The Life of Imam Musa al-Kazim: A Look into His Character

The life of Imam Musa al-Kazim, peace be upon him, is rich and storied, steeped in history and tradition. Born in al-Iwaa, a place located between Mecca and Medina, on the seventh day of Safar in the year 128 AH, Imam al-Kazim was welcomed into the world with a celebratory feast in honor of his birth. His father, Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn al-Hussain ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, peace be upon him, was renowned for his truthfulness and trustworthiness, while his mother, Hamida al-Musfah, a daughter of Said al-Barbari, was considered to be of noble non-Arab descent.

Hamida was nicknamed Luluah. Imam al-Sadiq (PBUH) proclaimed, “Hamida, untainted and radiant like a golden bar, remains safeguarded by celestial beings until she brings forth the divine grace and divine proof after me.” She was said to have had a dream in which she saw the moon fall into her lap, to which Imam al-Sadiq said that she would bear a child that there is no veil between him and Allah.

Imam al-Kazim spent nearly five decades of his life in his father’s company, Imam al-Sadiq, and experienced much of the same persecution and suffering that his father endured at the hands of the Abbasid caliphs, particularly al-Saffah, al-Mansur, al-Hadi, al-Mahdi, and al-Rashid. Sadly, Imam al-Kazim was eventually martyred at the hands of al-Rashid, who poisoned him while he was imprisoned in the prison of al-Sindi ibn Shahek, may Allah curse him.

Children of Imam al-Kazim

Imam Musa al-Kazim had many children. Two of the most distinguished among them are Imam al-Rida (a), his noble successor and eighth Imam, and his esteemed daughter Lady Fatima Ma’sumah. Of course, he had many other children whose shrines can be found in various Muslim lands, especially in Iran.

Imamate of Imam al-Kazim

Imam Musa ibn Ja‘far was raised in the nurturing care of his father, Imam Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq (PBUH), where he acquired knowledge of the divine sciences and developed strong moral values. He stood out amongst his brothers at a young age, exhibiting remarkable intelligence and insight. Historical accounts note that a discourse on the topic of compulsion (jabr) and choice (ikhtiyar) took place between Imam al-Kazim and Abu Hanifa. The Imam’s sound reasoning and astute response at such a young age left Abu Hanifa stunned and bewildered, causing him to abandon his initial plan to debate Imam al-Sadiq and instead beaten by the young Imam.

Imam Musa ibn Ja‘far al-Kazim (PBUH) assumed the mantle of imamate during the emergence of the Abbasid state. This was a time marked by great strength and dynamism. He faced challenging and harsh circumstances due to the oppressive rule of the authority led by al-Mansur al-Abbasi. The situation was further complicated by the false claims of the imamate by one of the sons of Imam al-Sadiq (PBUH), Abdullah al-Aftah, and his followers, known as al-Fateh. Meanwhile, there were also Ismailis who believed in the Imamate of Ismail ibn Ja‘far al-Sadiq (PBUH), the elder son of Imam al-Sadiq (PBUH), despite his death during the lifetime of his father.

However, this confusion provided safety for the actual Imam, Imam Musa al-Kazim (peace be upon him), as the Abbasid rulers became uncertain and were unable to determine the Shiite Imam to target or harm him.

The Elevated Status of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH)

As the Imam, in the Shiite belief, holds the mantle of divine revelation and message, possessing unique signs and traits unattainable by any other, Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) established himself as a prominent figure in the Shiite community. His imamate took root deep within the hearts of the Shiites, serving as the embodiment of the imamate’s most profound and meaningful forms.

Throughout even the most trying times of his imprisonment by the Abbasids, Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) remained steadfast in his devotion to Allah, always offering prayers of gratitude even in the face of adversity. He played a crucial role in addressing matters of faith and Sharia in his era, standing against deviant ideological trends, extremist sects, and false hadiths. This led to the city becoming a hub of knowledge and intellectual pursuits for scholars, jurists, and narrators of the time.

Many renowned scholars and experts in various Islamic sciences at the time received their education from the school of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) in Medina, which served as an extension of the teachings of Imam al-Baqir (PBUH) and a continuation of the legacy of Imam al-Sadiq (PBUH).

Ethical Excellence of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH)

Being the infallible Imam of his time, no one matched Imam al-Kazim’s ethical excellence. After all, he was a descendant of the Noble Prophet Muhammad (s), whom as the Quran mentions, possessed the best character among Allah’s creation.

Wisdom and forbearance

Sheikh al-Mufid recounts in his book al-Irshad: “There was a man from the descendants of Umar ibn al-Khattab who would often harm and insult Imam Abu al-Hassan Musa (PBUH) whenever he saw him. Some of his courtiers even suggested killing him, but he forbade them the most severely and rebuked them harshly.

One day, Imam Abu al-Hassan (PBUH) learned that al-Umari, a farmer, was in one of the districts of the city. He rode there to see him and found him on his farm. Upon the Imam’s entry to the farm with his donkey, the man yelled at him and said, “Don’t step on our crops.” However, the Imam kept riding till he reached the man, came down, sat next to him, and tried to ease him up. Then the Imam asked him, “How much did you spend growing your crops?” The man said “One hundred dinars.”  When he asked al-Umari how much he hoped to earn from his crops, the farmer replied, “Two hundred dinars.”

Imam Aba al-Hassan (PBUH) took out a bundle of three hundred dinars and gave it to al-Umari, saying, “This is your crop as it is, and Allah provides you with what you hope for. Al-Umari got up, kissed the Imam on his forehead, and asked him to forgive him for his rude behavior, to which the Imam smiled and left.

The Imam then went to the mosque and found al-Umari sitting there. When he looked at him, al-Umari said, “Allah knows best where he puts his message.”

The companions of Imam Musa al-Kazim approached al-Umari and asked him, “What is your story? You used to say something different,” to which al-Umari replied, “You have heard what I said now.” He then began to pray for Abu al-Hassan (PBUH). This caused an argument between al-Umari and his companions. When Abu al-Hassan returned to his house, he said to his companions who wanted to kill al-Umari, “Which is better, what you wanted or what I wanted? I fixed his affair with the amount you know and avoided his evil.”

In this tale, we witness the inclusiveness and compassion of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) when faced with negative actions from his adversaries. Despite their hostile and malicious behavior towards him, such as insults and provocations, he chose not to respond with violence or aggression. Instead, he employed a wise and compassionate approach to turn the enemy into a friend in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Strategizing a plan to gain the friendship of an opponent by analyzing their mentality, hostile motives, personality weaknesses and strengths, and creating an atmosphere of love and affection is the way of Islam and the Ahlul Bait (peace be upon them).

And thus, we saw Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) plan for the issue in a manner that differed from what his companions thought. He was able to quickly reach a good outcome, where this man became someone who opened up to the Imam with a message-oriented perspective, not from a self-centered one. And thus, the Imam took from this successful and positive experience a starting point to guide his companions to enter into a comparison process between what they intended from killing him and what he intended for reform and to study such issues in a way that resolves the problem from a place of love, not hatred and animosity, and through a gentle approach, not through violence.

Imam al-Kazim’s Care for the Poor

And so it was that Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) would attend to the needs of the poor, bringing them physical and other necessities in the dead of night without revealing the source. He would walk the houses of the poor in the night, bearing provisions such as flour, coins, dates, and raisins, delivering them without the recipients ever knowing from where they came. And he would carry sacks for the poor, known as “the sacks of Musa.”

In the book history of Baghdad, there is a record of Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Bakri who said, “I visited the city to collect a debt owed to me that I couldn’t. I thought to myself, “If I go to Abu al-Hassan Musa (PBUH), and bring my complaint to him, surely he will help me.’’ So, I went to him in al-Naqma (a place in the rural outskirts of the holy city of Medina), and he came out to meet me accompanied by a young servant carrying a piece of cloth filled with fine, crushed barley. With nothing else, we sat down and ate together. Then, he asked about my needs, and I shared my story with him. He went back inside and immediately returned, handing me a bag containing three hundred dinars. Then, he bid me farewell, and I left.

We draw inspiration from this Islamic humanitarian care, exemplified in the modest approach of directly delivering food and money to the poor, as a model of spiritual human compassion in sensing the sufferings and difficulties of the less fortunate and being humble towards them without revealing one’s identity. This is in line with the noble tradition of the Ahlul Bait (peace be upon them), as stated in the honored verse: “We feed you only for the sake of Allah; we do not want any reward or gratitude from you.” (76:9)

Distinguishing Characteristics in the Personality of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH)

Like all the other infallible Imams, Imam al-Kazim was characterized by many virtues. Let us go over some of them.

His Worship

While being imprisoned, Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) saw this as an opportunity to continue his worship and devotion to Allah. His spiritual joy and love for Allah overshadowed any thoughts of the physical hardships he faced in prison. This was the same for many of Allah’s close friends, who were consumed by their love for Allah and did not allow worldly troubles to weigh them down.

It was reported that when Harun al-Rashid imprisoned Imam al-Kazim in Basra for a full year, he kept a close eye on the Imam’s behavior through his trusted friend, Isa ibn Musa. However, throughout his imprisonment, the Imam was always occupied with worshiping Allah and never once complained about his situation or expressed anger towards his captors.

When Harun al-Rashid asked Isa ibn Musa to kill the Imam, he wrote back, “I have observed this man during his time in prison and can attest that he is a true servant of Allah. He never engaged in any wrongdoing and had no interest in worldly matters or power. He only sought forgiveness and mercy for himself and all Muslims while steadfastly continuing his worship, prayer, fasting, and devotion to Allah. If you see it fit, spare me from this responsibility or pass it on to someone else, or I will set him free, as I am deeply troubled by this matter.”

Al-Rashid responded to the request and brought him to Baghdad, where he was placed under the care of Fadl ibn al-Rabi. This man was compassionate towards al-Kazim (PBUH), and some who visited Fadl said, “I entered Fadl ibn al-Rabi’s house, and he was sitting on the roof. He told me to come closer, so I approached him until I was near. Then he said, “Look inside the house,” so I looked, and he asked, “What do you see in the house?” I said, “A spread-out garment.” He said, “Look closely.” I looked and realized it was a man in prostration. He asked me, “Do you know him?” I said, “No.” He said, “This is your master.” I said, “Who is my master?” He replied, “Are you fooling me?” I said, “I’m not fooling you. I just don’t know that I have a master.”

He said, “This is Abu al-Hassan Musa ibn Ja‘far. I observe him day and night, but I have never found him in any state other than what I have told you. He prays the dawn prayer, and he does dua for an hour until the sun rises. Then he prostrates and remains in prostration until midday. He has delegated someone to keep watch for the setting of the sun for him. When the servant says the sun has set, he rises without renewing his ablution, and I know that he did not nap during his prostration, nor did he rest.

He persists in doing so until he concludes the Asr prayer. Upon completing the Asr prayer, he immediately prostrates himself, remaining in this position until the sun sets. Upon the setting of the sun, he rises from his prostration and offers the Maghrib prayer without delay. He continues his worship and its supplementary acts until he offers the Isha prayer. When he prays al-Atmah, he breaks his fast with a small amount of food that is brought to him. He then performs the ablution once more, prostrates, stands back up, and takes a light nap. He then repeats the ablution and continues to pray during the middle of the night until dawn breaks.”

His Connection with the Noble Quran

When exploring the life of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH), it is evident that he was renowned for his exceptional voice in reciting the Quran. His recitation was so powerful and emotional that it evoked fear in the listeners. This is likely because a good voice gives life to the words, making them more impactful and memorable. This is why the Quran was revealed in a sequential manner, as well as an attractive manner, according to the Almighty.

It is reported that Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) would recite the Quran with such passion and devotion that he would often become emotional, and his listeners would shed tears. He was truly dedicated to his relationship with the Quran, and his devotion was reflected in the depth of his recitation. He recited with such reverence and fear of Allah that he would weep until his beard was soaked with tears.

Imam al-Kazim’s Martyrdom

The life of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) is filled with trials and tribulations, but his unwavering faith in the face of adversity remains an inspiration to many. After spending seven years in the prisons of Harun al-Rashid, he was ultimately martyred in 183 AH.

According to historical accounts, Harun al-Rashid became frustrated with Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) and decided to poison him with fresh dates. On the 25th of the month of Rajab, the Imam was martyred, and his passing was mourned by the people of Baghdad, including prominent jurists and members of society.

The death of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) did not go unnoticed, and his legacy continues to live. Al-Haytham ibn Uday, a respected figure in the community, made sure to show the people the face of the Imam even in his death. He was then buried in the Quraish tombs, a cemetery reserved for the noble members of the Banu Hashim tribe. This brief overview of the martyrdom of Imam al-Kazim (PBUH) serves as a testament to his unwavering faith and devotion, even in the face of persecution and death.

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