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Imam ar-Ridha's (a.s.) Generosity

In a dialogue with al-Bazanti, the Imam said: "Anyone who receives a boon is in danger: He has to carry out God's commandments in its regard. By God! Whenever God blesses me with something, I continue to be in extreme apprehension till (and here he made a motion with his hand) I take out some of it and spend it in the way God has ordained in its regard." Al-Bazanti asked him: "May my life be sacrificed for yours! You, in your status of high esteem, fear that much?" He answered: "Yes, indeed! And I praise my Creator for the blessings He bestowed upon me."42 

The Imam's generosity and thoughtfulness emanate out of this good aspect of his conviction which depends on the principle of letting others share in the wealth with which God blesses him, and in what blessings and favours He bestows upon him. God's rights in this context are the shares of the needy and the poor in this world whose ability to earn a decent living was hampered by either severe employment conditions, or disability to work due to old age, or because of being left stranded away from their original home, in addition to others who were forced by the necessities of life to stretch their hands to others for help. To ask others is humiliating, for it shatters the dignity of the person who is stretching his hand asking and by his psychological appeal to the breath of humanity in the person he is asking. In this story, the Imam guides us to realize a magnificent fact about the human psychology, that is, to give is not a favour someone does to someone else begging him for help; rather, it is his way of thanking God for the blessings with which He blessed him. The person who is blessed is in danger until he takes out of it the rights in it which are God's. 

The Imam's method in giving is derived from such an angle of the human nature. Eleisha ibn Hamza says: "I was once talking to al-Rida (A.S.) when a large crowd of people assembled to ask him about what is permissible in Islam and what is not. A man as tall as Adam came to him and said: `Assalamo Alaikom, O Son of the Messenger of God! I am a man who loves you, your fathers and grandfathers, and I have just been on my way to perform the pilgrimage when I discovered that I had lost everything with me and now I do not have anything enough even for a leg of the trip. If you will, please help me with the expense of going back home, and I am a recipient of God's blessing (i.e. well to do). As soon as I reach there, I will give to the poor as much as you will give me, for I do not qualify to be a recipient of alms.' He said to him: `Sit, may God be merciful to you,' then he kept talking to people till they dispersed except that man, Sulaiman al-Ja'feri, Khuthai'ama and myself. Then he (al-Rida) said: `Do you permit me to enter (the room)?' Sulaiman said to him: `May God advance your endeavour.'43 So he entered the room and stayed for about an hour after which he came out and closed the door behind him, stretched his hand above the door and said: `Where is the man from Khurasan?' The man answered: `Here I am!' He said: `Take these two hundred dinars, use them for your preparations for the trip; may God bring you blessings thereby, and do not spend an equal amount to it on my behalf, and leave the room in a way that I do not see you and you do not see me,' then he left. Sulaiman then said: `May my life be sacrificed for yours! You have made quite a generous offer, but why did you hide your face?' He answered: `I did so for fear of seeing the humiliation on the face of the man due to my assistance for him. Have you not heard the hadith of the Messenger of God (S.A.W.) in which he said: `The one who hides a good deeds receives rewards equal to performing the pilgrimage seventy times; one who announces his sin is humiliated, while one who hides it is forgiven'? Have you heard the saying of the example of the first case: 

Whenever I approach him, one day, with a plea, I return home and my dignity is still with me. 

for he hides himself from the person who appeals to him when he gives him something so that he does not see the humiliation on his face, and so that the pleading person retains his dignity when he does not see the face of the benevolent one who is giving him?" 

He asks him to leave without seeing him in order to safeguard himself against feeling as having the upper hand over the pleading person, and in order to relieve the pleading person from having to show his gratitude to him. 

While in Khurasan, he once distributed his entire wealth to the poor on the day of Arafat, so al-Fadl ibn Sahl said to him: "Now you are bankrupt!" he said: "On the contrary! I am now wealthier than ever. Do not consider trading my wealth for God's rewards and pleasure as bankruptcy."44 

He does not give others in order to buy their affection or friendship; rather, he considers giving with generosity as a good trait whereby man gets nearer to his Maker by including His servants in the wealth with which He blessed him. This is the difference between his method of giving and the method of others. Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Nawbakhti is quoted saying: 

"A man passed by Abul-Hassan and begged him to give him according to the extent of his kindness. He said: `I cannot afford that.' So he said: `Then give me according to mine,' whereupon he ordered his servant to give the man two hundred dinars."45 

The reason why the Imam abstained from giving the man according to the extent of his own kindness, as the man asked him the first time, is probably due to the fact that he simply did not have as much money as he liked to give. As regarding his own affection towards the poor and the indigent, and his way of looking after them, Mu'ammar ibn Khallad narrates this anecdote: 

"Whenever Abul-Hassan al-Rida (A.S.) was about to eat his meal, he would bring a large platter and select the choicest food on the table and put on it, then he would order it to be given away to the poor. After that he would recite the following verse: `But he hath made no haste on the path that is steep.'46 After that he would say: `God, the Exalted and the Sublime, knows that not everyone has the ability to free a slave, nevertheless He found means for them to achieve Paradise (by feeding others).'"47 

Thus does the Imam sense the weight of deprivation under which the poor moan and suffer; therefore, he shares his best food with them in response to the call of humanity and kindness and in harmony with the spirit of the message with which God entrusted him. 

Al-Bazanti tells the story of a letter Imam al-Rida (A.S.) wrote to his son Imam Abu Ja'fer (A.S.) which personifies the generosity and spirit of giving deeply rooted in the hearts of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.); he says: "I read the letter of Abul-Hassan Imam al-Rida (A.S.) to Abu Ja'fer which said: `O Abu Ja'fer! I have heard that when you ride, the servants take you out of the city through its small gate. This is due to their being miser so that nobody asks you for something. I plead you by the right I have upon you that every time you enter into or get out of the city, you should do so through its large gate, and when you ride, take gold and silver with you, and every time you are asked, you should give. If any of your uncles asks you for something, you should give him no less than fifty dinars, and you yourself may determine the maximum amount you would like to give; and if any of your aunts asks you for something, do not give her less than twenty-five dinars, and it is up to you to determine the maximum amount. I only desire that God raises your status; therefore, keep giving away and do not fear that the Lord of the Throne will ever throw you into poverty.'"48


42 Al Kafi, Vol. 3, p. 502. 

43 Al Kafi, Vol. 4, p. 24. 

44 Al Manaqib, Vol. 4, p. 361. 

45 Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 360. 

46 Al Balad:11. 

47 'Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 264. 

48 'Uyoon Akhbar al-Rida, Vol. 2, p. 8. 

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

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