Explore Life of The 8th Imam: ‘Ali Ibn Musa Al-Ridha’(AS)

Explore Life of The 8th Imam: ‘Ali Ibn Musa Al-Ridha’(AS)

Ali al-Rida
عَلِيّ ٱلرِّضَاEighth Imam of Twelver Shi’ism
8th Shia Imam
In office
799 CE (148 AH) – 818 CE (203 AH)
Preceded byMusa al-Kazim
Succeeded byMuhammad al-Jawad
(lit. ’the approved one’)
Bornc. 1 January 766 CE
(11 Dhu al-Qa’da 148 AH)
MedinaHejazAbbasid Caliphate
Diedc. 6 June 818 (aged 52)
(30 Safar 202 AH)
TusPersiaAbbasid Caliphate
Cause of deathPoisoning by Al-Ma’mun
(Shia, some Western sources)
Resting placeShrine of Ali al-RidaMashhadIran
36°17′13″N 59°36′56″E
ReligionShia islam
SpouseSabika (or Khayzuran)Umm Habib bint Al-Ma’mun
ChildrenMuhammad al-Jawad, Hasan as, Husayn as, Ja’far, Ibrahim, Syeda Fatima[3]
ParentsMusa al-Kazim, Najma khatoon, (or Tuktam)
RelativesShahzada Ali al-Akbar, Ali al-Asghar, Syeda Fatima al-Kubra, Syeda Fatima al-Sughra, Syeda Ruqayya.

Early Life and Background

Imam ‘Ali Ibn Musa Al-Ridha’ (AS) was born in Madina on the 11th of Zeeqaad in 148 Hijri (January 1, 766 AD). He passed away in Tus, Iran, on the 17th of Safar in 203 Hijri (May 26, 819 AD). His period of Imamate lasted for 20 years.

His grandfather, Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq (AS), died a month before Imam Ridha’s birth. The family’s grief over the loss of Imam Ja’far was somewhat alleviated by the birth of Imam Ridha. He was raised and educated by his father, Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far (AS), under whose guidance he spent his childhood and youth. Imam Ridha benefitted from his father’s teachings for 31 years until Imam Musa was taken to Baghdad and imprisoned for four years until his death.

Proclamation as Successor

Silver Abbasid dirham, minted at Isfahan in 817 CE, citing al-Ma’mun as caliph and Ali al-Ridha as heir apparent (wali ahd al-muslimin)

Imam Musa Ibn Ja’far foresaw the hostility from the Abbasid rulers and anticipated that his followers might be unable to inquire about his successor. Therefore, while still in Madinah, he gathered seventeen prominent figures from the descendants of Imam ‘Ali (AS) and declared that his son, ‘Ali Ibn Musa (AS), would succeed him. He also wrote a will witnessed by 60 respected elders of Madinah. These arrangements were necessary due to the controversy regarding the Imamate after Imam Musa’s death.

At the age of 35, Imam Ridha assumed the responsibilities of Imamate following his father’s death in Harun al-Rashid’s prison in Baghdad. Despite the oppressive rule of Harun, Imam Ridha continued to administer the Divine Law of Shari’ah as taught by the Prophet and the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt.

Challenges During Imamate

Harun al-Rashid, who ruled for ten years after Imam Musa’s death, was less tolerant of Imam Ridha than he was of his father. Although Harun refrained from harassing Imam Ridha directly, the local governors in Madinah continued their mistreatment of the Prophet’s descendants. Imam Ridha’s movements were closely monitored, limiting his ability to teach his followers openly.

Political Turmoil and Invitation to Khorasan

After Harun’s death, his sons, Amin and Mamun, vied for control of the empire. Amin ruled the Arab part, while Mamun ruled the Persian side. When Amin deposed Mamun, Mamun sought to consolidate his rule by inviting Imam Ridha to Khorasan, hoping to gain the support of the Persian populace who favored the Ahlul Bayt. Imam Ridha left Madinah with his wife and son, Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali al-Jawad (later Imam Muhammad Taqi), entrusting them to the care of his family.

Journey to Khorasan

Imam Ridha’s journey began in Rajab 200 Hijri. He traveled from Madinah to Makka, performed Umra, and then proceeded through the desert of Najd to Basra. From Basra, he crossed into Persian territory, reaching Qum in Zilhijja and spending Muharram in Qum. It was in Qum that Imam Ridha established the tradition of Majlis to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (AS).

After Muharram, Imam Ridha continued to Merv, where Mamun received him with great ceremony. Despite Mamun’s offers, Imam Ridha refused to accept the caliphate, eventually agreeing only to be Mamun’s heir apparent. Mamun declared Imam Ridha as his successor in 201 Hijri, including his name on coins and changing the Abbasid symbol from black to green.

Political Dynamics and Mamun’s Manipulations

Mamun’s appointment of Imam Ridha as his successor was a strategic move to secure support from the Persians. With their backing, Mamun overthrew Amin and became the sole ruler of the Abbasid Empire. However, the Arab faction opposed Imam Ridha’s appointment, leading to political unrest.

Religious Debates and Influence

While in Merv, Imam Ridha participated in religious debates with leaders of different faiths, showcasing his knowledge and spiritual leadership. These debates highlighted the sinlessness of the Prophets and the Imams, increasing Imam Ridha’s influence, which made Mamun uneasy.

Eidul Fitr Incident

During an Eidul Fitr celebration, Mamun requested Imam Ridha to lead the prayers. Imam Ridha agreed on the condition that he would conduct the event as he saw fit. He led the congregation barefoot, with everyone following his example, demonstrating his humility and causing a significant stir. This incident exposed Mamun’s hypocrisy.

Final Days and Death

In 202 Hijri, Mamun decided to return to Baghdad, taking Imam Ridha with him. On the way, Prime Minister Fadl ibn Sahl was assassinated, and shortly after, Imam Ridha fell ill and died in Tus, suspected to have been poisoned by Mamun’s orders. Imam Ridha was buried in Sanabad near Harun al-Rashid’s tomb.

Imam Ridha’s Character and Conduct

Imam Ridha led a simple life despite his high status. He shared meals with his family and servants, emphasizing equality and humility. He often reminded people that nobility came from piety and good deeds, not lineage.

Establishment of Majalis

Imam Ridha established the tradition of Majalis to commemorate the events of Karbala’. These gatherings began in Qum and continued in Tus, spreading the remembrance of Imam Husayn’s martyrdom. Notable poets like Abdallah ibn Thabit and D’bil al-Khuzai recited tragic poems, and Imam Ridha encouraged participation and reflection on the sorrowful events.

Examples of Generosity and Wisdom

Imam Ridha’s life was marked by numerous acts of generosity and wisdom. He once helped a penniless man without making him feel ashamed and emphasized the importance of aiding the poor and needy.

One famous saying of Imam Ridha is, “This world is a prison for a believer and a paradise for the unbeliever.” This reflects the belief that true believers yearn for the afterlife, while those who do not believe are preoccupied with worldly desires, creating their struggles and unhappiness.

Through his life, teachings, and actions, Imam Ridha demonstrated the virtues of piety, humility, and compassion, leaving a lasting legacy for his followers.

Selected quotes of Imam Riza (as):

  • “The sincere friend of every man is his intelligence, while his enemy is his ignorance.”
  • “Worship is not abundant prayer and fasting; rather it is abundant reflecting on the affair of Allah, the Great and Almighty.”
  • “Man is not worshipful unless he is clement.”
  • “Faith is a degree above Islam; fear of Allah is a degree above faith; and nothing less than fear of Allah has been divided among men.”
  • “Faith is four pillars: trust in Allah, satisfaction with Allah’s decree, submission to Allah’s command, and entrusting (affairs) to Allah.”
  • “If one lacks five attributes, do not expect to gain anything good out of him for your life in this world or your life to come: if his lineage is known to be untrustworthy if his nature lacks generosity, if his temper lacks balance, if he lacks a noble conduct, and if he lacks fear of his Lord.”
  • “If only three years of a person’s span of life has remained and he tightens the bond of kin, Allah will make them thirty years, and Allah does whatever He wills.”
  • “Adhere to the weapon of the prophets!” They asked, “What is the weapon of prophets?” He replied, “Supplication.”
  • “A believer’s secret supplication is equal to seventy open supplications.”
  • “Imamate is compulsory for religion and it is a system for Muslims. It is the cause of benefit in this world and dignity for Believers.”


  1.   Madelung 1985.
  2.  Faḍl Allāh, Taḥlīlī az zindigānī-yi Imām Riḍā, p. 44.
  3.  Qummī, Qummī, Muntahī al-āmāl, pp. 1725-1726.
  4.  Rizvi 2006.
  5. a b c d Donaldson 1933, p. 164.
  6.   b c d e f g h Momen 1985, p. 41.
  7. a b c Rahim 2004.
  8.  a b c d Tabatabai 1975, p. 181.
  9.  a b c d e Daftary 2013, p. 60.
  10.  Momen 1985, p. 56.

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