Imam Ali al Rida and Imamah
The further we have delved into the development of Shi’ism the more evident its falsehood has become. When a fundamental tenet is beset with such disagreement and confusion, then one can well imagine the state of secondary and supplementary aspects of that religion.
The doctrine of Imamah is plagued with such religious, historic, and logical inconsistencies which brings to mind the condition of the Yahood after the ascension of Nabi Isa; their confusion and subsequent theories which emerged:
وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ
And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. (Sūrah al-Nisā’: 157.)
If Imamah were truly revealed by Allah it would have been free from such division and confusion, as Allah states:
وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا
If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction. (Sūrah al-Nisā’: 82.)
A condition which has haunted the Shia from the beginning to end.
The Shia were still reeling from the crisis it had faced after the death of Jafar, confusion over which of his sons, Ismail, Muhammad, Abdullah or Kazim was the Imam; and the majority defecting to the Zaidis or Hasanids; this crisis had hardly settled when they were beset by yet another problem.
Imam Moosa Kazim — who had become the popular candidate for the Mahdi among his followers — passed away under mysterious circumstances in the year 183 A.H, leaving the Shia utterly perplexed.
Thus some claimed that he was the Mahdi who had not died but went into occultation, others that he had died but will return, and others went as far as comparing him to Nabi Isa. Yet another group decided to surrender entirely and deferred any judgement on the matter. They are referred to as the Waqifiyyah.
The main reason for their halting the line of Imamah at Moosa Kazim — and refusing to accept the Imamah of his son after him — were the narrations widely circulated regarding the Mahdism of al Kazim, which the Ahlul Bayt tried their level best to refute. Ibrahim ibn Moosa al Kazim is on record saying these profound words on learning about this:
He said, “Glory be to Allah! The Messenger of Allah passed away but Moosa will not die? By Allah he has passed away and the Messenger of Allah has also passed away.”
Providing us with a comprehensive response to any and all claims — past, present, and future — of a hidden Mahdi having extended lifespan and being spared from death.
Those Shia who did not subscribe to the Mahdi theory sought other candidates to rally around, and so the Imam wars began!
- Shias in Madinah pledged allegiance to Ahmad, the son of Moosa Kazim, and he took the oath of allegiance from them.
- Ali ibn Ubaydullah ibn Hasan ibn Ali Zaynul Abidin,
- Abdullah ibn Moosa Kazim,
- Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Hassan al Muthanna
These three received support of the Shia in their respective cities and elsewhere, in their struggle to overthrow the unjust rule of the Abbasids. Muhammad ibn Ibrahim also received the support and allegiance of the people of Kufah.
- On the death of Muhammad ibn Ibrahim, the Shia pledged their allegiance to Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Zaid — who was able to gain control of a number of cities due to the support he enjoyed. And in a short time he managed to take control of Iraq, Hijaz, and Yemen. Even the people of Syria had announced their support for him.
However this movement collapsed in the year 200 A.H, when the Abbasid armies regained control over these different cities.
- Muhammad ibn Jafar al Sadiq then took up the flag, the majority of the Shia allying with him as opposed to al Rida. It is recorded in Maqatil al Talibiyin:
During this period, Muhammad ibn Jafar ibn Muhammad rose up in Madinah and called people to pledge allegiance to him. The people of Madinah pledged allegiance to him as the Amir al Mu’minin and they did not make such a pledge after Hussain ibn Ali except to Muhammad ibn Jafar.
This further emphasizes our objective: that let alone the Shia the Ahlul Bayt themselves did not believe in the divine authority of the Twelve Imams.
One might ask:
Where was al Rida in all of this?
Was he not the divinely appointed Imam upon whom the salvation of Man is dependent?
The statements and actions of al Rida uproots this doctrine entirely.
In 201 A.H Ma’mun Rashid — the Mu’tazili Abbasid Khalifah declared Ali al Rida to be the best of the Alawites and offered to abdicate the Khilafah in his favour. But Ali al Rida refuses!
Yes, dear listeners — after years of Shia struggle to return the “usurped” right to the infallible Imams — the Imam refuses to accept the post. This action alone entirely annihilates the entire Twelver Shi’i doctrine, however, if one is looking for the proverbial cherry on the cake; continue to listen…
When Ali al Rida refused to accept the post of Khilafah, Ma’mun insisted on him being the crown prince and his successor — which al Rida accepts only if his own conditions are met. Contrary to what one may expect, Al Rida’s condition has absolutely nothing to do with Shi’i theology or its tenets; instead it flies directly in the face of everything the Shia would have us believe. Al Mufid records the conversation between Ma’mun and al Rida in his Kitab al Irshad, when the latter offered him the Khilafah:
Al Rida replied, “Allah! Allah!” Amir al Mu’minin, I have no ability or power for that.”
Ma’mun said, “Then I will designate you as successor after me.”
Al Rida said, “Amir al Mu’minin, exempt me from that.”
Finally upon insistence, Al Rida accepts saying:
I will agree to what you want of me as far as succession is concerned, on condition that I do not command, nor order, nor give legal decisions, nor judge, nor appoint, nor dismiss, nor change anything from how it is at present.
Effectively surrendering everything Divine Imamah is supposed to entail.
While the actions of Ali al Rida contradict the popular Shi’i tale of the oppressed Imams denied their divine right to rule, it is in perfect harmony with the Sunni narrative and their opinion of the Imams. Supporting this even further is the Hadeeth reported by Ali al Rida in which he discusses the doctrine of Shura in more explicit terms:
Al Rida said, “Anyone who wants to divide the community and usurp the right of the Ummah, and to make someone a leader not through consultation (Shura); Kill him! For Allah has permitted that.
This reveals Imam Ali al Rida’s true political theory, which is in accordance with the general opinion of the Ahlul Bayt. It emphasizes the right of the Ummah for consultation and their right to choose the Khalifah.
This reconciliation between the Abbasid and Alawid house was not met with approval by the Shia commonality and they continued to rally around anyone who sought to overthrow the Mu’tazili Abbasid Khalifah.
- Thus while al Rida was reconciling with Ma’mun, his brother Ibrahim ibn Moosa — who had previously joined the rebellion of Muhammad ibn Ibrahim — refused to submit, and insisted on keeping control of Yemen. Ma’mun was eventually forced to recognize him and remove his own governor.
- In the year 202 A.H, the Shia rallied around Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Jafar al Sadiq, and a new Shia rebellion began; but this time in new circumstances. The rebellion began after the reconciliation between Ma’mun and al Rida, and this time against an Alawid governor, Abbas ibn Moosa al Kazim — brother of al Rida —, who invited the people of Kufah to pledge allegiance to Ma’mun and his crown prince, Ali al Rida. But the people of Kufah refused to do so, they said:
If you call us to Ma’mun then after him to your brother, we are not in need of your call. But if you call us to your brother or some people among the Ahlul Bayt or yourself; we will accept and follow you.
The polarity between the Ahlul Bayt and those who claim to be their followers is clearly noticeable, the leader and best of the Ahlul Bayt calls to one thing yet the Shia demand something else entirely. The attitude of the people of Kufah during this period is also highlighted, the concept of divine Imamah as asserted by the Twelvers being particularly absent. Rather they were prepared to follow anyone from the Ahlul Bayt, whether it be al Rida, his brother Abbas, or even his cousin Ali ibn Muhammad. They did not limit leadership and authority to only a select twelve believed to be divinely appointed.
Nonetheless, even if we were to ignore all of these historic narrations and assume — contrary to reality — that all of the Shia unanimously believed in the Imamah of al Rida and for the first time came to some albeit shaky consensus; then whatever consensus might have been reached was once again fragmented on the death of Ali al Rida… as the Shia were about to face a crisis like never before.
 Kitabul Ghaybah 29-40
 Kulayni: Al Kafi, vol. 1, p, 39
 Muqatil al Talibiyyin: op.cit, pp- 532
 Muqatil al Talibiyyin: op.cit, pp- 534
 Muqatil al Talibiyyin: op.cit, pp- 444
 Kitab al Irshad (eng) page 440
 Saduq: Uyun Akhbar al Rida, Vol, 2, p. 62
 Tabari, op.cit. Vol, 7, p. 144Back to top