Ali al-Ridha

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Ali al-Ridha
علي رضا ع  (Arabic)

8th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam
Born c. (766-01-01)1 January 766 CE[1]
(11 Dhul Qa`dah 148 AH)
Medina, Abbasid Empire
Died c. 26 May 819(819-05-26) (aged 53)
(17 Safar 203 AH)
Tus, Abbasid Empire
Cause of death
Death by poisoning
Resting place
Imam Reza shrine, Iran
36°17′13″N 59°36′56″E / 36.28694°N 59.61556°E / 36.28694; 59.61556
Other names Alī 'ibn Mūsā
Term 799–819 CE
Predecessor Musa al-Kadhim
Successor Muhammad al-Jawad
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Sabīkah aka Khayzurān[2]
Children Muhammad at-Taqi
Parents Musa al-Kadhim
Ummul Banīn Najmah[2]

 '​Alī ibn Mūsā al-Riḍā (Arabic: علي بن موسى الرضا‎) (commonly known as Ali al-Ridha, Ali Rezā, or Ali Rizā) (c. 29 December 765 – 23 August 818)[2] was the seventh descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the eighth of the Twelve Imams, according to the Twelver Shia sect of Islam as well as an Imam of knowledge according to the Zaydi (Fiver) Shia school and Sufis. His given name was 'Alī ibn Mūsā ibn Ja'far.

Birth and family life[edit]

On the eleventh of Dhu al-Qi'dah, 148 AH (December 29, 765 CE), a son was born in the house of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (the seventh Imam of Twelver Shia Islam) in Medina, who took over the position of the Imamate, after his father. He was named Ali and titled al-Ridha. He was born one month after the death of his grandfather, Ja'far as-Sādiq.[4] Like his father and grandfather, his education came at the hands of his father. The mother of Ali al-Ridha was Najmah, who was considered to be the most notable and distinguished lady in the realm of wisdom and faith. Najmah was originally a Berber (from the Maghreb i.e. Northwest Africa).[5] She was purchased and freed by Bibi Hamidah Khatun, wife of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq,[6] and like Bibi Hamidah was also a notable Islamic scholar.[7]

Designation as Imam[edit]

Right from his childhood, Ali al-Ridha accompanied his father, Imam Musa al-Kadhim, who repeatedly used to tell his friends, "Ali al-Ridha shall be the Imam after me."[8] As such, Makhzumi says one day Musa al-Kadhim summoned and gathered us and said, "I invited you to be witnesses that this child (Ali al-Ridha) is my executor and successor." [9]

Yazid ibn Salit says: "We were moving toward mecca to perform the umrah and we met Imam Musa al-Kadhim in the way. I asked him to inform us about his successor. Imam Musa al-Kadhim explained that the Imamah is a divine issue and the Imam is designated by Allah and his prophet, Muhammad. Then he said that my son, Ali, whose name is the same as the First and the forth Imam, is the Imam after me." Since an extreme choking atmosphere and pressure prevailed in the period of Musa al-Kazim, he added, "What I said must remain (restricted) up to you and do not reproduce it to anybody unless you know he is one of our friends and companions.[10][11]

According to Ali bin Yaqtin, Imam Musa al-Kazim said:

"Ali is the best of my children and I have conferred on him my epithet.”[8]

Ali al-Ridha's father was martyred in 799, when Ali al-Ridha was 35, and he was given the responsibility of the Imamate. However, his Imamate was rejected by the Waqifite Shia.[4][12] Ali al-Ridha was not looked upon favorably by Hārūn Rashīd, and the people of Medina were disallowed from visiting Ali al-Ridha and learning from him.[13] Harun attempted to kill him but was unsuccessful.[citation needed]

Ali al-Ridha admonishes his brother[edit]

Pilgrims of Imam Ali Riza's Shrine in Mashhad, Khorasan

Once Ali al-Ridha was summoned to Khurasan and reluctantly accepted the role of successor to al-Ma'mun that was forced on him,[14][15] al-Ma'mun summoned his brother, Zayd, who had revolted and brought about a riot in Medina to his court in Khurasan. Al-Ma'mun kept him free as a regard and honor to Ali al-Ridha and overlooked his punishment.[16]

One day, when Ali al-Ridha was delivering a speech in a grand assembly, he heard Zayd praising himself before the people, saying I am so and so. Ali al-Ridha asked him saying:[17]

"O Zayd, have you trusted upon the words of the grocers of Kufa and are conveying them to the people? What kind of things are you talking about? The sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatimah Zahra are worthy and outstanding only when they obey the command of Allah, and keep themselves away from sin and blunder. You think you are like Musa al-Kadhim, Ali ibn Husayn, and other Imams? Whereas, they took pains and bore hardships on the way to Allah and prayed to Allah day and night. Do you think you will gain without pain? Be aware, that if a person out of us the Ahl al-Bayt performs a good deed, he gets twice the reward. Because not only he performed good deeds like others but also that he has maintained the honor of Muhammad. If he practices something bad and does a sin, he has performed two sins. One is that he performed a bad act like the rest of the people and the other one is that he has negated the honor of Muhammad. O brother! The one who obeys Allah is from us the Ahl al-Bayt and the one who is a sinner is not ours. Allah said about the son of Noah who cut the spiritual bondage with his father, "He is not out of your lineage; if he was out of your lineage, I would have (saved) and granted him salvation."[17]

Scientific character[edit]

Ali ibn Mousa al-Ridha was at the top of the scientists of his time in medical science. Religious scholars and jurists would ask him their questions about Islamic precepts.[18] His treatise in medicine is regarded as most precious Islamic literature in the science of medicine, hence it has been called the Golden Dissertation.[4][19] His treatise included scientific branches such as Anatomy, Physiology, Chemistry and Pathology when medical science was still primitive.[20]

Connection to Sufism?[edit]

It has been commonly held that Maruf Karkhi who was converted to Islam through Ali al-Ridha is one of the foremost figures in the golden chain of most Sufi orders. He was a devoted student of Ali ar-Ridha and is an important figure for Sufism and Shi'ism. [21]

Political situation of his era[edit]

After the death of Harun al-Rashid in 809, Harun's two sons began fighting for control of the Abbasid Empire. One son, Al-Amin, had an Arab mother and thus had the support of Arabs, while his half-brother Al-Ma'mun had a Persian mother and the support of Persia.[22] After defeating his brother, al-Ma'mun summoned al-Ridha to khurasan.[12] Firstly, Ma'mun offered al-ridha the caliphate. Al-ridha who knew the real reason of this offer politely refused it [20] and said:

“If this caliphate belongs to you, then it is not permissible for you to take off the garment in which Allah has clothed you and to give it to other than you. If the caliphate does not belong to you, then it is not permissible for you to give me that which does not belong to you.”[12]

Then al-Ma'mun offers the role successor to him. According to Tabatabaee in Shi'ite Islam, ma'mun summoned al-rida to khurasan and offered him the role of successor to prevent the descendants of the Prophet from rebelling against the government since they would be involved in the government themselves, and secondly, to cause the people to lose their spiritual belief and inner attachment to the Imams.[14]

Al-Ma'mun even changed the black Abbāsid flags to green,[23][24] the traditional color of shiites [24] Mohammad's flag and Ali's cloak.[25] Al-Ma'mun meant to appease the shiite factions by these decisions. Moreover, he gave his daughter, Umm Habib, to al-rida and married another daughter, Umm al-Fadhl to al-rida's son. Al-Ma'mun ordered to mint coins with names of both Al-Ma'mun and Ali al-Rida.[24]


Ali al-Ridha did not outlive Ma'mun, having been given poisoned grapes by him while accompanying him in Persia, and died at Tus on May 26, 818. Ali al-Ridha is buried within Imam Ridha Mosque, in Mashhad, Iran.[4][26] Al-Ma'mun had been very scared of the growing popularity of Imam al-Ridha. After giving the imam the role of successor to himself, he was hoping the popularity would decrease. In contrary, however, they were admiring the more than they used to.[27] after the declaration of succession, and when there was every opportunity for the Imam to live a splendid worldly royal life, people were seeing that he did not pay any heed to material comforts and devoted his time to praying to God and serving the people. The popularity, therefor, was growing day after day. Moreover abbasids were bearing a grudge against Ma'mun who had appointed the imam as his heir to the throne. Al-Ma'mun therefore became very disappointed. Imam advised him to dismiss him from his position but he had something else in mind. He decided once and for all to check his growing popularity and ensuring his own survival by acting according to the old traditions of killing Imams.[27]

"The night before his death", Harthama says, "Imam al Ridha called me so that I be present before him. He said to me, O Harthama! Listen carefully to what I tell you. Now it is time for me to return to God the Highest and join my grandfather and my forefathers. My life has come to an end. This rebel (al-Ma’mun) has decided to poison me with chafed grapes and pomegranates…The decree will come to happen and I will die. Once I die, Al-Maa’mun will say, ‘I must perform the ceremonial burial ablutions of his body with my own hands.’ Once Al-Ma’mun says that, you should privately tell him that I (Al-Reza) told you to tell him (Al-Ma’mun) not to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for me, shroud me or bury me; else the Divine Punishment that is to brought upon him later will be brought upon him sooner. And that which he is trying to avoid will rush towards him...Then Al-Ma’mun will appoint you to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for me. ..Do not do anything related to my ceremonial burial ablutions until you see a white tent set up next to the house. Once you see it set up, take me inside wearing the clothes which I had died. Stay outside and wait along with the others. ..Then Al-Ma’mun will come to you and ask, ‘O Harthama! Don’t you say that no one but a Divine Leader can wash a Divine Leader’s body? Then who washed Abal Hassan Ali ibn Musa (s) while his son Muhammad (s) was in Medina that is one of the cities in Hijaz, and Al-Reza (s) is here in Toos?’ this Once Al-Ma’mun says, you should answer him as follows, ‘No one needs to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for a Divine Leader, except for the Divine Leader after him. However, if someone violates this principle and performs the ceremonial burial ablutions for the Imam, this act will not void the Imam’s Divine Leadership. It will neither void the Divine Leadership of the Imam succeeding him, even if someone forces him not to perform the ceremonial burial ablutions for his father’s body. If Abul Hassan Ali ibn Musa Al-Reza (s) was in Medina when he passed away, it is apparent that his son Muhammad (s) would have performed the ceremonial ritual ablutions for him (s). However, this did not happen, but Muhammad (s) performed the ceremonial burial ablutions for his father (s) in secret.’Once the sides of the tent are lifted up you will see me in my shroud. Then lift up my body, place it in the coffin and carry me. Once he (al-Ma’mun) decides to have my grave dug, he will try to dig it in such a position that the grave of his father Harun Al-Rashid is located in the direction of the Qibla from my grave. This, however, will never happen. No matter how hard they hit the ground with a mattock… tell Al-Ma’mun that I have ordered you to use a mattock and hit the ground at the location in the direction of the Qibla from the grave of his father Harun Ar-Rashid just once. Then once you do this the ground will open up, a grave will be dug and a tomb shall be erected. Once Al-Ma’mun accepts this and you see the grave appear, do not place me in it immediately. Wait until some clear water comes up and reaches the level of the ground. Then a fish as large as the grave will appear swimming there. Do not put me in it as long as the fish is moving. Then the fish will disappear and the water will be drained. Then take me to the grave and place me in it. Do not let anyone throw any dirt over my body. The grave will get filled and covered up by itself.’”[27][28]

"The day after", Harthama added, "Al-Ma’mun told me : 'Go to Abil Hassan Al-Reza, express my greetings to him and tell him, 'Come to us if it is not difficult for you. Else I will come to see you.' If Al-Reza (s) accepts to come, insist that he (s) comes sooner.' When coming" He offered Al-Reza the bunch of grapes he was holding in his hands saying:

-‘O son of God’s Prophet! I have never seen a grape like th!is’, he said.

Imam rejected it saying:

"there must be better ones in heaven"

"‘You must eat. Why don’t you eat? Perhaps you are suspicious of me." ’Shouted Al-Ma'mun. Then he picked up the bunch of grapes, had a few grapes and then offered the bunch to Al-Reza. Al-Reza ate three grapes, put down the bunch and stood up.

"Where!?" said Ma'mun.

"Where you sent me!"[a]he answered, looking at Al Ma'mun. Then he pulled his cloak over his head and left. He walked to his room and lay down on his bed. Ma'mun sent someone to him to ask whether he has a will or advice to give.

Imam said "tell him: don't ever give anything to a person when you regret afterwards!"[b] [27][29] Following the death of Ali al-Ridha a revolt took place in Khorasan. Al-Ma'mun wept and beat upon his head to show that he was a mourner. Despite this, A wave of despises and noise awn against al-Ma'mun. So that he did not allow the funeral to be carried out for a day and a night. Because, he was afraid that the disturbance may expand and the angry hostile and flared up masses may annihilate all the set ups and organizations.[30] while some others like Sibt ibn al-Jawzi thought that Abbasids had poisoned him as they did not want the Imam to be the Caliph after Al Ma'mun's death.[31] The thing however is that most historiaons agree that Al-Ma'nun has killed the Imam as he did the same about some other great mans who he was afraid of them.[32][c][citation needed]

Imam Ridha Mosque[edit]

Main article: Imam Reza Shrine

Today the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad occupies a total area of 598,657 m2 (6,443,890 sq ft) – the shrine area occupies 267,079m2 while the seven courtyards surrounding it cover an area of 331,578 m2.[33] Thus making it the largest mosque in the world, having an area larger than Masjid al-Haram and Masjid al-Nabawi (which have areas of 356,800 m2[34] and 400,500 m2 respectively).

The courtyards also contain a total of 14 minarets,[35] and 3 fountains.[36] From the courtyards, external hallways named after scholars lead to the inner areas of the mosque. They are referred to as Bast (Sanctuary), since they were meant to be a safeguard for the shrine areas.[37]

The Bast hallways lead towards a total of 21 internal halls (Riwaq) surrounding the burial chamber of Ali al-Ridha. Adjacent to the burial chamber is also a mosque dating back to the 10th century known as, Bala-e-Sar mosque.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ By "where you sent me" he probably meant the otherworld
  2. ^ by saying so he insinuated that Al-Ma'mun had regretted that had given the role successor to thorn to Imam
  3. ^ Al-Fadl ibn Sahl was another figure who had the same destiny as imam Al Ridha. He was a famous Persian vizier of the Abbasid era in Khurasan, who served under Caliph al-Ma'mun, Most modern historians agree that it was al-Ma'mun who ordered the death of both men, despite his deep friendship and solidarity to them (with whom he was related by marriage), politics and the unity of the caliphate.[32]


  1. ^ Shabbar, S.M.R. (1997). Story of the Holy Ka'aba. Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain. Retrieved 28 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. 2004. p. 137. 
  3. ^ al-Qummi, Shaykh Abbas (1998). "2". The Last Journey, Translation of Manazile Akherah. Aejazali Turabhusain Bhujwala. Qum: Imam Ali Foundation. pp. 62–64. 
  4. ^ a b c d W. Madelung (1 August 2011). "ALĪ AL-REŻĀ, the eighth Imam of the Emāmī Shiʿites.". Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Rizvi, Sayyid Saeed Akhtar. Slavery From Islamic and Christian Perspectives. Vancouver Islamic Educational Foundation. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Jaffer, Masuma (2003). Lady Fatima Masuma (a) of Qum (first ed.). Qum: Jami‘at al-Zahra - Islamic Seminary for Women. 
  7. ^ Rizvi, Sayyid Saeed Ahktar (1988). Slavery, from Islamic & Christian perspectives (2nd (rev.) ed., 1988. ed.). Richmond, B.C.: Vancouver Islamic Educational Foundation. ISBN 0-920675-07-7. 
  8. ^ a b Al-Tabrizi, Al-Mirza Jawad. A Concise Treatise of Authentic Traditions Regarding the Right to Divine Leadership (Imamate) of the Twelve Imams (in farsi). The Sun Behind The Clouds Publications. Retrieved September 2014. 
  9. ^ Tabasi, Mohammad Mohsen (2007). "Imam Ridha in the narrations of Ahl al-Sunnah". Kowsar Culture (72): 67. Retrieved September 2014. 
  10. ^ Al-Kulayni Arazi, Sheikh Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Yaqub Ibn Isha. Al Kafi. 
  11. ^ Tabarsi, Fazl ibn Hassan. Elam al-Vora Be-A'lam al-Hoda. Vol. 2. p. 50. 
  12. ^ a b c Al-Qurashi, Baqir Shareef. The Life of Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi, Study and Analysis. Abdullah al-Shahin. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  13. ^ Shabbar, S.M.R. Story of the Holy Ka’aba. Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain Category:. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1975). Shi'ite Islam. Translated by Sayyid Hossein Nasr. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-87395-390-8. 
  15. ^ Meri, Josef W.; Bacharach, Jere L. (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization: A-K, index. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-96691-7. 
  16. ^ Fadlallah, Muhammad Jawad. Imam ar-Ridha’, A Historical and Biographical Research. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  17. ^ a b Al-Saduq, Al-Shaykh (2006). UYUN AKHBAR AL-REZA The Source of Traditions on Imam Reza (a.s.) (Vol. 2) (first ed.). Qom: Ansariyan Publications. p. 520. 
  18. ^ al-Qarashi, Bāqir Sharif. The life of Imām 'Ali Bin Mūsā al-Ridā. Jāsim al-Rasheed. 
  19. ^ Staff writer. "The Golden time of scientific bloom during the Time of Imam Reza (A.S) (Part 2)". Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  20. ^ a b Dungersi, Mohammed Raza (1996). A Brief Biography of Imam Ali bin Musa (a.s.): al-Ridha. Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-9976-956-94-8. 
  21. ^ Nicholson, R.A.; Austin, R.W.J. (2012). "Maʿrūf al-Kark̲h̲ī". Encyclopaedia of Islam (second ed.). 
  22. ^ Sykes, Sir Percy (27 September 2013). A History Of Persia. Routledge. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-1-136-52597-1. 
  23. ^ Khaldūn, Ibn (1958). The Muqaddimah : an introduction to history ; in three volumes. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09797-6. 
  24. ^ a b c Bobrick, Benson (14 August 2012). The Caliph's Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad. Simon and Schuster. pp. 205–. ISBN 978-1-4165-6806-3. 
  25. ^ Esposito, John L. (27 December 1999). The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-988041-6. 
  26. ^ Chittick, William C. (1980). A Shi'ite Anthology. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-87395-510-2. 
  27. ^ a b c d Baqir, Sharif al-Qarashi (1382 Hijri Shamsi). Ali Ibn Musa Al-Ridha Vol.2 (in Farsi). Translated by Seyed Mohammad Salehi. Tehran: Darolkotob Al-Eslamieh Publications. pp. 575–582.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  28. ^ Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Hussein ibn Musa ibn Babawayh al-Qummi Known as (Sheikh Sadooq). UYUN AKHBAR AL-REZA The Source of Traditions on Imam Reza (a.s.) Vol.2. Qom: Ansariyan Publications. pp. 530–556. 
  29. ^ Muhammad ibn Shakir Al-kotobi. Oyun Al-Tawarikh, Vol.3. Baghdad: Dar Al Rashid. p. 227. 
  30. ^ Ibn Khaldun (2008). Tareekh Ibne Khaldoon, Vol.3. p. 250. 
  31. ^ Sibt ibn al-Jawzi. TazkiratolKhavaas. p. 364. 
  32. ^ a b Bosworth, C. E. "FAŻL, b. SAHL b. Zādānfarrūḵ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 1999. 
  33. ^ "The Glory of the Islamic World". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  34. ^ Great Mosque of al-Haram at ArchNet
  35. ^ "Minarets". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  36. ^ "Saqqah Khaneh". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  37. ^ "The Bast (Sanctuaries) Around the Holy Shrine". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  38. ^ "Riwaq (Porch)". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 

External links[edit]

Ali al-Ridha
of the Ahl al-Bayt
Clan of the Banu Quraish
Born: 11th Dhul Qi'dah 148 AH 29th December 765 CE Died: 17th Safar 203 AH 23rd August 818 CE
Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
Musa al-Kazim
8th Imam of Twelver Shi'a Islam
Succeeded by
Muhammad al-Taqi