set number of times after completing an obligatory ritual prayer. Fifteen Qur'anic verses command dhikr of Allah or the `name of Allah', emphasizing the fact that this practice involves a verbal mention of a divine name. If the Shari'a does not make dhikr an incumbent act, this has to do with the fact that the Qur'anic command to remember God was not given a single, specific form by the Prophet's sunna, in contrast to the command to perform the salat. In other words, everyone agrees that it is important to perform dhikr and that the Prophet practiced it constantly. But the Prophet never made any specific form of dhikr mandatory for the faithful; on the contrary, he practiced many different forms and seems to have suggested a great variety of forms to his Companions in keeping with their needs.

From earliest times the sources confirm the power of dhikr to provide for human psychological and spiritual needs and to influence activity. It is not difficult to understand that reciting ya rahman ya rahim (`O All-merciful, O All-compassionate') will have a different effect upon the believer than reciting, la hawla wa-la quwwata illa bi-llah al- `ali al-`azim (`There is no power and no strength save in God, the All-high, the All-mighty'). Spiritual teachers eventually developed a science of different adhkar (plural of dhikr) appropriate for all the states of the soul.

Du'a' or `supplication' is closely connected to dhikr, such that it is often difficult to make a distinction between the two. The term means literally `to call upon' and it is commanded by the Qur'an in several suggestive verses, including the following:

Supplicate your Lord humbly and secretly; He loves not transgressors. (7:55)

Supplicate Allah or supplicate the All-merciful. Whichever you supplicate - to Him belong the most beautiful names. (17:110)

Supplicate God, making your religion His sincerely, though the unbelievers be averse. (40:14)

Your Lord has said: `Supplicate Me and I will respond to you. Surely those who wax too proud to worship Me shall enter Gehenna utterly abject.' (40:60)

And when My servants question thee concerning Me - I am near to respond to the supplication of the supplicator when he supplicates Me. (2:186)

Collections of hadith, both Sunni and Shi'ite, devote chapters to the benefits of supplication; the following sayings of the Prophet from Sunni sources are typical:

Supplication is the pith of worship. (TIRMIDHI)

When one of you supplicates, he should not say, `O God, forgive me if Thou wilt', but he should be firm in his asking and make his desire great, for what God gives is nothing great for him. (MUSLIM)

God will respond to the servant as long as he does not supplicate for anything sinful or for breaking the ties of the womb, and as long as he does not ask for an immediate response. (MUSLIM)

Each of you should ask your Lord for all your needs; he should even ask Him for the thong of his sandal when it breaks. (TIRMIDHI)

Shi'ite sources provide some of the same sayings while adding many more. For example:

The Prophet related that God says: `O My servants, all of you are misguided except him whom I guide, so ask Me for guidance, and I will guide you. All of you are poor except him whom I enrich, so ask Me for riches, and I will provide for you. All of you are sinners except him whom I release, so ask Me to forgive you, and I will forgive you.'

The Prophet said: `Supplication is the weapon of the man of faith, the centrepole of religion, and the light of the heavens and the earth.'

`Ali was asked: `Which speech is best in God's eyes?' He replied: `A great amount of dhikr, pleading (tadarru'), and supplication.'

`Ali said: `Four things work to a man's benefit and not against him: faith and thanksgiving, for God says: What would God do with chastising you, if you are thankful and have faith? (4:147); asking forgiveness, for He says: God would never chastise them with thee among them; God would never chastise them while they prayed forgiveness (8:33); and supplication, for He says: My Lord esteems you not at all were it not for your supplication (25:77).

Husayn said: `The Prophet used to raise his hands when he implored and supplicated, like a man in misery begging for food.'

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir said: `God loves nothing better than that His servants ask from Him.'

In short, supplicating or calling upon God is to address Him with one's praise, thanksgiving, hopes, and needs. It is `prayer' in the personal sense commonly understood from the term by contemporary Christians. It forms a basic part of the religious life, but like dhikr, though commanded by the Qur'an in general terms, it does not take a specific form in the injunctions of the Shari'a because of its personal and inward nature. Everyone must remember God and supplicate Him, but this can hardly be legislated, since it pertains to the secret relationship between a human being and his or her Lord. The salat, however, is the absolute minimum which God will accept from the faithful as the mark of their faith and their membership in the community. Its public side is emphasized by the physical movements which accompany it and the fact that its form and contents are basically the same for all worshipers, even if its private side is shown by the fact that it can be performed wherever a person happens to find himself. In contrast dhikr and supplication are totally personal.

But the private devotional lives of the great exemplars of religion often become public, since they act as models for other human beings. The `sunna' of the Prophet is precisely the practices of the highest exemplification of human goodness made into an ideal which everyone should emulate, and the supplications which the Prophet used to make are part of his sunna. When he recited them aloud, his Companions would remember and memorize them. They also used to come to him and ask him for supplications which they could recite on various occasions and for different purposes.

To the Prophet's supplications, the Shi'ites add the supplications of the Imams, beginning with `Ali. Nowadays the most widely employed of the comprehensive prayer manuals, which contain a wide variety of supplications from all the Imams and for every occasion, is probably Mafatih al-jinan (`Keys to the Gardens of Paradise') by `Abbas Qumi (d. 1359/1940).