Birthday of Imam Reza (AS)
Heartiest congratulations to you all on a very special day. Today is the 11th of Zil-Qa’dah, which could be called icing to the cake of “Dah-e Karamat” or Ten Days of Munificence that we celebrate every year in the Islamic Republic of Iran at the start of this auspicious month.
To be more precise, it is the blessed day that happens to be the birthday of the 8th Infallible Heir of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny). Let us celebrate it together with an exclusive feature on the only Infallible Figure who reposes in eternal peace in the land of Iran, that is, Imam Reza (AS), whose sprawling golden-domed mausoleum in the city of Mashhad is the cynosure of all eyes today.
“The day We shall summon every group of people with their Imam, then whoever is given his book in his right hand —they will read it, and they will not be wronged so much as a single date-thread.”
What you heard and read was ayah 71 of Surah al-Israa’ of the holy Qur’an in which God Almighty refers to the Imam or leader, and the people who follow him. In other words it is reference to the vital issue of “Wilayah” or Leadership of mankind for guidance during the transient life of the mortal world and the crucial issue of salvation on the Day of Resurrection. On closer scrutiny, we find that this “ayah” refers to acknowledgement of leadership of the Divinely-Decreed Leader in every age – whether a Prophet or an Infallible Imam – and it means to say that those given the report-card of their deeds in the right hand on the Day of Judgement, are indeed guaranteed salvation and the eternal bliss of paradise.
A famous hadith in this regard from the Prophet of Islam, recorded by both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, explicitly says: “Whoever dies without being cognizant of the Imam of the Age, dies the death of ignorance.”
This hadith cautions us against failure to recognize those whom God has vested with authority. Today, when we are living in the period of Occultation of the Prophet’s 12 and Last Infallible Heir, Imam Mahdi (AS) with full cognizance that he will appear in the end times to cleanse Planet Earth of all vestiges of corruption and oppression by establishing the global government of peace, property, and justice, the birth anniversary of the 8th Infallible Heir of the Seal of Messengers, affords us an opportunity to ponder on this Divine Phrase of Surah al-Israa’.
Born in the Prophet’s city Medina on the 11th of Zil-Qa’dah in the year 148 AH, some two weeks after the martyrdom of his grandfather, Imam Ja’far as-Sadeq (AS), he was named by his father Imam Musa Kazem (AS) as “Ali” in honour of his illustrious ancestor, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS). It was clear he was bestowed with Divine Knowledge for which he was respected. As the eldest son, he shouldered a heavy responsibility especially during the intermittent bouts of imprisonment lasting several years to which his noble father was subjected by the self-styled caliphs of the usurper Abbasid regime. Thus, in the absence of his father, he was the beacon of light for guiding all those who called on the threshold of the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt. He was 35-years old, when the mantle of the Divine Trust of Imamate came to rest on his shoulders in 183 AH on the martyrdom of Imam Kazem (AS) through poisoning in the dungeon of Baghdad. For the next twenty years, before his own life was cut short in 203 AH at the age of 55, again by poisoning, he spared no efforts to steer the ship of Islam to the shores of salvation through stormy seas of Abbasid tyranny. So dexterously he discharged his duties that he was hailed by the Ummah as “Reza”, or the person who is completely satisfied with the Will of God and with whom all other people, whatever their jurisprudential denomination, and whether friend or foe, are also satisfied.
For seventeen years in his hometown Medina, if the spiritual leadership of Imam Reza (AS) pleased the masses, it aroused the displeasure of the Abbasid regime, especially the new self-styled caliph, Mamoun, who had made distant Marv in Khorasan, his capital, and to which he forced the Prophet’s heir to come in the year 201 AH. The deceitful Mamoun tried to dupe the people into believing that he was willing to hand over the temporal power of the Islamic realm to the Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt by declaring Imam Reza (AS) as “Heir Apparent” and minting coins with the 8th Imam’s name to celebrate the occasion.
The plot of the crafty caliph to tarnish the image of the Imam and alienate the Ummah from him, backfired, as the 8th Imam refusing to interfere in state affairs, started enlightening the people of Khorasan and Iran with the bezels of wisdom of genuine Islam as taught by the Prophet. He opened for them the wonders of the Revealed Word of God Almighty, that is, the holy Qur’an. He expounded its meanings in the most rational manner, including ayah 71 of Surah al-Israa’ which we recited to you at the beginning of this special programme regarding the gathering in groups of all mankind on the Day of Resurrection along with the Imams or the leaders they had followed during life. In the words of Imam Reza (AS): “On that Day (Resurrection), every nation will be called along with its contemporary Imam (Leader), and the Book of their Lord, as well as the course of practice of their Prophet.”
Imam Reza (AS) analysed in detail the issue of Leadership in Islam by saying: “The Imam strives to establish the limits ordained by Allah and defends the creed decreed by the Lord Most High by inviting (the people) to the path of Allah through wisdom, good admonitions, and self-explanatory proofs. And, finally, the Imam is the Head of religion, the order of Muslims, the benefit to the believers in the world and their glory.”
Imam Reza (AS) also said: “The Imam is the flourishing root of Islam and its prime branch. The Imam is an honest friend, a kind and friendly father, a truly-loyal brother and companion, just like an affectionate and selfless mother towards her young child, and a refuge for Allah’s servants.”
These wise words of Imam Reza (AS) are proof of the fact that every Infallible Imam, by God’s permission, is the “Zamen” or Guarantor and Guardian of the believers, especially those who seek refuge in him.
So impressive were the words of the 8th Imam that the people of Khorasan started revering even those particular silver coins that were minted in his honour. They used to tie them in a band of cloth on the right arm of any traveler as guarantee for safe journey, so that anyone encountering the traveler would refrain from harming him as a person under protection of Imam Reza (AS). Later, when the journey was over, the coin or coins would be distributed amongst the needy as charity. Interestingly, this practice is continued to this day in the Subcontinent, where the Muslims, whether Shi’a or Sunni, tie on the right arm of a traveler or newlywed couples, an amulet or a piece of cloth with a coin inside and known simply as “Imam-e Zamen”, in order to ensure the safe return of the traveler or the prosperity of the bride and groom.
Now we understand how Imam Reza (AS) became famous in his times as “Imam-e Zamen” or the Leader who is an indisputable Protector/Guardian/Guarantor of anyone who entrusts himself/herself to his care.
An interesting incident in this regard is the case of a doe or female deer which a hunter had caught in Khorasan, and on his way from the forest he chanced to meet Imam Reza (AS). On seeing the 8th Imam the doe sprinted towards him and rubbed its head on his feet, while uttering some strange sounds. The Imam, who by Divine Intuition, knew the language of the animals, asked the hunter to let the doe go to the forest to give suckle to her young ones, promising to stand as Guarantor for the animal until its return. At first the hunter hesitated and then accepting the Imam’s words he released the doe. After a while, to his surprise, the female deer emerged from the forest with its young ones. The guarantee given by Imam Reza (AS) was thus fulfilled, and the hunter released the doe and its fawns back into the forest. To this day, the people of Iran refer to Imam Reza (AS) as “Zamen-e Ahou” or the Guarantor of the Deer.
Many instances from the memorable life of Imam Reza (AS) point to the facts that he was indeed known as “Zamen” or Guarantor, long before he came to Khorasan, such as the guarantee provided by him for the safety of pilgrims to the holy shrine of his ancestor, Imam Husain (AS) in Karbala, which the tyrant Haroun had forbidden.
Another interesting incident of Imam Reza (AS) being “Zamen” or Guarantor is the account of a person blamed for theft and whose hands Mamoun ordered to be chopped off, prompting the accused to cite three reasons against the invalidity of such a verdict! When asked to elaborate, the accused said that as a ruler Mamoun had failed in his duty to create a flourishing economy in order to eradicate poverty from society so as to prevent the poor from resorting to any unsavoury act, such as theft, for feeding the starving family. Secondly, the accused claimed to be a descendant of the Prophet and charged Mamoun with the stealing of public property and thus depriving him of his share of “Khoms” or the one-fifth of the surplus income which according to the holy Qur’an should be distributed amongst the Prophet’s offspring or spent on public welfare projects. And thirdly, said the accused, Mamoun the caliph was actually slave and thus cannot punish a freeman.
The caliph became livid with rage at what he deemed a personal attack on him and demanded an explanation. The accused calmly said: “Your father Haroun had bought a female slave from public treasury (and not his personal wealth) and you were born from her womb. This means that you remain as a slave and are considered as public property”.
On hearing this, Imam Reza (AS) said the accused was correct and his hands cannot be chopped off. The crestfallen caliph reluctantly agreed, although his heart was filled with malice. Outwardly he acknowledged, but inwardly he resented that the “Zamanat” or Guarantee provided by the Imam Reza (AS) as “Imam-e Zamen” that saved the poor man.
Today there is no sign of the murderous Mamoun and the Abbasids or their graves, let alone their palaces, while his victim Imam Reza (AS) reigns supreme from Mashhad where millions of pilgrims from all over Iran and the world have assembled at the sprawling golden-dome shrine to felicitate his birth anniversary, and seek his intercession with God on the Day of Resurrection when every nation will be raised with their Imam(s).