Martyrdom Salaam, and heartfelt condolences to you on the sad martyrdom anniversary of Imam Reza (AS), the 8th Infallible Successor of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA). Today the last day of the month of Safar, which according to an account is the day when this great tragedy occurred in Khorasan, northeastern Iran, happens to be the last day in Iran of the two-month period of annual mourning for the Chief of Martyrs, Imam Husain (AS).
The martyrdom of Imam Reza (AS) occurred in the year 203 AH, and the Prophet's righteous successor was the victim of an intricate plot by Mamoun, the self-styled caliph of the usurper Abbasid dynasty, who in a bid to legitimize his illegal rule, forced the 8th Imam, under threats to accept being his heir apparent. But when the Imam's popularity grew among the masses, the terrified Mamoun, had the Imam poisoned to death. There are several reasons behind Mamoun's intricate plot to force Imam Reza (AS) to come to Khorasan from Medina.
The crafty Mamoun, after killing his own brother, Amin in Baghdad and seizing the caliphate, thought that by removing Imam Reza (AS) from the centre of gravity of the Muslim World and by keeping him under the watchful eye of the court in faraway Merv, with the honourific title of 'Heir-Apparent', he could kill two birds with one stone.
On one hand, he hoped to isolate the Imam from the Ummah – albeit in a diplomatic way. On the other hand, he surmised that the luxury of court life would taint Imam Reza (AS), thereby tarnishing once and for all the unsullied image of the Imamate among the followers of the Prophet's Household.
In order to understand the underlying cause for the acceptance of Imam Reza (AS) to become the heir apparent, we must look for the answers on two levels. Firstly, what might have happened if he did not accept, and secondly, what was his aim when he did accept? The answers are that if he had not accepted Mamoun's proposal, his life would have been in danger. Not that the Imam was afraid of death, but at such a juncture, his death would open the door wide for tribulations for the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt who would then have no refuge or guide. It was also possible that the Imam's rejection of the caliph's offer, might have led Mamoun's enemies to exploit the situation, which would have added to the stormy revolutionary reactions on the Islamic scene at that time. Moreover, Mamoun's overthrow was in the interests of the hardline Abbasids, the party of Amin, with their antagonistic attitude towards the 'descendants of the Prophet and their hatred of the Iranians.
The followers of the Ahl al-Bayt at that time did not have the ability to take over the government and replace Mamoun after his downfall. It was possible that the Imam's refusal might have led to a wide-ranging propaganda against him, to the effect that he had let a valuable opportunity pass by. This in turn might have led to confusion and disarray among the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt, who would have been subjected to persecution, exile, and intimidation. The inevitable question would have been raised in this dilemma: 'Why didn't he accept when the caliphate was offered to him?, instead of 'why did he accept?'
Finally, had Imam Reza (AS) insisted on refusing the offer, wouldn't Mamoun have been able to find a substitute from the other less worthy descendants of the Prophet? For instance, an important member of society, from among the Zaydis who were prepared for such an undertaking, would have been possible for him. If this occurred, it was certain that the results would have been totally negative, and no new positive achievements would have been realized for the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt.
Thus by his acceptance, the 8th Imam was able to get in touch with people who would not have dared to communicate with him, had he not been the heir apparent. He gathered around him the Murji'ites, the Ahl al-Hadith, the Zaydis, the Ahl al-Sunnah and all other sects.
Moreover, he got the opportunity to openly debate with the leaders of other religion and schools of thoughts, such as the Christians, the Jews, the Zoroastrians, the Hindus, and the Atheists – all of whom were defeated in the spectacular debates. The result was the emergence of an intellectual society with the intellectual leadership of the Ahl al-Bayt to communicate and interact, freely and safely, with all classes of people.
The 8th Imam's wise move established the popularity of the Ahl al-Bayt, as is evident by many instances, such as the incident of the Eid al-Fitr Prayer in Merv. When Mamoun asked him to lead the prayer, the Imam at first declined, but upon insistence agreed to perform as per the practice of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA). On the day of the Eid, the Imam dressed in a simple white garb started his walk on foot towards the Mosalla with a staff in his hand. On seeing the Imam, proceed this way, all the military and civilian officials dismounted from their horses, took away their boots and accompanied him. Every few moments the Imam would halt and say Allah-o Akbar in a loud voice. The people echoed his call of God's Majesty and joined him in such great numbers that the whole city began to reverberate with Allah-o Akbar. This made Mamoun fearful and he sent as emissary to ask the Imam to return without performing the prayer. Imam Reza (AS) gladly obliged, mounted a horse and returned to his residence. The people became more angry with Mamoun, and this made him bitter about having nominated the Prophet's Heir as his heir apparent. Mamoun now secretly resolved to martyr Imam Reza (AS). While returning to Baghdad from Marv, he halted in Tous, where he gave the Imam a bunch of poisoned grapes to eat. The Imam declined, but was forced to taste some of them. As a result he was martyred, and laid to rest in the place called Sanabad, which became known as Mashhad ar-Reza or the Martyrdom Place of Imam Reza (AS).
Today it is simply known as Mashhad, and the 8th Imam's magnificent golden-domed shrine is visited by millions of people from all over Iran and the world. This is proof of the Imam's wise move and the triumph of the path of Ahl al-Bayt over the enemies of God.