Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Islamic revolution, says: “The revered Imam Jawad (AS) was the first to start open discussion sessions. He talked and argued about the most important issues and demonstrated the legitimacy of his words in the presence of the Abbasid Ma’mun, scholars, claimants and vindicators. Free discussion is our Islamic heritage, it has been common during the leadership of the leading Imams and continued skillfully by the Honorable Imam Jawad (AS).”
The following text is taken from the speech delivered by Hojjat Al-Islam Val-Moslemin Seyed Mohammad Kazem Tabatabai, the head of Hadith Education Research Center which investigates the scientific Seerah of Imam Jawad (AS).
During the leadership of Imam Sajjad (AS), intra and inter-religious debates and discussions by Imams were not very common due to the political repression. Furthermore, The Honorable Imam Hassan and Imam Hussein (AS) were revered as the holy characters and descendants of the Prophet (PBUH); however, their scientific debates were not so much extensive. The general culture of that time did not call for argumentation and debate. Argumentation and debate require a suitable atmosphere and the necessary atmosphere at the time of the leadership of Imam Hassan and Imam Hussein (AS) had not been created. For example, Imam Hassan (AS) had one or two debates with Muawiyah, Amr al-Aas and others in the House of Muawiyah but these debates were mostly political.
The Beginning of a New Approach in Imamate (Leadership)
From the period of Imam Baqir’s leadership (AS) onward, a new approach in imamate started. This means that Imam Baqir (AS) was not considered only as a member of the Prophet’s household (PBUT) but he was regarded as a great religious scholar who was able to respond to a variety of questions and doubts. Imam Sadiq (AS) also internalized this atmosphere especially at the time of the Bani Umayyads’ decline and Abbasids’ accession to power. Imam Sadiq (AS) sometimes wanted his companions to debate or he criticized their debates and arguments. At the time of Imam Sadiq (AS)’s leadership, the scholars debated and argued. Even some non-Muslims like ibn AbI al-Awja who was an atheist debated with Imam Sadiq (AS).
These debates reached their peak when Imam Reza (AS) acceded to power.The reason was that Ma’mun himself, apart from political malignancy, had interest in science and valued debate sessions.Different debate sessions were held when Imam Reza was living in Khorasan for two years. The debates of Imam Reza (AS) can be found in the book “Uyun Akhbar al-Reza “by late Sheikh Sadooq. After that, the debates of Imam Jawad (AS) became very popular.
Furthermore, since the end of the Bani Umayyads’ period and the beginning of Abbasids’ leadership, a trend started that was later called the "translation movement". The "translation movement" did not have anything to do with the Abbasids but they were very much in favor of this trend. In this movement, the scientific texts of Iran, Rome and Greece were translated into Arabic and new scientific atmospheres for the Muslims were created. For example, the Muslims in the first century were mostly quote-oriented, and rational thinking in the sense of thinking and asking questions was less common. The Imams of course confronted some limitations and had not the chance for demonstrating their capabilities. Other scholars were also not able to answer the new questions. There was no juridical question which required an answer from the Messenger of God (PBUH); however, the origin of monotheism and the like were being questioned.
New Atmosphere, New Doubts
This atmosphere was created during the period of Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq (AS) and those who had new doubts gradually met the Imams (AS) and discovered their scientific status when they received their answers.The second point is that since the beginning of the second century, we are faced with an educated population while there were no such people in the period of the Prophet (PBUH) and during the caliphs’ leadership. The companions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were also farmers. In addition, they listened to and quoted his hadiths. That is to say, they were only the narrators of Hadiths, except for a few people like Ibn Abbas who had scientific concerns. From the period of Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq (AS) onwards, we see among both the Shiites and Sunnis some people who sought science in the true sense of the word. Their purpose was to acquire knowledge and find the answer for their question. For example, Zurarah was one of these people.
After the martyrdom of Imam Reza (AS), Imam Jawad (AS) was nominated as the Imam of the Shiites at around the age of eight. At that time, Yahya ibn Aktham anticipated that he could not win a victory over the Imam’s father, i.e. Imam Reza (AS).The reason was that he believed Imam Reza (AS)was really great and knowledgeable but his son was too young. Therefore, he thought that by tarnishing the scientific reputation of Imam Jawad (AS), they could in fact undermine the Shiite thought or the imamate (leadership). This issue is very important from religious perspective since from the viewpoint of the Shiites, the Imam has a divine authority. On the contrary, they considered the Imam as an ordinary man who was very educated.
In the report of the “argumentation”, these debates are presented: “All the elders and scholars gathered together and designated Yahya Ibn Aktham as the debater. He raised a simple question there: What decree will be issued if a person kills a game at the time of pilgrimage? This means that he raised a simple question at the beginning and moved towards more difficult ones in order to test the knowledge of Imam. Since he thought that even the ordinary scholars were unable to answer such a question, his encounter with the Imam would belittle him. Nonetheless, the Imam gave an accurate answer. The Imam (AS) raised the minutiae and delicacies of the question that did not even occur to the mind of Yahya Ibn Aktham. Even now, if you read the books of other religions, you will see that these details have not been discussed yet and they are only peculiar to Shia jurisprudence. The Imam said: “Did he kill in that place or in the shrine? Was he aware or ignorant of pilgrimage? Did he kill deliberately or unintentionally? Was he a free man or a slave? Was he old or young? Was the game big or small? Was it his first game or not? Was the game a bird or something else? Was it big or small? Did the pilgrim insist on this sin or did he regret? Did he commit this sin at night on during the day? Was it Umrah or Hajj pilgrimage? And other questions. Imam Jawad (AS) subdivided one of Yahya Ibn Aktham’s questions into 64 questions and showed that there was no need to answer them because these details have not even occured to the mind of Yahya Ibn Aktham. Yahya Ibn Aktham was also a great man, the Chief Judge of Ma’mun. The chief judges were usually considered one of the greatest people. When the Imam raised all these minutiae of the question, this man did not ask for an answer, the meeting finished and the Holy Imam demonstrated his power without continuing the debate. Imam Jawad (AS) had also another debate with a Sunni scholar .They raised the issues in disputes between the Sunnis and Shiites and collected a series of hadiths on the virtues of Caliphs which exist in Sunnis hadith sources. Imam Jawad (AS) faced these hadiths very prudently and without any sensitivity and criticized them through the Sunnis’ method which was acceptable to them.
Imam (AS) and the Inter-Religious Debates
In these sessions, the Sunni asked Imam Jawad (AS) about the virtues of Caliphs. In fact, they entered into religious debates. The nature of these debates is such that a bit pungency and acerbity is required but the etiquette of debate can be learned through Imam Jawad (AS)’s language. At the same meeting, they also asked Imam’s opinion about the hadith which was about one of the caliphs. Imam first remembered him with respect and enumerated his fine characteristics that were important from the perspective of the questioners. The Holy Imam then continued: "This story must be looked at with a little hesitance.” Later, he rejected the hadith through argumentation. You see Imam’s tone of speech. He first joined the audience while not taking sides extremely and he did not get into religious disputes which is a lesson for us.
During his debate with Yahya Ibn Aktham, Imam Jawad (AS) observed the debate etiquettes, never became irascible and listened very carefully to all the remarks of his fellow debaters. Sometimes the questions were really asked for understanding an issue, but sometimes it was not so and people asked questions in order to tarnish the reputation of their fellows. However, Imam Jawad (AS) in all cases faced the questions and his fellow debaters so thoughtfully and honorably that not only did his fellows receive their answers but they were also influenced by his character and dignity. It can be said that, in comparison with Imam’s scientific reputation, the factor that had the greatest impact on his companions was his pleasant deportment which made people accept his personality as an Imam. Such a discussion is called a well-ordered debate. Imam Jawad (AS) also held two or three question and answer sessions with Ma’mun. They were not debate sessions but question and answer ones. Another aspect of Imam Jawad (AS)’s life can be taken into consideration as well: The meetings where the Shiites asked him their questions. The media coverage of Imam’s debates and answers was also higher because there on one side there was an eight-to-ten-year old child which people reported. It is even quoted that Yahya Ibn Aktham (a sixty, seventy-year-old man) met Imam Jawad (AS) and returned, astonished with Imam’s vast knowledge.
From another perspective, Imam Jawad (AS) occupies a unique position which distinguishes him from other Imams (AS): that the inter-religious debates at the time of Imam Reza (AS)’s leadership were quickly conveyed to him whereas, for example, in the period of Imam Baqir (AS), holding inter-religious debates was not very popular. Furthermore, the fact that the Imam (AS) was young and had divine and heavenly knowledge, a virtue bestowed upon him by our Great God, seemed very weird to the non-Shiites while it was not so to the Shiites.
During the leadership of Imam Sajjad (AS), intra and inter-religious debates and discussions by Imams were not very common due to the political repression.
A new approach in Imamate started from the period of Imam Baqir’s leadership (AS) onward. This means that Imam Baqir (AS) was not considered only as a member of the Prophet’s household (PBUT) but he was considered as a great religious scholar who was able to respond to a variety of questions and doubts.
From another perspective, Imam Jawad (AS) occupies a unique position which distinguishes him from other Imams (AS): that is inter-religious debates at the time of Imam Reza (AS) were quickly conveyed to him whereas, for example, in the period of Imam Baqir (AS), inter-religious debates were not very dominant.
Since the end of the Bani Umayyads’ period and the beginning of Abbasids’ leadership, a trend started that was later called the "translation movement". The "translation movement" had not anything to do with the Abbasids but they were very much in favor of this trend.