Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (a) is the eighth Shiite Imam. His kunya is Abul Hassan and was born on Dhu al-Qa‘dah 11, 148 AH in Medina and was martyred on the last day of Safar, 203 AH in Khorasan. In this article, we will discuss the events before and after the martyrdom of Imam al-Rida (a).
Imam al-Rida (a) in Medina
Imam al-Rida (a) became the Imam after his father, Imam Musa ibn Ja‘far al-Kazim (a), was martyred. At that time, he was in Medina. The Shiites of Imam al-Kazim (a) asked him who would be the Imam after him. He replied, pointing to Imam al-Rida (a), “My son Ali.” Imam al-Rida’s imamate was 20 years. He was the Imam for 17 years in Medina and only three years in Khorasan. Imam al-Rida (a) was very much respected in Medina, and whoever had any religious questions would ask his eminence. He enjoyed great popularity in Medina.
Imam al-Rida (a) Is Forcefully Taken to Khorasan
The Abbasid ruler of the time, Ma’mun, noticed how Imam al-Rida was a respected figure in Medina and had a charismatic personality and how all the Shias were obedient to him. This angered him and made him jealous. Therefore, he had the Imam taken to Khorasan, the center of his government, by force. To legitimize his governance, he tried to show people how much he respected Imam al-Rida (a). Eventually, Ma’mun made Imam al-Rida (a) his heir apparent. Imam al-Rida (a) was forced to accept such a position as he did not want to acknowledge Ma’mun as a rightful ruler. As days passed, Imam al-Rida’s popularity grew, further infuriating Ma’mun.
Ma’mun Holds Religious Debates
One of Imam al-Rida’s famous titles was “the Scholar from the Progeny of Muhammad” (عالِم آلِ مُحَمَّد). He was very knowledgeable, and no one at that time was at the same level as him in terms of knowledge. Nevertheless, Ma’mun wanted to degrade the Imam’s knowledge status and how it was believed that he had God-given knowledge as an Imam. Therefore, he held debates in which scholars of other religions and schools of thought debated with the Imam. The Imam defeated all of them. This further proved Imam al-Rida’s high level of knowledge and how it was from Allah.
The Hadith of the Golden Chain
When the Imam arrived at Nishapur, a city close to Merv, where Ma’mun’s government was, the people there asked him to state a narration.
The Imam said:
“I heard from my father, Musa b. Ja’far (a) who said that he heard from his father Ja’far b. Muhammad (a) and he heard from his father Muhammad b. Ali (a) and he heard from his father Ali b. Husayn (a) who heard from his father al-Husayn b. Ali (a) and he heard from his father Ali b. Abi Talib (a) who said that he (a) heard from the Prophet (s) who said that he heard from the angel Gabriel that he heard from God, Glorious and Almighty, ‘the word ‘La ilah-a illallah’ is My fortress. So, anyone who enters My fortress will be safe from My punishment.’ So, when the caravan of Imam (a) moved, he loudly added, ‘…with all its conditions and I am one of its conditions.’ ” (Translation by Wikishia)
Thousands of scribes wrote this hadith down. What the Imam meant by I am one of its conditions is that people must also accept the wilayah or guardianship of him and all of the Imams before and after him if they want to be safe from the Fire. In other words, monotheism is incomplete unless one believes in the guardianship of the Ahlul Bait (a).
The Eid Prayer
After Ma’mun made Imam al-Rida (a) his heir apparent in the month of Ramadan, he asked his eminence to lead the Eid prayer, which is reported to have been Eid al-Fitr of that same Ramadan. Imam al-Rida (a) declined because of the conditions he had laid down when accepting the princehood. However, Ma’mun insisted, and Imam al-Rida (a) agreed. He said he would lead the Eid prayer the way his forefather Prophet Muhammad (s) did. When the time came, people expected the Imam to come out of his house the way caliphs did.
However, he came out of his house barefoot. He started reciting the special takbirāt of Eid. More and more people began following him until a large crowd gathered. One of Ma’mun’s advisors by the name of Fadl told him to tell the Imam to go back because if so many people prayed behind him, they would be very much attracted to him, and this was not good for Ma’mun’s state of affairs. Therefore, someone went to Imam al-Rida (a) and told him to go back, and so the Imam did.
Ma’mun Decides to Kill Imam al-Rida (a)
As Ma’mun saw that Imam al-Rida’s popularity was growing daily, he thought he was left with no choice but to poison and kill him. Ma’mun’s plans had failed, and everything favored Imam al-Rida (a). Therefore, he invited the Imam to his palace and offered him a cup of pomegranate juice, which he had poisoned. The Imam knew it had poison in it and thus rejected Ma’mun’s offer. However, Ma’mun told his soldiers to draw their swords and force him to drink it. The Imam did so reluctantly.
When the Imam was about to die, they noticed a young man had come to him. They asked him who he was, to which he replied, “This is my son Muhammad (al-Taqi al-Jawad), who has come from Medina.” He miraculously came from Medina to Khorasan to pray before Imam al-Rida’s body and bury him. It is famously known that Imam al-Rida (a) was martyred on the last day of Safar in the year 203 AH. He is buried in Mashhad, where he has a great shrine to which many visitors travel.