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Imam al-Jawad (a.s): Biography, Characteristics & Teachings

Imam Muhammad Taqi (AS), better known as Al-Jawad (AS) (‘The Generous’), was born in Medina in 811 AD. He was killed by the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad in 835 AD. He was the Imam for 17 years.

He was born at a time Ma’mun and his half-brother, Amin, were locked in a bitter war of succession. Ma’mun finally won in 298 AH and brought all the Abbasid territories under control. (Tarikh Al-Kulafa)

The Imam’s life coincided with the caliphates of Maʾmun and Muʿtasim of the Abbasid dynasty. Both summoned him from Medina to Baghdad. Imam Muhammad Taqi (AS) was a great figure from the time of his childhood. When Maʾmun invited Imam Al-Ridha (AS) to Khorasan, he performed the Hajj pilgrimage first and took his son, Jawad (AS), who was six at that time, with him. In Mecca, Al-Jawad (AS) saw that his father was bidding farewell to God’s house in a way that he was sure he would never return. Al-Jawad (AS) went and sat down somewhere. His father performed his pilgrimage and called on Al-Jawad (AS) to prepare for the departure but Al-Jawad (AS) refused. Imam Al-Ridha (AS) asked his son why he was sitting there. Jawad, tears in eyes, said: ‘How do you want me to stand up while you were bidding farewell as if you would never return?’ Then, he stood up. (Kashful-Ghamma)

Following the martyrdom of Imam Al-Ridha (AS) in 204 AH, Maʾmun left Marv for Baghdad and repeated his duplicitous policy vis-à-vis the Imam’s son. He wanted to have him under control and so the Ninth Imam was compelled to leave Medina for Baghdad. The Imam’s arrival in Baghdad coincided with the convoy of Maʾmun travelling in a Baghdad street. All the children who were playing in the street fled as Maʾmun’s convoy approached, but someone was still there. Maʾmun was surprised. He got off his howdah and went to the child.

Maʾmun asked the child: Why didn’t you run away like others?
The child replied: Your way was not narrow and I have done no wrongdoing.
Maʾmun: What’s your name?
The child: I am the son of Ali ibn Musa Al-Ridha (AS).
Maʾmun: You are worthy of being his son. (Biharul-Anwaar)

After the martyrdom of the eighth Imam (AS) in 203 AH, Imam Muhammad Taqi (AS) was named his successor. He was nine at the time, so his Imamate was reminiscent of the stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, both of whom were given wisdom at a young age. (Quran 19:12)

The appointees of God had all been educated for special purposes and therefore they were infallible from the time of their childhood. Everyone could see the connection between Imam Al-Jawad and God when he was discussing with scholars in Baghdad in the presence of Maʾmun.

Maʾmun’s Plot

Among Abbasid caliphs, Maʾmun was famous for his intelligence and foresight. He was fond of learning and culture but he was also aware that the Abbasids lacked popular support and that the Muslims loved the family of the Prophet (PBUH). Maʾmun knew very well that revolutionaries throughout the Muslim world all sought the leadership of God’s genuine representatives. But, instead of using force and intimidation, Maʾmun decided to align himself with revolutions and movements in a bid to bring them under control. To that effect, he invited the eighth Imam to Khorasan, but he finally decided to kill him for fear of his growing popularity.

The martyrdom of the eighth the Imam did not spare Maʾmun the threat of overthrow because Imam Al-Ridha’s (AS) son could still lead an uprising against him. So Maʾmun invited Imam Al-Jawad to Baghdad and married him to his daughter Umm Al-Fadhl in an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of his followers.

The Abbasids were not happy with this marriage but Maʾmun knew it was necessary to keep the Shia placated. In order to allay the Abbasids’ concerns, Maʾmun organized an event so that the Abbasids would see Imam Jawad’s (AS) level of knowledge and stop criticizing the marriage. In the meeting, the then chief-justice, Yahya ibn Aktham (see Tarikh Baghdad for more information) asked questions of the ninth the Imam (AS). His first question was as follows:

‘What’s your judgment of someone who has hunted an animal while having been in a state of sanctification for the pilgrimage to Mecca?’

In response to this question, Imam al-Jawad asked the following ten questions:
Where has the animal been killed?
Has it been killed inside the sanctuary or outside of it?
Was the hunter aware of the ruling for this act?
Has it been done on purpose or by accident?
Was it the first time he did so?
Was the prey a bird or not?
Was the prey small or big?
Did he regret his act?
Was hunting done in the day or in the night?
Was the hunting done during the major or minor pilgrimage?
Was the hunter a slave or not?
The Imam said these questions must be answered before he gave any ruling. Yahya was astonished and did not know how to respond, so he ended the discussion. (Kashful-Ghamma)

Maʾmun had decided to blame the Imam for the government’s ineptitude in a bid to humiliate him in the eyes of Muslims. Imam Al-Jawad (AS) was aware of this trap so he sought a pretext to distance himself from the Abbasid Caliph. He convinced Maʾmun to let him go to the Hajj pilgrimage with his wife. After the end of pilgrimage, the Imam settled in Medina and never returned to Baghdad.

There is no precise date given for the Imam’s marriage and his departure for Mecca. However, Tabari says the Imam left Baghdad in the same year he got married. (Tarikh Tabari) What is clear is that the Imam settled in Medina and trained companions. Maʾmun died in 218 AH and was succeeded by Muʿtasim who followed in his footsteps. Muʿtasim once again forced Imam al-Jawad to come to Baghdad; the Imam arrived in 220 AH and was poisoned in the same year. He was buried next to his Grandfather. (Kashful-Ghamma)

Some of the companions of Imam Al-Jawad are as follows: 1. Fadhl ibn Shadhan 2. Abdal-Azim Hasani 3. Abu Al-Tammam 4. Ali ibn Mahziyar 5. Muhammad ibn Abi Umayr 6. Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Nasr.

One day in Baghdad, some children were busy playing on a street. Among them was our 9th Imam (AS). Suddenly the children saw Mamoon Ar-Rasheed, the Abbasid ruler passing by with his soldiers. The children quickly dispersed from that place. However, our Imam (AS) did not run away, rather he (AS) stood at his place. When Mamoon arrived at that spot, he looked at the young boy and asked, Haven’t you recognized me? Why didn’t you move from this place? The young child replied: The path is not narrow that it would become wider by moving aside, nor have I committed any crime that I should run away from you. Moreover, I do not think that you are the sort who would punish someone who is innocent.

This hit Mamoon very hard. He stared at the handsome and illuminated face of this young child for sometime; and was wonder struck. He realized that this child couldn’t be an ordinary child so he asked: Tell me what is your name?” The child said: I am Muhammad. Whose son are you? Asked Mamoon. The child replied, I am the son of Ali ibn Musa Ar-Ridha (AS).

When Mamoon heard this, he praised the 8th Imam (AS) and left. After this brief meeting with our Imam (AS), Mamoon proceeded to a nearby forest for hunting. There, he released his eagle, which flew and returned after a while with a small live fish in its beak. Mamoon was quite surprised by this. As he returned and passed by the same spot where he had met our Imam (AS), he found this young child again at the same place. So he halted and asked him, Muhammad! Tell me what do I have in my hand? Imam (AS) replied.

Allah (SWT) has created many vast oceans from which clouds are formed. When clouds are forming, they absorb small live fish which are caught by the eagles of the kings, who then use them to test the Imams of their times. Mamoon was dumbfounded by this reply and said: Indeed you are the son of Ali ibn Musa Ar-Ridha (AS) for such miracles are not impossible from his son. (Ahsan Al-Muqaal)


He who listens to a caller is serving him. If the caller was Allah’s (SWT) representative, he is then serving Allah (SWT). If the caller was Satan’s representative, he is then serving the Satan. (Tuhafal-Uqool)

Three features cause love: being fair in association; comforting in misfortunes and having a good (generous) heart.  (Jawharaat Al-Kalaam)

There are three things that whoever had will not regret: avoiding hastiness, consulting with others and relying on Allah when determining. He, who advises his brother secretly, does him good and he, who advises his brother openly, does him wrong. (Hayaat Imam Al-Jawad (AS))

Let the guardian of Allah (SWT) in the openness not be an enemy to God in privacy. He, who pretends to be faithful before people and disobeys Allah (SWT) secretly, is a liar and a hypocrite. (Hayaat Imam Al-Jawad (AS))

Beware of accompanying an evildoer because he is like a drawn sword whose look is nice but its effect is bad! (Hayaat Imam Al-Jawad (AS))

The selection taken from “Shīa Islam: History and Doctrines” by , Ayatollāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī.

About Ali Teymoori

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