SHAFAQNA – “We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth…” [Quran 41:53]
If Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was the last prophet of God, it is not to say that his blessed bloodline has not lived on to offer guidance for those who seek it and mercy for those who ask for it. If humanity will no longer be so blessed as to witness the miracle that has been the Revelation of the Quran, the light which God shown forth onto the world through Ahl Al Bayt remains forever alive and strong; an eternal guidance for those who chose to deny the world as to better embrace the promises of eternal bliss amid the righteous.
The light and mercy which Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) embodied, the path he forged before humanity by the grace and mercy of God has endured through time and space, untainted by the sins of men and nefarious powers which have relentlessly attempted to sully the name of Islam. While the prophet of Islam departed this world much too early, his blessed bloodline, his descendants, were left to guard and guide the Ummah until a time when Imam Mahdi will return and fulfil God’s covenant.
Across centuries and beyond death, the lives of our Imams, the lessons they have set before us, the mercy they have bestowed upon their followers, the miracles they have performed by the grace of God, have served as pillars of our faith. It is them, who, generations after generations have kept the darkness at bay. It is their selflessness, their wisdom as well as their complete and utter devotion to the Holy which have prevented us from falling prey to the darkness. In their own fashion and through their deeds, it is the words of God, His promise of salvation and hope for the faithful which they have carried, beyond all persecutions, with perseverance and outstanding courage; it is only by following onto the footsteps of Ahl Al Bayt that the Ummah can ever attempt to atone for its sins and prove itself worthy.
Imam Ali ibn Musa Al Ridha, the eighth Imam of Islam
Born in the holy city of Medina in, Imam Ali Al Ridha, the pleasant one as he was known by his followers, was born at a time of great loss and tragedy. A month prior to his birth, his blessed grand-father Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq (the honest one) passed away, leaving the Ummah in the trusted hand of his son and heir, the seventh Imam, Musa ibn Ja’far al Kasim (the calm one).
Under the care of his father, Imam Al Ridha grew in strength and knowledge of Islam, his character moulded by the verses of the Quran and the great legacy left before him by his blessed ancestors. Through him and within in, the great bloodline of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) flowed; unstoppable, as God’s promise onto the world that until His last judgement is rendered a man of Prophet Mohammed’s house will stand witness of God’s true words.
A devoted son and humble worshiper, Imam Al Ridha stood a testament of fortitude and grace, a source of eternal joy for those who crossed his path and lived under his care.
Robbed of his father when he was 35 years old, Imam Al Ridha felt in his heart and flesh the cruel bite of the Abbasid ruler when his beloved father was poisoned to death while held in Harun Al Rashid’s prison in Baghdad.
Because the Abbasid were relentless in their hatred of Ahl Al Bayt, their heart so filled with perfidy and contempt for the descendants of the prophet (PBUH), Imam Ja’far Al Kasim knew better not to guarantee his succession. Only too aware of the Abbasid perfidy and falseness of religion and maybe in anticipation of his untimely death, the seventh Imam was quick to appoint his son, Imam Al Ridha, as his lawful and legitimate successor as next Imam of the Ummah.
When Imam Al Ridha rose as the eighth Imam, he did so at the time of Harun Al-Rashid, the fifth Abassid Caliph and falsely self-proclaimed leader of the Muslims. He was the son of Al-Mahdi, the third Abbasid caliph (ruled 775 – 785), and Al-Khayzuran, a former slave girl from Yemen whose strong personality is said to have made her an influential figure in the kingdom. It was Harun Al Rashid who ordered his men to poison the seventh Imam, so great was his fear of Ahl Al Bayt’s influence over the Ummah.
His hatred for the house of the Prophet (PBUH) turned somewhat into an obsession said historians, explaining that despite his great desire to see the eighth Imam assassinated, Al Rashid understood that his rule would be tainted beyond repair should he continue his persecution campaign against Imam Al Ridha. Some also argue that Al Rashid felt remorse and fear for having spilled the blood of Islam.
It is told that once Yahya Barmaki, his Prime Minister, in order to gain the ruler’s favour, informed Harun that Imam Ali Ibn Musa (AS) claimed Imamate in the same way his father had done, Harun coldly replied, “We have already inflicted cruelties on his father, do you expect me to annihilate this family altogether?”
But whatever remorse or desire to atone for his sins Harun might have felt, he nevertheless dedicated his life to persecuting and mistreating the Prophet’s descendants, keen to inflict and bestow all sorts of afflictions upon those who dared to follow the Imams.
Under Harun’s rule, the people were not left free to seek Imam Ridha’s advice and counsel, so full of senseless hatred and spite the so-called Caliph’s heart was filled with. A vain ruler, an unjust ruler, he rained his villainy over the followers of the eighth Imam, intent on breaking his resolve.
But Imam Ridha was a man of God in the service of God, and when one walks among the righteous, one neither fret nor waiver before evil. Strong of the strength which his bloodlines carries; like his forefather before him, the Imam withstood his enemies’ tide, trusting only in God and His All Mighty will, for only He can dictate the fate of the world, for He is the Master of all.
But if evildoers plan in the shadows, their deeds have short legs indeed.
While Harun had his wary eyes set on Imam Ridha, worry that his nobility of character and the purity of his religion would make him a natural contender to his throne, he failed to realise that the demise of his house laid within, in the rivalry of his two sons –Amin and Mamun.
Political wrangling in Baghdad between Harun’ sons were rocking the Empire. His elder son Amin who had an Arab mother had the support of the Arabs and most of the Abbasid elders, while the younger son Mamun had a Persian mother and was supported by the Persians.
Keen to preserve the unity of the empire while appeasing his sons’ ambitions, Harun had his sons pledged that after his death Amin would rule the Arab region of the Empire while Mamun would rule over the Persian region.
But history would have it otherwise …
As soon as his father was buried in the city of Tus, Amin, who had remained in Baghdad immediately reneged his oath and self-proclaimed himself Caliph of the whole empire, de facto declaring war upon his brother, Mamun.
But Mamun was not without friends.
Unlike his father Mamun understood what powers laid with Imam Ridha, what hold he had over all Shia, as he was of the descendants of Imam Ali (AS) and Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). He knew that without Imam Ridha, there would be no empire for him to claim.
With the majority of Persians in favour of the teachings of Ahl Al Bayt, Mamun knew that should he ever hope to claim kingship, he would have to broker an alliance with Imam Ridha and through him gain legitimacy over the people.
Mamun then decided 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 … (to be continued)
“O! My God, there is no vow except yours and no Mastership except of yours. So please help me to establish your religion and to follow your prophet’s custom. Indeed, what a good master and a good assistant you are.” Imam Ali ibn Musa Al Ridha
By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies