SHAFAQNA – Mamun – son of the late Harun Al-Rashid, the fifth Abassid caliph – decided in the light of his brother’s treachery and deceit to send for the eighth Imam in view of making him an ally. Back in Medina, Imam Ridha knew already what soon would be asked of him. Patient and trusting in God he bid his wife and son farewell, taking with him only his most trusted and devoted followers.
Then began the journey of the Eighth Imam of Islam …
Mamun, who by then ambitioned to become caliph instead of his brother, Amin, understood what vital support Imam Ridha would be for his rule as he brought with him the teachings of Ahl al Bayt. By calling on the Imam to meet with him, Mamun hoped he would somehow convinced the descendant of the prophet of God (PBUH) to lend some of his stature, righteousness and religious legitimacy and support his claim over the throne of the Abassid.
He planned to use the eighth Imam to assert his hold over Persia before launching a grand attack on his brother and now arch-enemy, Amin. With the might of Persia behind him, Mamun’s authority would hold sway over the entire empire, uncontested.
As Imam Ridha (AS) prepared to live behind his beloved son – Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali al Jawad, later known as Imam Muhammad Taqi (AS), he called on the elders to inform them of his plan, explaining that he would journey to the outpost of the empire to answer Mamun’s request. He left in the month of Rajab 200 Hijri.
As if called by the voices of his forefathers, whose steps still echo across Arabia, Imam Ridha travelled through the same road as the prophet of Islam (PBUH), embracing his blessed heritage by reliving in his flesh the walk of the faithful.
His journey began from Medina to Mecca, where he performed the pilgrimage of Umra. Once completed, Imam Ridha (AS) look in direction of Karbala, his heart likely heavy with the memory of his most pious ancestor, Imam Hussain ibn Ali (AS) whose martyrdom was prophesied by his illustrious grand-father (PBUH).
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:
Surely, there exists in the hearts of the Mu’mineen (believers), with respect to the martyrdom of Hussein (AS) , a heat that never subsides.
With his companions, Imam Ridha walked toward Karbala, where the blood of Ahl al Bayt still taints the earth red, where glory and devotion to the Holy stood tall before tyranny and the evil of men.
As he walked the journey of Karbala, the heavens watched in silence, reborn there was the blessed house of the prophet, a light for men, a blessing for those who see and a mercy for those who discern.
There marched the eighth Imam, perfect in his religious, certain in his resolve, but above all trusting in God. On 61 Hijri, his company set out for Karbala.
As he reached the hills of Hejaz and over the desert of Najd, Imam Ridha moved east – unlike Imam Hussein (AS) – toward Basra, which he reached in the month of Shawwal.
From Basra he crossed over the Shatt-al-Arab and reached the Persian soil heading towards the town of Qum. It was in the month of Zilhijja that he reached Qum where he stayed for a while. The month of Muharram the eighth Imam (AS) spent in Qum where it is said that he established for the first time a Majlis to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (AS).
On the 1st Muharram in in 201 Hijri was born the tradition of the Majis as inspired and directed by Imam Ridha. In his quality of leader of the Ummh, Imam Ridha offered a new way for Muslims to come together and purify their religion. Across the nascent Islamic world, the majlis meant to weave a tight bond in between communities, a brotherhood of faithful united under the flag of Islam.
Retracing his holy lineage, Imam Ridha sought to honour his house by erecting tribute to Islam’s Imams. No longer lost in their mourning, Muslims found comfort in the Majlis as they came to demonstrate their love for one of Islam’s most glorious martyr – Imam Hussein – the epitome of selflessness and utmost courage.
After spending the Month of Muharram in Qum the Imam proceeded towards the northern part of Persia crossing the Alburz Mountains to the town of Merv where Mamun had settled with his army.
It is thought in some historical circles that the Imam Ridha involved himself in politics while his ancestors up to the seventh Imam refrained from such choice in order to retain their neutrality. It is key to understand that Imam Ridha acted here under duress. His ambition was never to assert himself as leader of men in the political sense; he aimed only to serve a religious guide, a teacher onto men.
The Imam took pains to indicate that his desire lied not in politics. Indeed if he had refused to proceed or shown any reluctance, Mamun would have surely sought to humiliate and harm the Imam and his family. With a young family to think about Imam Ridha resigned himself to endure the burden set before him.
In his history, Yacubi recalled some of the Imam’s journey. He wrote, “From Qum the Imam moved north to the town of al-ray, the Greek Rhages, which is near the site of the present city of Tehran. From this place the caravan continued its journey until it reached the city of Tus. From Tus they travelled on to the city of Merv, in what is now modern Turkistan.
On his arrival in Merv, Mamun welcomed him with great ceremony and pomp. Mamun treated the Imam with great honour.”
What follow would be the treachery of Mamun, the deceitful … part three
Written by Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies