As is well known, today is the night of the martyrdom of our seventh Imam, Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (A). He was born in 128 A.H. It was the time when the Umayyad rule was at its peak while he was martyred in the prison of the Al-Abbasid caliph, Haroon Rashid in 183 A.H. He was aged fifty-five years at that time. He spent the last years of his life in prison and he was poisoned and martyred in the prison itself.1
An Arab poet says:
“People taunt me that I was imprisoned. I say that it is not a defect. Is there any sharp sword that is not kept inside a sheath?
Don’t you see that when a lion grows old, it gets into the habit of living in his den while lowly animals run here and there?”
Maulana Rumi had narrated an incident in the first section of his Mathnawi. After Prophet Yusuf (A) bore the calamities, falling into the well, becoming a slave and living in prison for many years, one of his childhood friends came to him. Maulana Rumi says:
‘One day a childhood friend of Prophet Yusuf (A) paid him a visit. He reminded him of the oppression and jealousy of his brothers. Yusuf (A) replied, “We are lions and those incidents were chains. Even if a lion is tied with a chain then too its dignity would not be affected. Even if the lion’s neck is chained, it would be better than other chained ones.”
His friend asked. “What was your state when you were in prison and in the well?”
He replied, “My state was like a moon, which reduces its phases and finally disappears but becomes a full moon again and reappears. Wheat is buried inside the earth but it grows out once again. Then it is ground to make flour in a mill but its value increases and it becomes bread later on. When this wheat is crushed under teeth, it becomes life, intellect and perception.”’
Since a good part of his life was spent in prison, Imam Musa Al-Kadhim’s condition is similar to that of Prophet Yusuf (A). It is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an that the ladies of Egypt tried to seduce Yusuf (A) but he opted for imprisonment in order to save his faith and to keep the clothes of piety from being stained.
Prophet Yusuf (A) said:
قَالَ رَبِّ السِّجْنُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا يَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ ۖ وَإِلَّا تَصْرِفْ عَنِّي كَيْدَهُنَّ أَصْبُ إِلَيْهِنَّ وَأَكُنْ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ
He said: My Lord! the prison house is dearer to me than that to which they invite me; and if Thou turn not away their device from me, I will yearn to- wards them and become (one) of the ignorant. (12:33)
فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُ رَبُّهُ فَصَرَفَ عَنْهُ كَيْدَهُنَّ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
Thereupon his Lord accepted his prayer and turned away their guile from him; surely He is the Hearing, the Knowing. (12:34)
ثُمَّ بَدَا لَهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا رَأَوُا الْآيَاتِ لَيَسْجُنُنَّهُ حَتَّىٰ حِينٍ
Jealousy of brothers cast Prophet Yusuf in the well and the unacceptable lust of the ladies of Egypt sent him to prison. He remained imprisoned for many years.
فَلَبِثَ فِي السِّجْنِ بِضْعَ سِنِينَ
...so he remained in the prison a few years. (Surah Yusuf 12:42).
He got Prophethood in the prison and came out purer, more perfect and more determined.
Yusuf (A) was a prophet, who was thrown into a well because of the fault that he was loved by his father and was imprisoned for recognition of truth, purity and piety. From the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S), Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (A) was imprisoned for many years because people loved him and considered him more worthy of leadership than Haroon Rashid. The only difference is that Yusuf (A) was released from the prison while Haroon Rashid poisoned and martyred the Imam in the prison itself.
أَمْ يَحْسُدُونَ النَّاسَ عَلَىٰ مَا آتَاهُمُ اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ
“Or do they envy the people for what Allah has given them of His grace?” (Surah al-Nisa 4:54).
Of course, whenever jealous people see Allah's pleasure on someone’s favor, they become jealous and start troubling that person.
The two Arabic couplets that I quoted in the beginning of the lecture also mean the same: That, “People taunt me that I was imprisoned. I say that it is not a defect. Is there any sharp sword that is not kept inside a sheath?
Don’t you see that when a lion grows old, it gets into the habit of living in his den while lowly animals run here and there?”
After that the poet says:
“Small stars are not visible till the sun disappears from sight
Fire remains bidden inside stones and cannot be used till it is scratched out with a tool.
If the imprisonment is not due to some moral crime, prison is not a bad place.”
If someone has committed a theft, murder, cheating, spread mischief and the court charged him and imprisoned him; it is really a cause of disgrace, it is a cause of indignity and even if he is not imprisoned because of these crimes, it is shameful. However, if someone goes to prison for a right cause and to fight against injustice, it is a cause of pride.
A prison is a place where the honour of a fair person increases. People go there to meet him and feel proud to meet him. He need not go to the people.
Then the poet says:
“When tears were flowing from the eyes and the fire of interest was ignited in the heart, I told the helpless not to worry for his feet shackled in chains. These chains are adornment for men.”
Two points are worth mention here. Firstly, the tortures borne by a person for supporting truth are not a cause of sorrow. Instead they are cause of pride. It is necessary for this point that we glance at history which is full of such incidents, in which great people gave their lives with honour; they were imprisoned and they suffered pains and atrocities. These sufferings are not only a cause of pride for those leaders but also for the entire humanity.
Another point is that bearing such injustice is a way of perfecting the soul of humanity! The life of worldly comforts is a cause of bad character and reduces courage. Nothing can reduce courage, give birth to bad character and destroy one’s life more than a life of worldly comforts.
The soul is energized through hardships and difficulties. It gets strengthened. The gold of human existence becomes purer and strong. So long as a person does not face calamities and difficulties, his personality is not perfected. Evolution does not take place without breaking up of a personality.
Maulana Rumi says that the grain of wheat gets trapped when buried inside the earth. It bursts there and its existence comes to an end. After that, it moves towards the highest stage. After a few days, it comes out in the form of a plant having many offshoots holding grains inside them. When the wheat gets mixed in earth, it marks the beginning of its evolution.
Then this wheal is ground in the mill to become flour. Wheat flour turns into bread. When bread is chewed with teeth, it is dissolved and wheat is converted into intelligence and understanding after going through different stages.
A law of nature is called ‘the law of conflicts’. According to philosophy, if there is no contradiction there would be no possibility of continuity of benefits from the fountainhead of bounties. It is a fact that there is some kind of evolution in everyone.3
If we look at the other side we see that every existing thing comes across certain things at different stages of evolution, which are necessary and beneficial for it at that stage. For instance, a peel of a fruit provides warmth to it or the shell of an egg, which protects the egg-yolk and albumen.
These skins are necessary and beneficial as long as warmth is warmth and egg remains an egg. If the seed of a fruit wants to progress and become a tree or the egg wants to become a chick and then finally an adult hen, there is no way for it but to break the bounds of shell and free itself.
These boundaries and walls collapse as a result of natural contradiction and barriers are destroyed and the fountain of divine grace starts flowing. As a result of these difficulties, brave ones and extraordinarily intelligent persons and ideal personalities are born. Strength and power reappears. Great leaders had to bear a lot of pain and difficulties and only later on they could lead the world to great revolutions.
Our religious history has numerous such examples. Lady Zaynab Kubra (s.a.) is one such woman who is a cause of pride for Islam. History narrates that the deadly calamities and atrocities of Karbala had made Lady Zaynab (s.a.) stronger.
Lady Zaynab (s.a.) was not same when she returned to Medina as she was when she departed from there. She had evolved a lot after returning from Syria. The feats she achieved during the period she was held captive were completely different from the events of Karbala when her great brother was alive and she had little responsibility on her shoulders.
Dr. Ayesha Bint al-Shati is one of the qualified Arab women of our time. She has written a book titled, Batlatu Karbala (Great woman of Karbala). This book is translated into Persian and was published a number of times. She writes that the causes of the greatness of Lady Zaynab (s.a.) are calamities of Karbala. The events of Karbala were the cause of her fiery sermon in the court of Yazid which you all have heard.4
An Arabic poet Abu Tamaam says:
If aloe wood is not burnt with fire no one would become aware of its fragrance.
Saadi has also presented this saying as:
The natural word emerges only when the heart is full of sorrow. Like aloe wood which does not emit fragrance till it is burned.
Severe hardships give birth to Excellence, greatness and leadership.
Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (A) was imprisoned for the ‘crime’ that he spoke the truth and had faith and piety. There is a saying of the Imam, which he told to one of his Shias:
“Look, fear Allah’s anger. Always speak truth even if it seems to result in destruction because your salvation lies in it; and remembrance of truth never leads to destruction. Instead, truth is the ultimate salvation. Always keep away from falsehood even if there is apparent salvation in it, remember that falsehood would never give you salvation.”5
Shaykh Al-Mufid writes that Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (A) was the greatest worshipper, jurist, graceful and elegant one of his time.6 He always used to submit himself to the Lord and express his humility. He used to supplicate often:
“O Allah! I seek comfort at the time of death and forgiveness at the time of the accounting of deeds.”7
He used to be on lookout for beggars. He used to fill cash, flour and dates in a container and distribute among the poor people of Medina in different ways. Those poor ones did not even know who their benefactor was.8
He was a matchless hafiz of the Holy Qur’an who knew the divine book by heart. He used to recite the Qur’an so sweetly that it touched the hearts of the people. The listeners cried on hearing his recitation. The people of Medina had given him the title of ‘Zain al-Mutahajjidin’ (the best of those who worship at night).9
In 179 A.H. Haroon set out for Hajj from Baghdad. He went to Medina first and summoned the Imam there. The people of Medina were shocked. There was turmoil among the people. Haroon ordered that the Imam should be sent to Basra immediately in the darkness of night after veiling him on his mount. He ordered that the Imam should be handed over to Isa Ibn Ja‘far, the Al-Abbaside in Basra.
He was the governor of Basra and a paternal cousin of Haroon. Imam (A) was taken there and imprisoned. Haroon ordered that one more mount should be veiled and sent towards Kufa so that people believe that the Imam is sent to Kufa.
Thus, they would not worry as Kufa was the center of the Imam’s lovers and Shias and the Imam would not be harmed there. Even if some people try to bring the Imam back, they would go to Kufa.10
Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (A) remained imprisoned for a year in Basra. Haroon told Isa to eliminate the (mam in the prison itself but he did not agree. He wrote in reply, “I have always found this person engrossed in worship for the past one year.
He does not fall short in worship. I appointed some persons to watch him whether he curses me in his supplications or not? I got to know that he does not speak anything except seeking mercy from the Almighty Allah for himself. I am not ready to participate in the murder of such a person. I don’t even want to keep him in the prison any more. So you take him back or I would release him.”11
Haroon ordered that the Imam be brought to Baghdad and imprisoned in the prison of Fadhl Ibn Rabi. Haroon ordered Fadhl Ibn Rabi also to murder the Imam but he did not agree. Then, Haroon handed over the Imam to Fadhl Ibn Yahya Barmiki so that he remains under his captivity.14
Fadhl Ibn Yahya reserved a room in his house for the holy Imam and also ordered that a close watch be kept on the Imam. He was informed that the Imam worships, supplicates and recites the Holy Qur’an day and night and observes fasts on most days. He does not get involved in any activity except worship. Fadhl Ibn Yahya ordered that the Imam should be respected and he took care of his comforts.
Reporters informed Haroon about this. Haroon was not in Baghdad when he got this news. Haroon immediately wrote a letter reprimanding him and ordered that the Imam should be eliminated. However, Fadhl was not ready to do so.
Haroon was displeased much. He wrote separate letters to Sindi Ibn Shahik and Al-Abbas Ibn Muhammad and sent them through his personal servant, Masrur. Also, he ordered Masrur to investigate secretly and if Musa Ibn Ja‘far was staying comfortably in the house of Fadhl Ibn Yahya the latter should be whipped. The order was obeyed and Fadhl Ibn Yahya was whipped. Masrur wrote down all the details of this operation and sent them to Haroon.12
Haroon ordered that the Imam should be handed over to Sindi Ibn Shahik from the custody of Fadhl Ibn Yahya.
Sindi was a non-Muslim and a stone-hearted person. Also, Haroon had once announced publicly that Fadhl Ibn Yahya had disobeyed his orders, sent curses on him and asked people to curse him. Eventually, the heartless people cursed Fadhl Ibn Yahya in order to please Haroon.13
When Fadhl Ibn Yahya Barmiki’s father, Yahya Ibn Khalid Barmiki got this news, he mounted his horse and went to apologize on behalf of his son. Haroon accepted this apology.14 Finally the Holy Imam (A) was poisoned and martyred in the prison of Sindi.15
One day Haroon sent a person to visit the Imam in the prison of Sindi. Sindi accompanied this high official. When this envoy met the Imam, the latter asked, “What do you want?”
He replied, “The Caliph has sent me to visit you.”
Imam (A) said, “Go and tell your caliph that every single day of torture for me reduces a day of comfort for him. A time will come when both of us will be at one place. The unjust would be punished for their deeds there.”16
During the time when he was in the prison of Haroon. Haroon sent a message to the Imam through Fadhl Ibn Rabi. Fadhl says that when he reached the prison, the Imam was occupied in Prayer. He did not dare to sit because of the Imam’s awe.
He stood leaning on his sword. Imam did not pay attention to him even after completing his Prayer. He started offering the next Prayer. After that, the Imam was about to start his third Prayer when he interrupted him and said:
“The Caliph has ordered me to come to you and convey his regards to you. He has asked me not to prefix the title of Commander of the Faithful before his name and mention his name as your brother, Haroon.
He wants to inform you that there was a misunderstanding because of wrong news. It is now known that you are not at fault but he wishes that you stay near him all the time and not return to Medina. Now it is decided that you shall stay near him, he wants to know what kind of food is liked by you. I am appointed to take care of your comforts.”
Hearing this, the Imam replied to Fadhl in two sentences. Imam (A) said, “I don’t have my own money that I can use and I don’t have the habit of asking for it that I may ask you for it.”17
Imam (A) expressed his independence and contentment in these two words and proved that prisons cannot diminish his enthusiasm. Saying this, the Imam got up and started another Prayer with a Takbir (Allaahu Akbar).
“O Lord! Shower blessings on Musa Ibn Ja‘far who was a virtuous successor, a leader of pious, owner of secrets of Divine Light, a dignified personality and owner of a calm heart. He is owner of wisdom and effects of knowledge. Peace be upon that chief who used to remain awake whole night till morning and worship Allah and seek repentance continuously.”18
- 1. Muntahai ul-Amaal, Vol. 2, Pg. 287 and 366.
- 2. Surah Yusuf 12:33-35.
Iblis had told God that he would present evil as good to the people and would lead everyone astray but his tricks would not work on the virtuous servants of Allah. Allah replied him saying,
إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيْسَ لَكَ عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانٌ إِلَّا مَنِ اتَّبَعَكَ مِنَ الْغَاوِينَ
“Certainly, you would not have power over My virtuous servants. Only those who are misguided would obey you.” (Surah al-Hijr, 15:42).
God presented the example of Prophet Yusuf (A) as a virtuous servant saying:
وَلَقَدْ هَمَّتْ بِهِ ۖ وَهَمَّ بِهَا لَوْلَا أَنْ رَأَىٰ بُرْهَانَ رَبِّهِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ لِنَصْرِفَ عَنْهُ السُّوءَ وَالْفَحْشَاءَ ۚ إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُخْلَصِينَ
And certainty she made for him, and he would have made for her, were it not that he had seen the manifest evidence of his Lord; thus (it was) that We might turn away from him evil and indecency, surely he was one of Our sincere servants. (Surah Yusuf 12:24)
Zulaikha intended to commit an evil act in a room where there was no one except her and Prophet Yusuf (A). In such a situation, if Prophet Yusuf (A) had not seen the manifestation of his Lord he would have killed Zulaikha or would have fulfilled her wish because she was an embodiment of beauty and Prophet Yusuf (A) was the owner of God-given elegance.
Also, Prophet Yusuf (A) was young and unmarried and the environment of a closed room encourages evil activities. In spite of all this, prophet Yusuf (A) did not commit an evil deed because he had already seen the proof of his Lord. He was the selected one of Allah and from the group of the virtuous. Hence Allah kept him away from evil. The proof seen by Prophet Yusuf (A) was a result of the good deed of a person and the bad deed of a person. (Islami Aqaid - Qur’an ki nazar mein, Sayyid Murtadha Askari, published by Jame Taalimaat al-Islami, Pakistan) (Rizwani)
- 3. Al-Hikmatul Mutaliyyah fil Asfaar ul-Aqliyyutur Rabaahu, Vol. 7, Pg. 77.
- 4. Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol 45, Pg 133.
- 5. Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol. 78, Pg. 319.
- 6. Irshad, Shaykh Al-Mufid, Pg. 292.
- 7. Irshad, Shaykh Al-Mufid, Pg. 296.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Irshad, Sheikh Al-Mufid, Pg 298
- 10. Irshad, Shaykh Al-Mufid, Pg. 300; Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol. 48, Pg. 207- 221; Muntahai ul-Amaal, Vol. 2, Pg. 337.
- 11. Irshad, Shaykh Al-Mufid, Pg. 300; Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol. 48, Pg. 233; Muntahaiul
- 12. Irshad, Shaykh Al-Mufid, Pg. 301; Muntahai ul-Amaal, Vol. 2, Pg. 341.
- 13. Muntahai ul-Amaal, Vol. 2, Pg. 341.
- 14. Ibid.
- 15. Bihar Al-Anwar, Vol. 48, Pg. 247.
- 16. Al-Muntazim, Vol. 9, Pg. 88.
- 17. Muntahai ul-Amaal, Vol. 2, Pg. 339.
- 18. Mafatih ul-Jinan, Ziarat Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far; Beest Guft r, Pg. 161-173.