Today was 11th Zil Qa’da which coincided with the birth of the 8th Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), namely Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (a.s) and I extend my congratulations to our Living Imam Mahdi (a.s) on this very special occasion and to all of you lovers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Lecture delivered by Brother Bashier Rahim on Sunday 14 July 2019 on the occasion of the birth anniversary of 8th Imam Rida (a.s) at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town.
Why the Unique Title ‘Al-Rida’ (as)?
Every Imam as we know them is famously known by a unique title which they have been given and somehow their title is also a reflection of the outstanding aspect of their life in particular eventhough all the different titles of the various Imams could be equally applied to each other.
So when think Imam Husayn (a.s) we think of him as Sayyidus Shuhada though all the Imams achieved martyrdom but the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a.s) is very outstanding.
And if we think of the 5th Imam Baqir (a.s) then we really see someone who split open and expanded all the disciplines of knowledge and is appropriately called Baqir (a.s).
So we ask the question why is the 8th Imam Ali ibn Musa (a.s) known by the unique title “al-Rida”? There’s no need to guess the answer as there are ahadith that actually explain this.
It is narrated that someone by the name of Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Nasr al-Bezanti told Abi Ja’far Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Musa (a.s.), “Some of your opponents think that Al-Ma’mun (the Abbasid Khalif) called your father Al-Rida (a.s.) that means ‘acceptable’ or ‘liked’ since he (ie Ma’mun) liked your father and chose him to be his crown-prince. Imam Al-Jawad (a.s.) said, “No, by Allah, they are liars. Allah the Almighty the Sublime named him Al-Rida (a.s.) since he was accepted by Allah the Almighty in His Heavens, and he was accepted by his Prophet (sawa) and the Imams (a.s.) that followed the Prophet (sawa) on His Earth.” Al-Bezanti said, “Were not your father and grandfathers accepted by Allah, the Prophet and the Imams?” Imam Al-Jawad (a.s.) said, “Yes, they were.” He then asked, “Why then only was your father called Al-Rida and they were not?” Then Imam Al-Jawad (a.s.) said, “That is because his friends and followers as well as his opponents accepted him, while this was never the case for my forefathers. Therefore, he is the only one who is called Al-Rida.”
This is a striking feature of the life of the 8th Imam (a.s) that requires some contemplation to derive lessons for practical implementation into our lives.
It’s interesting to note that when he entered the period of his actual Imamate it was during the time of the despotic ruler Harun al-Rashid who had given his father a very hard time and was the cause of his martyrdom. The narrations state that Imam Rida (a.s) assumed the Imamate at a time when “Blood trickles from Harun’s sword”. So it was a very difficult period.
Coincidentally this tyrant Harun today is buried right next to Imam Rida (a.s), and most people don’t even know this or benefit from him in any way whatsoever. But from these difficult conditions Imam Rida (a.s) was able to establish a legacy whereby he would be accepted and at least apparently liked by his followers and opponents at the same time.
Compare this to the treatment received by other earlier Imams from the general public where they would be cursed and even thought of as non Muslim.
In the famous incident when Imam Rida (a.s) was travelling to Mashad when he was summoned by Ma’mun and passed through Nayshapur, his supporters came out to see him in their thousands. When Imam Rida (a.s) one day was asked to lead the Eid salaah, his supporters came out in thousands. People expressed love for him when the opportunity was there. And at same time Ma’mun the Abbasid ruler expressed apparent love for him such that Ma’mun is even called Shia by some.
Why Do We Address Him as Gharib al-Ghoraba?
Now the question then arises why when we address this same Imam who was liked by friend and foe, we also address him as Gharib al-Ghuraba or the stranger of strangers or the most lonely/isolated one or the most foreign of foreigners? This seems to be very different to his famous title of al-Rida.
Just like all the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) were al-Rida, yet the 8th Imam was given this title, so the term “Gharib” is applicable to more than the 8th Imam. So why is he addressed as Gharib al-Ghuraba?
And our community and country which is home to many refugees and people from foreign countries who now live here will perhaps appreciate identifying with this aspect of the life of Imam Rida (a.s) and find some comfort in it.
Scholars offer different reasons in answering this question, all of which are plausible.
In Madina we all know we have 6 Ma’sumeen buried – that is 4 Imams plus the Prophet (sawa) and Lady Fatima Zahra (a.s).
Then the first one to move from this Holy City and was eventually martyred and buried in a foreign land was Imam Ali (a.s) and he is thus also Gharib or foreign.
And so it goes for Imam Husayn (a.s) who being in Karbala is Gharib or foreign and we even address him as such in certain ziyarah.
Thus the land of Iraq is home to 6 Imams – all in foreign land from the Prophet (sawa).
But from all of them, there is one Imam who is furthest from Madina, all alone taken to Khorasan in city of Tus or present day Mashad and that makes him Gharib al-Ghuraba, the most foreign of foreigners.
He was all alone – separated from his very family – which was huge as Imam Kazim (a.s) had over 40 children.
And when attempts were made to become reunited with him, his brothers were killed and are thus buried in Shiraz and Lady Fatima Masooma (a.s) was poisoned and buried in Qum – they never reached him in the end.
But Almighty Allah rewarded Imam al-Rida (a.s) for being Gharib al-Ghuraba or the most foreign of foreigners by making his burial place Mashad as a piece of land of Jannah (as the narrations state).
So he is Gharib al-Ghuraba as he was furthest from his city of birth.
Now Imam al-Rida (a.s) is also Gharib al-Ghuraba for various other reasons.
While being the so called crown prince of Ma’mun, he could not have study circles to teach people or lead Jumuah or Eid prayers and was separated from the society that he was exiled to.
Then the Imam is Gharib al-Ghuraba due to being betrayed by those among his very followers and the followers of his father as there were sects who broke away called the Waqifiyya who promoted the idea that Imamate ended and that people should follow them. And it was a time when Ismai’liyya was also at its peak.
Then he is also Gharib al-Ghuraba as among his own family there were those working hard to reduce his status by promoting false ideas about the Imam and who had broken away from him.
But scholars also offer one other important view regarding why Imam Rida (a.s) is called Gharib al-Ghuraba is because he lived in a time when Islamic Civilization was really advancing during the era of Harun and Ma’mun.
And Ma’mun would place Imam Rida (a.s) in the presence of great scholars to debate with them and during these sessions the amount of knowledge that was disseminated was so immense that the expansion of Islamic Civilization really goes back to him, yet he has not been given recognition for this in the books of history.
Amongst the recorded sayings of the Imams, after the 5th and 6th Imam, it is said that probably the highest number of ahadith come from the 8th Imam. Yet this Imam is not known for this.
During the approximate 20 years of his Imamate, the knowledge and sciences he taught were vast and phenomenal. And it was also taught in such a manner that attracted people to the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Whoever has a taste of the knowledge of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) will discover a beauty that never fades and will remain permanently infatuated with this never ending ocean of wisdom because you will appreciate that it’s really something else on a very different level of understanding.
And the truth is that once you have a real taste of this knowledge, you experience a joy that cannot be explained or compared to any material joy that we spend so much time running after.
If Only The Masses Have Knowledge of Ahl al-Bayt (as)
The variety of scholars who had access to Imam Rida (a.s) in the sessions with Ma’mun go far and wide and cross even the religious divide. So there’s a great diversity of people who enjoyed being exposed to the knowledge of Imam al-Rida (a.s).
And for us, all that is truly required is this very exposure.
Thus Imam Rida (a.s) offers us a slogan, that can truly become the mission statement of your life.
عن الهروي قال: سمعت أبا الحسن علي بن موسى الرضا عليه السلام يقول: رحم الله عبد أحيا أمرنا فقلت له: وكيف يحيي أمركم؟ قال: يتعلم علومنا ويعلمها الناس، فإن الناس لو علموا محاسن كلامنا لاتبعونا.
Harawi reports that I heard Imam Ali Ar-Ridha (a.s) saying: “May Allah show mercy upon a person who enlivens our affairs”.
So I asked him: “How does a person enliven your affairs?”
He said: “By learning our knowledge and teaching it to people. Because if people would know the goodness of our teachings, they would follow us”.
The reason the masses don’t follow the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and they remain Gharib is because the masses have not really been exposed to the knowledge of Ahlul Bait (a.s). Besides maybe knowing their names and very shallow information about their life, people know little about the actual knowledge they have to offer. If they knew their teachings then they would certainly follow them.
So it’s a 2 step process. We need to invest in deeper understanding of the teachings of our Imams. And this requires us to dedicate time each and every day towards this purpose. We have to realise that time spent on acquiring knowledge of Ahlul Bait (a.s) is a great spiritual exercise.
And just like Imam Rida (a.s) had such a beautiful manner with people to ultimately be liked by friend and foe, so we should find the best manner of sharing this knowledge with the world at every opportunity we get. If we do this, then we will be removing one of the great catastrophes that Imam Rida (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) have been subjected to and that is being unknown for their great contribution to Islamic Civilization.
There is a brother in Gauteng, for example who is a councillor in a municipality and every time he gives a speech in the sphere of politics, he tries to quote and expose the listeners to the teachings of Imam Ali (a.s) for example.
And similarly our own member of Provincial Legislature here in Cape Town shares the teachings of Ahlul Bait (a.s) very often to his many followers on social media.
And we need many more examples of this approach whereby we become the means through which the teachings of Ahlul Bait (a.s) is shared with the world.
May Almighty Allah grant us Taufeeq to be of those who enliven the affairs of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and contribute to unveiling their vast knowledge to others.