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Al-Mamoon's Inclination Towards Shi'aism

There is a disagreement regarding his school of thought. Some think that he was Shi'a, while others think that he only pretended to be so out of his regard for the feelings of Imam al-Rida (A.S.) and other Alawides while in reality he was otherwise. But his discourses, debates, and his serious method in challenging what was regarded as accepted facts by those who opposed his views, all dispel any doubts regarding his acceptance of Shi'aism. Moreover, there are certain noteworthy measures he undertook which support this view such as his belief that the Holy Qur'an was the Word of God created by Him, and his insistence that scholars and faqihs should indicate and promote this view, so much so that he caused quite a reaction among contemporary Islamic circles to the extent that it was referred to as the ordeal of the Holy Qur'an. His father, al-Rashid, differed from him in this regard. When he heard that Bishr al-Marisi endorsed the concept that the Holy Qur'an was created by God, he said: "If I ever lay my hand on him, I shall strike his neck with the sword."79 Also, he believed in the temporary marriage of mut'a, and he refuted the views of the second caliph in this regard with arguments which have already been recorded by foremost historians. 

Add to all the above his preference of Ali ibn Abu Talib (A.S.) over all other companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his view that Ali was more worthy of succeeding the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) as the caliph. Yet another supporting argument is his serious attempt to make the cursing of Mu'awiya a tradition and enforce it on his subjects; he announced to people once the following: 

"There shall be no pardon for anyone guilty of praising Mu'awiya, and the best of creation after the Prophet (S.A.W.) is Ali ibn Abu Talib (A.S.)."80 

That was in response to Mu'awiya who made the cursing of Ali a tradition which continued during the reign of all Umayyad governments till the days of the caliph Umer ibn Abd al-Aziz who put an end to it in order to safeguard the government of the Umayyads against the disgust people felt towards such ignominous tradition, sympathized with the Alawides, and returned Fedak to them when they requested him to do so. 

Al-Mamoon, in fact, sincerely felt guilty about the crimes his predecessors had committed against the Alawides as a letter he wrote to some Hashemites testified and in which he said: "The Umayyads killed anyone (among the Alawides) who unsheathed a sword, while we, the Abbasides, have been killing them en masse; so, ask the great souls of the Hashemites what sin they committed, and ask the souls of those who were buried in Baghdad and Kufa alive..."81 

Al-Mamoon's inclination towards Shi'aism is the result of many factors of a permanent impact upon his way of thinking, starting with his childhood when a Shi'a educator planted deeply in his soul the allegiance to Ali and the family of Ali (A.S.), and ending with his residence in parts of Khurasan where mostly Shi'as lived. Al-Mamoon himself narrates an anecdote with a moral which taught him to sympathize with Shi'as. It involved an encounter with his father al-Rashid who was very well known for his cruelty, tyranny, arrogance and hatred of the Alawides, especially Imam Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.) whose life he ended with poison. Al-Mamoon states that when Imam Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.) met al-Rashid at Medina, al-Rashid showed a great deal of humbleness before the Imam (A.S.) and a great deal of respect for him to a degree which attracted his own attention; so, he continues to say, "When there was nobody else present, I said, `O commander of the faithful! Who is this man whom you have held with such a high esteem, respected a great deal, stood up to receive, and even seated in the most prominent place while seating yourself in front of him, and you even ordered us to hold the rein of his horse?!' He said, `This is the Imam of the people, the Proof of God's Mercy to His creation (Hujjatullah) and His caliph among His servants.' I asked, `O commander of the faithful! Are not all these attributes yours and fulfilled in your person?' He replied, `I am the Imam of the masses by force and through oppression, while Mousa ibn Ja'fer (A.S.) is the Imam in truth. By God, son, he is more worthy of being the successor of the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) as the caliph than I am and anyone else among the people! By God! If you yourself attempt to take such caliphate from me, I shall take it away from you even if that means pulling your eyes out, for power is blind!'"82 

From all these arguments we can conclude that al-Mamoon was indeed a believer in Shi'aism, convinced of the principles of this school of thought which are based on the preference of Ali (A.S.) for caliphate over all others upon which principle al-Mamoon insisted while debating others. As regarding his conduct with Imam al-Rida (A.S.), his forcing him to be his regent, and his possible assassination, all these fall under the same precept adopted by his father al-Rashid that "power is blind."


79 Tarikh al-Khulafa by al-Sayyuti, p. 284. 

80 Ibid., p. 308. 

81 Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 49, p. 210 as quoted in Ibn Maskawayhi's book Nadeem al-Farid. 

82 'Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 1, p. 88. 

Adapted from: "Imam al-Ridha (a.s.), A Historical and Biographical Research" by: "Muhammad Jawad Fadlallah"

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