in this article let us take a quick journey, a meraj of our own, through the life of our Ninth Imam, Imam Muhammad ibne Ali al-Jawad (as).
In the Name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful. The One who has blessed us with all we have. Glorious and Great is He who created us, gave us life and existence. All praise is Allah’s, the Mighty, the Exalted, the Powerful, the most quick to Forgive. The One who has prescribed a perfect and harmonious order for life called Islam. The One who has blessed us with Iman in the Ahlul Bayt.
InshaAllah, in this article let us take a quick journey, a meraj of our own, through the life of our Ninth Imam, Imam Muhammad ibne Ali al-Jawad (as).
The purpose of this article is to gain some insight into the life of this pious and knowledgeable Imam of the household of the holy Prophet (saw). InshaAllah, I will cover the Imam’s biography, a quick look into his life, a few of the Imam’s wise sayings, a story about a fish and a hawk, the Imam’s famous debates, the Imam’s means of propagation, the events leading up to the Imam’s shahadat, and our conclusion.
The Ninth Imam was born in Madina, 10th Rajab 195 Hijri.
He is also known as Abu Ja'far the second, Ibn al-Ridha ("the son of al-Ridha (as)); al-Jawād ("the generous") and al-Taqī ("the pious").
He had two wifes: Samana Maghrabea, the mother of the 10th Imam (as) and she was a descendant of Ammar Yasir. His other wife was Ummul Fazl daughter of the Abbasid Khalifa Mamun Rashid and she did not bear him any children.
His mother was Sabika Khatoon also known as Khayzaran. Sabika Khatoon was from the Nobi or Nubian tribe of Africa, interestingly the same tribe of Lady Hajira, the wife of Prophet Ibrahim and in other sources Sabika Khatoon was a descendant of Lady Mariya Qibtiya the wife of the holy Prophet.
His children are reported to have been four sons:
1. Hadhrat Abu al-Hasan, Imam ‘Ali al-Naqi (Hadi) (as) 2. Abu Ahmad Musa Mubarqa‘
3. Abu Ahmad Husayn 4. Abu Musa ‘Imran
And four daughters:
5. Fatimah 6. Khadija 7. Umm Kulthum 8. Hakima
He was martyred in Baghdad Iraq 29th Zeeqad 220 Hijiri. He lived for 25 years and his Imamate lasted 17 years.
In the Life Sketch of Imam Muhammad Taqi Jawad (a.s.), Allamah Zeeshan Haider Jawadi writes, it was the 10th of Rajab 195 A.H. when Almighty Allah bestowed such a son to Imam Reza (a.s.). Allah swt had appointed the 9th Imam as inheritor of all his father’s virtues and the successor of Imamate. At that time approximately 47 years of Imam Rida’s (as) life had passed and people began doubting his Imamate as he had no son.
Sometimes they used to ridicule Imam Rida (as) that God has made him childless, accusations that had also been leveled against the Holy Prophet (saw). There was such great ridicule that a person wrote a letter to Imam Rida (as) that since he was childless, his Imamate was doubtful. The Imam (as) replied: Very soon Almighty Allah will give me a son, who would be my successor and differentiator between truth and falsehood.
It is important to note that Imam Reza (a.s.) had two wives: One was the daughter of Mamun Rashid whom Mamun had married to the Imam (as) for political reasons; another wife was Sabika Khatoon, whom Imam (a.s.) used to refer to as Khayzaran and Raihana, and her Kunniyat was Ummul Hasan. Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (as) was brought up by his Holy father for four years.
So, the martyrdom of Imam Reza (a.s.) occurred in 203 Hijri, but before his shahadat, he was summoned from Medina to Tus by Mamun Rashid. For the consolidation of Mamuns empire, it was necessary to win the sympathy and support of the Iranians who had always been friendly to the Ahlu'l-bayt. Accordingly, Mamun declared Imam `Ali ar-Rida (as) as his heir even against the Imam's (as) will and had Mamuns daughter Umm Habibah married to the Imam (as). In a similar fashion years later Mamun married his daughter Ummu'l-Fadl to Imam al-Jawad (as). Ma'mun expected that Imam Rida (as) would lend him his support in the political affairs of the State and provide much needed legitimacy.
But when he discovered that the Imam (as) was not interested in political matters and that the masses were more and more submitting themselves to Imam Rida due to his spiritual greatness, Mamun had Imam Rida (as) poisoned in Tus.
Before Imam Rida’s (as) departure from Medina to Tus, he declared his son the Ninth Imam (as) as his successor, and imparted to him all his stores of Divine knowledge and spiritual genius. With the departure of Imam Rida (as), Imam Jawad (as) was deprived from the company of his father (as) since childhood and after that apparently they could never meet; till he arrived miraculously to Khorasan to perform the last rites of his father (as) and at that time also Imam Jawad’s (as) age was not more than seven or eight years.
At the tender age of eight there was no apparent chance or means for the young Imam (as) to reach great heights of knowledge and practical achievements. But after a few days into his Imamate, Imam Jawad (as) is known to have debated with his contemporary scholars on subjects pertaining to fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), hadith (tradition), tafsir (Qur'anic exegesis), and more, And he outwitted them and compelled great scholars to exhort their admiration and acknowledgment of his learning and superiority. Right from then the world realized that he possessed Divine knowledge and that the knowledge commanded by the Holy Imam (as) was not acquired, but granted by Allah swt.
After the death of Imam Rida (as), Mamun got caught up in a bad situation and he was very much concerned about covering his tracks. The people began to say that Mamun had a hand in killing Imam Rida (as). This talk could destroy Mamuns kingdom. So the first plan that he devised was to summon Imam Muhammad Taqi (as) from Medina to the capital Baghdad, and the Imams greatness and proximity should be shown so that Alawites may start thinking that if Mamun had really poisoned Imam Reza (as), he would not have acted so kindly with his son.
On receiving the news of martyrdom of Imam Reza (as), the Ninth Imam (as) went upon the pulpit in the Prophet’s (saw) Mosque and delivered the following sermon: “O people, I am Muhammad Ibne Ali ar-Reza (as). I am Jawad and I knew the genealogy of people when I was in the loins of my father. I am aware of your interior and exterior. I know well all the circumstances of creatures before their creation till after annihilation of the heavens and earth; but regretfully, unlike my ancestors, I cannot express those things.” (Bihar al Anwar)
Among the Holy Imams (as), the lifespan of Imam Jawad (as) was the shortest and he lived for only 25 years, but there was no deficiency in his excellence and display of merits and virtues. He provided replies to up to 30,000 questions in each sitting and this gathering continued for three days.
It is a well-known fact that the Imam gave all his money to the poor rather than spend it upon himself, which his wife Ummul Fadhl, the daughter of Mamun, did not like at all and complained to her father about this. But Mamun who knew the ways of the Ahlul Bayt, rejected her complaints and told her to live like the wife of an Imam of the Ahlul Bayt of the Holy Prophet (saw).
Imam al-Jawad (as) was the symbol of the Holy Prophet’s (saw) affability and Imam Ali's (as) attainments. His hereditary qualities comprised of gallantry, boldness, charity, learning, forgiveness and tolerance. The brightest and most outstanding phases of his nature and character were to show hospitality and courtesy to all without discrimination, to help the needy; to observe equality under all circumstances, to live a simple life; to help the orphans, the poor and the homeless; to impart learning to those interested in the acquisition of knowledge and guide the people to the right path.
Imam Muhammad Taqi (as) occupied the highest position in human virtues and moral attainments as this was the marked feature of the Holy Prophet’s (saw) family. It was customary for the Imam to meet everyone humbly, fulfill the needs of the poor, maintain Islamic requisites of equality and simplicity, help the poor secretly, treat even foes fairly, extend hospitality, impart true Islamic knowledge to all and especially to the scholars of religion. He lived a saintly life, in full conformity with other members of this sacred series of infallible Imams (as).
Common people who could not appreciate such heights of moral excellence, might have thought the new relationship of becoming the son-in-law of the most influential, powerful, and wealthy monarch of his time, must influence the pattern of life of the Imam (as) and change his manners altogether. Mamun too hoped that this new relationship would change the Imam (as).
But spiritualism, purity, piety, and humbleness are the chief characteristics of this household and are against the practices of worldly rulers like Mamun and Mu’tasim Abbasi. The Ummayads and the Abbasis were at war with the high moral standards set by the Ahlul Bayt (as) and they wanted to keep hold of their illegitimate power and wealth. In the presence of the Ahlul Bayt (as), these illegitimate imperial dynasties could not survive.
The Khulafa always tried to destroy the center of moral excellence and human values which was shown as the shinning star of ideal spiritual perfection in the Imams (as), always overshadowing the fake royal glory of the Khulafa.
In order to uphold their imperialistic and luxurious norms of life, these monarchs wanted to do away with these divine Imams (as) who demonstrated righteousness, compassion, faith, piety, fraternity and justice as the main teachings of Islam. Yazid’s demand of obedience from Imam Husayn (as) or Mamun’s appointment of Imam ar-Ridha (as) as his heir-apparent were two different aspects of the same desire.
The procedures were different but the end purpose was the same. To subjugate and align these holy Imams on the side of evil. But Imam Husayn (as) did not bow to pay homage, so he was slain in the battlefield. And likewise, Imam ar-Ridha (as) and Imam al-Jawad (as) did not serve the cause of Abbasid imperialism, so they were slain with poison.
Mamun, however, also took it as a great opportunity to serve his imperial objective to patron and support Imam Jawad (as) who was only a young man. Cunning political strategy suggested that it would be far easier to cast a young man of his teens into the desired mold and thus it would be possible to demolish the center of the Prophet’s teachings in Madina or elsewhere in the Islamic world. Although working silently, the spreading of Truth and knowledge via the Imam (as) was dangerous to the imperialistic designs of the Abbasi Khulafa.
No doubt Imam ar-Ridha (as) did not conform to Mamun’s designs, or to his desires, but this did not disappoint Mamun. Because there was hope that in all probability a man of a tender young age like Imam Jawad (as), who was brought up in the luxurious atmosphere of a royal palace would grow into an ambitious merrymaking prince, altogether against his ancestral ways and views.
Yet, the world stood astonished to see that Imam Jawad (as), the young son-in-law of the most distinguished monarch of his time refused to stay in the royal palace and lived instead in a small house, thus maintaining the Islamic values of virtue and ethics of a simple and humble life.
It is usually seen that if the bride’s side are comparatively rich, they wish that the groom might live with them, if not in the same house, at least in the same town and in a house of the same standard.
Yet, the Will power of the Imam (as) can be judged from the fact that he lived in a separate dwelling and of a humble standard in Baghdad. After one year, when Mamun realized that the Imam (as) was not pleased with staying in Baghdad and would not change his humble and pious ways, he allowed the Imam (as) along his wife to go to live in Madina.
On his return to Madina the Ninth Imam (as) maintained the same ancestral unimposing behavior: no body guards, no pomp, no restrictions on people meeting him, no strict visiting times, and no discrimination against anyone meeting the Imam and learning from him.
He spent most of his day sitting in the Mosque of the Holy Prophet (saw) where Muslims came to benefit from his knowledge and preaching. The narrators of Hadith and other students of theology came to enquire about religious sciences and the Imam (as) guided them by explaining every complicated matter. All the world saw that Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq’s (as) successor, seated on the same mat, was guiding the people towards piety which was the hall mark of Islam. And all in his teenage years.
Imam Muhammad Taqi’s (as) speech was very charming and effective. Once during the Hajj season he addressed a gathering of the pilgrims and stated commandments of the Divine Law of Sharia’a. The audience included learned scholars who admitted that they had never heard such an eloquent and comprehensive speech.
Many scholars came to learn the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (as). A collection of brief and wise sayings is also left by the Imam, resembling the wisdom of his ancestor Imam ‘Ali (as). Some profound discourses on theology and monotheism are also to his credit.
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
Now a little bit about the personality of the Ninth Imam (as). The worship of Imam Muhammad Taqi (as) was such that not a moment was without remembrance of Allah. Once he went for the Hajj. Seeing the intensive worship of the Imam (as), the pilgrims were left bewildered. Mutasim Abbasi had also come for Hajj at that time.
His officials reported to him the account of the worship of Imam Taqi (as) and his sincerity and humility in prayers. They said, “We have never seen a more pious person.”
The Imam (as) used to weep the whole night in Allah's remembrance and when people restrained him he intensified his lamentations and said, “When have I worshipped the Almighty as befits Him, that you ask me to reduce it?”
A little about the Ninth Imam’s (as) Piety. In spite of the fact that he was the son-in-law of an influential and wealthy ruler like Mamun, he had no regard for this relationship. He lived a very simple life, as was the way of his ancestors. And he remained in this way as long as he lived.
All the luxurious items that his wife Ummul Fadl had brought from her father's palace were kept in a separate building, and the Imam (as) told her, “If you like to spend a life of luxury stay in that house and if you want to spend a life of poverty stay with me in this house.” Ummul Fadl chose to stay with him and that is why she was always unhappy with the relationship.
And what of the Ninth Imam’s (as) generosity. The door of the Holy Imam (as) was always open to deliver benevolence. Like his Holy ancestors, the Imam (as) had a very generous heart. Many eligible poor people of Medina used to get a stipend from the Imam (as). No applicant went dejected from his door. Mamun would give the Imam 1 million dinar a year and in turn the Ninth Imam (as) would distribute that 1 million dinar a year among the poor.
For the people in need in other places, the Imam (as) used to dispatch funds to his representatives. The deprived ones of Medina in addition to monetary help also received free meals but all this charity was performed in such a secret way that no one knew who was behind it.
On most nights the Imam (as) himself roamed the streets and by-lanes of Medina carrying food for the poor. Whenever he found a needy one he gave him from behind a door or a wall or covered his own face.
And finally a few words about the Ninth Imam’s (as) contentment in life.
Imam at-Taqi (as) used to lead a very simple and austere life. His dress used to be of very ordinary fabric. One day someone told him that since he sat besides the king, it did not befit him to wear such simple clothes.
The Imam (as) said, “If my value had been due to my clothes it would have befitted me to wear expensive clothes. But when it is not so, why should I give up simplicity? My present dress is concealing my body and it is also comfortable. Then why should I give it up for a fashionable one? We Ahlul-Bayt (as) are content on whatever we get and we do not allow greed to approach us.”
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
There is an interesting point about Sadaat geneology here. Allamah Zeeshan Haider Jawadi, in his book the Life Sketch of the 9th Imam (as) writes, it is through Musa Mubarqa that the genealogy of Rizvi Saadaat is derived. So technically all of them are Taqvi or Jawadi Sadaat because genealogy is taken from the point when a fallible descendant of the Imams appears and Imam Reza (as) had no fallible sons.
On the contrary Imam Taqi (as) is his only son and after him the generations continue through a non-Imam, Musa Mubarqa; therefore these Saadaat should technically be Saadaat Taqvi.
But due to the great worldly position of Imam Reza (as) or due to the lack of his separate genealogy, these series of generations are attributed to him and all were called as Rizvi Saadaat, who are more numerous than the descendants of other Imams (as).
Musa Mubarqa, the son of the Imam al-Jawad (as) is known to have been so beautiful and his face had an overwhelming noor due to his piety and righteousness that he had to conceal his face with a veil when he went out in public. The same Musa Mubarqa has narrated through his father the Ninth Imam (as), the following tradition from the Holy Prophet of Islam (saw), saying that the shaving of the beard is a sort of mutilation of the face and the curse of God is with the one who mutilates. (Mustadrak al-Wasail)
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
Now I would like to put forth a few traditions related to us from the Ninth Imam (as). He says,
1. The beauty of knowledge is humility.
2. Religion is honor, knowledge is treasure, silence is light.
3. He says sincerity is the best worship. So let us not do actions to show off. To be the big guy in the center or community. Let us do our actions purely for the sake of Allah.
4. He says, Trust in the Almighty Allah is the cost to every valuable thing, and a ladder to any lofty height.
5. A believers' honor is in their independence from others.
6. Whoever does favor to a brother in Faith, will be granted an abode in the Paradise in return.
7. How would a person be ruined and wasted when Allah has accepted his devotion? How may anyone be salvaged when broken away from Allah and joined to others?
8. Especially important to my young friends. The Imam says, Beware of friendship with ignorant and evil people, for they are like unsheathed swords, which look beautiful but produce ugly results.
9. Do know that you are not away from the sight of Allah , So see to it that in what condition you are living (sinfulness or piety) .(TUHFUL AQOOL P-455) .
10. There are three acts, which make the servants reach the good pleasure & approval of Allah, 1.Plentifulnes of repentance . 2. Soft natured ness & forbearance. And 3. Abundance of alms giving. (EHQAQ UL HAQ , VOL12 , P-438) .
11. No charity is superior to giving a helping hand to the weak.
12. Now some of us might enjoy listening to music. The next tradition can help us to realize what music really is. The Imam says, whoever listens to a caller is serving him. If the caller was Allah's representative, he is then serving Allah. If the caller was the Shaitan's representative, he is then serving the Shaitan.
There are two traditions from the Ninth Imam (as) that I would like to spend a little more time on.
The first tradition is to Beware of being Allah's servant, devotee, and friend in public and His enemy in private. In the community, in public we act religious. Mom and dad are watching. The community is watching. Moulana is watching. But when I get home, when no one is watching, when parents are not watching, this is when we become the enemies of Allah. This leads to hypocrisy and our destruction.
This is not to say that we should stop being friends of Allah swt in public. Rather the emphasis is on being friends of Allah in public AND in private. We must remember that it is in private that our witness is still Allah swt.
In the second tradition our Ninth Imam (as) speaks about Tauba, about Repentance. He (as) tells us what Tauba means. He says that true Tauba consists of four things.
1. To regret the act done in the past. Sometimes we say I don’t regret what sin I did in the past. I was young. I didn’t know any better. No, never, brothers and sisters. The first part of touba is regret. Imam Ali says half of repentance, of Tauba is regret. We must sincerely regret our sins and disobedience of the past and the present.
2. Say astaghfirullah rabi wa atubu ilay. 3. Never perform the act again. 4. Do your wajibat and obligatory acts.
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
It is important to discuss how the Ninth Imam (as) promoted, propagated, and strengthened Islam. With the Divine gift of Imamate, which had originated from his absolute Wilayat and Divine revelation, he propagated Islamic precepts like his noble father and ancestors, teaching and guiding Muslims and undertaking the answering of various questions.
It is he who prepared and wrote books for the masails of Ijtihaad and Taqleed which were essential to prepare believers for the ghaibat of the 12th Imam (ajtfs).
Imam al-Jawad (as), like his forefathers (as), used different means to spread and strengthen Islam. I will only list three things that the Imam (as) did.
1. The Imam (as) strengthened Islam by means of teaching and instructing students and scholars and urging them to write and record and sustain what came from the Holy Imams of Ahlul-Bayt (as) by bidding these students to the art of writing, publishing, and classifying.
Sheikh Tusi in his book 'Rijal', mentions the number of close companions of Imam al-Jawad (as) and his narrators, who studied and were educated under his care to be about one hundred, which even included women.
So all these religious scholars quoted Imam al-Jawad (as) and wrote many books in different fields of Islamic sciences and knowledge. They enriched Islamic schools with true, original research and thoughts.
This fact is proved in the books of 'Rijal' which mentions the close companions of Imam al-Jawad (as) and, in which, they explained their conditions, their publications and writings.
2. The second thing the Imam(as) did to strengthen Islam was by means of appointing deputies and commanding them to spread out in different parts of the Muslim lands in order to be true callers to Islam and convey its divine laws.
Books of history have recorded the correspondences of Imam al-Jawad (as) with his deputies who were spread in different parts of the Muslim world in order to convey Islamic faith and what they learned from the jurisprudence of the Household of the Holy Prophet (saw) and their knowledge.
3. The third thing the Imam (as) did to strengthen Islam was by means of scholarly debates and discussions. The books of traditions and narrations, have richly recorded for us, discussions and debates in different kinds of sciences, knowledge, defending Islam and fixing its pillars in the fields of monotheism, jurisprudence, interpretation, and narrations.
These discussions contained different types of research. Among them were: Defending Islam and countering perverse ideas and deviated philosophies and ideologies which existed among the Muslims. Also, repairing the ideological deviations which existed among certain Muslims, such as: Exaggeration and incarnations or discussions to explain Islam and clarify its diverse fields.
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
Finally, we get to talk about the story of the Fish and the Hawk
The story of Mamun’s first meeting with the young son of Imam ar-Ridha (as) is interesting. One day, when the young Imam (as) was only nine years old, the caliph Mamun went out hunting. The Imam (as) was standing silently by the side of the road where some children were playing. The Khalifas entourage came that way. Seeing the soldiers of the Khalifa all the children ran away, but the young Imam (as) remained standing at his place.
Noting this peculiar behavior different from the other children, Mamun stopped his carriage and asked, “Young man, why did you not run away like the other children?”
The Imam (as) replied calmly, “Neither had I committed a crime, nor was I blocking the way. Why should I have run away or be afraid? And I also know that you will not cause any unnecessary trouble when your way is not blocked."
Mamun was surprised with this mature reply and asked, “What is your name?”
The Imam (as) replied, “Muhammad”. Mamun asked, Whose son are you? The Imam (as) replied, "Son of ‘Ali ibn Musa (as)."
So Mamun rode on. During his hunt, his hawk returned to him with a fish in its beak. Mamun was surprised. He returned back toward the city. Once again, he found the children playing on the same spot, who ran away seeing the Khalifa’s soldiers, except this young man who said he was Muhammad son of ‘Ali ibn Musa (as) who again remained where he was.
Mamun hid the fish in his palm, stopped his carriage near the Imam (as) and said, “Tell me, what is there in my fist?” The Imam (as) replied, “Allah created clouds between the earth and the sky. The hawks of kings sometimes catch fish from there and bring it to the Kings. They hide it in their fist and ask a member of the Ahlul Bayt (as) of the Prophet (saw), “Tell me what is there in my fist.”
Mamun said, “Truly, you are the worthy son of Imam ‘Ali Al-Ridha’ (as) (Bihar-al Anwar,Majlisi). Mamun took the young Imam (as) with him, and let him live in a nearby house next to the Royal Palace.
It was during this stay of the 9th Imam (as) that Mamun had the chance of seeing him closely and gain an insight into the intellectual abilities of this pious household.
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
The next and final section deals with two famous debates of the Ninth Imam (as). Although at an early age and in his short life, Imam al-Jawad (as) entered scholarly debates in a period when different Islamic and non-Islamic sects were thriving, great scientists were there, sciences and arts had developed in other nations, and many books had been translated and published in Arabic. As an example, one of his debates is related as follows:
Mu‘tasim and Ma’mun both applied the tactic of debates with Imam al-Jawad (as) and Imam ar-Rida (as). Right from the beginning of Imam al-Jawad (as)'s Imamate, Ma’mun proceeded again to hold debate sessions and among other things he asked Yahya b. Aktham, the grand Judge in his court, to propound some questions to the Imam (as) hoping he would be able to mar the Imam (as)'s reputation, status, and knowledge.
Yahya bin Aktham
Mamun convened many conferences during this period in which many intellectuals and scholars assembled in order to listen and learn from the Young Imam (as). Mamun told the Abbasi hierarchy that Imam ar-Ridha’’s (as) son was no doubt a boy of tender age, but he had inherited his father’s (as) virtues and qualities in full.
The learned scholars of the Islamic world could not compete with the Imam (as). If they doubted this fact, they could put the young Imam (as) to the test. This statement from the Mamun, though totally said mockingly, amounted to a challenge for the scholars. Impulsed by Mamun’s taunts they consented to judge the Ninth Imam’s (as) knowledge in a contest with the most learned authority at that time, the Chief Justice Yahya ibn Aaktham.
So Mamun convened a magnificent gathering for this open contest. There was anxiety to see this unequal match where a boy of twelve was to contest with the seasoned and renowned Chief Justice of the Abbasi Empire. People crowded from every quarter. Historians have recorded that apart from dignitaries and nobles, 900 seats were reserved specifically for scholars.
Experts of every trade and profession assembled in the great capital of Baghdad from every corner of the Empire. Mamun had a carpet laid by the side of his throne to seat the Ninth Imam (as). In front of him was accommodated the Chief Justice Yahya ibn Aktham. There was pin drop silence among the audience who waited to hear the arguments.
Silence was broken by Yahya who said, “Will His Majesty allow me to put some questions to Imam at-Taqi (as) Mamun replied, “You may seek permission from the Imam himself.”
Yahya said to the Imam(as), “Do you allow me to put some questions to you?” “Yes, you may” replied the Imam. Yahya began by asking a question, “What is the atonement for a person who hunts a game while he is dressed in the pilgrimage garb (‘Ahram).”
The question itself indicated that Yahya underestimated the scholarly attainments of his opponent.
Drunk with the pride of position and knowledge, he thought that the young Imam (as) might well be aware of simple daily routine problems of prayer or fasting, but the Imam (as) would never know the intricate statutes of pilgrimage or of the atonement of sins or mistakes committed by a pilgrim. I mean, this was a twelve year old boy he was challenging.
The illustrious young Imam (as) was too knowledgeable even for the seasoned Chief Justice. Instead of giving a general or vague reply, he analyzed the different aspects of the problem so minutely and so quickly, that the audience immediately had a true estimate of the Imam’s (as) knowledge and of Yahya’s shallow mindedness and ignorance. Yahya too was puzzled and felt humiliated when the Imam (as) addressed him in the following manner:
“Your question is utterly vague and lacks definition. You should first clarify whether the game killed was outside the sanctified area or inside it; whether the hunter was aware of his sin or did so in ignorance; did he kill the game purposely or by mistake, was the hunter a slave or a free man, was he an adult or minor, did he commit the sin for the first time or had he done so before, was the hunted game a bird or something else, was it a small animal or a big one, is the sinner sorry for the misdeed or does he insist on it, did he kill it secretly at night or openly during daylight, was he putting on the pilgrimage garb for Hajj or for the Umra? Unless you clarify and define these aspects, how can you have a definite answer?”
Whatever Yahya’s knowledge might have been, he was undoubtedly a well-read man in Jurisprudence. While the Imam (as) was unfolding all such details of the problem, Yahya realized that he was no match for his ingenious opponent. His face lost color and the audience realized the situation all too well. His lips were sealed and he made no reply. Mamun fully assessed his condition and thought it was useless to put any further pressure on Yahya.
He then requested the Imam (as) to solve all the aspects of the question. Yahya silent and puzzled, gazed at the Imam (as). But Mamun was bent on carrying the matter to the end. He therefore requested the Imam (as) to put some questions to Yahya if he liked. The Imam (as) then said to Yahya, “May I ask you a question? Disillusioned, Yahya who now had the true estimate of the Imam’s (as) capacity and had no misunderstanding about his own worth, said in a humble tone,”
Your grace can ask, I shall reply if I can or I shall get it solved by your own self.” Then the Imam (as) put a question in reply to which Yahya admitted his ignorance. The Imam (as) solved his own questions answer as well.
Addressing the audience Mamun said, “Did I not tell you that the people of the Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet have been gifted by God with limitless knowledge? None can cope with even the children of this elevated House.”
The excitement of the gathering was great. All unanimously exclaimed that Mamun’s guess was correct and that the Ninth Imam (as) was a matchless person. The Emperor then thought it advisable to marry his daughter to the Imam (as) then and there.
The Imam (as) himself recited the marriage Khutba. This Khutba became so famous that as a remembrance, it has been recited at weddings everywhere throughout the Muslim world ever since.
When the people departed and a few of the courtiers remained including the Chief Justice Yahya ibn Akhtham, Mamun asked the Imam (as) to tell them the law concerning the aspects into which the killing of the animal was done by a Muhrim. (Meaning a pilgrim in Aahram)
“Yes,” replied the Imam (as). “If he had killed the animal outside the sacred ground and it was winged and large, an atonement of sheep would have been necessary for him. If he had struck it down in the sanctuary, the penalty required of him would be doubled.
If he killed a young bird outside the sacred ground, then the atonement of a lamb which had been weaned off milk would have been required of him. If he had killed it in the sanctuary, then he would have been required to sacrifice a lamb and the value of the young bird. As for wild animals, if it was a wild donkey, he would have been required to sacrifice a cow.
If it was an ostrich, the sacrifice of a camel would be necessary. If it had been a deer, then a sheep would have been necessary. If he had killed any of those in the sanctuary, the penalty would have been doubled. Imam (as) continued to describe all avenues of penalties for the Muhrim to the astonishment of the audience.” (Al Irshad by Mufid) Mamun then said to the twelve year old Imam (as), “You have done well Abu Jaafar and God has adorned you.”
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
The second famous debate of the Ninth Imam (as) is as follows:
In his Tafsir, ‘Ayyashi quotes Dharqan who was a companion and friend of Ahmad b. Abi Du’ad as saying: “One day his friend (Ibn Abi Du’ad) returned from the court of Mu‘tasim Abbasi and looked very distressed and troubled. I asked him why he was so upset that day.
He replied: ‘Something shameful and belittling happened to us in the presence of the Khalifa and Abi Ja‘far (as), son of ‘Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (as).’ I asked how come? He replied: ‘A thief was brought to the caliph and his theft was evident and he had confessed the stealing. The Khalifa asked how the penalty (hadd) should be carried out. A number of jurists were present. The Khalifa ordered other jurists to be present too. He also sent for Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Ridha (as).”
The Khalifa asked: “How should the Islamic penalty be carried out?” I said: “The hand must be cut off at the wrist.” The Khalifa said: “For what reason?”
I said: “Because a hand includes fingers as well as a palm which extends to the wrist; and it is read in the verse about tayammum; ﴾And wipe a part of your faces and your hands with it [clean ground]﴿. (Al-Qur’an, 5: 6)” Many of the jurists present in the court confirmed my view.
A group of scholars stated: “A hand must be cut off at the elbow.” Mutasim asked: “For what reason?”
They said: “Because of the verse about wudhu in the Qur’an which reads: ﴾... and your hands up to the elbows﴿ (Al-Qur’an, 5: 6). And this verse indicates that a thief's hands must be cut off at the elbow.”
Another group asserted that the arm should be cut off at the shoulder because an arm has all these parts.
As dispute erupted, Mutasim faced Imam Muhammad b. ‘Ali (as) and said: “O Abi Ja‘far! What do you say on this issue?”
The Holy Imam (as) said: “Your scholars talked in this regard, spare me from further talk.”
Mutasim replied: “I swear you to God that you too should express your opinion.”
Imam al-Jawad (as) said: “Now that you are swearing me, I will answer you. What was expressed by the Sunni scholars about theft penalty is flawed. The proper Islamic penalty is that the fingers of a hand, except the thumb, must be cut off.”
Mutasim asked: “Why?”
The Holy Imam (as) replied: “Because the Apostle of Allah (saw) has said that prostration (sujud) should be made with seven parts of the body, namely, the forehead, the palms of the hands, both knees, and the tips of the toes; so if the hand is cut off either at the wrist or elbow or from shoulder, then there will remain no limb for prostration before Almighty Allah, and it is mentioned in the Qur’an as follows: ﴾The places of prostration belong to Allah ...﴿ (Al-Qur’an, 72: 18); therefore no one should cut them off.”
Mu‘tasim got very delighted at this logical and Divine precept. He approved it and commanded the amputation of the thief's fingers to be carried out according to Imam al-Jawad (as)'s precept.”
Dharqan goes on to say: “lbn Abi Du’ad was intensely upset as to why his opinion had been rejected in the presence of the caliph.” Three days later, he went to Mu‘tasim and said: “O Amir al-Mu’minin! I have come here to admonish you, and I do this as a token of gratitude for your favors on me.” “What is it?”, asked Mu‘tasim.
lbn Abi Du’ad said: “When you hold a meeting consisting of the jurists and scholars to bring up a question or two, all the civil and military nobles are present, and even the retainers and doormen and guards witness the meeting and the debates being carried out in your presence.
As they see that your great scholars' opinions are worthless when compared to those of Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Jawad, little by little people will get attracted to him and the Khilafat will slip from your dynasty to the household of ‘Ali (as), which will tremble the foundations of your power and glory.”
This slanderous and spiteful admonition left its impact on Mu‘tasim, enraged and scared him and finally pushed him over the edge since from the beginning he had been seeking to extinguish this shinning torch of wisdom and end this overflowing fountain of science, knowlege, and piety. Mutasim had the Imam (as) assassinated through poison within three days.
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
So now we move to the events that led up to the events of the Ninth Imams (as) shahadat. Ma’mun died in 218 hijri and was succeeded by his brother Mo'tasim Billah. Motasim openly announced that all Shias were not Muslims. He said it was required for people to kill and prosecute Shias, and to destroy property belonging to Shias.
Mutasam Abbasi’s niece Ummul Fadhl now began to write to him regularly, complaining more than she did during the reign of her father because Mamun always rejected her complaints. Mu’tasim was jealous of Imam ar-Ridha (as) from the very beginning. He had also opposed the marriage of his niece Ummul Fadhl to Imam al-Taqi (as).
Mu’tasim now got a chance to settle the score. Imam al-Jawads (as) fame as a great scholar and the constant gathering of people around him, as well as the fame of his world renown noble character annoyed and angered Mutasim. Despite great wealth and absolute power, these Khulafa could not even reach the dust on the feet of these humble, pious, righteous, and wise Imams. This deep jealousy and hatred in the Khulafa’s hearts drove them mad and insane pushing them do to the unimaginable. To murder the Imam (as).
The failure of political tactics also intensified Mu’tasim’s resentment. All these factors irritated him into a deadly enmity. In the second year of his reign he summoned the Imam (as) from Madina to Baghdad, ordering his Governor in Madina expressly about it. The Ninth Imam (as) was compelled to set out for Baghdad leaving his son Imam Ali an-Naqi (as) in Madina. The Ninth Imam (as) arrived in Baghdad on the 9th of Muharram 220 Hijri.
For almost one year after the Imams’ (as) arrival in Baghdad, Mu’tasim did not do anything. He was hoping that the Imam would conform to the Royal ways of living and then this would be a source of infamy for the Ahlul Bayt (as). But when he realized that the Ninth Imam (as) was becoming more popular in Baghdad with his scholarly and divine discourses, he had to act to stop this subtle revolution, as all of Mu’tasim’s ancestors did before him and used the silent weapon of poison to eliminate the holy Ninth Imam (as).
Mu‘tasim connived with his niece Umm al-Fadhl, the wife of Imam al-Jawad (as), and Ja‘far the son of Ma’mun, to murder the Holy Imam (as).
Fatal poison was inserted in some grapes and then sent to the Ninth Imam (as)'s house for Ummul-Fadhl, to feed them to her husband. She placed the dish of grapes before Imam al-Jawad (as), and began to commend them, persuading and insisting the Imam (as) to eat from the grapes. Imam al-Jawad (as) had some. In a short while he felt the effect of poison inside him and an intense pain took him over. The disgraced woman suddenly became repentant and began to cry as she saw her young husband in that agonizing state, though her repentance was of no avail.
Imam al-Jawad (as) asked her: “Why are you crying? Now that you are killing me, your crying is of no use. Know that in these few days of your worldly life, the Almighty Allah will inflict such ailment on you and you will find yourself in such a state that you will not be able to relieve yourself.”
Our holy Imam died (as) on 29th Dhi'l qi'dah 220 hijri and is buried beside his grandfather, Imam Musa al-Kazim (as), in al-Kazimiyyah, in the suburbs of Baghdad.
Salu ala Muhammad wa ale Muhammad
And now to end with our conclusion. The Ninth Imam’s (as) life was a mere 25 years. We learned that one who is appointed by Allah is divinely chosen regardless of age, whether young or old. Imam al-Jawad (as) is a perfect role model for our youth and young adults alike. We also learned that even in his young age, the Imam because of divine knowledge was the peak of excellence in knowledge, wisdom, and piety. Therefore, we must strive in our young life to be pure and righteous and to gain knowledge and wisdom.
We should also ponder on the fact that it was the Shia’s themselves who first questioned the young Imam’s (as) Imamate, and we should be careful of not falling into this category in the reappearance of our 12th Imam (ajtfs).
We learned to be sincere in our worship and obedience to Allah swt and that along with being a friend of Allah in the open, we must also be friends of Allah in secret.
The Ninth Imam’s (as) knowledge, wisdom, and piety were famous across the lands and it was this ever-increasing love of the people and the scholars that made him a threat to the establishment. The Khulafa scared of losing their power and kingship, resorted to killing the Imams (as) because there was no other way to win. It is always cowards who transgress and resort to violence when they cannot win through knowledge and wisdom.
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