Sahifa Sajaddiya

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The Psalms of Islam: Al-Sahifah Al-Kamilah Al-Sajjadiyyah

Translated with an Introduction and Annotation by Dr. William C. Chittick

English Version

Translated with Introduction and Annotation by: Dr. William C. Chittick

With a Foreword by S.H.M. Jafri

Re-typesetting by Mrs. Salma Zishan Hussein

Assisted by: Mohsin S. Khatau, Mahmood G. Dhalla, Ali Musa Amin

Printed and Published on behalf of: The Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

131, Walm Lane, London NW2 3AU, England

This book is copyright. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any process without the prior written permission of the Muhammadi Trust, Al-Mahdi Institute, and Meraj Educational Publishers & Book Distributors - Bilal Muslim Mission of Scandinavia.

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ISBN 916 315 875-2

© Muhammadi Trust - Al-Mahdi Institute - Meraj Educational Publishers & Book Distributors

2007 (Second Edition)

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In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate


Al-Mahdi Institute of Birmingham, U.K., and Meraj Educational Publishers and Book Distributors of Bilal Muslim Mission of Scandinavia — Sweden, would like to express their deepest gratitude to The Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for their permission to re-edit and publish this English-only version of their 1988 edition of the Psalms of Islam, and to all those who have contributed their valuable efforts towards the realization of this publication.

Furthermore, the publishers would like to express their sincerest appreciation to the donors who have facilitated the printing of this new edition.


The present volume contains the supplications transmitted from one of the most venerated religious authorities of early Islam, ‘Ali b. al-Husayn b. ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, better known as Zayn al-‘Abidin (‘the ornament of the worshippers’). His lineage, through his grandfather ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, and his grandmother, Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, connects him directly to the Prophet Muhammad, conferring upon him a deep religious and spiritual authority.

Zayn al-‘Abidin’s time was marked by a growing interest in the Traditions of the Prophet, especially in legal matters, making him an esteemed figure not only among the followers of the Household of the Prophet, who considered him their fourth Imam, but also in the wider Muslim scholarly community. His devoutness, learning, and generosity earned him the respect and admiration of both his contemporaries and later generations.

The significance of Zayn al-‘Abidin extends beyond his era, with his supplications offering solace and guidance to the followers of Islam across ages. These prayers are not just supplications but are also reflective of the Islamic spiritual ethos, addressing the innermost quests and crises of human existence.

This foreword aims to introduce readers to the profound spiritual legacy of Zayn al-‘Abidin, whose supplications continue to inspire and guide Muslims in their spiritual journeys. The translation endeavors to bring to the English-speaking world the essence of his devotion and his exemplary piety, transcending the boundaries of time and geography to speak directly to the heart of the believer.

Publisher's Foreword

Islam emphasizes that mere acknowledgment of its doctrinal tenets, unquestioningly or as family tradition, is insufficient. Individuals are encouraged to independently and voluntarily believe in these tenets after convincing themselves of their truth. Worship in Islam extends beyond physical acts like prayers and fasting to encompass reflective thinking and pondering, which, if leading to human awakening, is deemed far superior to years of mere physical worship. This spiritual and moral development of a human being follows the physical formation. Every individual thus becomes the architect of their own personality, holding the brush to paint their character.

This noble book addresses issues that nourish the human soul, aiming to awaken and revitalize it, thereby aspiring to perfect the unlimited potential within by giving a voice to the 'inner' self, in parallel to how prayer and fasting express the 'outer' self. It suggests a unity of the 'inner' and 'outer', encouraging the soul's journey towards embellishment.

Communication from 'Above to below' is familiar, but this book exemplifies the soul's quest for perfection, ascending from 'below to Above', showcasing one of the finest examples of seeking divine closeness.

Gulam Ali Dhalla - Chairman

Meraj Educational Publishers & Book Distributors

Bilal Muslim Mission of Scandinavia

Marsta-Sweden, 17th Rabi al-Awwal 1426 / 26th April 2005

Translator's Introduction

AL-SAHIFAT AL-SAJJADIYYA, the oldest prayer manual in Islamic sources and a seminal work of Islamic spirituality from the early period, was composed by the Prophet's great-grandson, 'Ali ibn al-Husayn, known as Zayn al-'Abidin ('the adornment of the worshippers'). Esteemed in Shi'ite sources since the earliest times, Zayn al-'Abidin, the fourth Shi'ite Imam, is recognized for his deep spiritual influence, extending beyond his immediate context to the wider Muslim community. His supplications, embodying profound spiritual engagement, have been venerated alongside the Qur'an and 'Ali's Nahj al-balagha.

'Ali ibn al-Husayn

Born in Medina around 38/658-9, 'Ali ibn al-Husayn was shaped by the legacy of his grandfather 'Ali, his uncle Hasan, and his father Husayn, the Prophet’s beloved grandchildren. His mother, Shahrbanu, daughter of the last Sasanian king, brought an additional layer of nobility, making him 'Ibn al-Khiyaratayn', the son of the best of both Arabs and non-Arabs. Despite the tragedy of Karbala, where he witnessed the massacre of his family, Zayn al-'Abidin's life was dedicated to learning, worship, and maintaining his piety and nobility of character, earning him widespread respect and veneration.

In the aftermath of Karbala, despite political pressures and the split within the Shi'ite community, Zayn al-'Abidin focused on spiritual leadership and scholarship, steering clear of political involvement. His contributions to Islamic tradition, especially through his supplications, underscore his enduring influence on Islamic spirituality and devotion.

The Sahifa, revered for its depth and the breadth of its spiritual guidance, encapsulates Zayn al-'Abidin's legacy, offering insights into the essence of Islamic worship and the human quest for divine connection.

The Sahifa, lithographed in Iran and Bombay in 1311/1893-4, encompasses all supplications from earlier versions, adding 52 to those found in the first and second Sahifas. Constance Padwick, in her study "Muslim Devotions," utilized this fifth edition, spanning over six hundred pages, highlighting its significance in Islamic prayer literature.

Sorting the historical reliability of individual supplications across the Sahifa's versions would be a monumental task, likely resulting in hypotheses rather than concrete conclusions. This exploration, while intriguing to Western scholars and modernized Muslims, diverges from the traditional Muslim approach, which values the content of texts upheld by tradition without focusing on the authorship's historical fact. This perspective is encapsulated in ‘Ali's saying: ‘Look at what has been said, not at who has said it’, emphasizing the importance of the message over the messenger.

Regardless of authorship, the Sahifa stands as a text expressing the Muslim soul's highest aspirations. The core text attributed to Zayn al-‘Abidin by Shi‘ite tradition for over a millennium shapes Shī‘ism's identity to this day. Historical accuracy aside, the impact of Zayn al-‘Abidin and the Sahifa on Islam and practicing Muslims is undiminished, portraying the 'real' Zayn al-‘Abidin as enshrined in the text.

The authenticity of the Sahifa, while debated, is less critical than its spiritual authority and the influence it wields. Though later additions may exist, the core fifty-four prayers likely originated from Zayn al-‘Abidin, with subsequent contributions aligning with the text's spirit. Padwick's observation on the Sahifat al-khamisa, noting a deep humility and persistent resentment against his house's foes, partially aligns with the Sahifa's themes, though the text primarily focuses on humility and devotion rather than resentment.

The Arabic text of the Sahifat al-kamila, serving as the basis for this translation, was established by al-Shahid al-Awwal. Modern Iranian editions primarily draw from the version transmitted by Muhammad Baqir Majlisi's father, Mulla Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, and another son, Mulla 'Abd Allah. Some editions trace back to Shaykh Baha’i, a renowned Safavid jurist and scholar. The elder Majlisi, with access to numerous manuscripts from leading Shiite authorities, mentioned having over a million chains of transmission for the Sahifa.

Majlisi's choice of a specific chain of transmission, despite its apparent weakness, was due to its accuracy, as confirmed through a special encounter with the Mahdi in a vision. This encounter, which led Majlisi to a copy of the Sahifa validated by the Mahdi himself, underscores the text's revered status in Shiite circles. Over forty commentaries on the Sahifa have been written, indicating its profound impact on Shiite thought and spirituality.

Prayer in Islam encompasses obligatory and voluntary forms, with the Sahifa offering a rich tapestry of supplications (du'a) that embody deep spiritual reflection and devotion. These prayers situate within the broader Islamic practice of prayer, including ritual prayer (salat), remembrance (dhikr), and supplication (du'a), each serving unique roles in fostering a devout and reflective Muslim life. The Sahifa, thus, is not merely a prayer manual but a comprehensive guide to spiritual elevation and connection with the divine. Supplication, or du'a, holds a significant place in Islamic worship, embodying a personal and intimate form of prayer. Both Sunni and Shiite sources elaborate on the virtues and recommended practices of supplication, emphasizing its role as a direct communication with God. The Prophet Muhammad and subsequent Shiite Imams, including ‘Ali and Muhammad al-Baqir, have been recorded offering guidance on supplication, underscoring its centrality in fostering a personal connection with the divine. The practice of supplication, alongside dhikr (remembrance of God), forms a critical aspect of a Muslim's spiritual life, transcending the formalities of ritual prayer (salat) to engage directly with God's mercy, guidance, and forgiveness. This personal aspect of worship, exemplified by the supplications recorded in the Sahifat al-kamila, offers a window into the profound sense of devotion and reliance on God that characterizes Islamic spirituality.

The Role of Supplication

Though many of the supplications handed down from the Prophet and the Imams were spontaneous utterances of the heart, some were composed for recitation on specific occasions or for passing on to the devout. While most prophetic supplications are brief, some Imam prayers, like Zayn al-‘Abidin’s supplication for the Day of ‘Arafa (no. 47), are lengthy and elaborate compositions. The fact that they are designated for special occasions suggests they were noted down and then repeated by the Imam or his followers when the same occasion came around again.

It's not possible to know the exact circumstances in which supplications were composed, but the general environment of early Islam suggests that supplication played a significant role in the community. Many Muslims devoted a great deal of time to recitation of the Qur’an, remembrance of God, and prayer. Supplication was the flesh and blood of the imagination, providing a means for people to think about God and keep His thought present. It was an intimate expression of tawhid, shaping their sensibilities, emotions, thoughts, and concepts.

Supplication serves as one of the primary frameworks within which the soul can be molded in accordance with the Divine Will, discarding all ego-centered thoughts and desires opposed to this Will. For Muslims, obeying God meant imitating those already shaped by God's mercy and guidance, starting with the Prophet and his Companions. For Shi'ites, the words and acts of the Imams are so fundamental that they sometimes seem to overshadow the Sunna of the Prophet.

The Role of the Imams

The companions of the Imams constantly referred to them for guidance, while the Imams themselves followed the Prophet's practice of spending long hours of the day and night in salat, dhikr, and supplication. Though much of this devotional life was inward and personal, the Imams had the duty of guiding the community and enriching their religious life. As Imam Zayn al-‘AbidTn emphasizes in the ‘Treatise on Rights’, translated in the appendix, it is the duty of every possessor of knowledge to pass it on to others, and the Imams were acknowledged as great authorities of Islam by their contemporaries, Sunni and Shfite alike. Hence it was only natural that they would compose prayers in which their knowledge of man's relationship with God was expressed in the most personal terms and which could be passed around and become communal property. Many if not most of the supplications recorded in the Sahjfa seem to be of this sort. A few of them, such as ‘His supplication for the Day of Fast-Breaking’ (46) or ‘for the Day of Sacrifice’ (48) seem to have been composed for public occasions. One of them provides internal evidence to suggest that the Imam had in mind his followers rather than himself: in the supplication for parents (24), he speaks as if his parents were still alive, whereas this could hardly have been the case, unless we Suppose that he composed it in his youth before the events at Karbala’.

Tawhid in Devotional Mode

No one with any sensitivity toward human weakness and God's love can fail to be moved at least by some of the supplications contained in the Sahtfa. Here we have one of the greatest spiritual luminaries of Islam so overawed by the sense of God’s goodness, mercy, and majesty as to express his utter nothingness before the Creator in terms that may seen surprisingly explicit for one deemed by his followers to be the possessor of such holiness. In the Sahtfa we see Islamic spirituality - or that dimension of the religion of Islam which deals with the practical and lived reality of the personal relationship between man and God - expressed in the most universal of languages, that of the concrete and intimate yearning of the soul for completion and perfection.

Muslim ideas and atdtudes go back to tawlnd or the ‘profession of God’s Unity’ as expressed in the first half of the shahada: ‘There is no god but God.’ This is the essence of the Qur’anic message, as Muslim authorities have affirmed and reaffirmed throughout Islamic history. The Sahija provides a pardcularly striking example of what this means in personal, practical terms, not in the abstract language of theology or metaphysics. The basic theme of the Sahlfa can be put into a series of formulas simply by taking every positive human attribute and placing it within the context of the shahada: ‘There is no goodness but in God’, ‘There is no repentance but by God’s grace’, ‘There is no gratitude but through God’, ‘There is no patience without God’s help’, ‘There is no knowledge but in God’, ‘There is no love except through God’s initiative’. The complement of this perspective is that every negative attribute belongs to the human self: ‘There is no evil but in me’, ‘There is no pride but in myself, ‘There is no impatience but in my own ego’, ‘There is none ignorant but me’, ‘There is no hate but in myself.’

The Prophetic Attitude and Self-Deprecation

In Islamic tradition, Adam and Eve's response to disobedience exemplifies humility, as they attribute their wrongdoing to themselves. This contrasts with Iblis, who blames God for his actions. Such humility aligns with the Islamic principle of ascribing faults to oneself and virtues to God, emphasizing human limitations and divine sovereignty.

Tawhid in Devotional Practice

The essence of the shahada, 'There is no god but God,' underscores the humility of the worshiper and the greatness of God. Supplication in Islam reinforces this principle by attributing all good to God and acknowledging human shortcomings. Through supplication, Muslims express their reliance on God and seek His forgiveness and generosity.

The Dichotomy between Lord and Servant

While supplication emphasizes the distinction between God and His servant, it also hints at the concept of union with God. However, early Islamic texts primarily focus on the dichotomy between Lord and servant, emphasizing the servant's perpetual dependence on God across all circumstances.

Asking Forgiveness

Despite the belief in the Imams' sinlessness, the Sahifa portrays Zayn al-‘AbidIn frequently seeking forgiveness for his sins. This apparent contradiction highlights the deeper significance of the shahada in Islamic spirituality, where humility and self-awareness prevail over theological debates.

The Prophet's Prayer for Forgiveness

Despite the belief in the sinlessness of prophets, including Muhammad, he frequently sought forgiveness from God, a practice echoed by Muslims worldwide. This seemingly paradoxical behavior does not undermine his purity but rather emphasizes his role as a model for the community and reinforces the essence of the shahada.

The Concept of Goodness and Divine Attributes

In Islamic theology, goodness is inherently linked to God, with all positive attributes belonging solely to Him. Even the greatest prophets, including Muhammad, remain subordinate to God, highlighting the vast gap between the Creator and His creation.

The Nature of Repentance and Forgiveness

Repentance in Islam exists on multiple levels, reflecting varying degrees of spiritual maturity and devotion. At the basic level, believers seek forgiveness for transgressions against religious laws. On a deeper level, the devout repent for inward shortcomings and strive for greater spiritual purity, recognizing their dependency on God's mercy and guidance.

Levels of Spiritual Repentance

At the pinnacle of spiritual attainment lies the recognition of one's inherent inadequacy and the request for forgiveness extends beyond specific transgressions to the very essence of one's existence. This profound repentance reflects a deep understanding of the perpetual distance between the created and the Creator.

Nuances in Repentance and Forgiveness

The Arabic terms for "repentance" and "forgiveness" carry richer meanings than their English counterparts. Repentance, literally meaning "turning towards," encompasses a multidimensional return to God, while forgiveness entails a divine covering of human flaws and limitations. This linguistic richness underscores the complexity of spiritual states and requests for divine mercy.

Contrasting Views on Divine Attributes

Islamic theology navigates between emphasizing God's transcendence and immanence. While jurists and theologians underscore God's distance and incomparability, spiritual authorities highlight His nearness and mercy. This divergence reflects different approaches to understanding and experiencing the divine, with spiritual nourishment found in the personal and intimate portrayal of God in the Qur'an and hadith rather than in abstract theological constructs.

Embracing Divine Mercy

The Quranic verses highlight God's intimate connection with humanity, transcending mere observance of laws to encompass the inner workings of the soul. While Sharia focuses on outward actions, Kalam delves into rational discourse about God's transcendent attributes. However, the Quran and Hadith serve as the foundation for both Sharia and Kalam, as well as for the spiritual authorities who navigate the depths of the soul.

The Balance of Divine Attributes

God's multifaceted nature, portrayed as both transcendent and immanent, encompasses attributes of mercy and severity. Different responses to these attributes emerged in various Islamic disciplines, from jurisprudence to Sufism. Yet, the devotional literature, like the Sahifa, emphasizes the personal relationship with God and His boundless mercy.

Predominance of Divine Mercy

Contrary to misconceptions, the Quran predominantly portrays God as merciful and compassionate, with forgiveness overshadowing wrath. Worshipers seek refuge in God's mercy while striving to avoid His displeasure. This emphasis on mercy shapes supplications, reflecting an understanding that God's mercy precedes His wrath.

Mosaic of Spiritual Attitudes

The Sahifa, akin to the Quran, presents a mosaic of spiritual attitudes mirroring the divine model. Through supplication, worshipers traverse various viewpoints, acknowledging human inadequacy while seeking divine mercy. This dynamic interaction reflects the unity within the multiplicity of divine attributes, ultimately leading to a profound realization of human dependence on God's mercy.

Embracing Divine Mercy: Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin's Perspective

Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin's perspective, reflected in a notable hadith, underscores the profound emphasis on God's mercy and forgiveness within the Sahifa. Contrary to the perception of human perishing as inevitable, Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin highlights the boundless scope of God's mercy, considering salvation as the natural outcome.

Balancing Divine Wrath and Mercy

While the supplicant acknowledges God's potential wrath, there's a steadfast confidence in His essential nature of mercy. Despite criticism suggesting a shallow view of sin and forgiveness, the Sahifa resonates with the Quranic portrayal of God's abundant mercy and forgiveness, fostering humility and repentance.

Sahifa: Gateway to Islamic Spirituality

The Sahifa not only delves into spirituality but also encompasses other dimensions of Islam. It offers teachings ranging from theological doctrines to social responsibilities, all intertwined with spiritual insights. Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin's supplications serve as a guide, emphasizing the hierarchy of priorities where faith precedes social obligations and spirituality precedes practical actions.

Translation Approach

The translation of the Sahifa prioritizes literal accuracy while ensuring readability. Maintaining consistency in terminology preserves the concreteness of the original text, aligning with the pre-theological language of the early devotional literature. This approach aims to capture the essence of the Sahifa and its intimate connection to the Quranic worldview.

Unveiling the Sahifa: Preface and Authorities

The Sahifa, also known as Al-Sahtfat Al-Kamilat Al-Sajjadiyya, opens with reverence to God, the All-merciful and All-compassionate. The preface sheds light on the chain of authorities, tracing back to Najm al-Din Baha’ al-Sharaf Abu al-Hasan Muhammad, ensuring the authenticity of the text.

Insights from Authority Chains

The narration continues with Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Shahriyar, the treasurer of Ali ibn Abi Talib's treasure-house, sharing insights in the presence of the Sahifa. His testimony, dated back to May-June 1122 CE, highlights the esteemed lineage of the Sahifa's transmission.

Acknowledgments and Gratitude

Gratitude is extended to Wing Commander Qasim Husain, whose encouragement propelled the translation project forward. His unwavering support enabled a deeper dive into Islamic spirituality. Further appreciation is expressed to Sayyid Ali Mohammad Naqvi and Sayyid Muhammad Husain al-Husaini al-Jalali for their invaluable contributions and resources.

Unveiling the Perfect Book

The Sahifa, a reservoir of spiritual wisdom, awaits exploration. With its profound insights and rich heritage, it stands as a testament to Islamic spirituality, inviting seekers to delve into its depths.