Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (peace be upon them)
Title: al-Rida (the Pleasing One)
Kunya: Abu al-Hasan
Father: Musa ibn Jafar (Peace be upon him)
Mother: Umm al-Baneen Najmah
Born: 11th Dhul-Qa’dah, 148 AH/765 CE in Madinah, Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula
Died: 17th Safar, 203 AH/818 CE, after being poisoned by the Abbasid caliph Mamoon.
Age at Martyrdom: 55
Period of Imamate: 20 years
Buried: Mashhad, Iran
The Eighth Imam: al-Rida
A man by the name of Sulayman narrated the following regarding his meeting with Imam al-Kadhim before the Holy Imam had been poisoned:
“I wanted to ask (Imam al-Kadhim) about the proof (the Imam in support of God as a witness) upon the people after him. Then he started (saying):
‘O Sulayman, indeed, ‘Ali is my son, my guardian, and the proof (in support of) God (as a witness) upon the people after me. He is the best of my offspring. So if you remain (living) after me, then be a witness of that for him (in the presence of) my Shia, the people (pledging) allegiance to me, and those asking about (who) my successor is.’”[i]
‘Ali, son of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, was the eighth immaculate Imam. This Imam is more famously known by his title al-Rida (the one who is content/satisfied). Imam al-Rida’s son tells us the reason why his father was named al-Rida, “…God, the Blessed and High, named him al-Rida because he was pleasing to God, the Glorious and Exalted, in His heaven, and pleasing to His messenger and the following Imams on His earth…”
When asked why the other Imams were not also known as al-Rida, the answer the Imam’s son gave was: “Because the defying ones amongst his enemies were pleased with him, and the approving ones amongst his allies were pleased with him, and that was not (the case) with any of his forefathers. For this (reason), he was (singled out) amongst them (in being) named al-Rida.”[ii]
The Imam in Khorasan
After Imam Musa al-Kadhim was murdered and people learned that Harun al-Rashid had been the culprit, the corrupt ruler eased his pressure off the Shia for the remainder of his reign – as to not further incite a rebellion. So, at least for a while, Imam al-Kadhim’s successor was free to teach and speak publically…[iii]
But following the political turmoil which put the Abbasid ruler Ma’mun into power, the eighth Imam was faced with mounting political pressure. Ma’mun thought up a plan to neutralize the growing threat of Shia rebellion and keep tabs on the Shia leadership. By appearing as the ally of Prophet Muḥammad’s descendants, he thought the Shia would lose the incentive to object to his rule. Ma’mun decided to “invite” Imam al-Rida to reside at his palace in Marv, the capital of Khorasan (in modern-day Turkmenistan).
Imam al-Rida, realizing Ma’mun’s intentions, initially rejected the invitation. But after Ma’mun’s insistence, the Imam was escorted to Ma’mun’s palace.
At Ma’mun’s headquarters, the remainder of the corrupt ruler’s plot unfolded. Ma’mun offered to step down from his political role and accept the leadership of Imam al-Rida. Imam al-Rida turned down the offer because he knew Ma’mun was insincere. Ma’mun then suggested that the Imam accept the position of Wilayat al-‘Ahd (being successor or crown prince), as if Abbasid rule had been legitimate to begin with.
Imam al-Rida refused to accept. But Ma’mun could not accept the Imam’s rejection. He threatened to kill him…Even then, the Holy Imam only accepted the title which Ma’mun proposed, after making it clear that he would effectively have no role in Ma’mun’s corrupt government.[iv]
Ma’mun called upon scholars of various ideologies, both within Islam and beyond, in an attempt to stump Imam al-Rida intellectually. The eighth Imam, however, stood before the winds of doubt like an unshakeable mountain of certainty. Imam al-Rida was like a light that showed forth in every dialogue and debate as the unsurpassed source of guidance.[v]
With every discussion, with every scholar, and with every opposing idea, the Imam’s wise and refined thoughts made him even more revered and loved.
In one of the debates with Christian scholars, the Imam reached a point where he said, “…By God, we believe in the Jesus who believed in Muhammad, and we don’t blame your Jesus except for his weakness and the lack of his fasting and prayer.”
The Christian scholar Jathliq responded, “By God, you have corrupted your knowledge and weakened your issue; and I thought that you were the most knowledgeable among the people of Islam!”
The Imam said, “And how is that?”
Jathliq replied, “You said that Jesus was weak, lacking in his fasting, and lacking in his prayer, when Jesus did not break his fast on any day at all, nor did he sleep at night at all, but rather he fasted throughout (his) time and stayed up in worship at night.”
The Imam replied, implicitly clarifying his initial statement, “So (if you say Jesus is God, then) whom did he fast for and pray to?”[vi]
Leadership with Imam al-Rida
During one of the gatherings of Muslim scholars from various schools in Ma’mun’s court, one of the men present asked the Imam a question of great importance: “O son of God’s Messenger, through what (means) is a (person’s) claim to be Imam verified (as truth)?”
Imam al-Rida replied, “Through the text (narrations from the Divine representatives) and the sign.”
As for what this sign was, Imam al-Rida answered that it was, “In (the Imam’s) knowledge and (the Imam’s) prayers being answered.” The man continued to inquire, “What is the explanation for how you (the Imams) speak of what will be (in the future)?” The eighth Imam stated, “That is by a (written) guarantee, (which was) guaranteed to us, from the Messenger of God (Prophet Muhammad).”
Finally, the man asked, “What is the explanation for how you (the Imams) speak of what is in the hearts of people (knowing their thoughts and intentions)?” Imam al-Rida answered, “Has not the saying of the Messenger reached you (when he says), ‘Be cautious of the believer’s discernment – for, indeed, (s)he sees by the Light of God?’”
The man confirmed that he had heard the narration, so the Imam continued, “There is no believer who does not have (some) discernment; (s)he sees by the Light of God to the degree of his faith, and the extent of his insight and knowledge. Indeed, God has gathered (in) the Imams amongst us that which He has dispersed in all the believers…”
Imam al-Rida went on to describe further aspects of this knowledge bestowed upon the Imams. After that, Ma’mun asked about those who went to extremes in praising the Imams. The Imam condemned those who would exaggerate in attempts to praise the Divine representatives by worshipping them and making them into lords, acting independent of God.[vii]
The Failed Plot and Martyrdom
Various events which occurred in Ma’mun’s capital confirmed that Imam al-Rida’s popularity was growing, despite Ma’mun’s ardent efforts to counter that growth. Many of the Abbasids feared that granting Wilayat al-Ahd to Imam al-Rida would remove the Abbasids from power indefinitely. What magnified Ma’mun’s worries was the revolt of some Abbasids back in the traditional capital – Baghdad – against him. These factors led Ma’mun in a decision to rid himself of his worry. Thus, the Abbasid ruler Ma’mun decided to have the holy eighth Imam poisoned.
Imam ‘Ali al-Rida was buried in Tus, present-day Mashhad, Iran. His mausoleum is now a center to which millions of devotees flock every year.[viii]
[i] Pg. 26, Vol. 1 of Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha by Sh. Saduq
[ii] Pg. 13, Vol. 1 of Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha by Sh. Saduq
[iii] Pg. 420 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[iv] Pg. 429 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[v] Pg. 458-459 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[vi] Pg. 467 of Sirat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[vii] Pg. 200-201, Vol. 2 of Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha by Sh. Saduq
[viii] Pg. 100-101 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani