Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (peace be upon him)
Title: al-Taqi [the Pious]; al-Jawad [the Generous], al-Qani’ [the Content]
Kunya: Abu Ja’far, al-Thani (the Second); Ibn al-Ridha
Father: Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (Peace be upon him)
Born: 10th Rajab, 195 AH/811 CE in Madinah, Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula
Died: End of Dhu al-Qidah (which may fall on the 29th or the 30th, depending on moon-sighting), 220 AH/835 CE, after being poisoned by al-Mu’tasim
Age at Martyrdom: 25
Period of Imamate: 17 years
Buried: Kadhimayn, Baghdad, Iraq
The Ninth Imam
After Imam al-Ridha’s martyrdom, the Abbasid ruler Ma’mun relocated his headquarters to Baghdad. One day, Ma’mun went hunting on the outskirts of town. After he passed the city limits, he saw a group of young boys playing, while another boy was standing near them.
As Ma’mun approached, all of the boys ran away except for the nine year old boy who had been standing there. Ma’mun then came closer and asked the boy, “Young man! What stopped you from running away as your friends did?!”
The boy replied promptly, “My friends ran away out of fear; while the thoughts of you should be positive (in the sense) that the one who is not at fault should not run away from you; and the road was not (too) narrow such that I should move to the side.”
Ma’mun was impressed by the young man’s words and radiant features. “What is your name, young man?” asked Ma’mun. The boy responded, with the memory of his poisoned father still fresh in his mind, “Muhammad, son of ‘Ali al-Ridha.”[i]
The ninth Imam, Muhammad, son of ‘Ali, was the first among the twelve immaculate Imams to actively begin his role as Divine representative while still a child. How was this possible? Even when Imam al-Jawad was only three, Imam al-Ridha defended the future Imam, saying, “What is wrong with that? Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the proof (as a witness upon creation) when he was less than three years old.”[ii]
Imam Muhammad al-Jawad
“…The Imam after me is Muhammad, my son…”[iii] These were the words of Imam al-Ridha, giving glad tidings of the future Imam. This Imam would raise the banner of Divine leadership even as a young boy. For, indeed, he inherited the spiritual knowledge and guidance of the earlier Imams.
Two of the most well-known titles of the Imam were al-Taqi (the pious one, aware of God) and al-Jawad (the generous one, prompt in giving). Imam Muhammad al-Jawad’s giving was by no means limited to monetary wealth. Rather, his benevolence also manifested in the way he imparted knowledge and kindness to both friend and foe…[iv]
After Ma’mun secretly poisoned Imam al-Ridha, he tried to cover up his crime by showing signs of mourning and sadness in public. However, these acts did not fool the close companions of Imam al-Ridha and it quickly became clear to the Shia that Imam al-Ridha was murdered by none other than Ma’mun.
Ma’mun, fearing Shia reprisal, thought up another one of his devious plots. He had Imam Muhammad al-Jawad forcibly taken from Madinah to Baghdad, and kept under close surveillance. For purposes of appearing to be on Imam al-Jawad’s side and keeping tabs on the Imam, Ma’mun made arrangements for his daughter to marry the Imam.[v],[vi]
Many Abbasids objected to the marriage arrangement. They complained that the young man could not possibly have sufficient knowledge and understanding to be an appropriate suitor. But Imam Muhammad al-Jawad was bound to refute this assumption soon enough.[vii]
Hunting in the State of Ihram
Mamun agreed to allow the Abbasids to test Imam al-Jawad’s knowledge. Hence, the Abbasids chose one of the most notable scholars of their day to ask Imam al-Jawad an intricate question in Islamic law. The area of law which was chosen was hajj (pilgrimage), which is distinctly complex when compared to other areas of fiqh. The question dealt with a muhrim (someone in the ritual state of ihram), who is prohibited from a number of actions which are normally allowed. The Abbasid scholar asked, “What do you say…about a muhrim who hunted (some type of) prey?”
The young Imam al-Jawad responded eloquently with a detailed breakdown of the different branches which the question could apply to. “Did (the muhrim) hunt beyond or within the sanctuary? Was the muhrim knowledgeable or ignorant? Did (the muhrim) hunt intentionally or mistakenly? Was the muhrim free or a servant? Was (the muhrim) young or elderly?…”
After Imam al-Jawad divided the question into eleven distinct subsections, the Abbasid scholar was baffled and began stumbling over his words. At that point, the audience realized the gravity of their false assumption about the young Imam.
When Imam al-Jawad explained the answer to each branch of the original question, it was his turn to ask the Abbasid scholar a question…After hearing the question, the Abbasid scholar was dumbfounded once again. He asked Imam al-Jawad to explain the answer to him and the Imam did so. Repeated exchanges, such as this one, eliminated the doubts some may have had regarding the superior intellectual merit of Imam al-Jawad…[viii]
The Unexcused Thief
An Abbasid named Mu’tasim came to power after Ma’mun’s death. He made sure to have Imam al-Jawad brought to Baghdad once more – as the Holy Imam had since returned to Madinah. Mu’tasim had become aware of Imam al-Jawad’s growing influence throughout the Muslim world. Fearing that Imam al-Jawad’s noble qualities and spiritual eminence may threaten his rule, Mu’tasim monitored the Imam’s activities very carefully. While this limited Imam al-Jawad’s mobility, it also gave the ninth Imam opportunities to propagate knowledge in Mu’tasim’s court.[ix]
One such opportunity took place when Mu’tasim sought Imam al-Jawad’s view on the penalty of an unexcused thief. Based on God’s directives to humanity, Mu’tasim and the scholars of his court knew that the thief’s ‘hand’ was to be severed. But the definition and limits of the word ‘hand’ were the topic of discussion.
Mu’tasim first asked the scholars of his court for their opinions, along with supporting evidence. Some scholars said that the hand, up until the wrist, was to be severed. Others said that the hand, up until the elbow, was to be severed. Each jurist presented his supporting evidence but Mu’tasim was not satisfied.
After Mu’tasim insisted that Imam al-Jawad present his opinion, the ninth holy Imam said that all of Mu’tasim’s scholars were mistaken. Not even the palm of a thief’s hand was to be severed. As the Imam explained, his proof was based on “the words of the Messenger of God, ‘Prostration is (performed) on seven (body) parts: the face, the (two) hands (meaning: palms), the (two) knees, and the (two) feet.’ If the (person’s) hand is severed from the wrist, or the elbow, (the person) would no longer have a hand (meaning: palm) to prostrate on; and God – the Blessed, the Exalted – has said, ‘The places of worship (prostration) belong to God,’ meaning these seven (body) parts that one prostrates on, ‘so do not invoke anyone along with God.’[x] That which belongs to God is not severed.”
Mu’tasim was pleased by Imam al-Jawad’s discussion and the sentence was carried out in accordance with it.[xi]
Martyrdom of Imam al-Jawad
The scholars of Mu’tasim’s court felt humiliated by the episode of the unexcused thief. Some of these scholars approached Mu’tasim and attempted to convince him that the way he had sided with Imam al-Jawad may compromise his grip on power. Mu’tasim, realizing the danger to his rule, and following in the footsteps of Abbasid rulers before him, decided to murder the Imam.[xii]
The corrupt Mu’tasim eventually executed his wicked will and had Imam Muhammad al-Jawad poisoned. The Holy Imam was just over twenty five years old. Imam al-Jawad was buried near his grandfather, Imam Musa al-Kadhim, in present-day Kadhimiyya.[xiii]
[i] Pg. 103 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[ii] Pg. 21, Vol. 50 of Bihar al-Anwar by ‘Allamah Majlisi
[iii] Pg. 266, Vol. 2 of Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha by Sh. Saduq
[iv] Pg. 473 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[v] Pg. 474 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[vi] Pg. 496-498 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[vii] Pg. Pg. 486 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[viii] Pg. 487-489 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[ix] Pg. 502 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[x] Quran 72:18
[xi] Pg. 490-491 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[xii] Pg. 502 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[xiii] Pg. 106 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani