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The Issue of Imam al-Rida (‘a) as the Crown Prince

The discussion is a historical debate and of the secondary issues related to Imamate (the leadership of Ahl al-Bayt) and caliphate. This issue is better known as Imam al-Rida “as the crown prince”.

Ma’mun brought Imam al-Rida from Medina to Khorasan (Marv) of that time and appointed him as his crown prince. Even the words “heir” or “crown prince” which are both used for the same meaning, are definitions not only relative today but also linked to that time.

A couple of years back, I was trying to find out when these words appeared. These words were not used at the beginning of Islam and such issues were basically not raised; therefore, such words were not required.

The act of introducing a successor by the Caliph during his time and taking oath of allegiance from his successor was first carried out during the time of Mu‘awiyah for Yazid. It, however, did not carry the name “giving oath of allegiance to Yazid as the crown prince”. Even though I focused on this issue, I do not remember seeing this definition in the period after him. But here we see this word is used and is also continuously repeated. Therefore, we shall use this definition because it has been stated in history and we should inevitably use it.

As in the case of Imam al-Hassan’s peace, there are also suspicions in this issue even though the appearance of the affair resembles these two issues as opposite and contradictory. This is because Imam al-Hassan abandoned the caliphate or as history or even the Imam himself defines it: he submitted the affairs. Here, it is the opposite.

The issue was not leaving the job but the opposite—taking it. The following question can cross ones mind: what are the Imams supposed to do then? When they leave the job they get criticism and if others want to hand over the job to them and they accept, they will still be criticized? What therefore must be done?

However, the critics have one issue in common; they all agree that in both cases, of handing over leadership and acquiring it, there is a kind of agreement. Handing over was a form of coming to terms with the present Caliph who had, for sure, taken over the caliphate unjustly and the acceptance of the position of successor was also ultimately a form of agreement.

Those who criticize say: Imam al-Hassan should not have handed over the affairs and come to term in the situation. He should have fought until he was killed. And in the case of Imam al-Rida, he should not have accepted. He should have resisted and fought as until he got killed, even if he was forced to accept it.

We shall now analyze the issue of succession, which is a very important historical issue, so that the matter is made clear. The peace of Imam al-Hassan was to an extent discussed previously.

We must first investigate the historical view point irrespective of the issue why and how Imam al-Ridaaccepted this offer, to see what the story was.

The ‘Abbasid attitude towards the ‘Alawis

Ma’mun is the heir to the ‘Abbasid caliphate. Since the first day the ‘Abbasids came to power, their plan was to fight the ‘Alawis and kill them. The crime the Abbasids committed towards the ‘Alawis when they were in power was not little and even worse in some aspects.

However, because of the tragedy of Karbala (where Imam al-Husaynis the one they dealt with) takes place in the time of the Umayyads, the course of events really gets heated. Otherwise, apart from the tragedy of Imam al-Husayn, the disasters they created for the ‘Alawis was nothing less than the tragedy of Karbala and it was at time even worse.

What did Mansur, the second ‘Abbasid Caliph, do with the ‘Alawis, with Imam al-Hassan’s children to whom he gave oath of allegiance? He killed many of them and took them to really hideous prisons. That was where he took a large group of these poor sayyids (the children of the Prophet) to a prison where he gave them no water, no bread and even no permission to go out and go to toilet. This was a form of gradual torture. When he wanted to kill them, he would say: go and destroy the roof on their heads.

Anyone, who came after Mansur, did the same thing. During Ma’mun’s time, five of the Imam’s children rebelled, whose names are mentioned in “Murawwij al-Dhahab” by Mas‘udi and “Kamil” by ibn Athir. During the time of Harun and Ma’mun, seven to eight of the ‘Alawis rebelled. Therefore, hatred and enmity between the ‘Alawis and ‘Abbasids is not a small issue.

The ‘Abbasids did not refrain from any action for gaining power over the caliphate. Even if someone from their own dynasty became their rival, they would not hesitate and immediately killed him. This was true in the case of Abu Muslim, who had served them so much, but who was killed as soon as they felt the slightest bit of threat from him. All the service the Barmakis gave to Harun and all the cordiality these two had towards each other (the cordiality between Harun and Barmak had became a historical proverb)1 did not do any good for the Barmakis. Suddenly, Harun got rid of them for a very little political issue and scorched their family. Even His Excellency Ma’mun got into a fight with his brother Amin. These two brothers fought each other and Ma’mun won and his bother got killed in a terrible manner.

Now, the question is how Ma’mun, who had such a personality, prepare to call up on Imam al-Ridafrom Medina and order for Imam al-Ridato be brought to him?

When they brought Imam al-Rida, he suggested to the Imam to accept the caliphate from him.2 What was his motivation for this? What was going on? It is not easy to analyze this event historically.

Jurji Zaydan in the fourth volume of his book, entitled “Tarikh-e Tamaddun” (the History of Civilizations), discusses this issue with a special perception which I will talk about later. But he confesses to a matter that the ‘Abbasids used to keep their policies a secret even from their very close people and their policies are still unknown.

The issue of Imam al-Rida’s successoral and historical citations

The secrets, however, will ultimately not stay hidden as they should. In our (Shi‘ah) view, the secrets of this story are up to a large extent very clear. In our reports and narrations, that is the historical quotes that have reached us through Shi‘ah scholars and not the narration that have been narrated by the Imams, like what Shaykh Mufid has quoted in the book “Al-Irshad” or what Shaykh Saduq has quoted in the book, “‘Uyun al-Akhbar al-Rida”. There are many points about the successoral of Imam al-Ridaespecially in the book “‘Uyun al-Akhbar al-Rida”. Before I refer to these Shi‘ah historical resources, I will firstly name a book as evidence from Sunni references which is called “Maqatil al-Talibiyyin” by Abu al-Faraj Isfahani. He is originally an Umawi and from the Umayyad generation and this is a fact. He lived in the age of “Al-e Buyeh” and because he was residing in Isfahan he became famous as Abu al-Faraj Isfahani.

This man was not a Shi‘ah so we could claim he has written his books based on Shi‘ah emotions. He is definitely a Sunni. He also was not a very pious person either so that we could claim that he was influenced by the reality of events. He is the author of the book called, “Al-Aghani”. Aghani is plural for Ughniyyah and Ughniyyah means songs.

He has explained the history of music in the Muslim World and in proportion to that, a lot of other histories in this book which is apparently about eighteen thousand big volumes. They s