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Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (a): The Kind and Compassionate Imam

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Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (a) is the eighth Twelver Shiite Imam. He was born in Medina on Dhi al-Qa’dah 11, 148 AH. Respected by all during his lifetime, he possessed remarkable qualities. In this article on Islam4u, we will delve into the life, character, and martyrdom of this revered Imam from the Ahlul Bait (a).

Name, Title, and Teknonym

Imam Ali ibn Musa, known as al-Rida (the pleased), held multiple titles such as al-Sabir (the patient), al-Radi (the content), and al-Wafi (the qualified). Like his esteemed predecessors, Imam Ali (a) and Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (a), he carried the teknonym Abu al-Hassan. He became known as the knowledgeable among the progeny of Muhammad (s). He is also known as Imam al-Ra’uf (the kind Imam).

Imam al-Rida’s Parents

The father of Imam al-Rida (a) was the seventh Imam, Imam Musa al-Kazim (a), known as the door to wishes (بابُ الحَوائِج). His mother was Lady Najma (a), a pure and chaste noble lady of either North African or French descent. Imam Musa al-Kazim’s mother Hamida (a) saw the Prophet (s) in her dream telling her to gift Najma to her son Musa because she will give birth to the best of people on earth. Hamida (a) did that, and Imam al-Rida (a) was born from Najma (a).

Imamate of Imam al-Rida (a)

After the martyrdom of his father Imam al-Kazim (a) in 183 AH, Imam al-Rida (a) assumed the position of imamate. He was the Imam for twenty years. Imam al-Rida (a) was readily accepted among the Shia as the Imam due to his superior knowledge and moral conduct, which proved he was the Imam. Of course, Imam al-Kazim (a) had informed his close companions that his son Ali (a) would be the Imam after him. Despite the fact that there was a difference of opinion as to the successor to Imam al-Kazim (a), most Shiites accepted the successorship of Imam al-Rida (a). Imam al-Rida’s imamate coincided with the rulership of three Abbasid caliphs: Harun al-Rashid, Amin, and Ma’mun. The Abbasids were the enemies of the Imams, including Imam al-Rida (a), and eventually killed them by poison out of jealousy and enmity.

Imam al-Rida (a) in Medina

While he was the Imam in Medina, Imam al-Rida (a) enjoyed the respect and obedience of many people. This was due to his vast knowledge of religious and non-religious sciences and dignified character. When Imam al-Rida (a) was brought to Merv at the order of Ma’mun al-Abbasi, the Imam stated how his conditions were much better in Medina, even though Ma’mun was supposedly honoring the Imam and eventually made him his heir apparent. His imamate in Medina was 17 years.

Imam al-Rida’s Journey to Merv

Imam al-Rida’s journey to Merv, also known as Marw, was a significant event in his life. It occurred in the year 200 or 201 AH when the Abbasid caliph Ma’mun, who ruled at the time, summoned Imam al-Rida (a) to his court in Merv, present-day Turkmenistan.

The caliph’s invitation to Imam al-Rida was politically motivated, aiming to consolidate his own rule and alleviate tensions among the population, particularly between the Abbasids and the followers of the Ahlul Bait (a). The caliph sought to legitimize his reign by aligning with the revered Imam.

Imam al-Rida (a) reluctantly accepted the invitation and embarked on a journey from Medina to Merv. It was a long and arduous trip, accompanied by a large entourage. Along the way, Imam al-Rida (a) encountered numerous Shia followers who eagerly sought his teachings and guidance.

Upon reaching Merv, Imam al-Rida was welcomed with great ceremony by the caliph and his court. During his time in Merv, Imam al-Rida engaged in intellectual debates, discussions, and scholarly exchanges with various scholars, including Sunni scholars. He utilized these opportunities to disseminate knowledge and promote the teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a).

However, the caliph’s intentions were not sincere, as he aimed to undermine Imam al-Rida’s influence and authority among the Shia community. Eventually, the caliph’s jealousy and fear of the Imam’s growing popularity led to a deteriorating relationship between the two.

Imam Rida (a) Invites His Sister to Khorasan

Imam al-Rida (a) and his revered sister, Lady Fatima al-Ma’sumah, stand out as two exemplary offspring of Imam al-Kazim (a). Due to being distant from his homeland, Imam al-Rida (a) experienced a sense of longing and homesickness in Khorasan. Consequently, he reached out to his beloved sister, Lady Ma’sumah, urging her to join him there. Accepting her brother’s invitation wholeheartedly, Lady Fatima Ma’sumah embarked on the journey to Khorasan.

However, her path was marred by adversity as she fell gravely ill, with some attributing it to poisoning, upon reaching the city of Saveh. Seeking solace and recovery, she continued her journey to Qom, where she ultimately passed away. Today, her shrine in Qom serves as a place of profound pilgrimage, attracting visitors from across the globe who seek her intercession, blessings, and the fulfillment of their wishes.

The Hadith of the Golden Chain

The Hadith of the Golden Chain, also known as Hadith Silsilat al-Dhahab (حَديث سِلسِلَةُ الذَّهَب), is a famous narration attributed to Imam al-Rida (a). It is a description of the spiritual lineage that extends from Imam al-Rida (a) all the way to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and ultimately to Allah. It emphasizes the transmission of knowledge, wisdom, and authority through a chain of enlightened individuals.

According to the narration, Imam al-Rida (a) mentions the names of each Imam before him, followed by the Prophet (s), Gabriel, and Allah (SWT) in succession, affirming the divine authority of him and all the Imams after the Prophet (s).

The Hadith of the Golden Chain holds great significance as it establishes the legitimacy and authority of the Imams as the rightful successors of Prophet Muhammad (s). It emphasizes the importance of following the teachings and guidance of the Imams as the guardians of Muslims who have full authority over them.

Text of the Hadith

According to the narration of Sheikh Saduq in his book “al-Tawhid” from Ishaq ibn Rahwayh, when Imam al-Rida (a) arrived in Nishapur during his journey to Khorasan, after deciding to travel to Ma’mun’s court, a group of narrators gathered and said, “O son of the Prophet, you honor our city, yet you do not share any hadith for us to benefit from?”

Upon this request, Imam al-Rida (a) uncovered his head from the carriage and said, “I have heard from my father, Musa ibn Ja’far (a), who heard from his father, Ja’far ibn Muhammad (a), who heard from his father, Muhammad ibn Ali (al-Baqir) (a), who heard from his father, Ali ibn al-Hussain (Zayn al-Abidin) (a), who heard from his father, Hussain ibn Ali (a), who heard from his father, Ali ibn Abi Talib (a), who heard from the Messenger of Allah (s), who heard from Gabriel, who said he heard from the Lord Almighty: ‘The phrase “There is no god but Allah” is my fortress and sanctuary. So whoever enters my fortress and sanctuary will be safe from my punishment.’ “

When the Imam’s mount began to move, he loudly proclaimed, “I am one of the conditions of that sanctuary.”

In this way, Imam al-Rida (a) announced his position of imamate and how it is necessary that all those who claim to be monotheists must follow him and accept his guardianship. The Imams before and after Imam al-Rida also hold this position. The idea is that we must follow the Imam of our time and accept all the Imams as having guardianship and authority over us. That is when the phrase “there is no god but Allah” will be a sanctuary for those who utter and believe in it.

Why Is It Called the Golden Chain?

This narration is known as the Hadith of the Golden Chain because the individuals present in the chain of narration are all infallibles. Imam al-Rida (a) received the hadith from the seventh Imam, who received it from the sixth Imam, and so on until it reaches the first Imam, Imam Ali (a), who received it from the Prophet (s), and the Prophet (s) received it from Allah (SWT).

Imam al-Rida’s Way of Life

Devotional Conduct

Imam al-Rida (a) was a highly devout worshipper of Allah (SWT) who placed special importance on prayer (salat). When the call to prayer was chanted, he would stop whatever thing he was doing and would go to pray. Once, the Imam gifted one of his shirts to Di‘bil Khuza‘I, a righteous poet. He told him: in this shirt, I have prayed a thousand nights, on each night a thousand units, and have recited the entire Quran a thousand times with it.

Moral Conduct

Numerous examples of the Imam’s kind treatment in his interactions with others have been reported. The Imam’s loving behavior and companionship with servants and subordinates, even after becoming heir apparent, are exemplified in such accounts. Ibn Shahre Ashub has narrated that one day the Imam went to a public bath, and one of the attendees, who did not recognize the Imam, asked him to scrub his back. The Imam accepted and began to fulfill the request. Upon witnessing this incident, others introduced the Imam to the man, and when the man became embarrassed and apologized, the Imam reassured him and continued to scrub him.

His Way of Upbringing

In the biography of Imam al-Rida (a), emphasis is placed on the role of the family in the upbringing of children. Matters such as the importance of marrying a righteous spouse, caring for the days of pregnancy, giving a good name, and honoring children have been highlighted. It is also mentioned that Imam al-Rida (a) paid attention to engaging with his relatives. Whenever he found some free time, he would gather his relatives and companions, both young and old, and engage in conversations with them.

Scientific and Scholarly Life

Imam al-Rida (a), when present in Medina, would sit in the Prophet’s Mosque and scholars who were unable to answer certain questions would seek the Imam’s assistance. After his arrival in Merv, he would also respond to many doubts and questions raised during the debates that took place. Furthermore, the Imam established a scholarly institution in his home and the Merv Mosque. However, when Ma’mun issued an order to suspend the Imam’s study sessions, the Imam cursed him.

Imam al-Rida (a) showed great interest in health and medicine as evident in the narrations. These narrations not only clarify some concepts related to this field but also address the importance of prevention and treatment of diseases, proper nutrition, and personal hygiene. The book “Tibb al-Rida,” also known as the “Golden Treatise,” attributed to Imam al-Rida (a), contains recommendations in this regard.

Imam al-Rida (a): The Guarantor of the Deer

Imam al-Rida (a) is known in some countries as “the Guarantor of the Deer.”

The famous story about Imam al-Rida (a) becoming the guarantor of a deer goes as follows: Once, a hunter was chasing a deer in the desert. Coincidentally, Imam al-Rida (a) was in that area, and the deer sought refuge with the Imam. The Imam offered to pay a sum of money to the hunter in order to release the deer, but the hunter refused. At that moment, the deer spoke in human language and said to the Imam, “I have two young cubs who are hungry and waiting for me. Please guarantee my return so that I can go, feed them, and come back.” The Imam agreed to guarantee the deer, and it left swiftly, only to return shortly. The hunter, witnessing this faithful act, realized that the guarantor of the deer was Imam al-Rida (a) himself. He had a change of heart and set the deer free.

Martyrdom of Imam al-Rida (a)

In a desperate attempt to counter the growing popularity of Imam al-Rida (a), Ma’mun resorted to a sinister plot to poison and eliminate him. Recognizing the threat posed by the Imam’s influence, Ma’mun invited him to his palace, where he deceitfully offered him a cup of pomegranate juice laced with poison. Aware of the treachery, Imam al-Rida (a) initially refused the poisoned drink. However, faced with coercion and the threat of violence from Ma’mun’s soldiers, he reluctantly drank the toxic concoction.

Imam al-Rida (a) returned home. As the poison took its toll on the Imam’s body, a remarkable event unfolded. A young man appeared at the scene, his son, Muhammad al-Taqi al-Jawad (a), who had miraculously traveled from Medina to Khorasan. This extraordinary manifestation of divine intervention allowed Muhammad to bid farewell to his beloved father, pray beside his dead body, and eventually fulfill his duty to bury him with reverence.

Imam al-Rida (a) ultimately succumbed to the poison and attained martyrdom on the last day of Safar in the year 203 AH. His sacred resting place is located in Mashhad, where an awe-inspiring shrine stands as a testament to his revered status. Each year, countless devotees embark on pilgrimages to this holy site, seeking solace, guidance, and blessings in their connection with Imam al-Rida (a).

Conclusion

Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (a), the eighth Twelver Shiite Imam, was born in Medina on Dhi al-Qa’dah 11, 148 AH. He was respected and revered during his lifetime for his remarkable qualities. As the Imam, he assumed the position of imamate after the martyrdom of his father, Imam Musa al-Kazim (a). Imam al-Rida (a) was widely accepted among the Shia due to his superior knowledge and moral conduct. His imamate coincided with the rulership of three Abbasid caliphs: Harun al-Rashid, Amin, and Ma’mun, who eventually poisoned him out of jealousy and enmity.

During his journey to Merv, he engaged in intellectual debates and disseminated knowledge, including the famous Hadith of the Golden Chain, which affirms the authority of the Imams. Imam al-Rida (a) exhibited devotion, moral conduct, and scholarly pursuits throughout his life. He was martyred at the hands of the evil Ma’mun al-Abbasi. His shrine in Mashhad continues to attract countless devotees each year.

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