Chapter 16 : IMAM ALI IBN MUSA AL-RIDA
The seventh successor of the Prophet, the Wali or Master and Imam or leader of the Muslims, Musa al-Kazim had been aware of the aggressive designs of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate against the Imamate and therefore, during his lifetime had declared in advance Ali Ibn Musa to be his successor, in the presence of 71 prominent religious figures.
Ali Ibn Musa ar-Rida attained the Imamate at 35 after the brutal persecution and demise of his father, Musa al-Kazim, at the hands of the ‘Abbasid Caliph Harun ar-Rashid. Soon after Harun's death in 193 AH/ 809 CE, a civil war broke out between Harun's sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mun which ended in al-Ma’mun's victory in 198 AH / 813 CE.
Aware of the Muslims’ popular support for the Imam, al-Ma’mun summoned Imam ar-Rida to his capital at Marv in northeastern Iran to consolidate his position by offering the Imam to be his heir apparent. Imam Ali ar-Rida refused vigorously but the Caliph insinuated that refusal would not be an alternative as was in the case of the Shura formed by Caliph Umar al-Khattab before him. The Imam was consequently forced to accept but was aware that the matter would not come to pass anyway.
The consequence of the Imam’s apparent agreement to be the heir to al-Ma’mun though was the freedom granted to the theologians, scholars and even the common people who had been until then persecuted by the ‘Abbasid Caliphs because of
One day for example, the Imam saw al-Ma'mun performing the ablutions for prayer with a servant pouring water on to his hand. "Commander of the faithful, don't let anyone participate in your act of worship to your Lord" Imam al-Rida told. The Caliph sent the servant away and finished his ablutions by himself, feeling rage and anger.
In the court of the Caliph was a man called al-Fadl b. Sahl who was known as The man with two offices because of his charge of the military as well as the civil administrations. Imam al-Rida, aware of al-Fadl's and his brother al-Hasan's malice, would disparage them before the Caliph whenever the Caliph mentioned them to encourage al-Ma'mun not to accept their advice. The two wanted to seek the Caliph's favor against the Imam and would mention anything which might isolate the Imam from al-Ma'mun and make the Caliph fear the people's attitude towards Imam al-Rida. Eventually they succeeded in influencing the Caliph to take steps to assassinate him.
Before the plan was put into effect, the Caliph decided to leave Khurasan in Iran for Baghdad. Both al-Fadl b. Sahl and Imam al-Rida went with the Caliph and at one of the halting places, al-Fadl b. Sahl received a letter from his brother urging him to go to the baths to ward off evil that he had been foretold would
befall his brother. He suggested that al-Fadl persuade the Caliph and Imam al-Rida to go with him. The Imam refused and advised al-Ma'mun the same and the advice was accepted. Al-Fadl went and was attacked in the baths and was killed by a gang which included his own cousin. Soldiers, military commanders and al-Fadl's men consequently gathered and accused the Caliph to have perpetrated the killing and demanded revenge. At the requested of the Caliph, Imam al-Rida went out to quieten the mob which fell over each other and departed.
The Caliph never the less went ahead with his plan to assassinate the Imam, frustrated that Imam al-Rida was incorruptible and that his piety was gaining him more and more support. It is narrated from Al-Kafi that the Caliph ordered one of his servants to grow his fingernails longer than usual. The servant was then summoned to knead with his own hands something which looked like tamarind. When the Caliph met Imam al-Rida he insisted that the Imam drank some pomegranate juice and had the servant to squeeze it. The Imam drank and became ill. Al-Ma'mun then got grapes which the Imam liked and prodded needles into them at their storks and gave the Imam to eat it during the illness. After two days, Imam Ali b. Musa al-Rida died of poisoning.
Caliph al-Ma'mun kept the death of Imam al-Rida secret for a day and night before summoning the family of the Holy Prophet (pbh) to view the body and take charge in the washing and shrouding. The Holy Imam was buried in a village called Sanabad near Nawqan in the area of Tus which is now called Mashad, not far from the tomb of the the Caliph's oppressive father, Harun al-Rashid.