The Muslim world is unanimous in their fulsome praise and adulation for the status, faith, majesty and character of Imam Ali b. Husain (a.s.), often referred to by his titles – Adornment of the worshippers (Zainul Abideen), Chief of those who prostrate (Sayyid al-Sajideen), One who prostrates excessively in front of Allah (Sajjad), etc.
He (a.s.) has been widely acknowledged by a number of companions, taabe’een (second generation companions) and scholars of Ahle Tasannun (i.e. ‘Sunni’).

Listed below are just a few references from the numerous mentions made about him by the Ahle Tasannun:

Abdullah Ibn Abbas – the famous companion and cousin of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) – despite his advanced age and the fact that Imam Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) was young enough to be his son treated him (a.s.) with tremendous respect and addressed him as the beloved one.

Taarikho Dimishq vol. 36 p. 147

Muhammad Ibn Muslim Zohri – the famous jurist – says, “I never saw a Hashimi like Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.).”

Al-Bedaayah wa al-Nehaayah of Ibn Katheer, vol. 9 p. 104

Zohri also said, “Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) was the best person of his era.”

Seyar-o-A’laam al-Nobala of Dhahabi, vol. 4 p. 38

He also commented, “I never saw a better jurist than him (a.s.).”

Tazkerah al-Huffaaz of Dhahabi vol. 1 p. 75

Saeed Ibn Musayyab, a famous taabe’, who was in fact a companion of Imam Zain al-Abideen (a.s.), said, “I never saw anyone superior to Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.).”

Taarikh-o-Yaaqubi, vol. 3 p. 46

Imam of the Maaliki sect – Malik Ibn Anas said, “There is none from the people of Madinah like Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.).”

Seyar-o-A’laam al-Nobala of Dhahabi, vol. 4 p. 238

Imam of the Shaafe’ee sect – Muhammad Ibn Idrees said, “He (a.s.) was the best jurist from the people of Madinah.”

Al-Rasaael of Jaahiz p. 106

Imam of the Hanbali sect – Ahmed b. Hanbal – said about the tradition of Silsilah al-Zahab narrated by Imam Ali Reza (a.s.) with Imam Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) in its chain of narrators, “If this chain of narrators is mentioned in front of a mad person, he will be cured of his madness.”

Al-Sawaaeq al-Muhriqah of Ibn Hajar al-Haithami, p. 310

Abu Haatim Muhammad Ibn Habbaan – author of Sahih-e-Habbaan (the most authentic collection of traditions after the Sahihain of Bukhari and Muslim) – and Sahih of Ibn Khuzaymah – said: Ali Ibn Husain b. Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) – (having Kuniyyat of) Abul Hasan – is from the jurists of Ahle Bait and the nobles of Bani Hashim and the (chief of the) worshippers of Madinah…

Mashaaheer-o-Ulama al-Amsaar, p. 63

Shamsuddin Dhahabi – a leading student of Ibn Taymiyyah – acknowledges: There was a unique majesty about him (a.s.). By Allah! He deserves by right to assume the leadership of the nation (al-Imaamah al-Uzma). For, he possesses nobility, knowledge, worship and perfect intellect.

Seyar-o-A’laam al-Nobala of Dhahabi vol. 4, p. 38

Ibn Khallekaan, the noted historian writes, “He (a.s.) is one of the twelve Imams and among the chiefs of the taabe’een…and excellence and virtues of Zainul Abedeen (a.s.) are greater than can be enumerated.”

Wafayaat al-A’yaan, vol. 2 p. 429

Ibn Asaakir Shafe’ee Dimishqi, the famous historian chronicles, “Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) was a reliable, trustworthy one, a believer, a man of many traditions, grand, majestic, excessively pious…”

Taarikh-o-Dimishq, vol. 36 p. 142

Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani, the famous scholar and historian records, “Ali Ibn Husain Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Talib (with the title of) Zainul Abideen was a reliable trustworthy one, worshipper, jurist, a man of virtue, known (to the masses). Ibne Oyainah has quoted Zohri, “I have not witnessed a Quraishi superior to him.”

Tahzeeb al-Tahzeeb, vol. 2 p. 35

Ibne Hajar Haithami al-Makki, the nasibi who penned a book – al-Sawaaeq al-Muhriqah – against the Shias says: Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.) was a successor of his father (a.s.) in knowledge, piety and worship….and he was Zainul Abideen (a.s.), man of tremendous disposition in forgiving the sins and oversight of others.

Al-Sawaaeq al-Muhriqah of Ibn Hajar al-Haithami p. 119

Ismael b. Kaseer Dimishqi – a leading student of Ibn Taymiyyah – after documenting the views of scholars on Imam Zainual Abideen (a.s.) himself recounts his (a.s.) virtues and excellence at length.

Al-Bedayah wa al-Nehayah vol. 9 pp. 121-134

Ibn Sabbaagh al-Maaliki – the noted scholar – says: As for his virtues, they are too many and his traits are only too well-known…

Al-Fusool al-Muhimmah fi Ma’rifah Umoor al-A’immah p. 190

Imam Zainul Abideen’s (a.s.) martyrdom

The Ahle Tasannun scholars have documented Imam Zainul Abideen’s (a.s.) martyrdom.

For instance Shabraavi records: Imam Sajjad (a.s.) departed from the world after he was poisoned.

Al-Athaaf be Hubb Al-Ashraaf p. 143

Lessons for Muslims

The list of the aforementioned references – which is only an extract of a much longer list – tells Muslims something about the status and majesty of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.) and his superior claim to caliphate and Imamat.
The Imams of the Sunni schools, their historians, narrators and jurists have said very plainly that Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.) was an extraordinary individual far superior to the Muslims of the time.

In the face of such overwhelming evidence, Muslims are duty-bound to accept Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.) as their leader and caliph. When none existed like him in the world or even the heavens for that matter, why are Muslims squandering their beliefs and hereafter over disgraceful leaders like Yazid and Abdul Malik Ibn Marwan? Muslims must not fall prey to envy like the Jews of Madinah who rejected Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) despite the overwhelming number of prophecies.

Even if they don’t wish to accept Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.) as their Imam, in the very least they should not criticize the Shias for taking him as a proof and guide. And they must not condemn Shias for visiting the grave of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.) and other Imams (a.s.) and for taking them as a medium to acquire divine proximity. The Imams (a.s.) have a high position near Allah and having been martyred in His Way, they are very much alive and are being sustained by their Lord.