The eighth Imam, ‘Ali Ibn Musa, Al-Ridha’ (as)
Born in Madina 11th Zeeqaad 148 Hijri (1.1.766 AD). Died in the city of Tus Iran on 17th Safar 203 Hijri (26.5.819 AH) Period of Imamate 20 years.
His grandfather Imam Ja’far Al-sadiq (as) died one month before the birth of Imam Ridha’ (as) The family must have been consoled by his birth which took place after such a great loss. He was brought up and instructed by his affectionate father under whose supervision he passed his boyhood and youth. He availed himself of the instructions of his learned father for thirty one years, till the later was taken to Baghdad to suffer the hardship of imprisonment for four years till his death.
Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far (as) could foresee that the hostile Abbasid ruler would not allow him to live peacefully and circumstances would take such a turn that his followers would not be able to see him or enquire about his successor prior to his death.
So while free and undisturbed in Madinah he felt the need to introduce his successor to his followers. He, therefore, assembled seventeen prominent dignitaries from the descendants of Imam ‘Ali (as) and proclaimed that his son ‘Ali Ibn Musa (as) would succeed him.
He also wrote his will on which 60 respected elders of Madinah signed as witnesses. Such elaborated arrangements were never made by any other Imam and they proved to be most appropriate due to the controversy about the Imamate which ensued after the death of Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far (as) .
Imam Ridha’ (as) was 35 years old when his father died in prison of Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad and the responsibilities of the Imamate devolved on him. At that time Harun Al-Rashid was the absolute ruler of Baghdad and the descendants of Imam ‘Ali (as) were passing as ever, through trials and tribulations because of the tyranny of the Abbasid ruler.
Yet Imam Ridha’ (as) carried on the responsibility of administering the Divine Law of Shari’ah as taught by the Holy Prophet and Imams of the Ahlul Bayt after him.
After putting an end to the life of Imam Musa Ibn Jaa’far (as) Harun al-Rashid lived for ten years. He had less tolerance for the existence of Imam ‘Ali Ridha’ (as) , then he did for his revered father. But he also knew that his Government had already lost face due to its prolonged maltreatment and eventual assassination of Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far (as) or perhaps the tyrant felt the stings of conscience which kept him from harassing the 8th Imam.
It is said that once Yahya Barmaki, his Prime Minister, in order to gain the ruler’s favor, informed Harun that Imam ‘Ali Ibn Musa (as) claimed Imamate in the same way his father had done, Harun coldly replied, “We have already inflicted cruelties on his father, do you expect me to annihilate this family altogether.
Still, Harun was antagonistic towards the Prophet’s descendants and persisted in maltreatment of most of them in Madina. The local Governors of Madina who wished to please the ruler could not afford to be fair to Ahlul Bayt. People could not visit the Imam freely seek his knowledge, and he had little chance to teach his followers openly, for the eyes of the agents of Caliph focused unceasingly on the activities of the Imam.
Political wranglings in Baghdad between the two sons of Harun were rocking the Empire. His elder son Amin who had an Arab mother had the support of the Arabs and most of the Abbasid elders, while the younger son Mamun had a Persian mother and was supported by the Persians.
To console both factions Harun took a pledge from both his sons that after his death Amin will rule the Arab part of the Empire while Mamun will rule the Persian side.
When Harun died in faraway Tus, the most northern town of his Persian Empire, Mamun was with him and buried him there. Amin in Baghdad immediately proclaimed himself the Caliph of the whole empire and immediately deposed Mamun from the rulership of the Persian Province. Mamun’s main concern was to subdue the Persian province under any circumstances.
He realized that the majority of Persians favored the teachings of Ahlul Bayt and if somehow he could persuade the Imam of the Ahlul Bayt in Madina to side with him, he could confirm his rule there. Once he felt secure on that side of the Empire, he would then rise against his brother and easily depose him.
So the orders were sent out for the Imam to leave his home in Madina and go to the Abbasid ruler in faraway Tus. Imam, as if by some miracle knew what was to come. So he left his wife and only son Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali al Jawad, later known as Imam Muhammad Taqi (as) in Madina.
He also called many elders of Madina mostly from Banu Hashim and told them of his call to go to the outpost of the Empire to see Mamun. The date of his departure was in the month of Rajab 200 Hijri. It was a long journey to Merve and the Imam set out on this momentous journey with some of his friends who were loyal to him throughout his life.
His journey began from Madina to Makka where he performed the Umra, then he took almost the same route as Imam Husayn (as) took in 61 hijri towards Karbala’. Half way through the hills of Hejaz when he crossed over to the desert of Najd his route changed to that of Imam Husayn (as) and his caravan moved towards the eastern side and reached the town of Basra in the month of Shawwal.
From Basra he crossed over the Shatt-al-Arab and reached the Persian soil heading towards the town of Qum. It was in the month of Zilhijja that he reached Qum where he stayed for a while. The month of Muharram the 8th Imam spent in Qum where it is said that he established for the first time a Majlis to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (as).
This was the first Muharram in 201 Hijri that set the tradition of Majlis, beginning in Persia the way the Imams of Ahlul Bayt had wanted it and the way it was observed in Madina and Makka and throughout the province of Hejaz and Najd and to some extent in Iraq where people thronged for pilgrimage to the Shrine of Imam Husayn (as) .
After spending the Month of Muharram in Qum the Imam proceeded towards the northern part of Persia crossing the Alburz mountains to the town of Merv where Mamun had settled with his army to secure his empire for him.
It is thought in some historical circles that the 8th Imam involved himself in politics while his ancestors up to the 7th Imam after the martyrdom of Imam ‘Ali (as) refrained from this journey. Outwardly it looks like the Imam was abandoning the policy of his predecessors for the Imam could not be the heir- apparent to the caliphate without becoming involved in the politics of the day.
The Imam took pains, however, to indicate that it was not his desire, but that he was acting only in accord with the summons he had received from Mamun. He seemed to have no choice but to proceed on this hazardous journey.
Indeed if he had refused to proceed or shown any reluctance, force would surely have been used which would have been more humiliating for the Imam and his family.
Yakubi in his history gave some details of this journey. From Qum the Imam moved north to the town of al-ray, the Greek Rhages, which is near the site of the present city of Tehran. From this place the caravan continued its journey until it reached the city of Tus. From Tus they travelled on to the city of Merv, in what is now modern Turkistan.
On his arrival in Merv, Mamun welcomed him with great ceremony and pomp. Mamun treated the Imam with great honor.
It is mentioned by various historians, Both of Shia and Sunni schools of thought, that when Mamun initially offered the Imam his throne, the Imam declined the offer firmly and resolutely. After several attempts to bring the Imam to accept the offer failed, Mamun told him to accept the offer of being his heir- apparent to succeed him after Mamun’s death.
Imam replied to this offer, “ I will accept this to console you, but this will never happen for I will leave this world before you.” Once Mamun achieved his desire to get the consent of the Imam as his successor, he declared this openly to all in order to see the reaction of the Abbasid clan who were favoring his half-brother Amin.
According to Yakubi it was on the 27th of Ramadan, in the year 201 Hijri that the Imam was officially designated as Mamun’s “heir- apparent,”( Wali’ahd,) and the Imam’s name was included with his own on gold and silver coins. The inscription on these coins is well worthy of notice: “The King of God and the faith, Al-Mamun, Amir and Khalifa of the faithful, and Al-Ridha’, the Imam of the Muslims.”
This meant more than that the Imam was to be official chaplain to him for Mamun summoned the descendants of Abbas, men and women to come to Merv. It was an assembly of thirty three thousand and when they all assembled, the caliph Mamun called for ‘Ali al- Ridha’ (as) and gave him a place of honor among the greatest of the Abbasid nobles.
He then announced to those he had summoned, that he had carefully considered all the descendants of Abbas and also the descendants of ‘Ali, and that he had not found in his search anyone more worthy or more fit to be his successor than ‘Ali al- Ridha’.
He therefore took him by the hand and publicly acknowledged him as his successor(Kulaini). He then gave his daughter Umme Habib in marriage. He also sent abroad the command that the wearing of black flags which was the symbol of Abbasid rule after the destruction of the Ummayads, should be discontinued and that hereafter the use of green should be substituted. Green being the color of Ahlul Bayt and the House of ‘Ali (as) was the order of the day.
Once this story of succession was announced Mamun’s political ambition was achieved. He secured the help of the Persians fully behind him. With their help his army invaded the capital of the Abbasid empire, Baghdad, Amin was killed and his head was sent to Mamun to see for himself that he had become the sole ruler of the Abbasid Empire.
But Mamun was still not secure on his throne. The Arab party who sided with Amin, never liked the appointment of Imam ‘Ali al- Ridha’ (as) as the successor of Mamun, no matter how dubious it looked to them on the face of it.
The chiefs of the Abbasid family in Iraq perceived that by this appointment the principal authority in the empire would very likely be taken from them. They got together, therefore, and proclaimed that for bequeathing the Caliphate after his death to the Imam ‘Ali Al-Ridha’ (as), who was not their immediate family, Mamun himself was declared deposed.
They swore allegiance to Ibrahim al Mehdi, Mamun’s uncle as their new caliph. This proclamation took place on the 5th of Muharram 202 Hijri.
While Imam Ridha’ was with Mamun in Merv, his Prime Minister Fadl ibn Sahl arranged a conference on religions to which he invited the leaders of different sects, including Zoroastrians and Christians and Jews, that they might hear what the Imam of the Ahlul Bayt had to say to impress them of their spiritual abilities and excellences.
It was in these discussions with leaders of other faiths that the Imam clarified the position of sinlessness of the Prophets and of the guided Imams. These conferences were so successful that at one stage Mamun was fearful of the increasing influences of the Imam on the people as a whole.
In one such incidence on the occasion of the Eidul Fitr, the whole strategy of Mamun and the shear hypocrisy of the drama he was playing was exposed. He had asked the Imam to lead the Eidul Fitr prayers at the end of Ramadan that year. First the Imam declined, but when Mamun insisted, he agreed on the condition that he will direct the occasion as he would deem fit.
On the morning of the Eidul Fitr, when the military and civil leaders assembled outside the door of the Imam to come out and lead the prayers, they saw the Imam come out of the house bare foot, wearing a white shirt and white headgear. Imam also advised his companions to follow him in the same manner. He came out on the Road to the mosque outside the city of Merv.
All the citizens who saw the Imam in this fashion copied him and all walked barefoot. Even the military chiefs and civil judges walked bare foot. A huge crowd followed the Imam. He was saying Takbir loudly and all were following him and shouting Takbir (God is great).
The situation became so tense that when Mamun was informed of this huge following of the Imam he immediately sent a request to the Imam to withdraw from leading the Eid prayers. Imam withdrew and it was a great show down for the Emperor and exposed his trickery to the full.
It was after about a year’s stay of the Imam in Merv that Mamun decided to do something about the situation in Iraq. He knew that his uncle Ibrahim al Mehdi had been proclaimed as Caliph there in his place. This was a thorn in his heart.
He decided that it was time for him to return from Khorasan and assert his rights in person. He had already strengthened his position due to the help of the Persians. With a huge army beside him Mamun prepared his journey back home.
He was accompanied, as Yakubi mentions it in his history, by Imam al Ridha’ (as) as his heir apparent and by his prime minister Fadl ibn Sahl, who was known as the holder of two offices, civil and military, being the Prime Minister as well as the chief of the Army.
But when they reached the town of Sarakhs, Fadl ibn Sahl was assassinated in his bath by two persons, Ghalib al Rumi and Sarraj al Khadim. They were found out by Mamun who immediately put them to death immediately that if there was any implication of Mamun in this murder it should not be exposed.
Mamun had his suspicions about his Prime Minister who was secretly gaining favor with the Abbasids in Baghdad. Historians did mention the name of Mamun in disposing off Fadhl ibn Sahl.
Within two days of this murder when the army reached the town of Tus, Imam Ridha’ fell ill and died within three days of his illness. Yakubi reported that “his sickness was no more than three days and it was reported that Ibn Hisham, Mamun’s favorite henchman had given the Imam poison which caused his death.
He mixed poison in grapes and when Imam had eaten the grapes he became ill in the same manner as Imam Hasan did and died within three days.”
Ibn Babawaih relates various reasons that have been assigned to Mamun for poisoning the Imam and shows also the circumstances in which Imam ‘Ali Ridha’ (as) is said to have designated his son Muhanmmad ibn ‘Ali as his successor to the Imamate.
Imam ‘Ali Ridha’ (as) died and was buried far off from Madina, the home of his forefathers of the Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet. In Sanabad, about a mile from the village where he died, they placed him in a grave inside the tomb of Harun al- Rashid who was buried there ten years ago.
Mamun’s ambitions to get the Empire under his feet was almost accomplished for he knew that the army under his command would not run away from him at this juncture. So he cleverly killed off the Imam and reached Baghdad with the declaration that the Caliphate of Banu Abbas would remain in the family. Ibrahim al Mehdi was deposed and later killed and Mamun became the supreme leader.
Usually, the poor who cannot afford to enjoy the pleasures of life are held in contempt or just tolerated by the society. But those who assume a hermits’ simple austerity in spite of wealth and power are the real saints.
The Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet adopted a peculiar policy. Those whose means were limited dressed nicely because otherwise their adversaries would taunt them as destitutes which would injure the dignity of their piety.
But blessed were those who by chance became wealthy, and who assumed simplicity and austerity so their simple life became a source of consolation for the poor and a model for the rich. This can be illustrated from the life of Imam ‘Ali (as) . For nearly five years he ruled the Muslim world as caliph. He ate and dressed himself as a hermit would.
Imam ‘Ali al- Ridha’ (as) too, led a simple life, though he was the heir- apparent of the vast Arab Empire compared to which the Roman Empire or the Persian territories would certainly not be a match. A vast chain of countries whose caliph's upon watching a passing cloud, would arrogantly assert: “Go and pour your waters anywhere you please; the revenues of that land shall ultimately be brought to us”.
The appointment of Imam ‘Ali al -Ridha’ (as) as heir apparent demonstrated to the world how the saints fare when the treasures of the world are put at their feet. He felt he was morally bound to abandon riches and pomp. History repeated itself, and the austerity of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) once more was shown in the calm and content personality of Imam ‘Ali Al-Ridha’ (as).
He did not like to decorate his house with expensive carpets, instead he covered its floor with rough mats during the winter and grass mats during the summer. When food was served, he would call all his servants, including the gatekeeper to sit and eat with him.
Majlisi in Biharul Anwar V 49 Page 101, writes that our 8th Imam insisted on eating his meals only after the entire members of his family, young and old, servants and grooms were present. One day someone who was fonder of royal formalities than the fraternity of the Ahlul Bayt, suggested that it would be better to make separate eating arrangements for the servants, The Imam replied, "All are created by God, Adam is their father and Eve is their mother. Everyone will be dealt with by God according to his deeds. Why should there be any discrimination in this world."
Imam ‘Ali Al-Ridha’’s (as) life contains countless anecdotes of this sort. Once a man said to him, "By God, there is none who is superior to you in the nobleness of your ancestry.” The Imam said to him, “My ancestors are honored merely for their Godliness, piety and worship.” Another man once declared,” By God, you are the best in the world.”
The Imam checked him by saying: “Don’t you declare an oath. Any man who is more pious than me can be better than me.” Imam several times declared the Hadith of the Prophet that a black negro slave can be better than a person from my own family if his deeds are better.
As mentioned earlier, when Imam ‘Ali Al-Riza was on his journey to Khorasan he stayed in the city of Qom for a few months and there he established these commemorative Majalis. In Tus where he stayed for over a year as heir apparent to the Emperor, Imam re-established these Majalis there too. This tradition was initiated by Imam Muhammad al Baqir (as) and then continued by the 6th Imam. But during those times, only those who came to visit the Imams in their homes were narrated these stories.
But Imam ‘Ali Al-Ridha’ (as) was respected both as Imam and heir apparent. Merv, the capital and a central city of Persia of that time, was the meeting place of people from all walks of life and from all corners of the earth. As soon as the crescent of Muharram was sighted, Majalis of Karbala’ began. Everybody was expected to recite the sad events that befell the Prophet’s descendants and maintain a serious atmosphere of sorrow and grief.
Imam himself convened these Majalis in which he recited first, then allowed others to read the story of Karbala’. Abdallah ibn Thabit and D’bil al Khuzai were the poets who asked to recite poems narrating the tragic events.
At the end of such a majlis the Imam bestowed on the poet a costly shirt. The humble poet refused to accept such a precious gift, requesting that the Imam be gracious to grant him his used shirt instead. The good natured saint insisted on granting him both shirts, the new one and his own old shirt.
This incident proves two things: First, that the speaker in these majalis must not decide or demand any payment for his address, second that if the convener presents something as a gift or payment, the speaker may accept it.
To get an insight into the lives and activities of the Imam, let me give a few anecdotes from the pages of history to establish his manner and his behavior with other people.
One day a man approached the Imam and said, “ I am one of your followers and have love for the Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet. I am now returning from pilgrimage to Makka and I am now penniless and have no money to return home.
If you think it proper, please give me enough money so that I can reach home. After reaching home, I will give the same amount to the poor in your name. I am not poor at home, it is during my travels that I have spent more than I should have and become penniless.
Imam got up, and went inside the house. He then called the man to the door, extended his hand from behind the curtain and handed him the required amount, saying, “Take these two hundred Dinars. These are your travel expenses, and may this bring you the blessings of God. There is no need to give equivalent money to the poor but if you feel you must then you may give it to the orphans and the widows of your town.”
The man took the money and left. The Imam came out from behind the curtain and resumed his seat. People asked, “Why did you adopt such a way that the man could not see you while you were giving the money.” Imam replied, “ I did not want to see the shame of supplication on his face.” (Ayoun Akhbar al Riza)
Mohammed ibn Sinan reports that during the caliphate of Haroun, they once warned the Imam about declaring his Imamate as the caliph would try to harm him. The Imam replied, “ What gave me courage are the words of the Prophet when he said, “ If Abu Jehl can harm even a hair of my head, then be witness that I am not the messenger of God.”
And I say that “ if Haroun can harm even a hair of my head, then be witness that I am not a true Imam." (Kafi)
Abu Salt Harvi reports that Imam left Nishapur and reached a village called Din-Surkh, it was the time of Zohr prayers. Imam descended from the horse he was travelling and asked for water to perform the Zohr prayers. No water was found. Then the Imam with his holy hands dug some earth and a spring gushed out Imam and all his companions performed the wuzu.
This place near Nishapur is now called Qadamgah. It is a small hillock. The spring still gushes and people who visit this place drink from the spring for blessing and for obtaining cures from sickness and skin diseases. The place preserves the Holy foot prints of the Imam on a black stone. (Akhbar al Riza)
One of the famous saying of Imam ‘Ali Al-Riza is,
“This world is a prison for a momin and a paradise for the unbeliever.”
This means that a true believer always aspires to leave this prison of his body and his Nafs and Ruh wants to get away to the nearness of God, but those who do not believe have nothing further than their mortal lives and they aspire to make it a paradise.
But in the process they create their own hell on earth for their aspirations are never ending desires for accumulating material wealth.
Imam Reza’s (PBUH) Imamate lasted eight years, which can be divided into three periods:
1-The first ten years was contemporary to Haroon’s caliphate.
2-The next five years was contemporary to Amin’s caliphate.
3-The last five years was contemporary to Ma’moon’s caliphate.
It was during the first period that great disasters, especially the martyrdom of Imam Kazem (PBUH), happened to the Alavi people (the children of Imam Ali (PBUH)). Haroon was instigated to kill Imam Reza(PBUH), but had not found the opportunity. After Haroon, Amin became the caliph. At that period, the government was weakened. Amin was drowned in his corruption and paid no attention to Imam and his followers. This period was peaceful for Imam and his followers.
However, Ma’moon killed his brother, Amin, and became the caliph. He suppressed the objectors and gained the control of all the Islamic countries. He gave the leadership of Iraq to one of his agents and settled in Marv. He then chose Fazl ibn Sahl, who was a great politician, as his minister. But the Alavi people were a threat to his government. After suffering murder, plunder and torture for a century, they had found the opportunity to object the government and to overthrow it. They were successful in gaining people’s support, because they also had suffered great losses from the Abbasid Caliphate. Therefore, Ma’moon decided not to confront them and wanted to bring back peace and security to strengthen his government.
So, after consulting Fazl, he came up with a treacherous plan. He decided to offer the caliphate to Imam Reza (PBUH) and withdraw himself. Because whether the Imam accepted or not, it would still be a victory for Ma’moon. If Imam accepted, and became Caliph allowing for Ma’moon to be the vice-caliph, that would guarantee the legitimacy of Ma’moon’s government. Thus Ma’moon decided to force the position of Caliph on Imam. It was then easier for him to eliminate
Imam Reza (PBUH) and become the legal leader. In this case, the Shiites would consider his government to be legitimate and would be satisfied with it and accepted him as Imam’s successor. Furthermore, the risings made against his government would lose their attraction and legitimacy.
However, if Imam didn’t accept the caliphate, he would then oblige Imam to be his successor and guarantee the legitimacy of his government through this to weaken the uprisings. On the other hand, he could make Imam settle near himself to control Imam and suppress his followers. In addition, Imam Reza’s(PBUH) Shiites and followers would criticize him for not accepting the caliphate and he would lose his respect among them.
The journey to the Khurasan
To accomplish his mentioned goals, Ma’moon sent some of his special agents to Imam Reza (PBUH) inMedina to force him to set on a journey to Khurasan. He also ordered to take Imam Reza (PBUH) through a path that has the least number of Shiites. The main roads in those days were the roads to Kufa, Jabal,Kermanshah, and Qom, which were all mainly Shiite cities. It seemed probable to Ma’moon that Shiites may get excited when they see Imam and prevent him to continue his travel to stay with them instead. To prevent these troubles, Ma’moon made Imam Reza (PBUH) travel through the paths of Basreh, Ahvaz, and Fars to Marv. His agents also watched Imam continuously and reported to Ma’moon on all of Imam’s activities.
The Selselah al-Zahab (The Golden Chain) tradition
Wherever he stopped, during his journey towards Marv, he caused for many blessings upon the people. At one point on his way, he entered the city of Neishaboor. A large crowd of people gathered to welcome his entrance. Meanwhile two learned men who had recorded many prophetic traditions came with scholars ofHadith, took the halter, and said: “You, the great Imam and you, the son of great Imams, for the sake of your innocent fathers and your great grandfathers, show us your shining face and narrate us a tradition from your fathers and your great grandfather, the messenger of Allah, to be as a reminder for us”. Imam ordered to stop and the people obeyed. Once they saw his face, they became so happy that some of them start crying and some who were close to him kissed his carriage. A big clamor was made throughout the city so, the elders of the city wanted people to be quiet so they could hear a tradition from Imam Reza (PBUH). After a while the crowd got silent and Imam dictated this tradition word by word from his honored father which was narrated from his pure grandfathers and from the messenger of Allah (PBUH & HP) and from Gabriel and from Almighty Allah that: “The word of La Ilaha Illa al-Allah is my fortress (then whoever says this has entered my fortress) and whoever enters my fortress will be saved from my punishment”. Imam paused for a while and then said, “But on some conditions and I am one of its conditions.”
This tradition indicates that one of the necessities of saying the word of ,La Ilaha Illa al-Allahwhich is to strengthen the principle of divine unity, is confirming his Imamat, obeying, and accepting his words and deeds that has been specified by the Almighty Allah. In fact Imam believes the Oneness of God (Towhid) as a condition of being safe from Allah’s punishment and the acceptance of leadership and Mastership (Imamat and Wilayat) as the condition of believing in Oneness of Allah.
Succession to Caliphate
When Imam Reza (PBUH) entered Marv, Ma’moon welcomed him royally and publicly through a speech in front of all the key characters of government. He said: “All should know that I do not know anyone better and more deserving on succession than Ali ibn Moosi al-Reza in descendants of Abbas or Ali (PBUH)”. After that he turned his face to Imam and said: “I have decided to dethrone myself and announce you as the Caliph”. Imam Reza (PBUH) said: “If Allah has specified Caliphate for you then it is not permitted to give it to another one and if it is not yours then you do not have the authority to give it to another one.”
Ma’moon insisted on what he wanted but Imam said: “Never will I accept that”. When Ma’moon got disappointed, he told Imam: “Then accept to be the Caliph after me, and successor of me”. The insistence of Ma’moon on his wants and Imam Reza’s (PBUH) refusal lasted for two month. He did not accept and said, “I have heard from my fathers that I will die before you and will be martyred with poison and angles of the earth and skies will cry for me and I will be buried in the land of nostalgia beside Haroon al-Rashid”. But Ma’moon insisted on succession of Imam Reza (PBUH) in such way that he threatened Imam to death in a secret and private ceremony. Thus Imam said: “Now, since I am obliged, I accept it but on the condition that I do not appoint or depose anyone and do not change any custom or rule and control affaires imperceptibly”. Ma’moon had no choice but to accept this condition. After that Imam raised his hands and said: “O, my God, you know that they opposed me under duress and I chose it by force. So please do not take me to task just as your two prophets, Yousef and Danial, when they accepted the leadership position of the kings of their time. O! My God, there is no vow except yours and no Mastership except of yours. So please help me to establish your religion and to follow your prophet’s custom. Indeed, what a good master and a good assistant you are”.
The scientific aspect of Imam
When Ma’moon saw the anxiety of people toward Imam considered that his credit among them might discredit his own position among people. One of his plans to discredit Imam instead was through holding debates between Imam and the scholars from all over the world. He was hoping that maybe the scholars would be able to win the debates and defeat Imam in science to question his scientific knowledge. One of the debates goes as follows:
Ma’moon ordered Fazl ibn Sahl to invite all the philosophers and learned men from all over the world to debate with the Imam. Fazl then invited the Christian scholars, the learned of Jewish scholars, headmasters of Saebin (followers of the prophet Yahya (PBUH)), the great Zoroastrian priests, and other speakers of that time. Ma’moon greeted them and asked them to debate with his cousin (Ma’moon was of descendants of Abbas, the Prophet’s (PBUH&HP) uncle, and so Imam’s cousin) that has come here fromMedina. Tomorrow morning Ma’moon held a glorious ceremony and sent a man to Imam Reza (PBUH) to invite him to that ceremony. Imam accepted his invitation and told him: “Do you want to know when Ma’moon will repent of his deed?” He said: “Yes, dear Sir”. Imam said: “When Ma’moon hears my reasons for disproving Jewish from torah, Christians from Bible, followers of Zaboor from Zaboor, Saebin in their language, Fire-worshipers in Farsi, and Romans in their language and sees that I disapprove each of them and they leave aside their beliefs and believe in my words. At that time Ma’moon will know that he is not able to do what he wants and will repent. And there is no power except from Almighty Allah”. Then he went to the Ma’moon’s ceremony. By his entrance, Ma’moon introduced him to the crowd and then said: “I want you to debate with him”. Imam Reza (PBUH) discussed them about their religion through their books. Then he said: “If there is someone amongst you who is against Islam ask me without shame”. Umran Sa’ebi, who was one of the speakers, asked Imam many questions and Imam answered him all one by one and convinced him. After hearing the answers of his questions from Imam, Umran Sa’ebi recited the testimony (Shahadatain) and converted to Islam. The ceremony ended with Imam’s victory and the crowd scattered. The day after, Imam asked to see Umran Sa’ebi and honored him very much. Since then he became one of the missionaries of Islam.
Raja ibn Zahak, who was ordered by Ma’moon to move Imam from Medina toward Marv, said: “Every city he entered, people came to him from everywhere and asked him their religious questions. In turn, he answered them their questions and quoted many traditions from the prophet (PBUH&HP) and Imam Ali(PBUH). When I came back from that journey, I went to Ma’moon. He asked me about Imam’s behavior during the journey and I told him whatever I saw from him during the journey. Ma’moon said: “Yes, son of Zahak! He is the best, the most learned and the most pious person on the earth”.
Imam’s manner and behavior
His moral virtues and piety was such that besides his followers and companions his enemies were attracted to him. He treated people as respectfully and kindly as possible and never separated himself from the people.
One of his companions say: “I never remember him, talk badly to anyone and interrupt someone while speaking. If he afforded to help, he would never reject any poor and never stretched his legs in front of people. I never remember him talk badly to his servants. He always smiled instead of laughing loudly. While having a meal, he invited all the servants to have the meal with him. He slept little at nights and was used to staying up and saying prayer during almost all nights. He always performed three fasts in the month. He helped the poor secretly in the dark nights.”
One of his other companions says: “His carpet was of sackcloth in winter and a mat in summer. He wore rough and coarse clothes at home, but he wore nice clothes in public parties. (He wore nice and common clothes.)”
One night while Imam was talking to his guest, there was a problem with the light. The guest wanted to correct it, but Imam did not let him to do so. He fixed it himself and said: ‘We are the ones who do not put our guests to work.’”
A man told Imam: “By Allah I swear that no one on earth equals your ancestors in superiority and nobleness.’ Imam said:” Taqwa gave them nobleness and obedience to Allah gave them superiority.”
A man from Balkh says:” I was with Imam Reza (PBUH) during the travel to Khurasan. One day while having a meal Imam invited all the servants including the Blacks to have the meal with them. I told Imam:” It is better they (the servants) sit somewhere else. Imam said:” Be quiet! The creator of everyone is the same. The father and mother of all are the same and reward is according to deeds.”
The servant of Imam -Yaser – says:” Imam Reza (PBUH) had told us that if I was above your head (and ordered you to do something) and you were having a meal, do not stand up till you finish it. Therefore it frequently happened that Imam called us for a work, and he was responded that he (the servant) is busy having a meal; then Imam would say:” Let him finish his food.”
One day a stranger came to visit Imam Reza (PBUH). He said hello and continued:” I love you and your fathers and ancestors. I have come back from Hajj and have run out of money. If it is possible give me some money so that I could go back to my house. I promise to spend the same amount there asSadaghah, for, I am not poor in my city. Imam stood up and went to another room. Then he came behind the curtain and said:” Get this 200 Dinar and spend it for your travel, there is no need to pay the same back as Sadaghah. The man got the Dinars and went. Imam was asked for the reason of his secret help, he answered:” I did such, in order not to see the shame of need in his face.”
Our infallible and great Imams guided their followers both by sayings and behavior. In other words by their behavior, they taught their Shiites the true way of behaving.
One of Imam’s companions said:” One day I was with Imam on the way to his home. At home his servants were busy repairing the house. Imam saw a stranger among them and asked of him. They answered:” He helps us and we pay him.” Imam asked:” Have you defined the amount of payment?” They answered:” No, but he accepts whatever we pay him.” Imam was disturbed and told me:” I have told them many times that before you bring anyone, define the amount of payment and contract. The one, who works without any contraction, thinks that you have paid him little, even if you give him three times more. But if you contract and give him according to the contraction, he will be pleased with receiving his right. Now if you pay more even just a little, he will understand you have paid more and will be thankful to you.”
Imam’s servant says:” One day his servants were eating fruits. They ate some and through out the rest. Imam Reza (PBUH) told them:” Subhanallah! If you do not need it, give it to someone who needs.”
A little from Imam’s wise words
Imam said:” The friend of everyone is his wisdom the enemy of everyone is his ignorance and silliness.”
Imam said:” Science and knowledge are like treasures, and the key to them is question, so ask and Allah may bless you, because by this question four groups benefit: 1.The asker 2.The teacher 3.The listener 4.The answerer”
Imam said:” Liking people and friendship is half of wisdom.”
Imam said:” There is a piece of advice in everything your eyes see.
Imam said:” Cleanliness and neatness is of virtues of the prophets.”
Ma’moon had told one of his servants not to cut his nails, and ordered him to put some poisons in his nails and prepare a pomegranate and pollute it with the poison. The servant obeyed his master and prepared the pomegranate. Ma’moon offered the poisonous pomegranate to Imam. Imam rejected, Ma’moon insisted and threatened Imam that he would kill him if he didn’t eat. Imam ate some pomegranate under obligation. After a few hours the poison polluted Imam’s body and he became ill. The morning of the next day (29th ofSafar of year 203 H.G.) Imam Reza (PBUH) was martyred.
By divine will and power, Imam’s son, Imam Jawad (PBUH) washed his father’s body and said prayer for him. Imam’s body was buried in Mashhad with the accompaniment of many of his Shiites and followers.
Though centuries pass from the life of Imam Reza (PBUH), his holy shrine is the cause of blessing and honor for the Iranians.