Prisoner of Samarra
Source: Islamic Insights

"However, as for the one amongst the scholars who safeguards himself, preserves his religion, goes against his own desires and obeys his Master, the general public should emulate him (in Taqleed), and that would not be the case except for some of the Shia scholars, not all of them."

These are the words of our 11th Imam, Imam Hasan al-Askari (peace be upon him), in which he confirms one of the most important academic practices in Islam - Taqleed, or following the jurisprudential edicts deduced by the qualified scholar.

Imam Hasan al-Askari was born on the 10th of Rabi al-Akhir, 232 AH, in the city of Medina. His father was the 10th Imam, Imam Ali al-Hadi (peace be upon him), and his mother's name was Sawsan.

As a child, Imam Hasan al-Askari was known for his exceptional wisdom. One narration states that one day, as the Imam's peers were playing and having fun, the young Imam stood near them crying.

"Would you like me to buy you a toy to play with?" asked a concerned onlooker.

"No. We have not been created for such play," responded the crying boy.

The stunned man inquired, "...and what have we been created for?"

The boy replied, "For knowledge and worship... [Did you think that We had created you in vain...?]" (Holy Qur'an 23:115)

"What's wrong with you?! You are a small innocent child!" exclaimed the man.

The boy dismissed the man's words saying, "Leave me be. Indeed, I have seen my mother try to start a fire with big logs, but the fire does not start without using the small ones first. I fear that I may be among the small logs of hellfire!"

For most of the Imam's life, he lived with his father under house-arrest in Samarra, Iraq. When the corrupt Abbasid rulers poisoned Imam Ali al-Hadi, Imam Hasan al-Askari became the active Imam. At that time, he was about 22 years old.

Imam Hasan al-Askari's period showed even more clearly than before that the Imams of Ahlul Bayt were preparing their followers for an upcoming Imamat period when the Imam would be in occultation. This can be shown through narrations similar to the one mentioned in the beginning of this article.

In addition, the fact that Imam al-Askari was kept away from his followers for much of his life, such that only the closest companions were able to meet with him, has interesting similarities to our situation today with the 12th Imam, Imam al-Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance).

For us today, it is specifically important to reflect on some of the Imam's words, which are directed to his followers, "My will to you is that you have Taqwa (righteousness) for Allah; be careful in matters of your religion; be honest in your speech; return trusts to those who entrust them to you, whether they be kind or wicked; prolong your Sujood (prostration) and be good neighbors...

"Indeed, if one amongst you is careful in matters of religion and honest in speech, and then it is said that this person is a Shia, that would make me happy. Have Taqwa for Allah; be a compliment to us, and do not be a criticism to us..."

The Imam was poisoned by the corrupt Abbasid ruler al-Mo'tamid in the beginning of Rabi al-Awwal, 260 AH, at the age of 28. His shrine in Samarra, Iraq, has been the target of two terrorist bombings, one in the year 2006 and the other in 2007.