Imam al-Kadhim (AS)

SHAFAQNA – Musa al-Kadhim was born during the conflict between the Abbasids and Umayyads, and was four years old when As-Saffah, the first Abbasid Caliph, took the throne. His mother, Hamidah, was a former slave from either Berbery or Andalusia. Al-Kadhim was brought up in a large family, with nine sisters and six brothers. His oldest brother Ismail predeceased his father Ja’far al-Sadiq, who held the position of Imam. Imam Musa al-Kadhim was chosen by divine order and decree of his father as the next Imam.

According to some sources, al-Kadhim was religiously minded as a child. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi relates an incident where Abū Ḥanīfa called on Ja’far al-Sadiq to ask his advice. While there, he encountered al-Kadhim, who was then five years old. Hanifa asked al-Kadhim the question meant for his father, saying: “Boy, from whom does disobedience (issue)? Does it issue from Allah or from the servant?” Al-Kadhim answered, saying: “Either it issues from God and not from the servant at all, so God does not punish the servant for what he does not do; or it issues from the servant and God, and God is a stronger partner. Therefore, the stronger partner has no right to punish the weak for a sin in which they are equal; or it issues from the servant and not from God. So if He wills to pardon (him), (He will pardon him), and if He wills to punish (him), (He will punish him); and God is He whose help is sought.” Upon hearing this, Hanifa left, saying that the answer had been good enough for him.

Al-Kadhimiya Mosque

In another incident, Abū Ḥanīfa complained to Imam al-Sadiq, saying: “I have seen your son, Musa, pray while the people were passing (walking) before him. He did not prevent them from that.” The Imam ordered his son to be brought before him, and asked him whether it was true. Al-Khadhim replied “Yes, father, the One to Whom I pray is nearer to me than them; Allah, the Great and Almighty, says: We are nearer to him than the jugular vein. On hearing this response, the Imam rose, hugged his son, and said; “May my father and mother be your ransom, O he in whom secrets have been deposited!”


Imam Musa al-Kadhim was said to be a gentle and tolerant man. He was called al-Kadhim because he was kind, forgiving and generous toward the people who treated him in a bad manner or were unfriendly towards him. Ibn Khallikan said “that when a man had spoken ill of him he sent him a purse of money.” One such incident concerned a man who cursed al-Kadhim’s grandfather, Imam Ali (AS). The Imam’s followers intended to kill the man, but al-Kadhim prevented them. He went to the man’s farm in the outskirts of Medina. He approached him, but the man shouted at him not to walk on his plants. The Imam paid no attention and when he reached him, sat beside him and treated him kindly, asking how much had the man paid to sow his land. “One hundred dinars,” said the man. “How much do you hope to acquire from it?” asked the Imam. “I do not know the unknown,” said the man. “I only asked you about what you hope it would bring you,” insisted the Imam. The man answered “two hundred dinars”, and the Imam gave him three hundred dinars, saying “This three hundred dinars is for you and your plants are as they are.”

The Imam then headed for the mosque of the prophet, where he saw that the man was already sitting there. When he saw the Imam, the man stood up and called out the verse: “Allah knows best where to put his (prophetic) mission.” His companions were surprised at this change, but the man recited to them the noble deeds of the Imam and invoked Allah for him. Hence, the Imam turned to his companions and said: “Which was better – what you wanted or what I wanted? I have put right his attitude to the extent you have now become acquainted with.” Musa al-Kadhim was also called Abdu’ al-Salih (the Holy Servant) because his interests lay in religious rather than political matters. He was known to distribute money to the town of Medina despite his family being poor.

The Shiite Imams frequently had to deal with persecution, and sometimes resorted to the practice of taqiyya, a form of religious dissimulation, for protection. When Jafar al-Sadiq was poisoned, the Caliph Al-Mansur wanted to end the imamah, and so he wrote to the governor of Medina to behead the person that Imam al-Sadiq had named as his successor in his last testament. When he read the testament, however, the governor of Medina saw that the Imam had chosen four people rather than one: the caliph himself, the governor of Medina, the Imam’s older son Abdullah al-Aftah, and Musa, his younger son. As a result, Mansur was unable to end the imamate. However, unlike his father who had been able to teach freely in Medina, Musa al-Kadhim lived with tight restrictions set by Abbasid caliphs, such as al-Mansur and Harun al-Rashid. Musa al-Kadhim never accepted Harun’s government, because he believed al- Rashid sought to destroy Islam by erasing the truth and effacing justice. Therefore, he forbade his Shi’ites from cooperating with Harun, excluding those who through their jobs could help the believers and save them from oppression.

With Harun al-Rashid

One of the stories about the Imam concerns an incident where al-Rashid and the Imam were together before the tomb of Muhammad in Medina, when, to show his family ties to Muhammad, al-Rashid had said, “Salutation unto thee, O Prophet of God, unto thee who art my cousin!” In response, the Imam said, “Salutation unto thee, o my dear father!” which made al-Rashid furious. “Abul-Hasan, such glory as thine is truly to be vaunted of” said al-Rashid. Later, al-Rashid found the opportunity to question him, asking why he had permitted people to ascribe him to Muhammad and to call him: “O Sons of Allah’s Apostle”, while he was actually the son of Ali, and that one is ascribed to his father, and that Fatimah, his mother, was a container, and that Muhammad was his grandfather on the side of his mother. The Imam replied, asking “If the Prophet was raised from the dead and proposed to your daughter, would you respond to him?” “Rather I would through that pride myself on the Arabs, the non-Arabs, and Quraysh,” answered al-Rashid. “But he would not propose (to my daughter) and I would not marry (her) to him,” said the Imam, “because he begot me and did not beget you.” Al-Rashid, however, was not satisfied with this answer, insisting that “the progeny belongs to the male and not to the female”, and that the Imams were Muhammad’s daughter’s children.

The Imam quoted from the Quran, stating that in the Quran, God had said: “and of his descendants, David and Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses and Aaron; and thus do We reward those who do good. And Zechariah and John the Baptist, and Jesus and Elias: All in the company of the righteous” “Who is Jesus’s father, O Commander of the faithful?” asked the Imam. “Jesus had no father,” said al-Rashid. The Imam argued that God had ascribed Jesus to the descendants of the prophets through Mary; “similarly, we have been ascribed to the descendants of the Prophet through our mother Fatimah,” said the Imam. Nevertheless, al-Rashid asked the Imam to give him more evidence and proof, so he put forward another quote from the Quran, reciting the verse: “But whoever disputes with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, then say: Come, let us call our sons and your sons and our women and your women and ourselves and yourselves, then let us be earnest in prayer, and pray for the curse of Allah on the liars.” Then he said: “None claims that the Prophet made someone enter under the cloak when he challenged the Christians to a contest of prayer to God (mubahala) except Ali, Fatimah, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn. Therefore the explanation of the verse is: Our sons are al-Hasan and al-Husayn; our women is Fatimah; ourselves is Ali.”

Imprisonments and death

First imprisonment

Musa al-Kadhim was imprisoned multiple times during his lifetime. The first time, Caliph al-Mahdi had him arrested and brought to Baghdad. According to Ibn Khallikan, “This Caliph had a dream in which Ali ibn Abu Talib appeared to him and said, ‘O Muhammad, were ye ready therefore, if ye had been put in authority, to commit evil in the earth, and to violate the ties of blood?'” Al-Fadl ibn al-Rabi’ says: “He sent for me at night and that put me in great dread. I went to him and found him chanting the above verse and no man had a finer voice than he. He said to me, ‘Bring me Musa ibn Ja’far.’ I did so and he embraced him, seated him by his side and said to him, ‘Abul-Hasan, I have just seen in a dream the Commander of the Faithful, Ali ibn Abu Talib, and he has recited to me such and such a verse; give me the assurance that you will not revolt against me or against any of my children.’ He answered, ‘By Allah, I am incapable of revolting.’ ‘You say the truth!’ replied the Caliph, ‘give him three thousand pieces of gold and restore him to his family in Medina.’ I arranged the affair of his departure that very night, lest some obstacle might turn up, and before morning the man was on his journey.”

Second imprisonment

Al-Kadhim’s second imprisonment was a result of his argument with al-Rashid over descent from Muhammad. Al-Khuzai, the head of the palace guards, narrated a dream the Caliph supposedly had, which made him release the Imam: “A messenger came to me from al-Rashid,” he said, “at an hour in which I never before received his visits; he pulled me from the place where I was and would not even allow me to change my clothes. This put me in great fear. When I arrived at the palace, I found the Caliph sitting up in his bed. I saluted him, but he kept silent for some time; so my mind was much troubled and my fears greatly augmented. At length he said, ‘Do you know why I sent for you at such an hour?’ I answered, ‘By Allah, I do not, Commander of the Faithful.’ ‘Know,’ said he, ‘that I just had a dream in which it seemed to me as if an Abyssinian came to me with a javelin in his hand and said to me: “Let Musa ibn Ja’far be set at liberty this very hour, otherwise I shall slay thee with this javelin.” Do you therefore go and get him set free.’ I replied, ‘Commander of the Faithful, shall I then liberate Musa the son of Ja’far?’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘go and set Musa ibn Ja’far at liberty. Give him thirty thousand dirhems and say to him in my name, if you would like to remain with us you will obtain from me whatever you desire, but if you prefer going to Medina you have permission to do so.’ I went to the prison and found the Imam waiting for me. ‘Whilst I was asleep,’ he said, ‘behold the Apostle of God came to me and said, O Musa, thou hast been imprisoned unjustly; so recite the words I am going to repeat to thee, for assuredly thou shalt not pass all this night in prison.'”

Final imprisonment

Al-Fakhri states the reason for his final imprisonment was that “there were some of the relatives of Musa ibn Ja’far who were envious of him and carried false reports about him to al-Rashid, saying, ‘The people are paying him the Khums, or one-fifth of their property, on accepting the Imamah, and he is about to come forth against you.’ They brought this report to al-Rashid so frequently that it made him anxious and agitated. In that year al-Rashid went on the pilgrimage, and when he arrived in Medina, he arrested Musa ibn Ja’far, and brought him to Baghdad in a litter, and imprisoned him under the care of al-Sindi ibn Sha’hik.”

Al-Fakhri adds “Al-Rashid was at Rakka when he sent orders that the Imam should be put to death. They then brought a number of reputable men to Karkh to act as coroners and to testify publicly that he had died a natural death. He, then, was buried in the cemetery of Quraish on the south side of Baghdad.” The implication made by the Shi’a is that he was poisoned. The place he was buried was a cemetery, but soon this place became the focus of pilgrimage to the grave of the Imam. A town grew around the graveyard. The name of the town became Kadhimiya (the town of the Imam Kadhim). A reputed school of theology was founded in this town; the school is still a source of learning for many students from all over the world.

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