He took the responsibility of Shiites’ leadership at the age of 35 and his life coincided with the Abbasid Caliphate who made lots of difficulties and hardships for Imam, and finally Mammon Abbasid murdered him at the age of 55. In this paperwork we review some aspects of his live.
Imam’s Name, Nickname and Title
His auspicious name was Ali and his nickname was Abul-hassan and his most famous title was “Reza” which means “satisfaction”. His child, Imam Mohammad Taqi (P.B.U.H), who was the ninth Imam, explains about the reason of choosing this title for him in this way:
“God gave him the title of Reza, because God in the heavens and the Prophet of God and the holy Imams were satisfied with him on earth and they chose him as Imam, and also because of his good disposition, all of the friends and relatives, even his enemies, were satisfied with him”.
One of his famous titles is “Alim of Prophet Mohammad's Family” that explains his scholarly reputation in the Ummah. He debated with the famous scholars of his time, especially the religious scholars of various religions, and won all of them, a fact that testifies to his knowledge. Some parts of these debates have been brought in this article in the “Scholarly Aspect of Imam”. This ability and superiority of Imam in mastering the sciences is one of the reasons of his leadership.Considering the Imam’s speeches in these debates,it would becometotally clear that the source of Imam’s knowledge could not belonged to any source other than the one which connects to divine inspiration and revelation.
His gracious father, Imam Musa al-Kazim (P.B.U.H) was the seventh leader of Shiites who in the year of 183 AH was martyred by Harun Abbasid and his gracious mother was called “Najmeh”.
Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) was born on 11th of Ziqada-al-Haram in 148 AH in Medina, as quoted by his mother:
“when I was pregnant with him ,I didn’t feel over-weighed, and when I was asleep, I heard the sound of praise and the glorification of God and this sentence “There is no god but Allah “from my womb, but when I got up I heard nothing. When my baby was born, the newborn put both his hands on the ground and raised his head up to the sky and moved his lips as if he was saying something”.
It is narrated that similar events have happened for other Imams and some prophets. For instance, the Jesus who by God’s will spoke with people while he was in the cradle; and this story has been explained in Qur’an.
Imam’s Life in Medina
Before immigrating to Marv, Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) lived in his birthplace and near his ancestors’ immaculate graves, Medina, and guided people and taught them religious educations and prophetic traditions. The people of Medina also appreciated Imam so much and assumed Imam as a tender father. Before his immigration to Marv, although Imam had spent most of his life in Medina, he had also many followers throughout the Islamic countries all of whom were subservient to Imam’s orders.
In an interview that Imam had with Ma’mun on succession, Imam stated: “Surly the succession didn’t make a distinction for me. While I was in Medina, my command was influential in the east and the west and if I passed the streets of Medina there was no one people loved more than me. People always came to me for their needs and nobody left whom I did not grant his need, and they assumed me as their venerable.”
Imam Reza’s Leadership
Imam Reza’s leadership and executorship was announced for many times by his holy and gracious father and grandfathers (P.B.U.H), and the great prophet of Allah (HP). Especially, Imam Kazim (P.B.U.H) had announced himin the presence of people as the next executor and leader after himself, and we refer to one of them.
One of Imam Musa al-Kadhim’s (P.B.U.H) followers narrates that: “we were 60 people when Musa Ibn Jafar came to us, holding his son’s hand, Ali.
He said: “do you know who I am?” I said: “you are our master and our great”.
He said: “Tell my name and my title.”I said: “you are Musa Ibn Jafar Ibn Mohammad.”
He said: “Who is this with me?” I said: “Ail Ibn Musa Ibn Jafar.”
He said: “So testify that he is my representative in my life and he is my successor after my death.”
In one of our prophet’s famous sayings quoted by Jaber, it is said that Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) had been introduced as the eighth Imam and our prophet’s successor.
Also Imam Sadeq (P.B.U.H) said frequently to Imam Musa al-Kazim that:
“Alam-Al-Mohammad is one of your children and after you he is the successor.”
The Political Situation
The duration of the eighth Imam’s leadership was approximately 20 years, which can be divided into 3 periods:
1- The first 10 years of Imam’s leaderships coincided with Ma’mun’s governorship.
2- The next 5 years coincided with Amin’s caliphate.
3- The last five years of the leadership of that gracious Imam that coincided with the reign of Ma’mun and his dominance on the Islamic territories.
A period of Imam Reza’s life (P.B.U.H) coincided with Harun al-Rashid’s caliphate. It is in this period that the great disasters of his father’s martyrdom and lots of tragedies for Alawis (descendants of Ali (PBUH)) happen. At that time, many efforts were made to persuade Harun to martyr Imam Reza to the extent that Harun finally decided to martyr Imam. However, he could not find an opportunity to carry out his plan. After Harun’s death, his son, Amin, became the caliph. In that time because of Harun’s death, the government went under instability and weakness. This instability and Amin’s drowning in corruption and immorality lead him and his government to not pay attention to Imam, So we can call this period of Imam’s life“the period if peace”.
But eventually, Ma’mun managed to defeat his brother and murdered him and became the caliph, and with suppression of rebels, he executed his commands in Islamic nations. He gave the governorship of Iraq to one of his agents and he himself resided in Marv and appointed Fazl Ibn Sahl, who was an extremely cunning politician, as his minister and advisor. But the danger which threatened his government was Alawis who after tolerating a century of torture, murder, and plunder, took advantage of the schism in the government and, explicitly or secretly, opposed Ma’mun in any way possible and claimed the downfall of Abbasid. Moreover, they were successful in drawing the public’s attention and supports to themselves. An apparent evidence on this could be that whenever Alawis rebelled against the Abbasid, the crowd of people, from every walk of life, consented to their request, and helped them. This was the result of cruelties, injustices, and sufferings which had been brought on them by the Abbasid. Hence, Ma’mun decided not to confront Alawis. Particularly he decided to solve the problems that had caused weakness or crisis in his government, and calm the situation in order to strengthen the foundation of his government. So after consulting with his minister, Fazl ibn Sahl , he decided to plan a ruse. He decided to suggest Imam the caliphate and abdicate the caliphate, because he thought the result would not be out of these two possibilities: whether Imam accepts it or does not accept it, and in both cases the Abbasid would win. Because, if he submit it, Ma’mun will be the next successor after Imam and it justifies the Abbasid as a legitimate government for different groups and sects of Muslims. Therefore, it was so easy for him to force Imam Reza to abdicate the caliphate without letting people to notice it. So the Alawis would accept the government in optimistic way and Shiites would consider his caliphate to be legitimate and accept him as Imam’s successor. On the other hand, because people consider it to be the legitimate caliphate, the rebellions which were against the government would lose their legitimacy. On the other hand, he thought that if Imam did not submit to his request, he would make him by force as his successor. In this way, his caliphate would be legitimate in the people’s and Shiites’ eyes. So the claims and demonstrations against the Abbasid to protest against their cruelties and usurpation of caliphate would lose their validity and legitimacy and would not be welcomed by people and Imam’s followers. On the other hand he could make Imam settle near himself in order to control Imam and his followers and would be able to suppress any demonstration from Imam and the Shiites. Also, he thought that Imam’s Shiites and followers would criticize and question him because he didn’t accept the caliphate and he will lose his position among his followers.
Journey to Khorasan
Ma’mun sent some of his special agents to Medina to Imam Reza’s presence to force him to come to Khorasan, so he could carry out his plan. In addition, he ordered to bring Imam in way where he confronts Shiites less. The main path at that time was Koufeh, Jabal, Kermanshah and Qom where there were Shiite habitats and was accounted as Shiite’s main cities. Ma’mun thought that if people visit Imam in the way, they may get excited and may prevent him from continuing his journey and keep him by themselves; in that case Ma’mun’s problems would increase significantly. So he ordered to bring Imam from another direction which was Basreh, Ahwaz, and Fars, and the officials constantly put Imam under control and reported his deeds to Ma’mun.
The Gold-Chain Saying
In the trip to Marv, wherever Imam stopped, it was of great blessings for people who lived there. For example, when he paused in Neyshabour while he was on camel and passed through the city center, a number of people who had heard about Imam’s arrival came to welcome him. At this time, two persons of science and prophetic tradition, and several groups of scholarly knowledge of hadith, came and kept the reins of Imam’s camel and said: “You, our great Imam, you the son of great Imam’s, we swear you to your holy fathers and gracious ancestors to show your blessed face to us and give us some words from your fathers, and your great ancestor, the prophet of Allah, to be as a reminder forus.”Imam ordered to stop the camel and people could see his holy face and became so happy in the way that they burst into tears and those who were near him kissed his camel. A big clamor was made in the city, so the nobles of the city asked people to stay calm in order to hear a saying from Imam. After a, the people got silent, and Imam said this saying, word by word which was quoted by his great father and by his pure ancestors, and from the great prophet of Allah, and from Gabriel and the Almighty Allah that: “the word: there is no God except me is my fortress, so whoever tells has entered my fortress, and whoever enters my fortress, is secure will be saved from my chastisement.” Then Imam stated:” But it has conditions, which I am one of them”
This saying determines that one of the conditions of this word (there is no God but Allah) which strengthens the principle of the Monotheism, is confessing to Imam’s leadership and obedience of his words, behavior, and action who is chosen by God the Almighty. SoImam believes the acceptance of the principle of the unity of God to save from chastisement and the acceptance of leadership and guardianship as the condition for the Unity of God.
While Imam Reza‘s (P.B.U.H) arrived Marv, he was warmly welcomed by Ma’mun and in a session where all of key characters of government were present, Ma’mun said: “I have not seen anybody in Al-Abbas and Al-Ali (PBUH), whom is more qualified than Ali ibn Musa al-Reza (P.B.U.H)for caliphate.” Then he turned his face to Imam and said: “I have decided to abdicate the caliphate and give it to you.” Imam said:” if god had chosen you for caliphate,you are not allowed to give it to anybody else, and if it does not belong to you, you don’t have any authority to submit it to anybody else.” Ma’mun insisted on his will and urged on Imam to accept it, but Imam said: “I will never accept it.” When Ma’mun became disappointed with Imam, he said: “Accept the succession so you will be the next successorand caliph after me.” The Ma’mun’s urge and Imam’s denial lasted for2 months, and Imam didn’t accept and kept saying: “I have heard from my ancestors that I will pass away before you, and I will be martyred by venom and the angels in heavens and on the ground will mourn for me and I will be buried in land of exile near Harunal-Rashid.” But Ma’mun insisted on his will as far as he threatened Imam in a secret session to death. So Imam said: “now that I have to accept it, I do it under the following condition: that I am not forced to depose or appoint anybody or disobey any tradition, and watch the caliphate from afar.” Ma’moun accepted his conditions. Then Imam raised his hand to the sky and said: “O my God! You know that I accepted it reluctantly and under duress; so don’t reprimand me, like you didn’t with your prophets Daniel and Joseph who had accepted the king’s throne. O myGod! There is no oath expect your’s and there is no caliphate expect from you. So give methe chance to establish your religion, keep your prophet’s traditionalive. Surely you are the good lord and the good helper.”
The Scholarly Aspects of Imam
Ma’mun, who constantly saw the people’s eagerness to Imam and his unique reliability, decided to tarnish Imam’s reputation and sacredness. One of the plans to reach his goal was arranging several debates between Imam and scholars of various sciences, so that they could discuss with Imam and defeat him. One of the debates of Imam is as follows:
For one of these debates, Ma’mun asked Fazl ibn Sahl to gather the masters of Science and philosophy from around the world, so that they could debate with Imam. So Fazl invited Archbishop of Christians, the greatest Jewish scholar, heads of Sabean (Yahiya’s followers), the greatest of Zoroastrian priests, and other speakers of the time. Ma’mun accepted them to his presence and welcomed them warmly and told them: “I would like you to debate with my cousin (Ma’mun is one of the prophet Mohammad’s uncle, Abbas, and inevitably he is Imam’s cousin) who has come from Medina.” The next morning he arranged an elegant meeting and sent a man to Imam Reza to invite him to debate. Imam accepted the invitation and told him: “do you like to know when Ma’mun will be regret of what he has done? He said: “yes.”Imam said: “when Ma’mun hears my reasons of rejecting the Jewish from the Torah itself and Christianity from the Gospel itself, Psalms from their psalms, Sabean with their own language, Fire-worshipers in Farsi and Romans in Romance and sees that I have rejected their words and they have put their word away and have accepted my words, then Ma’mun will understand that he is not able to do what he wants to do and he will be regretful and there is no power but from God the almighty.” Then Imam came to Ma’mun’s session, and by Imam’s arrival, he introduced Imam to others and then said: “I would like you to debate with him”. Then Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) discussed with all of them based on their own religious books about their religion. Then Imam said: “if someone is against Islam, ask me without any shame.” Omran, who was Saebi and was one of the speakers, asked Imam lots of questions and Imam answered all of his questions one by one and persuaded him. After hearing the answers to his questions, he converted to Islam and the meeting came over with Imam’s absolute superiority, and then people separated. The next day, Imam invited Omran to his holy presence and respected him a lot, and from then on Omran became one of the Islamic missionaries.
Raja Ibn Zahak who was the officer of moving Imam from Medina to Marv, says: “His majesty didn’t enter to any city unless people came to him from everywhere and asked him their religious problems. He also answered their questions and said many sayings which were quoted from Prophet Mohammad and Imam Ali (HP &PBUH).When I came back from this trip, I went to Ma’mun. He asked about Imam’s manners during the trip and I said what I saw. He said: “yes, the son of Zahak! He is the best, wisest, and the most hermit in the world.”
Imam’s disposition, asceticism, and virtue were to such an extent that he had infatuated his enemies as well. He behaved with peopleso politeness, humbleness, and tenderness. He never separated himself from the people.
One of Imam’s fellows says: “I never saw Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) speak to somebody with cruelty or interrupt anyone’s talk before he or she finished it. He never rejected a person who needed his help. He has never stretched his legs out in front of others; I have never seen him insulting one of his servants. His laughter was never guffaw-like, but he smiled. At the time of eating, he invited everyone, even the doorman and the stableman, and they accompanied Imam in eating.He slept very little at nights, and most nightshe prayed to God.He fasted a lot. He did good work and helped people secretly.” One of his other fellows said that: “In summer his rug was a straw mat and in winter it was a sack. He wore coarse and thick clothes at home, but he attended in public meetings with elegant appearance (i.e. he wore good and regular clothes). One night, Imam had a guest, and in the middle of talking something wrong happened to the lamp, his guest wanted to help but Imam didn’t let him and said: “We are the ones that do not put our guests to work.”
A person said to Imam that: “I swear to God that there is no one on earth who could compete with you in honor and superiority.” Imam said: “The virtue gave them the honor and the obedience of God made them gracious.”
One of residents of Balkh said that: “In the trip to Khorasan I was with him. Imam invited all of his servants, even the black, to eat with him. I said to him: “it is better that they sit in other place.” Imam answered: “be silent, the God of all of us is the same, the father and mother of all of us are also the same. Everybody’s compensation is based on his deeds, too.”
Yasser, one of Imam’s servants said that: “Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) had told us: If I was standing next to you and you were eating food, don’t stand for me until you finish your meal. So it happened a lot that Imam called us, and they answered him: “they are eating food,” and that gracious man told: “let them finish their meals.”
Once a stranger came to Imam, greeted him and said: “I am one of the followers of you, your father, and your ancestors. I came back from pilgrimages to Mecca and I don’t have money to come back my home, if you help me by some amount of money so that I’d be able to reach my hometown, I will spend the same amount as alms, because I am not poor in my own town, now I have faced with problems in this journey.” Imam went to room and brought out his hand and gave him 200 dinars and told him: “fetch this 200 dinars and spend it on your way back home, and it is not necessary to spent the same amount of it on behalf of me.”
He got the dinars and left. They asked Imam:” why did you give him the dinars in a way that he could not see you?” he said: “I didn’t want to see shame need and request in him.”
Our infallible and gracious Imams guided their followers did not suffice to sayings and speaking, and paid special attention to their deeds.
One of Imam Reza’s (P.B.U.H) followers said that: “One day, I went with him to his house. The servants were building the house. Imam saw a stranger among them. He asked: “who is he?” they said: “He helps us and we give him his wage.” he asked: “Have you determined his wage?” they said: “No. He accepts whatever we give him.” Imam got angry and told: “I have told them several times that employ nobody unless you have determined his wage and then sign the contract. If you employ somebody without determining his wage he expects you more even if you give him three times more than his wage. But if you agree with him on a certain wage, he will feel satisfied with you, because you have acted based on the contract, and in this case if you pay him more than the determined amount, even if that extra wage is little, he would be thankful, because he understands that you have paid more than the determined amount.”
Imam’s servant said: “One day the servants were eating fruit. They did not eat all the fruit, and they threw away the rest of it. Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) told them: if you don’t need it, give it to a person who needs it.”
A selection of Imam’s Wise Words:
Imam said: “wisdom is the friend of everyone, and ignorance and silliness is the enemy of everyone.”
Imam said: “Knowledge and science are like treasures, the key to both of which is the question, so ask. God will bless you, because in asking, 4 groups of people are blessed:
4-The person who answers
Imam said: “Kindness with people is half of the wisdom.”
Imam said: “There is nothing you look at unless there is a piece of advice and point in it.”
Imam said: “cleanliness and neatness are the virtues of the prophets.”
About martyrdom of Imam Reza it is has been narrated that Ma’mun asked one of his servants not to clip his nails then he ordered him to put an especial kind of venom in his nails, then to seed a pomegranate with his hands, and he did so. Ma’mun then brought it for Imam and urged Imam to eat it, but Imam denied, then Ma’mun insisted to the extent that he threatened Imam to death. Imam ate a little of that pomegranate under duress, and after a few hours the venom had its effect and he became ill. Imam Reza (P.B.U.H) was martyred in the next morning on 29th of Safar, 203 AH.
By divine will and power, his son Imam Jawad (P.B.U.H), who was the next Imam after him, washed Imam’s holy body away from the eyes of the enemies, and prayed to him. Then with the accompaniment of many of his Shiites and followers, he buried the holy and immaculate body of him In Mashhad.
For centuries, the holy tomb of this gracious Imam has been the source of blessing and honor for the Iranians.