By: Seyyed Ali Shahbaz
Today, the 23rd of the month of Zi’l-Qa’dah is associated with a blessed figure who rests in eternal peace in Khorasan, northeastern Iran, in the city of Mashhad, which is the prime centre of pilgrimage for Iranians and for followers of the Ahl al-Bayt from all over the world.
He is Imam Reza (AS), the 8th Infallible Heir of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Although he was martyred through poisoning by the crafty Abbasid caliph, Mamoun, on the last day of Safar – a public holiday in Iran – we take the opportunity today to dwell on some aspects of the life of this great personality.
Imam Reza (AS) needs no introduction to anyone familiar with Islam, the School of the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt, and Iran’s history, culture, and contemporary events. Born in the Prophet’s city of Medina in 148 AH, and named “Ali” in honour of his illustrious ancestor the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), he was 35 years old when the mantle of the Divine Trust of Imamate came to rest on his shoulders in 183 AH on the martyrdom of Imam Kazem (AS) through poisoning in the dungeon of Baghdad.
For the next twenty years, before his own life was cut short at the age of 55, he spared no efforts to steer the ship of Islam to the shores of salvation through stormy seas of Abbasid tyranny. So dexterously he discharged his duties that he was hailed by the Ummah as “Reza”, or the person who is completely satisfied with the Will of God and with whom all other people, whatever their jurisprudential denomination, and whether friend or foe, are also satisfied.
In 201 AH, Imam Reza (AS) was forcibly brought to the city of Marv in Khorasan by Mamoun, who was afraid of the popularity among the Muslim Ummah of the Prophet’s Heir.
In order to deceive the people, Mamoun outwardly showed respect to Imam Reza (AS) and craftily declared the 8th Imam as his heir apparent, although the Imam was some twenty years older than him. To his horror, he failed to isolate the Imam from the Ummah as the popularity of the Prophet’s Rightful Successor grew every day amongst the people, in view of his exemplary lifestyle, his God-given knowledge and wisdom, and his dynamic debates with the leaders and scholars of various schools of thought and religion.
Mamoun in the vain hope of preserving Abbasid rule, devised a plan to stealthily martyr Imam Reza (AS) through poisoning, and then feigned grief by joining the funeral ceremony and shedding crocodile tears. He then left for Iraq and Baghdad, satisfied that the 8th Imam was buried in a distant land.
Soon, in the course of time, Abbasid rule came to its disgraceful end, and today there are no signs of the caliphs or their tombs, let alone their palaces, while the mausoleum of Imam Reza (AS) has grown into a spacious shrine where millions of people flock from all over Iran and the different parts of the world to pay homage to the person who in definition of the role of the divinely-designated Imam, said:
“The Imam is a kind father, a helper brother, (could be likened to) a compassionate mother to a minor child, and a refuge for creatures of God in severe calamities.”
“The Imam is the flourishing root of Islam and its prime branch. The Imam is an honest friend, a kind and friendly father, a truly-loyal brother and companion, just like an affectionate and selfless mother towards her young child, and a refuge for Allah’s servants.”
It will not be out of context to dwell on a famous statement expressed by Imam Reza in the city of Nishapur, on his way to Marv, when some twenty thousand people, with pen and paper gathered to greet him and requested him to recite a hadith from the Prophet.
The 8th Imam related on the authority of his illustrious ancestors leading to Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) who was informed by the Archangel Gabriel of a Divine phrase, since known in history as “Hadith Silsilat adh-Dhahab” or the Golden Chain of Authority:
“Kalematal la ilaha il-Allah Hisni, wa man dakhala Hisni, amena min Azabi”
“The phrase ‘there is no god but Allah’ is My strong fortress and whoever enters My strong fortress is immune from My wrath’.
When the caravan started to move the Imam protruded his head from the canopied litter atop the camel and told the gathering: “But there are certain conditions, and I am one of these conditions”.
He meant to say that mere utterance of such a statement by the tongue is not enough, but what is required is belief from the depth of the heart. In other words, only devotion to the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and practical adherence to their path guarantees entry into Allah’s strong fortress in order to be immune from Divine wrath.