3. New Distortions, and the Dilemma of the 'abbasid Regime
After the triumph of the 'Abbasids and the realization of their plan, the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) and their companions did not give up their political activity, based on the principle of nass , in the Ummah. Now, they did not only have to deal with the principle of the bay'ah . A new, political concept had entered the scene; it was the notion of 'al-rida min aal Muhammad (S)'. The legitimacy claimed by the 'Abbasids had been acquired on the basis of this formula on the instructions of Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah.
The Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) and their followers faced these new conditions with vigour. A penetrating study of the texts concerning Imamate pertaining to the period following the establishment of the 'Abbasid state will reveal a development in the quantity of these texts, their intellectual and ideological content, and the increased emphasis on the central position of the Imamate in the belief of the Ummah.
The activity of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) and their followers in educating and making the Ummah aware of the political question on the basis of nass , in revealing the fabrications of the 'Abbasid regime regarding the legitimacy of actual leadership, and disclosing the ambiguity which was exploited in the slogan 'al-rida min aal Muhammad (S)' - all that re-awakened the consciousness of the Ummah with regard to the principle of nass and the conception of Imamate.
This education on the one hand, and the injustices committed by the 'Abbasid government on the other, served to nurture an atmosphere of revolution in the Ummah based on the principle of nass. This was often done with the slogan of 'al-rida min aal Muhammad (S)' - the same slogan on whose basis the 'Abbasid state had been established and by which it acquired its legitimacy. This means that the legitimacy of 'Abbasid rule had completely disappeared and the idea of a radical change, instead of one of mere reform, was put forward.
Thus it is evident that the problem which began to seriously trouble the 'Abbasid state regarding the basis of legitimacy of rule was a second political problem resulting from the political and military conflicts within the state between the major forces which formed the caliphal state, as well as the conflicts among the 'Abbasids themselves. From the reign of al-Mansur, in the early stages of their rule, the 'Abbasids had faced the problem of legitimacy with the policy of suppressing the 'Alids by measures unheard of in history. They also employed legal notions to bear upon the political question, such as: 'right' (haqq), 'inheritance' (irth), 'kinship' (qarabah), and priority of paternal cousins over daughter's sons.
Jurisprudence ( fiqh ), speculation, literature and theology were all used in this political battle, and some heretical theological sects emerged which put forward certain concepts and expressions that were employed in it. However, bitter experience had proved that these repressive measures not only failed, but further nourished the propagation and continuance of revolutionary trends which rejected the 'Abbasid regime.
Al-Ma'mun realized the futility of this method in facing the problem caused by the principle of nass . He realized that he could deal successfully with the problem arising from the struggle of factions among the 'Abbasids and the struggle of the major powers in the regime through political and military means. However, he could not deal with the first problem - that of the nass - with the same measures, since it was of a different nature and would not yield to such measures. Political measures would not be of any use, and military measures would only aggravate the problem.
The 'Abbasids were very aware of the ineffectiveness of political measures in this kind of predicament and of the counter-productive effects of military measures. It was enough to recall how the Umayyads dealt with the problem of Khurasan at the beginning of the 'Abbasid revolution, in order to learn a lesson from it.
Al-Ma'mun confronted both the problems together. He continued to deal with the second problem using the customary military and political methods, but he faced the first fundamental issue of legitimacy through an understanding of the nature and method of its treatment. Al-Ma'mun realized that this problem had to be dealt with in a way that was in keeping with its nature. An ideological problem had political effects, so it was not reasonable to treat the effects without treating their cause. The appropriate method should also be ideological. Thus, he conceived the idea of an ideological solution for the ideological problem, and that was to make al-'Imam 'Ali ibn Musa ibn Ja'far (A), called al-Rida, the heir apparent.
The solution was brilliant, for it revived the 'Abbasid da'wah and restored effectiveness and credibility to the slogan "al-rida min aal Muhammad" by embodying it in the person who represented that slogan in the mind of the Ummah. Thus the slogan remained no longer vague or obscure; rather it was now portrayed in a particular person who represented the principle of nass in its complete purity. The brilliance of the idea was that it presented an exemplary solution to the problem, which realized the goal of al-Ma'mun's greatest desire.
On the one hand, it gave legitimacy to the leadership, thus putting an end to the political and ideological problem and legitimating all military and political confrontations with the revolutionary movement. On the other hand, it deferred returning the right (to the Imam of the Ahl al-Bayt [A]), for it was succession and not a transfer of power that was offered. It was doubtful that the heir apparency offered would result in sovereign rule, since al-'Imam al-Rida (A) was twenty-two years older than al-Ma'mun.
The idea was also brilliant since, apparently, it completely altered the balance in al-Ma'mun's favour, for the ideological problem which was earlier than the problem of al-Ma'mun and the 'Abbasid regime now became the problem of the followers of the principle of nass and the figure who was its embodiment: al-'Imam al-Rida (A).