Immediately after setting the firm foundations of government and his becoming the sole caliph, al-Mamoon, according to the tradition started by Mu'awiya who secured the oath of allegiance for his son Yazid to succeed him on the throne, had to name his successor, and he had to be extremely careful about this weighty matter due to the precarious circumstances he underwent during his collision with his brother and thereafter. It was not easy for him to select just anyone from his immediate family or from others; rather, he had to subject each step he undertook in this regard to precise calculations linking past outcomes to future expectations and taking into consideration the sentiments of Shi'a Alawides who dominated Khurasan and the territories under its control. Among the latter party may be included men such as "Dhul-Riyasatayn" and his brother al-Hassan ibn Sahl who were among the most powerful elements that paved the way for him to survive the dangerous stage during his confrontation with his brother al-Amin, although we doubt such an inclusion which we will discuss later.
Al-Mamoon, however, did not find the idea of taking caliphate out of Banu al-Abbas and giving it to others, Alawides or non-Alawides, easy for he, despite his ideological inclination towards Shi'aism which lacked a practical implementation, would spare no effort to safeguard the legacy which he inherited from his forefathers in its framework and context. We can be acquainted with the accuracy of this theory if we research the plausible reasons which led him to force Imam al-Rida (A.S.) to accept regency.
Regency Between the Imam and al-Mamoon
Why the Imam Rejected the Regency
Al-Irshad narrates that al-Mamoon discussed the subject of regency with al-Rida (A.S.), saying, "I have decided that you should be my successor." The Imam said: "Exempt me from that, O commander of the faithful, for I have neither the ability nor the strength for that." He said: "I have decided that you should be my successor." The Imam said: "Exempt me from that, O commander of the faithful." Al-Mamoon responded with a statement which was more of a threat than anything else; he said to him: "Umer ibn al-Khattab entrusted six persons to consult regarding caliphate, one of them was your grandfather Ali ibn Abu Talib (A.S.), and he preconditioned that anyone who went against their decision should be executed; therefore, you will have to accept what I have decreed for you, for I see no way that I can ever change my mind."91
The Imam, therefore, had to agree.92 It is also narrated that a lengthy discussion went on between both men in which al-Mamoon offered the Imam to be the caliph and the Imam refused to accept, then he offered him the regency and he refused too, so al-Mamoon said to him, "You always say what I hate to hear, and you think that you are safe from my might; therefore, I swear by God that you should either accept the regency willingly or I shall force you to do so; therefore, accept out of your own will; otherwise, I shall certainly strike your neck with the sword."93
Al-Mamoon Reveals His Intentions
He does not wish to transfer the government from Banu al-Abbas to the descendants of Abu Talib, as the Abbasides imagined; rather, he aimed by such an action to contain the consequences which might cause a great deal of trouble for the government. In other words, he aimed by taking such a political action, to retain a position of strength for the Abbasides.
Al-Mamoon and the Astronomer Nawbakhti
This leads us to conclude that the offer of regency to the Imam was nothing more than a trap al-Mamoon had set for him to achieve some political gains that would save his government a great deal of trouble, and he certainly was not sincere in his conduct towards the Imam; rather, that was only a transient stage he had to go through with precision in order to achieve his anticipated objectives.
Al-Mamoon's Objecive Behind Regency
The Imam, in fact, did not underestimate the power to rule nor did he willingly stay aloof from its responsibilities; how could he do so while viewing himself as more worthy of the post of the supreme ruler and more capable than him in managing its affairs with equity? The fact is that he was confident that such thing would not happen for him, and that the whole matter was a clever political trick performed by al-Mamoon which he wanted to carry out by using Imam al-Rida (A.S.) as a ploy. When al-Mamoon offered to abdicate the throne for the Imam, he was calculating the matter to end up with one of two cases: either the Imam would agree, or that he would refuse, and in either case, he would gain for himself and for the Abbaside government a victory, for the Imam's agreement would be preconditioned upon accepting that he, al-Mamoon, would be named the regent, thus securing the legitimacy of his own caliphate after the Imam before all parties; otherwise, al-Mamoon was not so naive or short-sighted to the extent that he would offer his own post on a silver platter to the Alawides and become a subject dealt with as such. If al-Mamoon came to be a regent, it would be easy for him to put an end to the life of the Imam in order to succeed him without anyone finding out, thus satisfying the ambitions of the Alawides for the government while convincing their Shi'as of his own legitimate caliphate. Al-Mamoon had his own particular methods in eliminating his political foes, and we will mention the mysterious method he employed to put an end to the life of Dhul-Riyasatayn al-Fadl ibn Sahl and his murder of those who killed him despite their admission that he was the one who incited them to assassinate al-Fadl.
As regarding the case of the Imam refusing to accept the caliphate, this, al-Mamoon calculated, would cause him to be very widely criticized by his own Shi'a followers and companions due to their own belief that caliphate was rightfully his and he had to accept it, but the Imam's companions were endowed with a great deal of political awareness to the extent that they would not be tricked by a trick like that carried out by al-Mamoon. Also, he would be excused by various Shi'a factions for not accepting it for himself and his family, and that he tried so but could not succeed and thus would silence those who might dispute with him in this regard from Shi'a opposition groups.
Forcing the Imam to Accept the Regency
"A group of historians and court biographers who were contemporary to the caliphs say that when al-Mamoon wanted to name Ali ibn Mousa (A.S.) as his successor, and having thought seriously about the matter, he ordered al-Fadl ibn Sahl97 to come to him and he informed him of his intention, ordering him to seek the assistance of his brother al-Hassan ibn Sahl in this regard, and he did just that. So they met with him, and al-Hassan kept pointing out the magnanimity of the consequences of his idea, acquainting him with the outcomes resulting out of taking his family out of it and affecting his own life. Al-Mamoon, thereupon, said to him: `I pledged to God that if I lay my hand on the person who deposed me, I would hand the caliphate over to the best person among the progeny of Abu Talib, and I do not know anyone better than this man on the face of earth.' So, when both al-Fadl and al-Hassan saw his determination to carry out this matter, they stopped opposing him and he sent them to al-Rida (A.S.). They offered him caliphate, but he refused, and they continued pressing him till he finally agreed, so they went back to al-Mamoon and told him about his approval whereupon he was very pleased."98
Abul-Faraj al-Asbahani stated something similar to the above with this variation: "He dispatched them to Ali ibn Mousa al-Rida (A.S.) and they offered it to him, and they continued pressing him while he was refusing till one of them said to him, `If you agree, let it be so, but if you do not, we shall surely harm you,' and he threatened to kill him. Then one of them said, `By God he ordered me to strike your neck with my sword if you go against his wish.'"99
Imam's Awareness of al-Mamoon's Schemes
With Ahmed Amin
"Alawide Imams claim that if they get to rule, they would rule with absolute justice, but there is always a difference between claim and reality. Al-Mamoon complained about this and observed how the Imams disappear from public eyes to commit sins without being seen and recognized by the public for what they really are; therefore, he said, `It is for the good of the people that these Imams should come out and people should know their liability to falling into sins so that they would not respect them anymore, nor would they hold them as holy, for when they appear on life's stage, and people clearly see how they rule and how they commit what God has ordained as prohibitive, they would no longer be respected by the public. But if they continue to be persecuted, hiding from positions of prominence, satisfied with preaching, people will maintain their sympathy for them,' he, therefore, decided to appoint Ali al-Rida (A.S.) as his successor..."101
The above is what professor Ahmed Amin states. This statement is not unusual coming from a man like him who is very well known for his prejudice and fanaticism and opposition to the concept of Shi'aism and allegiance to the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.).
2. When Shi'as say that the household of the Prophet (S.A.W.) are more worthy of being the caliphs, they mean only the Twelve Imams and nobody else.
We have the right to ask here: What sin or prohibitive act did any of the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) commit away from public eyes? Where are the historical facts which support such a claim? Does Ahmed Amin consider the stance of Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) towards the Umayyad and Abbaside dynasties and their opposition thereof a sin and a prohibitive act?
3. Al-Mamoon appointed Ali al-Rida (A.S.) as the heir apparent to the throne; what sins did this Imam commit, and what prohibitive acts was he guilty of and which caused him to lose public respect?
And what did Ahmed Amin and his predecessors discover of the deeds done by the Imam after becoming the regent which Ahmed Amin tries to project in a negative way out of his hatred for the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) and in support for the Umayyads?
4. As regarding the example he tries to use and upon which he tries to build his conclusion regarding the conduct of the Fatimide government in Egypt, or regarding other intermittent Alawide governments during the various Abbaside periods, and the fact that they were not any better than other governments, Umayyad or Abbaside, in line or in scope, such an example is not realistic simply because Shi'as do not consider such governments to be legitimate, and they do not have any allegiance to them as long as they were distant from the pristine line of the Prophetic message called for by the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) after him.
Whatever the case may be, statements like these made by Ahmed Amin are not considered out of the ordinary, for his degrading fanaticism and his deviation from the line of Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) give him plenty of excuses for saying what he says...
Imam's Contempt for the Regency
And when the government achieves its end objective, the beginning starts, and the Imam (A.S.) feels psychologically irritated for such disguised use of his own person, and such irritation is spelled out during times of extreme bitterness. Yasir the servant said: "Whenever al-Rida (A.S.) returned home from the mosque on Friday, his face washed with his sweat, stained with dust, he would raise his hands and supplicates saying, `God! If my deliverance from my suffering is by death, then I plead You to please hasten that hour,' and he remained distressed till he breathed his last, blessings of God be upon him."102
The companions of the Imam (A.S.) could not easily understand why he accepted the post of regent, although inwardly they were satisfied with the soundness of the Imam's stance and at the same time fully aware of the psychological agony the Imam (A.S.) was suffering from. The Imam's answers to their repeated questions were exciting in their way of expressing the political necessity which caused the government to force him to be the regent. Muhammad ibn Arafa narrated saying that he once asked the Imam (A.S.): "O Son of the Messenger of God! What caused you to be involved in the regency issue?" The Imam (A.S.) answered: "It is the same that caused my grandfather the Commander of the Faithful (A.S.) to be involved in the shura."103
A man, who seemed as if he was finding fault with the Imam's action, once asked him, "May God make you godlier, what forced you into this arrangement with al-Mamoon?" Abul-Hassan (A.S.) in turn asked him, "Who is better, man, the Prophet or the wasi?" The man answered, 'Well, of course, it is the Prophet." The Imam (A.S.) asked again, "Who is better, a believer or a disbeliever?" The man answered, "A believer, of course." The Imam (A.S.) then said: "Al-Aziz, Egypt's vizier, was a disbeliever, whereas Yousuf (Joseph) was a prophet; al-Mamoon is a Muslim whereas I am a wasi, and Yousuf asked al-Aziz to appoint him as a governor, saying, `And appoint me to take charge of the wealth of the land, for I am protector, knowledgeable,' whereas I was forced to accept it."104
Yasir, his servant, is quoted saying, "When al-Rida (A.S.) became heir to the throne, I heard him saying after having raised his hands to the sky in supplication, `Lord! You know that I am forced to accept; so, please do not hold me responsible just as You did not hold your Servant and Prophet Yousuf when he took charge in the government of Egypt.'"105
These narratives suffice us to highlight the Imam's viewpoint regarding the issue of regency, for he at times depicts his ordeal to us by invoking the Almighty to remove his distress and anguish from him even by death, and at another time he compares his situation with that of Prophet Yousuf (A.S.) who accepted a post under the government of Egypt's Pharaoh while, at the same time, he reveals to us the difference between the two situation: While Yousuf gladly accepted his post and clearly requested it, he, on the other hand, was forced to accept.
After all this, no doubt remains in our mind about the Imam's conviction that the whole matter was a farce, and that he did not agree to it in principle.
Political Motives Behind the Regency
1. In order to please the Shi'a public opinion in Khurasan and its territories which were credited with paving the road for al-Mamoon's accession to the throne and for a victory over his brother al-Amin, thus he would secure a legitimate stamp for his government when the Imam (A.S.) agreed to be his successor, since the Imam's agreement meant a recognition of the legitimacy of al-Mamoon's caliphate. Such recognition would guarantee for him the loyalty of his subjects in those regions, and I personally think that this is the most significant reason which caused al-Mamoon to do so because it would put an end to the argument of traditional opponents to the Abbaside government who used to always criticize such government and consider it illegitimate and baseless. For this reason, we can find no public discontent with the regency; on the contrary, it was a cause for elation and joyful endorsement in various circles.
It is not unlikely that al-Mamoon may have felt that some underground movement was preparing to assault his throne, snatch the government from him and hand it over to the Alawides; therefore, he tried to encircle that movement by making the Imam (A.S.) a partner with him in the forefront of the government by naming him his regent. Such an action may win him the sympathy of the Khurasanis especially after all the suffering they had to put up with and the persecution of the Abbaside caliphate which murdered them and pursued them throughout the country as fugitives in a manner which caused bitterness and agony. What supports this cause are some paragraphs of a letter al-Mamoon wrote to Banu Hashim in which he said: "You claim that I desired that they would be the recipients of benefits thereof and to be in charge, while I have in mind the interest of your posterity and children after you even while you are unaware, blindly stumbling, not knowing what plans others have in store for you."
What these ambiguous statements imply, especially after the writer admitted that the nomination of Imam al-Rida (A.S.) was something the man rightfully deserved due to his qualifications, is that al-Mamoon sensed the danger of the precarious political situation around him, and he feared losing his grip on the reins of government since the popular base was faithful to the Alawides. Add to this the fact that many leading elements in the political and military establishments were strong supporters of the Alawides. We can appreciate this fact by evaluating the extent of the public acceptance of the nomination of the Imam (A.S.) for the regency, and if there was any opposition, its voice was so weak it vanished amidst the tumultuous voice of overwhelming support.
Al-Mamoon did not wish the Alawides to take charge; rather, he only wished to preemptively encircle the crises which might uproot the Abbaside government if he let events shape themselves on their own.
2. To avoid a clash with the Alawides who always threatened the Abbaside government by their rebellions and uprisings during various epochs, presuming that the Abbasides had usurped the government from them, having stated that their call to uproot the Umayyads was on behalf of al-Rida (A.S.), descendant of the Progeny of Muhammad (S.A.W.), especially since al-Mamoon wanted his government to be stable and to avoid disturbances and crises which might weaken his position as the supreme ruler since he was still engaged in a political struggle of survival with Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate, and it was not a coincident that the issue of regency took place at the outset of that struggle.
But the Alawides had already succeeded in winning the sympathy and public support of the Islamic world and were able to maintain that to their credit. An excellent proof for that was the wide response their revolutions won among various Islamic circles. All of that was due to the violent persecution and merciless pursuits, to the murdering and banishment, and to the norms of torture and retribution from which they suffered at the hands of the ruling apparatus, so much so that even al-Mamoon testified to that in his letter to Banu Hashim quoted above.
But al-Mamoon in his afore-mentioned letter to Banu Hashim supports our argument in making this one of the causes of his decision regarding naming the Imam (A.S.) as his successor; he says, as we quoted above,"... The reason for that is my desire to safeguard your lives and protect your properties by establishing friendly ties between us and them which is a method I employ in being clement to the descendants of Abu Talib and to heel their wounds with very little of what they are entitled to."
When he ties the knot of regency for the Imam (A.S.), he wishes to put out the fire of rebellion in the souls of the Alawides and their followers and to keep the ghost of danger away should they oppose the Abbasides and try to compete with them in their bid for the government, and he did, indeed, achieve what he wanted.
3. To warn the Abbasides about what they had already done to him and how they reneged on their oath of allegiance to him, by their rebellion against him and removal from regency, that all of their actions would not disable him from overcoming them and subjecting them to his authority and, moreover, take the caliphate out of their dynasty and hand it over to their Alawide adversaries.
It is possible that the tense psychological atmosphere between al-Mamoon and the Abbasides in Baghdad posed a real challenge, and al-Mamoon found no way to force them and stir their deeply rooted sensitivities better than sending them a threatening signal that he was going to take the caliphate out of their court and throw it into that of their Alawide adversaries who constituted a point of weakness in the Abbaside psyche. Al-Mamoon found no better weapon to threaten them with stronger than that in the face of their challenges which almost uprooted his position when they all agreed to depose him in response to the call of his brother al-Amin.
Abbasides Defy al-Mamoon
The Abbasides Treat Caliphate Lightly
Al-Mamoon Backs Off and Apologizes
"When he (al-Rida (A.S.)) died, al-Mamoon wrote al-Hassan ibn Sahl informing him of Ali's death and his calamity of losing him, and he wrote to the residents of Baghdad, to the Abbasides and their subjects informing them of his death and inviting them to enter into his loyalty, and they wrote him back in the most rude manner."106
Such a violent challenge in which the Abbasides reacted to al-Mamoon and the latter's fears that they might persist in their rebellion lead the historian to conclude that al-Mamoon used one of his tricks to eliminate Imam al-Rida (A.S.) in order to put an end to the anger of the Abbasides and other residents of Baghdad who were outraged because of the nomination of al-Rida (A.S.) which was the reason why they terminated their loyalty to him.
Doubt in al-Mamoon's Sincerity
4. By restricting the movement of Imam al-Rida (A.S.) and forbidding him, after forcing him to accept regency, from demanding caliphate for himself, thus al-Mamoon secures the strangulation of the element of competition from whose nightmares his preceding caliphs used to suffer and which explained their cruel and oppressive conduct towards the Imams.
Al-Mamoon Places the Imam Under Surveillance
"Hisham ibn Ibrahim al-Rashidi was the closest person to al-Rida (A.S.) before he was taken to the caliph's palace, and he was a courteous and brilliant scholar. Al-Rida (A.S.)'s contacts used to be transacted through him and under his supervision, and he used to collect all monies on his behalf before he, Abul-Hassan, was taken away. When he was taken away to the palace, Hisham ibn Ibrahim contacted Dhul-Riyasatayn and he tried his best to win his favour and started informing him and al-Mamoon about al-Rida (A.S.)'s movements, thus he won their confidence and did not conceal anything regarding the Imam (A.S.) from them. Al-Mamoon, therefore, appointed him as the Imam's chamberlain, and nobody could have audience with the Imam (A.S.) except whoever he liked, and he enforced a tight surveillance over the Imam (A.S.), so much so that none of his supporters could reach him without Hisham's approval, and he used to inform al-Mamoon and Dhul-Riyasatayn of anything and everything al-Rida (A.S.) said at home."107
Al-Mamoon's Motives Behind Enforcing Surveillance
Strictness of Followers of the Imams
He mentioned that one Abbaside, Ibrahim ibn Hisham, used to defame and degrade the Imam (A.S.), so al-Rayyan told al-Rida (A.S.) about that and sought his permission to silence that man for good, whereupon the Imam (A.S.) strongly forbade him from doing so. Then he said to him, "This Fadl ibn Sahl is dispatching me to Iraq to carry out errands for him and this Abbaside man is leaving three days after that for Iraq. What do you say if I should instruct your followers in Qum to dispatch twenty or thirty men and disguise as thieves or highway robbers and when he passes by them they would attack and kill him, and people would say that he was killed by highway robbers?' The Imam (A.S.) kept silence; he neither said `Yes' nor `No;' therefore, he went to the inn-keeper and hired a horseman to go to Zakariyya ibn Adam with a letter informing him that there were matters he could not possibly include in the letter and that he would disclose them to him if he met him at such and such a place on a particular day. He said, "Leave me and the man alone," so he bade him farewell and left. The man went back to Qum where Mu'ammar had just arrived, so he consulted the matter with him, whereupon Mu'ammar said, "We do not know for sure whether his silence meant he is ordering us to do it or not. He did not explicitly order you to do anything; therefore, it is not wise to harm the man," so he changed his mind, and Zakariyya abstained from going to meet him. He passed by the Abbaside man without harming him in the least.91
Despite the fact that the Imam (A.S.) the second time did not explicitly tell al-Rayyan what to do and remained silent, having first strongly forbidden him from doing it, which gave him the impression that he approved of the plan al-Rayyan had suggested to eliminate the Abbaside man because of his silence, Zakariyya ibn Adam did not do anything except after consulting Mu'ammar in this matter who told him not to do anything since the Imam's silence could not be interpreted for sure as an order or not. This shows us the degree of precision in following the orders and instructions of the Imams.
These are the realistic reasons, within the historical understanding of the period through which the government was passing, which can be used, in part or as a whole, to realize exactly why al-Mamoon named the Imam (A.S.) as his regent.
Naive Analyses of the Regency Issues
The Imams and their followers, however, regard government as one of their rights which was usurped from them by others; otherwise, how can you prove that there is a conflict between one's asceticism and his acceptance of a government post? Did it undermine the asceticism of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (A.S.) and that of others who became caliphs and who were known for their asceticism?
These, finally, are the reasons which we can mention to clearly show us the other face of al-Mamoon revealing the real background of his politics which were ambiguous in dimension regarding his regency arrangement.
1. Why did al-Mamoon send a messenger to Medina to bring the Imam (A.S.) to him escorted by a police force?
2. Why did he specify that the route he should take would pass by Basrah, al-Ahwaz, Persia, then Marw?
3. If al-Mamoon was truly convinced that the Imam (A.S.) was most qualified for caliphate, why did he not address the public on his behalf without forcing him to take such a hard journey to Marw under such specific route arrangement?
4. Why did he forbid him from leading the Eid prayers after insisting repeatedly that he should do so?
These questions may seem to some as naive and superficial, but they are deep enough to be considered in the calculation of the historian who aims at evaluating the event and its intricacies.
Al-Mamoon Was the One Who Suggested It
Al-Fadl Could Not Have Suggested It
Ibn al-Athir goes beyond this in his Tarikh to suggest that al-Fadl was actually Shi'a and that he was definitely the one who suggested to al-Mamoon to choose Ali ibn Mousa al-Rida (A.S.) as his successor.109 He may even have narrated this in some of his narratives; for example, Abu Ali al-Hassan ibn Ahmed al-Salami writes in his book Tarikh Khurasan (history of Khurasan) saying: "Al-Fadl ibn Sahl suggested to al-Mamoon to name Ali ibn Mousa al-Rida (A.S.) as his regent110, and this view is adopted by a group of historians." Al-Salami also narrates saying that al-Fadl ibn Sahl, when one day al-Mamoon was discussing how he successfully transferred the caliphate with some of his very close friends (among whom al-Fadl was present), he wondered, "How would you compare my action in this regard to that of Abu Muslim [al-Khurasani]?" One of them answered, "Abu Muslim transferred caliphate from one tribe to another, whereas you have transferred it from one brother (al-Amin) to another, and there is a difference between the two cases of which you are aware." Al-Fadl said, "If it were up to me, I would rather transfer it from one tribe to another," and he suggested to him to name Ali ibn Mousa al-Rida (A.S.) as his regent, so he secured the oath of allegiance for him and thus dropped that of al-Mutamin Billah.111
Abdullah ibn Tahir is quoted saying: "Al-Fadl ibn Sahl suggested to al-Mamoon to seek nearness to the Almighty God and to the kin of His Messenger (S.A.W.) by naming Ali ibn Mousa (as successor) in order to wipe out the harm they had received at the hands of al-Rashid, and he could not easily reject a suggestion he made; therefore, he dispatched from Khurasan Rajaa ibn Abul Dhahhak and Yasir the servant and ordered them to seek the company of Muhammad ibn Ja'fer and Ali ibn Mousa ibn Ja'fer (and go to al-Rida, A.S.), and that was in the year 200 A.H."112
Al-Mamoon Asserts the Idea Was His
Historical Analysis of Its Attribution to al-Fadl
As regarding what others have stated that it was he who suggested to al-Mamoon to do so, this may be attributed to the fact that if any event happened to the ruling apparatus, its credit was often given to the person with the strongest influence in that apparatus, the one who was strong enough to face the public opinion bearing full responsibility for any action taken by the government. Abul-Fadl, according to public opinion of the time, enjoyed the widest influence and the strongest word with the caliph al-Mamoon, and when al-Mamoon was about to make a decision regarding the appointment of the Imam (A.S.) as his successor, people would think that al-Fadl must have been inspired the idea. It was held that he must have been the one who subjected al-Mamoon to his views in all his political measures, enforcing a complete control over them. For this reason, we see that when the letter of al-Hassan ibn Sahl reached Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Khalid, in which he was informing him that al-Mamoon was getting ready to nominate al-Rida (A.S.) as his successor and that he had already ordered him to remove the official black government uniforms and substitute them with green ones and ordered the army and its commanders as well as Banu Hashim to swear the oath of allegiance to him as such and to require all the residents of Baghdad to do likewise, some people said they would swear allegiance but would not wear green while others said that they would do neither and that they would not let the descendants of the Abbasides lose their grip over the government, adding that it was a "conspiracy" inspired by al-Fadl ibn Sahl.114
The accusation of the people of Baghdad of al-Fadl was inspired only because of his having the strongest influence over the government, and we think it is not too far to believe that the publicity of the rumour that the idea was suggested to al-Mamoon by al-Fadl was actually the doing of al-Fadl himself in order to safeguard his own status in public opinion since he did, indeed, have the strongest influence over the caliph's actions. When al-Mamoon asks one of his close friends about his own opinion regarding the comparison between what he did and what Abu Muslim had done, he brags about transferring the caliphate from one tribe to another just as Abu Muslim had done in order to boast to his listeners of having the ability to do with the caliphate whatever he pleased, and that the arrangement of the regency issue was done according to his own instructions rather than those of anyone else.
Al-Fadl Sows Mischief Between the Imam and al-Mamoon
Subjective Analysis of the Dialogue
If we suppose that he was serious, what would then his objective be? What we can understand as an interpretation of the situation is that al-Fadl was trying by so doing to involve the Imam (A.S.) in the plotting of a conspiracy to assassinate al-Mamoon, and when caliphate was to be transferred to the Imam (A.S.), since he was the heir to the throne, al-Fadl would be in a position to hold the reins of government and enforce his control over its authority, making the Imam's participation in the plot as a blackmail against the Imam (A.S.) whereby he could threaten him should he try in any way to restrict his influence. Or, after eliminating al-Mamoon, it would be easy for him to eliminate Imam al-Rida (A.S.) as well through a little help from groups opposing the Imam's caliphate.
Had al-Fadl been truly honest in his offer to transfer the caliphate to the Alawide dynasty and to eliminate al-Mamoon, and had he been confident of the practicality of the idea, what made it necessary for him to consult the Imam (A.S.) regarding all of that since caliphate would be transferred to the Imam (A.S.) automatically and without any obstacle after the elimination of al-Mamoon since he was the appointed successor?
If we suppose that he was a pretender in his offer, as al-Fadl tried to assert after the Imam's rejection of his plot, then the goal he was trying to achieve becomes quite clear, for he would then desire to disturb the standing relationship between the Imam (A.S.) and al-Mamoon and, at the same time, prove to al-Mamoon his loyalty to his government and concern about its security.
Imam Foils al-Fadl's Attempt
We can also be satisfied that the publicity al-Fadl ibn Sahl awarded that arrangement cannot be proven even when many historians insist it could, for attributing Shi'aism to him was due to the rumours which said that al-Fadl was the one who offered al-Mamoon the most encouragement to name al-Rida (A.S.) as his successor, but we opt for the opposite due to the lack of evidence after having analyzed all situations as stated above.
Al-Mamoon Calls Imam to Him
Al-Mamoon Determines Imam's Route
Imam in Nishapur
Story of the Gold Chain
Abu Na'im said in Hilyat al-Awliya, after quoting the narrative above, "This is a firm hadith famous in this way of narration through the line of narrators from among the Purified Ones (A.S.) who quote their forefathers, and some of our predecessors who were traditionists used to say whenever this tradition was narrated that if this narrative was narrated to a madman, he would come back to his senses."
Imam Continues His Trip to Marw
Having been convinced to accept, the Imam (A.S.) said to al-Mamoon: "I also agree not to name anyone in a post nor remove anyone from a post, that I do not cancel any decree or tradition, and to stay as an advisor," and he agreed to all of that.115
In another encounter, al-Mamoon tried to pressure the Imam (A.S.) into participating in the state affairs; Mu'ammar ibn Khallad said that Abul-Hassan al-Rida (A.S.) had said to him, "Al-Mamoon said to me, `O father of al-Hassan! You may consider some of those individuals whom you trust to be governors of the areas where corruption is manifest,' and I said to him, `If you honour your part of the agreement, I shall certainly honour mine. I agreed to what I agreed on the condition that I do not issue orders or overrule others, nor depose anyone or appoint anyone, nor do I go anywhere except wherever God sends me. By God! Caliphate was something I never desired, and I used to live in Medina where I go through its alleys on the back of my animal, and when its residents or others ask me to do them a favour, I do them a favour, and thus they become like my own uncles. My letters still carry weight in various lands, and you have not increased me in whatever blessing God has bestowed upon me.' So he said, `I shall honour it.'"116
Analyzing Imam's Negative Stance Towards Such Responsibility
Before doing anything, we have to evaluate the Imam's viewpoint towards the government and its "legitimacy" under the leadership of al-Mamoon and the counsels of al-Fadl ibn Sahl and his views regarding its leaders and heads.
Of course, his viewpoint was not positive due to his belief that a government was not legitimate as long as it remained distant from his own leadership in his status as the pristine Imam (A.S.) named so by the Messenger (S.A.W.) himself according to a series of instructions conveyed by one Imam (A.S.) to the next. For this reason, we see how his companions unanimously disagreed that he should accept the post of regent which carried an implied recognition of the then caliphate. We can see the only justification they accepted was that the Imam (A.S.) was forced to accept it, and that that post which was forced on him would not change his stance towards the government one iota, for he did not enter into it except like that who entered to exit117 and that what caused him to agree was the same that caused his grandfather the Commander of the Faithful (A.S.) to agree to be part of the shura committee.118
Had Imam al-Rida (A.S.) wished to share the burdens of government with al-Mamoon, it would have been regarded as his recognition of the legitimacy of the makeup of that government, and an endorsement of all its actions undertaken by its higher authorities, but he preferred to assume the role of an advisor who kept his stances in order to safeguard the interests of Islam the safeguarding of which was his own very mission in life. But the Imam (A.S.) did not want to grant al-Mamoon the status of a custodian over his behaviour and actions, nor would he be the executor of his will and the person to fulfill his every ambition, for he did not have the ambition to achieve a stronger ruling status, or the one who controls the government apparatus, so that he would provide al-Mamoon similarly to what al-Fadl ibn Sahl and others provided. Those individuals used to press to win his favour, flatter him, and carry out his desires whatever they might be so that they would be the first to win a stronger position in the government vehicle.
Let us suppose that the Imam (A.S.) had accepted the principle of taking part in managing the state affairs. That would mean his exposure to an overwhelming and fierce opposition by others who consider Imam al-Rida (A.S.) as an element differing from their systems in conduct, program, framework and context, and he might push them away from the cycle of government especially since he could not accept all their actions most of which may go beyond the limits legislated for them. Or such a confrontation may expose the Imam's stance to dangerous repercussions which may historically affect his being and personality even if through cheap means and methods they plot behind the scenes to accuse him in order to incite the wrath of the government against him and also distort the sacred halo with which others surround him.
Do these persons lack special means to cast a shadow of doubt on the movements of the Imam (A.S.) and misinterpret his behaviour to the caliph al-Mamoon? Take the case of that person who raised al-Mamoon to the throne after turning the tables upside down on the government in Baghdad, removed al-Amin from his throne through whatever political and military means he had, was he then not capable of plotting to eliminate the Imam (A.S.), or hurt his reputation, in order to secure for himself to remain in the center of power?! In fact, despite the generous amount of intelligence al-Mamoon enjoyed by forcing the Imam (A.S.) to accept regency, the Imam (A.S.) was likewise aware of his situation, keen to the consequences when he practically distanced himself from the areas of responsibility.
On that day, people in their various social classes, leaders, chamberlains, judges and others, all draped in green outfits, rode to the designated place where al-Mamoon had seated himself, putting for al-Rida (A.S.) two huge pillows. He even spread the carpet in person for al-Rida (A.S.) and seated him on it near him while wearing a turban and carrying a sword. Then he ordered his son al-Abbas ibn al-Mamoon to be the first to swear allegiance. Al-Rida (A.S.) raised his hand, with its back facing his face and its palm facing them. Al-Mamoon said to him: "Stretch your hand so that people swear allegiance to you." Al-Rida (A.S.) said: "The Messenger of God (S.A.W.) used to put his hand like that before accepting people's allegiance." People swore the oath of allegiance to him while his palm was thus facing them. Tens of thousands of dirhams were brought in; orators delivered speeches and poets said their poems exalting the merits of al-Rida (A.S.) and the status to which al-Mamoon had chosen him for. Then Abu Abbad called upon al-Abbas son of al-Mamoon. He stood and came close to his father and kissed his hand. His father ordered him to sit, then Ali Muhammad ibn Ja'fer ibn Muhammad was called upon, and al-Fadl ibn Sahl said to him, "Come up," and he did till he was close to al-Mamoon. He stood there but he did not kiss his hand. He was told to go and take his money. Al-Mamoon then called him and told him to go back to his place, which he did. Abu Abbad kept inviting one Alawide and one Abbaside to take their money till all cash was depleted. Then al-Mamoon asked al-Rida (A.S.) to deliver a sermon.
The Imam (A.S.) praised God and glorified Him, then he said: "We have over you a right designated by the Messenger of God, and you have a right over us as well; so, if you perform your obligation towards us, we will be bound to perform yours."
Historians do not record any other sermon he delivered besides this one on that occasion. Al-Mamoon ordered a new dirham currency to be minted with al-Rida's name on it. Ishaq ibn Mousa ibn Ja'fer married the daughter of his uncle Ishaq ibn Ja'fer ibn Muhammad and ordered him to accompany people to the pilgrimage, and sermons were delivered at al-Rida's home town mentioning his name in them as the designated successor of the caliph.119 Al-Mamoon ordered that all countries must mention al-Rida (A.S.) during their sermons and pray for him in his capacity as the successor of the caliph of the Muslims.
Poems in his Praise
It was said to me that mine was the best rhyme,
Al-Mamoon said: "Very well said," and he paid him as much as he paid all the poets combined and considered him as a close friend. The school of thought of Abu Nuwas was Shi'a, and myths of promiscuity were narrated about and attributed to him regarding which we have our own view which dissociates the poet from what was attributed to him.
Abu Nuwas went out of his house once and noticed that there was a horseman who was riding beside him. He asked who the man was without seeing his face, and he was told that he was Ali ibn Mousa al-Rida (A.S.), whereupon he instantly composed these verses:
Had the eyes sought you for a goal,
Once he saw the Imam (A.S.) leaving the court of al-Mamoon and riding his mule, he came close to him, greeted him and said, "O son of the messenger of God! I have composed a few verses about you and would like you to hear them." He said, "Let us hear them," so he said:
Cleansed and Purified they are,
Al-Rida (A.S.) said, "You have composed verses nobody else beat you to them before," then he asked his servant how much spending money he had with him, and the servant told him it was three hundred dinars. The Imam (A.S.) said, "Give it to him all," then he ordered him to hand him his mule as well.120
As regarding Da'bal, the poet of the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.), I did not come across his poetry in praise of al-Rida (A.S.) on the occasion, but I have come across his poetry as recorded in books of history which have brought us his famous poem rhyming with the `t' in which he depicted for us the horrible tragedies from which the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) suffered the bitterness of injustice and oppression at the hands of their contemporary caliphs and their oppressive rulers. Da'bal seems in his poem to aim at stirring the sympathy of the nation in order to wake up the sense of loyalty to the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) and to support them against their enemies who usurped their rights by his magnificent narrative style of the bloody tragedies whereby they were terrorized during various epochs of the Umayyad and Abbaside dynasties. The poem begins with:
They answered each other with an echo and sighed,
Then he explains the facts the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) went through since the demise of the Prophet (S.A.W.), passing by the incident of the saqifa and the nation's stance towards the caliphate then, and ending with the calamity that befell Imam Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.). After that he dedicates the rest of the poem to praising the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.), highlighting their particular merits and qualities. Imam al-Rida (A.S.) was moved particularly by two verses of the poem, and that was reflected clearly on his face, when Da'bal said,
I find others share their share,
the Imam (A.S.) cried and said, "You have said the truth, O Da'bal..." And Da'bal had indeed struck on the Imam's sensitive chord of the dilemma from which the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) were suffering when he said:
When they were pulled taut, they did stretch
the Imam (A.S.) kept making a motion with his hands and repeating, "tense, indeed; they are tense..." The poem is considered one of the best in Arabic poetry in its ease of expression, the reality of exposition, the craftsmanship of its organization, and the excellence of its performance.
When Da'bal finished, al-Rida (A.S.), according to the author of Al-Aghani, rewarded him with ten thousand dirhams of the ones minted with his name on them, and gave him one of his own shirts which some residents of Qum offered to buy from the poet for thirty thousand dirhams but he refused; therefore, they waited till they had a chance to take it away from him by force. He then said to them, "It is meant to be for seeking nearness to God, the Exalted, and it is prohibited from you," and he swore that he would never sell such a relic except if they agreed to give him a portion of it to put in his coffin, so they gave him one sleeve which was later put inside his coffin.
He wrote his poem titled Madarisu Ayatin, as is said, about a garment (from the Imam) which he wore as the ihram robe, and he ordered it to be put in his coffin upon his death. Da'bal was feared for his tongue, and caliphs used to dread his criticism. Ibn al-Mudabbir said, "I met Da'bal once and said to him, `You have more guts than anyone else when you composed these verses about al-Mamoon:
I belong to the people whose power and might
So he said to me, `O Abu Ishaq! I have been carrying my cross board with me during the past forty years without finding anyone to crucify me on it!'"121
An Interesting Anecdote
I find others share their share,
Da'bal heard him and asked him, "Who said that line?" The man answered, "A man from the tribe of Khuza'a called Da'bal ibn Ali." Da'bal said, "I am Da'bal who composed that poem, and this verse is one of its verses," whereupon the man leaped and rushed to their chief who was saying his prayers on top of a hill, and he was a Shi'a. He told him what he had heard. The chief came and asked Da'bal if he was the man and Da'bal answered in the affirmative, so the man challenged him to recite the entire poem. When he did, he untied him and untied all the other men in the caravan and returned all their belongings back to them just to please Da'bal.122
This story, although we are not sure if it is true, expresses anyway the implication this verse carries.
Opponents of the Regency Arrangement
There was also a group of men among his closest courtiers and leaders who refused to endorse his decision and spoke of their disagreement with him and insisted on their disagreement till he found himself forced in the end, according to some reports, to arrest them for fear of foiling his plan. Among those arrested were three men, namely al-Jalloudi, Ali ibn Abu Imran, and Ibn Munis. Al-Saduq narrates saying that they were killed after being arrested123, although some historical facts conclude that this was not so, for both Tabari and Ibn Athir, discussing the events of the year 205 A.H., say that al-Mamoon appointed Yazid ibn Isa al-Jalloudi to fight al-Zatt in Yemen124, and so does al-Yaqubi.
It is strange that those leaders should revolt against the wish of al-Mamoon and insist on their rebellion and dissension to the extent that they were executed, and here we have no choice except to endorse the authenticity of this story according to the common books of criteria in understanding history. Al-Saduq narrated the story of their execution in a way which was closer to a stage play, in which he used precision to distribute the roles among it cast, than anything else. It is likely that Ali ibn Abu Imran whom al-Saduq named among those three men was actually Abdul-Aziz ibn Imran who will be discussed later and who was killed with others by al-Mamoon after having been accused of taking part in the murder of al-Fadl ibn Sahl.
Ishaq ibn Mousa ibn Isa ibn Mousa accompanied a group of people for the hajj where he prayed for al-Mamoon and for his successor Ali ibn Mousa al-Rida (A.S.), whereupon he was challenged by Hamdawayhi ibn Ali ibn Isa ibn Mousa ibn Isa ibn Mahan who leaped at him and called for a black (Abbaside colour) robe to wear, and when he could not find one, he took a black flag and wrapped himself in it saying: "O people! I have now conveyed to you what I was ordered to convey, and I do not recognize anyone other than the commander of the faithful and al-Fadl ibn Sahl," then he descended.125 This incident leads us to believe that there was a silent underground opposition which did not wish to enter into a struggle to define its position regarding the government, in addition to the opposition which had already and publicly taken a stance contrary to the will of the government as had happened in Baghdad and elsewhere.
At any rate, those who rejected the regency arrangement did not realize what prompted al-Mamoon to bring it about during those shaky political circumstances which the Abbaside government lived, and al-Mamoon was not naive enough to reveal to these parties the secret which he had very well kept to himself till he reached the final destination point of the plan he had planned.
Sending Imam Back
Analyzing Imam's Handling of Eid Prayers
People lived during those moments a supreme spiritual outburst which deepened within their souls the sense of belief and distanced them from artificial and fake appearances. Such an objective stance the Imam (A.S.) took was an open invitation to the nation to reevaluate the ruling apparatus that played havoc with their lives and properties, and inspire to them to see how fake the government apparatus was and how distant from the reality of the Islamic message. This is why al-Fadl was swift to warn al-Mamoon about the embarrassment of the situation and alert him against people falling in love with the Imam (A.S.) and turning in hatred against the government if he did not send the Imam (A.S.) back. Al-Mamoon was moved by al-Fadl's warning; therefore, he had to send someone to ask the Imam (A.S.) to go back home.
Some of the Imam's Dawah Methods
A final note. This is the story of the regency issue. I have tried while writing it to be faithful to history in discussing its complexities and developments without having any goal except to clear the Imam (A.S.) of the accusations against him which may still be raised by some people who have a particular way of understanding history within the frameworks of texts without examining the main subject-matters while studying history. These include: the evaluation of the general circumstances, the political impacts which stamp the nature of a government, the social pressure which may have something to do with defining some situations and taking a few steps dictated by the necessity of coping with a government. How nice it would be if the long story of history were researched on the basis of analyzing the situations and evaluating the circumstances! It is only then that the cloud would be removed from a great deal of scenes and pictures, and we can be more realistic in our judgement of events.
90 Uyoon al-Akhbar, chapter on al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 141
91 Al-Irshad, p. 290. Also Maqatil al-Talibiyyin by Abul-Faraj al-Asbahani, p. 375
92 Al-Maqatil, p. 375
93 Ilal al-Sharai', p. 266
94 Al-Bihar, Vol. 49, p. 208 quoting Ibn Maskawayh's book Nadeem al-Fareed
95 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, P. 148
96 Ilal al-Sharai', Vol. 1, p. 226
97 It appears that al-Hassan ibn Sahl was al-Mamoon's ruler over Iraq at that time, and we cannot explain why the name of al-Hassan is mentioned in this story except in the case al-Mamoon had called him to meet with him to consult him regarding the issue of selecting Imam al-Rida (A.S.) as the regent as presumes Sayyid al-Amin in his work A'yaan al-Shi'a, But al-Fadl's letter to his brother al-Hassan regarding regency, as Ibn al-Athir and Tabari and other historians indicate, negates all that, and the addition may have been the action of the narrator who was ignorant of all of that which constitutes a major problem inflicting narratives.
98 Al-Irshad, p. 291
99 Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, p. 375
100 Al-Irshad, p. 291
101 Al-Mahdi and the Mahdis, "Iqra" series, pp. 61 & 62, by Ahmed Amin
102 Uyoon al-Akhbar, Vol. 3, p. 141
103 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 167
104 Al-Ayyashi's Tafsir, Vol. 2, p. 180 of Surat Yousuf, verse 55
105 Al-Sadooq's Amaali, p. 72
106 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 193
107 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 153
108 Qurb al-Isnad, p. 200
110 As quoted in Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 165
111 Ibid., p. 147
112 Ibid., p. 147
113 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 151
114 Tabari, Vol. 8, p. 555, under the heading "Events of the Year 201."
115 'Ilal al-Sharai', Vol. 1, p. 226
116 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 167
117 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 139
118 Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 140
119 Al-Irshad, p. 291, and Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, pp. 375-376
120 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 143. Some may doubt that these verses were actually composed by Abu Nuwas since he died at least three years before Imam al-Rida (A.S.) was named as the regent, for it is said that he died in 195, or in 198, whereas others put the year of his death quite differently from either. The regency event is supposed to have taken place in the year 201. If this is accepted, then he could not have been present there nor could he have composed verses on the occasion. There are two possibilities here:
1. The first is that the poet was indeed Abu Nuwas, the renown poet, but he composed them at a different time, which is quite possible since he is known to have composed verses in praise of the Imam;
121 Al-Aghani, Vol. 2, pp. 69-81
122 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 264
123 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol 2, pp. 159-164
124 Ibn al-Athir, Vol. 5, p. 197
125 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 44