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A Session of Al-Ridha’ (a.s.)’s Debate With The Prominent Theologians

12-1 Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Ahmad al-Ilaqi - the jurisprudent from Qum - may God be pleased with him - narrated that Abu Muhammad Al-Hassan ibn Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Sadaqa al-Qumi quoted on the authority of Abu Amro ibn Muhammad ibn Umar ibn Abdul Aziz Al-Ansari al-Kajji, on the authority of Al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Nowafali al-Hashemi, When Ali ibn Musa Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) went to see Al-Ma’mun, Al-Ma’mun ordered Al-Fadhl ibn Sahl to summon the prominent theologians from among the rhetoricians and the religions such as al-Jaseliq (the Catholic Archbishop), the High Rabbi, the Hindu High Priest, followers of Zoroaster,1 Nestus the Roman medical scientist, and the rest of the theologians in order to hear their words, and those of Al-Ridha’ (a.s.). Al-Fadhl ibn Sahl gathered them together (in Al-Ma’mun's palace), and then he informed Al-Ma’mun about the meeting. Al-Ma’mun granted them permission to enter and received them with hospitality and honor.
Then he presented before them what he intended to do by saying, “I have gathered you for (a.s.omething) good and want you to have a debate with my cousin from Medina, who will come to me. Come to me tomorrow morning. None of you should be absent.”
They said, “O Commander of the Faithful! We listen and obey you. God willing, we will be here first thing in the morning.”
Al-Nawfali said, “We were talking to Abil Hassan (a.s.) when Yasir - the servant who was in charge of serving Abil Hassan (a.s.) entered and told him, “O my master! Indeed the Commander of the Faithful expressed his greetings to you and said, May your brother be your ransom! Indeed the chief scientists, scholars from all religions and masters of speech from all nations have all gathered together here with me. Would you like to come to us and have a discussion with them? If you do not wish to do so, do not bother yourself. Even if you prefer, we do not mind coming to you. Then Abul Hassan said, “Express my greetings to him and tell him that I understand what you mean. God willing, I will come to you myself tomorrow morning.”
Al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Nawfali said, ‘When Yasir went out, the Imam (a.s.) turned to me and said, ‘O Nawfali! You are an Iraqi, and an Iraqi’s heart is not hard. So, what do think is your cousin’s intention in setting up a meeting between me and the pagans and scholars?”
Al-Nawfali answered, “May I be your ransom! He wants to test you, and wants to know how much knowledge you possess. He has, indeed, based his assumption on shaky grounds. By God, what he has set up is dangerous.”
The Imam (a.s.) asked, “And what has he set up?”
Al-Nawfali said, “The theologians and the heretics are different from the scholars. That is because a scholar does not deny the undeniable, whereas rhetoricians, theologians, and polytheists are people who deny things and try to prove what is not true. If you argue with them and tell them that God is One, they would say, 'Prove His Oneness’, and if you say that Muhammad (a.s.) is the Messenger of God, they would say, 'Prove his Prophethood.' May I be your ransom! They confuse you and make you disprove your own proofs. They continue these false accusations until you back off.”
Al-Nawfali added, “Then the Imam (a.s.) smiled and told me, ‘O Al-Nawfali! Do you fear that they will disprove my argument?’”
Al-Nawfali said, ‘No, by God! I have never worried about you, and I hope that God willing, God will make you victorious over them!’
The Imam (a.s.) asked again, ‘O Nawfali! Would you like to know when Al-Ma’mun will feel regretful?’ He answered, ‘Yes.’ The Imam (a.s.) said, ‘When he (al-Ma’mun) hears me argue with the people of the Torah quoting their own Torah, with the people of the Gospel quoting their own Gospel, with the people of the Psalms quoting their own Psalms, with the Zoroastrians arguing in their Persian language, with the Romans in their own Latin, and with the rhetoricians using their very own rhetoric. So, if I close the avenues of argument in the face of each arguing party and disprove his claim, making him renounce his statement from its onset and referring to my own statement, then Al-Ma’mun will realize that he has not achieve what he aspires to achieve. It is then that he will feel regretful. And there is no strength save in the Highest, the Almighty God.’”
On the following day, Al-Fadhl ibn Sahl went in a hurry to see the Imam (a.s.) and told him, “May I be your ransom! Your cousin is waiting for you. The people have gathered together. When will you go to him?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “You go ahead. God willing, I will come to you.” Then he (a.s.) made ablutions for praying, drank something, ate some soup with us and we all left. Then we reached Al-Ma’mun’s palace. The meeting was full of people. Muhammad ibn Ja’far, some of the Talibites and the Hashemites, and the Commanders of the Army were amongst those present.
When Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) entered, Al-Ma’mun stood up. Muhammad ibn Ja’far and all the Hashemites who were present there stood up for him. The Imam and Al-Ma’mun sat down while all the people were still standing, until Al-Ma’mun ordered them to sit down. Al-Ma’mun talked to the Imam (a.s.) for a while. Then Al-Ma’mun turned to the Catholic Archbishop and said, “O Catholic Archbishop! This is my cousin Ali ibn Musa ibn Ja'far (a.s.). He is one of the children of (the Blessed Lady) Fatima (a.s.) - the daughter of our Prophet (S) - and Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). I would like you to have a debate with him and be fair with him.
The Catholic Archbishop said, “O Commander of the Faithful! How can I argue with a man who argues with me using a Book which we have denied and a Prophet whom I do not believe in?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “O Christian! Will you accept it if I present proofs from your Gospel?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “How could I reject what the Bible speaks about? I swear to God that I will accept it even if I dislike it.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “Ask whatever you wish to ask and receive your answer.”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “What is your opinion about the Prophethood of Jesus (a.s.) and his Book? Do you deny either one of them?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “I admit to the Prophethood of Jesus (a.s.), his Book, and what he advised his nation to do- which his disciples accepted. However, I reject the Prophethood of any Jesus who has not professed the Prophethood of Muhammad, his Book and what he (a.s.) advised his nation to do.”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “Aren't precepts proved through two just witnesses?”
The Imam (a.s.) said, “Yes.” The Catholic Archbishop said, “Therefore, name two witnesses other than the people of your own nation and ones whom Christianity does not reject to testify to the Prophethood of Muhammad. Likewise, ask us a similar thing from people other than our own nation.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O Christian! Now you are speaking fairly. Do you accept a just person who was given preference (over others) by the Messiah - Jesus (a.s.): the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “Who is the just one? Name him for me.”
The Imam (a.s.) said, “What is your opinion of John al-Daylami?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “Bravo! Bravo!” You have mentioned the person loved the most by the Messiah.”
TheImam (a.s.) said, “Then I ask you to swear to and tell me whether or not the Bible says that John says, ‘The Messiah has informed me of the religion of Muhammad, the Arab, and has given me the glad tidings about him who will be (a Prophet) after him. Therefore, I gave the glad tidings of him to the disciples and they believed in him.’”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “John did quote this from the Messiah. He did give the glad tidings of a man who will be a Prophet, his Household and his Trustees. He has not clarified when this will happen and has not named them so that we may know who they are.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “If we bring someone here who can recite the Bible and he recites to you Muhammad's name, his Household, and his nation, will you believe in him?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “What a sound suggestion!”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) turned to Nestus the Roman and asked him, “Have you memorized the third Book of the Bible?”
He answered, “I have thoroughly memorized it.” Then the Imam (a.s.) addressed the Catholic Archbishop and said, “Can you recite the Bible?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “Yes, of course.”
The Imam (a.s.) said, “Then I will recite to you (a.s.ome verses from) the third Book. If Muhammad (a.s.), his Household, and his nation were mentioned in it, then bear witness! And if they have not been mentioned therein, then do not bear witness.” Then the Imam (a.s.) recited to him some of the verses of the third Book until he (a.s.) reached the reference to the Prophet (S). He stopped reading and said, “O Christian! I challenge you to swear by the Messiah and his mother. Have you realized that I have knowledge of the Bible?” He replied, “Yes.”
The Imam recited to him some verses from the third Book concerning the reference to the Prophet, his Household and his community. Then the Imam (a.s.) said, “O Christian! What do you think now? These are the words of Jesus: the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.). If you deny what the Bible says, then you will deny Moses (a.s.) and Jesus (a.s.). If you deny them, then it is incumbent (upon the people) to kill you since you have blasphemed against your Lord, your Prophet and your Book.”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “I do not deny the clear things in the Bible, rather I profess them.”
The Imam (a.s.) asked others who were present, “Bear witness that he professed.”
Then the Imam (a.s.) told the Catholic Archbishop, “O Catholic Archbishop! Ask me any other questions that you wish to ask.”
The Catholic Archbishop asked, “What about the disciples of Jesus (a.s.): the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.)? How many were they? And tell me about the scholars of the Bible. How many were they?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “You have found the expert! As for (the number of) the disciples, they were twelve men. The best and the most learned of them was Aluqas (Luke). As for (the number of) Christian scholars, there were three men: John (Yohanna), ‘the greatest’, John at Qriqisiya, and John - the al-Daylami at Zijar, who made reference to the Prophet Muhammad (S). It is he who gave the good news to the nation of Jesus and the Children of Israel about the Prophet Muhammd.”2
The Imam (a.s.) added, “O Christian! By God, we believe in the Jesus who believed in Muhammad (a.s.). We have nothing against Jesus (a.s.) except for his weakness and the paucity of his fasting and prayer.”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “By God, you have corrupted your knowledge! Your affair has become weak! I thought that you were the most learned of the Muslims!”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) asked, “Why?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “Since you said that Jesus was weak with little fasting and praying, while Jesus never broke fasting by day and never slept at night. He always fasted during the day and prayed at night.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “For whom did he fast and pray?” The Catholic Archbishop did not answer, not knowing what to say.
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “I want to ask you a question.” The Catholic Archbishop said, “Ask. I will respond to you if I know the answer.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Why do you deny that Jesus (a.s.) gave life to the dead with the Honorable the Exalted God’s permission?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “I denied that before, since whoever gives life to the dead and heals the blind and the leprous is a lord worthy of being worshipped.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Well. Indeed al-Yasa (Elija) did just as Jesus (a.s.) did. He walked on water, gave life to the dead, and healed the blind and the leprous. Why did his nation not adopt him as a Lord? Why did not anyone worship him as a god other than God?”
The Prophet Hezqeel (Ezekiel) (a.s.) did just what Jesus (a.s.) did. He gave life to thirty-five men sixty years after their death.” Then the Imam (a.s.) turned towards the Catholic Archbishop and told him, “O Catholic Archbishop! Have you found the following about some of the youth of the Children of Israel in the Torah? When Bukht Nasr (Nebuchadnezzar) invaded Jerusalem, he chose from amongst the Children of Israel who were enslaved and took them with him to go to Babylon. Then the Honorable the Exalted God dispatched al-Yasa' for them and he gave life to them. This (a.s.tatement) is in the Torah. No one but an atheist would deny it.”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “I have heard about this and know it.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “That is right.”
Then the Imam (a.s.) said, “O Jew! See if I read the following Book of the Torah properly.” The Imam (a.s.) then recited some of the verses from the Torah for us. The Jew who was surprised hearing how the Imam (a.s.) was reciting the Torah kept moving his body. He then faced the Christian and asked, “O Christian! Were these before Jesus (a.s.) or was Jesus (a.s.) before them?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “They were before him.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “(People from) the Quraysh (tribe) gathered around God's Messenger Muhammad (a.s.) and asked him to give life to their dead. He (a.s.) sent along Ali ibn Abi Talib with them and told him, “Go to the cemetery and loudly call the people about whom they have asked, Say, “O so-and-so, so-and-so, etc.” Tell them, “God’s Messenger Muhammad (a.s.) says, ‘Rise with the permission of the Honorable the Exalted God!’ Then they will all arise and brush off the dust from their heads.” The people from the Quraysh tribe walked towards them and asked them about their affairs. They told them that Muhammad was appointed as a Prophet. The people who had risen from the dead said, “We wish we had lived in his age and believed in him!”3 The Prophet healed the blind, the leprous and the insane. He spoke with the beasts, the birds, the jinn, and Satan. Still, we do not adopt him as a Lord other than God. We do not deny the nobilities of any of these Prophets. But you who have adopted Jesus (a.s.) as a Lord, so then is it permissible for you to adopt al-Yasa and Hizqeel as two Lords, for they did just as Jesus (a.s.): the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.) did - acts such as giving life to the dead and else?
Moreover, thousands of the Children of Israel left their homeland in fear of death due to plague. God made them die immediately. The people of the village built a fence around them, and left them there until their bones decayed. One of the Prophets of the Children of Israel passed by. He was amazed when he saw many decayed bones. The Honorable the Exalted God revealed to him, “Would you like Me to bring them to life so that you can admonish them?” The Prophet (S) said, “Yes, Lord!” Then the Honorable the Exalted God revealed to him, “Then call them.” He said, “O decayed bones! Rise with God’s permission.” They all rose while brushing off the dust from their heads.”
Also Abraham - the friend of God the Merciful (a.s.) - took the birds, cut them into pieces, and put each piece on a mountain top. He called out to them and they came towards him. Moses the son of Imran (a.s.) and seventy of his companions whom he had chosen went to the mountain. They told Moses (a.s.), “You have seen God, then show Him to us.” Moses (a.s.) told them, “I have not seen Him.” But they said, ‘…We shall never believe in thee until we see Allah manifestly…’4
A thunderbolt struck them, and burnt them all up. Only Moses (a.s.) survived. Moses (a.s.) said, “O my Lord! I chose seventy men from among the Children of Israel and brought them to the mountain. Shall I return by myself? How shall my people believe what I must tell them? ‘If it had been Thy will Thou couldst have destroyed, long before, both them and me: wouldst Thou destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us?5’ ’’
Then the Honorable the Exalted God gave life to them after their death. You cannot deny all these things which I have told you, for the Torah, the Bible, the Psalms of David and the Quran have mentioned them. If all those who gave life to the dead, healed the blind, the leprous and the mad were adopted as Lords other than God, then you should also adopt them as Lords. O Christian! What is your opinion?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “Yes. You are right. There is no god but God.”
Then the Imam (a.s.) turned towards the High Rabbi and told him, “O Jew! Turn to me. I swear to you by the Ten Commandments which were sent down to Moses (the son of Imran) to tell me whether or not there exists the following statement about the Prophet Muhammad and his nation in the Torah, “When the people of the last nation whose followers are the Rider of the Camel who extremely glorifies the Lord - new glorifications in new churches (implying mosques), then let the Children of Israel flee towards them and their dominion so that their hearts may be tranquil, since there will be swords in their hands with which they will take revenge on the unbelievers around the globe.” Is this not written in the Torah?” The High Rabbi said, “Yes, we have found that written in this manner.”
Then the Imam (a.s.) asked the Catholic Archbishop, “O Christian! How is your knowledge of the Book of Sha'ya?” He answered, “I know it letter by letter.” Then the Imam (a.s.) asked them both, “Do you know that the following statement is made by him?, ‘O people! I have seen the picture of the Rider of the Donkey. He was wearing gowns of light. And I have seen the Rider of the Camel - who is as bright as the moon.’” They answered, “Indeed Sha'ya did say that!”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O Christian! Do you know that Jesus (a.s.) said, ‘I am going to my Lord and your Lord, and the Paraclete is coming who shall testify to my truth just as I testified for him, and he shall explain everything to you, and he shall be the one to expose all the sins of nations, and he shall be the one to smash down the pillars of unbelief?’” The Catholic Archbishop said, “We accept whatever you cite from the Bible.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “O Catholic Archbishop! Have you found this established in the Bible?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “Yes.” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O Catholic Archbishop! When you lost the first Bible, with whom did you find it?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “We only lost the Bible for one day. Then we found it fresh (in its original state). John and Matthew brought it back to us.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) asked him, “How little your knowledge of the Bible and its scholars is! If what you say is right, then why is there so much dispute amongst you with each other about the Bible? The reason is that there is controversy lies in the Bible which is in your hands today. Had it been the same as the first Bible, there would no disputes over it. However, I will clarify this for you myself. Know that when the first Bible was lost, the Christians gathered around their scholars and said to them, ‘'Jesus (a.s.): the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.) has been killed, and we have lost the Bible. You are the scholars. What do you have?’ Luke, Mark and John told them, ‘We have memorized the Bible. Do not worry about it. Do not forsake the churches. We will recite each Gospel of the Bible for you on each Sunday until we put it all together.’ Then Luke, Mark, John and Matthew gathered together and put together this Bible after you had lost the first one. These four students were of the first students. Did you know that?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “I did not know this before. Now I have learned it from you due to your noble knowledge of the Bible. I heard things which you knew from you - things which my heart testifies to be the truth. Therefore, I have gained a much better understanding.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “How do you consider what they bear witness to?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “I completely accept whatever they say is right and bear witness to it.” Then Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told Al-Ma’mun and those of his family and others who were present, “Be witnesses to this.” They said, “We witness to that.”
Then the Imam (a.s.) told the Catholic Archbishop, “I swear by the Son and his Mother6 to tell us whether you know that Matthew said the following, ‘The Messiah is the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the son of Jacob, the son of Yehuda, the son of Khadrun.’ Mark said the following regarding the lineage of Jesus (a.s.): the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.), ‘He is God’s Word placed in the human body. So it turned into the human form.’ Moreover, Luke said, ‘Jesus the son of Mary and his mother were humans made of flesh and blood. Then the Holy Spirit entered into them.’ You also testify that Jesus had said the following about himself, ‘O disciples! I will tell you the truth. No one will ascend the heavens, except for him who descends therefrom, except for the Rider of the Camel - the Seal of the Prophets, for he will ascend the heavens and then will descend there from.’ What do you have to say about that?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “These are the words of Jesus (a.s.). We do not deny them.” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “If so, what do you say about the testimonies of Luke, Mark and Matthew regarding Jesus (a.s.) and the lineage they attributed to him?”
The Catholic Archbishop said, “They ascribed lies to Jesus (a.s.).”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O people! Did he not just bear witness that they (Luke, Mark and Matthew) are the Scholars of the Bible and that what they say is the truth?” The Catholic Archbishop said, “O Scholar of the Muslims! I would like you to excuse me from discussing about these men.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Fine. I will excuse you from that. O Christian! Ask me whatever you wish to ask.” The Catholic said, “Let someone else ask you questions. By Jesus (a.s.), I did not think that there was a scholar like you among the Muslims.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) turned towards the High Rabbi and said, “Will you ask me questions or should I ask?” The High Rabbi said, “I will ask. However, I will not accept any proofs from you except those from the Torah, the Bible, the Psalms of David, or the Scriptures of Abraham and Moses.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Do not accept any of my proofs unless they are from the Torah as expressed by Moses (a.s.) - the son of Imran (a.s.), the Bible as expressed by Jesus (a.s.): the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.), or the Psalms of David as expressed by David (a.s.).”
The High Rabbi said, “How can you prove the Prophethood of Muhammad (a.s.)?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Moses (a.s.) - the son of Imran, Jesus (a.s.) - the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.) and David (a.s.) - the Vicegerent of God on the Earth have testified to his Prophethood.”
The High Rabbi said, “Provide evidence of the testimony of Moses the son of Imran.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “O Jew! Do you know that Moses said the following to the Children of Israel, ‘A Prophet will come to you from among your brethren. Believe in him and obey him.’ Do you know that the Children of Israel have no brethren other than the Children of Ishmael? Do you know about the ties of kinship between Israel and Ishmael and the relationship that existed between them from the past through Abraham (a.s.)?” The High Rabbi said, “These are the words of Moses. I do not deny them.” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) asked him, “Has any Prophet other than Muhammad (a.s.) come from amongst the brethren of the Children of Israel?” He replied, “No.” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Is this not correct in your opinion?” The High Rabbi said, “Yes, but I want you to prove its correctness from the Torah.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) asked him, “Do you deny that the Torah says the following to you? ‘There came light from Mount Sina. Light shined upon us from Mount Sa’eer and it became apparent to us from Mount Faran.’” The High Rabbi said, “I am familiar with these words, but I do not know what they mean.’”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “I will inform you about them. What is meant when it says ‘There came light from Mount Sina’ is a reference to the Blessed the Sublime God’s revelations to Moses (a.s.) on Mount Sina. And what is meant when it says, ‘Light shined upon us from Mount Sa’eer’ is a reference to the Mountain upon which the Honorable the Exalted God sent revelations to Jesus (a.s.) - the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.). Jesus (a.s.) was on that mountain. And what is meant when it says, ‘and it became apparent to us from Mount Faran’ is a reference to a mountain that is one day away from Mecca. As you and your friends said, the Prophet Sha'ya has said in the Torah that ‘I have seen the picture of the Rider of the Donkey. He was wearing gowns of light. And I have seen the Rider of the Camel - who is as bright as the moon.’ Who is the Rider of the Donkey? Who is the Rider of the Camel?” The High Rabbi said, “I do not know who they are.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “The Rider of the Donkey is Jesus (a.s.) and the Rider of the Camel is Muhammad (a.s.). Do you deny that this is from the Torah?” The High Rabbi said, “No, I do not deny that.”
Then Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Do you know the Prophet Hayquq (a.s.)?” The High Rabbi said, “Yes, I know him.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “He has said the following which your Book has also stated, ‘God brought down the Bay’an from Mount Faran. The heavens are filled with the glorification of Ahmad and his nation. He will carry his troops at sea just as he carries them on land. He will bring us a new Book after the destruction of the Holy House (in Jerusalem).’ Did you know this (a.s.tatement) and do you believe in it?” The High Rabbi said, “In fact, the Prophet Hayquq (a.s.) has said this. I will not deny his words.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “David said in his Psalms which you have also read, ‘O my God! Appoint him who will establish the Sunna (practice) after the cessation (of the Prophets).’ Did you know of any Prophet other than Muhammad (a.s.) who has established the Sunna after the cessation (of the Prophets)?”
The High Rabbi said, “This is what is said by David. We do not deny it. However, he meant Jesus by that, and it is his era that was the age of cessation.” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “You are wrong. In fact, Jesus (a.s.) endorsed the Sunna (practices) of the Torah until God pulled him up to Himself. It is written in the Bible, ‘The son of pious woman will go, and the Paraclete7 will come after him. It is he who will preserve the bonds, explain everything to you, and testify to my truth just as I testified for him. I have brought you the examples, and he will bring you the interpretations.’ Do you believe that this statement is in the Bible?”
The High Rabbi said, “Yes.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “O the High Rabbi! I want to ask you about your Prophet Moses (a.s.). The High Rabbi said, “Ask.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “What is the evidence for the Prophethood of Moses?”
The Jew said, “He brought miracles which the Prophets before him had not brought.” The Imam (a.s.) asked, “Could you give me an example?” The High Rabbi replied, “He split the sea, turned the cane into a running serpent, cleaved the stones so that springs gushed forth from them, took out his hand shining white for the onlookers, and other signs the like of which other creatures were unable to bring.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “You are right. They are proofs of his Prophethood. He brought the like of which other creatures were unable to bring. Is it obligatory on you to believe in whoever claims Prophethood and performs something which all other creatures are unable to perform?”
The High Rabbi said, “No, since there is no one like Moses (a.s.) considering his position near his Lord and his closeness to Him. It is not incumbent upon us to profess the Prophethood of whoever claims it, unless he brings us miracles similar to those brought by Moses (a.s.).”
The Imam (a.s.) said, “Then how come you admit the Prophethood of the other Prophets who preceded Moses who did not split the sea; nor did they cleave the stone so that twelve springs would gush forth from them; nor did they take their hands out shining white as Moses did; nor did they turn the cane into a running serpent.”
The Jew replied, “I told you that if they performed miracles as evidence for their Prophethood which all other creatures were unable to perform, and if they brought something the like of which Moses had brought or they followed what Moses had brought, then it is incumbent upon us to believe in them.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “O High Rabbi! What has prevented you from professing (the Prophethood of) Jesus (a.s.) - the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.)? Jesus (a.s.) brought the dead to life, healed the blind and the leprous, made birds formed of clay and breathed at them giving them life with God’s permission.”
The High Rabbi said, “It is said that he did that, but we did not see it.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Have you seen the miracles performed by Moses? Have you not received this news by way of Moses’s closest trustworthy companions who said he (a.s.) did them?” The High Rabbi said, “Yes. That is so.”
The Imam (a.s.) said, “Well. The news about the miracles of Jesus (a.s.) - the son of (the Blessed Lady) Mary (a.s.) have reached you in a similar fashion. Why then did you acknowledge Moses (a.s.) and believe in him, but you did not believe in Jesus?” The High Rabbi did not answer. Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “The same is true about Muhammad (a.s.) and his miracles. The same is true about any other Prophet appointed by God. One of the miracles of Muhammad (a.s.) was that he was a poor hired shepherd. He had not been taught anything. He did not go to any teachers. However, the Quran which he (a.s.) brought contains the stories of the Prophets (a.s.) and the associated news letter by letter. It has narrated the news of the past and the things to come in the future all the way up until the Resurrection Day. The Quran provided information about what they did in hiding or in their homes. He brought innumerable miracles.” The High Rabbi said, “Neither the account about Jesus nor that about Muhammad are considered correct by us. It is not permissible to admit their Prophethood through what is not correct.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Has the witness who testified for Jesus and Muhammad then given false testimony?” The High Rabbi did not answer him.
Then the Imam (a.s.) called the Zoroastrian High Priest. Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “Let me know about Zoroaster who considered himself to be a Prophet. What is your proof of his Prophethood?” The Zoroastrian High Priest said, “He had miracles which no one ever had before him. Of course, I have not seen him, but the stories of our ancestors tell us that he made legitimate for us things which others had not made legitimate. Therefore, we follow him.”
The Imam (a.s.) asked, “You believed in the stories which came to you about him, so you followed him, didn't you?” He replied, “Yes.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “This is the case with all other nations. Stories came to them about what the Prophets had accomplished, and what Moses (a.s.), Jesus (a.s.), and Muhammad (a.s.) had all brought to them. So why didn’t you believe in any of these Prophets, having believed in Zoroaster through the stories that came to you about him saying that he brought forth what others did not?” The Zoroastrian High Priest froze in place.
Then Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O people! If any of you is opposed to Islam and wants to ask me any questions, then let him ask me without any shame.” Imran As-Sa’bee who was an expert in theology stood up and said, “O Scholar of the people. I would not have asked you any questions if you had not invited me to ask. I have been to Kufa, Basra, Syria and Algeria. There I have met many theologians. However, none of them has been able to establish for me the proof that there is One who has no second other than Him and that He remains to be One Being. Will you permit me to ask you this question?” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “If Imran As-Sab’ee is present among the people here, it must be you.” He said, “Yes. This is me.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “O Imran! Ask. But I advise you to be fair. Avoid vain talk and nonsense.” Imran said, “My Master! By God, I just want you to prove something which I can adhere to for me. Then I need not seek anything else.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “Ask whatever you wish to ask.” The crowds moved closer to Imran and crowded in on him. Imran As-Sa’bee asked, “Let me know of the first thing and what it created.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “You asked. Now try to understand. As for the One, He has always been One Being. He has neither limits nor does He have transient qualities. He will always remain so. Then unprecedentedly He created a different creature with transient qualities and various different limits. He neither placed it in anything, nor did He limit it by anything. He neither created it like anything, nor did He create other thing like it. He then created the creatures in various shapes: pure and impure, different and alike, with various colors, flavors and tastes. He did not create them out of a need for them, nor did He create them to attain a higher rank. He did not sense any increase or decrease in Himself due to this Creation. O Imran! Do you understand this?” Imran said, “By God, yes my Master!”
The Imam (a.s.) added, “O Imran! Know that if He had created what He created since He needed them, He would have only created things by which He could fulfill His need. In that case, it would have been better for Him to create several times more than what He created, since the more the helpers were, the more powerful their master would be. O Imran! In that case, His need would be a never-ending one. The more He created, the more newer needs appeared for Him. That is why we say that He did not create the creatures out of need. Through Creation He transfers the needs of some of them to others. And He makes some of them nobler than others without any need of the nobler one or without wanting to take any revenge against those whom He had debased. That is how He has created.”
Imran asked, “Master! Was the Being known to Himself by His Own Self?” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “It is the case that knowledge of something is required to distinguish it from other things, and to prove its existence through what it is negated about it. However, there was nothing else there to oppose Him to make it necessary to negate. Since there was only Him there was no need to establish limits. O Imran! Do you understand?”
Imran said, “Yes, by God, my Master! Then tell me, by what means did He come to know what He knew. Was it done by conscience or by something else?” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “If it had been that His Knowledge was acquired by conscience, can’t we then establish any limits for that conscience where Knowledge ends?” Imran answered, “There is no way out.” The Imam (a.s.) then asked him, “Then what is that conscience?” Imran could not provide any answer.
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Never mind. O Imran! If I now ask you about that conscience and whether you can recognize it through another conscience, and you answer if the affirmative, have you not then disproved your own statement and claim? O Imran! Is it not more proper for you to know that the One cannot be described by a conscience? And that the most that can be said about Him is that He has done something, or created something?
He is not such that one can conceive any directions or parts for Him as can be imagined for the creatures and their parts. Understand this and base your proper knowledge on it.”
Imran asked, “O my Master! Can you let me know what are the types of limits for His creatures? What is the meaning and what are the varieties of His creatures?”
The Imam (a.s.) said, “You asked. Now understand. In fact, there are six types of limits for His creatures. These are the tangibles; the weighable; the seeable; those that have no weight - that is spirit; those that are seeable but are without any weight, are untouchable, intangible, colorless, and tasteless; and the measurable that are the widths, the forms, width and height. Included amongst them are deeds and movements which make things, act upon them, change them from one state to another, increase them, or reduce them. As for deeds and movements, they pass by since they have no more time than that which is ordained for their need. Whenever a deed is finished and the movement is stopped it ends, but its effects remain just like talking which ends but its effect remains.”
Imran said, “O my Master! Will you let me know about the Creator? If He is One, there is nothing other than Him and there is nothing with Him, has He not changed (His Essence) through creating the creatures?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) told him, “He is Eternal. The Honorable the Exalted does not change due to creating the creatures. However, the creatures change through the changes which He exerts upon them.”
Imran asked, “O my Master! With what have we recognized Him?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “With something other than Him.” Imran asked, “What is something other than Him?” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “His Volition, His Name, His Attribute, and the like which are all originated, created and managed (by Him).”
Imran said, “O my Master! Then what is He?” The Imam (a.s.) replied, “He is Light. That means that He guides His creatures from among the people of the heavens and the Earth. You have no rights incumbent upon me more than my professing His Unity to you.”
Imran said, “O my Master! Was He not silent before creating the creatures and then He spoke?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Silence does not exist unless there is some utterance before it. An example of this is that it is not said that the lamp is silent and does not utter; nor is it said that the lamp shines implying that it wants to do something to us. The light shining from the lamp is not considered to be the act of the lamp. It is not something separate from the lamp. Therefore, when it is illuminating us we say that it was lit for us by which we found our way around. Through this example you can find what you are after and become enlightened in your affairs.”
Imran said, “O my Master! I thought that the Ever-Being is changed in His own Essence by His action of creating the creatures.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O Imran! What you said that the Ever-Being will change in one or another way (by acting) and that this change will affect His own Essence, and thereby changes Him. O Imran! Have you ever seen that the changes in fire change it? Have you ever seen heat burn itself? Have you ever seen an eye see itself?” Imran said, “No I have not. O my Master! Will you let me know whether He is in the creatures or the creatures are in Him?” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O Imran! He is Exalted and above all that. He is not in the creatures; nor are the creatures in Him. He is High above that. I will teach you what you do not know. There is no strength save in God. Tell me about the mirror: are you in it or is it in you? O Imran! If neither one of you is in the other, then by what thing do you reason that you can see your own reflection in it?”
Imran said, “Through the light between me and the mirror.” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Can you see more of that light in the mirror than what you see in your own eyes?”
He answered, “Yes.” Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Then show it to us!” It was then that the man was too baffled to say a word. The Imam (a.s.) said, “I do not see the light, except leading you and the mirror to come to know each other without being in either one of you. There are many other such examples which the ignorant simply cannot comprehend. God is the highest such example.”
Then the Imam (a.s.) turned to Al-Ma’mun and told him, “Now it is time to pray.”
Imran said, “O my Master! Do not interrupt my questions since I am feeling inclined towards you in my heart.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “We will pray and come back.”
Then the Imam (a.s.) stood up. Al-Ma’mun got up, too. Then Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) prayed inside and the people prayed outside led by Muhammad ibn Ja’far. Then the Imam (a.s.) came out, returned to the meeting, called out to Imran and said, “O Imran! Ask your questions.”
Imran said, “O my Master! Will you let me know whether the Unity of the Honorable the Exalted God is perceived through reality or through description?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Certainly, God is the Only Initiator, and the first Ever-Being. He has always been One without anything to accompany Him. He is One and there are no seconds for Him. He is neither definite nor indefinite. He is neither decisive nor allegorical. He is neither mentioned nor forgotten. He is not a thing such that a name of things can fit Him. There is no time for the beginning of His Being. And there is no time until which only He will last. He has not been standing upon anything else, nor will He be standing upon anything. There is nothing up until which He is. There is nothing on which He leans. He had all these attributes before creating anything when there was nothing but Him. Whatever you attribute to Him will be originated attributes which are only means for understanding Him, which anyone possessing understanding can comprehend.
Know that innovation, volition, and will have the same meaning with different names. His foremost innovation, will and volition were the letters which He established as the origin of everything, the evidence for all perceived things, and the separator for all vague things. Everything was separated by these letters: things such as the name of right and wrong, action and object, meaning and meaningless. All affairs were run based on them. He did not establish any limited meaning for them other than what they were themselves when He originated the letters. He did not establish for them any existence other than themselves since they were originated via innovation. Here Light is God’s first deed: The deed of God who is the Light of the heavens and the Earth Himself. It was through that deed which the letters became action. It is the letters upon which speech is based. Expressions are all from the Honorable the Exalted God who taught them to His creatures. There are thirty-three letters. Twenty-eight of them are the letters on which the Arabic language is based. Twenty-two of the twenty-eight letters show the letters of the Assyrian and Hebrew languages. Five of them were separated and are in the rest of the languages of non-Arabs in the regions. These are the five letters which were separated from the twenty-eight letters. Therefore, there are thirty-three letters. It is not permissible to mention more about them than what we have mentioned regarding these five letters which were separated. He then established the letters after counting them and numbering them as His own deed. An example of this is in the Honorable the Exalted God’s words, ‘We but say the word, ‘Be’, and it is.’8
Here ‘be’ refers to God’s Creation, and ‘what is created’ refers to the creature. Thus the first Creation by the Honorable the Exalted God was innovation which has neither any weight nor any movement. It is neither heard nor does it have any color. It is intangible. And the second thing that was created are the letters which neither have any weight nor any color. They are neither heard nor described. They are not seeable. The third creature includes all the various kinds of things which are perceptible, tangible, tasteable, and seeable. The Blessed the Sublime God existed before innovation as there has been nothing before the Honorable the Exalted God, and nothing with him. Innovation was created before the letters were created, and the letters do not indicate anything other than themselves.”
Al-Ma’mun asked, “How come they do not indicate anything other than themselves?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Surely, the Blessed the Sublime God never combines any of them together unless to mean something. When He combines several letters together, say four, five, and six or more, He uses them to originate a new meaning which did not exist before.”
Imran asked, “How can we understand this better?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “This is how it can be understood. When you only want to refer to the letters and not anything else, you mention them one by one and say, a b c d e f g etc. Here you find no meaning in them other than themselves. But when you put several letters together you construct names and attributes for a meaning which you have in mind. They will now demonstrate the meaning for which they were intended. Did you understand this?”
Imran said, “Yes.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Know that an attribute cannot be without what it describes. Also a name cannot be without a meaning. A limit cannot be without a limited. All attributes and names indicate perfection and existence. They do not indicate encompassment, as the limits do. Limits make squares, make triangles, and make hexagons. Indeed the recognition of the Honorable the Exalted God is perceived by attributes and names, not by limits such as length, width, smallness, largeness, color, weight, and the like. No such limits are applicable to the Exalted the All-Holy God, so that His creatures could recognize Him by recognizing themselves. This is certain as I said, but the Honorable the Exalted God’s attributes prove Him. He can be understood through His Names. We can argue about His Existence by referring to the existence of His creatures. A true seeker does not need to see Him with his own eyes, or hear Him with his own ears, or touch Him with his own hands, or encompass Him with his own heart. Were it not the case that His attributes proved Him - Exalted is His Praise - and His Names denoted Him, it was not possible for the taught knowledge of the creatures to perceive Him. Then the creatures would have worshipped His Names and Attributes instead of His Meaning. Were it any different, the Only Worshipped One would have been other than God since God’s Names and Attributes are other than Him. Imran! Did you understand?” Imran said, “Yes, my Master. Please tell me more.”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “Beware of the sayings of the ignorant people from among those whose hearts are blind and are at a loss - those who claim that the Exalted the All-Holy God is present in the Hereafter for the Reckoning concerning rewards and punishments, but He is not present in this world for the acts of obedience and hope. If it were that the Honorable the Exalted God’s presence was a source of His being defective in this world, He would not be present in the Hereafter either. However, these people have gone astray, have become blind, and deaf toward the truth regarding what they do not know. That is according to the Words of the Honorable the Exalted God, ‘But those who were blind in this world, will be blind in the Hereafter, and most astray from the Path.’9
What is meant by blindness here is blindness regarding existing realities. Intellectuals know that reasoning about what exists in the Hereafter is only possible through what exists in this world. Whoever tries to adopt knowledge of that world based upon his own personal views, and seek its existence or tries to perceive it through his own soul, and not through anything else would only get more distant from the facts about that world. That is because the Honorable the Exalted God has entrusted the knowledge of that world to an especial group of people who think, know and understand.”
Imran asked, “Is innovation a created being or not?” Imam Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) answered, “It is a still Creation which cannot be perceived through stillness. It is a created being since it has been created. And it is the Sublime God who has originated it. Thus it has become a creature. In other words, there only exist the Honorable the Exalted God and His creatures. There exists no third thing in between, and there is no third thing other than them. Whatever the Honorable the Exalted God creates does not disobey from being His creature. What is created is either still, moving, different, harmonious, known, or ambiguous. Whatever is bounded is the Honorable the Exalted God’s creature.
Moreover, know that all the things which the senses find for you are meanings perceived by the senses, and every sense demonstrates what the Honorable the Exalted God has placed in its perception, and the heart understands all of that. Know that the One who is Ever-Standing without any ordination or bounds created creatures ordained by bounds and ordination. What He created were two creatures: the ordination and the ordained. Neither one had any color, weight or taste. He established one as the means of perceiving the other and made them such that they could be perceived on their own. He did not create anything which could stand alone relying only on itself so as to provide a means for arguing about and proving His own existence.
Thus the Blessed the Sublime God is One and Only. There is no second one to support Him in order to enable Him to stand, or to assist Him or protect Him. However, the creatures support one another through the permission and will of the Sublime God. People have differences of opinion over this subject to the extent that they have gone astray, become perplexed, and seek salvation from darkness by means of darkness through describing the Sublime God using their own qualities. In this way, they have become very far away from the truth. Had they described the Honorable the Exalted God using His own Attributes, and described the creatures with the qualities of the creatures, they would have spoken through understanding and certitude and would not have come up with so many differences of opinion over Him. Since they sought that which would perplex them, and get entrapped, they became confused. God guides whomever He wills to the straight path.”
Imran said, “O my Master! I bear witness that He is just as you have described. However, I still have one more question to ask.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “Ask whatever you wish to ask.”
Imran said, “I want to ask you what the All-Wise (God) is contained in. Has anything encompassed Him? Does He change from one state to another state? Is He in need of anything?”
Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) said, “O Imran! I will tell you, so understand Whom you have questioned about. He is the most ambiguous issues which the creatures face. As for those who are deficient in understanding, they do not recognize Him. As for those who are just and can reason, they are not incapable of understanding Him. First of all, if He had created the creatures due to needing them, then it would be proper to say that He changes His Location to the location of what He creates because of His need for them. However, the Honorable the Exalted God has not created anything out of need. He is always stable. Neither is He on something, or something is on Him. However, it is the creatures which hold each other, enter into one another, and leave one another. As for the Great and All-Holy God, He holds all of that by His Might. He does not enter anything and does not leave anything. Its preservation does not tire Him, nor is He incapable of holding it. None of the creatures knows how that is, except for the Honorable the Exalted God and His Messengers, the People who know His Secrets, those who run the Affairs, and His Guardians who carry out His Laws. God Himself has informed them about it. In fact, His command is like the twinkling of an eye. If He wills a thing, He only says to it be, ‘We but say the word, ‘Be’, and it is.’10 according to His intent and will. Nothing that He has created is closer to Him than any other thing. O Imran! Have you understood?” Imran said, “Yes, my Master. I understood. I bear witness that the Sublime God is as you described Him to be, He is One. I also witness that Muhammad (a.s.) - his servant - is appointed to guide and lead to the right religion.” He then faced the Qibla and fell into prostration.
Al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Nawfali said, “When the other rhetoricians heard what Imran al-Sabee - who was very hard to defeat in arguments and no one had ever defeated him before in arguments - none of them dared approach Al-Ridha’ (a.s.), and they asked him no more questions. Slowly the sun set. Then Al-Ma’mun and Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) stood up, went inside and the people left.
I was sitting along with some of my friends when Muhammad ibn Ja'far called me in. I went to see him.
He told me, “O Nawfali! Did you see what your friend (the Imam (a.s.)) did?” Al-Nawfali replied, “By God! No. I did not think that Ali ibn Musa Al-Ridha’ (a.s.) could plumb such depths. I did not know that him in this way. He never spoke about theology in Medina and theologians never gathered around him.” I said, “The pilgrims come to him and ask him about the lawful and the unlawful and he answers them. Sometimes rhetoricians come to him and argue with him, and he plunges into theology.”
Muhammad ibn Ja’far said, “O Aba Muhammad! I fear that this man (i.e. Al-Ma’mun) will envy him, poison him or injure him. So advise him to refrain from these things.”
Al-Nawfali added, “I said, ‘He will not listen to me. This man (Al-Ma’mun) only wants to test him to see whether he possesses any of the knowledge of his forefathers (a.s.).’
He told me, “Tell him that his uncle does not like him to do such things and wishes him to quit doing these things.” When we returned to Al-Ridha’’s (a.s.) house I related to the Imam (a.s.) the message from his uncle. Then the Imam (a.s.) smiled and said, “May God protect my uncle. I know him well. Why is he upset? O servant! Go to Imran al-Sa’ebi and bring him here.”
I said, “May I be your ransom! I know where he is. He is with some of the Shiite brethren.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “Don’t worry. Take a horse for him to ride on and bring him here.” I went and brought Imran. The Imam (a.s.) welcomed him and asked for a robe of honor which he (a.s.) put on Imran. The Imam also gave him a horse and asked for ten-thousand Dinars which he (a.s.) donated to Imran.
Imran said, “May I be your ransom! You have followed in the footsteps of your grandfather - the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.).” The Imam (a.s.) said, “We prefer this.” Then the Imam (a.s.) ordered dinner and had me sit on his right side and had Imran sit on his left side. After eating dinner, the Imam (a.s.) told Imran, “Go now and come back in the morning. Then I will give you food from Medina.”
From then on many people came to Imran to have a debate. He used to respond to their arguments and disprove them until they left. Al-Ma’mun granted him ten thousand Dirhams. Al-Fadhl gave him some money, too. Then he appointed him as the director over the alms in (the city of) Balkh where he attained much good.
1. He was one of the disciples of a Prophet. It was said that he was sent to the children of Israel by a Prophet.
2. “Jesus, seeing that great was the multitude of them that returned to their heart for to walk in the law of God, went up into the mountain, and abode all night in prayer, and when day was come he descended from the mountain, and chose twelve, whom he called apostles, among whom is Judas, who was slain upon the cross. Their names are: Andrew and Peter his brother, fishermen; Barnabas, who wrote this, with Matthew the publican, who sat at the receipt of custom; John and James, sons of Zebedee; Thaddaeus and Judas; Bartholomew and Philip; James, and Judas Iscariot the traitor.” [The Gospel of Barnabas, 14, Forty Days of Fasting and 12 Apostles.]
3. This is referring to a miracle of God’s Prophet (S) which has not been mentioned elsewhere. Thus it may be that this part of this tradition has been manipulated and is unreliable.God knows best.
4. Qur’an, 2:55
5. Qur’an, 7:155
6. Jesus (a.s.) and Saint Mary (a.s.)
7. Paraclete: intercessor, advocate. Here it refers to the Prophet Muhammad (S).
8. Qur’an, 16:40
9. Qur’an, 17:72
10. Qur’an, 16:40

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