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Story 23: Festival Prayer

Ma’mun, the Abbasid Caliph, who was intelligent and shrewd, was still in Marw (a part of Khurasan) after defeating and killing his brother, Muhammad Amin. The vast territories of Caliphate at the time were brought under his influence, giving him total domination. He wrote a letter to Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) in Madinah and summoned him to Marw. Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) asked to be excused from going to Marw and gave certain reasons, but Ma’mun did not give up. He started writing letters one after the other until it became clear to the Imam (‘a) that the Caliph would not stand down.

Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) started out on his journey; he left Madinah and arrived in Marw. Ma’mun proposed to him to put him in charge of the affairs of the Caliphate. Realizing the character of Ma’mun, and knowing that this was a purely a political ploy, the Imam (‘a) utterly refused Ma’mun’s proposition. This affair continued for two months; on one hand, insistence from Ma’mun, and on the other, abstention and rejection from the Imam (‘a).

Finally, realizing that his proposal would not be accepted, Ma’mun proposed to make the Imam (‘a) his successor and appoint him as the Crown Prince. The Imam (‘a) accepted this proposal under the condition that the position would be merely ceremonial and he would not have any responsibilities, nor intervene in any government affairs. Ma’mun agreed to this. Ma’mun made people swear allegiance to this and sent letters to different cities, issuing an order to coin and preach in the Imam’s (‘a) name.

The day of the Festival (Eid ul-Qurban, Eid ul-Adha, Festival of Sacrifice) arrived. Ma’mun sent a message to the Imam (‘a) and appealed to him to lead the Eid prayer and pray with the people so that they would be reassured. The Imam (‘a) sent a message stating that it had been agreed that he would not be involved with any official affairs, so he sent his regrets. Ma’mun sent a message in reply, “It is advisable for you to say the Eid prayers so that the question of the status of the Crown Prince would be confirmed.” He insisted so much that the Imam (‘a) finally said, “It would better if you exempt me from this duty, but if I have to go for the Eid prayers, I will perform this Divine Command as the Messenger of Allah (S) and Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a) performed it.” Ma’mun said in reply, “You have full authority. Do as you wish.”

The next morning, on the day of Eid, the army commanders, nobles and dignitaries, dressed in elegant clothes, mounted on adorned horses, and, in conformity with the customs of the Caliphs, attended the Imam’s (‘a) home to take part in the Eid prayer. People from different walks of life prepared themselves, awaiting the glorious entourage of the Crown Prince so as to join the procession and to proceed towards the public place of prayer. A large number of men and women went up on their roofs so that they could view the glory and magnificence of the procession of the Imam (‘a). All were waiting for the Imam (‘a); for the moment when his door would open and the imperial procession would begin.

However, according to the agreement made between his eminence Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) and Ma’mun, the Imam (‘a) would take part in the Eid prayer on the condition that he (‘a) would perform the prayer in the same manner as the Messenger of Allah (S) and the Imam Ali (‘a) did, and not as the Caliphs did.

Early in the morning, the Imam (‘a) performed the spiritual ablution (ghusl), dressed in a white turban whose edges lay on his chest on one side, and between his shoulders on the other. He was bare-footed and had rolled up the edge of his garment and told his friends and relatives to do the same. He took a walking stick, fixed a ferrule (metal cap) on its end, and he emerged from the house, with his friends and relatives.

In accordance with the Islamic tradition in those days, he proclaimed in a loud voice, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great).” The multitudes recited with him the same words (zikr), proclaiming in such harmony, earnestness and emotion that one would have thought these words were coming from the heavens, the earth and everywhere in between. The Imam (‘a) stopped for a while in front of the door of his house, reciting in a loud voice this supplication:

لله اكبر، الله اكبر، الله اكبر على ما هدانا، الله اكبر على مارزقنا من بهيمه الانعم، الحمدلالله على مابلانا

The crowd in unison repeated this oration in a loud voice and in harmony. This impassioned their senses and they cried bitterly and shed tears.

The commanders of army and the officers in uniform, riding on their horses, boots on their feet, imagined that the Crown Prince would appear in accordance with the Monarchic protocol, dressed in luxurious clothes and riding a horse. When they saw the Imam (‘a) barefoot, in modest attire and with full attention towards Allah, they raised their voice and recited the oration of Allahu Akbar with such a degree of emotion, inundated with tears that they dismounted from their horses and took off their boots without any hesitation and joined the Imam (‘a) in his procession.

In a rush to take off their boots, whoever found a knife started cutting the bootlaces and not to delay to undo that deemed himself luckier than others.

No sooner did the news spread among the public, then the whole city of Marw was filled with wailing, lamentation, sensation, emotion and indictment. Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) made a salute after taking ten steps, proclaiming the greatness of Allah (Allahu Akbar) four times while the crowd joined him in a loud voice with lamentation and emotion. Joy and a manifestation of sense and reality had aroused peoples’ senses which made them so excited that all the artificial glories and material symbols they had expected disappeared from their thoughts. The crowd in unison moved towards the public place of prayer with fervour and enthusiasm.

The news reached Ma’mun. His advisers told him, “If this situation carries on any longer, and Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Al-Ridha’ (‘a) reaches the public place of prayer, there will be danger of a revolt.” Ma’mun became scared of this situation and began trembling. He sent a message promptly to the Imam (‘a) requesting him to come back, saying that he feared the Imam (‘a) might be injured or disturbed. The Imam (‘a) asked for his shoes and his clothes. Putting them on, he returned to Ma’mun and said, “I told you before not to insist and to excuse me from this act!”1

  • 1. Bihar ul-Anwar, v. 12, p. 39. (Attitudes of Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a)).