I do not think that I will be able in this research to do justice in recording all the rich aspects of the intellectual life of Imam al-Rida (A.S.), but I will try my best to provide a quick and clear idea about the intellectual output presented by the Imam for mankind in various fields of knowledge. Thus, we would be able from a distance to conduct a complete definition of the aspects of the portrait in which we can view the life style of Imam al-Rida (A.S.), having finished researching its historical side.
Ibn Khaldun Doubts Imams' Knowledge
Anyone who considers the revolution of Imam Husain (A.S.) against Yazid as a mistake committed by the Imam (A.S.) and a gross miscalculation cannot be expected to refrain from making such a statement which we cannot attribute to ignorance or lack of the ability to know, but it is nothing other than the cloud of sectarian prejudice which stood as a curtain between him and seeing the events, issues, and their reflections as they really were. The "fair-minded" historian is asked to tell us about the books authored by the sahaba and their works from whom he derived the principles and precepts of the creed of the Prophet (S.A.W.), or even the works of the tabi'in whom he regards as the second class that is knowledgeable of the issues of the shari'a, custodians of its structure.
He may seek his excuse by saying that the narratives of hadith and news of events narrated through them are suitable as a criterion for judging the extent of their knowledge. This is actually how we, too, defend our Imams, for the legacy they have left us in various fields of knowledge and which is narrated about them is sufficient to acquaint us with the extent of their knowledge and even superiority over others. Is it really possible that Ibn Khaldun did not review such legacy of ahadith which reached us through them and recorded by scholars and thinkers and upon which the structure of their school of thought, in which a large section of the nation believes, stood? We doubt it; nay, we may even be positively sure about the unrealistic nature of such an odd question especially since Ibn Khaldun is one of the most knowledgeable, most highly intellectual, and most mature writers.
Imams and the Persecution of Rulers
Some of those students used to give jailers whatever they demanded so that they might agree to carry written questions to the jailed Imam (A.S.) and bring them back his answers thereto, out of their desire to benefit from the presence of the Imam (A.S.), and due to their desire to be faithful to the trust of scholarship, and in order to protect it from the labyrinths of doubt. The biography of the jailed Imam Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.) bears witness to that according to those who quoted him. Historians and biographers of Imam al-Rida (A.S.) do in fact mention some books authored by the Imam (A.S.) besides his narration of hadith and issues which he dictated to those who asked him and to his close companions who used to frequently question him about the types of knowledge which they could not understand. To positively identify these books as authored by the Imam (A.S.) may require a convincing evidence which we may not sometimes have.
The fact that it was not at all common knowledge that that book was authored by the Imam (A.S.) prior to the late time of the Majlisis, in addition to the lack of knowledge of scholars before their time of any information about such an authorship, all of that negates the belief that it was attributed to or personally authored by the Imam (A.S.). There was no reason why that book would not have been famous during the life-time of the Imam (A.S.) especially since the knowledge of the Imam (A.S.) was very well known to everyone, so much so that when he narrated hadith to the scholars of Nishapur, more than twenty thousand scribes wrote it down there and then, besides others, as scholars of hadith tell us.
How the Book Appeared
In his Introduction to Bihar al-Anwar, al-Majlisi writes, "I was told about the book Fiqh al-Rida by the virtuous traditionist the ruler-judge Husayn, may God be Gracious unto his soul, after coming to Isfahan. He said to me, `It happened that during the time when I was neighbouring the House of God, a group of the residents of Qum visited me while performing their hajj and they had with them an old book the date of its writing agreed with the date during which al-Rida (A.S.) was alive.'" Then al-Majlisi continues to say, "I heard my father saying that it was in the handwriting of al-Rida (A.S.), and a large number of dignitaries testified to the same."
Sayyid Husayn al-Isfahani said: "Through those evidences, I came to know that it was indeed authored by the Imam (A.S.); therefore, I too the book and made a copy of it and corrected my copy by comparing it with the original, then my father took my copy and made yet another copy of it and compared the copy with the original, and most of its statements agree with what is mentioned by al-Saduq Abu Ja'fer ibn Babawayh in his book Man la Yahdaruhu al Faqih without giving credit to the book, and in agreement with what his father states in his letter to him. A large number of ahkam which our fellows have mentioned and whose source is unknown are mentioned in it."
Doubting the Accuracy of Rendering it to the Imam
It is also unusual that the book should remain obscure for such a long period of time in the hands of some residents of Qum without any of the city's scholars or traditionists getting to have a look at it, although those scholars were known not to leave anything small or big without writing it down in order to safeguard it against loss.
There are three possibilities regarding the book:
Views of Some Scholars About the Book
The verifier (muhaqqiq) Mirza Abdullah al-Afandi, in his book Riyad al-'Ulemaa, is positive about the book being the same letter referred to above, adding that the reason for the occurrence of the Imam's name in it is due to the fact that both men share the same first and second names, and this is why it is attributed to the Imam (A.S.).
Sayyid Hassan al-Sadr wrote a dissertation about the lack of evidence (that it was the Imam's), saying in his authorization to Shaikh Agha Bazrag of Tehran that it is the same book authored by Ibn Abu 'Azaqir better known as al-Shalmaghani. Anyhow, attributing the book to the Imam (A.S.) is doubtful enough to almost a firm belief that the book was not authored by him. But the book, although we disagree with our master mentor, may God prolong his shade, in his description of it as a collection of fatawa of some ulema, is no less than a narration whose narrator is anonymous; therefore, we cannot attribute it to the Imam (A.S.) and accept it as a reference to rely upon for issuing religious verdicts or to know what is Islamically unlawful.
Al-Risala al-Dahabiyya fil Tibb
It is possible that the dissertation's fame among scholars, and their consensus in various centuries that the Imam (A.S.) was its author, and that nobody doubted such an authorship, are enough proofs leading the researcher to comfortably and almost positively conclude that it was indeed from the intellectual output of Imam al-Rida (A.S.) himself.
Dissertation Was Authored by the Imam
If it is proven for us that al-Najjashi meant this same gold dissertation when he was quoting al-Nawfali saying that he narrated one text from al-Rida (A.S.), the knot would surely be untied. What supports this assumption about al-Najjashi is that some scholars have said that the library of allama al-'Askari in Samarra (Iraq) contains a copy of a manuscript dealing with the medical knowledge of Imam al-Rida (A.S.) narrated by Abu Muhammad al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Nawfali149, provided there is no other copy by al-Nawfali in which he quotes the Imam (A.S.) other than this dissertation; otherwise, we would be confused and we would not be able to reasonably understand why al-Najjashi did not provide sufficient details about the books which he attributed to their respective authors or narrators, or at least indicate their titles!
This dissertation is one of the most precious pieces of Islamic legacy dealing with the science of medicine. This inclusive, scientific and invaluable dissertation is a summary of a number of medical sciences such as anatomy, biology, physiology, pathology and the science of health care. It provided most of the knowledge related to the science of protective medicine, nutrition, chemistry, and a large portion of other sciences as well.
The Imam (A.S.) sent this dissertation to the caliph al-Mamoon around the year 201 A.H. when medicine was a primitive science and its research was not conducted scientifically but based on practice alone rather than on scientific discoveries, and when the science of bacteriology was not discovered yet, nor was there any significant knowledge of nutritional supplements such as vitamins, or other significant medical discoveries for fighting microbes such as penicillin, streptomycin, oromycin, etc.
On the surface, the dissertation seemed to be very simple in order to be in line with the mentality of that time, but it is quite deep and complicated in its implications and it needs a scientific study and lengthy researches to unveil its secrets and uncover its treasures, and it should be compared with modern scientific facts.150
Al-Mamoon Evaluated Dissertation
"Because it came out of the house of those who derive their knowledge from the knowledge of the Chosen One (S.A.W.), the missive of the prophets, the proofs of successors to the prophets, the manners of scholars, the cure to the hearts and the sick from among the people of ignorance and blindness..., may God be pleased with them, bless and be merciful to them, the first of them and the last, the young and the old, I showed it to the elite among my closest train who are known for their wisdom, knowledge of medicine, authors of books, those who are counted among the people of knowledge and described with wisdom, and each one of them lauded it and thought highly of it, elevated it with esteem and appreciated it in order to be fair to its author, submitting to him, believing in the wisdom he included therein."151
Al-Mamoon Asked the Imam to Write It
Al-Mamoon then rushed to Balkh and Abul-Hassan (A.S.) did not accompany him; therefore, al-Mamoon sent him from there a letter asking him to fulfill his promise and make that compilation, so al-Rida (A.S.) wrote him saying:
"In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful; My reliance is upon Allah
After that he initiates the dissertation.
Commentaries on the Dissertation
1. Tarjamat al-Alawi lil Tibb al-Radawi by Sayyid Diaud-Din Abul-Rida Fadlallah ibn Ali al-Rawandi (d. 548 A.H.).
2. Tarjamat al-Dhahabiyya by mawla Faydallah 'Usarah al-Tasatturi who was an authority on medicine and astrology during the regime of Fath-Ali Khan. This book was written under the cover of secrecy in about 107 A.H. A handwritten copy of the manuscript dated 1133 A.H. is available at Mishkat Library of the Tehran University.
3. Tarjamat al-Dhahabiyya by Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi. It is available at the private library of the late Sayyid Hassan al-Sadr in Kazimiyya (Iraq).
4. 'Afiyat al-Bariyya fi Sharh al-Dhahabiyya by Mirza Muhammad Hadi son of Mirza Muhammad Salih al-Shirazi. It was authored during the regime of Sultan Husayn al-Safawi. It is in handwritten manuscript form and it is available at the Sayyid Husayn al-Hamadani Library, Najaf al-Ashraf (Iraq).
5. Sharh Tibb al-Rida by mawla Muhammad Sharif al-Khatoonabadi. He authored it around 1120 A.H.
6. Tarjamat al-Dhahabiyya by Sayyid Shamsud-Din Muhammad ibn Muhammad Badi' al-Radawi al-Mashhadi. It was finished in 1155 A.H., and it is available at the Shaikh Muhammad Ali Akbar al-Nahawandi library in Khurasan (Iran).
7. Sharh Tibb al-Rida by Sayyid Abdallah al-Shubbar who died in 1242 A.H. Shaikh al-Nawari mentioned that he saw that copy himself.
8. Sharh Tibb al-Rida by mawla Muhammad ibn al-Hajj Muhammad Hassan al-Mashhadi who taught at Mashhad and died in 1257 A.H.
9. Sharh Tibb al-Rida by mawla Nawrooz Ali al-Bastami.
10. Al-Mahmoodiyya by al-Hajj Kazim al-Moosawi al-Zanjani who died in 1292 A.H. It is in manuscript form and it is available with the author's grandsons.
There are others besides these scholars who explained and commented on it, revealing what is hidden of its secrets and obscure treasures. Probably the latest person who explained it and conducted a comparative study between its theory and the latest modern scientific discoveries is Dr. Abdul-Sahib Zaini in the "Multaqa al-'Asrayn" series.
Al-Mustadrak states: "The esteemed Mirza Abdallah al-Afandi, in his Riyad al-'Ulema, has compiled all its sources and said, `Among that is a copy of this Saheefa which I saw at the town of Ardabil, and its sanad was...,' and he goes on to indicate its sanad after that. But the ascription he mentioned is debatable in as far as his narrators are concerned, and what we opt for regarding the dissertation is that its authenticity is not verified and is not suitable in its context for deciding about ahkam. Suffices us the fact that great scholars and verifiers of past centuries refused to acknowledge its authenticity, refusing also to believe it was authored by the Imam (A.S.); therefore, we have no excuse if we include it among the works of the Imam (A.S.) and his scholarly production.
Doubting Its Attribution To The Imam
In his second narrative, he adds to the first one saying, "And he stated in it that the small sins of prophets are forgiven," which is contradictory with the Imam (A.S.) declaring that they are infallible and do not commit small or big sins.
All of this strengthens our belief that the dissertation was not authored or dictated by the Imam (A.S.), but it contains a nullification of the caliphate of al-Mamoon and other preceding caliphs, calling them misguided and ones who forsook righteousness and guidance, clearly confining the true Imamate to the Twelve Imams (A.S.).
The dissertation also contains a violation of the principle of taqiyya and of its curtain which was upheld by the Imams during their lengthy history. This adds more doubt in the accuracy of the attribution of the dissertation to the Imam (A.S.). What we think to be quite possible is that the dissertation may have been a collection of fatawa (verdicts) of one scholar and his views regarding doctrinal and legislative issues. The lack of order of the dissertation's style and organization in listing subject-matters and their sequence, in addition to the fact that some of its ahkam are simply in disagreement with the established ones, all this leads us to and confirms this possibility.
Ajwibat Masail Ibn Sinan
'Ilal Ibn Shathan
148 Al-Muhadarat fi al-Fiqh al-Ja'feri by al-Sayyid al-Shahroodi, "Report on Imam al-Khoi's Lecture," Vol. 1, p. 7
149 Tibb al-Rida ("Medicine of al-Rida"), "Multaqa al-'Asrayn" series, issue number 2, p. 130
150 Ibid., pp. 19-20
151 A'yan al-Shi'a, Vol. 4, pp. 2, 143 and 144
152 Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 121