Facts about Imam Rida (AS)

Leaving behind the town where one is born and raised is a daring decision, which is often followed by many challenges and difficulties. You enter a new world, have to live with new people, and speak a new language. Yet it becomes even more daring when your mission is to spread a peaceful message, to lead people toward what is right and remind them of human values, which they might have forgotten, or put aside. Imam Rida (AS), the eighth infallible Imam (AS) of Shias, was made to migrate to another country and live among the people whom he didn't know. Nevertheless, his eminent personality and unique characteristics won him such a position among the people of that town that they still honor him centuries after his demise, a person whose fame went beyond any borders and reached every corner of this world.

  
In what follows, we will have a glance at the life journey of Imam Rida (AS), this honorable figure.


Imam Rida (AS)'s Birth and Lineage


Ali ibn. Musa al-Rida was born on December 29, 765 A.D in Medina. His father was Imam Musa al-Kazim (AS), the seventh infallible Imam of Shias, and his mother was Tuktam [1]. He is a descendant of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), the Prophet of Islam. His most famous title was al-Rida, meaning "the satisfied one" and was chosen for him due to his utter devotion and submission to Allah, which also brought him Allah's satisfaction. As Imam Jawad (AS), his son, said, "The Almighty Allah named him Rida because He was pleased with him in the heavens and the Prophet of Allah (PBUH&HP) and the Imams of guidance (AS) were pleased with him on earth" [2].


Marriage and Children


According to some sources, Imam Rida (AS) married twice in his lifetime. His first wife was Sabika, who was a descendant of Maria, prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP)'s wife [3]&[4]. It is reported that Imam Rida (AS) married his second wife on al-Ma' mun's suggestion, the caliph of the time, to marry his daughter, Umm Habib. This incident happened around 817 A.D. Al-Ma' mun's intention on forming this tie was to get closer to Imam Rida (AS) and to continually have him under his supervision to avoid any action against himself by Imam Rida (AS) [5]&[6]&[7]. 


There is a disagreement on the number of his children, yet one thing is definite; he had a son called Muhammad, also known as Imam Jawad (AS), who would follow the leadership after him [8]. 

imam rida


Migration to Khorasan and Leadership


On 799 A.D. and after the demise of Imam Musa al-Kazim (AS), the period of Imam Rida (AS) 's leadership began, in which he followed his ancestors' path in enlightening Muslims and reminding them of the true message of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP). In the first 17 years of his leadership, which he spent in Medina, he turned into one of the well-known figures among Muslims praised for his many virtues, including his significant command of Islam and Islamic sciences [9]. The contemporary caliphs during Imam Rida (AS) 's period of leadership include Harun al-Rashid, Muhammad al-Amin, and al-Ma' mun all belonging to the Abbasid dynasty.

 
After the death of Harun al-Rashid, his two sons, al-Amin and al-Ma' mun, initiated a dispute over succeeding their father's crown. To secure his position and realizing Persians favor over Imam Rida (AS) and the teachings of Ahl-ul-Bayt, al-Ma' mun sent orders to Imam Rida (AS) to leave his town and join him in Khorasan, a province in Iran. If Imam Rida (AS) would side with him, al-Ma' mun thought, his throne would have become stronger, and he could have defeated his brother effortlessly [10]. Therefore, on 817 A.D. Imam Rida (AS) was made to migrate from Medina to Iran. The route which al-Ma' mun's representative chose to take Imam Rida (AS) to Khorasan was intentionally planned not to pass any city in which the adherents of Imam (AS) resided to avoid any possible gathering against al-Ma' mun's throne [11]. Nevertheless, he met many people on his way to Khorasan, which asked him to make a speech for them or tell them a hadith, the most famous of which was the hadith which he narrated in Neyshabur on the request of a Muslim scholar. This hadith, best known as the "Hadith of the Golden Chain (Silsilat al-Dhahab)", whose source goes back to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and is one of the most authentic hadiths in Islamic texts, emphasizes on the importance of adhering to the Imam of the time who are chosen by Allah to continue the path of spreading His message in the absence of the Prophet (PBUH&HP) [12]. 


Al-Ma' mun's offer for Imam Rida (AS) to be His successor 


On reaching Merv, the town al-Ma' mun chosen as the center of his caliphate, Imam Rida (AS), was summoned by al-Ma' mun to both welcome him and inform him of an important decision he had made with regard his throne. He first welcomed Imam Rida (AS) warmly and then told him that he had decided to leave the crown to him, yet Imam (AS) firmly refused this idea. He then came with another offer, asking Imam (AS) to be his heir and successor of his throne. But Imam (AS) refused to accept this offer, too, since he knew al-Ma' mun had certainly another plan in mind and only wanted to win Imam Rida's (AS) support to save his own position against possible threats. Nevertheless, al-Ma' mun didn't give up and repeated his offer, this time implying a death threat on Imam Rida (AS) in case of his refusal. Therefore, Imam Rida (AS) was reluctantly made to accept being al-Ma' mun's successor, under certain conditions: "So, I accept if I do not give any command and do not prohibit, I neither give Fatwa (religious creed) nor do I judge, I neither assign anyone to any task nor do I change anything's position." [13]. As a result, al-Ma' mun gave allegiance to Imam Rida (AS) as his crown prince on March 817 A.D. in front of people.


 As it was mentioned above, "Imam Rida (AS) knew about al-Ma 'mun's intention and told him, 'you want that people say, 'Ali b. Musa (AS) is not uninterested in the world and leadership, but it is the world that is uninterested in him. Do not you see how he (AS) has accepted to become the crown prince greedy for caliphate?' He answered those who asked him why he accepted to be the prince, "I accepted that unwillingly and under pressure.' The conditions Imam Rida (AS) declared for taking this position were, in fact, his withdrawal from cooperation in the government of al-Ma' mun, because Imam (AS) said that he neither would assign anyone to work nor would depose anyone; he neither would break a custom nor would he change anything in the current situation" [14]. This dubious agreement ended when al-Ma'mun felt his position in danger due to the threats he received from other members of the royal family and decided to remove Imam (AS) by murdering him.  


Moreover, Imam (AS) had revealed his hostility toward al-Ma' mun's caliphate through many of his manners. One of the most notable instances is his attendance in Eid-al-Fitr prayer. Despite al-Ma' mun's constant request on Imam Rida (AS) to lead the Eid prayer, Imam (AS) refused due to the conditions he had set on accepting al-Ma' mun's successorship. Yet, upon al-Ma' mun's insistence, he agreed to lead the prayer provided that he would attend it the way Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did. Therefore, despite the people's expectation to see Imam (AS) coming for the prayer in the pompous manner of caliphs, he appeared in modest clothes and barefooted while reciting Takbir (Allah-u-Akbar, e.g., Allah is the Greatest) [i]. When people saw Imam's (AS) manner, they also followed him and took off their shoes and said Takbir. Terrified for this gathering to end in a rebel against his throne, al-Ma' mun ordered one of his handlers to ask Imam (AS) to return and leave off leading the prayer. Therefore, Imam (AS) went back home without performing the prayer [15].   


Imam Rida (AS)'s Most Prominent Characteristics

 

  • Modesty

 
Despite being a crown prince and having the opportunity to use the pretentious joys of wealth, Imam Rida (AS) led a simple life and treated everyone with honor and respect regardless of their social level or wealth. It is reported that when the food was served in his house, he would call everyone, even the servants, to sit and eat with him. When others saw this manner of Imam (AS), they would recommend him to separate his food from his servants and treat them differently, yet he would say, "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."


In another account, a man praised Imam (AS) and told him, "By God, there is none who is superior to you in the nobleness of your ancestry." Yet, Imam (AS) replied, "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" [16]. 

 

  • Generosity


Following his forefathers' footsteps, Imam Rida (AS) cared deeply for the people in less desirable circumstances and tried to help them by all means. According to an account, Imam Rida (AS) had given all his money away at once on the day of Arafah. One of his companions found Imam's (AS) action to be harmful to him, yet he answered, "It is, in fact, useful. Never regard an action which will be rewarded on the hereafter, as a compensation" [17].  


In another account, a man on his way back from the holy pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) came to Imam Rida (AS) and asked him some money since he had lost all his money on his journey. Imam (AS) went inside his house, returned after some time, and without showing himself passed a significant amount of money to the man from behind the door and told him, "Take this money and make the most of it. Now leave here instantly, so that neither I see you, nor do you see me." When Imam (AS) was asked of the reason for this manner, he replied, "I didn't want him to see him ashamed and feeling belittled because of his request" [18].

 

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

 
Imam Rida (AS) was famous for his many debates with great scholars of different sects and religions in his time about religious and jurisprudential issues. When he was in Medina, he would sit in the Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) mosque, and people brought their questions and problems to him to solve. Also, when he migrated to Merv, Al-Ma' mun brought many knowledgeable and well-known scholars to engage in a debate with Imam (AS) and, of course, secretly desired to belittle Imam's (AS) position should he defeat in any of these debate sessions. However, all these scholars were amazed by Imam's (AS) vast knowledge and excellent command of religious matters and admitted his superiority over them [19]. When al-Ma' mun saw that these debate sessions are turning into a threat against his seemingly high position, he tried to restrict them and forbid Imam (AS) from holding these gatherings anymore [20].  


Moreover, in the hadiths and narrations left by him, Imam Rida (AS) includes many recommendations regarding health, medicine, proper eating habits, ways to prevent diseases, and personal hygiene. His book called, Tibb al-Rida (AS), also known as Risala al-Dhahabiyya (The Golden Treatise), contains these kinds of information.

 

imam rida

 

  • His Sincere Devotion to Allah


The reason for all the significant characteristics that Imam Rida (AS) manifested in his manners was definitely his deep faith in Allah. He was so immersed in his devotion to the One and Only Creator, which didn't even take a step without first considering His satisfaction. 


This devotion both appeared in his manners toward people and the way he worshiped his Lord. It is reported that he would instantly interrupt a debate session on hearing the call to prayer (Adhan) to attend his Beloved Lord and perform Salat. Numerous accounts narrate his long and sincere worship at night. Once, Imam Rida (AS) told the man to whom he gave his shirt away, "take care of this shirt with which I have prayed a thousand rak' as every night for a thousand nights and wearing which, I have finished recitation of the Qur'an for a thousand times" [21]. 

 

 

 

Martyrdom


Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida was finally martyred by al-Ma' mun through giving him a poisonous fruit in 818 A.D [22]. After establishing Imam (AS) as his successor, which he did to strengthen his throne and win the favor of Persians by having Imam's (AS) support, al-Ma' mun found that Imam (AS) was not the kind of person to be suppressed and taken benefit from. Imam Rida (AS) implicitly showed his hostility and opposition to al-Ma' mun's crown on many occasions and gatherings. Therefore, in one of their meetings, he gave Imam (AS) a poisoned fruit, which resulted in his death two days later [23]. Imam Rida's (AS) body now rests in a shrine in Mashhad, Iran. 

 


Notes:

[i] It is a tradition to say Takbir loudly on the Eid al-Fitr before the prayer. 

 

References:


[1] Ṣadūq, ʿUyūn akhbār al-Riḍā, vol. 1, p. 14.
[2] Mohammad-Baqer Majlesi, Bihar al-Anwar, V.49, P.4.
[3] Ṭabrisī, Iʿlām al-warā bi-aʿlām al-hudā, vol. 2, p. 91.
[4] Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 492.
[5] Yāfiʿī, Mirʾāt al-jinān, vol. 2, p. 10.
[6] Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-Ṭabarī, vol. 7, p. 149.
[7] Qarashī, Ḥayāt al-Imām ʿAlī ibn Mūsā al-Riḍā, vol. 2, p. 408.
[8] Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 2, p. 271. 
[9] Ṭabrisī, Iʿlām al-warā bi-aʿlām al-hudā, vol. 2, p. 64.
[10] S.M.R. Shabbar, Story of the Holy Ka'aba And its People, p.85. Pdf. 
[11] Motahari, Majmūʿih āthār-i ustād shahīd Motahari, vol. 18, p. 124.
[12] Sadūq, Maʿānī l-akhbār, p. 371.
[13] Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 2, p. 259.
[14] http://en.wikishia.net/view/Imam_Ali_b._Musa_al-Rida_(a) 
[15] Jaʿfarīyān, Ḥayāt-i fikrī wa sīyāsī-yi Imāmān-i Shīʿa, p. 443-444.
[16] S.M.R. Shabbar, Story of the Holy Ka'aba And its People, p.90. Pdf.
[17] Ibn Shahr Āshūb, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī. Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib, vol.4, p.360. 
[18] Mohammad-Baqer Majlesi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol.49, p.101. 
[19] Ṣadūq, ʿUyūn akhbār al-Riḍā, vol. 1, p. 152.
[20] ibid, vol. 2, p. 172.
[21] Ṭūsī, al-Amālī, p. 359.
[22] Āmilī, al-Ḥayāt al-sīyāsīyya li-l-Imām al-Riḍā, p. 169.
[23] Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 2, p. 270.