Imam Ridha (PBUH)
Ali Ibn Musa Al-Ridha (Arabic: علي بن موسى الرضا) was the seventh descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the eighth one of the Twelve Imams, His given name was Ali Ibn Musa Ibn Ja’far.
On the eleventh of Dhu al-Qi’dah, 148 AH (December 29, 765 CE), a son was born in the house of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (PBUH) in Medina, who took over the position of the Imamate, after his father. He was named Ali and titled al-Ridha. He was born one month after the martyrdom of his grandfather, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (PBUH). Like his father and grandfather, his education came at the hands of his father. The mother of Ali al-Ridha (PBUH) was Najmah, who was considered to be the most notable and distinguished lady in the realm of wisdom and faith. Najmah was originally from the Maghreb i.e. Northwest Africa. She was purchased and freed by Hamidah Khatun, wife of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (PBUH), and like Hamidah was also a notable Islamic scholar.
Right from his childhood, Ali al-Ridha (PBUH) accompanied his father, Imam Musa al-Kadhim (PBUH), who repeatedly used to tell his friends, “Ali al-Ridha shall be the Imam after me.” As such, Makhzumi says one day Imam Musa al-Kadhim summoned and gathered us and said, “I invited you to be witnesses that this child (Ali al-Ridha) is my executor and successor.”
Yazid Ibn Salit says: “We were moving toward Mecca to perform the Hajj Umrah and we met Imam Musa al-Kadhim (PBUH) in the way. I asked him to inform us about his successor. Imam Musa al-Kadhim explained that the Imamate is a divine issue and the Imam is designated by Allah and his prophet, Muhammad (PBUH). Then he said that my son, Ali, whose name is the same as the First and the forth Imam, is the Imam after me. Since an extreme choking atmosphere and pressure prevailed in the period of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (PBUH), he added, “What I said must remain (restricted) up to you and do not reproduce it to anybody unless you know he is one of our friends and companions.”
According to Ali Ibn Yaqtin, Imam Musa al-Kadhim (PBUH) said:
“Ali is the best of my children and I have conferred on him my epithet.”
Imam Musa al-Kadhim was poisoned while he was still in prison and martyred and on the same day Imam Ridha (PBUH) was declared as the Eighth Imam of the Muslim world. Imam Ridha (PBUH) had the great task with the correct interpretation of the Holy Qur’an; especially under the most unfavorable circumstances prevailing under the government of Harun al-Rashid. Many belonging to the faith were imprisoned and those who were free and could not be jailed faced untold atrocities and sufferings.
Imam Ridha (PBUH), of course, stamped his impression upon his age by carrying on the mission of the Great Prophet in a peaceful manner even during the most chaotic periods, and it was mostly due to his efforts that the teachings of the Holy Prophet and his descendants became widespread. Imam Ridha had inherited great qualities of head and heart from his ancestors. He was a versatile person and had full command over many languages. Ibnu ‘l-Athir al-Jazari penned very rightly that Imam Ridha (PBUH) was undoubtedly the greatest sage, saint and scholar of the second century (AH). Once, on his way to Khurasan, when he (the Imam) was brought by force by the guards of al-Ma’mun from Medina, he arrived on horseback at Nayshabur.
Myriads of people gathered round him and all roads were over crowded as they had come to meet and see their great Imam. Abu Dhar’ah al-Razi and Muhammad Ibn Aslam al-Tusi, the two great scholars of the day, stepped out of the crowd and begged the Imam to halt there for a moment so that the faithful may be able to hear his voice. They also requested the Imam to address the gathering. The Imam granted the request and in his brief address told the mammoth gathering the real interpretation of “La Ilaha Illa Allah” (there is no God except Allah). Quoting Allah, he continued to say that the “kalimah” is the fortress of Allah and whoever entered the fortress saved himself from His wrath. He paused for a moment and continued that there were also a few conditions to entitle the entrance to the fortress and the greatest of all conditions was sincere and complete submission to the Imam of the day; and very boldly and frankly explained to the people that any disloyalty to the Prophet and his descendants would withdraw the right of the entrance to the fortress.
The only way to earn Almighty Allah’s pleasure was to obey the Prophet and his progeny and that was the only path to salvation and immortality. The above-mentioned incident speaks clearly of the great popularity of Imam Ridha (PBUH), and the love, loyalty and respect the Muslims gave their beloved Imam. al-Ma’mun, the king, was conscious of the fact that he would not survive for long if he also did not express his loyalty to the great leader and his intelligence department had made it clear to him that the Iranian people were truly and sincerely loyal to the Imam and he could only win them over if he also pretended to give respect and sympathetic consideration to Imam Ridha (PBUH). Al-Ma’mun was a very shrewd person. He made a plan to invite Imam Ridha (PBUH) and to offer him the heir ship to the throne. The Imam was summoned by a royal decree and was compelled, under the circumstances, to leave Medina – where he was living a quiet life – and present himself at the royal court of al-Ma’mun.
On his arrival, al-Ma’mun showed him hospitality and great respect, and then he said to him: “I want to get rid of myself of the caliphate and vest the office in you.” But Imam Ridha (PBUH) refused his offer. Then al-Ma’mun repeated his offer in a letter saying: “If you refuse what I have offered you, then you must accept being the heir after me.” But again Imam Ridha (PBUH) refused his offer vigorously. Al-Ma’mun summoned him. He was alone with al-Fadl Ibn Sahl, the man with two offices (i.e., military and civil). There was no one else in their gathering. Al-Ma’mun said to Imam Ridha, “I thought it appropriate to invest authority over the Muslims in you and to relieve myself of the responsibility by giving it to you.” When again Imam Ridha (PBUH) refused to accept his offer, al-Ma’mun spoke to him as if threatening him for his refusal. In his speech he said, “Omar Ibn Khattab made a committee of consultation (shura) (to appoint a successor). Among them was your forefather, the Commander of the faithful, Ali Ibn Abi Talib. (Omar) stipulated that any of them who opposed the decision should be executed. So there is no escape for you from accepting what I want from you.
“I will ignore your rejection of it.” In reply ,Imam Ridha said: “I will agree to what you want of me as far as succession is concerned on condition that I do not command, nor order, nor give legal decisions, nor judge, nor appoint, nor dismiss, nor change anything from how it is at present.” al-Ma’mun accepted all of that. On the day when al-Ma’mun ordered to make the pledge of allegiance to Imam Ridha (PBUH), one of the close associates of Imam, who was present, narrates, “On that day I was in front of him. He looked at me while I was feeling happy about what had happened. He signaled me to come closer. I went closer to him and he said so that no one else could hear, ‘Do not occupy your heart with this matter and do not be happy about it. It is something which will not be achieved.’” Quoting al-‘Allamah ash-Shibli from his book al-Ma’mun, we get a very clear picture of how al-Ma’mun decided to offer his leadership to Imam Ridha (PBUH). Imam Ridha was the Eighth Imam and al-Ma’mun could not help holding him in great esteem because of the Imam’s piety, wisdom, knowledge, modesty, decorum and personality.
Therefore, he decided to nominate him the rightful heir to the throne. Earlier in 200 AH he had summoned the Abbasids. Thirty-three thousand ‘Abbasids responded to the invitation and were entertained as royal guests. During their stay at the capital he very closely observed and noted their capabilities and eventually arrived at the conclusion that not one of them deserved to succeed him. He therefore spoke to them all in an assembly in 201 AH telling them in categorical terms that none of the ‘Abbasids deserved to succeed him. He demanded allegiance to Imam Ridha (PBUH) from the people in this very meeting and declared that royal robes would be green in future, the color which had the unique distinction of being that of the Imam’s dress. A Royal decree was published saying that Imam Ridha will succeed al-Ma’mun. Even after the declaration of succession when there was every opportunity for the Imam to live a splendid worldly royal life, he did not pay any heed to material comforts and devoted himself completely to imparting the true Islamic conception of the Prophet’s teachings and the Holy Qur’an.
He spent most of his time worshiping Allah and serving the people. Taking full advantage of the concessions given to him by virtue of his elevated position in the royal court, he organized the majalis (meetings) commemorating the martyrdom of the martyrs of Karbala’. These majalis were first held during the days of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (PBUH) and Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (PBUH), but Imam Ridha (PBUH) gave the majalis a new impetus by encouraging those poets who wrote effective poems depicting the moral aspects of the tragedy and the suffering of Imam Hussain (PBUH) and his companions. Al-Ma’mun had been very scared of the growing popularity of the Imam and he had appointed him as his heir to the throne only for the fulfillment of his own most ambitious and sinister designs and getting the Imam’s endorsement to his tricky plans.
Imam Ridha (PBUH) and Zayd
Once Imam Ridha (PBUH) was summoned to Khurasan and reluctantly accepted the role of being succession of al-Ma’mun that was forced on him, al-Ma’mun summoned his brother, Zayd, who had revolted and brought about a riot in Medina to his court in Khurasan. Al-Ma’mun kept him free as a regard and honor to Imam Ali al-Ridha and overlooked his punishment.
One day, when Imam Ridha (PBUH) was delivering a speech in a grand assembly, he heard Zayd praising himself before the people, saying I am so and so. The Imam asked him saying:
“O Zayd, have you trusted upon the words of the grocers of Kufa and are conveying them to the people? What kind of things are you talking about? The sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib (PBUH) and Fatimah Zahra (PBUH) are worthy and outstanding only when they obey the command of Allah, and keep themselves away from sin and blunder. You think you are like Musa al-Kadhim (PBUH), Ali ibn Hussain (PBUH), and other Imams? Whereas, they took pains and bore hardships on the way to Allah and prayed to Allah day and night. Do you think you will gain without pain? Be aware, that if a person out of us the Ahl Al-Bayt performs a good deed, he gets twice the reward. Because not only he performed good deeds like others but also that he has maintained the honor of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). If he practices something bad and does a sin, he has performed two sins. One is that he performed a bad act like the rest of the people and the other one is that he has negated the honor of the Prophet. O brother! The one who obeys Allah is from us the Ahl Al-Bayt and the one who is a sinner is not ours. Allah said about the son of Noah who cut the spiritual bondage with his father, “He is not out of your lineage; if he was out of your lineage, I would have (saved) and granted him salvation.”
Imam Ali Ibn Mousa al-Ridha (PBUH) was at the top of the scientists of his time in medical science. Religious scholars and jurists would ask him their questions about Islamic precepts. His treatise in medicine is regarded as most precious Islamic literature in the science of medicine, hence it has been called the Golden Dissertation. His treatise included scientific branches such as Anatomy, Physiology, Chemistry and Pathology when medical science was still primitive.
Political situation of his era
After the death of Harun al-Rashid in 809, Harun’s two sons began fighting for control of the Abbasid Empire. One son, Al-Amin, had an Arab mother and thus had the support of Arabs, while his half-brother Al-Ma’mun had a Persian mother and the support of Persia. After defeating his brother, al-Ma’mun summoned Imam Ridha to khurasan. Firstly, Ma’mun offered the Imam, caliphate. Imam Ridha (PBUH) who knew the real reason of this offer politely refused it and said:
“If this caliphate belongs to you, then it is not permissible for you to take off the garment in which Allah has clothed you and to give it to other than you. If the caliphate does not belong to you, then it is not permissible for you to give me that which does not belong to you.”
Then al-Ma’mun offers the role successor to him. According to Allamah Tabatabaii one of Shia scholars, Ma’mun summoned Imam Ridha (PBUH) to khurasan and offered him the role of successor to prevent the descendants of the Prophet from rebelling against the government since they would be involved in the government themselves, and secondly, to cause the people to lose their spiritual belief and inner attachment to the Imams.
Al-Ma’mun even changed the black Abbasid flags to green, the traditional color of the Prophet Muhammad and Shia’s flag and Imam Ali’s cloak. Al-Ma’mun meant to appease the Shia factions by these decisions. Moreover, he gave his daughter, Umm Habib, to Imam Ridha (PBUH) and married another daughter, Umm al-Fadhl to Imam Ridha’s son. Al-Ma’mun ordered to mint coins with names of both Al-Ma’mun and Imam Ali al-Ridha (PBUH)
Imam Ridha (PBUH) did not outlive Ma’mun, having been given poisoned grapes by him while accompanying him in Persia, and died at Tous (in Khurasan) on May 26, 818. Imam Ridha (PBUH) is buried within Imam Ridha Mosque, in Mashhad, Khurasan, Iran. Al-Ma’mun had been very scared of the growing popularity of Imam Ridha (PBUH). After giving the Imam the role of succession of himself, he was hoping the popularity would decrease. In contrary, however, they were admiring the more than they used to. after the declaration of succession, and when there was every opportunity for the Imam to live a splendid worldly royal life, people were seeing that he did not pay any heed to material comforts and devoted his time to worshiping Allah and serving the people. The popularity, therefore, was growing day after day. Moreover Abbasids were bearing a grudge against Ma’mun who had appointed the Imam as his heir to the throne. Al-Ma’mun therefore became very disappointed. Imam advised him to dismiss him from his position but he had something else in mind. He decided once and for all to check his growing popularity and ensuring his own survival by acting according to the old traditions of killing Imams.
The night before Imam’s martyrdom, Harthama says: “Imam al Ridha called me so that I be present before him. He said to me, O Harthama! Listen carefully to what I tell you. Now it is time for me to return to Allah the Highest and join my grandfather and my forefathers. My life has come to an end. This rebel (al-Ma’mun) has decided to poison me with chafed grapes and pomegranates…The decree will come to happen and I will die. when I die, Al-Ma’mun will say, ‘I must perform the ceremonial burial ablutions of his body with my own hands.’ when Al-Ma’mun says that, you should privately tell him that I (Imam Ridha) told you to tell him (Al-Ma’mun) not to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for me, shroud me or bury me; else the Divine Punishment that is to brought upon him later will be brought upon him sooner. And that which he is trying to avoid will rush towards him…Then Al-Ma’mun will appoint you to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for me. Do not do anything related to my ceremonial burial ablutions until you see a white tent set up next to the house. when you see it set up, take me inside wearing the clothes which I had died. Stay outside and wait along with the others. ..Then Al-Ma’mun will come to you and ask, ‘O Harthama! Don’t you say that no one but a Divine Leader can wash a Divine Leader’s body? Then who will wash Ali Ibn Musa Al-Redha (PBUH) while his son Muhammad (PBUH) was in Medina that is one of the cities in Hijaz, and Al-Ridha (PBUH) is here in Toos?’ this time Al-Ma’mun says, you should answer him as follows, ‘No one needs to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for a Divine Leader, except for the Divine Leader after him. However, if someone violates this principle and performs the ceremonial burial ablutions for the Imam, this act will not void the Imam’s Divine Leadership. It will neither void the Divine Leadership of the Imam succeeding him, even if someone forces him not to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for his father’s body. If Ali Ibn Musa Al-Ridha (PBUH) was in Medina when he passed away, it is apparent that his son Muhammad (PBUH) would have performed the ceremonial ritual ablutions for him. However, this did not happen, but Muhammad (PBUH) performed the ceremonial burial ablutions for his father in secret. When the sides of the tent are lifted up you will see me in my shroud. Then lift up my body, place it in the coffin and carry me. When he (al-Ma’mun) decides to have my grave dug, he will try to dig it in such a position that the grave of his father Harun Al-Rashid is located in the direction of the Qibla from my grave. This, however, will never happen. No matter how hard they hit the ground with a mattock… tell Al-Ma’mun that I have ordered you to use a mattock and hit the ground at the location in the direction of the Qibla from the grave of his father Harun Al-Rashid just once. Then you do this, the ground will open up, a grave will be dug and a tomb shall be erected. When Al-Ma’mun accepts this and you see the grave appear, do not place me in it immediately. Wait until some clear water comes up and reaches the level of the ground. Then a fish as large as the grave will appear swimming there. Do not put me in it as long as the fish is moving. Then the fish will disappear and the water will be drained. Then take me to the grave and place me in it. Do not let anyone throw any dirt over my body. The grave will get filled and covered up by itself.’”
The day after, Harthama added, “Al-Ma’mun told me: ‘Go to Musa Al-Ridha, express my greetings to him and tell him, ‘Come to us if it is not difficult for you. Else I will come to see you.’ If Al-Ridha (PBUH) accepts to come, insist that he comes sooner.’ When coming, He offered Imam Ridha (PBUH) the bunch of grapes he was holding in his hands and said:
“O son of Allah’s Prophet! I have never seen a grape like this”, he said.
Imam rejected it:“There must be better ones in heaven”
“You must eat. Why don’t you eat? Perhaps you are suspicious of me.” Shouted Al-Ma’mun. Then he picked up the bunch of grapes, had a few grapes and then offered the bunch to Al-Ridha. Al-Ridha ate three grapes put down the bunch and stood up.
“Where!?” said Ma’mun.
“Where you sent me!” Imam answered, looking at Al Ma’mun. Then Imam pulled his cloak over his head and left. He walked to his room and laid down on his bed. Ma’mun sent someone to him to ask whether he has a will or advice to give.
Imam said “tell him: don’t ever give anything to a person when you regret afterwards!” Following the martyrdom of Imam Ali al-Ridha (PBUH) a revolt took place in Khurasan. Al-Ma’mun wept and beat upon his head to show that he was a mourner. Despite this, A wave of despises and noise awn against al-Ma’mun. So that he did not allow the funeral to be carried out for a day and a night. Because, he was afraid that the disturbance may expand and the angry hostile and flared up masses may annihilate all the set ups and organizations. While some others like Sibt Ibn al-Jawzi thought that Abbasids had poisoned him as they did not want the Imam to be the Caliph after Al Ma’mun’s death. The thing however is that most historians agree that Al-Ma’nun has killed the Imam as he did the same about some other great mans who he was afraid of them.
Imam Ridha Shrine
Today the Imam Ridha shrine in Mashhad occupies a total area of 107,764 m2, seven courtyards surrounding the shrine. Thus it is the largest mosque in the world, even larger than Masjid Al-Haram and Masjid al-Nabawi.
The courtyards also contain a total of 14 minarets, and 3 fountains. From the courtyards, external hallways named after scholars lead to the inner areas of the mosque. They are referred to as “Bast” (Sanctuary), since they were meant to be a safeguard for the shrine areas.
The Bast hallways lead towards a total of 21 internal halls “Riwaq” which surrounding the burial chamber of Imam Ali al-Ridha (PBUH).
Imam Ridha (PBUH), peace be Upon him, said:
“Doing seven things without doing the seven other things is self-mockery: asking for forgiveness from Allah verbally without repenting with the heart; asking for Allah’s help without undertaking any effort; making a firm resolution to do something without taking due precautions; asking Allah for Paradise without enduring the related hardships; beseeching deliverance from the Hell-fire without refraining from lusts; remembering Allah without anticipating to encounter Him.”