Imam Reza (PBUH): The Captain of the Shia Ship in the Middle of Merv Storm
Hint: When Razavi Islamic University held the first International Congress of Imam Reza (PBUH) in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran’s supreme leader, in a comprehensive massage ]to the Congress[, overviewed one of the main chapters of Imam Reza's political biography:
In The Name Of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Holding the scientific congress of the eighth Shia Imam (PBUH) near the Noble Imam's holy shrine, concurrent with the birth anniversary of Imam, is a new step towards enlightening the glorious faces of Shia Imams and introducing the epic lives of those holy leaders. We must admit that their lives are not well understood and the honor and dignity of their hard Jihads is unknown, even to their Shias.
Although there are thousands of old, new, big and small books about Imam's lives, today, there is still a dust of ambiguity and brevity over a huge part of these honorable men's lives and the political lives of the most prominent figures in Prophet ]Muhammad[ family in two and a half century of the most critical period in the history of Islam, faces bias, disregard and misunderstanding by many scholars and writers, which is why we lack a compiled and recorded history of those leaders' eventful and adventurous lives.
The life of Imam Reza (PBUH) has taken nearly twenty years of this critical and important period of time and is one of the most prominent parts of it; therefore, it is necessary that the appropriate consideration and investigation be undertaken.
The most important thing that is not taken into consideration appropriately is the element of "intensive political struggle". Since the beginning of the second half of the first century AH, when the Islamic Caliphate was obviously combined with the appearances of the monarchy and the Islamic Imamate turned into the oppressive monarchy, Ahl al-Bayt Imams intensified their political struggle in a manner consistent with the circumstances.
The biggest goal of this campaign was to establish an Islamic system and
imamate-based government. Undoubtedly, explanation and interpretation of religion from the special perspective of Ahl al-Bayt and the elimination of distortions and misunderstandings of Islamic concepts and religious laws was also considered an important goal for the Ahl al-Bayt Jihad. But according to indisputable evidences, Ahl al-Bayt's Jihad was not limited to these goals, and their biggest goal was nothing but to establish an Alawite government and a fair Islamic government. Most of the difficulties and sacrifices in the hard lives of Imams and their followers were because of this goal; since the days of Imam al-Sajjad (PBUH) and after Ashura incident, Imams (PBUT) started the long-term preparation for this purpose.
In the one hundred and forty years between Ashura incident and the time when Imam Reza became the crown prince, the party supporting Ahl al-Bayt imams (Shias) were always considered the most dangerous enemy of the caliphate system. During this period, in different occasions, the ground was prepared and Shia resistance, which should be called the Allawi movement, got close to great victories. But each time, barriers appeared in the way of the final victory and mostly the biggest shock came when the enemy hit the center of the movement which was Imam of the time, by imprisoning and martyring him. When it became the turn of next imam, repression, oppression and crackdown were at a level that again a long time was required to prepare the groundwork.
In all these sever situations, Imams (PBUH) cleverly and courageously passed Shias like a small but deep, fast and stable stream amidst the difficult and dangerous canyons ]of history[. And the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates could never destroy Imamate movement by killing the imam and this was what helped Imams to be a dagger in the chests of these regimes and to destroy their comfort as a constant threat. When Imam Musa ibn Ja'far (PBUH), was poisoned and martyred, after many years of imprisonment in a Harun's prison, tyranny dominated the vast territory of Abbasid regime. It was in that eerie atmosphere when one of Imam Ali ibn Musa's friends said, "Harun's sword was bleeding".
Our infallible and noble imam's greatest art was to protect Shias from dangers and to prevent his great father's followers from dispersion and discouragement; by using Taqiyya method, he saved his life which was Shias’ spirit and axis, and at the time when the most powerful Abbasid Caliphs reigned and during the perfect posture and stability of that regime, continued his massive Imamate campaign. The history could not have provided a clear depiction of the Imam Reza's ten-year life at Harun time and after that during the five-year civil war between Khorasan and Baghdad. However, by a little contemplation, it could be understood that during this period the eighth imam has continued Ahl al- Bayt's (PBUH) long-term struggle, which has persisted in all times with the same orientation and the same goals. In the year 198 A.H., when Ma'mun was free from the power struggle with Amin, and achieved the caliphate with no opponent, one of his first measures was to solve the issue between the Allawis and Shias, for this purpose, he had the experience of all his predecessor caliphates before him.
The experience that showed the power, the extent and the increasing depth of that movement while the power system's inability to eradicate and even stop or limit that movement. He realized that the Harunic violence could not stop the riots and political, marital and propagation campaigns, not even by long imprisonment and finally poisoning the seventh Imam in prison. Then, while he didn't have the authority of his father and ancestors and furthermore because of the civil wars among Bani Abbas ]family members [, he found the Abbasid dynasty in the threat of big problems which undoubtedly required him to look at the danger from the Alawid movement more carefully. Maybe, Ma-mun was being realistic in evaluating the Shias' danger for his regime. It is suspected that the 15-year interval between the seventh Imam's martyrdom and that time and particularly the five-year opportunity of civil wars, made Shias’ movement more ready to raise the Alawi state flag.
Ma'mun felt this danger cleverly and tried to counter this issue and following this assessment and recognition, the story of the eighth Imam's invitation from Medina to Khorasan happened and this unique incident happened during the long period of Imamate.
Now it's time to briefly study the crown prince incident.
The crown prince incident
In this incident, the eighth imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (PBUH), faced a great historical experience and a hidden political battle which its success or failure could shape the Shias’ fate.
In this battle, Ma'mun was the competitor who had the initiative in his own hands and had come to the battlefield by all means. Ma'mun stepped on the battle with high intelligence, a powerful strategy, an unprecedented understanding and plausible insight, that if he could win and act as he planned, he could achieve the goal that none of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs couldn't have achieved since Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib's martyrdom in the year forty AH, which means he could uproot Shias' tree and destroy the opposition that has always been like a thorn in the eyes of the arrogant leaders.
But, the eighth Imam could overcome Ma'mun by the divine wisdom and defeated him completely in the political battlefield that he had created himself, and not only Shias weren't weakened or eliminated, but also the year 201 AH, which is the year of his governance, was one of the most fertile years in Shias' history and the Alawid campaign got a fresh new start. And all of this blessing was because of the eighth imam's strategy and the wise manner that the infallible Imam showed of himself in this great ordeal. To clear things up about this very strange happening, we will briefly describe Ma'mun and Imam's policies in this incident.
Ma'mun and Imam's Policies
By inviting the eighth Imam to Khorasan, Ma'mun had some major purposes:
The first and the most important, was turning Shias' revolutionary struggles into calm and safe area of political activities. As mentioned before, Shias, under the cover of Taqiyye, had some untiring and unfailing battles. These battles, which had two main characteristics, had an unspeakable impact on disrupting the caliphate regime. These characteristics are: Innocence and Sanctity.
By relying on these two penetrative factors, Shias implied the Shias’ thought, which was the interpretation of Islam from the Ahl al- Bayt perspective, to the hearts and minds of their audience and oriented anyone who had little preparation to this thought and that was how the Shias circle got bigger and bigger in the Islamic World and the same innocence and sanctity with the support of Shia doctrine in all places and all times, organized armed uprisings and revolutionary movements up against the caliphate system.
Ma'mun wanted to take away this concealment and camouflage from this defiant team and bring Imam from the revolutionary struggle to the political field and hereby destroy Shias’ movement which has increased day by day because of that concealment and camouflage. By doing this, Ma'mun would have taken away the two effective and penetrating features, since a group whose leader was a privileged person in the caliphate system and was the crown prince of the king of the time, was neither innocent and nor that much saint.
This measure could place the Shias thought along with the other beliefs which had adherents in the society and removed the quality of its being an opposition thought to the regime, a thought though being banned and frowned upon by the regimes, was appealing and controversial to the people.
Secondly, charging the Shias' claim that the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates were unlawful with fault and giving legitimacy to the caliphates, since Ma'mun could cunningly prove to all the Shias that usurpation and illegitimacy charges of different caliphates, always a part of the Shias principles, was a saying with no foundation caused by weaknesses and inferiority complexes considering if other caliphs were illegitimate and oppressive, Ma'mun's caliphate which was their successor should have been illegitimate and oppressive too; by entering this system and accepting to be Ma'mun's successor, Ali ibn Musa al-Rida considered his government legitimate, so the other caliphates have been legitimate too and this was contradictory to all the Shias' claims. By doing so Ma'mun would not only acknowledge the legitimacy of his and his ancestor's rule, but also he would destroy one of the Shias’ religious foundations which was the oppressive nature of the previous governments’ foundations.
Furthermore, another Shias' claim considering the piety and devotion of Imams and also their indifference to the world, would have also been violated claiming that Imam would take piety only when they didn't have access to the world and now that the world's doors had been opened to them, they had rushed into it and pampered themselves like others.
Thirdly, by doing this, Ma'mun took Imam's control in his own hands; Imam has always been the center of resistance and struggle ] for Shias[. In addition to Imam himself, he would bring to his dominance all Alawid leaders and warriors and this was a success that none of Mamoun's predecessors (Bani Umayya or Bani Abbas) could ever achieve.
Fourthly, the fact that he would bring Imam, who was a man of people and also their hope, under the siege of government agents, and gradually separated him from the rest of the community and caused a gap between him and people's love and affection.
Fifthly, by doing so, he would buy himself some religious prestige and honor. It was normal that at that time everyone praised him for he chose the progeny of the prophet and a holy and spiritual character to be his crown prince and banned his brothers and children from this position. And it is always true that the propinquity of the religious to the worldly-minded would decrease the prestige of the believers and increase that of the worldly-minded.
Sixthly, in Ma'mun's opinion, Imam would justify the caliphate system and clearly if someone with Imam's scientific and spiritual position and the unparalleled dignity that he had as the offspring of Prophet, got the role of justifying the events in the government apparatus, no opposition could damage the dignity of the system and this could hide all errors and wrongdoings of the caliphate system.
In addition to these, we can consider some other targets for Ma'mun.
As it can be seen, this policy is so complicated and deep that certainly no one but Ma'mun could guide it and this was why his friends and relatives were unaware of its dimensions. It can be understood from some historical records that even "Al Fadl ibn Sahl", his minister and commander- in-chief and his most favored in the caliphate system, has also been unaware of the truth and the content of this policy. To protect the hidden aims of this his complicated plan, Ma'mun even made up stories about the cause and motives of this action and kept telling them to others.
We should confess that Ma'mun's policy had an unparalleled sophistication and depth. But the other side of this battle is Imam Reza (PBUH) and that is why despite Ma'mun's mischievous subtlety, his plan was thwarted, since by accepting the hardship and despite the huge investments he did, not only did he gain nothing but also his policy turned against him. The arrow with which he targeted Imam Reza's (PBUH) dignity, targeted himself, so that after a short while he had to disregard all of his previous plans, and finally face Imam the same way his ancestors did which was "killing" him; Ma'mun who dreamed of having a justified, holy and wise appearance, finally mired in the same holes as his ancestors did, which were corruption and prostitution along with oppression and pride. His hypocrisy can be seen in different examples of his fifteen-year life after the crown prince incident, including enlisting an unfaithful, dissolute and voluptuary supreme judge like Yahaya bin Aktham and companionship with his singer and minstrel uncle Ibrahim bin Mahdi and throwing feasting and drinking parties in his capital city, Baghdad.
Now, we describe Imam Ali's (PBUH) policies and measures in this incident:
Describing Imam's Policies and Measures
1. When Imam was invited to Khorasan from Medina, he filled the atmosphere with his abomination, in a way that all the people around him became certain that Ma'mun is keeping Imam away from his homeland with bad intentions; Imam mentioned his pessimism towards Ma'mun in any way that he could: in his farewell to the prophet's shrine, in his farewell to his family, while leaving the town, in the circumambulation of the Kaaba which was a goodbye, and also through speech, behavior and tears, proved to everyone that this journey, was going to be his death journey, and all people who expectedly should have been optimistic towards Ma'mun and pessimistic towards Imam for accepting his offer, had their hearts filled with hatred because of him separating their beloved Imam from them and trying to kill him.
2. In Merv, when he offered Imam to become the crown prince, Imam strongly refused it and until Ma'mun explicitly threatened to kill him, he didn't accept. It was said that Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (PBUH) had not accepted to be the crown price and to be Caliphate which Ma'mun suggested to him even before; those involved who were unaware of Ma'mun’s complicated policy, unskillfully retold everywhere that imam had not accepted the offer and even Fadl ibn Sahl said that he had never seen caliphate so pathetic that Amir Al-Mu'minin offered it to Ali ibn Musa al-Rida and he rejected it.
Imam, himself, in any chance he got, told everyone that this position was mandatory and always reminded them that accepted to be the crown prince because he had been threatened to death. It was natural that this saying spread by word of mouth throughout all Islamic lands as the strangest political event ever so that all Islamic communities of the time and in the future would know that at a time when someone like Ma'mun started a years-old war just because he was deposed from being his brother's crown prince and killed thousands of people including his own brother because of it and showed his brother's head from town to town out of anger, there was someone like Ali ibn Musa al-Rida who looked at such a position with indifference and did accept it until he was threatened to death. Comparing these two images of Ali ibn Musa al-Rida and Ma'mun, had the opposite result of what Ma'mun invested on.
3. After all, Ali ibn Musa al-Rida accepted the offer on the condition that he would never interfere in the affairs of the government and not deal with any war and peace, removing and appointing, and policy making issues and Ma'mun accepted this condition at the beginning because he thought he could gradually lead him to caliphate, it was clear that by the fulfillment of this condition Ma'mun would fail, and most of his goals wouldn't have been satisfied.
At the same time when Imam was called the crown prince and somehow possessed the facilities in the caliphate system, always acted like he was against the caliphate system and protested against it, he didn't dictate anything or prohibit anything, didn't tenure any positions, nor did he accept any career, defend the government and naturally not justify what they did.
It is clear that a member of the government apparatus who would withdraw from the responsibilities by his own discretion and desire, could not be sincere and loyal towards the system. Ma'moon was well aware of this deficiency; thus, after the crown prince incident and contrary to his own promise, he tried to gently and cunningly involve Imam in the caliphate system issues and neutralize Imam's negative campaign policy, but each time Imam counteracted his plans.
An example is what Mamar ibn al-Khaled quoted from Imam himself: once Ma'mun asked him to write to the people who accepted his words in the rioted areas; Imam refused and reminded him of the previous deal: absolute noninterference. Another important and interesting example was Eid prayers when Ma'mun invited Imam to the prayers under the pretext that “people know your value and you settle their hearts”. Imam refuses and after Ma'mun insists, Imam accepts the offer under the condition that he says prayers in the Prophet and Ali ibn Abi taleb manner, and then Imam takes advantage of this opportunity in a way that Ma'mun has to send him back in the halfway to the prayer, thus he reveals his hypocritical character once more.
4. But Imam's main benefit from this incident was much more important: by accepting the crown prince position, Imam started a movement that has been unprecedented in the history of Imams' lives from Ahl al-Bayt caliphate ending in the fortieth year A.H. to the day the caliphate era ended. It was proving Shia Imams’ claim at a great Islamic level and abandoning Taqiyye and delivering the Shias’ message to all Muslims. Imam took the caliphate rostrum and announced loudly what he had been told in secret only to the followers and close friends for a hundred and fifty years. Using facilities that only caliphs and their relatives could use at that time, he let everyone know the truth: Imam's debates among scientists and in the presence of Ma'mun is which he expressed the strongest arguments to support Imamte; the Javameh al-Sharia letter in which he wrote all of the doctrinal and jurisprudential Shias outlines to al Fadl ibn Sahl, the famous Hadith of Imamate which he addressed in Merv to Abdul Aziz ibn Moslem, and so many Qasidas that have been composed in praise of his crown prince position, some of which like Da'bal and Abu Nawas Qasidas always have been the best among Qasida in Arabic language. These all and all display the great success of Imam (PBUH).
In that year in Meidna and probably in many parts of the Islamic land, when the news of Imam Reza's position spread, people talked about Ahl al-Bayt's virtues and Prophet's family who were cursed openly for years and no one had the courage to talk about their virtues for a long time, now were referred to in good terms, their friends were strengthened by this event, the ones who were unaware of these things or were indifferent about them have been introduced to them, and the sworn enemies felt weak and defeated. Shia narrators and scholars talked about such issues in big teaching meetings and general assemblies that they could only talk about in secret before.
5. Although Ma'mun tried to separate Imam from the rest of people and used this separation as a way to disconnect the spiritual and emotional relationship between the Imam and the people, Imam took every chance to connect with others. Although Ma'mun consciously chose Imam's path from Medina to Merv in such a way that he would not pass the cities which are famous for their love to Ahl al-Bayt like Kufa and Qom, Imam took every chance on the way to communicate with people: in Ahvaz he showed the signs of Imamate, in Basra he exposed his affection to people who were not kind to him, in Nishapur he left the Hadith of Golden Chain and also revealed some other miracles and in every part of this long journey he seized the opportunity to guide people. Also, in Merv, the residence of the caliphate, he passed the boundaries of government to join big crowds of people whenever he could.
6. Shia rebels were never invited to silence and compromise by their Imam, but as a matter of fact Imam's new status created some hope and the rebellions that spent most of their lives in impassable mountains and remote villages, were respected and honored by the government officials by the support of Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida. Any incompatible person like Da'bal who has never treated any caliphate, minister or Amir in a good way, and hasn't settled in their system, and none of the caliphate leaders were not immune from his critical words and because of this, he has always been under persecution and inspection of government agencies, and for many years carried his life on his own shoulders and was wanderer and fugitive among the cities and towns, could finally meet his favorite Imam and compose his most famous and eloquent Qasida for him which is the prophetic claims against the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphate systems, and his poet reached all the quarters of the Islamic world in a short while in such a way that when coming back home he heard the poem from the head of bandits ]who capture him[.
Now, once again, we take a look at the general situation of this battle, which Ma'mun drew Imam into cunningly with a hidden agenda.
Situation after the announcement of the Crown Prince
A year after the announcement of the crown prince the situation is like this:
Ma'mun has praised and cherished him for his grace, virtue, lofty ancestry and scientific authority in the crown prince decree and also in other statements and now the people who only heard from him, and maybe some of them were angry at him, recognized him as someone with knowledge and virtue and a person qualified to be the crown king and someone even greater than the Caliph because of his knowledge, virtue and kinship to Prophet. Not only Ma'mun could not attract his Shias opponents and dissuade them from talking about his caliphate, but also Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (PBUH) caused faith, confidence and high spirits in them. In Medina, Mekka and some other important Islamic communities, not only his name was not lost by the accusation of love to this world and authority, but also an apparent glory has been added to his spiritual dignity and the admirers started to praise the spiritual grace of his oppressed and innocent fathers.
In simple terms, Ma'mun did not only gain nothing out of this big game but also lost many things and he was about to lose all other things too.
At this point, Ma'mun felt a sense of defeat and loss and sought to compensate his big mistake and, after all his big investments, saw himself in the need to resort to the old method that all of his ancestors resorted to deal with the enemies of the caliphate system which was murder.
It is obvious that killing Imam with such a prominent position was not an easy task. The evidence indicate that Ma'mun resorted to some other activities before martyring Imam so that he could apply the very last resort easier, and most likely the fact that suddenly there was this rumor in Merv that Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (PBUH) considered everyone his slave, has been with the involvement of Mamun agents.
When Abasalt brought the news to Imam, he said," Dear Lord, the creator of the heavens and the earth, you can see that neither I nor my ancestors has ever said this saying and this is one the oppressions that are imposed on us".
The formation of debate meetings with the ones who did not hope to conquest Imam was another measure. When Imam overwhelmed the debate's participants from different religions and his knowledge and fame reputation spread everywhere, Ma'mun decided to debate anyone interested to debate with Imam, so that finally one of them can convince him.
Of course as we know, as the debates continued, Imam's scientific power was more apparent and Ma'mun became more frustrated.
According to the narratives, he planned to kill Imam by his servants and agents, and once imprisoned him in Sarakhs, but at the end these methods had no result expect for gaining more trust to Imam's spiritual rank, and Ma'mun became more frustrated and angry, at the end he had no choice but to poison Imam himself and he did it and in Safar of two hundred and three AH which was nearly two years after inviting Imam to Khorasan and about a year and a half after getting the crown prince's position, committed the unforgettable crime of murdering Imam by his own hands.
The most important thing that is not properly regarded in Imam's (PBUH) lives, is the "political struggle".
During the one hundred forty years between Ashura and Imam Rida's crown prince incidents, the dependant stream to Ahl-al Bayt has always been the biggest and most dangerous enemy to the caliphate systems.