7. Success and Failure:
Al-Ma'mun's strategic aim had been to make his own caliphate, and the caliphate of the 'Abbasids in general, an expression of the principle of nass in the minds of the Muslims in general, and in the minds of the followers of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) in particular.
This was one of the oldest plans on which 'Abbasid missionary activity (da'wah) and thereafter the 'Abbasid state were based, for among the claims which were the basis of the da'wah and the state was the declaration about the wasiyyah from 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A) to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, to Abu Hashim 'Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, to 'Ali ibn 'Abd Allah ibn al-'Abbas, to his son Muhammad ibn 'Ali, to Ibrahim, the Imam. Al-Saffah referred to this declaration in his first speech after allegiance was paid to him in Kufah. It was also quoted in Kufah, Madinah, and other places by Dawud ibn 'Ali and various other 'Abbasid leaders.
This was al-Ma'mun's strategic aim. When that was impossible for him to achieve, there was a substitute strategic aim, i.e., to remove the principle of nass as an ideological, doctrinal principle bound to the core of religious belief, and to turn it into a mere political formula devoid of any ideological or doctrinal content - a formula like that of other political and religious groups and parties fighting on the Islamic stage.
This aim of al-Ma'mun is evident in the many debates arranged by him between al-'Imam al-Rida (A) and the many groups of religious scholars, theologians, philosophers, and men of letters. He summarized it in a statement of his to al-'Imam al-Rida (A): "I consider the differences of our Shi'ah concerning that - the legitimacy of rule - to be a result of heresy (hawa) and bigotry."
The first aspect of this aim made use of the unity of the Hashimite house with its 'Alid and 'Abbasid branches, and then its political unity, to make it, in its appearance and meaning, a firmly rooted reality in the mind of the Ummah. The second aspect of the aim tried to, show al-'Imam al-Rida (A) as a political, wordly, and maneuvering figure.
The achievement of this aim enabled political interaction with the principle of nass, and made it possible to make an alliance with it, enter into settlements with it, and to shape it like any other political formula. This was the strategic aim of al-Ma'mun, while the strategic aim of al-'Imam al-Rida (A) was to prevent al-Ma'mun from achieving his objective.
All al-Ma'mun's actions in the issue of succession were directed towards achieving this aim. The negative stand adopted by al-'Imam al-Rida (A) was to frustrate al-Ma'mun's conspiracy regarding the principle of nass while his positive stand was to firmly root the principle of nass in the mind of the Ummah, as it was closely linked to Islamic belief and was not merely a political formula.
We find in the life of al-'Imam al-Rida (A), before and after the fated allegiance, attitudes and statements which illustrate his plan of protecting himself from falling into the trap of al-Ma'mun's plan and which are the signs of confrontation in this silent battle about the strategic aim of each one of them. In what follows, we will present some of these signs. To form a complete or an approximate picture of the efforts of al-'Imam al-Rida (A) in this battle, we need to make a comprehensive examination of all his words and deeds in the legal field and in the field of intellectual guidance.
1. We come across following statements in history concerning al-Rida's continued rejection and then his acceptance of the heir apparency after al-Ma'mun and his aides began to make death threats: "He accepted the heir apparency, woefully and sorrowfully"; "He was in severe distress and under a great trial"; "He remained saddened and grieved until his death." "He would pray: 'O Allah, if my release (from suffering) lies in death, then hasten the hour for me.' ""He said to one who rejoiced at the ceremony of allegiance: 'Do not rejoice, for it is a matter which will not be accomplished.'"
This is the picture of the Imam's condition as seen by the traditionists and historians after his decision to accept, and these were some of his statements.
In this and similar ways, he expressed his dislike and distaste of this matter, and spread it among the people by speaking and writing of it to his confidants, so that everyone became aware of it. Historians and traditionists have reflected its wide knowledge among the people.
2. His stand in Neyshapur when he dictated the famous hadith to thousands of religious scholars and traditionists, and to the rest of the people:
"The declaration (kalimah), 'There is no god but Allah', is My stronghold; whoever enters My stronghold is secure from My punishment." Then he (al-'Imam al-Rida) said: "On its conditions (i.e. conditions of the 'kalimah'), and I am one of its conditions."
In this way he made a public announcement, while on his way to the heir apparency, of the principle of nass and his position on it. It is for us to estimate the profound and wide-spread reactions caused among the masses and the political and educated circles by such an announcement.
3. When he was paid allegiance to as the heir apparent, he stipulated its conditions to al-Ma'mun completely divesting the heir apparency of its power and political content, which al-Ma'mun had hoped al-Rida (A) would exercise so that he could achieve his strategic aim. He imposed the following conditions on al-Ma'mun: "That he would not appoint or dismiss anyone, or abolish a practice, or alter anything in existence, and that he would be an advisor on the matter from a distance."
After being appointed heir apparent, the Imam resisted all attempts of al-Ma'mun to force him into activities of power and draw him into the administrative affairs of the 'Abbasids. The climax of those attempts of al-Ma'mun was his offer to al-Rida (A) to go to Iraq, in order to manage the affairs of the caliphate from there. The conditions laid down by the Imam reflected a profound and comprehensive awareness of the nature of the situation from its objective, ideological and political aspects.
As regards the objective aspect, the 'Abbasid regime was made up of ruling and administrative organizations controlled and linked by a network of alliances which had become corrupt. These organizations and alliances guarded themselves against all intervention from the outside and either absorbed such intervention or destroyed it, or, if that were not possible, removed it. When they were unable to absorb the Imam, they tried to destroy him or remove him from their circle.
As regards the political and ideological aspects, the participation of the Imam would mean his receiving instructions and guidance from al-Ma'mun, and recognizing the latter as "Amir al-Mu'minin" and the legitimate ruler of the Islamic Urnmah. This is what al-Ma'mun wanted in order to achieve his aim of being included in the nass formula so as to apply and regulate it himself, with the Imam as a representative of the political formula with which the existing government would be allied.
The conditions laid down by al-Rida (A) had frustrated al-Ma'mun's plan. We believe that al-Ma'mun did not expect these conditions, for the success of his plan depended on the Imam entering the network of the alliances of power and becoming entangled in its problems and hostilities. This would result in people making accusations against him and directing their anger towards him, thus tarnishing his pure and sacred image among them. In this way al-Ma'mun would achieve his aim of transforming the formula of nass, if he could not be included in it, into a mere political formula, and he would display the Imam as a worldly person and political maneuverer. Al-'Imam al-Rida (A) had avoided falling into this trap by setting these conditions, which transformed him from being a partner of al-Ma'mun - as the heir apparency made necessary - to being a witness against him and one of his victims.
4. In his speech made before al-Ma'mun and important state officials, influential people, notables from among the leaders of public opinion, and others after the Imam was paid allegiance to as heir apparent, the Imam (A) confined himself to saying:
We have a right over you through the Messenger of Allah, and you have a right over us through him; so if you have fulfilled that (our right) towards us, we must (fulfil) the right towards you.
The substance of this statement was repeated in many of his replies and discussions, like his comparison of his own and al-Ma'mun's positions to those of the Prophet Joseph and the king of Egypt, and like his statement:
Whosoever follows the Messenger of Allah is entitled to receive from him.
5. His many letters and discussions in which he constantly affirmed the formula of nass, of which is a letter about the articles of faith which he had written in answer to a request from al-Ma'mun:
The Imam is the proof of Allah over His creation and the source of His knowledge, and obedience to him is incumbent.
These are some examples of his statements and actions with which he confronted al-Ma'mun's plan, and a researcher will certainly come across many others. In order to clarify this and other issues in the life of al-'Imam al-Rida (A), it would be very useful to examine, classify and analyze all the legislative and instructive texts which originated from him during the heir apparency, and to compare them with those which pertain to the period before it. That will reveal new aspects of this luminous and noble life.
The statements and actions with which the Imam (A) confronted al-Ma'mun's plan in order to achieve his strategic aim, together with the reasons for acceptance, led to the following results:
a. They firmly established the formula of nass in the mind of the Ummah.
b. They created an opposition within the regime on an ideological, political and popular level (we can regard the popular sentiments, expressed during the incident of the prayer of the festival ('Id) as an indication of this phenomenon).
c. They led al-Ma'mun to adopt a defensive attitude, for he felt that the principle of nass would have a popular reaction in society.
We will give an important example of the extent of actual influence that al-'Imam al-Rida (A) had on a public level. During the public outburst following the death of al-Fadl ibn Sahl and the attack of the commanders and troops on al-Ma'mun's residence, the latter took refuge from them and asked the Imam (A) to intervene and save him. The Imam came out to meet them and instructed them to disperse, which they did. A historical report describes this scene: "He approached the people and by Allah, they fell over each other, and he did not signal to anyone except that he ran and continued (running) and did not stop."
This incident shows the strong influence which the Imam had over the commanders and troops and those who were with them, despite the fact that in accordance with the conditions that he had laid down he did not intervene in any matter related to political authority so that he might be an object of hope or fear on that account. Thus, he was influential due to a cause which was not political or governmental but ideological, i.e., the belief in the nass and the obedience which that entailed.
Al-Ma'mun realized through his political experience that the appearance of these reactions demanded an end of this experiment, the experiment of heir apparency. He discovered that he had failed to realize his strategic aim as regards nass and that it was the Imam who had been victorious in this field. So he preferred to be content with the achievements of his immediate and urgent aims, before there was a reaction to the Imam's victory regarding nass. This would have created an irredeemable situation, in which the caliphate of al-Ma'mun and the 'Abbasids would have fallen into turmoil and swept away in a revolution which upheld the banner of nass in its purity.
Thus, he ended the allegiance of death by poisoning al-'Imam al-Rida (A).
In this way, al-'Imam al-Rida (A) became another one of those for whom Allah seeks retaliation (tha'r) in the battlefield between Islam and error. Tears were shed for him, hearts grieved for him, and he became an excellent model for those striving in the way of Allah and the oppressed.
When we see the similarity between al-'Imam al-Rida's acceptance of the heir apparency and al-'Imam al-Hasan's (A) acceptance of it, and then the similarity between al-'Imam al-Rida's acceptance of the allegiance of death and the decision to embrace martyrdom by al-'Imam al-Husayn (A), we are in the final stage of the study. When estimating the effects on Islamic society during the era of al-'Imam al-Rida (A), of its immediate and urgent aims, and the greater goals of the Islamic movement in the history of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A), we also see a resemblance between the acceptance of heir apparency by the Imam and the treaty of Hudaybiyyah. The Messenger of Allah (S) complied with the offer of the Quraysh - just as al-Rida (A) accepted al-Ma'mun's offer - which amazed many of his companions, angered others, and was accepted by those among them who possessed awareness. Some saw in the action of the Messenger of Allah (S) a granting of undeserved concessions to the Quraysh, but the outcome of the treaty of Hudaybiyyah was a victory, in the near future, of the strategic objectives of Islam. The acceptance of the heir apparency resulted in a victory, in the near future, of immediate and urgent aims, and of the strategic objective of al-'Imam al-Rida, in view of his being the guardian of Islam.
The former was one of the battles of Islam against disbelief (kufr) on the level of revelation (tanzil), and the latter was one of the battles of Islam against disbelief on the level of interpretation (ta'wil).
May Allah's blessing be on al-'Imam al-Rida (A) and his fathers and his descendants, the pure, among the former people and the latter. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.