The debates of Imam Reza (AS) with the scholars of different sects and leaders of global religions are precious and glorious ones for Muslims and Shiites. In such debates, the Imam wins over these scholars via his infinite knowledge.
Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Reza (AS) was born in Medina in 148 A.H., the Holy Imam acceded to leadership in 183 A.H. At this time, Aaron, the cruel Abbasid caliph, was ruling the Islamic community. Amin assumed caliphate after Aaron. Then, defeating his brother in 198 A.H, Ma'mun became the ruler.
In 200 A.H, Ma’mun invited Imam Reza (AS) to Marv with the evil and political intention of imposing the Wilayat (leadership) upon the Holy Imam. In this regard, Imam Reza (AS) says: “thou knowest that I adopted the Wilayat reluctantly and out of necessity. O God, there is no covenant but yours and there is no Wilayat except what you have decreed. Grant me the grace to establish your religion and revive the tradition of your Prophet”.
One of Ma’mun’s plans in the presence of Imam Reza (AS) was holding discussions with the leaders of Kalami sects and scholars of other religions. Although the Infallible Imam debated with the leaders of different Kalami sects before these discussion sessions, Ma’mun’s purpose was to defeat Imam Reza (AS) in these meetings and reduce his spiritual status.
In this regard, Jafar Morteza Ameli writes: "In order to defeat Imam Reza (AS), Ma’mun began to gather scholars and Mu'tazila as well as theologians who were experts in dialectics, speech, argument and scrutiny to oppose Imam Reza (AS), to reduce his scientific value each session and defeat him in the biggest claim he and his fathers (P.B.U.H) made that is understanding the knowledge of the Messenger of Allah (P.B.U.H) which, according to Shiites, is the most important condition and requirement for leadership of the Imam.
In the debate sessions, the Holy Imam rhetorically and eloquently protected the legacy of his great forefathers against other’s conspiracies and defeated the scholars altogether. Some confessed to the truthfulness of the Prophet and Islam and some like Omran Sabi converted to Islam. Alluding to all debates, discussions and questions and answers would be too detailed, therefore, they are referred to very briefly.
One of the most important debate sessions of the Holy Imam is Marv debate. In this debate, Ma’mun gathered the leaders of some schools (Kalami and Khalafi) and religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sabianism. and Hinduism) hoping to defeat Imam Reza (AS) in a scientific debate. However, he did not succeed. Since the Holy Imam debated with the heads of four famous schools and religions, the debate lasted from sunrise to sunset prayer. In this session, the Imam debated with Catholicos, the Christian Scholar, Ras’ Al-Jalut, the Jewish scholar, Hirbod, the great Zoroastrian leader and Omran Sabi. Then, he debated with Ali ibn Muhammad Al-Jahm and Solomon Marvazi in a separate meeting.
The First Debate with Catholicos
In the beginning of the debate, Catholicos said: “how can I enter into a discussion with you when you argue for a book I do not believe in?” The Imam said: “O' Christian, will you confess if I make an argument based on your Gospel? He replied: “Yes, I swear to God that I will confess.”
Imam Reza (AS) said: “ask whatever comes to your mind and listen to the answers." Catholicos said: “Inform me of the prophecy of Jesus and his Book”.
Imam Reza (AS) said: “I confess to the prophecy of Jesus, his Book and what he promised to his nation and what the disciples have admitted and I do not believe in the prophecy of Jesus that does not profess the prophecy of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and his book and does not promise it to his nation. Then, Catholicos asked Imam for two witnesses on this subject.
Imam Reza (AS) said: “Swear, does not the Gospel state John’s words that Jesus Christ informed him of the Arabic religion of Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and promised that such a prophet would come after him?” Catholicos replied: “Yes, John’s words is quoted from Jesus. However, it is not determined when this happens and there is no mention of this group so that we can recognize it.”
Imam said: “will you believe in someone who reads the Bible and recites the name of Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and his household (AS)?”
Catholicos said: “alright”. Imam then turned to Nostas and said: “do you remember the third chapter of the Bible?” Nostas replied: “Yes”. Imam then turned to Ras’ Al-Jalut, the head of Jews, and said: “Do you also read the Bible?” He said: “Yes, I swear to my life.” Imam Reza (AS) said: “recite its third chapter. If there is no mention of Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and his household (AS), testify in my favor.”
Nostas recited the third chapter and stopped when he mentioned the name of Muhammad (P.B.U.H). He turned to Catholicos and said: “O' Christian, for the sake of Christ and his mother, do you know that I am aware of the Bible?” Catholicos said: “Yes”.
Afterwards, Imam recited the name of Prophet (PBUH), his household and his nation to him. Then he said: “O' Christian, is this what the Jesus, the son of Mary, believes in?” The Catholicos said: "I will not deny what is clear for me in the Gospel and I admit it”.
Imam Reza (AS) said: “Every one witnessed his confession.” Later, the Holy Imam debated with Catholicos about the divinity of Christ (AS). Becoming speechless, Catholicos surrendered and said: “What you say is true and there is no god but Allah”.
Imam Reza's (AS) debate with Catholicos was such that Catholicos was defeated and said: “I swear to Christ that I did not think someone like you be found among Muslims.”
The Second Debate of Imam Reza with Ras’ Al-Jalut, the Head of the Jews
In this debate, Ras’ Al-Jalut asked about the truthfulness of prophecy of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H); Imam Reza (AS) put forward cogent reasons and then asked him of the truthfulness of Moses prophecy.
Ras’ Al-Jalut replied: “He has performed some miracles unperformed by the former prophets.” Imam Reza (AS) said: “Why don't you confess to the prophecy of Jesus Christ who revived the dead?”
Ras’ Al-Jalut said: “It is said that such miracles have been performed but we have never seen them.” Imam Reza (AS) said: “Have you seen the miracles of Moses with your own eyes?” Ras’ Al-Jalut had no answer to give at that moment.
The Third Debate with Hirbod, the Great Zoroastrian Scholar
In this debate, Imam Reza (AS) turned to Hirbod and said: “Tell me on what basis do you believe in Prophet Zoroaster?” Hirbod, the great Zoroastrian scholar, replied: “He has performed some miracles unperformed by the former prophets. Although we have not seen those miracles, our ancestors have testified them.” Imam (AS) said: “haven't you inherited the beliefs of your ancestors and haven't you followed them?” He said: “Yes”. Imam Reza (AS) said: “such do other nations and prophets. So why don't you believe in these prophets and just have faith in Zoroaster?” Hirbod remained silent and had no answer to give.
Imam Reza has another debate with Omran Sabi (one of the Mutakallimūn) in Marv. This debate is one of the longest debate of the Holy Imam in which Omran Sabi mostly fell silent and could not answer back. At the end of this debate, Omran Sabi converted to Islam. The debate with Ali ibn Mohammed Al-Jahm who held aberrant beliefs about the infallibility of prophets is also another one of the Holy Imam in Marv. At the end of the debate, Ali ibn Mohammed Al-Jahm cried and said: “O' son of the Messenger of Allah, I repent and make a commitment from now on to follow only your words about the prophets of God.”
The Result of the Debates
The debates of Imam Reza (AS) with the heads of different sects and leaders of universal religions are precious and glorious for the Muslims and Shiites. Referring to all the debates was not possible in this brief article, therefore, they are alluded to very concisely. In these debates, Imam Reza (AS) defeated the scholars of other sects and leaders of universal religions through his infinite knowledge and in some cases motivated them to convert to Islam.