Commander of the Faithful Imām Ḥasan Mujtabā ʿalaihi as-salām was the elder grandson of the Prophet ṣall-Allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam from his youngest daughter Sayyida Fāṭima ʿalayhā as-salām, and son of Imām ʿAlī Murtaḍā ʿalayhi as-salām.
He was born on 15 Ramaḍān in the year 3 after Hijrah. On the seventh day of his birth, the Prophet slaughtered two rams and gave away his hair-weight of silver as charity. He was named Ḥasan by his venerated grandfather, and his titles include Abū-Muḥammad, Sayyid and Zakī among others.
He is the second Imām in the Golden Chain of the twelve Imāms of Ahl al-Bayt, first being his father. He is among the five noble Ahl al-Kisāʾ (people of the cloak). He is the fifth in the righteous caliphs of Islam. After his abdication, the caliphate turned into monarchy. This was predicted by the Prophet ṣall-Allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam, who said: “Caliphate in my Ummah will be for thirty years, after which, there will be monarchy” (Tirmidhī). This duration was to end in Rabīʿ al-Awwal 41 AH whereas Imām ʿAlī was martyred in Ramadān 40 AH, after whom Imām Ḥasan remained caliph for about six months. He abdicated the caliphate in favour of Amīr Muʿāwiya raḍiy-Allāhu ʿanhu, who ruled in the style of kings [Ḥujjat-Allāh al-Bāligha].
According to sound narrations, he had high resemblance with his noble grandfather from head to chest. The companion Anas ibn Mālik raḍiy-Allāhu ʿanhu said:
“None of them resembled the Messenger of Allāh more than Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī.” [Tirmidhī]
One day, Sayyidunā Abū-Bakr and Imām ʿAlī came out of the mosque and saw the little Ḥasan playing in the street. Abū-Bakr took him over the shoulders and said to ʿAlī: He resembles the Messenger of Allāh, not you! Imām ʿAlī smiled.
When he was a child, he used to play with his grandfather. He would often climb over the back of the Messenger of Allāh ṣall-Allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam during prostration in the prayer, and the Prophet would never take him off, until he himself would get off. One day, the Prophet was in the state of Rukūʿ that Ḥasan came and passed between his legs. Sometimes, the Prophet would open out his tongue and Ḥasan would laugh and be extremely pleased by watching it. The Prophet of Allāh used to carry him on his shoulders. [Tārīkh al-Khulafā]
He was used to perform the virtuous deeds excessively. Ibn al-Athīr writes that “Ḥasan was frequent in fasting, prayers, Ḥajj, charities and all other virtuous deeds.” He performed twenty five Ḥajj pilgrimages, journeying on foot instead of riding. His generosity was unparalleled. Sometimes he would give away hundred thousand dirhams to a single person. On many occasions, he gave away thousands of dirhams to the needy. He was a statue of patience and forbearance. Some ignorant persons would insult him but he would reply gently. Marwān used to insult him and his father, in public as well as at his face, yet he never replied with insults.
He was one of those who hurried to help the third caliph ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān raḍiy-Allāhu ʿanhu.
In 49 AH, he was poisoned by a woman instigated by Yazīd son of Muʿāwiya. He had been poisoned multiple times earlier, but this time he could not recover. He received martyrdom with that poison and died in 49 AH (or 50/51 AH by other reports). He was buried in the Baqīʿ graveyard in Madīnah. During his life, he married many women as people considered it a blessing to marry their daughters with him. He had twelve sons and five daughters. His lineage continues through two of his sons: Zayd and Ḥasan al-Muthannā (Ḥasan the second).
Our lord the Messenger of Allāh ṣall-Allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam once hugged him and prayed:
“O Allāh! I love him, so please love him and love those who love him.” [Bukhārī]
Once, the Prophet ṣall-Allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam ascended the Minbar and said:
“Indeed, this son of mine is a chief; Allāh shall bring peace between two tremendous parties through his hands.” [Tirmidhī]
He was a grandmaster of Taṣawwuf and fountainhead of sainthood. Ṣūfīs have gained numerous spiritual pearls from his sayings as well as deeds. He said:
“You must guard yours hearts, for indeed Allāh is aware of the conscience (secret thoughts).”
Sayyid ʿAlī Hujwerī commented on this quote: “Guarding the hearts consists in not turning to others (than God) and in keeping one’s secret thoughts from disobedience to the Almighty.” [Kashf al-Maḥjūb]
Once, Ḥasan Baṣrī wrote to him and asked him about the correct position on the issues of free will and destiny. The Qadarites believed in rationalism and complete free will, while others believed in determinism. Imām Ḥasan ʿalayhi as-salām replied with the following letter:
In the name of Allāh, the most gracious, the most merciful!
Thereafter: Your letter has reached me, mentioning the confusion of you and those you consider from our Ummah. And my opinion in this is that, one who does not believe in the determination of good and evil actions is an infidel; and the one who imputes his sins to God is a miscreant. Allāh does not force anyone for His obedience, neither does He compel for disobedience. Yet He is the real owner of everything possessed by the people and the real power behind their powers. If they are compelled to obey, they would have no choice other than obedience. And if they choose to disobey, and God wants to show beneficence, He puts a barrier between them and their sin. Now if they are unable to act disobediently, it is not that God had compelled them, nor had He forcefully stopped them. This is for evidence and testimonial on them, if they know it. Allāh has devised a way for them to accept what He has ordained and to abstain from what He has forbidden. And Allāh’s is the conclusive argument.
One day, the venerable Imām Ḥasan ʿalayhi as-salām was seated at the door of his house in Kūfa. A Bedouin came and reviled him and his blessed parents. He said: “O Bedouin! Perhaps you are hungry or thirsty, or what else do you need?” The Bedouin did not stop and continued insulting him. He ordered his servant to bring a purse full of silver, and gave it to the Bedouin, saying: “Excuse me! For there is nothing else in the house; I would have given you had there been anything more than this.” The Bedouin was ashamed of his behavior and said: “I bear witness that you are the grandson of the Messenger of Allāh! I came here only to test your mildness.” [Kashf al-Maḥjūb]
Once his slave was bringing him hot milk, but slipped and dropped it over him. He looked up to the slave, who, noticing that he might be angry, recited the words from the Qurʾān:
“And those who restrain (their) anger.” [Qurʾān, 3:134]
The Imām replied: “I restrained my anger!”
The slave continued: “And are forgiving for the people.”
The Imām replied: “I forgave you!”
The slave continued: “And Allāh loves the benevolent.”
He replied: “I free you for the pleasure of Allah.”
The celebrated saint Shāh Naqshband expressed his utmost devotion to this noble grandson of our lord and master in the following verses: [Rubāʿiyāt Naqshband]
یا رب برسالت رسول الثقلین
یا رب بخزا کنندۂ بدر و حنین
عصیانِ مرا دو حصه کن در عرصات
نیمے بحسن بخش و نیمے بحسین
O Lord! By the sake of the prophethood of Prophet of the worlds!
O Lord! By the sake of the victorious leader of Badr and Ḥunain!
Divide my sins in two halves on the day of Judgement,
Forgive half by the sake of Ḥasan and half by the sake of Ḥusain!