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
Words of Wisdom from Imam al-Rida (p)
“Worship is not in plentiful fasting and prayers, but rather it is in plentiful contemplation of God’s [signs].”1
“Faith has four pillars: entrusting ones’ self to God, contentment in God’s decree, submission to God, and conferring ourselves to God.”2
“Endearment to others is half of intellect.”3
“The servant [of God] has not perfected his\her faith until they have three qualities: understanding of their religion, good management over their lifestyle, and patience during tribulation.”4
Salient Features of the Imam’s Life
1 – Appointment of Imamate
In Shia theology, an important factor in determining the next Imam is nass, or evidence suggesting that the previous Imam clearly appointed the following representative. And there is significant evidence to suggest the appointment of Imam Ali al-Ridha (p), by his father, the seventh imam, Imam Musa al-Kadhim (p).
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.”5
2 – The Imam in Khorasan
After Imam Musa al-Kadhim was martyred and people learned that Harun al-Rashid had been the culprit, the corrupt ruler eased the pressure on the Shia for the remainder of his reign so as not further to incite a rebellion. So, at least for a while, Imam al-Kadhim’s successor was free to teach and speak publicly.
Conflict within the Abbasid government and a host of historical events led Ma’mun, (the son of Harun), into power, and the eighth Imam was then catapulted into mounting political pressure. Ma’mun thought up a plan to neutralize the growing threat of a Shia rebellion and kept tabs on the Shia leadership. To gain legitimacy, Ma’mun forced Imam al-Rida (p) to reside at his palace in Marv, the capital of Khorasan (in modern-day Turkmenistan).
Imam al-Rida, realizing Ma’mun intentions, initially rejected the invitation. But after Ma’mun insistence and threats, the Imam was escorted to Ma’mun 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.6 The Imam attempted to utilize the opportunity at hand to serve and advance the cause of the Shia community.
3 – The Imam’s Debates with Other Faith Leaders
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 shone in every dialogue and debate as the unsurpassed source of guidance.7
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?”8
4 – The Imam’s Martyrdom & Legacy
The Imam (p) made every attempt to continue to preach the message of his forefathers, in spite of the circumstances of living under the watchful eye of the Abbasid authorities. His leadership, gentleness, and knowledge made him popular across the Muslim world, leading to Ma’mun’s fear that his strategy would backfire. 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 to 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. The Imam’s legacy is in the heart of those who love, adore, and visit his mausoleum to which millions of devotees flock every year. In addition, his ethical and spiritual traditions, along with his jurisprudential wisdom, are present in the textbooks and classical hadith works of the Shia community.
- Al-Kafi, Alkulayni, vol. 2, page 55.
- Tuhaf al-Uqool, Ibn Shaba al-Harrani, pg 445.
- Tuhaf al-Uqool, Ibn Shaba al-Harrani, pg 443.
- Tuhaf al-Uqool, Ibn Shaba al-Harrani, pg 446.
- Uyun Akhbar al-Ridhaby Sh. Saduq. vol. 2, pg. 35.
- Al-A’immah il Ithnay ashar, Sh. Ja’far Subhani, pg. 107-118.
- Al-A’immah il Ithnay ashar, Sh. Ja’far Subhani, pg. 107-118.
- Al-Ihtijaj, al-Tabrasi, vol. 2, pg. 203.
“١. روي عن الإمام علي الرضا (ع): “ليس العبادة كثرةَ الصيام والصلاة، وإنّما العبادة كثرة التفكّر في أمر الله
“٢. روي عن الإمام علي الرضا (ع): “الإيمان أربعة أركان: التوكّل على الله، والرضى بقضاء الله، والتسليم لأمر الله، والتفويض إلى الله.
“٣. روي عن الإمام علي الرضا (ع): “التودّد إلى الناس نصف العقل
٤. روي عن الإمام علي الرضا (ع): “لا يستكمل عبد حقيقة الايمان حتى تكون فيه خصال ثلاث: التفقه في الدين وحسن التقدير في المعيشة والصبر على الرزايا
٥. روي عن الإمام موسى الكاظم (ع): “يا سليمان ان عليا ابني ووصيي والحجة على الناس بعدي وهو أفضل ولدى فان بقيت بعدي فاشهد له بذاك عند شيعتي وأهل ولايتي المستخبرين عن خليفتي من بعدي
٦-٧. كتاب الأئمة الإثني عشر للشيخ جعفر السبحاني
٨. جاء في مناظرة الإمام الرضا (ع) مع رأس الجاثليق: “والله إنا لنؤمن بعيسى الذي آمن بمحمد صلى الله عليه وآله. وما ننقم على عيسى شيئا إلا ضعفه وقلة صيامه وصلاته. قال الجاثليق: أفسدت والله علمك، وضعفت أمرك، وما كنت ظننت إلا أنك أعلم أهل الإسلام. قال الرضا عليه السلام: وكيف ذلك؟! قال الجاثليق: من قولك أن عيسى كان ضعيفا، قليل الصيام والصلاة، وما أفطر عيسى يوما قط، وما نام بليل قط، وما زال صائم الدهر قائم الليل. قال الرضا عليه السلام: فلمن كان يصوم ويصلي؟