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Learning of the death of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq on the 25th Shawwal 148 AH, the ‘Abbasid Caliph of the time, al-Mansur, instructed his governor in Medina to be present when the Imam’s will and testament was read and to kill whoever was chosen as Imam Ja’far’s successor. The plot however was thrown into confusion when it was revealed that the Imam had chosen four people to administer his last testament : the Caliph himself, the governor, ‘Abdullah Aftah, the Imam’s eldest surviving son and Musa, his younger son.

Due to the prudent foresight of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq of not identifying clearly his successor in his will, some Muslims thought that Abdullah Aftah was the new Imam. Others were already insisting that the Imamate had stayed with Ismail, Sadiq's oldest son, who had died earlier. Within the family circle however, it was understood that Ja’far as-Sadiq had selected Musa as the Imam after him.

Imam Musa, the son of Ja’far as-Sadiq by the daughter of a Berber named Hamida was twenty years old at his father's death. His Imamate coincided with one of the greatest periods of the persecution of the Muslim community, in particular of the Shi’is, who maintained that the Prophet had instruction them to obey his designated successors as their wali or master and Imam or leader after him.

While Al-Mansur was occupied with the construction of the new

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‘Abbasid capital, Baghdad in the beginning, by 157 AH, when the city was finished, the Imam started to be harassed. A year on, Al-Mansur died and was succeeded by his son al-Mahdi who was initially indifferent towards Imam Musa. In Madina in 164 AH, al-Mahdi realized how great the regard for and reputation of Imam Musa among the people. He imprisoned the Imam in Baghdad but after a year, released him.

The year 169 AH / 785 CE saw the succession of al-Mahdi by al-Hadi but only after a year as the ‘Abbasid Caliph, al-Hadi died and the Caliphate fell into the hand of Harun ar-Rashid in 170 AH.

It was reported that once when ar-Rashid set out to go on the pilgrimage and was approaching Medina, the leading men among the inhabitants met him. Imam Musa came out to the Caliph on a mule. "What! Is this the animal on which you will meet the Commander of the faithful (the Caliph)?" one al-Rabi asked him. "If you were seeking (something) on it, you would not obtain it and if you were being sought (while you were) on it, you would not escape".

"It is beneath the vanity of horses and above the lowliness of asses and the best of matters are those which are moderate" the Imam replied. When Harun ar-Rashid entered Medina, he went to pay a visitation to (the tomb of ) the Prophet (pbh). The people went with him. Ar-Rashid went forward to the tomb of the Apostle of God (pbh) and said: "Greetings to you, Apostle of God! Greetings to you, cousin." He was seeking to show his proud position over the others by that. But then Imam Musa went forward to the tomb and said:"Greetings to you, Apostle of

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God! Greetings to you, father." The expression on ar-Rashid's face changed and the anger in it became transparently obvious. (Ref: Al-Kafi I, 507, tradition No.4)

The persecution of the Muslim who believed the Imam as the successors of the Prophet instead of the Caliph-King reached a climax during the reign of Harun ar-Rashid. Hundreds of people were killed and Imam Musa was arrested and was brought to Baghdad to be executed. Surprisingly, Harun released Imam Musa at the last minute, reportedly because of a dream. This respite was temporary though, and the Imam was re-arrested.

Imam Musa spent 6 years in prison where he died of poisoning on the 25th Rajab 183 AH after 35 years as the Imam. His body was publicly displayed by Harun on the Bridge of Baghdad to dispel any rumors that the Imam had escaped and was living in secret. Imam Musa al-Kazim, 'The one who swallows his anger', was buried by his devoted followers at al-Kazimiyyah near Baghdad.

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