Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was born on 7th Safar in 128 AH/745 AD. He was the son of Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a), and his mother was Hamida Barbariyya.1
Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) name was Musa, but he was called Al-Kadhim for his tolerance and forbearance. From an early age, Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (‘a) displayed all signs of divinely inspired knowledge and understanding. His father Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) used to emphasize his son’s status and often encouraged his companions to ask the young Al-Kadhim (‘a) questions to show his dignity to be his successor.
Like the other Imams (‘a), Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was known for his qualities that resembled the Prophet’s (S), including his piety, worship, and his patience towards those who treated him poorly.
Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) had on several occasions announced Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) as his successor to his reliable companions2, in accordance with the Prophet’s (S) mention that Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was the seventh Imam (‘a).
The governance during Imam Al-Kadhim’s time (‘a)
Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) lived under four different Abbasid caliphs:
1) Abu Ja’far Mansoor (136 AH/754 AD – 158 AH/775 AD)
2) Muhammad Ibn Mansoor Mahdi 3435 (158 AH/775 AD – 169 AH /785 AD)
3) Musa Ibn Mahdi Hadi (169H/785 AD – 170 AH/786 AD)
4) Haroon Rashid (170 AH/786 AD – 193 AH/809 AD)
Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) lived during a time when the Abbasid regime had stabilized. Therefore, he was held in strict surveillance. The Abbasids deceived the people by creating a revolution with the aim of giving back the rule to Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a), but once they had won, they did not keep their promise. They were very afraid that the people would rise up and take power from them because they had not kept their promise. The Abbasids knew of Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) popularity among the people and therefore wanted to limit the Imam’s (‘a) contact with the people.
Mansoor Abbasi was terrified that the people would revolt and remove him from the regime. He was suspicious of Shi’a Muslims and Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) close followers. As such, they faced many difficulties and were at risk of being killed. They were persecuted and had to conceal their faith. Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) had to hold a politically withdrawn role, which was the reason Al-Mansur did not imprison him. Since Al-Mansur was busy building Baghdad, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) still had the opportunity to teach Islam and spread narrations by the Prophet (S).
Mahdi Abbasi came to governance after his father paving the way by diminishing any opposition. Therefore, he was given a greater possibility to surveil and persecute Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a). Despite his efforts to do otherwise, the Imam’s (‘a) knowledge and reputation spread throughout the Muslim empire. This made the caliph more concerned about the influence of Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) and kept the Imam (‘a) under strict surveillance.
The caliph summoned Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) to Baghdad for questioning on numerous occasions as he grew fearful that the followers of Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) would rebel. The Imam (‘a) had no plans to partake in the uprisings. Yet he was held under arrest a number of times under the accusation that he was responsible for certain turbulences, even though there was no evidence present to support such claims.
Hadi Abbasi was a young and arrogant caliph who did not live long. Despite his short life he still managed to mass murder Imam Ali’s (‘a) descendants, inter alia the Fakh massacre, which befell the oppressed descendants of Imam Ali (‘a) who rebelled. The caliph suspected that Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was behind the uprising and called him in for questioning. It was confirmed that the Imam (‘a) had no involvement in the matter and was therefore released. Hadi Abbasi was soon killed on the orders of his own mother and power fell into the hands of his brother Haroon Rashid.
Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) spent most of his time in prison under Haroon Rashid’s rule. Under this rule, Shi’a Muslims were persecuted the most, and Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was subjected to the cruellest treatment. Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) position vis-à-vis Haroon’s rule differed from the other caliphs. Haroon’s tyranny made Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) openly show his opposition. Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) forbade his followers from associating or cooperating with the regime. The only exception was the cases were co-operating with the government could prevent injustice towards the people. An example of this was Ali Ibn Yaqtin, who was Haroon’s minister but at the same time, a supporter of Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a). He had to conceal his faith in order to continue operating in the ranks of power and prevent the oppression that was being committed.
Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) opposition to Haroon’s rule made him known as a defender of justice and became even more popular among the people. This worried Haroon. Haroon feared Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) profound knowledge, along with with his courage to confront Haroon without the slightest fear, and the ever-increasing number of admirers spreading around the world. Therefore, under Haroon Rashid’s order, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) spent most of his remaining life in several prisons.
Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was arrested in the midst of his prayer near the Prophet’s (S) tomb in the mosque year 179 AH/796 AD. When the people of Medina received the news of the Imam’s (‘a) imprisonment, Haroon Rashid grew fearful of an imminent revolt. He ordered two different caravans to go in different directions in order to hide where Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was being escorted to. Finally, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was taken to and imprisoned in Basra. After being imprisoned there for a year, news spread of the Imam’s (‘a) whereabouts and Haroon Rashid became, yet again, afraid of an uprising. He asked Basra’s governor to kill the Imam (‘a) to get rid of the threat. The governor fearfully refused and did not view the Imam (‘a) as a harmful threat. On the contrary, he had seen the holiness of the Imam (‘a) as the Imam (‘a) spent his time in prison in prayer and fasting. Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) used to ask God for forgiveness and mercy for himself and all Muslims.
Furthermore, the Imam (‘a) had acted with such kindness and compassion towards the prison guards that many of them became his followers. The situation grew to such an extent that the governor and guards felt bad by imprisoning such a person. The governor excused himself and asked Haroon Rashid to transfer the Imam (‘a) to another prison.
Under the order of Haroon Rashid, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was moved to Baghdad and imprisoned in the house of Fadhl Ibn Rabi’, one of Haroon Rashid’s ministers. By having the Imam (‘a) in the home of one of his ministers, Haroon Rashid was trying to avoid that the Imam’s (‘a) arrest is viewed by the public as a direct form of detention.
Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) spent his time in his new prison in worshipping God, fasting, sojood and invocation. Fadhl Ibn Rabi’ who closely watched Imam Khadhim (‘a) was overwhelmed by the greatness and the way of life of the Imam (‘a) and eventually became a great follower.
Haroon Rashid knew that the Imam (‘a) was admired and loved by all the people he met and therefore he personally supervised his captivity to ensure that the Imam (‘a) had a hard and tough time. The situation worsened for the Imam (‘a) who constantly showed patience despite the cruel treatment he had to endure. Yet in the end, Haroon was again forced to give orders for the Imam (‘a) to be moved.
Fadhl Ibn Yahya soon realized what an extraordinary personality Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was. Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) had suffered a lot of pain, but he still met the prison guards with magnanimity and good behaviour. The morals and strong faith of the Imam (‘a) caused the hard hearts of his prison guards to soften, by this the Imam (‘a) continued his divine mission in spreading the light of guidance. When Haroon Rashid failed to stop the influence of the Imam (‘a) from behind the bars of yet another prison, he could not stand it anymore and decided to get rid of the Imam (‘a). Haroon Rashid ordered Fadhl to kill the Imam (‘a). Fadhl refused and was punished with a hundred whips.
Finally, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was sent to jail and was detained by Sindi Ibn Shahik, who was responsible for Haroon Rashid’s police force in Baghdad. This time the aim was to kill Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a). Sindi was a tyrant without conscience. He put Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) in deep dungeons and tortured him. Ultimately, he poisoned Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a), who became a martyr alone in the darkness of prison in 183 AH/799 AD.
Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was in prison during the last 19 years of his life. Meanwhile, his Shi’a was scattered around the world, either as the Imam’s (‘a) official representatives or chased and displaced. They spread from Arabia to Egypt, Iran, Iraq and even to India. In this way, many of Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) supporters came to other areas of the world, and Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) school and mannerism spread despite the enemies’ brutal plans.
At the beginning of Mansoor’s reign, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) had greater freedom to spread knowledge. Additionally, the Imam (‘a) spread the message by holding academic debates. Additionally, by not cooperating with the government, he showed the people that it was an illegitimate government. As a result, people’s confidence in it diminished. The Abbasids tried to legitimize their rule by proclaiming their lineage to the Prophet (S), whereby Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) would show that he was the one with the closest relation to the Prophet (‘a). In one instance, Haroon Rashid visited the Prophet’s (S) graved and uttered “Peace be upon you O cousin”, whereupon Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) greeted the Prophet (S) with “Peace be upon you O father”.
Another instance where Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) propagated the truth was when Abbasid caliph Mahdi claimed that he wanted to waive the oppression of former rulers and therefore wanted to return Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) property to their rightful owner. Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) requested Fadak, which after being returned to Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) for a short period was again seized by later caliphs. The Abbasid caliph, who wanted to gain public support, asked Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) about the boundaries of Fadak to determine its size whereupon the Imam (‘a) set boundaries that covered the whole empire.4 By doing so, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) proclaimed the basis on which Fadak had been seized from the beginning. He proved that the whole empire was in fact under seizure as it had been deprived of its rightful leaders, namely the Imams (‘a) of the Prophet’s (S) family.
Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) knowledge and good reputation were widely known throughout the Muslim empire, which troubled the Abbasid regime. Albeit the fact that the Abbasids had risen under the slogan to support Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) reclaim their right from the Umayyads. As the Abbasids consolidated their power and seized the kingdom, they reinstated tougher surveillance and action against Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was supervised, arrested and eventually imprisoned several times and forced to spend a large part of his life in prison. By keeping the Imam (‘a) imprisoned, the Abbasids attempted to cut off Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) from his followers and reduce his influence to secure their own power and position.
When the Abbasids were in practice seen to follow the same path as their predecessors, dissatisfaction among the people rose, and several uprisings took place. The Abbasid caliphs who were afraid of Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) influence among the people constantly accused the Imam (‘a) of being behind the uprisings that ensued. The Imam (‘a) was closely guarded and often summoned to the caliphs with these accusations. In order not to arouse the anger and commotion of the people, during the times the Imam (‘a) was held under arrest, the caliphs used to officially pretend that the Imam (‘a) was called in as a guest. The Imam (‘a) was held captive in the houses of ministers and other prominent figures. Eventually, however, Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) was imprisoned in deep, dark dungeons and tortured until he was poisoned under Haroon Rashid’s order.
The sects that had been formed during the time of Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a), where his sons were considered to be the succeeding Imams, were strengthened by the Abbasids and therefore the members of these sects did not believe in Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) leadership.
The Abbasid caliphs imprisoned Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a), which meant that the Imam’s (‘a) followers did not have access to him. They could neither visit nor see him for long periods of time, and had extremely limited opportunities to contact the Imam (‘a) or receive anything from him. It was unlike previous Imams (‘a), where although they were kept in house arrest or isolation, people could still see them, even if from a distance. However, people could not even see Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) with the ensuing covert prison transfers schemed by the caliphs. This was something the Shias had not experienced before.
Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) knew that he would be forced to be away from his followers and therefore expanded the system of representatives established by his father Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a). This was done by sending his companions to various areas as his representatives. The Imam (‘a) saw the need for a wider and more independent operating network as the governing power tried to isolate him from his followers. Eventually, the Imam’s (‘a) representatives were scattered throughout the empire. They were mainly located in the most important areas and cities including Kufa, Baghdad, Egypt, Kandahar, Neyshaboor and Ahwaz. In this way, they were available to the people while being protected from the Abbasids.
The preceding Imam’s (‘a) preparatory work laid a foundation, step by step, preparing the Shi’a Muslims to the challenge of a hidden Imam. Imam Al-Sadiq’s (‘a) students had been equipped with a structured school of thought whilst being educated to become pious scholars whom other people could trust and turn to in the Imam’s (‘a) absence. The regime at the time encouraged inventive ideologies that led people astray. However, the Imams (‘a) had presented Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) school in such a way that the truth shone brightly for those who read, reflected and drew conclusions based on the guidelines the Imams (‘a) had left behind. These scholars could, therefore, represent Imam Al-Kadhim (‘a) more independently without having to see him.
In parallel, the Imam (‘a) maintained contact with his representatives but also other companions via the exchange of letters to the extent possible. Through these letters, the Imam (‘a) answered more difficult questions regarding religious laws and religious beliefs, but also questions concerning his representatives. In doing so, the Imam (‘a) presented his representatives, reaffirmed his support for them and, where required, removed them from their positions. In this way, the Imam’s (‘a) indirect presence and his control over the network were confirmed.
- 1. Hamida Barbariyya is known by that name when she was from the Berber people and belonged to this indigenous people from Northern Africa. She is also known as Hamida Andalusiyya and therefore may have had roots from Andalusia, today’s Spain. Hamida came to have a very prominent position and Imam Al-Baqir (‘a) testified his daughter in-law’s acclaimed personality in this world and next. Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) testified to his wife’s piety and she was one of his main companions and whom he would refer to answer questions. Imam Al-Sadiq (‘a) also named Hamida as one of the five trusted representatives he left behind. Hamida had initially been a slave and taken in by Ahl Al-Bait (‘a).
- 2. Some of these occasions and the words of the Imam (‘a) in the question are described, among other things in Al-Kafi volume 1 s 307-311; Bihar Al-Anwar volume 48 s 12-29; Al-Irshad volume 2 s 216-222; A’lam Al-Wara volume 2 s 7-16 et al.
- 3. Note that this Abbasid caliph, like many others, was named with the same name as the Imams (‘a) and the Prophet (S) had proclaimed and named during their time. In fact, this was one of the Abbasid rulers’ propaganda ploy to direct the people’s attention to themselves, to buy legitimacy by showing themselves as the Prophet’s (S) followers, to assert themselves as kind to Ahl Al-Bait (‘a) and if possible use their kinship to the Prophet (S) to create confusion among the people as to who the actual Imams were.
- 4. This event is narrated in Tahdhib Al-Aḥkam by Sheikh Al-Tusi volume 4 p.149; Hayat Musa Ibn Ja’far by Qorashi p.472 et al.