AND THE TIMES OF
ALI BIN MUSA RAZA (a)
by Dr. Syed Haider Hussain Shamsi
Excerpt from the the late Author's book, Lives of the Twelve Imams From
the Alhe Bait (a).
Ali bin Musa Raza (a) was bom during the reign of the
Abbasid caliph alMansoor Dwaneeqi. He was only two weeks of age
when his grand father, Imam Ja'far as-Saadiq was martyred. He was
thirty-five years of age when his father was martyred by the caliph Haroon
ar-Rashid. He had witnessed the treatment his
father had received at the hands of the caliphs for refusing to accept
them as his leaders.
The first encounter of the new Imam with the powers of the caliph came
swiftly and like a lightening. With the false accusation of an armed
rising by an uncle of the Imam Muhammad bin Jafar (a), the caliph Haroon
ar-Rashid despatched his captain Issa Jaludi with an army to sack Hijaz
and to liquidate the house of the Alkyds. The havoc they rendered to
the people and their property in Madinah dwarfed the deeds of the Syrian
army sent by Yazid bin Muawiyah after the massacre of Karbala over a
hundred years earlier. The Imam stood firmly in front of the
dwellings of his clan, and handed the invaders all they had, except the
clothing on their bodies at the time. The ruthless general and his
soldiers departed with a large booty obtained from the homes of the
To prevent bloody conflict between his two sons Muhammad al-Amin and
Mamoon ar-Rashid after him, the caliph Haroon ar-Rashid divided his empire
between them. Al-Amin (from an Arab mother) was given the West with
the Arab provinces, and Mamoon (from a Persian mother) the East with all
of the non-Arab
provinces. Due to his sickness, Haroon ar-Rashid retired from his
throne and died in 193 AH at the age of forty-five years. He was
buried in the city of Meshed. However, the two princes wasted no
time in waging war on each other in order to grab the share of the other.
The tussle between the divided caliphate went
on for about five years till the year 198 AH. Finally, Al-Amin got killed
in a battle and the original expanse of the empire was again unified under
Mamoon. Although Mammon was victorious in his confrontation with his
brother, he had made the Arabs very upset at their defeat and the death of
al-Amin at his hands.
Mamoon knew that the people of Hijaz, and the Shiites elsewhere had
already received a heinous treatment from his father. The memory of
the events was still quite fresh in their minds. As a result of
these events, the Shiites had become rebellious. There were many
uprisings among them in various provinces led by prominent Alkyds.
Mamoon took an unusual step to redress these ill feelings of his subjects.
In the year 201 AH, he called the Imam to Merv (in Khorasan) from Madinah
and declared him as his successor, and minted coins in the Imam's name.
To further enhance his apparent goodwill among the Alkyds and the Shiites,
he gave his daughter, Umm-e Habiba, in marriage to the Imam in 202 AH.
The caliph had took wise steps to produce the desired effects. He
managed to win the confidence of the Shiites and stabilize his rule.
Mamoon invited learned individuals to participate in religious and
multicultural debates in his court. This afforded Imam Ali ar-Raza
great opportunity to expound the vastness of his knowledge in these large
gatherings. It also increased his visibility and the popularity of
the Imam which had previously been
denied to all his ancestors. He was now able to preach the Truth
about the Faith of Islam according to teachings of the Ahle Bait.
The Abbasids in Baghdad were already very unhappy at having an Aliyyid
among them as a declared successor to the caliph. The growing
popularity of the Imam in the eastern provinces naturally posed a grave
threat to the rule of the dynasty. They decided to name a new
Abbasid caliph to replace Mamoon. They started to rally behind
Ibrahim bin Mahdi bin Mansoor as their new caliph.
Mamoon had to make a hasty move back to Iraq from Khorasan to quell the
dangerous developments in Baghdad. It was this time when the Imam
was given poisoned grapes that caused his death. Before his death,
Imam Ali ar-Raza advised his followers that his only son Muhanunad (Jawad)
would be the next Imam, even
though he was at a young age of only eight years. After his death,
the body of the Imam was buried in Meshed close to the gravesite of his
tormentor, Haroon ar-Rashid.
REFLECRIONS ON THE LIFE OF IMAM ALI AR-RAZA
The Imam had to face an unusual strategy posed by his appointment to the
heirship. He had to accept the offer to go to the palace, otherwise
the Imam would have to bear the blame of keeping aloof from involvement in
governing the people when he was given the opportunity to do so.
His interaction with the literary circles of the Caliph caused a vast
variety of written and oral traditions to be gathered from the Imam which
later became available to the later generations to benefit from.They
consist of his sermons, his debates and contests, his replies to
complicated questions posed in the court of the caliph, his letters to his
companions and family, as well as his writings and poetry. Much of
the collected material is related to the meanings and the interpretations
of the Qur'an. Some of it is related to Islamic law, some to the
general knowledge of the heavens and the earth, and some to the Medicine
of the Imam.
He produced many learned students from many lands in the empire. The
Imam was fully conversant with many languages and fluently communicated
with people from other lands in their mother tongues. When his
students returned to their homes, they spread the Imams message far and
wide. It became evident that the
vast knowledge exhibited by the Imam was not obtained from any known
school or university of the time.His school and his university was located
in the "City of the Prophetic Knowledge" whose gateway was
through none other than his own ancestor, Imam Ali bin Abi Talib.
The Imam perpetuated the tradition of the ritual majalis that had been
initiated by his ancestors to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.
He used to sponsor these majalis and patronized them. He considered
this to be a great opportunity to reach out to the sensitive souls of the
people and propagate
every aspect of the true teachings of Islam. Since the people who
attended these majalis had come to listen, the Imam used their
receptiveness to its greatest advantage. He dispelled many
misconceptions about the Faith. He confected many misquotes from the
Prophet as well as those attributed to the preceding Imams. He
personally was able to demonstrate the true methodology of the daily
ritual practices of the Faith. He taught people how to pray and how
The members of the Abbasid clan had not suddenly developed love for the
Alkyds. In fact, their spite had multiplied many-fold by the
position the Imam had been placed by Mamoon. His life and conduct
was under the stem scrutiny by his opponents. Under the watchful eye
of his enemies, the Imam demonstrated the excellence of his personal way
of life despite the imposing royal protocol. He never spoke harshly
to any one, be it a slave or a master. He only smiled gently on
amusing situations and was never seen in bursts of laughter. He was never
seen to cut in a conversation.
1. One who compares Allah with one of His creations, is a
polytheist. One who relates to Allah with something he has been
forbidden to do, is a kafir (a non-believer).
2. Knowledge, forbearance and less talk are the qualities of a
pious practitioner of the Faith.
3. Man's best friend is intelligence, and ignorance is his enemy.
4. The believer is closer to Allah when he throws himself down in
prostration before Him.
5. One who gives in the name of Allah, earns His nearness, His
rewards and away from an abode in hell. The miser is distant from
people and Allah, but closer to an abode in hell.
6. Charitable giving is like a tree planted in paradise and
whose branches are in the world. One who gives charity clings to the
branches and is carried to the fulfillment of the ultimate prize of
7. A Momin is that person who derives pleasure when he does a
good deed, and repents with sincerity when he commits an error.A
Muslim is that person from whose hands and tongue the other Muslims do not
8. Belief has four components:
(i) Dependence on Allah;
(ii) Acceptance of the
Acts of Allah;
(iii) Submission to His
(iv) Reliance on Allah's
help in his deeds.
9. One who is not thankful to his provider in this world,
thankful to Allah.
10. Allah has ordained three sets of duties to be performed
(i) Pay the poor tax as you offer
(ii) Thank your parents
as you thank Allah;
(iii) Fear Allah and do good to your own