Ali ibn al-Husayn, the Eldest Son


Note: Some websites disingenuously copy information / analysis listed without credit. Anything presented in my articles is fully original.


“The Eldest Son”:

In the traditional Arab household, leadership of the family unit rests in the hands of the ‘ameed (head of household) – the patriach of the family, i.e, the father.

Once the father passes away, the position ‘ameed transfers to his eldest son, who is supposed to take care of the family (financially and protection-wise), in the same way his father did.

Knowing this, and as we proved in our last article – Imamate is transferred purely from father to eldest son, for two purposes:

(1) Providing an easy, recognizable, and objectively verified criteria for the Shi’a to recognize the next Imam (he is his father’s eldest son)

(2) The Imam makes the eldest son distinguishable from other sons in his wasiya, as he makes the eldest son the sole executor of his will.

This is to symbolize that the eldest son will be the sole person in charge of the Shi’a, after the previous Imam’s demise.

Some, however, have rejected the necessity of the eldest son to distinguish Imamate with a striking claim:

Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn was not the eldest son! 

Thus - according to them, one needn’t be the eldest son to rightfully claim Imamate, in continuity from Ali ibn al-Husayn.

In this article, we will reject this claim and instead posit that Ali al-Husayn was the eldest son and him being so was a key criterion proving his Imamate.

So without further adue

Let us begin!



We learn in our previous article that the wasiya dhahira is an important marker of Imamate.


“He (the Imam’s successor) should be so clearly the one declared by the Divine Leader to be his Trustee that when you enter the town and ask the children or the common people about whom the Divine Leader has established as his Trustee, everyone refers to him’”

محمد العطار، عن الأشعري، عن الخشاب، عن يزيد بن إسحاق شعر، عن الغنوي، عن عبد الأعلى، قالقلت لأبي عبد الله عليه السلام:

ما الحجة على المدعي لهذا الأمر بغير حق؟

قالثلاثة من الحجة لم يجتمعن في رجل إلا كان صاحب هذا الأمر:

أن يكون أولى الناس بمن قبله.

ويكون عنده سلاح رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله.

ويكون صاحب الوصية الظاهرة، الذي إذا قدمت المدينة سألت العامة والصبيانإلى من أوصى فلان؟ فيقولونإلى فلان

Accordingly – in objectively ascertain who succeeded Imam Husayn, it is imperative t know the identity of the recipient of Imam Husayn’s wasiya dhahira.

(Basa’ir al-Darajat)

“Narrated Abu al-Jarud

I heard Aba Jaafar (al-Baqir) say

When Al-Husayn (peace be upon him) foresaw his imminent martyrdom, he called his daughter Fatima ibn al-Husayn and gave her a wrapped book and a wasiya dhahira (public will), so he said: 

O my daughter! Give this to my eldest son.

When Ali ibn Al-Husayn (peace be upon them both) returned, she provided the items (book and wasiya dhahira) to him.

I (narrator) asked Imam al-Baqir: What is that book?

He said: What the children of Adam need from the time the world began its existence until it perishes!”

الصفارعن محمد بن خالد الطيالسي، عن سيف، عن منصور، أو عن يونس، قالحدثني أبو الجارود، قال:

سمعت أبا جعفر (عليه السلاميقوللما حضر الحسين (عليه السلامما حضر، دعا فاطمة بنته فدفع إليها كتابا ملفوفا ووصية ظاهرة،فقاليا بنتيضعي هذا في أكابر ولدي.

فلما رجع علي بن الحسين (عليهما السلامدفعته إليه، وهو عندنا.

قلتما ذاك الكتاب.

قالما يحتاج إليه ولد آدم منذ كانت الدنيا حتى تفنى

The recipient of Imam al-Husayn’s wasiya dhahira was to none other than his eldest son Ali ibn al-Husayn!

How could it be a wasiya dhahira (public will) if it was taken secretly by Fatima bint al-Husayn, and secretly given to Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn (al-Sajjd)?

The answer to this, is that the will itself was public, and made public decades before the battle of Karbala in the wasiya of Fatima al-Zahra.

However, the original document was given secretly to Imam al-Sajjad - so the Umayyads do not desecrate or destroy it.

Imam al-Baqir elaborates on his previous hadith about Ali ibn al-Husayn being in the public will, by pinpointing it specifically to the will of Sayyida Fatima below:


Narrated Abu Basir:

Once Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir) decided to inform us about an important fact. 

He (the Imam) said, ‘Do you like if I read the will of Fatimah, ‘Alayha al-Salam, for you?’ 

I replied, ‘Yes, I like to hear.’ He (the Imam) then took out a box or a basket from which he took out a book (a letter) and read, ‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. 

This is the will of Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, O Allah, grant compensation to Muhammad and his family worthy of their services to Your cause. She; bequests all of her seven walls (gardens enclosed by walls), al-‘Awaf, al- Dalal, al-Burqah, al-Maythab, al-Husna’, al-Safiyah and Ma li ’Umm Ibrahim to Ali ibn Abu Talib.

When Ali passes away it then is for al-Hassan, when al-Hassan passes away then it is for al-Husayn and when al-Husayn passes away then it is for the eldest of my children.

Allah is witness thereof, and al-Miqdad ibn Aswad, al-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awam. 

Ali ibn abu Talib is the scribes of my will.”

2 - الكافيعلي، عن أبيه، عن ابن أبي نجران، عن عاصم بن حميد، عن أبي بصير قالقال أبو جعفر (عليه السلام): ألا أقرئك وصيةفاطمة؟ قالقلتبلى فأخرج حقا أو سفطا فأخرج منه كتابا فقرأ:

(بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم هذا ما أوصت به فاطمة بنت محمد رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآلهأوصت بحوائطها السبعة العواف والدلالوالبرقة والمبيت والحسني والصافية وما لأم إبراهيم إلى علي بن أبي طالب (عليه السلامفإن مضى علي فإلى الحسن، فإن مضى الحسنفإلى الحسين، فإن مضى الحسين، فإلى الأكبر من ولدي شهد الله على ذلك والمقداد بن الأسود والزبير بن العوام وكتب علي بن أبي طالب(عليه السلام).

When Imam al-Baqir narrates that the public will transfers to the eldest of Imam Husayn’s sons (after Husayn passes) away, in this passage:

“For al-Husayn and when al-Husayn passes away then it is for the eldest of my sons”

He meant none but Imam al-Sajjad, as he narrates in the previous hadith that Imam al-Husayn told his daughter Fatima:

“O my daughter! Give this to my eldest son.

When Ali ibn Al-Husayn (peace be upon them both) returned, she provided the items (book and wasiya dhahira) to him.”

Realizing this about the will of Fatima –

When Sayyida Fatima died however, we know that her inheritance was seized by Abu Bakr on grounds that “prophets cannot be inherited, except by knowledge.

Abu Bakr refused to return the property to Imam Ali (the heir of Sayyida Fatima), and Umar continued in this refusal initially.

However, Umar then relented and agreed to make Imam Ali the administrator of Sayyida Fatima’s properties except the land of Fadak.

Any proceeds from the property would be labeled sadaqa (charity) per the orders of Umar, not property.

Thus, the property of Sayyida Fatima was transferred to the people explicitly mentioned in her will (under the official title of “Sadaqat”) to four people:

  1. Ali 
  2. Hasan
  3. Husayn
  4. The eldest of Husayn’s children

As seen in this Sunni hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari –

The eldest of Husayn’s children could be none other than Ali ibn al-Husayn, who inherited the Sadaqat of Imam Ali, after Imam Husayn’s demise.

It is narrated that: 

“The (Sadaqat of Ali) came into the hands of Hasan ibn Ali, then in the hands of Husayn ibn Ali, and then in the hands of Ali ibn al-Husayn.”

However, Imam Al-Sajjad’s cousin al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan al-Mujtaba sued Imam al-Sajjad (as) to the Umayyads.

Accordingly, Imam al-Sajjad was forced to relinquish partial control of the Sadaqat of Ali, to Al-Hasan ibn Al-Hasan –

Such that “each of them used to manage it in turn”, as above Bukhari hadith describes.

Just like property of Sayyida Fatima could be seized without it affecting the legitimacy of Sayyida Fatima’s divine right to it –

Hasan ibn al-Hasan seizing the Sadaqat of Ali from Imam al-Sajjad, does not affect the Imam (as)’s legitimacy and right to Imamate.

With that said – Imam al-Sajjad did not suffice with the common people simply knowing he is the recipient of Imam al-Husayn’s will.

He proved it, both to Shi’a and Sunnis, by showing that he had the Sword of Rasul Allah (which our ahadith show that only the true Imam can have).

After the Battle of Karbala, it seems the Mukhalifeen (Sunnis) knew that the Sword of Rasul Allah rested with the eldest son of Imam al-Husayn –

Imam Husayn’s sole executor.

So they asked Imam Al-Sajjad to give them the sword and promised to protect it, as this hadith from Sahih Muslim shows.

Similarly, in proving to his uncle Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya that he (Imam al-Sajjad) received the will of Imam Husayn – 

Imam al-Sajjad displayed to his the Sword of Rasul Allah, saying:

(Dala’il al-Imamah)

My father (may God’s prayers be upon him) gave me his will before he went to Iraq, and he made me swear the oath of Imamate me an hour before he was martyred. 

This is the weapon of the Messenger of God with me, so do not object to this matter and deny it,for I fear for you - uncle - the shortening of life and the dispersion of the situation”

Therefore, to sum up –

The reports – both Shi’i and Sunni – corroborate that Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn (as) was not only the eldest son and legal heir of Imam Ali’s Sadaqat –

But also that he had visible proof that he deserved it (the Sword of Rasul Allah).

The Imamate of Ali ibn al-Husayn thus cannot be compared to other post- Imam al-Sadiq claimants of Imamate.

Such pretenders commonly modified the criterion of Imamate to make the eldest son position apply to them, all while offering secret, unverifiable claims as proofs.

In contradistinction – Imam Al-Sajjad was the verifiable eldest son, legal heir, and provided visible evidence that he is the deserving heir.


When one attempts to reduce the importance of being the eldest son of the Imam, as a distinguishor of Imamate –

They should reflect on a few matters, with an open mind:

1 ) There are at least three instances within Imamite Shi’i history, where the community in whole or majority believed the eldest son to be Imam but then backtracked due to unforeseen circumstances.

In other words, the eldest son had died thus could not be the Imam (according to them):

AThe case of Ismail ibn Ja’far

B - The case of Abdullah ibn Ja’far

C - The case of Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi

If the Shi’a had precedent in Imam al-Sajjad not being the eldest son –

Why did the majority of the community (with its fuqaha’ and sheikhs) automatically believe that our Imams’ eldest sons were their successors to Imamate?

Moreover, why did the believers in Musa al-Kadhim never justify such precedent in defence of their Imam?

Meaning, if Ali al-Sajjad could become Imam by being a youngest son. 

Why did the Musawi Shi’a never justify Musa al-Kadhim being Imam using such precedent, despite younger age, to those who believed in Ismail and Abdullah ibn Ja’far’s Imamate (by believing either of them are the eldest son)?

2 )  If according to Musawi Shi’a, that the Shi’i community incorrectly believed in the Imamates of Ismail and Abdullah by them occupying the position of eldest son and eldest surviving son respectively –

Why did no one believe that Ali son of Laila (whom proponents of Imam Sajjad being younger son, believe is the eldest son) is the next Imamduring his lifetime?

Similar to how the Shi’a believed Ismail will be the next time by being the eldest son, when his father al-Sadiq was alive.

Why did no sect spring up believing Ali son of Laila would be in ghayba, if he fulfilled the criterion of eldest son (which in the opinion of many Shi’a indicated he was the next in line)?

As the Khattabiya did with believing Ismail ibn Ja’far went into ghayba, after their refusal to believe that the Imam’s successor could truly die.

3 ) Classical Twelver scholarship seemed to be in consensus that Imam al-Sajjad was the eldest son.

Shaykh al-Mufid:

(Al-Irshad, vol 2, page 135)

“Al-Husayn, peace be upon him, had six children: 

Ali ibn Al-Husayn (al-Sajjad) – the eldest, whose kunya was Abu Muhammad, and his mother, Shah Zanan, daughter of Khosrau Yazdegerd.

Ali bin Al-Husayn – the youngest, who was killed along with his father, was mentioned earlier, and his mother was Laila bint Abi Murra ibn Urwah ibn Masoud Al-Thaqafiya..”

وكان للحسين عليه السلام ستة أولادعلي بن الحسين الأكبر، كنيته أبو محمد، وأمه شاه زنان بنت كسرى يزدجرد.

وعلي بن الحسين الأصغر، قتل مع أبيه بالطف، وقد تقدم ذكره فيما سلف، وأمه ليلى بنت أبي مرة بن عروة بن مسعود الثقفية

Shaykh al-Tusi:

(Al-Fihrist, page 102)

Ali ibn Al-Husayn – the youngest, who was killed along with his father, and his mother was Laila bint Abi Murra ibn Urwah ibn Masoud Al-Thaqafiya - who is the daughter of Maymuna bint Abi Sufyan”

1002] 6 - علي بن الحسين الأصغر، ولده، قتل معه عليه السلام، امه ليلي بنت أبي مرة بن عروة بن مسعود بن معتب الثقفي، وأمهاميمونة بنت أبي سفيان بن

This statement emplies Tusi’s belief that the eldest son was Al-Sajjad (the son of Yazdegerd’s daughter), whereas the younger son named Ali was the son of Laila bint Abi Murra.

Shaykh al-Tabrasi:

(Taj al-Mawalid, page 34)

Al-Husayn, peace be upon him, had six children: 

Ali ibn Al-Husayn (al-Sajjad) – the eldest, whose kunya was Abu Muhammad, and his mother, daughter of Khosrau Yazdegerd.

Ali ibn Al-Husayn – the youngest, who was killed along with his father in Karbala and his mother was Laila bint Abi Murra ibn Urwah ibn Masoud Al-Thaqafiya..”

كان للحسين عليه السلام ستة أولادعلي بن الحسين الأكبر الإمام عليه السلام أمه شهربانو بنت كسر بن يزدجرد، و علي بن الحسينالأصغر قتل مع أبيه عليه السلام بالطف من كربلاء أمه أم ليلى بنت أبي مرة بن عروة بن مسعود

The only scholar in classical and early post-classical times who seemed to have opposed this consensus is Ibn Idris al-Hilli (author of al-Sara’ir).

Ibn Idris stated:

(Al-Sara’ir, vol 1, page 657)

“Muhammad ibn Idris, may God have mercy on him, said: 

And what fault befalls us, and what deficiency enters our doctrine if the martyred Ali ibn al-Husayn (son of Laila) was the eldest?

And Ali al-Husayn, the infallible Imam after his father Al-Hussein, was the youngest son?

After all, Zayn al-Abidin in Karbala, was twenty-three years old.

His son Muhammad al-Baqir, peace be upon him, was alive, at three years and some months old. 

And on top of that our master, the Commander of the Faithful, Ali ibn Abi Talib, peace be upon him, was the youngest son of his father in age, and was not deficient because of that.”

قال محمد بن إدريس رحمه اللهوأي غضاضة تلحقنا، وأي نقص يدخل على مذهبنا إذا كان المقتول عليا الأكبر، وكان عليا الأصغر الإمامالمعصوم بعد أبيه الحسين عليهما السلام فإنه كان لزين العابدين، يوم الطف، ثلاث وعشرون سنة، ومحمد ولده الباقر عليه السلام، حي، لهثلاث سنين وأشهر، ثم بعد ذلك كله، فسيدنا ومولانا أمير المؤمنين علي بن أبي طالب عليه السلام كان أصغر ولد أبيه سنا، ولم ينقصه ذلك


When one reads Ibn Idris’ words and his contradiction to the consensus of Twelver scholarship at Imam al-Sajjad being the eldest son –

One mustn’t believe this is necessarily due to him being aware of evidence that other scholars were unaware of.

Rather, it was characteristic of Ibn Idris (رحمه الله) to break the centuries-old consensus of scholarship.

He is best described as below:

“Ibn Idris’ high status is made evident by his scholarly courage in breaking the tradition of scholars imitating the views of Sheikh al-Tusi.

Ibn Idris made a movement in the Imami jurisprudence, bringing it out of stagnation and stagnation and encouraging (positively) innovative thinking and free thought. 

All the Shi’i fuqaha’ (jurists) continued following the views of Shaykh al-Tusi and reflecting them - even up to 100 years after Tusi’s passing, to the extent that it could be said the door of ijtihad become to some extent closed.”

ويدل على جلالة قدره شجاعته العلمية في كسر سنّة التقليد لآراء الشيخ الطوسي، وإيجاد حركة في فقه الإمامية، وإخراجه من الركود والجمود وتشجيع الإبتكار والفكر الحر، وقد كان جميع الذين جلسوا على مسند فقه الشيعة بعد مائة سنة من وفاة الشيخ الطوسي يجنون منآرء الشيخ وكانوا في الحقيقة يعكسون آراءه، حتى يمكن القول إنّ باب الاجتهاد أصبح إلى حدّما مغلقاً

Knowing this, Ibn Idris bases his views not on ahadith of the Imams but rather – reports from Sunni history books describing Imam al-Sajjad as “al-Asghar” (i.e, the youngest son).

Yes, we do concede that many Sunni historical reports affirm that Imam al-Sajjad is al-Asghar.

However –

Twelver scholarship must have rejected the Sunni reports because they believed they contradict:

(1) what Sunnis themselves report about Imam al-Sajjad, as shown in sections I highlighted above

(2) Clear contradiction of our hadith corpus

Thus, I believe there are two ways to analyze these Sunni historical reports:

A) Historical confusion in the names of Imam Husayn’s sons.

Just like how the name of Imam Husayn’s youngest son is disputed, i.e, “Was his name Abdullah or Ali al-Asghar?

It is not surprising that outsiders to the Shi’i community would be confused as to the name of the eldest son. 

However, labels aside, the identity of the eldest son can be clearly deduced by analyzing Sunni and Shi’i sources, as I have done above.

B) The possibility of anti-Shi’i fabrication.

After all, there exist reports of Imam Ali in Sunni reports which depict him as being unaware that he was designated with Imamate.

Should we take upon them too?

If the Shi’a believe the Imamate is in the eldest son, one can clearly envision the Umayyads or Abbasids post-facto attempting to portray the Shi’a Imams as false pretenders.

If the later Imams not do not fulfill the eldest son position, by virtue of being descendant of Ali ibn al-Husayn (the youngest son by name of Ali),

Then it means our Imams are liars.

Rather, the truth of the matter is that Ali ibn al-Husayn was the eldest son and administrator of the Sadaqat of Ali. Thus, he was the Imam.

Just as Ismail ibn Ja’far, the topic of our previous post, was the eldest son and was willed to be administrator of the Sadaqat of Imam Ali by Imam al-Sadiq.

Thus, according to Ali al-Ridha, Ismail ibn Ja’far was an Imam:

(Rijal al-Kashi)

“Ismail was in the will of Imam al-Sadiq in Kitab al-Sadaqa, and he (Ismail) was an Imam!”

الحسن عليهما السلام، وهم اليوم مختلفون، قالما كانوا مجتمعين عليه، كيف يكونون مجتمعين عليه وكان مشيختكم وكبراؤكم يقولونفيإسماعيل وهم يرونه يشرب :كذا وكذا، فيقولون هذا أجود، قالواإسماعيل لم يكن أدخله في الوصية؟ فقال

قد كان أدخله في كتاب الصدقة وكان إمام

Wa Allahu A’lam

May Allah bless you all

John Andaluso