SHAFAQNA-Over a millennium and two centuries ago a great and divine personality graced the land of Iran. He was a member of the Household of Almightyâ€™s last Messenger to mankind, Prophet Muhammad (blessing of Allah be upon him and his progeny). Although he did not live long in Khorasan and was forced to leave the mortal world barely two years later, Iran and the Iranian should consider themselves fortunate in having his blessed shrine on their soil. It is the source of inspiration for them and for many others who come to Khorasan from different parts of the world to pay pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Imam Ridha (A.S.). As the faithful bear will vouch the fragrance of paradise is manifest from the holy city of Mashhad where the 8th Imam reposes in eternal peace. Today, the birth anniversary of this immaculate figure is day of joy and celebration. Hearts are filled with spiritual joy and although these days the Iranian people are sad due to the loss of thousands of their compatriot in the earthquake that struck the city of Bam in Kerman, their grief turns into tranquility when they make pilgrimage to holy Mashhad or amidst the ruins of devastated houses, turn towards the direction of Mashhad to salute the 8th Imam.
Imam Ali ibn Musa ar-Ridha (A.S.) was born in Medina in 148 AH and in 183 AH on the martyrdom of his father Imam Musa Kazem (PBUH), the divinely decreed trust of leadership came to rest on his shoulders. In 201 he was forced to leave Medina and come to the city of Merv in Khorasan on the orders of the wicked Abbasid caliph, Mamoun. The caliph thought that by forcing him to leave Medina he would deprive the people of the source of their inspiration. But he was wrong and the presence of the 8th Imam transformed the land of Khorasan into a centre of divine blessings. Piety, was one of the many virtues of Imam Reza (AS). He led a very simple and modest life and at the same time was generous and very kind towards the poor and the deprived. A person from Khorasan relates that: One day I was the guest of Imam Ridha (A.S.). It was time for meals. The Imam arranged some food. Then I saw the Imam invite all those who were in the house even the maidservants to the lunch. But what attracted me most was that the Imam asked for a large tray and then picked up the best foods and placed them on it. A person who was sitting beside noticed my amazement and said: Dear friend what are staring at? I said I want to know what the Imam is doing. He said to me: Whenever Imam Ridha (A.S.) sits for meals; he first fills a tray with different foods for the poor and only then does he begins to eat. I enjoyed this manner of the Imam and I have to say that it taught me a great lesson.
Imam Ridha (A.S.) was asked about the best servants of God. He said: The one who feels satisfied by doing good things and seeks forgiveness whenever an error is committed.
The insight and clarity of vision of Imam Ridha (A.S.) in dealing with the crafty Abbasid caliph Mamoun defeated the intricate plot of nominating the Imam as the heir apparent in order to tarnish the image of the Prophetâ€™s rightful successors in the eyes of the Muslims. Mamoun first proposed to hand over the caliphate to the Imam. The answer that he received from the Prophetâ€™s successor threw cold water on his plans. Imam Ridha (A.S.) said: If this caliphate is yours, you should not grant to others what has bestowed to you by God, and if the caliphate is not yours, then you have no right to grant to others what does not belong to you at all. Mamoun and his crafty Iranian Vazir Fazl bin Sahl then came up with another plot and the caliph under implicit threat of life said the Imam has to agree to become the heir apparent. The Imam seeing no way out reluctantly agreed but on condition that he will not interfere with government affairs, and will neither appoint any official nor dismiss anyone. Mamoun promptly held a grand ceremony and struck coins in the name of Imam Ridha (A.S.). The intention was to hoodwink the Muslim masses and give them the message that the Prophetâ€™s successor had finally succumbed to political power.
The 8th Imam launched his intellectual campaign and spared no efforts to safeguard the teachings of the holy Qurâ€™an and the pristine sunnah of his ancestor Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny).
He entered into debates with advocates of various schools of thought and religion including atheists, while Mamoun hoped in vain that the Imam would be defeated in these intellectual discussions. To the exasperation of Mamoun and the Abbasids, the Imamâ€™s rational analysis of events and lively discussions made his opponents speechless. Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Star Worshippers, Hindus and agnostics, were convinced of the truth of Islam and became Muslims. The intellectual plot of Mamoun had failed. The caliph and his courtiers now came up with another plot. As Eid approached, Mamoun asked the Imam to lead the Eid prayer in the principal mosque of Marv. The Imam political declined but the caliphs insisted that he should lead the prayer. The plan was to portray the Imam as an instrument of the hated Abbasid court and thereby tarnish his image. The Imam said he will lead the prayer according to the way of the Prophet. On the morning of Eid, the Imam came out barefoot and in white attire from his house with a staff in his hand and preferred to walk to the mosque rather than ride a horse. The military and civilian officials that had assembled at his door on their mounts quickly dismounted and taking off their own boots decided to join Imam Ridha (A.S.).Â The Imam halted at every few steps and recited Allaho Akbar or God is Great. Soon people started joining the Imam in great numbers and with the Imam recited Allaho Akbar to the extent that the cry of Godâ€™s Majesty seemed to shake the walls of the city of Marv. When Mamoun learned this, he was horrified because of the popularity of the Imam among the people and sent a messenger requesting the Imam to return and not to lead the prayer. Imam Ridha (A.S.) smiled and mounted a horse and returned. This caused a commotion among the people and they became more disgusted with Mamoun and the Abbasids for preventing the Prophetâ€™s rightful successor from leading the Eid prayer.