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Fellowship and Sympathy in Life and Teachings of Imam Rida (as)

The present Op-Ed examines the place of the concept of fellowship and sympathy in the lifestyle and practice of Imam Rida (pbuh).

Fellowship and sympathy are the keys to all important moral and social concepts and have been highly emphasized in Islam. Accordingly, the concept of fellowship and sympathy is analyzed in his words and practice.


Fellowship, sympathy and helping others are all related and synonymous elements without which a society cannot continue to exist.Islam has always given a central place to the mentioned elements. And, accordingly, they have been preached and practiced by the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and also by his Household (pbut).

Fellowship and sympathy with the needy are one of the issues that can be evidently observed in the practice and lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his Household (peace be upon them); they not only attempted to practice them but also advised the Muslims and their followers to do that. Given the high capacity of the concept of “fellowship” in the Islamic Shia culture, Ayatollah Khamenei, as a Shia scholar and the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, put a special emphasis on fellowship during the Corona pandemic, which inflicted great economic losses on the people and negatively influenced the livelihood of people of different classes, asking Iranians to practice this socio-cultural behavior under the adverse conditions caused by the Corona virus. The present Op-Ed examines the place of the concept of fellowship and sympathy in the lifestyle and practice of Imam Rida (pbuh). Accordingly, the concept of fellowship and sympathy is analyzed in his words and practice.

Why fellowship and sympathy are essential to human beings: Human’s duty toward God the Almighty

Explaining the human duty of appreciating the divine blessings is one of the ways Imam Rida (pbuh) demonstrated the need for fellowship and sympathy. For instance, he considered helping the brothers in religion as one of the most cherished ways of appreciating God’s blessings and referred to those who help their brothers in religion as the privileged in the eyes of Allah[1]. Based on further evidence, referring to a hadith by Imam Ali (pbuh), Imam Rida (pbuh) stated: “Oh God, You created humans as equal, but some of them are generous and benevolent and some are miserly and narrow-minded. One who is generous and open-handed lives a comfortable and happy life, but one who is miserly and narrow-minded lives a miserable life.”[2] The importance of fellowship and sympathy sometimes caused Imam to talk about it using a warning tone: “The one who is blessed is at risk.” Addressing the rich and those who are in good economic conditions, he stated that observing God’s rights with respect to those blessings is obligatory to them; I swear to God, God the Almighty gives me blessings and I am always worried about them until I have respected the rights God has made obligatory to me (due to these blessings).”[3] In another hadith, he emphasized “God has made a rich person obliged to rise (take action) for management of the affairs of the patients and the needy.”[4]

The effects of fellowship and sympathy on humans’ life

From the perspective of Imam Rida (pbuh), human’s concern about and sympathy with the conditions of other humans is a determining criterion for an individual’s happiness and his/her quality of life. Once he asked one of his companions named Ali bin Shoayb “Who do you think has the best and the worst life?” In respect for Imam, he said: “My master, you are more knowledgeable and wiser (for answering this question).” Imam said “One who shares his/her life with others has the best life and one who does not lives the worst.”[5]

There is another narration in the references in which Imam Rida (pbuh) refers to the spiritual effects of helping people; he stated, “A generous person is close to God, to paradise, and to people and is far away from hell, but a miserly person is far away from paradise and people, and is close to hell.”[6] Interestingly, in a narration Imam Rida (pbuh) provided a meaning for generosity from which fellowship and sympathy can be inferred; according to him, “A generous person eats from people’s food so that they also (are willing to) eat from his/her food and a miserly people does not eat from people’s food so that they do not (tend to) eat from his/hers.”[7]

A review of the place fellowship and helping others occupied in Imam Rida’s life

A review of the lifestyle of Imam Rida (pbuh) proves that fellowship and helping others had special place. In a well-known hadith, during his presence in Merv and on the Day of Arafah, he distributed all his possessions to those in plight and need. According to this hadith, in reaction to Fazl bin Sahl, the senior minister of Ma’moon (the caliph of the time), who, being informed of Imam Rida’s assistance to the poor, had referred to this action of Imam Rida (pbuh) as a loss, Imam Rida (pbuh) stated, “What I donated to the poor was a benefit (to me) not a loss. I purchased a prize and dignity by this action.”[8]

A review of Imam Reza’s (pbuh) life also reveals that his practice of fellowship and sympathy is consistent with his advices and hadiths. In line with this, he stated “A Muslim’s wisdom will not be complete unless he/she has 10 characteristics…One of these characteristics is to not become tired of the poor referring to him/her for help.”[9] On the other hand, referring to Imam Rida’s (pbuh) lifestyle, one of his companions asserted, “I never saw Imam reject someone asking for help whenever he could afford to.”[10]

A considerable point in Imam Rida’s (pbuh) life was that he always donated his best possessions first, and practiced fellowship in seemingly trivial matters as well; he even donated his food.This can be inferred from an account narrated by one of the companions of Imam Rida (pbuh), who described a part of the life of the Imam as such: “Whenever Imam wanted to have food, he used to put a large bowl next to him, and put in the bowl a part of the food, any food he was going to have, the best part of it and asked me to give it to a poor person.”[11] However, it should be noted that Imam Rida’s (pbuh) practice of fellowship and sympathy has been mainly directed at satisfying public needs. On this basis, by studying the related hadiths, Imam’s serious attempts and practice of fellowship can be seen in such issues as digging underground aqueducts and wells and building public bathrooms, etc.[12]
Another feature of Imam’s (pbuh) practice of fellowship was that he tried not to look at the needy person in the face when donating something to him/her to prevent him/her from becoming embarrassed. His fellowship and sympathy was not limited to the poor; a person’s being in need in a particular time and under particular conditions was enough (to convince Imam to help). These two characteristics and his expecting nothing in return for the help can be inferred from a hadith by one of the companions of Imam Rida (pbuh) who stated that he was with Imam Rida (pbuh) when a person came to him and said “I am one of your ancestors’ followers and I have run out of money in my journey. Then he asked for help and considering the fact that he was a rich person, he promised to make a charity in the same amount when he went back to his hometown. At this time, Imam Rida (pbuh) stood up and entered one of the rooms and got 200 Dinars out calling him from behind the door and told the person to take the money and use it on his journey… The person in need took the money and left. Some told him why he hid behind the door (when donating the money). Imam Rida (pbuh) answered “To not see on his face the embarrassment of being in need of help.”[13]

Imam Rida (pbuh) continued practicing fellowship and sympathy until the last moments of his life

Interestingly, Imam Rida (pbuh) did not discriminate between himself and others in terms of satisfying the material and spiritual needs until the end of his life.[14] It has been mentioned that when Imam had been poisoned and did not feel well, he told one of his companions: “Oh Yasir, why don’t these people eat something?” Yasir answered “Oh, my master, how can they have something seeing you in this (terrible) state? However, Imam told them to bring food asking everyone to eat the same food Imam was eating.”[15]



[1] Sadough, Oyun al-Akhbar al-Reza, volume 2, p. 169.

[2] Sadough, Oyun al-Akhbar al-Reza, volume 2, pp. 412-413.

[3] Koleini, Kafi, volume 4, p. 399.

[4] Sadough, Oyun al-Akhbar al-Reza, volume 2, p. 89 and 172.

[5] ibn Shobeh Harani, Tohfat ul-Oghul, p. 447.

[6] Sadough, Oyun al-Akhbar al-Reza, volume 2, p. 12.

[7] ibid, p 12.

[8] Ibn Shahrashoub, Managheb-e Al-e Abi Talib, volume 4, p. 360.

[9] Ibn Shobeh Harani, Tohfat ul-Oghul, p. 708.

[10] Sadough, Oyun al-Akhbar al-Reza, volume 2, p. 197.

[11] Koleini, Kafi, volume 4, p. 23-24.

[12] Atarodi, Masnad-e Emam Reza (pbuh), volume 1, p. 58.

[13] Koleini, Kafi, volume 4, p. 23-24.

[14] In September, 818, Imam Reza (pbuh) was poisoned and martyred by Ma’moon in Toos, Iran.

[15] Ibn Shahrashoub, Managheb-e Al-e Abi Talib, volume 2, p. 589.


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