Imam Musa ibn Ja’far al-Kazim, the son of the sixth Shiite Imam, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, and a distinguished woman, Hamidah, was born in Abuwa, a small city on the outskirts of Medina in 128 A.H. (745 AD). Imam al-Rida (a) and Fatima Masuma are among his children whose pious mother was named Najma.
Holy Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, according to the command God and the dictates of the Prophet, appointed his son to Imamate and leadership, and introduced him to the people as such. Holy Imam Musa al-Kazim was a very wise and chaste man. His knowledge and wisdom was divine and heavenly, and his worship and piety were so much that he was named Al Abd Us-Salih, which means God’s righteous creature, or servant.
He was extremely patient and forebearing, and endured many hardships in order to guide the people, and forgave their wrongs and errors. If a person, due to his ignorance, annoyed Imam by his unpleasant behavior he would suppress his anger and, with love and kindness, would guide that person. For this reason he was called Kazim, for “Kazim” means a person who suppresses his anger and doesn’t quarrel or speak harshly.
There are many reports about Imam al-Kazim’s (a) generosity in Shiite and Sunni sources. Al-Shaykh al-Mufid believed that the Imam (a) was the most generous man of his time who secretly took provisions and food to the poor in Medina overnight. Ibn ‘Inaba said about Musa ibn Ja’far’s (a) generosity: he left home overnight with bags of dirhams and gave them to every person in need whom he met. His bags of dirhams were well-known among the people at the time. It is also said that Musa ibn Ja’far (a) was also generous to those who bothered him, and whenever he learned that someone was seeking to bother him, he sent gifts to him. Al-Shaykh al-Mufid has also considered Imam al-Kazim (a) as persistent on silat al-rahim (family ties).
It was widely known that Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far had been given powers of healing. Once he was passing by a house and heard little children weeping. He enquired as to why they were crying. He was told that they were orphans and their mother had just died and now they had no one to look after them. He went inside the house, made two prostrations and prayed to God for her life. Moments later the woman stood up well and in good health.
Imam al-Kazim’s (a) life coincided with the peak of the Abbasid caliphate. He practiced taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation) with regard to the government. However, in his debates and dialogues with Abbasid caliphs and others, he tried to question the legitimacy of the Abbasid caliphate.
Some debates and dialogues between Musa ibn Ja’far (a) and some Jewish and Christian scholars have been reported in sources of history and hadiths. His dialogues with the scholars of other religions have been collected in Musnad al-Imam al-Kazim, some of which have been transmitted by People of Consensus. He also expanded the Wikala network (the network of deputyship), appointing people as his representatives or deputies in different areas. His life also coincided with some divisions within Shiism as well. At the beginning of his imamate, Isma’iliyya, Fatahiyya, and Nawusiyya were formed, and after his martyrdom, the Waqifiyya came to existence.
The seventh Imam was contemporary with the Abbasid caliphs, Mansur, Hadi, Mahdi and Harun. He lived in very difficult times, in hiding. During his imamate, Imam al-Kazim (a) was repeatedly summoned and imprisoned by Abbasid caliphs, until Harun went on the hajj and in Medina had the Imam arrested while praying in the Mosque of the Prophet. He was chained and imprisoned, then taken from Medina to Basra and from Basra to Baghdad where for years he was transferred from one prison to another. Finally he was martyred in Baghdad in the Sindi ibn Shahak prison through poisoning, in 183 A.H. (799 AD).
Prominent Sunni figures honored the Seventh Shiite Imam as a religious scholar and visited his grave along with the Shi’as. Imam al-Kazim’s (a) resting place and the mausoleum of his grandson, Imam al-Jawad (a), are located near Baghdad and is known as the Shrine of Kazimayn. It is visited by Muslims, and in particular, the Shi’as.