The Imam (A.S.) was contemporary to a short period of al-Rashid's regime during which he suffered the tragedy of the assassination of his father Imam Mousa al-Kazim (A.S.) and other Alawides. After the murder of his father, he was not safe from the moves of some of those who flattered the rulers and followed their course and pretended to show their loyalty by instigating enmity against the regime's opponents, encouraging their elimination, thinking that that would increase the rulers' liking for them and nearness to them, that it would strengthen their position and grant them unique distinctions and raise them to the highest pinnacles.
Attempts to Eliminate the Imam
Such incitements were not confined within a reasonable limit but went beyond it to dangerous ones where instigation might cause al-Rashid to pay serious attention, for the Barmakis were most antagonistic towards the Descendants of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and the most cruel among them in their grudge, so much so that it is reported that Yahya ibn Khalid al-Barmaki was the one who ordered the murder of Imam Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.)69 when the Abbaside caliphate was under their mercy.70 Imam al-Rida (A.S.) rendered God's retribution against the Barmakis to their persecution and oppression the worst of which was suffered by Imam al-Kazim (A.S.).71 Suffices for proof is the fact that Yahya ibn Khalid was the one who plotted the ugly plot against Imam al-Kazim (A.S.) after causing Haroun al-Rashid to be angry with him, instigating al-Rashid against the Imam (A.S.) and using some naive weaklings among the Alawides to achieve his goal.72
It was, indeed, an attempt which spelled the extent of grudge felt by Yahya ibn Khalid whose purpose was to pressure al-Rashid into murdering Imam al-Rida (A.S.) and make him join his father. He said to him one day: "This Ali, his son, has seated himself in place and claimed the matter (Imamate) for himself." He (al-Rashid) said: "Is it not enough for us what we have done to his father? Do you wish that we should kill them all?"73 Al-Rashid's answer points out to the extent of anguish he was suffering deep inside, and it reveals the bitter struggle exploding deep inside him. Suffices him to live carrying the guilt of murdering the pure soul of the Imam's father whom he subjected to numerous types of trials and tribulations till he joined his Lord well-pleased and satisfied after having faithfully executed the responsibilities of Imamate which were entrusted to him honestly and faithfully, while the tyrant's soul was no longer able to bear any bigger sin anymore.
Al-Rashid Moves to Eliminate the Imam
For example, Safwan ibn Yahya is quoted saying: "When Abul-Hassan Mousa (A.S.) passed away and al-Rida (A.S.) started preaching his mission, we were worried about his life and we said to him, `You have declared something of great magnanimity, and we worry about your safety because of this tyrant.' He said, `Let him try his best, for he shall not have the means to hurt me.'"74
Muhammad ibn Sinan said: "During the reign of Haroun, I said to Abul-Hassan al-Rida (A.S.), `You have made yourself well-known because of this matter and followed in the footsteps of your father while Haroun's sword is dripping with blood.' He said, `What made me bold in this regard is that the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) had said: `If Abu Jahl harms even one hair on my head, then bear witness that I am not a Prophet,' and I tell you that if Haroun took one hair away from my head, then bear witness that I am not an Imam.'"75
"A group of Waqfis entered the house of the Imam (A.S.) once and among them were men like Abu Hamza al-Bataini, Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Ammar, al-Husayn ibn Umran, and al-Husayn ibn Abu Sa'id al-Makari. Ali ibn Abu Hamza said to him, `May my life be sacrificed for you! Tell us how your father is doing.' He said, `He, peace be upon him, passed away.' He said, `Who did he recommend to succeed him?' He answered, `Myself.' He said, `You are claiming something which none among your forefathers claimed, starting from Ali ibn Abu Talib downwards.' He said, `It was said by the best of my forefathers and the most distinguished among them: the Messenger of God (S.A.W.).' He asked, `Do not you fear them for your safety?' He said, `Had I worried about my safety, I would have been in a position to do something to protect myself. The Messenger of God (S.A.W.) was approached once by Abu Lahab who threatened him; the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) said to him: `If I am scratched by you even slightly, then I am indeed a liar.' That was the first time the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) incited someone, and this is the first time I do likewise and tell you that if I am scratched by Haroun even slightly, then I am indeed a liar.' Al-Husayn ibn Mahran said to him, `If this comes to pass, then we will have achieved our objective.' He said, `What do you exactly want? Should I go to Haroun and tell him that I am the Imam (A.S.) and that he is nobody? This is not how the Messenger of God behaved at the outset of his mission; rather, he said so to his family and followers and those whom he trusted from among the public. You believe that Imamate belongs to my father, claiming that what stops me from admitting that my father is alive is my own fear. I do not fear you when I say to you that I am the Imam; so, how can I fear you if my father is indeed alive?'"76The Imam's expectation proved to be true; al-Rashid breathed his last without hurting the Imam (A.S.) a bit.
From the Series of Tragedies
This incident, if true, does not depict an unusual behaviour by al-Rashid towards the Alawides since he was full of grudge and animosity towards them. What encourages us to believe in it is what Ibn al-Athir narrates about al-Rashid at the time of his death, shortly before meeting his Maker. He was moaning and groaning while saying, "How horrible my evil deeds are towards the Messenger of God! How Horrible!"77 This is a clear expression of the admission of the calamities he inflicted upon the family of the Prophet (S.W.A.), of his horrible sins, of a bitter regret which was consuming his soul at the time of its departure.
Imam During al-Amin's Reign
Such a shaky situation is credited for the fact that al-Amin and his ruling apparatus diverted their attention from Imam al-Rida (A.S.) and from pursuing him, and we can regard that period of the Imam's life as a peaceful respite with which circumstances blessed him in order to be able to dedicate his time to carry out the responsibilities of his mission and disseminate its pristine principles among the nation.
Imam During al-Mamoon's Regime
Al-Mamoon's Inclination Towards Shi'aism
Add to all the above his preference of Ali ibn Abu Talib (A.S.) over all other companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his view that Ali was more worthy of succeeding the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) as the caliph. Yet another supporting argument is his serious attempt to make the cursing of Mu'awiya a tradition and enforce it on his subjects; he announced to people once the following:
"There shall be no pardon for anyone guilty of praising Mu'awiya, and the best of creation after the Prophet (S.A.W.) is Ali ibn Abu Talib (A.S.)."80That was in response to Mu'awiya who made the cursing of Ali a tradition which continued during the reign of all Umayyad governments till the days of the caliph Umer ibn Abd al-Aziz who put an end to it in order to safeguard the government of the Umayyads against the disgust people felt towards such ignominous tradition, sympathized with the Alawides, and returned Fedak to them when they requested him to do so.
Al-Mamoon, in fact, sincerely felt guilty about the crimes his predecessors had committed against the Alawides as a letter he wrote to some Hashemites testified and in which he said: "The Umayyads killed anyone (among the Alawides) who unsheathed a sword, while we, the Abbasides, have been killing them en masse; so, ask the great souls of the Hashemites what sin they committed, and ask the souls of those who were buried in Baghdad and Kufa alive..."81
Al-Mamoon's inclination towards Shi'aism is the result of many factors of a permanent impact upon his way of thinking, starting with his childhood when a Shi'a educator planted deeply in his soul the allegiance to Ali and the family of Ali (A.S.), and ending with his residence in parts of Khurasan where mostly Shi'as lived. Al-Mamoon himself narrates an anecdote with a moral which taught him to sympathize with Shi'as. It involved an encounter with his father al-Rashid who was very well known for his cruelty, tyranny, arrogance and hatred of the Alawides, especially Imam Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.) whose life he ended with poison. Al-Mamoon states that when Imam Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.) met al-Rashid at Medina, al-Rashid showed a great deal of humbleness before the Imam (A.S.) and a great deal of respect for him to a degree which attracted his own attention; so, he continues to say, "When there was nobody else present, I said, `O commander of the faithful! Who is this man whom you have held with such a high esteem, respected a great deal, stood up to receive, and even seated in the most prominent place while seating yourself in front of him, and you even ordered us to hold the rein of his horse?!' He said, `This is the Imam of the people, the Proof of God's Mercy to His creation (Hujjatullah) and His caliph among His servants.' I asked, `O commander of the faithful! Are not all these attributes yours and fulfilled in your person?' He replied, `I am the Imam of the masses by force and through oppression, while Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.) is the Imam in truth. By God, son, he is more worthy of being the successor of the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) as the caliph than I am and anyone else among the people! By God! If you yourself attempt to take such caliphate from me, I shall take it away from you even if that means pulling your eyes out, for power is blind!'"82
From all these arguments we can conclude that al-Mamoon was indeed a believer in Shi'aism, convinced of the principles of this school of thought which are based on the preference of Ali (A.S.) for caliphate over all others upon which principle al-Mamoon insisted while debating others. As regarding his conduct with Imam al-Rida (A.S.), his forcing him to be his regent, and his possible assassination, all these fall under the same precept adopted by his father al-Rashid that "power is blind."
Differences of Personalities of al-Amin and al-Mamoon
Al-Amin did not enjoy these merits, and the reason may be the fact that he was pampered and spoiled by his parents, that he was brought up to feel distinctly superior to his brother al-Mamoon. Add to this his temper of hereditary stubbornness which he inherited from his mother who was daughter of Ja'fer son of (caliph) al-Mansoor; as regarding al-Mamoon's mother, she was a women who gave birth to several children, and her name was Marajil. Al-Amin's mother raised her son to be aware of the class distinctions by narrating to him some interesting anecdotes involving herself and al-Rashid whenever the latter felt a psychological and emotional inclination towards his son al-Mamoon.
Al-Rashid Evaluates his Sons
Differences of Conduct of Both Brothers
Al-Amin was the opposite of all of this in his general conduct. He inclined more towards merry-making and entertainment which is the natural outcome of his spoiled childhood and adolescence. To prove this point, we have to read this interesting incident which spells out the type of general conduct of al-Amin during the moments which preceded his assassination. Ibn al-Athir states the following in his Tarikh (chronicle):
"Ibrahim ibn al-Mehdi narrated saying that he was with al-Amin when he fell under the political pressure of Tahir. He says that al-Amin came out during one night to cheer himself up and forget about his depression, so he went to a house he had had in the Khuld suburb, then he sent for Ibrahim. When Ibrahim was brought to him, he said, `Do you see how nice this evening is, how beautiful the moon appears in the sky and how its light is reflected on the water of the Tigris? Would you like to have a drink?' He answered that that was up to him, so he drank a rotl of wine, and Ibrahim entertained him with the songs he knew he liked best."83It is beyond imagination to conceive how a monarch undergoing a horrible political crisis which was about to uproot his throne could resort to such an extravagant behaviour so far from permitting him to contemplate upon the fate threatening him and jeopardizing his very existence. Some other such extravagant norms of behaviour narrated about al-Amin the caliph since he acceded the throne and till his last moments clearly indicate that he was not a man of government in the wide sense of the word, nor was he a leader.
Confused Behaviour of al-Rashid Towards His Sons
We can easily discern the confusing ordeal which dominated the conduct of al-Rashid regarding his arrangement of the issue of his own succession by his sons. He was not satisfied with just securing assurances and taking the most serious of oaths from his sons al-Amin and al-Mamoon, so he went during the hajj season to Mecca to require his sons to write down their pledges, then he hung what they wrote down on the walls of the sacred Ka'ba in the presence of a multitude of people so that those who did not witness the event would be told by those who did so on that day.
Al-Rashid Divides the State
Apprehension of the Public Regarding the Division
Ambition of Some Followers Deepens Division
On the other hand, we find al-Fadl ibn Sahl, the Khurasani leader, who was appointed in his post by al-Mamoon, trying to secure the government for al-Mamoon by his brilliant methods after pledging to help him reach the throne and dethrone his brother al-Amin at any price and stand in the face of al-Amin's attempts to deprive him of his regency. Al-Fadl and his brother al-Hassan ibn Sahl, in addition to the rest of Khurasani leaders and chiefs, were aware of the precarious situation in which they would find themselves should destiny decide that al-Amin must have victory over his brother al-Mamoon especially since they had already declared their allegiance to al-Mamoon and reneged in their promise to al-Amin.
War is Waged and al-Mamoon Wins
Having won victory over his brother, al-Mamoon tried to make Marw the base of power for the Abbaside dynasty instead of Baghdad due to the advice of his army leaders and top political aides who were credited with regaining his right to the caliphate after al-Amin had deposed him, and because of his own feeling of gratitude towards the city that assisted him and brought him victory during the darkest periods of his political crisis.
69 'Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 226.
70 'Umdat al-Talib, p. 185, 1st edition (Najaf, Iraq).
71 Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 48, p. 249, quoting Al Kafi.
72 Shaikh al-Toosi's Al Ghayba, p. 22.
73 'Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 226.
74 Al Kafi, Vol. 1, p. 487. It is also mentioned in Al 'Uyoon, Al Manaqib and Al Irshad.
75 Rawdat al-Kafi, p. 257.
76 A'yan al-Shi'a, Vol. 4, Part I, p. 138.
77 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 130.
78 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 138.
79 Tarikh al-Khulafa by al-Sayyuti, p. 284.
80 Ibid., p. 308.
81 Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 49, p. 210 as quoted in Ibn Maskawayhi's book Nadeem al-Farid.
82 'Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 1, p. 88.
83 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 162.
84 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 134.
85 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, pp. 134-135.
86 Ibid., p. 112.
87 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 113.
88 Tarikh al-Khulafaa by al-Sayyuti, p. 290.
89 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 138.