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The Greatness of Imam al-Ridha’s (a.s.) Personality in the Words of Dignitaries

Although the status of Imam al-Ridha’s (a.s.) Imamate suffices to become aware of his sublime position, stating part of the words related in this respect would make a great impression on the public minds.

Despite his enmity with Imam al-Ridha (a.s.), the Abbasid Ma’mun, who enjoyed a high status in knowledge and scholarship, has said about Imam al-Ridha (a.s.): “I do not know anyone superior to this man – meaning Imam al-Ridha (a.s.) – on the face of the earth.”1

Jamal al-Din Ahmad b. Nassaba, also known as Ibn ‘Inaba, said, “Imam al-Ridha (a.s.), whose nickname is Aba al-Hasan, was matchless in his own time among the sons of Abu Talib.”2 And Dhahabi, who is famous for his deviation from Ahl al-Bayt (a.s.), said about Imam al-Ridha (a.s.): “He was chief of Bani Hashim in his own time and the most forbearing and the wisest of them all…”3

As one of the notables of his time, Aba Salt Hirawi said, “I have not seen anyone more knowledgeable than ‘Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (a.s.); no scholar saw his holiness unless he would confirm this same witness of mine…”4

Abu Nawas was one of the celebrated poets in Imam al-Ridha’s (a.s.) era. One day one of his friends protested to him why he had not written anything about such a personality as Imam ‘Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (a.s.), despite knowing him. Abu Nawas replied: “I swear by God that his greatness prevented me from this; someone like me is not able to eulogize the like of him.”

Then he wrote a poem, the brief rendering of which is as follows:

“They tell me: How come you, who are a matchless orator, fail to eulogize Imam al-Ridha (a.s.) despite his sublime character? I said, “I cannot eulogize the Imam to whose father Gabriel was a servant.”5

One day Imam al-Ridha (a.s.) came out while riding a nimble mule. Abu Nawas approached him, greeted, and said, “O son of the Prophet! I have composed some poetry; I would like you to hear it.” The Imam said, “Recite it!” Abu Nawas recited three lines of his poetry, including this one:

“Whoever is not ‘Alawi in his lineage,

Does not have any honor from his past.”

The Imam (a.s.) said to his retainer: “How much is remained of our expenditure?” He replied: “Three hundred dinars (every dinar costing a mithqal – equivalent to 5 grams).” His holiness told him to give it to Abu Nawas. When the Imam returned home, he said to his retainer: “Maybe he would regard that amount as little, take this mule to him, as well.”6

  • 1. Al-Irshad, 2/261.
  • 2. ‘Umdat al-Matalib, 198. See: A‘lam al-Hidaya, p. 21.
  • 3. A‘lam al-Hidaya, p. 21.
  • 4. I‘lam al-Wara, 2/64. See: A‘lam al-Hidaya, p. 20.
  • 5. Kashf al-Ghumma, 3/158.
  • 6. A‘lam al-Hidaya, p. 22.