‘Alī ibn Mūsā ar-Riḍā, also called Abu al-Hasan, Ali al-Reza (c. 29 December 765 – 23 August 818) or in Iran (Persia) as Imam Reza, was a descendant of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, and the eighth Shi’ite Imam, after his father Musa al-Kadhim, and before his son Muhammad al-Jawad.
We Shia twelvers believe in twelve Imams appointed by Almighty Allah. The eighth Imam called Imam Reza and his agnomen is Abul-Hasan. He was born on Thursday 11th of Zilqaad 148 A.H., in Medina Saudi Arabia, while at the age of 55 was poisoned, and martyred by Mamoon the Abbasid Caliph in Mashad city in Khorasan province – Iran, on Tuesday, 17th Safar 203 AH. His father was Imam Moosa Kadhim and his mother was Ummul Baneen Najma. He had a son called Mohammad taghi Al-Javad (The 9th ). He was appointed Imam for 20 years. (Al-Ehtajaj, Vol.2, P: 41-42)
Life and Works
Imam played a significant role in the educating of Muslims. Setting examples of education through one’s own conduct.
He saw a short period of the rule of Harun Rashid who had murdered his father. Harun Rashid also attempted to kill Imam Ali Reza (PBUH) but was unsuccessful. After Harun’s death, his sons, Amin and Mamun fought for power. Mamun won with Amin being killed.
Immediately after becoming the Khalifa Mamun, according to the tradition started by Muawiya, had to name a successor (heir apparent). Mamun summoned Imam to come to his capital Marw sending a messenger to Medina to bring the Imam to him and specifying a certain route and sending a security force. The route he chose was not the normal route where, a lot of Shia’s lived. On the way, they entered a town called Nishapur. There the scholars and people requested Imam to tell them a hadith. Imam related the following hadith which is known as the hadith of the golden chain.
“My father Musa Al-Kadhim narrated to me from his father Ja’fer As-Sadiq from his father Mohammed Al-Baqir from his father Ali Zaynul Abedeen from his father , the martyr of Kerbala from his father Ali ibn Abi-Talib saying :”My loved one, and the pleasure of my eyes, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HP) told me once, that Gabriel told him from the Lord “The sentence of LA ILAHA ILLALLAH (I bear witness that there is no God but Allah) is my fort; whoever said it would enter my fort; and whoever entered my fort was safe from my punishment”.
Those who wrote down the hadith numbered twenty thousand. People started reciting the sentence when Imam put his hand up and continued: “Yes, the sentence is Allah’s fort. It will provide you with excellent safety but on one condition only and that is that you obey and follow us – the holy Imams in the progeny of the holy Prophet (PBUH&HP). On reaching Marw, Mamun forced Imam to accept the heir apparent. (to be the leader after him). Imam accepted unwillingly.
Why did Mamun want Imam to be the heir apparent?
- To please the Shia public opinion in Khurasan and the surrounding areas this would make it easier for Mamun to be accepted by the people there and a victory over his brother Amin.
- To avoid clashes with those like the Alawids who had always threatened the Abbasids with various uprisings.
Mamun ordered a new coin to be minted with Imam Ar-Reza’s name on it. Imam however knew that this would not last long.
Soon Mamun put Imam under constant watch. Imam used the position to spread the true word of Islam. Mamun’s court was visited by thousands and Imam made an impact on their minds. His traditions were widely recorded. Mamun who was fond of scholarly discussions would arrange for intellectuals from Greece, Italy , India etc. to come to his court and hold discussions with the Imam.
Mamun was never sincere in his behavior towards Imam. Seeing the Imam’s popularity increase disturbed him immensely especially after the occasion when he requested Imam to lead Feast prayers. Mamun saw that even before Imam had reached the mosque the people had lined the streets and were reciting Takbir and it seemed that even the walls of Marw were doing the same. He had to ask Imam to go back that day.
There are various accounts of how Imam Ali Ar-Reza (PBUH) was killed by Mamun. One of them is that Imam used to like grapes and Mamun one day invited imam and offered (by force) him the poisoned grapes. Imam was forced to eat so he became ill and died after two days on 29th Safar of 203 A.H. .
Imam Ali Ar-Reza (PBUH) martyred in Toos in a village called Sanabad. He had only one son, Imam Mohammad Taqi (PBUH), who succeeded him as the 9th Imam. Imam is buried there at what is today called Mashhad in IRAN.