Imam al-Rida (‘a) played an integral role in guiding the intellectual progress of the Muslim Ummah and defending the Islamic beliefs against the encroachment of un-Islamic ideological currents.
As the Muslim Ummah’s borders expanded, it came in to contact with the ideas and beliefs of many various nations and religions.
It is evident that the beliefs of every nation form an important part of their culture. Similarly, the decline of these beliefs will play an important and reciprocal role in the decline of the national culture and civilization. Thus, in addition to their regular duties as the religious leaders of the Muslim Ummah, all of the Infallible Imams (‘a) were also encharged with the important responsibility of protecting and safeguarding the Islamic beliefs in their own time period and based on the specific conditions and circumstances that they lived in.
They defended these beliefs to the utmost and they were willing to make any kind of sacrifice in this way. Imam al-Rida (‘a) played an integral role in guiding the intellectual progress of the Muslim Ummah and defending the Islamic beliefs against the encroachment of un-Islamic ideological currents. As the Muslim Ummah’s borders expanded, it came in to contact with the ideas and beliefs of many various nations and religions.
These ideas began to infiltrate the Muslim society and since the Muslims had never encountered such ideas before, they did not know how to deal with them properly. The rest of the Imams (‘a) also played an integral role in this regard as well. When we examine the ideas which were coming in to the Muslim world and the defensive role which Imam al-Rida (‘a) played against them, it is clear that if it had not been for the Imam (‘a)’s intellectual, scientific, and cultural efforts, the fate of Islam as a pure and divinely inspired religion would have been in jeopardy.
In light of this reality, a look in to the key religious teachings of Imam al-Rida (‘a) is something which would prove to be very valuable for us. We will delve in to these teachings through the research and valuable viewpoints of Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi.
A Look at the Shia Teachings of Imam al-Rida (‘a)
It is worth mentioning that in spite of all of the pressure which was exerted on the Imams of the Ahl-al-Bayt (‘a), this did not stop any one of them from continuing to spread the teachings of the religion. Imam al-Rida (‘a) similarly followed in the steps of his forefathers and he used every opportunity during the end of the caliphate of Hārūn and during the caliphate of Maʾmūn to spread the pure teachings of Islam. In addition to further establishing the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), Imam al-Rida (‘a) also engaged in various debates which helped to solidify the position of Islam against the other faiths and other schools of thought. He also played an integral role in purifying the body of traditions and helping to distinguish between the true and false narrations.
One of the famous scholars, Dhahabī, has written the following about Imam al-Rida (‘a): “He possessed a great rank and he was worthy of the caliphate. He also possessed a lofty rank in regards to knowledge, religion, and stature”. Similarly, Ḥākim al-Nayshābūrī has written the following about the Imam (‘a) in his work of history: “He would sit in the mosque of the Prophet (s) and give religious rulings for the people while he was still in his twenties”.
The Defense of the Religion against the Encroachment of Unislamic Ideas and Beliefs through Intellectual Efforts
The life of Imam al-Rida (‘a) had many different facets; one of these important facets was his intellectual and religious teachings and his defense of various Islamic beliefs against the heavy encroachment of unislamic beliefs, as well as the incorrect beliefs of different schools of thought. A look in to this intellectual aspect, which derives from the Imam’s divine position of Wilāyah, will prove to be very useful to us in relation to our lives today. Learning about these things will help us greatly in resolving the various issues which we face today; this is particularly true when faced with the people of different religions and beliefs.
Imam al-Rida (‘a) assumed the position of Imamate at a time when the Muslim Ummah had expanded its borders greatly and it was coming in to contact with many different nations. Each of these nations had their own sets of beliefs and customs, alongside their own particular kinds of ideas. These foreign based ideas rapidly filtered in to the Muslim Ummah and became mixed with the ideological beliefs of the Muslims.
Various civilizations, schools of thought, and sects began to interact with the Muslim Ummah and these interactions brought about an exchange of ideas, some of which were highly incorrect and deviant. Doubts began to appear amongst the Muslims and it was at this time that the hypocrites began to exert their own influence in order to take advantage of the situation. Under such critical conditions, Imam al-Rida (‘a) rose up and began to defend the religion.
When Imam al-Rida (‘a) was forced to become the successor to the caliphate for Maʾmūn, he saw that the court officials of Maʾmūn would organize debates and discussions in order to undermine Islam. In spite of this, Imam al-Rida (‘a) would participate in these debates and show the true reality of Islam; it was during these debates and discussions that Islam was proven to everyone as a genuine and legitimate Divine religion.
Similarly, Maʾmūn also desired that these debates between Imam al-Rida (‘a) and the great scholars of the era be held so that the attention of the people would be focused upon them and he himself would be free to pursue his own political agenda. These debates would serve as a type of cover which would conceal the defects of Maʾmūns own rule. In any case, Imam al-Rida (‘a) engaged in these debates with the purpose of combatting the deviant ideas which had come about and he showed the people the true reality of Islam as it had been revealed to the Prophet of Islam (s).
Protecting the True Islam Which Was Taught by the Prophet (s)
When we examine the life history of the Imams (‘a), it is clear that they all stood up against the deviant ideas which would surface in various forms during their lifetimes. This is particularly evident during the life of Imam al-Rida (ʿa); he combatted all of the various deviant ideas, superstitions, and incorrect interpretations which rose up during his era and he helped the people to understand the true reality of the religion. History shows us that there was no question which the Imam (ʿa) was asked which he was unable to answer. He would answer any and all questions in the best manner possible. By examining the debates which the Imam (ʿa) participated in, one clearly realizes that these exchanges were of a nature and of a quality which is not seen in the life of any other individual all throughout the history of Islam. In this respect, these debates are quite unique in history.
Indeed, the approach adopted by Imam al-Rida (ʿa) in regards to the religious issues was based entirely on the teachings and the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) as well as the Divine teachings of the Quran. This fact is perfectly evident in one of the debates of the Imam (‘a) where he was asked by someone what the reason was for the necessity of recognizing the divine prophets (ʿa) and for obeying their commands. The Imam (ʿa) explained to the man that the reason why it was necessary for people to recognize the divine prophets (ʿa), and to obey them was that human beings are not always capable of gaining full access to the truth through their intellects and their senses.
From another angle, Allah is a being which cannot be perceived through the human senses and so there is no choice but for an infallible messenger to be sent by Allah as an intermediary between Allah and his servants. Such messengers can help people to understand the things which they must do and the things which they must abstain from. These messengers will help people to understand the things which are in their best interests and the things which will harm them.
Much of the world of that time had heard about the message of Islam and many of the people had accepted its call. Even though modern forms of mass media did not exist during that time period, and the only means of disseminating Islam was in the hands of the enemy, Imam al-Rida (ʿa) utilized this same means to spread the message of true Islam and to help the people understand the differences between the truth and the falsehood.
Explaining the Concept of the Imamate throughout the Islamic Community
The position of the Imamate is one which is divinely s e l e c ted and no one else can s e l e c t someone for this position. One of the primary conditions for a person to be appointed as the Imam is that the individual must be infallible (one who does not commit any sins or make any mistakes). Infallibility is the kind of quality that no one but Allah (swt) is aware of its actual reality. Thus, believing in the Imams (ʿa) is obligatory much like believing in the Prophet of Islam (ṣ), who was the founder of the Islamic Shari’ah. According to a tradition, Imam al-Rida (ʿa) has been quoted as saying the following to Maʾmūn: “One of the beliefs of the Shia School is that Allah will never make the obedience of someone obligatory who will lead the people astray. When it comes to the position of the messengership, (Allah) will never s e l e c t someone from amongst his servants whom he knows will disbelieve in him and abstain from his worship, and worship Satan instead”.
With this said, it is worth noting that this does not mean that the Shias consider other Muslims who have different beliefs with regard to the issue of the “Imamate” to be disbelievers. The Shias consider all of the followers of various Islamic schools to be Muslims and brothers in faith with one another, even if they do not accept the imamate. There is another tradition from Imam al-Rida (ʿa) which further explains the belief in the imamate. In this tradition, the Imam (ʿa) is narrated to have said: “The Imamate is the helm of the religion and the organizational element of the Muslims. It is the honor of the believers and the best thing for their worldly life. The imamate is essential element of the thriving religion of Islam and its fruitful branch. Through the presence of the Imam (ʿa), things such as prayers, charity, fasting, and the Ḥajj are brought to perfection and completion. The money of the public treasury will increase in amount and the charity which is given to the poor will also increase. It is by means of the imamate that the Islamic punishments and the rules of the religion will be implemented and the borders of the Islamic world will be protected. The Imam (ʿa) will maintain the obligatory nature of what Allah has made obligatory and he will maintain the unlawful nature of what Allah has made unlawful, and he will maintain the limits which Allah has set. He will defend the religion of Allah and he will invite the people towards his Lord through means of knowledge, goodly wisdom, and clear logic”.
The Importance of Maintaining the Ease and Comfort of One’s Family
One of the important teachings of Islam is that pertaining to taking care of the needs of oneself and one’s family. According to a tradition narrated from Imam al-Rida (ʿa), if a man has the necessary financial ability, he must spend his wealth towards the betterment of his family members. The aforementioned tradition has narrated that: It is obligatory upon the one who has the necessary financial ability to spend towards the betterment of his family members.
In another tradition, the Imam (ʿa) has mentioned that: “It is worthy that whenever an individual finds a blessing (i.e. he gains some wealth), he should utilize that wealth for the comfort of his family, lest his family should wish his death (due to the difficult conditions which they find themselves in)”. It is interesting to note that in Islam, any kind of beneficial work is considered to be a type of Jihād for the sake of Allah.
The individual who engages in such actions is seen as a divine warrior struggling in the way of Allah. In some cases, such a person is seen as being superior to the warrior fighting on the battlefield against the enemies. In a tradition narrated from Imam al-Rida (ʿa), it has been mentioned that: “The one who struggles in order to meet the needs of his family and seeks the blessings of Allah is superior to the ones fighting in the way of Allah”. It is evident that working to attain the things which bring about the ease and comfort of one’s family is something which Islam has encouraged. In the aforementioned traditions, Imam al-Rida (ʿa) has considered these things to be necessary for those who are affluent and have the means to do so.
A Consumption Based Economy: One of the Major Dangers
The one whose lack of work or whose lack of effort towards their work causes the economy of their society to weaken and become dependent upon others has been censured severely in Islam; such an individual is considered to be far from the mercy of Allah (swt). A political reformation can only take place in a complete fashion when the element of religious awakening is fulfilled alongside that of an independent and strong economy. The independence of the individual and the society as a whole from an economic perspective plays a very important role in the fulfillment of political and social independence. Based on a tradition, Imam al-Rida (ʿa) has been quoted as saying: “When an individual has saved the necessary wealth for the coming year, they become lighthearted and attain (a measure) of peace”.
In another tradition, Imam al-Rida (ʿa) is narrated to have said the following,: “The worst of the people from an economic perspective is the one who does not give to others from their wealth…” This tradition indicates that a healthy economy is one where the social ties are strengthened as a result of it and where all of the people are taken care of. When we see an economy where only the interests of a s e l e c t few are taken care of, then we are looking at an economy which is sick and cancerous. Just as Imam al-Rida (ʿa) mentioned, the worst type of economic life is the one where others are not provided for. In an Islamic society, the Muslim rulers must strive to create a healthy economy in order that the people can have a measure of peace and attain spiritual and moral perfection.
The Effects and Secrets of Servanthood According to Imam al-Rida (ʿa)
In a tradition narrated from Imam al-Rida (ʿa), the Imam explained the philosophy and secrets behind the performance of the prayers. The Imam (ʿa) mentioned the following in this regard: “The reason behind the commandment of the prayer is that it brings about acknowledgement and focus in regards to the lordship of Allah. It furthermore is an act of combat and resistance against idol worship and polytheism, and it is a type of standing before the presence of one’s Lord with the utmost levels of meekness and humility. Prayer is also an acknowledgement of one’s sins and a request for Allah’s forgiveness in regards to one’s past sins. Placing one’s forehead upon the ground each day is also a type of homage and reverence towards Allah”.
In this tradition, Imam al-Rida (ʿa) explains that the commandment towards the worship of Allah was given in order that the remembrance of Allah is not put aside and that the proper behavior and attitude towards one’s Lord is abided by. The worship of Allah also allows people to not forget what he has commanded to perform and what he has ordered his servants to abstain from, since the best interests of the servants lies in these things. If the people were left alone without worshipping their Lord, then they would soon become oblivious of Allah and their hearts would become hard.
Clearly then, the worship of Allah enlivens the hearts of the people and it gives awareness to their spirits. Through remembering Allah, the grounds for reformation, both internally, as well as externally, are made firm and established. In this regard, ʿAllāmah Majlisī has narrated the following tradition from Imam al-Rida (ʿa): “The quality of worship is not determined by the quantity of prayers or fasting; it is rather characterized by the degree to which one contemplates in regards to Allah”. Through contemplation in regards to the world which we live in, with all of its various amazing aspects, the foundations of our knowledge and faith are made stronger, and so the acts of worship are also performed out of a greater level of sincerity and perfection. Surely, such worship is incomparable to any number of other acts of worship which lack these foundational elements.
In another tradition narrated from Imam al-Rida (ʿa), he has explained the constructive effects of prayer as follows: “In addition to the fact that worship causes the continuous remembrance of Allah throughout the day and the night… it also causes man not to become arrogant in regards to the blessings which Allah has given to him, and to not become rebellious against Allah. The remembrance of Allah and standing before him also prevents the human being from the commission of sins and it prevents him from many types of corruption”. In this way, Imam al-Rida (ʿa) has explained to us that the philosophy of the prayers relates to the acknowledgement of the lordship of Allah and the rejection of every type of idolatry and polytheism…. 
Perseverance in the Path of Wilāyah
There is no doubt that when it comes to the issue of pledging oneself to the Wilāyah of the Imams (ʿa), we must first start with ourselves and our families, and we must recognize that be-ing a follower of Imam ʿAli(ʿa) is not something which is fulfilled by words alone. In some of the traditions, we find that the meaning of the term «ثُمَّ اسْتَقامُوا» has been explained as referring to the issue of Wilāyah. When someone asked Imam al-Rida (ʿa) in regards to the meaning of the term “perseverance”, the Imam (ʿa) said: “I swear by Allah that perseverance is what you yourselves possess”. Of course, the term perseverance on the way of the straight path of religion possesses a very vast meaning and one of its various examples pertains to the issue of the Wilāyah of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa).
Humility and Meekness in the Life of Imam al-Rida (ʿa)
One of the important teachings which we can learn from the life of Imam al-Rida (ʿa) is that of humility and meekness. When we look at the life of this Imam (ʿa), we find that whenever the tablecloth was spread for food, he would not begin to eat until all of the servants and workers had sat down next to him to eat. Similarly, whenever someone would mention the name of his father, Imam al-Kazim (ʿa), Imam al-Rida (ʿa) would state: “No intellect was equal to his intellect, and yet he would sometimes consult with the… slaves. When some people there heard this, they asked Imam al-Rida (ʿa) in surprise: “How is it that you consult with such people?!” The Imam (ʿa) replied: “Perhaps Allah has placed the key to the resolution of one’s problems upon such a person’s tongue””.
A Final Word
Each year, more than twenty million pilgrims from all around the world travel to Mashhad in order to visit the holy shrine of Imam al-Rida (ʿa). This brings about a very ideal set of circumstances for spreading the teachings of Islam. The captivating personality and characteristics of Imam al-Rida (ʿa) play a powerful role in spreading these teachings and we must take this Imam (ʿa) as a great example for ourselves in our day to day lives. We should strive to transform the pilgrimage of this great Imam (ʿa) in to a university for the teaching and dissemination of the Shia culture all around the world. Similarly, the name of Imam al-Rida (ʿa) brings about blessings wherever it goes and history is witness that the Imam (ʿa) utilized various languages in his lectures and debates. Due to this reason, we should also strive to learn the various languages of this world in emulation of our Imam (ʿa) and we should utilize these languages in spreading the message of Islam.
Today, we live in a time which shares many of the same conditions as the time of the Imam (ʿa). Many of the same doubts exist today which existed in the past and the same types of propaganda are also being utilized against Islam in the media networks of the enemy. Satellite stations and the internet are being utilized twenty four hours a day and seven days a week to spread such propaganda all throughout the Muslim and non-Muslim world. In light of this situation, the scholars, the religious seminaries, and the universities must stand up and resist the plans of the enemies of the religion. They must help spread the pure teachings of Islam using the best means possible to the people of this world. Today, we live in a world which is more interconnected than ever and many unislamic ideas have entered in to the minds of the people. Due to this reason, we must create institutions, universities, and research centers in the name of Imam al-Rida (ʿa) towards confronting every sort of misguided ideas and deviations.
 مِنْ دينِ الْامامِيَّةِ، لَايَفِرضُ اللَّهُ طاعَةَ مَنْ يَعْلَمُ انَّهُ يُضِلُّهُمْ وَ يُغْوِيهِمُ، وَ لَا يَخْتارُ لِرِسَالَتِهِ وَ لَايَصْطَفِى مِنْ عِبَادِهِ مَنْ يَعْلَمُ انَّهُ يَكْفُرٌ بِهِ وَ بِعِبَادَتِهِ، وَ يَعْبُدُ الشَّيْطَانَ دُونَهُ
 انِّ الِأمامَةَ زَمامُ الدّينِ وَ نَظامُ المُسْلِمينَ وَ صَلاحُ الدُّنيا وَ عَزِّ المؤمنينَ…
 Uṣūl al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 200.
 صاحب النعمة يجب عليه التوسعة على عياله
 Uṣūl al-Kāfī, vol. 4, p. 11, hadith 5; Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl, p. 442.
 يَنْبَغِي لِلرَّجُلِ أَنْ يُوَسِّعَ عَلَى عِيَالِهِ كَيْلَا يَتَمَنَّوْا مَوْتَه
 الذى يطلب من فضل اللَّه ما يكف به عياله اعظم اجراً من المجاهد فى سبيل اللَّه
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿah, vol. 12, p. 43.
 ان الانسان اذا ادّخر طعام سنة خفّ ظهره واستراح
 أَسْوَءُ النَّاسِ مَعَاشاً مَنْ لَمْ يَعِشْ غَيْرَهُ فِى مَعاشِهِ
 Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl, p. 334.
 Wasāʾil al-Shīʿah, vol. 3, p. 4, The Book of Prayer, The Chapter of the Obligatory Nature of Prayer, Hadith 7.
 Surah Fuṣṣilat, verse 30
 هى و اللّه ما أنتم عليه
 Majmaʿ al-Bayān, in the section on the verse being discussed above
 إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعالى رُبَّمَا فَتَحَ عَلَى لِسَانِه
 Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 72, p. 101, hadith 25.