In an interview with Razavi Culture News Agency, Dr. Muhammad Hussein Rajabi Davan, History professor at Imam Hussein (A.S.) University, answered some important questions about the features of the Razavi’s era and compared it with the eras of other Imams.
Describing the circumstances at the time of Imam Reza as unique, he said: “Imam Reza’s position is not comparable to any other Imam. Imam Reza (A.S.) had some opportunities on his journey to Iran which Imam Ali (A.S.) and other Imams did not have in their reigning periods. Imam Reza (A.S.) took advantage of the enemy’s position to reveal the truthfulness of Islam and Ahl-Al-Bayt. He was the only Imam whose name was put on the sides of the coins and he was the only Imam whose name was popular in the Islamic world; in Friday Prayers and pulpits, sermons were delivered for the sake of his holy name.” This professor narrated the historic moments of Imam Reza’s presence in Nishapur and described the city’s circumstances in Imam Reza’s era. Here is the interview of Razavi Cultural reporter with this Islamic History researcher.
Many questions can be asked about the life of Imam Reza (A.S.) one of which is “what are the differences between Imam Reza (A.S.)’s life and other Imams’?” In other words, what happened specifically in his life which did not occur in the lives of others?
I have had the honor of researching and studying the lives of Ahl-Al-Bayt although it was for a short period of time. All these holy figures have their own characteristics. Among Imams the one who understands the legacy of Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) is Imam Reza (A.S.). The holy Imam Reza (A.S.) does in fact inherit the virtues of his honorable forefathers. On the other hand, he has left that virtuous legacy for his immaculate and sinless children and descendants. One could say that this holy being has inherited the valor and courage from Imam Ali (A.S.).
He has inherited patience from Imam Hassan (A.S.); sacrifice and martyrdom from Imam Hossein (A.S.); spirituality and mysticism from Imam Sajjad (A.S.); knowledge and wisdom from Imam Baqer (A.S.) and Imam Sadeq (A.S.); restraining anger, perseverance and courage from Imam Kazem (A.S.), his father. He himself passed down the legacy of generosity, forgiveness and piety to his dear son Imam Javaad (A.S.) and his leadership and purity to Imam Haadi (A.S.) and endurance and tolerance against the difficulties to Imam Hassan Asgari (A.S.).
What is interesting in his life and is significant in terms of belief is the fact that we know that Imams are the best and most suitable people in the world for taking the leadership of Islamic Umma (Islamic Community) and they have been and are in fact the leaders of the whole humanity. But unfortunately, due to the diversions that happened after the death of the Last Prophet (P.B.U.H.), these holy figures who have been the best people in the world were deprived of these positions and instead the oppressors and blood-thirsty rulers took the leadership. Our Imams tried their best in those dark eras to change and develop people and show them the righteous path to salvation: following the Ahl-Al-Bayt. However, this needed much work because our Imams did not have freedom of action and the oppressors knew that these holy figures were in the right path and if people knew their virtues, they would rush toward them and as Haroun Al-Rashid, May God’s curse be upon him, mentioned to his son, “in that case, there will be no place for us to reign.”
With all these difficulties, our Imams had to keep the real and pure Islam for their followers and give it to the next generations and meanwhile try their best to inform people because as I said, Imams were responsible for Islamic world and all the humanity for guiding them and warning them of their destinies and their lives and leading them toward the right path.
Given all at, when Imam Reza (A.S.) is called upon by Ma’mun to go to Merv, the place he reigned at the time, Imam tried to find opportunities to do the duty of seeking justice and informing people and this happened in Nishapur. When the great figures and wise people of the city, most of whom were Sunnis and ordinary people, came to visit Imam Reza (A.S.) and asked him to cite a Hadith by Last Prophet (P.B.U.H.), he cited the great Selselat-Al-Zahb Hadith. He could have cited any other Hadiths but he told them this one. He said:
کلمه لااله الا الله حصنی فمن دخل حصنی امن من عذابی
“The phrase that there is no god but Allah is my castle and whoever enters my castle will be rescued from my torment”.
They heard this divine Hadith from him and started to write it in their notebooks but quickly Imam (A.S.) continued:
بشرطها و شروطها و انا من شروطها
“Under some conditions and I am one of them”
This statement means that divine castle and salvation and rescuing from God’s punishment have conditions and it is not that simple to enter the divine castle without any conditions and restraints and Ahl-Al-Bayt are those conditions, meaning that only through their leadership can one reach salvation. This is an important point with Imam being a guest of the caliph. Imam made use of this opportunity and revealed the truth of Ahl-Al-Bayt and showed indirectly the oppression of the leadership of this caliph and then when he started living in Merv, some other aspects of Imam Reza’s life were revealed to them.
What aspects of Imam Reza (A.S) were revealed in Merv?
Before coming to Iran, Imam was very well known for his mastery in jurisprudence and divine laws. And more than Shias, Sunnis would visit Imam and made use of his holy presence and solved their problems. However, when for whatever reasons Ma’mun arranged meetings to discuss scientific issues, even the closest ones to Imam did not know that his holy presence would be an endless sea, covering all the areas of knowledge. Imam Reza (A.S.) took advantage of these discussions and debates, which on the surface were scientific and religious, and showed the righteousness of Ahl-Al-Bayt to people. Very well put by the Iranian Supreme Leader (May God the Almighty keep him safe), Imam Reza (A.S.) by means of using the stance of the ruling system stopped doing Taqieh and revealed aspects of the leadership and ruling of Ahl-Al-Bayt many of which his forefathers told people only through secrecy. But Imam Reza (A.S.) told them openly in public by making use of the stance of the ruling caliph. One must remember that this position was not bestowed upon any other Imams and the blessings of this enlightenment and revealing the righteousness of Ahl-Al-Bayt in Merv led to the strivings of Shia School of thought in Iran and due to him Iran became the largest basis for Ahl-Al-Bayt’s knowledge and Shia School of thought.
Dr. Rajabi Davan, didn’t this opportunity occur at the time of Imam Ali (A.S.)? After all, Imam Ali (A.S.) was one of the fewest Imams who reigned. The difference is that Imam Reza (A.S.) did all this under the control of an oppressing regime and a Caliph. In other words, he made use of the stance of the ruling caliph. However, Imam Ali (A.S.) had his own reign and was able to reveal his thoughts openly.
Yes. Imam Ali (A.S.) reigned and had his own pulpit and uttered great sermons especially after his movement to Kufe many of which Seyad Razi has mentioned in Nahj-Al-Balaghe. If you look closely at his sermons you will notice that due to the Ummah’s (Islamic community) 20 years of diversion from the path of the Last Prophet and due to the change that happened in the values, norms and styles of life toward worldly attachment and world-seeking habits and love of material belongings within the community, Imam wanted to make a change in the view of people and discourage them of the world. Thus, while people have the world it does not become their principle and their attention shall be drawn toward the afterlife.
Imam Ali (A.S.) mentioned many of these issues; however, due to the diversion that happened and because of people’s negligence of Ghadir Khumm and the Ahl Al- Bayt’s righteousness, we must unfortunately say that those who had declared allegiance to Imam recognized him not as the first Imam but as the fourth caliph. Therefore, Imam Ali (A.S.) was not in a situation to utter the Last Prophet’s advice and remind them of Ghadir Khumm and solve the problems. Imam Ali (A.S.) mentions in certain sermons “our house is a place for the angles to move, if you are looking for prosperity, do follow us the Ahl Al-Bayt.”
Or in a popular sermon called Shaghshaghieh during which a special feeling occurred to him so that he was able to describe only a part of the disloyalties that happened to the Last Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and depict the oppression under which Ahl-Al-Bayt lived. During that sermon someone stood up and asked a question and Imam’s utterance was interrupted; when Imam Ali (A.S.) answered him, Ibn Al-Abbas stood up and said: Keep on saying sir but Imam said, “It was only a feeling that came and went away.” In other words, it was Shaghshaghieh, a flame of fire that flared and then died out.
Ibn Al-Abbas was pitiful and never after there was the opportunity provided for Imam Ali (A.S) speak that way. It’s been recorded in history that whenever Imam wanted to criticize somebody or something, even though he was the caliph, he stopped his speech when he was encountered with the objection of others.
So it was never like this. Although Imam was the caliph and at the head of the power, he was not able to speak easily of Ahl-Al-Bayt and the result is obvious. As you probably know the inconsiderate and incompetent people of that time did not assist him though he reigned for 4 years and 9 months and they acted so cruelly with him. That is unprecedented in the history. I believe that the cruelty that they did to Imam Ali (A.S.) during the time of his reign is more than the 25 years of the caliphate reign which Imam likened to a thorn in eyes and a bone in the throat and stated ”I see my divine heritage has gone away”
If we look closely at the history and study the circumstances and situations in which Imam Ali (A.S.) lived, we will notice that the last two years of his reign was filled with sorrow and pity for him and he asked God many times to take his life and after he was martyred and Imam Mojtaba (A.S.) took the leadership and caliphate, this opportunity lasted only six months and Muawiyah started dominating all the Islamic World.
If the situation and atmosphere had been favorable, Imam Ali (A.S.) should not have asked God to take his life and instead should have realized his ideals and Imam Mojtaba (A.S.), being 37 years old, should not have resigned from power after only six month of reigning. If that happened, the gruesome enemy, Muawiyah would not have dared to prevail. Therefore, the situation is not like what you think about. The situation of Imam Reza (A.S.) was not similar to this. Imam Reza (A.S.) was welcomed on his journey to Iran and as to Imam Ali (A.S.) the situation was not all like this. When Imam Ali (A.S.) returned from the battle of Nahrawan, still being the caliph of the Ummah, he was faced with insults and humiliations, walking in the alleys. All being said, the situation of Imam Ali (A.S.) is not like that of Imam Reza (A.S.) and one cannot say because Imam Ali (A.S.) was a caliph, he was able to speak easily with people as did Imam Reza (A.S.) as an heir apparent. In real effect, their situations are completely different.
With the analysis you provided us with for the period during which Imam Reza (A.S.) was an heir apparent, especially in Nishapur, I guess you believe that period of time is significant and influential in Imam’s life in Nishapur. Do you believe so?
Look. Ma’moun wanted to bring Imam Reza to Iran, with its vastness of land beginning from Iraq to China and India, so that he would be able to reach several goals. He did so to support his own reign and used this opportunity to seclude Imam Reza from the heart of society and in that way people would be distant from him and the great and deep relationship that existed among them and developed their understanding and knowledge would be ruined. Therefore, Ma’moun ordered his followers not to pass by the Shia-resident areas. But eventually it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In fact if Imam had stayed in Medina, nobody but those who went to Medina and Mecca as pilgrims could be acquainted with him. However, what Ma’moun did made Imam Reza (A.S.) more popular than before. It is recorded in history that although it was ordered that Imam not pass by the Shia-resident areas, he was widely welcomed by people.
Lately, I have been to Abarkuh in Yazd whereupon Imam Reza stepped on his journey to Iran. It is recorded that when he was on his way he passed by this place and thus people considered this place holy. Many areas in that time were not Shia-resident and Imam passed areas where people were not Shiite. However, Imam was so warmly welcomed by people who had never seen him before and never known anything about the virtues of the Ahl-Al-Bayt that it was surprising.
When he travelled city to city, more and more people came to be acquainted and familiar with him and many of those who met Imam gave this knowledge to others until Imam Reza (A.S.) arrived at Nishapur. There occurred very strange events in this city. At that time Nishapur was the greatest center of Hadith in Sunni World after Baghdad or it was even equal to it. For this reason, the presence of Imam Reza (A.S.) in this city became more noticeable than any other places. Thousands of people who knew Hadiths and who were historians were present in the city and welcomed Imam and asked him for Hadiths and heard the Selselat-Al-Zahb Hadith. For this reason, Nishapur became permanent in history. It was in this city that Imam Reza (A.S.) stated the Selselat Al-Zahab and the Sunnis named this Hadith Selselat Al-Zahab which means golden strings and that it continues to God. Ahmad Hanbal, the leader of Hanbali sect of Sunni, believed so much in this Hadith that said: if you read this Hadith, with all its narrators who are actually the golden strings, to someone who has the most severe disease, he or she will be cured. This is because of a deep understanding of Imam (A.S.) in this city.
So this journey has been significant in Imam Reza’s life and even in the history of Ahl-Al.Bayt.
If Imam Reza (A.S.) had stayed in Medina none of these events would have happened. We should remember that the reign of Imam Reza lasted 20 years and mostly it took place in Medina and only two years of which was spent in Iran. But his presence in Merv made him popular in the whole Islamic world and because of his being heir apparent, which was nothing for Imam, but Ma’moun ordered that coins be made with Imam’s name on its sides and the coins with his name was spread throughout the world. He was the only Imam by whose name coins were made, sermons and prayers were uttered for him in formal Friday Prayers all over the world except Andalusia which was then separated. All this happened when he came to Iran and his audience grew more and more in Nishapur and Merv and society became acquainted with his holiness. This did not happen to any other Imams.
Therefore, in Nishapur and eventually in Merv events that happened in Imam’s life led to his popularity all over the Islamic world and thus people were able to know and understand Ahl-Al-Bayt better and that did not happen to other Imams.
So much homage was paid to Imam Reza (A.S.) and Ahl-Al-Bayt by the Sunnis and eulogies were written for Imam Ali (A.S.) and Ahl-Al.Bayt by Muhammad Ibn-Idris Shafe’i and Malek Ibn Ons, the leader of the Malekis sect; moreover, homage was paid to Imam by Ahmad Hanbal. Ahmad Hanbal, the leader of Hanbali sect, was able to institutionalize the issue of four caliphs, meaning that Rashidun Caliphate consisted of four caliphs. Until that time, due to the grudges of Bani Umaye and their evil deeds, Imam Ali (A.S.) did not receive much reception and attention among the Sunnis. However, Ahmad Hanbal was able to raise the issue and introduce Imam Ali (A.S.) as the fourth caliph and draw so much attention toward him. I regard all these because of Imam Reza’s (A.S.) presence in Iran, Nishapur and Merv and I strongly believe that if he had not come to this land, these issues would never have happened.
My last question is that “what is the most noticeable characteristic of Imam Reza (A.S.) which makes him unique and which distinguishes him from other Imams? Imams may have so many characteristics in common but which feature comes to mind when speaking of Imam Reza (A.S.)?
That feature is which Shiites and non-Shiites and even non-Muslims believe in when they come to visit the holy shrine: that he is kind and gentle and that he helps the poor and the wretched. Although Imams including Imam Reza (A.S.) owned all the good characteristics, this feeling of closeness and intimacy that people have toward him and that people come to visit him to solve their problems, to show their courtesy, to ask for the cure of diseases and in general to solve all their problems in life have made Imam Reza (A.S.) popular and famous. Although his father Imam Kazem (A.S.) was a great figure and is known for being Baab Al-Hava’ej (fulfiller of the wishes), and his son was known for generosity and forgiveness, Imam Reza (A.S.) has a special character among people that when someone asks him for his problem, he will not be disappointed. This is spiritually and materially proven. That is why his holy shrine is considered to have an inspiring and spiritual atmosphere for his lovers and the wretched.