Imam Reza (PBUH)
Ali Ibn Musa Al-Reza (Arabic: علي بن موسى الرضا) was the seventh descendant of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the eighth one of the Twelve Imams.
Birth in Medina
In 766 A.D (Zu al-Qidah 11, 148 A.H), a son was born in the house of Imam Musa Kazim (PBUH) in Medina, who took over the position of the Imamate, after his father. He was named Ali and titled Reza. He was born one month after the martyrdom of his grandfather, Imam Ja’far Sadiq (PBUH). Like his father and grandfather, his education came at the hands of his father. The mother of Imam Reza (PBUH) was Najmah, who was considered to be the most notable and distinguished lady in the realm of wisdom and faith. Najmah was originally from the Maghreb i.e. Northwest Africa. She was purchased and freed by Hamidah Khatun, wife of Imam Sadiq (PBUH), and like Hamidah was also a notable Islamic scholar.
Right from his childhood, Imam Reza (PBUH) accompanied his father, Imam Kazim (PBUH), who repeatedly used to tell his friends, “Ali al-Reza shall be the Imam after me.” As such, Makhzumi says one day Imam Kazim summoned and gathered us and said, “I invited you to be witnesses that this child (Ali al-Reza) is my executor and successor.”
Yazid Ibn Salit says: “We were moving toward Mecca to perform the Hajj (a pilgrimage ceremony) and we met Imam Kazim (PBUH) in the way. I asked him to inform us about his successor. Imam Kazim explained that the Imamate is a divine issue and the Imam is designated by God. Then he said that my son, Ali (al-Reza), whose name is the same as the First and the forth Imam, is the Imam after me. Since an extreme choking atmosphere and pressure prevailed in the period of Imam Kazim (PBUH), he added, “What I said must remain (restricted) up to you and do not reproduce it to anybody unless you know he is one of our friends and companions.”
According to Ali Ibn Yaqtin, Imam Kazim (PBUH) said: “Ali is the best of my children and I have conferred on him my epithet.”
Imam Kazim was poisoned while he was still in prison and martyred and on the same day Imam Reza (PBUH) was declared as the Eighth Imam of the Shia Muslim. Imam Reza (PBUH) had the great task with the correct interpretation of the Holy Quran; especially under the most unfavorable circumstances prevailing under the government of Harun al-Rashid. Many belonging to the faith were imprisoned and those who were free and could not be jailed faced untold atrocities and sufferings.
Imam Reza (PBUH), of course, stamped his impression upon his age by carrying on the mission of the Great Prophet in a peaceful manner even during the most chaotic periods, and it was mostly due to his efforts that the teachings of the Holy Prophet and his descendants became widespread.
Imam Reza had inherited great qualities of head and heart from his ancestors. He was a versatile person and had full command over many languages. Ibnu ‘l-Athir al-Jazari penned very rightly that Imam Reza (PBUH) was undoubtedly the greatest sage, saint and scholar of the second century (A.H).
Once, on his way to Khurasan (current Khurasan,Iran), when he (the Imam) was brought by force by the guards of al-Ma’mun from Medina, he arrived on horseback at Nayshabur(a city of Iran). Myriads of people gathered round him and all roads were over crowded as they had come to meet and see their great Imam.
Abu Dhar’ah al-Razi and Muhammad Ibn Aslam al-Tusi, the two great scholars of the day, stepped out of the crowd and begged the Imam to halt there for a moment so that the faithful may be able to hear his voice. They also requested the Imam to address the gathering. The Imam granted the request and in his brief address told the mammoth gathering the real interpretation of “La Ilaha Illa Allah” (there is no God except Allah).
Quoting Allah, he continued to say that the “Kalimah” is the fortress of Allah and whoever entered the fortress saved himself from His wrath. He paused for a moment and continued that there were also a few conditions to entitle the entrance to the fortress and the greatest of all conditions was sincere and complete submission to the Imam of the day; and very boldly and frankly explained to the people that any disloyalty to the Prophet and his descendants would withdraw the right of the entrance to the fortress.
The only way to earn Almighty Allah’s pleasure was to follow and obey the Prophet and his progeny and that was the only path to salvation and immortality (because the prophet Muhammad and his progeny (PBUT) just obey God).
The above-mentioned incident speaks clearly of the great popularity of Imam Reza (PBUH), and the love, loyalty and respect the Muslims gave their beloved Imam. al-Ma’mun, the king, was conscious of the fact that he would not survive for long if he also did not express his loyalty to the great leader and his intelligence department had made it clear to him that the Iranian people (Shia Muslims) were truly and sincerely loyal to the Imam and he could only win them over if he also pretended to give respect and sympathetic consideration to Imam Reza (PBUH).
Al-Ma’mun was a very shrewd person. He made a plan to invite Imam Reza (PBUH) and to offer him the heir ship to the throne. The Imam was summoned by a royal decree and was compelled, under the circumstances, to leave Medina – where he was living a quiet life – and present himself at the royal court of al-Ma’mun.
On his arrival, al-Ma’mun showed him hospitality and great respect, and then he said to him: “I want to get rid of myself of the caliphate and vest the office in you.” But Imam Reza (PBUH) refused his offer, bevause he knew the plan of al-Ma’mun (by divine knowledge). Then al-Ma’mun repeated his offer in a letter saying: “If you refuse what I have offered you, then you must accept being the heir after me.” But again Imam Reza (PBUH) refused his offer vigorously. Al-Ma’mun summoned him. He was alone with al-Fadl Ibn Sahl, the man with two offices (i.e., military and civil). There was no one else in their gathering. Al-Ma’mun said to Imam Reza, “I thought it appropriate to invest authority over the Muslims in you and to relieve myself of the responsibility by giving it to you.” When again Imam Reza (PBUH) refused to accept his offer, al-Ma’mun spoke to him as if threatening him for his refusal. In his speech he said, “Omar Ibn Khattab made a committee of consultation (Saqifah, to appoint a successor after the prophet, while the successor was distinguished by God, before the prophet’s martyrdom). Among them was your forefather, the Commander of the faithful, Ali Ibn Abi Talib (first Imam, Ali (PBUH)). (Omar) stipulated that any of them who opposed the decision should be executed. So there is no escape for you from accepting what I want from you.
“I will ignore your rejection of it.” In reply ,Imam Reza said: “I will agree to what you want of me as far as succession is concerned on condition that I do not command, nor order, nor give legal decisions, nor judge, nor appoint, nor dismiss, nor change anything from how it is at present.”
Al-Ma’mun accepted all of that. On the day when al-Ma’mun ordered to make the pledge of allegiance to Imam Reza (PBUH), one of the close associates of Imam, who was present, narrates, “On that day I was in front of him (Imam Reza). He looked at me while I was feeling happy about what had happened. He signaled me to come closer. I went closer to him and he said so that no one else could hear, ‘Do not occupy your heart with this matter and do not be happy about it. It is something which will not be achieved.’”
Quoting al-‘Allamah ash-Shibli from his book al-Ma’mun, we get a very clear picture of how al-Ma’mun decided to offer his leadership to Imam Reza (PBUH). Imam Reza was the Eighth Imam and al-Ma’mun could not help holding him in great esteem because of the Imam’s piety, wisdom, knowledge, modesty, decorum and personality.
Therefore, he decided to nominate him the rightful heir to the throne. Earlier in 200 A.H he had summoned the Abbasids. Thirty-three thousand ‘Abbasids responded to the invitation and were entertained as royal guests. During their stay at the capital he very closely observed and noted their capabilities and eventually arrived at the conclusion that not one of them deserved to succeed him.
He therefore spoke to them all in an assembly in 201 A.H telling them in categorical terms that none of the ‘Abbasids deserved to succeed him. He demanded allegiance to Imam Reza (PBUH) from the people in this very meeting and declared that royal robes would be green in future, the color which had the unique distinction of being that of the Imam’s dress. A Royal decree was published saying that Imam Reza will succeed al-Ma’mun. Even after the declaration of succession when there was every opportunity for the Imam to live a splendid worldly royal life, he did not pay any heed to material comforts and devoted himself completely to imparting the true Islamic conception of the Prophet’s teachings and the Holy Quran.
He spent most of his time worshiping Allah and serving the people. Taking full advantage of the concessions given to him by virtue of his elevated position in the royal court, he organized the majalis (meetings) commemorating the martyrdom of the martyrs of Karbala. These majalis were first held during the days of Imam Baqir (PBUH) and Imam Sadiq (PBUH), but Imam Reza (PBUH) gave the majalis a new impetus by encouraging those poets who wrote effective poems depicting the moral aspects of the tragedy and the suffering of Imam Hussain (PBUH) and his companions in Karbala.
Al-Ma’mun had been very scared of the growing popularity of the Imam and he had appointed him as his heir to the throne only for the fulfillment of his own most ambitious and sinister designs and getting the Imam’s endorsement to his tricky plans.
Imam Reza (PBUH) and Zayd
When Imam Reza (PBUH) was summoned to Khurasan and reluctantly accepted the role of being succession of al-Ma’mun that was forced on him, al-Ma’mun summoned his brother, Zayd, who had revolted and brought about a riot in Medina to his court in Khurasan. Al-Ma’mun kept him free as a regard and honor to Imam Reza (PBUH) and overlooked his punishment.
One day, when Imam Reza (PBUH) was delivering a speech in a grand assembly, he heard Zayd praising himself before the people, saying I am so and so. The Imam asked him saying: “O Zayd, have you trusted upon the words of the grocers of Kufa (In Iraq) and are conveying them to the people? What kind of things are you talking about? The sons of Imam Ali (PBUH) and Lady Fatimah (PBUH) are worthy and outstanding only when they obey the command of Allah, and keep themselves away from sin and blunder. You think you are like Musa Kazim (PBUH), Sajjad (PBUH), and other Imams? Whereas, they took pains and bore hardships on the way to Allah and prayed to Allah day and night. Do you think you will gain without pain? Be aware, that if a person out of us the Ahl Al-Bayt performs a good deed, he gets twice the reward. Because not only he performed good deeds like others but also that he has maintained the honor of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). If he practices something bad and does a sin, he has performed two sins. One is that he performed a bad act like the rest of the people and the other one is that he has negated the honor of the Prophet. O brother! The one who obeys Allah is from us the Ahl Al-Bayt and the one who is a sinner is not ours. Allah said about the son of Noah who cut the spiritual bondage with his father, “He is not out of your lineage; if he was out of your lineage, I would have (saved) and granted him salvation (11:46)”
Imam Reza (PBUH) was at the top of the scientists of his time in medical science. Religious scholars and jurists would ask him their questions about Islamic precepts. His treatise in medicine is regarded as most precious Islamic literature in the science of medicine, hence it has been called the Golden Dissertation. His treatise included scientific branches such as Anatomy, Physiology, Chemistry and Pathology when medical science was still primitive.
Imam Reza (PBUH) did not outlive Ma’mun, having been given poisoned grapes by him while accompanying him in Iran (Persia), and died at Tous (in Khurasan, Iran) in 818 A.D (Safar 30, 203 A.H). Imam Reza (PBUH) is buried within Imam Reza Mosque, in Mashhad, Khurasan, Iran.
Al-Ma’mun had been very scared of the growing popularity of Imam Reza (PBUH). After giving the Imam the role of succession of himself, he was hoping the popularity would decrease. Al-Ma’mun therefore became very disappointed. Imam advised him to dismiss him from his position but he had something else in mind. He decided once and for all to check his growing popularity and ensuring his own survival by acting according to the old traditions of killing Imams.
The night before Imam’s martyrdom, Imam told to one of his best companions about everything that will happen the day after. Imam Reza mentioned about his martyrdom and told him that just a Divine Leader can wash a Divine Leader’s body, in fact the next Imam should perform the ceremonial burial wash of the previous Imam.
Aba Salt was told before, that Imam Reza’s son, Jawad (PBUH) is the next Imam but Jawad (PBUH) was in Medina that time, while Imam Reza was in Tous in Iran.
According to Aba Salt narrations: “I saw Imam Reza came backto house after he had met al-Ma’mun. He asked me to lock the doors, then He laid down. Suddenly I saw a beautiful youth in white as he was closing to the Imam Reza’s room. I asked: “who are you? How could you come in through the locked doors?” he replied: ‘Aba Salt! I am Jawad (Imam Reza’s son) and who (God) took me from Medina to here, he made me passed through the locked doors’. Then he entered to the Imam’s room. Imam Reza (PBUH) saw him and hold him in his arms eagerly. Then whispered some secrets in his son’s ear then I saw he is dying in the arms of his son.”
Following the martyrdom of Imam Reza (PBUH) a revolt took place in Khurasan. Al-Ma’mun wept and beat upon his head to show that he was a mourner. Despite this, A wave of despises and noise awn against al-Ma’mun. So that he did not allow the funeral to be carried out for a day and a night. Because, he was afraid that the disturbance may expand and the angry hostile and flared up masses may annihilate all the set ups and organizations. While some others like Sibt Ibn al-Jawzi thought that Abbasids had poisoned him as they did not want the Imam to be the Caliph after Al Ma’mun’s death. The thing however is that most historians agree that Al-Ma’nun has killed the Imam as he did the same about some other great mans who he was afraid of them.
Today the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad (in Iran), is the largest mosque in the world. The courtyards also contain a total of 14 minarets, and some fountains. From the courtyards, external hallways named after scholars lead to the inner areas of the mosque. They are referred to as “Bast” (Sanctuary), since they were meant to be a safeguard for the shrine areas. The Bast hallways lead towards a total of 21 internal halls “Riwaq” which surrounding the burial chamber of Imam Reza (PBUH). Every year millions people from everywhere come to his mosque to pilgrim and get heal or to be cured.