Imam al-Rida: A Historical and Biographical Research

Imam al-Rida: A Historical and Biographical Research0%

Imam al-Rida: A Historical and Biographical Research Author:
Translator: Yasin T. al-Jibouri
Category: Imam al-Reza

Imam al-Rida: A Historical and Biographical Research

Author: Muhammad Jawad Fadlallah
Translator: Yasin T. al-Jibouri

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Imam al-Rida: A Historical and Biographical Research
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Imam al-Rida: A Historical and Biographical Research

Imam al-Rida: A Historical and Biographical Research


Imam ar-Ridha’, A Historical and Biographical Research

Biography of the 8th Imam (a), his characteristics, role, activities, works, counsels and select traditions (hadith ).

Author(s): Muhammad Jawad Fadlallah

Translator(s): Yasin T. Al-Jibouri

Table of Contents

Introduction. 7

Notes 9

Preface: Our Belief in Ahl al-Bayt (a.s.) 10

Notes 21

Historical Aspect of the Imam's Biography  22

His Distinctions and Characteristics 23

Lineage 23

Birth and Demise 23

His Mother 23

Offspring. 23

Personality and Characteristics 24

Government's Attitude Towards the Imam. 25

His Knowledge 26

Ethical and Humane Conduct 28

His Conduct Regarding His Appearance 31

Clemency and Tolerance 32

Swiftness of Response 34

His Patience and Perseverance 35

Generosity. 36

Equity. 38

Reluctance to Cooperate With the Rulers 40

Notes 43

Imam and the Waqfis 44

Pioneers of Waqfism. 44

Objectives of the Waqfis 44

Imam Denounces Waqfism. 45

Advocates of Waqfism Reveal Their Own Nature 45

Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far (a.s.) Warns the Waqfis 46

Materialistic Objectives of Waqfis 46

Imam Reveals the Real Motives of the Waqfis 47

A Leading Waqfi Confesses 48

Waqfism Spreads and Gains Momentum. 49

Confusion of Some Waqfis 49

Notes 51

Imam and the 'Caliphs' 52

Attempts to Eliminate the Imam. 52

Al-Rashid Moves to Eliminate the Imam. 53

Sincere Attempts 53

Vicious Intentions 54

From the Series of Tragedies 55

Imam During al-Amin's Reign. 55

Imam During al-Ma’mun's Regime 56

Al-Ma’mun's Personality. 56

Al-Ma’mun's Inclination Towards Shi'aism. 56

Differences of Personalities of al-Amin and al-Ma’mun. 58

Al-Rashid Evaluates his Sons 58

Differences of Conduct of Both Brothers 58

Dissension Begins 59

Confused Behavior of al-Rashid Towards His Sons 59

Al-Rashid Divides the State 60

Apprehension of the Public Regarding the Division. 60

Ambition of Some Followers Deepens Division. 60

War is Waged and al-Ma’mun Wins 61

Notes 62

The Regency. 63

Regency Between the Imam and al-Ma’mun. 63

Why the Imam Rejected the Regency. 63

Al-Ma’mun Reveals His Intentions 64

Al-Ma’mun and the Astronomer Nawbakhti 64

Al-Ma’mun's Objective Behind Regency. 65

Forcing the Imam to Accept the Regency. 66

Imam's Awareness of al-Ma’mun's Schemes 67

With Ahmed Amin. 67

Comments 67

Imam's Contempt for the Regency. 68

Political Motives Behind the Regency. 69

Abbasides Defy al-Ma’mun. 71

The Abbasides Treat Caliphate Lightly. 71

Al-Ma’mun Backs Off and Apologizes 72

Doubt in al-Ma’mun's Sincerity. 72

Al-Ma’mun Places the Imam Under Surveillance 72

Al-Ma’mun's Motives Behind Enforcing Surveillance 73

Strictness of Followers of the Imams 73

Naive Analyses of the Regency Issues 74

Queries 74

Al-Ma’mun Was the One Who Suggested It 75

Al-Fadl Could Not Have Suggested It 75

Al-Ma’mun Asserts the Idea Was His 76

Historical Analysis of Its Attribution to al-Fadl 76

Al-Fadl Sows Mischief Between the Imam and al-Ma’mun. 77

Subjective Analysis of the Dialogue 78

Imam Foils al-Fadl's Attempt 78

Al-Ma’mun Calls Imam to Him. 79

Al-Ma’mun Determines Imam's Route 79

Imam in Nishapur 79

Story of the Gold Chain. 80

Imam Continues His Trip to Marw. 80

Imam Preconditions 80

Regency Celebrated. 82

Poems in his Praise 83

An Interesting Anecdote 85

Researching History. 86

Silent Opposition. 87

Eid Prayers 87

Sending Imam Back. 88

Analyzing Imam's Handling of Eid Prayers 88

Some of the Imam's Dawah Methods 89

Notes 90

Imam's Role in Eliminating al-Fadl ibn Sahl 92

Al-Fadl Controls the Government 92

Al-Fadl Tests al-Ma’mun's Attitude Towards Him. 92

Ambiguity of al-Ma’mun's Handling of al-Fadl 93

Elimination of Harthama 93

Al-Fadl Incites About Harthama 93

Analysis of Harthama's Stance 94

Leaders Move to Eliminate al-Fadl 94

Imam as Savior 94

Al-Ma’mun is Convinced of the Gravity of the Situation. 96

Al-Fadl Seeks Revenge Against Instigators 96

Al-Ma’mun Pretends to be a Star Gazer 96

Imam Refuses to Go to the Bath-House and Gives a Warning. 97

Al-Fadl is Murdered. 97

Assasins are Close Friends of al-Ma’mun. 97

Imam's Motives for Causing the Elimination of al-Fadl 98

Notes 100

The Tragic Ending. 101

Simplistic Justification of al-Ma’mun's Situation. 102

How the Imam Was Murdered. 102

Imam is Eulogized. 103

Notes 108

Imam and Alawide Revolts 109

Alawide Uprisings 109

Zayd and al-Ma’mun. 110

Imam Rebukes His Brother Zayd. 110

Imam's View of the Alawide Revolutionary Method. 110

Imam's Stance Towards Abul-Saraya's Revolution. 111

Why Did the Imam Refuse to Participate in the Revolution? 111

Why Did the Imam Decline From Demanding Caliphate? 111

Lack of a Popular Front of Confrontation. 112

Imam's Main Responsibility was Disseminating Awareness 112

Governments' Persecution of Imams 112

Imams' Support of Alawide Revolutions 113

Notes 114

Intellectual aspects of the Imam's life 116

His Works 117

Ibn Khaldun Doubts Imams' Knowledge 117

Imams and the Persecution of Rulers 117

Al-Fiqh al-Radawi 118

How the Book Appeared. 118

Doubting the Accuracy of Rendering it to the Imam. 119

Views of Some Scholars About the Book. 120

Al-Risala al-Dahabiyya fil Tibb. 120

Dissertation Was Authored by the Imam. 121

Al-Ma’mun Evaluated Dissertation. 121

Al-Ma’mun Asked the Imam to Write It 122

Commentaries on the Dissertation. 123

Sahifat ar-Ridha’ 124

Al-Saheefa's Musnads 124

Mahd al-Islam. 124

Doubting Its Attribution To The Imam. 124

Ajwibat Masail Ibn Sinan. 125

'Ilal Ibn Shathan. 125

Summary. 125

Notes 127

Altercations 128

Al-Nawfali Warns the Imam. 128

Imam's Debate With the Sabian. 130

Debating al-Maroozi 131

Imam Proves Badaa 132

Eternity Versus Transience of the Will 132

Al-Maroozi's Argumentativeness 132

Imam's Style in Debating. 133

Al-Ma’mun Rebukes al-Maroozi for Fumbling About 133

Imam Debates Ali ibn al-Jahm. 134

Interpreting the Holy Qur'an According to One's Opinion. 134

Interpreting Verses Whose Superficial Meaning Suggests Prophet's Fallibility  134

An Artificial Argument 135

Notes 137

Basic Beliefs 138

Misconception of the Similitude of God to His Creation. 138

God's Attributes are His Own Essence 139

Belief in Plurality of the Essence and Attributes is Shirk. 139

The Difference Between God's Will and People's 140

Seeing God. 141

Compulsion and Empowerment 142

Notes 143

The Approach Adopted by Ahl al-Bayt 144

Empowerment 144

Imam Warns 144

Imams Did Not Endorse Making Similitudes With God. 145

Transmigration of Souls 145

Imamate 146

Imam's Qualifications 146

Selection of the Imam is Done by God. 146

An Imam's Attributes 147

Indications of Imamate 148

Notes 149

Exegesis 150

Exegesis (Tafsir) According to the Ahl al-Bayt 150

An Exegesis Phenomenon Regarding Ahl al-Bayt 150

Exegesis of Imam ar-Ridha’ 150

The Holy Qur'an and the Infallibility of the Prophets 152

Adam. 152

Ibrahim, the Friend of God. 153

Messengers and Despair 154

God's "Hand" is His Might 154

Notes 156

Shari'a (Islamic Legislative System) 157

Their Hadith is Muhkam and Mutashabih. 157

Justifying the Mutashabih in the Qur'an. 157

Justifying the Mutashabih in the Hadith. 158

Genuineness of the Creed of Ahl al-Bayt 158

Independence of the Ahl al-Bayt (a.s.) From Qiyas and Others 158

Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s.)'s Hadith Regarding Legislation  160

His Hadith Regarding Causations 160

Our View Regarding Causes 160

Questioning the Causes is Human Nature 160

Imam's Answers are Harmonious With the Nature of Legislation. 160

Select Hadith of the Imam. 164

His Morals and Counsels 174

Notes 180

Supplement: Regency Document 181

Notes 186


Imam Abul-Hasan II, Ali ibn Musa ar-Ridha’, is the eighth in the series of the Imams from the Household of the Prophet in whose personalities all the standards of greatness have been personified; so, they became its most magnificent example and most genuine fountainhead.

His life was characterized by a somber tragic stamp from its grievous beginning till its painful end. Bitterness seldom parted from his soul during the periods he lived, i.e. the reign of Harun al-Rashid and the beginning of the regime of al-Ma’mun, the latter's son.

At the outset of his life, he witnessed the norms of trials and tribulations which filled the life of his father Imam Musa ibn Ja’far (a.s.)1 , the patient Imam whose mere existence was the cause of worry for the ruling government and the source of its suspicious doubts despite his peaceful stance, distancing himself from any causes for a direct confrontation therewith.

The Abbaside caliph al-Mahdi III ordered the Imam (a.s.) to go to Baghdad so that the caliph would secure from him promises and pledges that he would not oppose his authority or mobilize a revolution against him to put an end to his regime, and the Imam (a.s.) did not go back home till al-Mahdi joined his Lord and his shoulders bent by the load of the regime's sins and immoral actions to be succeeded by al-Hadi.

The latter tried to put an end to the life of the Imam, but he did not live long enough, so al-Rashid acceded to the throne, thus the parching flames of the tragedy started incinerating the existence of the Alawis headed by Imam Musa ibn Ja’far (a.s.), and the dungeons of Baghdad, Basrah, Wasit and other cities could not limit the regime's passion for seeking revenge against its opponents.

Its antagonistic attitudes caused it to invent norms of revenge worse than what those dungeons could provide, such that humanity shudders from. Instructions issued by the government required the builders to fill the hollow building cylinders and columns with the still alive bodies of the elite among Alawi youths and non-Alawi sympathizers and to cause them to die thus out of suffocation.

This ugly method of eliminating the government's opponents was not something invented by al-Rashid, but it was a continuation of a custom started by al-Mansour to seek revenge against some Alawi youths as history tells us.2

Imam Musa ibn Ja’far (a.s.) received the lion's share of the atrocities suffered by the Alawis during that period of time. Al-Rashid imprisoned him due to his being the top Alawi leader, subjecting him to extreme pressures at his horrible dungeons for fourteen years according to some accounts till he became tired of thinking of methods and means of inflicting pain on him; therefore, he ordered al-Sindi ibn Shahik, through his minister Yahya ibn Khalid, who was in charge of the last prison in which the Imam was imprisoned, to poison him and rid him of the presence of one who robbed him of his tranquility and peace of mind. Meanwhile, the Imam (a.s.) was painfully and bitterly watching closely the bloody events which consumed many of his own family and kin.

He was destined to relive the tragedy through which his father had lived from its beginning to the end without being able to decrease its intensity, for he was powerless to do so. Maybe he even awaited the same fate at the hands of the ruling gang, for the dispute was one of a conflict of principles between the rulers on one hand and the Alawis on the other; it was not a personality conflict.

After the martyrdom of his father and the perishing of al-Rashid, then the ending of the days of al-Amin in the way they ended, and al-Ma’mun receiving the reins of government, the winds of yet another tragedy of a different type started blowing at the Imam (a.s.). It was a tragedy the Imam (a.s.) lived with extreme bitterness.

Al-Ma’mun, due to certain political reasons which we will discuss separately in this research, decided to use the Imam (a.s.) as a bargaining chip between him and the Abbasides in Baghdad on one hand, and between him and the Alawis on the other, and also between him and the Shi'as of Khurasan as well.

The ploy of relinquishing the throne was foiled when the Imam (a.s.) refused to accede to it. Then he was forced to play a role in the masquerade of the succession to the throne. We are here concerned about dispelling some of the ambiguity which shrouded it, the ambiguity which dragged many researchers into a helter-skelter situation the results of which became obscured from their superficial sight the scope of which did not exceed the skimming of the surface, nor did they take the trouble to delve deeply into the depths of their research.

It is worth mentioning here that when the Imam (a.s.) refused to accept the caliphate from the abdicating caliph, al-Ma’mun, or to take charge of the post of heir to the throne, he had no reason except his own awareness of the real depth of the goal al-Ma’mun anticipated to achieve by his plan, and that the desire to abdicate was not genuine enough to be taken seriously; rather, it was a political maneuver whereby al-Ma’mun desired to perfect his game during a particular period of time, a game which was dictated by political circumstances posing serious threats to his seat of government. It was a situation on which the very destiny of al-Ma’mun depended.

The expected finale was thereafter enacted when al-Ma’mun completed his acting part, which he had rehearsed beforehand, perfecting the playing of his intricate role in such dexterity and skill which secured a period of tranquility for his regime, something which he could not have otherwise achieved had he not done so, as we will discuss later in this research.

In addition to the above, we shall attempt to deal with the comprehensive aspects of the life of the Imam (a.s.) so that the picture becomes clear to us when we wish to review the life of a great Imam such as Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s.).

Muhammad Jawad Fadlallah


1. Acronyms of Alaihis Salam (peace be upon him).

2. Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 4, p. 375. He said: 'Al-Mansour Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn al-Hasan was brought in, and he was the most handsome man people ever saw. He asked him, `Are you the one nicknamed the yellow silk?' He answered, `Yes.' He said, `I shall certainly kill you in a manner which I have not employed to anyone else,' then he ordered him to be placed in a cylinder and it was built up on him while he was still alive; thus, he died inside it." Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, p. 136, indicates likewise.