Short Biography of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far

Overview

Imam Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him, was born at dawn on a Sunday or Tuesday, the 7th of Safar in the year 128 or 129 AH in ‘Abwa’ – a place between Mecca and Medina – from a concubine from the land of the Berbers (Maghreb) or Andalusia (Spain) named ‘Hamidah,’ known as ‘Hamidah the Barbary,’ ‘Hamidah the Moroccan,’ ‘Hamidah the Pure.’

His martyrdom, according to popular opinion, occurred on the 25th of Rajab in the year 183 AH, and according to another report, 186 AH, in Baghdad, in the prison of Harun al-Rashid, by his order.

The kunya (patronymic) of the seventh Imam of the Shi’a world is Abul Hasan, Abul Hasan the First, Abul Hasan the Past, Abu Ibrahim, Abu Isma’il, Abu Ali, and his titles include ‘Abd as-Salih (the Righteous Servant), Rahib Bani Hashim (the Monk of Bani Hashim), al-Amin (the Trustworthy), al-Sabir (the Patient), Zayn al-Mujtahidin (the Ornament of the Diligent), Bab al-Hawaij (the Gate of Needs),…with ‘Kazim’ (the One who Suppresses His Anger) and in the Preserved Tablet ‘al-Muntakhab’ (the Chosen) being the most famous.

 Imam Musa ibn Ja’far had a sturdy stature, slender body, beautiful and wheat-colored face, and dense black beard. The engraving on his ring was ‘Hasbiyallah’ (Allah is sufficient for me) or ‘al-Mulk Lillah Wahdah’ (Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone).

Titles of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far (AS)

The title and kunya (patronymic) in the Arabic language reflect how society perceives and accepts an individual, shedding light on their personal identity in life, and serve almost as a living history that remains constant for the person. Therefore, sometimes an individual, due to their various roles, services, activities, or personal traits and characteristics, may have multiple titles and epithets. Consequently, our hero possesses several honorable and human titles, which are explained below:

1. Abu al-Hasan al-Awwal, Abu Ibrahim, Abu Ali, Abu Ismail: These four kunyas are secondary names that were sometimes used in conversations and often in hadith books to refer to His Eminence. The first kunya is the most famous and well-known, evoking memories and struggles of the first Imam in hearts. Several of our infallible leaders had this kunya after Imam Ali (AS), including Imam Kazim, Imam Rida, and Imam Jawad, peace be upon them. Therefore, to fully distinguish, Abu al-Hasan without any specification refers only to Imam Ali (AS).

Abu al-Hasan al-Awwal: Imam Musa (AS), Abu al-Hasan al-Thani: Imam Rida, and Abu al-Hasan al-Thalith: Imam Jawad (AS).

2. Kazim (One who suppresses his anger): The Imam was often forgiving towards enemies, wrongdoers, and those who infringed upon his personal and private rights due to his vast forbearance, patience, and magnanimity. Sometimes, he not only refrained from retaliating or seeking revenge but also treated them with special attention and care.

3. Alim (Scholarly and knowledgeable): This title was unique to him among the multitude of scholars and intellectuals of that shining Islamic era due to his vast knowledge and complete mastery of various sciences.

4. Saleh (Virtuous): A title given by his friends and admirers based on his worthiness, worship, and obedience. Sometimes, this title also served as a secret symbol for his followers to avoid detection by enemies unaware of the Shia secrets.

5. Bab al-Hawa’ij (The Door to Fulfilling Needs): The people of Baghdad, after numerous experiences and repeated tests, named him “Bab al-Hawa’ij” because in times of need and distress, when seeking divine intercession, they benefited from his esteemed presence and had their prayers answered through his mediation. This title was attributed to him posthumously.

6.Sabir (Patient): Steadfast and enduring against the injustices and oppression from the usurping caliphs towards this noble personality. The unjust caliphs afflicted him with various kinds of hardships and injustices, yet he never lost his resolve and steadfastness, never showing the slightest weakness or weariness.

7. Amin (Trustworthy): The embodiment of trustworthiness and integrity in fulfilling trusts in every sense of the word was present in his noble being. In addition to worldly trustworthiness, he was a true and honest guardian in carrying out the divine mission, fulfilling human obligations, and leading his people. He sacrificed his life in the path of Imamate and spent his life in prisons so that people could live freely.

Physical Descriptions of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far (AS)

Although the true essence of a person lies in their thoughts, opinions, works, and not in their physical appearance, to provide seekers and admirers with a glimpse into the celestial face of this Islamic luminary, we follow the tradition of biographers with a slight verbal modification to present not only a portrayal of his mental values but also a nearly tangible image of that noble personage.

Historians have recorded that: He had a reasonable stature and a suitable and beautiful physique. His face was wheat-colored and radiant, his hair black and abundant, his face serene and celestial, his teeth well-spaced, his shoulders broad and wide, his body slim and slender, and overall, he carried an aura of dignity and majesty, with the glow of spirituality and the brilliance of sanctity manifesting from his heavenly visage.

His recitation of Quranic verses, with those sorrowful tunes and captivating voice, created a world of grace and purity for those of insight, which was both delightful and transformative. He always wore under his clothes a garment made of coarse wool, yet his outer garment was expensive and luxurious. He always advised wearing clean and beautiful clothing, not considering modesty in dress appropriate, saying: “My great-grandfather Ali ibn al-Husayn (AS) always wore luxurious clothing that sometimes cost more than five hundred dirhams and owned an expensive cloak that he usually purchased for fifty dinars.” Then, following his advice, he would recite this verse:

Say, “Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision?”

His sons

Most historians and genealogists have disagreed on the number of children of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him. While Ibn Shahar Ashub has written that the Imam had thirty children, the author of ‘Umdat al-Talib has increased this number to sixty. Accordingly, 37 of them were daughters and 23 were sons. Al-Yaqubi has stated the number of the Imam’s children as 41, comprising 18 sons and 23 daughters, and the author of Kashf al-Ghummah has mentioned 38 children in total, with 20 daughters and 18 sons. However, according to the late Al-Mufid, Imam Musa ibn Ja’far had thirty-seven children, eighteen sons, and nineteen daughters, and he has listed all their names in order.

Sheikh Mufid writes: “The best and most noble of the children of Abu al-Hasan Musa, peace be upon him, the greatest in stature, the most knowledgeable, and the most virtuous among them was Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Musa al-Rida, peace be upon him”. Among the Imam’s children, he was the most superior in rank, stature, knowledge, virtue, and perfection.

Abu al-Salt al-Harawi has narrated from Ishaq ibn Musa ibn Ja’far who said he heard from his father Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him, telling his sons: “This is your brother Ali ibn Musa, the scholar of the family of Muhammad. Ask him about your religion and remember what he tells you, for I have heard my father Ja’far ibn Muhammad, peace be upon him, repeatedly saying to me: ‘The scholar of the family of Muhammad is in your loins, and I wish I could meet him for he is named after Amir al-Mu’minin Ali'”. This implies that Ali ibn Musa was recognized as a significant source of knowledge and wisdom within the family.

Another distinguished child of Imam Kazim, peace be upon him, was Ahmad ibn Musa, known for his tomb in Shiraz, called Shah Cheragh. Mufid writes about him as a noble, generous, and pious man whom Imam Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him, loved and favored, granting him his famous estate called “Yesira”. It is said that Ahmad ibn Musa, may Allah be pleased with him, freed a thousand slaves during his lifetime. Another of the Imam’s sons was Muhammad ibn Musa, known for his piety and devotion, constantly in a state of ablution and engaged in prayer, sleeping little at night, and dedicating himself to worship. One of his close associates said, “I never saw him without being reminded of Allah’s words, ‘They used to sleep but little of the night'”, hence Muhammad was called “Muhammad the Worshipper” and is also buried in Shiraz.

Among other children was Ibrahim ibn Musa, a brave and generous man who became the governor of Yemen on behalf of Muhammad ibn Zayd ibn Ali ibn al-Hussein, peace be upon him, during the time of Al-Ma’mun. Muhammad ibn Zayd was someone who rebelled during Al-Ma’mun’s era, and Abu al-Saraya supported him in Kufa, capturing it and staying there until Abu al-Saraya was killed in battle against the Abbasids, dispersing Muhammad ibn Zayd’s cause. Ibrahim ibn Musa sought amnesty from Al-Ma’mun, later coming to Baghdad where he lived until his death.

The late Hadith scholar Al-Qummi, discussing the daughters of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him, writes that according to what has reached us, the most distinguished among them was the noble and esteemed lady, Fatimah bint Imam Musa, known as Hazrat Ma’sumah, peace be upon her.

The author of Qamus al-Rijal says that among all the children of Imam Musa al-Kazim, peace be upon him, none were comparable to Hazrat Ma’sumah after Imam Rida, peace be upon him.

The extraordinary status of Hazrat Ma’sumah, peace be upon her, becomes clear from a narration by Imam Sadiq, peace be upon him, before her birth. He said: “Indeed, Allah has a sanctuary, and it is Mecca. Indeed, the Messenger of Allah has a sanctuary, and it is Medina. Indeed, Amir al-Mu’minin has a sanctuary, and it is Kufa. Indeed, my sanctuary and the sanctuary of my descendants after me is Qom… Indeed, for Paradise, there are eight gates, three of which lead to Qom. A woman from my descendants named Fatimah, daughter of Musa, will be taken there. Through her intercession, all our Shia will enter Paradise”.

According to Yaqubi, Imam Kazim, peace be upon him, had twenty-three daughters. He recorded that Imam Musa ibn Ja’far instructed that his daughters should not marry except for one, Umm Salama, who married in Egypt to Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Ja’far, and this caused a significant dispute among Qasim and his relatives to the extent that Qasim swore only to take her for Hajj without any other intentions.

The author of the History of Qom suggests that the reason for this practice was the difficulty in finding suitable matches for the daughters of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him, who had twenty-one daughters, none of whom married. This became a tradition among his daughters, and Muhammad ibn Ali al-Rida, peace be upon him, endowed ten dowries in Medina for his daughters and sisters who did not marry, with the shares for those residing in Qom being sent from Medina.

Sheikh Mufid concludes: “Each child of Abu al-Hasan Musa, peace be upon him, had renowned virtues and merits, with al-Rida, peace be upon him, being the most virtuous among them as we have mentioned”.

Following the martyrdom of Imam Kazim, peace be upon him, the Shia community faced another split, resulting in five sects, the most famous of which were two: the Waqifites, who denied the death of the seventh Imam and considered him the “Qa’im” and “Mahdi”, believing he would not die until he filled the earth with justice and equity; and the Qat’ites, who affirmed the death of the seventh Imam and recognized the Imamate of Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida, peace be upon him, as his rightful successor.

Despite challenges, including opposition from some of his own brothers, Imam Rida, peace be upon him, was supported by his father’s prominent followers and some Shia scholars and jurists through explicit texts and hints about his Imamate. Many from the Waqifite sect later reverted to recognizing Imam Rida’s, peace be upon him, leadership due to the miracles attributed to him, like Abdul Rahman ibn Hajjaj and others who were initially doubtful.

Thus, Imam Rida, peace be upon him, managed to maintain a significant portion of his father’s followers and organized a covert communication system to guide his religious duties, emphasizing the religious dimensions of Islam over political aspects, distinguishing him significantly from figures like Al-Ma’mun.

Social and political conditions during the era of Imam Musa Kazim, peace be upon him

From the year 148 AH, when Imam Sadiq (AS) was martyred, the period of Imamate of Imam Kazim began. During this period, he was contemporary with the following caliphs: Mansur Dawaniki (136 – 158), Muhammad known as Mahdi (158 – 169), Hadi (169 – 170), Harun (170 – 193). At the time of Imam Sadiq’s (AS) death, Mansur Dawaniki, the tyrannical Abbasid caliph, was at the peak of power and dominance. Mansur killed many people to consolidate his rule, not only targeting Shi’as but also persecuting Sunni scholars and prominent figures who opposed him.

Political ethos of Imam Musa Kazim, peace be upon him

Imam Musa ibn Ja’far (AS) had various debates with the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, in which the rejection of the Harunid government and the ideal of establishing a divine government led by the infallible Imams were clearly stated.

We read in history: One day Harun told Imam Kazim to define the boundaries of Fadak so he could return it to him. The Imam (AS) refused to respond. Harun persisted in his insistence. The Imam (AS) said: I will not accept it except within its true boundaries. When Harun insisted on defining the boundaries, the Imam said: If I define them, you will surely not agree. Harun swore that if the boundaries were defined, he would return it. The Imam (AS) said: The first boundary of that land is Aden. At this, Harun’s face changed, and he said in astonishment: Continue. The Imam said: And the second boundary is Samarkand. Harun’s displeasure grew with each boundary. The Imam said the third boundary is Africa.

As Harun’s face turned black with annoyance, the Holy Imam said: And the fourth boundary is the shores of the Caspian Sea and Armenia. The Holy Imam delineated the boundaries of the Islamic country, which at that time, was under Harun’s rule. Harun said: Then nothing remains for us. Stand up and take my place. The Imam said: I told you, if I define its boundaries, you will never give it.

Guidance in the Life of Imam Musa al-Kazim, peace be upon him

From the year 148 AH, when Imam Sadiq, peace be upon him, was martyred, based on the testament and designation by his father, until the year 183 AH, he took on the responsibility of guardianship and Imamate of the Shi’as and spent a 35-year period of Imamate in an environment filled with oppression and secrecy, accompanied by Taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation). In such an environment, Imam Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him, in addition to the responsibility of Imamate and leadership of the Islamic community, succeeded in educating many students. Despite the prevailing suppression, many scholars and Shiite notables benefited from his knowledge and wisdom, narrating numerous traditions in various fields from him. The abundance of his juristic traditions, following Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq, peace be upon them, is a testament to this claim.

Ethical and Worshipful Life of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far

Ziyad ibn Abi Salma was a lover of Imam Kazim, “peace be upon him,” but also had connections with the regime of Harun al-Rashid. One day, the Imam saw him and asked: “I have heard you work for Harun al-Rashid and cooperate with them?!” He said: “Yes, my master!” The Imam asked: “Why?” He replied: “My master! I am in honorable poverty. I am forced to work to provide for my family’s needs.” The Imam, with a stern face, said: “But if I fall from a height and become shattered into pieces, it would be better for me than to undertake a task of the oppressors or step on their carpets, except in one case. Do you know in what case?” He said: “No, may I be sacrificed for you!” The Imam said: “I would never cooperate with them unless I either relieve a believer’s grief by solving his problem or remove distress from his face by paying off his debt. O Ziyad! Know that the least action the Lord does with the supporters of oppressors is that He places them in a coffin of fire until the Day of Judgment. O Ziyad! Whenever you undertake a job among these oppressors, do good to your brothers so that it may serve as atonement for your deed. When you gain power, know that your God also has power on the Day of Judgment, and know that your good deeds will pass and others may forget them, but they will remain with God and for the Day of Judgment.”

Hardships and Tribulations of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far

Imam Kazim (AS) lived in the challenging conditions of the Abbasid regime, where the arrest and persecution of the supporters of the Ahl al-Bayt were the common policies of the caliphs. Naturally, he also suffered imprisonment and torture by Harun al-Rashid. Historical evidence shows that Imam Musa ibn Ja’far (AS) became a victim of the fear Harun had of losing his reign, as well as the victim of slanders and false reports of enemies and flatterers.

Sindi ibn Shahak, the chief of police for Harun in Baghdad, was very harsh, strict, and heartless, one of the executioners and murderers. Sindi took custody of the Imam, put him in chains, treated him harshly, and even subjected the Imam to insults and beatings, ultimately poisoning him with poisoned dates. After three days, the pure soul of the Imam departed from his sacred body, and he joined God on the 25th of Rajab in the year 183 AH, and the skies of Baghdad darkened with the setting of this radiant sun.

A Page from the Book of Virtues of Imam Musa al-Kazim

Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon him, was among the most noble children of Imam Sadiq, peace be upon him, and stood at a higher rank than them, with his nobility being more renowned than his brothers. During his time, no one was seen more generous, honorable, and sociable than him, and in worship, he was the leader of the people of his time, the most ascetic among them, and surpassed all in dignity, understanding, and knowledge.

And the majority of his father Imam Sadiq’s, peace be upon him, Shia believed in his Imamate, bowed their heads in respect before him, complied with his orders, and narrated many texts, traditions, and hints from his noble father regarding his Imamate and succession. They obtained the landmarks and commands of their religion from him and narrated so many signs and miracles from him that it would serve as conclusive evidence of his Imamate and authority.

Stories from the Life of Imam Musa al-Kazim, peace be upon him

 Imam Kazim was working and tending to the land that belonged to him, sweating profusely from his labor. Ali ibn Abi Hamzah al-Bata’ini arrived at that moment and said, “May I be sacrificed for you, why do you not delegate this work to others?”

“Why should I delegate it to others? People better than me have always done such work.”

“For example, who?”

“The Prophet of God, Amir al-Mu’minin, and all my fathers and ancestors. Indeed, working and being active on the land is among the traditions of the prophets, the successors of the prophets, and the worthy servants of God.”

In the Shade of the Illuminating Words of Imam Kazim

  • “Do not teach wisdom to the ignorant, lest you do them injustice, and do not withhold it from its people, lest you do them injustice” لَا تَمْنَحُوا الْجُهَّالَ الْحِکْمَةَ فَتَظْلِمُوهَا وَ لَا تَمْنَعُوهَا أَهْلَهَا فَتَظْلِمُوهُم
  •  Be gentle, for gentleness is fortunate, and harshness is ominous. Indeed, gentleness, righteousness, and good manners populate homes and increase sustenance. عَلَیْکَ بِالرِّفْقِ فَإِنَّ الرِّفْقَ یُمْنٌ وَ الْخُرْقَ شُؤْمٌ إِنَّ الرِّفْقَ وَ الْبِرَّ وَ حُسْنَ الْخُلُقِ یَعْمُرُ الدِّیَارَ وَ یَزِیدُ فِی الرِّزْق
  • The best thing by which a servant can draw near to Allah, after recognizing Him, is prayer, being dutiful to parents, and avoiding envy, self-admiration, and arrogance.” أَفْضَلُ مَا یَتَقَرَّبُ بِهِ الْعَبْدُ إِلَى اللَّهِ بَعْدَ الْمَعْرِفَةِ بِهِ الصَّلَاةُ وَ بِرُّ الْوَالِدَیْنِ وَ تَرْکُ الْحَسَدِ وَ الْعُجْبِ وَ الْفَخْر

Companions and Students of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far

A large group of scholars and narrators of traditions gathered around Imam Musa al-Kazim (AS), and he expressed very wise opinions in various religious sciences.

Although hundreds benefited from the bountiful presence of Imam Musa al-Kazim (AS) and narrated his sayings and traditions, among his companions, the traditions of eighteen individuals became famous for their truthfulness and trustworthiness, and their narrations were stamped with credibility and assurance, and everyone acknowledged the truth of their words. Six of them were students of Imam Baqir (AS), six were companions of Imam Sadiq (AS), and the rest were among the special disciples trained by Imam Kazim (AS) himself. Their names include: Yunus ibn Abd al-Rahman, Safwan ibn Yahya, Muhammad ibn Abi Umayr, Abdullah ibn al-Mughira, Hasan ibn Mahbub al-Sarrad, Ahmad ibn Abi Nasr al-Bazanti.

These individuals were referred to as the companions of consensus. Other distinguished students were nurtured in the scholarly and spiritually rich school of the seventh Imam, including Muhammad ibn Khalad, Abdul Rahman al-Bajali, Ali ibn Ja’far, Ishaq ibn Ammar al-Sairafi, Ismail ibn Musa ibn Ja’far, Hussein ibn Ali ibn Fadhal, Dawud al-Raqqi, Abdul Salam ibn Saleh Harawi, Musa ibn Bakir, and Ismail ibn Mehran.

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