7. Success and Failure

Al-Ma'mun's strategic aim had been to make his own caliphate, and the caliphate of the 'Abbasids in general, an expression of the principle of nass in the minds of the Muslims in general, and in the minds of the followers of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) in particular.

This was one of the oldest plans on which 'Abbasid missionary activity (da'wah) and thereafter the 'Abbasid state were based, for among the claims which were the basis of the da'wah and the state was the declaration about the wasiyyah from 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (A) to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, to Abu Hashim 'Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, to 'Ali ibn 'Abd Allah ibn al-'Abbas, to his son Muhammad ibn 'Ali, to Ibrahim, the Imam. Al-Saffah referred to this declaration in his first speech after allegiance was paid to him in Kufah. It was also quoted in Kufah, Madinah, and other places by Dawud ibn 'Ali and various other 'Abbasid leaders.

This was al-Ma'mun's strategic aim. When that was impossible for him to achieve, there was a substitute strategic aim, i.e., to remove the principle of nass as an ideological, doctrinal principle bound to the core of religious belief, and to turn it into a mere political formula devoid of any ideological or doctrinal content - a formula like that of other political and religious groups and parties fighting on the Islamic stage.

This aim of al-Ma'mun is evident in the many debates arranged by him between al-'Imam al-Rida (A) and the many groups of religious scholars, theologians, philosophers, and men of letters. He summarized it in a statement of his to al-'Imam al-Rida (A): "I consider the differences of our Shi'ah concerning that - the legitimacy of rule - to be a result of heresy (hawa) and bigotry."

The first aspect of this aim made use of the unity of the Hashimite house with its 'Alid and 'Abbasid branches, and then its political unity, to make it, in its appearance and meaning, a firmly rooted reality in the mind of the Ummah. The second aspect of the aim tried to, show al-'Imam al-Rida (A) as a political, wordly, and maneuvering figure.

The achievement of this aim enabled political interaction with the principle of nass, and made it possible to make an alliance with it, enter into settlements with it, and to shape it like any other political formula. This was the strategic aim of al-Ma'mun, while the strategic aim of al-'Imam al-Rida (A) was to prevent al-Ma'mun from achieving his objective.

All al-Ma'mun's actions in the issue of succession were directed towards achieving this aim. The negative stand adopted by al-'Imam al-Rida (A) was to frustrate al-Ma'mun's conspiracy regarding the principle of nass while his positive stand was to firmly root the principle of nass in the mind of the Ummah, as it was closely linked to Islamic belief and was not merely a political formula.

We find in the life of al-'Imam al-Rida (A), before and after the fated allegiance, attitudes and statements which illustrate his plan of protecting himself from falling into the trap of al-Ma'mun's plan and which are the signs of confrontation in this silent battle about the strategic aim of each one of them. In what follows, we will present some of these signs. To form a complete or an approximate picture of the efforts of al-'Imam al-Rida (A) in this battle, we need to make a comprehensive examination of all his words and deeds in the legal field and in the field of intellectual guidance.

  1. We come across following statements in history concerning al-Rida's continued rejection and then his acceptance of the heir apparency after al-Ma'mun and his aides began to make death threats: "He accepted the heir apparency, woefully and sorrowfully"; "He was in severe distress and under a great trial"; "He remained saddened and grieved until his death." "He would pray: 'O Allah, if my release (from suffering) lies in death, then hasten the hour for me.' ""He said to one who rejoiced at the ceremony of allegiance: 'Do not rejoice, for it is a matter which will not be accomplished.'"

This is the picture of the Imam's condition as seen by the traditionists and historians after his decision to accept, and these were some of his statements.

In this and similar ways, he expressed his dislike and distaste of this matter, and spread it among the people by speaking and writing of it to his confidants, so that everyone became aware of it. Historians and traditionists have reflected its wide knowledge among the people.

  1. His stand in Neyshapur when he dictated the famous hadith to thousands of religious scholars and traditionists, and to the rest of the people:

"The declaration (kalimah), 'There is no god but Allah', is My stronghold; whoever enters My stronghold is secure from My punishment." Then he (al-'Imam al-Rida) said: "On its conditions (i.e. conditions of the 'kalimah'), and I am one of its conditions."

In this way he made a public announcement, while on his way to the heir apparency, of the principle of nass and his position on it. It is for us to estimate the profound and wide-spread reactions caused among the masses and the political and educated circles by such an announcement.

  1. When he was paid allegiance to as the heir apparent, he stipulated its conditions to al-Ma'mun completely divesting the heir apparency of its power and political content, which al-Ma'mun had hoped al-Rida (A) would exercise so that he could achieve his strategic aim. He imposed the following conditions on al-Ma'mun: "That he would not appoint or dismiss anyone, or abolish a practice, or alter anything in existence, and that he would be an advisor on the matter from a distance."

After being appointed heir apparent, the Imam resisted all attempts of al-Ma'mun to force him into activities of power and draw him into the administrative affairs of the 'Abbasids. The climax of those attempts of al-Ma'mun was his offer to al-Rida (A) to go to Iraq, in order to manage the affairs of the caliphate from there. The conditions laid down by the Imam reflected a profound and comprehensive awareness of the nature of the situation from its objective, ideological and political aspects.

As regards the objective aspect, the 'Abbasid regime was made up of ruling and administrative organizations controlled and linked by a network of alliances which had become corrupt. These organizations and alliances guarded themselves against all intervention from the outside and either absorbed such intervention or destroyed it, or, if that were not possible, removed it. When they were unable to absorb the Imam, they tried to destroy him or remove him from their circle.

As regards the political and ideological aspects, the participation of the Imam would mean his receiving instructions and guidance from al-Ma'mun, and recognizing the latter as "Amir al-Mu'minin" and the legitimate ruler of the Islamic Urnmah. This is what al-Ma'mun wanted in order to achieve his aim of being included in the nass formula so as to apply and regulate it himself, with the Imam as a representative of the political formula with which the existing government would be allied.