In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate --
Salaam everybody and heartiest congratulations to you on the occasion of a very auspicious day. Today all eyes on focus on Mashhad, the capital of Iran's Khorasan Province in the northeast.
The city wears a festive look. It has been bedecked with flowers and colourful fluorescent lights in honour of the person who reposes in eternal peace in the magnificent golden-domed mausoleum in its midst. It is the birth anniversary of this great man, who happens to be the 8th Infallible Successor of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny). He is none other than Imam Reza (PBUH), whose shrine makes Mashhad the holiest spot in Iran, and where millions of devotees have assembled today.
"And when his Lord tested Abraham with certain words and he fulfilled them, He said: "I am making you the Imam of mankind." Said he, 'And from among my descendants?' He (God) said: "My pledge does not extend to the unjust."
What you heard was ayah 124 of Surah al-Baqarah which informs us of the unique status bestowed by the Almighty upon Abraham, although he was already a Great Prophet. He was being made an Imam or Leader of mankind. In other words, the Heavenly Scripture means to tell us that the "Imam" is not any ordinary "Leader", as some might misinterpret. Neither is it a position conferred by fallible human beings on any of their ilk. If such was the case the All-Wise Creator would never have used explicitly clear words to Abraham's request for continuation of this honoured status among his offspring by making it clear that the "unjust", not necessary tyrants but even those who commit the slightest error, are never the trustees of God. To be more precise, in the words of the person whose birthday we are celebrating today in the Islamic Republic of Iran as culmination of the Ten-Days of Munificence that began on the 1st of the sacred month of Zil-Qa'da on the birth anniversary of his esteemed sister:
"The Imamate is the rank of the Prophets and the heritage of the Successors of the Prophet. The Imamate is the representation of God the Majestic and His Messenger (Prophet Mohammad – SAWA), the position of the Commander of the Faithful (Imam Ali – AS), and the vicegerency of (the Imams) Hasan (AS) and Husain (AS)."
Thus spoke the Prophet's 8th Infallible Successor in a lengthy but lively discourse to remove any doubts about the Leadership of mankind of which, as one of the impeccably just descendants of Abraham the Iconoclast, he was the divinely-decreed recipient. As the country wears a festive look with all roads leading to the holy city of Mashhad where the sprawling shrine has been bedecked as a bride for the occasion, let us cast a glance at the words and position of Imam Ali ar-Reza (PBUH).
Born in Medina in the year 148 AH, within a fortnight of the martyrdom of his illustrious grandfather Imam Ja'far as-Sadeq (PBUH) – the Reviver of the Prophet's Jurisprudence – his forced coming in 201 to Merv (presently in the modern republic of Turkmenistan), not only backfired on his hypocritical enemies, but transformed for good the land of Iran, where over 70 years earlier the Abbasid usurpers had misused the people's natural tendencies for the Ahl al-Bayt to hijack the caliphate. The crafty caliph Mamoun 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.
The caliph failed, as miserably as his equally unjust predecessors had, in his plot to confront the holders of the divine trust of Imamate. Earlier in Medina, following the martyrdom of his father, Imam Musa al-Kazem (AS) in the dungeon of the tyrant Haroun Rashid in Baghdad 18 years ago, Imam Reza (AS) had been Helmsman of the Ark of Salvation or Safinat an-Nejat, as the Prophet had called his Ahl al-Bayt. For all strata of society, he had been a Beacon of Guidance or Misbah al-Huda to quote the Prophet again regarding the Ahl al-Bayt. This had unnerved Mamoun and hence Imam Reza (AS) was brought to distant Merv. It is outside the scope of this brief radio programme to dwell on the memorable events of the last two years of the 8th Imam's life in Khorasan, such as the famous incident of the Eid al-Fitr Prayer, the miracles he performed, the narration of the Hadith Silsalat az-Zahab at Neyshabour, and the debates with scholars of different denominations of Muslims and of other religions and philosophical schools of thought, to convince them of the truth of pure and pristine Muhammadan Islam.
The convincing discourses of Imam Reza (AS) on a wide variety of topics and his clearing of doubts made the non-Muslim religious leaders as well as the intellectuals priding on the new sciences, to realize their own waywardness in the face of the rationality of genuine Islam. His knowledge was God-given and covered every topic under the sun. It ranged from spiritual and cultural issues to the realm of science. There is at book attributed to the 8th Imam in the medical field titled Tibb ar-Reza. It has been translated into several languages and contains important prescriptions and valuable guidelines including cure for different ailments and proper dietary and hygienic habits.
Once when a Christian Archbishop insisted that Jesus (AS) was the ‘son’ of God, the Imam explained the absurdity of such a belief by saying Jesus (AS) was a Prophet, since the Almighty Creator is far glorious to have human characteristics and the need for a son. The latter challenged him to prove this from the Bible. The Imam pointed to the Gospel of St. John where Jesus gives tidings of the Prophet to come after him. The Archbishop was amazed at the Imam’s mastery of the Christian scriptures, but still stuck to his belief by pointing to the miracle of Jesus in reviving the dead. The Imam said that such miracles were also performed by the Will of God by other Divine Messengers including the Last and the Greatest of them all, Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny). The Archbishop felt enlightenment in his heart, acknowledged the truth of Islam and became a Muslim.
Since today is the birthday of the Imam, we also prefer to leave out his martyrdom through a poisoned bunch of grapes by Mamoun. To be brief, the following excerpts of his lengthy and lively discourse in Merv on Imamate and the position and characteristics of the Imam, by citing several ayahs of the Holy Qur'an on God's unique trust to Abraham and on the divinely-decreed leadership of Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, and others, present to us a clear picture of the actual successors of the Almighty's Last and Greatest Messenger, Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny). Here is what Imam Reza (AS) has to say about the position of Imamate in Islam:
"The Imam is the head of the religious affairs, the system of the Muslims, the virtue of the world, the bastion of believers… The Imam legalizes whatever God decrees legal, forbids whatever God decrees illegal… The Imam is like the shining sun whose light covers the whole world while it stands erect in the horizon and neither sights nor hands can catch it… The Imam is the Trustee of God on His land and creatures, the argument of God towards the creation, the vicegerent of God in His land, the inviter to God, and the protector of the sanctities of God… The Imam is immune from sins, free of defects, endowed with exclusive knowledge, characterized with forbearance… The Imam is unique in his time. No one can catch up with him and no scholar can amount to him. There is no substitute for him…"
Congratulations once again on the auspicious birth anniversary of Imam Reza (PBUH).