Imam al-Ridha (as) was martyred on the last day of the month of Safar.
The tenth Infallible and the eighth Imam of the Shi‘a, Imam ‘Ali b. Musa, was named as al-Ridha (as).
Imam al-Ridha (as) was born on Dhu’l-Qa‘da 11, 148/December 29, 765 in Medina. His honorable mother was Tuktam who was also called Najmah.
When the seventh Imam (as) was martyred in Baghdad prison, ‘Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (as) took over the Imamate and leadership of the Muslims as well as the guardianship and promulgation of the Islamic Ma‘arif and truth at the age of 35 by Allah’s command and his noble ancestors’ appointment.
At the beginning of his Imamate, Imam Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (as) was contemporary with Harun al-Rashid and later on with his son, Amin, and finally with Ma’mun.
The holy Imam’s residence was in Medina, wherefrom his holiness later on left for Iraq and Iran.
The Imamate of his holiness lasted 20 years, of which the first 10 years coincided with the caliphate of Harun, the next 5 years with that of Amin and the last part with the caliphate of Ma’mun in Khurasan. His Martyrdom is recorded to have happened in 203/818, indicating that he lived to the age of 55.
After Harun’s death, a severe conflict erupted between his two sons, Amin and Ma’mun, eventually leading to bloody fighting. Amin was killed and an apparent peace was established. This way, Ma’mun could take over the rule and dominate over the Islamic lands.
The Abbasid caliphs were very antagonistic toward ‘Ali (a.s.)’s household, i.e. the ‘Alawi Sadat. Frequent uprisings by the ‘Alawi Sadat would sporadically threaten the ruling system. Although the noble Imams (as) and the real successors of the Holy Prophet (S) would not go along with these uprisings, but the caliphs who had spread out and cherished an aristocratic and hedonistic way of life, were weakened and alarmed by these uprisings.
Followers of the pure Imams (as) who were rapidly increasing in number detested the aristocratic ruling system of the Abbasids and held obeisance to the Infallible Imams (as) as obligatory.
The injustice and tyranny by Harun and other Abbasid caliphs had also caused the Iranians to acquire a very deep and hearty liking for ‘Ali (as)’s household. Among the Abbasid’s atrocities was that Harun had given his governor, Humaid b. Qahtaba, full authority to assassinate the Shi‘as and the followers of ‘Ali (as)’s household wherever he might find them. This ruthless and bestial governor brutally beheaded sixty innocent and respectful Shi‘as in the prison overnight and dropped their bodies down into a well. (Yadbud-i Hashtumin Imam-i Shi‘ayan Imam Ridha ‘Alayh al-Salam, p. 17 (Quoted from ‘Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha, vol. 1, p. 108.)
Similarly, the same governor incarcerated ‘Abd Allah Aftas, Imam al-Ridha (as)’s brother, in the time of Harun and ordered his son, Yahya, to be given a hundred lashes every day although apparently he was granted a respite. And finally, they had Yahya, grandson of Imam Musa b. Ja‘far (as), starved to death and buried his body under the foundation of a building. (Yadbud-i Hashtumin Imam-i Shi‘ayan Imam Ridha ‘Alayh al-Salam, p. 17 (Quoted from ‘Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha, vol. 1, p. 108.) These atrocities made people more disgusted with the Abbasid caliphate.
Although at first it was supposed that the Abbasids were attempting to promulgate Islam and love of and friendship with ‘Ali (as)’s progeny who were their cousins and kin, but gradually and in practice it so happened that the simplicity of the life of the Holy Prophet (S) and the early caliphs, equality, brotherhood, justice, and belief in piety and virtue and the Day of Judgment began to be forgotten and ignored among the Abbasids as it did among the Umayyads before them.
As a result, the pagan beliefs and aristocracy were revived under the guise of pretension as Muslims. Consequently, the noble Imams (as), who followed in the footsteps of the Holy Apostle (S) and their pure ancestors and who were in all instances the advocates of Justice and truth and actualization of the Islamic ideals in the society, were actually living under torture and persecution and under the surveillance of spies and tyrannical rulers of the pretentious Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. Having piety, knowledge and virtue was considered sinful for our great leaders who were greatly envied and hated by the Abbasid caliphs.
Why was Imam al-Ridha (as) Invited to Khurasan?
When Amin was defeated and killed – with the help of Ma’mun’s Persian advocates – the way was paved for his rule. In the era of Harun, Ma’mun who was supposed to accede to the throne after his brother Amin, had already been appointed as the governor of Khurasan. When Amin was driven out of the scene of caliphate, Ma’mun occupied the vacant seat and transferred the center of caliphate from Baghdad to Merv.
In order to add scholarly grandeur and status to his court and on the other hand, reduce voices of dissent from the advocates of ‘Ali (as)’s household and compensate the atrocities he had committed in the past, Ma’mun decided to invite Imam al-Ridha (as) to Merv upon consultation with his close companions, especially Fadhl b. Sahl, a smart man who managed the state and military affairs. Ma’mun asked Imam al-Ridha (as) importunately to go to Merv from Medina.
He had in mind, by this invitation, to reinforce the pillars of his rule and perhaps to discourage the Imam (as)’s position by drawing him to the core of the ruling system. Ma’mun, himself a learned and clever man, was more than anybody else aware of Imam al-Ridha (as)’s vast field of knowledge and piety and virtue. Fadhl b. Sahl, too, knew about the spiritual power of the the Imam (as) and was well-aware that the intuition, purity, and sincerity of the descendant of the Holy Prophet (S) had so widely spread around that people were spiritually prepared to welcome his leadership wholeheartedly.
Having decided to invite the Holy Imam (as), Ma’mun dispatched Raja’ b. Abi Dhahhak along with some trusted courtiers to Medina to persuade Imam al-Ridha (as) to travel to Khurasan. At first, Imam al-Ridha (as) did not give his consent to their invitation, letting people infer what secret and covert plans the ruling system was harboring by inviting him.
Finally, upon much insistence from Ma’mun, Imam al-Ridha (as) agreed to leave for Khurasan through Mecca and Iraq. Imam al-Ridha (as) said a heartrending and distressful farewell to the illuminated tomb of his noble ancestor, the Holy Prophet (S), all members of his family, and even his cherished only-child and successor Imam Muhammad al-Taqi al-Jawad (as).
The luxurious camel-litters and the retinue provided by the ruling system together with the entourage consisting of the governor and the nobles of Medina accompanied the Holy Imam (as) with utmost grandeur and splendor to Basra. How was it possible for Ma’mun, who had decided on killing his brother Amin and bringing his head to the capital to hold a festival for rewarding a bounty to the one who would manage to murder the latter, to renounce caliphate and turn it over to ‘Ali (as)’s household?! It was unbelievable.
However, everything he apparently did in honor and as homage to Imam al-Ridha (as) was a means to boost his own power and glory in caliphate that was actually the plans and plots carried out by the order from his cunning vizier, Fadhl b. Sahl.
At last, the eighth Imam (as), traveling through Basra, Khurramshar, Ahwaz, Arak, Qum, Rey, and Neyshabur arrived in Merv on Shawwal 10, 201/May 1, 817