Imam Ali Ar-Ridha (A)

In: Ahlul-Bayt


Birth 11th Dhul Qa’dah 114 AH 
Titles Al-Ridha, Zamin-e-Thamin, Gharib-ul-Ghuraba, Alim e Ale Muhammad 
Death 29th Safar 203 AH Mashhad, Iran 


A’bd al-Salaam Ibn Saaleh al-Hirawi states: I heard Imam Ridha (A) say: “May God have mercy on one who revives our mission!”
I said to him (peace be upon him): How can one revive your mission?
He (peace be upon him) said: “He should learn our teachings and impart them to the people, for if the people become aware of the beauty and charm of our words and teachings, they shall surely follow us.”
(Ma’ani al-Akhbaar, pg. 180; U’yun Akbaar al-Reza, vol, 1, pg. 3)

He is Ali son of Musa son of Ja’ffar son of Muhammad son of Ali son of al-Husayn son of Ali son of Abu Talib (A), eighth in the series of the Imams belonging to the Ahl al-Bayt (A), in whose personalities all the standards of greatness have been personified; so, they became its most magnificent example and most genuine fountainhead. 

His birthplace is Medina, and his resting place is Mashad, Iran.

Historians disagree a great deal about the year of his birth and even in determining the month as well, and they also disagree about determining the year and the month of his death.

He was born in Medina on Friday, or Thursday, Dhul-Hijja 11, or Dhul-Qi’da, or Rabi’ul-Awwal, of the Hijri year 148 or the year 153. He died on Friday, or Monday, near the end of the month of Safar, or the 17th of Safar, or Ramadan 21, or Jumada I 18, or Dhul-Qi’da 23, or the end of Dhul-Qi’da, of the year 202 or 203 or 206. In his ‘Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, al-Saduq states: “What is accurate is that he died on the 13th of Ramadan, on a Friday, in the year 203.”

What is most likely is that his death took place in the year 203 as stated by al-Saduq. It is the same year in which al-Mamoon marched towards Iraq. To say that he died in 206 is not to agree with the truth because al-Mamoon marched towards Baghdad in the year 204, and the Imam died while he was heading in the same direction. 

There is a great deal of dispute regarding the name of his mother and the number of his offspring and their names.

His life was characterised by a somber tragic stamp from its grievous beginning till its painful end. Bitterness seldom parted from his soul during the periods he lived, i.e. the reign of Harun al-Rashid and the beginning of the regime of Ma’mun, the latter’s son. 

Imam Ali ar-Ridha was brought up under the holy guidance of his father for thirty-five years. His own insight and brilliance in religious matters combined with the excellent training and education given by his father made him unique in his spiritual leadership. Imam ar-Ridha was a living example of the piety of the great Prophet and the chivalry and generosity of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Imam Musa al-Kadhim was well aware of the aggressive designs of the government in power against the Imamate and therefore, during his lifetime he declared Imam ar-Rida as his successor in the presence of hundred and seventy-one prominent religious divines and called upon his sons and his family to submit to him and refer to him in all matters after him. He also left behind a written document declaring the succession of Imam ar-Ridha duly signed and endorsed by not less than sixteen prominent persons. All these necessary steps were taken by the great Imam to avoid any confusion that may have arisen after his death.

Imam Musa al-Kadhim was poisoned while he was still in prison and passed away on 25th Rajab 183 AH, and on the same day Imam ar-Ridha was declared as the Eighth Imam of the Muslim world. Imam ar-Ridha had the great task before him of coming out with the correct interpretation of the Holy Qur’an; specially under the most unfavourable circumstances prevailing under the government of Harun ar-Rashid. Many belonging to the faith were imprisoned and those who were free and could not be jailed faced untold atrocities and sufferings. Imam ar-Rida, of course, stamped his impression upon his age by carrying on the mission of the Great Prophet in a peaceful manner even during the most chaotic periods, and it was mostly due to his efforts that the teachings of the Holy Prophet and his descendants became widespread.

Imam ar-Ridha had inherited great qualities of head and heart from his ancestors. He was a versatile person and had full command over many languages. He was described as the greatest sage, saint and scholar of the second century (AH). Once, on his way to Khurasan, when he (the Imam) was brought by force by the guards of Ma’mun from Medina, he arrived on horseback at Nayshabur. Myriads of people gathered around him and all roads were over crowded as they had come to meet and see their great Imam. Abu Dhar’ah ar-Razi and Muhammad ibn Aslam at-Tusi, the two great scholars of the day, stepped out of the crowd and begged the Imam to halt there for a moment so that the faithful may be able to hear his voice. They also requested the Imam to address the gathering. The Imam granted the request and in his brief address told the mammoth gathering the real interpretation of la ilaha illa Allah. Quoting Allah, he continued to say that the kalimah is the fortress of Allah and whoever entered the fortress saved himself from His wrath. He paused for a moment and continued that there were also a few conditions to entitle the entrance to the fortress and the greatest of all conditions was sincere and complete submission to the Imam of the day; and very boldly and frankly explained to the people that any disloyalty to the Prophet and his descendants would withdraw the right of the entrance to the fortress. The only way to earn Almighty Allah’s pleasure was to obey the Prophet and his progeny and that was the only path to salvation and immortality.

The above-mentioned incident speaks clearly of the great popularity of Imam ar-Rida, and the love, loyalty and respect the Muslims gave their beloved Imam. Ma’mun, the king during that time, was conscious of the fact that he would not survive for long if he also did not express his loyalty to the great leader and his intelligence department had made it clear to him that the Iranian people were truly and sincerely loyal to the Imam and he could only win them over if he also pretended to give respect and sympathetic consideration to our eighth Holy Imam.

Therefore, being the very shrewd person that he was, Ma’mun made a plan to invite Imam ar-Rida and to offer him the heirship to the throne. The Imam was summoned by a royal decree and was compelled, under the circumstances, to leave Medina – where he was living a quiet life – and present himself at the royal court of Ma’mun. On his arrival, Ma’mun showed him hospitality and great respect, then he said to him: “I want to rid myself of the caliphate and vest the office in you.” However the Holy Imam refused his offer. Ma’mun further repeated his offer in a letter saying: “If you refuse what I have offered you, then you must accept being the heir after me.” Yet again however, the Holy Imam refused his offer vigorously.  However Ma’mun rejected the Imam’s refusal. Eventually Imam accepted his offer on the following conditions:

“I will agree to what you want of me as far as succession is concerned on condition that I do not command, nor order, nor give legal decisions, nor judge, nor appoint, nor dismiss, nor change anything from how it is at present.”

Ma’mun accepted all of the conditions.

On the day when Ma’mun ordered to make the pledge of allegiance  Imam – ar-Ridha,  one of the close associates of the Holy Imam who was present, narrates:

“On that day I was in front of him. He looked at me while I was feeling happy about what had happened. He signaled me to come closer. I went closer to him and he said so that no one else could hear, ‘Do not occupy your heart with this matter and do not be happy about it. It is something which will not be achieved.”

Therefore why did Ma’mun offer his leadership to our 8th Holy Imam?

Accrording to Allamah ash-Shibli, Ma’mun could not help but hold him in great esteem because of the Imam’s piety, wisdom, knowledge, modesty, decorum and personality. Therefore, he decided to nominate him a the rightful heir to the throne. Furthermore earlier in 200 AH Ma’mun had summoned the ‘Abbasids to his palace.  Thirty-three thousand ‘Abbasids responded to the invitation and were entertained as royal guests. During their stay at the capital he very closely observed and noted their capabilities and eventually arrived at the conclusion that not one of them deserved to succeed him. He therefore spoke to them all in an assembly in 201 AH telling them in categorical terms that none of the ‘Abbasids deserved to succeed him. He demanded allegiance to Imam ar-Rida from the people in that very meeting and declared that royal robes would be green in future, the color which had the unique distinction of being that of the Imam’s dress. A Royal decree was published saying that Imam ar-Rida would succeed Ma’mun.

However even after the declaration of succession when there was every opportunity for the Imam to live a splendid worldly royal life, Imam ar-Ridha did not pay any heed to material comforts and devoted himself completely to imparting the true Islamic conception of the Prophet’ s teachings and the Holy Qur’an. He spent most of his time praying to God and serving the people. Taking full advantage of the concessions given to him by virtue of his elevated position in the royal court, he organized the majalis commemorating the martyrdom of the martyrs of Karbala’. These majalis were first held during the days of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir and Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, but Imam ar-Rida gave the majalis a new impetus by encouraging those poets who wrote effective poems depicting the moral aspects of the tragedy and the suffering of Imam Husayn and his companions.

Ma’mun had been very scared of the growing popularity of the Imam and he had appointed him as his heir to the throne only for the fulfillment of his own most ambitious and sinister designs and getting the Imam’s endorsement to his tricky plans. However the Imam naturally refused to give his endorsement to any such plans which were against the teaching of Islam. Ma’mun therefore became very disappointed with him and as a result of the Imam’s growing popularity as well as to ensure his own (Mam’uns) survival, he decided to act in line with the old traditions of killing the Imam.

Seeking to do so in a subtle manner, he invited the Imam to dinner, and fed him poisoned grapes. The Imam died on 17th Safar 203 AH, he was buried in Mashad and his Grand Shrine speaks well for the great personality the Imam possessed. Myriads of followers visit his Shrine every year to pay their homage to this Imam.

Imam has promised the following to all those who visit his shrine in Mashad:

By Allah I swear that this place – my shrine – is one of the Eden Gardens- he who visits me in the shrine is like visiting the shrine of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and that of my ancestors and I will be his intercessor on the day of reckoning.

Therefore, motivation for us all to visit – inshallah.

2. Hussaini Youth
3. Last quote – from terminal in Mashad Airport


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