Abbasids heavily oppressed Alawids, who had tried to fight with them. Ma'mun sets a new trick to fight with Imamate ideology. He called Imam Reza (A.S.) from Medina to Merv, the capital city of Abbasids at that time, and at the first step after the arrival of Imam Reza (A.S.) to Merv, chose him as the successor and forced Imam to accept that. Imam Reza (A.S.) accepted this position with the provision that he shall never interfere in governmental issues. With this provision, Imam Reza (A.S.) at the first step turned that conspiracy which was a threat for Imamate ideology into a great chance for promoting Islamic unique education and proving the legitimacy of the school and ideology of Imamate. In this situation, Imam Reza (A.S.) profited from the debate chances to prove the legitimacy of his thoughts and ideas.
In this interview, Doctor Mohammad Hussein Rajabi Davani, faculty member of Imam Hussein University, explains these debates and expresses the themes and salient differences between debates of Imam Reza (A.S.) with those of his preceding Imams.
Imam Sadeq’s era; the peak of debates
Mohammad Hussein Rajabi Davani (PhD) at the opening of this dialogue points to the debates of Imams preceding Imam Reza (A.S.) and says, “Always and through time, debates have been suitable forms of presenting ideas. Before Imam Reza (A.S.) and during the presence of other Imams, debates had also taken place, especially in Imam Sadegh’s era, debates reached their peak. He discussed with public speakers and heads of different groups, like Khawarij, Jabriyoon, Dahriyoon, and even Zanadeghe. Imam Sadegh has famous debates presenting in the Prophet Mosque and Hajj time in Masjid al-Haram which were registered in history. There happened several discussions between Imam Sadegh and Aboo Hanifeh, the greatest leader of Sunni groups, specially the one about vote and analogy is very famous in the history. It is mentioned that Imam Mohammad Bagher in a journey to Sham, profit from a forced call by Hesham, the son of Abd al-Malek, the caliph of the time, and defended Islam’s legitimacy in front of Nasara scholars. But again at the time of the 8th Imam, good chances for debate came up.
The deep effectiveness of the debates
As this professor of Islamic history in Imam Hussein University of Tehran points out the debate framework is always interesting and attractive to listeners; he also believes that the framework of debates has a high effectiveness because the two sides must have a ready mind and try to criticize the ideas of each other, especially when this debate happens between theorists. And this is why debates in Imam Reza’s era are contrary to Ma'mun's expectations and turned into a chance for expanding Ahl al-Bayt’s ideology.
Imam Calmed Nofeli
It is said that Nofeli, one of Imam Reza’s companions, tried to discourage Imam from doing the discussions. The late Sheikh Sadugh in his great book entitled "Oyoun Akhbar Al-Reza (PBUH)" reported this event as follows: “Nofeli wanted Imam to withhold discussing with religious authorities but Imam Reza (A.S.) smiled and said, ‘Oh Nofeli! Are you afraid they may weaken me in bringing them cause and proofs?’ Nofeli said, ‘I swear by God I don't have such a fear, instead I hope God gives you victory over them. Imam through his conversation with Nofeli indirectly pointed to the filthy aims of Ma'mun and informed him about Ma'mun's regression of conducting such debates and says, “Oh Nofeli! Do you like to know when Ma'mun will regret? Nofeli says, ‘sure’. Imam says, ‘When Ma'mun hears my reasoning with Jewish by Torah, with Christians by Bible, with followers of Zabur by Zabur, with Zoroastrians in Farsi and with Romans in Roman and with different groups in their own languages and sees that they are speechless and their reasons are expelled, everyone will abandon his claim and admit mine. This is the time when he (Ma'mun) will regret”.
The Political Background of Debates at the Time of Imam Reza (A.S.)
Rajabi Davani pointed to the important difference between Imam Reza’s debates and those of preceding Imams and added, “His debates in Merv completely had a political form and he, as the caliphs’ successor and in the court, did these debates. For this reason, they are mentioned in the history, even though Imam had some other debates for example in Prophet’s mosque before that time. Imam did these debates in Ma'mun's court as his successor and in support of the government. From dates of Imam Reza (A.S.) just some events of his short crown prince period have been mentioned in history.
About these debates, they were conducted by the top authority of the country and he may have wanted to profit from them. So, historians recorded the debates in details. Even Imam's companions could freely record them.
Ma'mun wanted to surprise Imam
Rajabi Davani points to some features of these debates and says, “Ma'mun wanted to surprise Imam, so, he didn’t let Imam get informed about the debate's subject and the participants. Instead, he did let the other side know the subject, to ready themselves to face Imam and surprise him. Soleiman Merozi, a salient speaker of Sunni groups, is one of the people who Ma'mun wanted to surprise Imam with. But the unending knowledge of Imam helped him not to be surprised.
The topics of the debates
He mentioned some subjects rising in these debates and added, “Many issues on Eloquence, religion, and beliefs were raised in these debates. Of course, Ma'mun tried not to raise issues on Imamate and caliphate so as not to weaken his position. Especially, because in his father's era he saw how Imam Kazem disgraced his father and explained the truth of imamate”.