Imam Ali b. Musa al-Reda (peace be on him), the eighth Imam of the Twelver Shia, was born on the 11th of Zilqaʿda (the 11th month of the Islamic lunar calendar) in the year 148 AH in Madina.
His honorable father, Musa b. Jafar (peace be on him) is the 7th Imam and his mother, Najma, was a chaste and virtuous woman. His epithet is Abul Hasan and some of his titles are Reda, Sabir (the patient), Zaki (the pure), Wali (the master), etc. Imam Reda (peace be on him) was martyred at the hands of Maʾmun al-Rashid in the year 203 AH at the age of 55. His holy shrine is located in the holy city of Mashhad.
The period of his Imamate lasted for 20 years and was contemporary to three Abbasid caliphs, namely: Harun, Amin, and Maʾmun.
The Moral Conduct of Imam Reda (peace be on him)
Ibrahim b. Abbas narrates: I never saw Imam Reda (peace be on him) persecute anyone in his speech and I also never saw him interrupt anyone’s words before they had finished speaking. He would never turn away a needy person whose needs he could satisfy; he would not stretch his legs in the presence of others; I never saw him disparage any of his servants; his laugh was not a guffaw, rather, it was a smile; when the table was laid, he would seat everyone at his table, even the doorman and more important people and they would eat with him. He would sleep little at night and was mostly awake; he would stay awake most nights in worship; he fasted a lot and would not abandon the fasting of three days in a month; he would give much of charity and perform good acts in secret and would help the poor in the dark of the night in secret.
Academic Debates of Imam Reda (peace be on him)
Imam Reda (peace be on him) participated in many academic debates with scholars of different religions. These debates have been detailed by Shaykh a-Saduq in ʿUyun Akhbar al-Reda and Allama Majlisi within his 49 volumes of Bihar al-Anwar; others have also narrated them. The most important of these debates are the following:
His debates with Jathliq (Christian leader), Raʾs a-Jalut (Jewish leader), Herbes Akbar (Zoroastrian leader), Imran Saeibi (from among the followers of Prophet Yahya (John)), Suleiman Maruzi (a great scholar of theology in Khorasan region), Ali b. Muhammad b. Jahm (a Nasibi, i.e. enemy of the Ahlulbayt), and his debate with the leaders of different sects and religions in Basra.
In his debates, he utilized several methods, skills, and moral approaches together and in the most difficult and longest debates, he used various debating skills and superior methods of communication without falling into the trap of the slightest false or morally wrong argument to advance the argument and discussion to overcome his opponents.
The Islamic Lifestyle According to Imam Reda (peace be on him)
Imam Reda (peace be on him) said to Shah Abdu Azim Hasani (peace be on him): O Abdul Azim, convey my salutations to my friends and tell them: Do not allow Satan into your hearts; be truthful in their speech and return that which others have entrusted them with to their owners. [Tell them] to refrain from futile arguments and disputes that do not benefit them and to maintain silence, to turn to each other and visit and meet one another as this act will bring them closer to me.
Tell them: Indeed, God will forgive the good-doers and forgive the sinners; except those who ascribe partners to God or persecute a friend from among my friends or has enmity for them.
Certainly, God will forgive such a person until he ceases his improper behavior. Whenever they refrain from such wrongdoings, they have returned themselves to be included in God’s forgiveness. Otherwise, the spirit of faith will leave their hearts and they will be out of the domain of our guardianship and mastership and will not benefit from them, and I seek refuge in You [God] from that.
Pilgrimage to Imam Reda (peace be on him)
The intense love and attachment of the believers to the Holy Prophet (peace be on him and his household) and his Ahlulbayt (peace be on them) are among the characteristics and distinctions of the believers; they always love the Ahlulbayt from the depths of their soul and seek to attain their pleasure. It is natural that love for them would have different manifestations and effects in life and pilgrimage to their pure and illuminated shrines is one of the most important of these manifestations. Even there had not been a single narration regarding the virtue of pilgrimage to [the shrines of] the Infallibles (peace be on them), respect for them would have obliged the believers to visit their pure shrines and – apart from expressing their love and devotion – to refresh their souls by bringing them closer to those elevated souls by sipping from the sea of their irreplaceable spirituality and hidden shores.
The Holy Prophet (peace be on him and his household) has stated: A part of me will be buried in Khorasan; no afflicted or sinful person will visit him except that God will remove his afflictions and forgive his sins.
Imam Reda (peace be on him) has stated: One who visits my shrine despite the long distance, I will visit him in three places on the Day of Judgment [to aid him] and will free him from the fear and affliction of those stations: when the Book [of Deeds] will be distributed to the right and left hands, on the Bridge of Sirat and at the Mizan [the time of accounting of deeds].
The Blessings of the Presence of Imam Reda (peace be on him) in Iran
One of the important events that hold a high position in the history of Iran is Imam Reda’s (peace be on him) journey to Iran and his stay in the center of the caliphate, that is, Marv (Khorasan) in the position of the heir apparent. Although this journey was undertaken on the insistence of Maʾmun, the then caliph of the Abbasids; however, in practice, it had brilliant effects and consequences.
One of the productive results of Ali b. Musa’s (peace be on him) duration of stay in Marv was providing the grounds for the growth and expansion of Shiism in Khorasan. The love of the people of Khorasan who were already among the lovers of the household of prophethood increased towards the Ahulbayt (peace be on them) after his presence; such that the shrine of Imam Reda (peace be on him) became one of the important Shiite strongholds in the course of history and had a profound effect on the history of culture, arts, and economy of Iran and Shiism. Without a doubt, the pilgrimage to the graves of the Imams, especially Imam Reda (peace be on him), is one of the best religious values and beliefs of the Shiites and lovers and Shiites have benefitted from it throughout history.
When Imam Reda (peace be on him) entered Iran, many sadat [descendants of the Prophet peace be on him and his household and Imams] also migrated to Iran. Later on, they were pursued by the Abbasids and a great number of them were martyred in different cities and their shrines became Shiite centers and provided the grounds for the spread of Shiite values and beliefs and teachings. One of these is Fatima, famously known as Lady Masouma (peace be on her), the daughter of Imam Kazim (peace be on him) and sister to Imam Reda (peace be on him) who traveled to Iran to visit Imam Reda (peace be on him) and, according to a narration, was poisoned on the way, passed away in Qom, and was buried there.