Inter-Faith Debates of Imam Reza(A.S.)
On various occasions, al-Mamoon tried to force Imam Reza (A.S.) into the arena of complex debates with various groups and creeds. He used to conduct scientific and intellectual sessions to which he invited giant thinkers, leading scientists, the atheists of the century, and debaters whose scientific might was feared and before the stubbornness of whose complex arguments the evidence was muted and due to the fierceness of whose doubt the proof was weakened. In all such debates, the Holy Imam(A.S.) would come out victorious over his opponents due to the tremendous power of knowledge he divinely possessed without forcing himself into the sophistry of arguments to which some might have resorted in order to demolish the structure of his opponent's argument and weaken his ability to provide evidence. Rather, he depended in his debate upon honest arguments in order to prove right to be right, his miraculous ability of conviction, and his calm stylistic method.Al-
Nawfali Warns the Imam
Al-Nawfali tried to warn the Holy Imam(A.S.) against attempting to deal with the debates of such people when the Holy Imam(A.S.) asked him why al-Mamun had invited him to debate them, for al-Mamun had asked the Catholic archbishop, the High Rabbi, leading Sabians, the Hindu high priest, followers of Zoroaster, Nestus the Roman medical scientist, and a group of orators, to enter into a scientific debate with Imam Reza (A.S.). He sent Yasir the servant to the Holy Imam(A.S.) to tell him about the time when the debate would start, requesting him to attend. When Yasir went out and al-Nawfali was alone with the Holy Imam(A.S.), the Holy Imam (A.S.) turned to him and asked him in the form of a dialogue, "O Nawfali! You are an Iraqi, and the heart of an Iraqi is not severe; so, what can you gain from causing your cousin to require us to meet with disbelievers and rhetoricians?" Al-Nawfali answered, "May my life be sacrificed for yours! He wants to put you to test, and he loves to know how much knowledge you possess. He has, indeed, built his assumption on a shaky foundation, and doomed, by God, what he has built." He asked, "And what has he built?" He answered, "Scholars of kalam and innovators are opposite of the scholars. A scholar does not deny the undeniable, whereas rhetoricians and polytheists are people who deny 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 Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) is the Messenger of God, they would say, `Confirm his Message,' then they would press their lies on a person while he tries to disprove their lies, and they would continue to prove that he is mistaken till he abandons his argument; so, beware of them, may my life be sacrificed for you." He smiled and asked, "O Nawfali! Do you fear that they will disprove my argument?" He answered, "No, by God! I have never worried about you, and I hope God will enable you to have the upper hand over them." The Holy Imam(A.S.) asked again, "O Nawfali! Would you like to know when al-Mamun will feel regretful?" He answered, "Yes." He said, "When he hears me argue with the people of the Torah quoting their own Torah, with the people of the Gospel (Bible) quoting their own Gospel, with the people of the Psalms quoting their own Psalms, with Zoroastrians arguing in their Persian language, with the Romans in their own Latin, and with rhetoricians using their very rhetoric. So, if I closed all the avenues of argument in the face of each arguing party and disproved his claim, making him renounce his statement from its onset and referring to my own statement, then al-Mamun would know that he would not achieve what he aspires. It is then that he will feel regretful; We are from God's, and Unto Him is our return."Thus does the Holy Imam(A.S.) show that he was taking lightly and was not concerned about such persons whom al-Mamun wished to gather together against him trying to embarrass him with their falsification and arguments which he hoped might close for the Holy Imam (A.S.) all the avenues of argument. When the session starts and the Holy Imam (A.S.) is invited to join it, discussion starts and the Holy Imam (A.S.) starts his debate with the Catholics, making the Bible his reference to prove his own defense of the Unity of God and disprove the Godhead of Jesus Christ (A.S.) by those who regarded him as a god besides God. Then he follows with a magnificent discussion proving that the Bible in circulation today is not the same which God had revealed to Jesus Christ (A.S.) and that it is authored by some of the disciples of Jesus Christ (A.S.) who are the authors of the four gospels, depending in his argument on the fact that the details presented by each one of them stand in flagrant contradiction with those of the other. The Catholic archbishop slipped into an obvious self-contradiction; for he on one hand sanctified the authors of the four gospels and held them above lying while, on the other hand, he admitted to the Holy Imam(A.S.) that they did tell lies about Jesus Christ (A.S.).Then the Holy Imam (A.S.) goes to debate the High Rabbi, scholar of the Jews, to prove the prophethood of Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) from the previously revealed divine testaments, after which he follows with a very logical debate. Having argued with him that one of the requirements of a Prophet was to perform something all other creation are unable to perform, he asked him about the reason why they, the Jews, refrained from believing into the miracles of all prophets other than Moses (A.S.) son of Imran, and the High Rabbi answered him saying, "We cannot admit the prophethood of any who professes prophethood except after bringing us knowledge similar to that brought by Moses." Imam Reza (A.S.) said to him, "Then how come you admitted the prophethood of other prophets who preceded Moses (A.S.) who did not split the sea, nor cleave the stones so that twelve springs would gush forth from it, nor took their hands out shining white as Moses did, nor did they turn a cane into a snake?!" It was then that the High Rabbi overcame his stubbornness, submitted to the argument, and admitted that any supernatural act beyond human capacity was indeed a proof of prophethood.The Holy Imam (A.S.) asked him then about the reason why they did not believe in the prophethood of Jesus Christ (A.S.) despite the fact that he brought forth miracles beyond human capacity such as bringing the dead back to life, healing those who were born blind and the lepers, and about the reason why they did not believe in the prophethood of Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) despite his bringing an extra-ordinary miracle, that is, the Holy Qur'an while he was neither a scholar nor a writer. The High Rabbi had no answer at all.Then came the turn of the Zoroastrian high priest whom the Holy Imam(A.S.) debated depending on the priest's belief in the prophethood of Zoroaster. The Zoroastrian tells the Holy Imam(A.S.) that Zoroaster brought them what no other man had ever brought them before. "We did not see him," he continues, "but the stories of our ancestors told us that he legalized for us what no other person before made legal; so, we followed him." The Holy Imam(A.S.) asked, "You believed in the stories which came to you about him, so you followed him, didn't you?" "Yes," he answered. The Holy Imam (A.S.) said, "This is the case with all other nations. Stories came to them about what the prophets had accomplished, what Moses (A.S.), Jesus (A.S.), and Muhammad (S.A.W.) had all brought them, so why did you not 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?"
Holy Imam's Debate With the Sabian
The Zoroastrian high priest had no more to say. The Holy Imam(A.S.) then turned to the debate's witnesses, having finished debating with the chief representatives of those creeds, asking anyone else to go ahead and put forth any question he had, everyone abstained from doing so. It was then that Imran the Sabian, who was one of the most distinguished scholars of the science of kalam of his time, approached the Holy Imam (A.S.) and asked him how he could prove the existence of the Creator, and the discussion between them delved into the deepest depths of this complex question, while the Holy Imam answered the man's questions through obvious scientific facts in a gloriously simple way. Among the questions Imran asked was: "Master! Was the Being known to Himself by His Own Self?" The Holy Imam(A.S.) said, "Knowledge is acquired by something which would negate its opposite, and so that the thing itself would be existing through what it is negated about it, without the existence of anything which contradicts its existence so that a need arises to negate that thing about itself by defining what is known about it. Do you understand, O Imran?" He said, "Yes, by God, master! Tell me, then, by what means did He come to know what He knew, by a pronoun or by something else?" The Holy Imam (A.S.) said, "If it had been by a pronoun, would He then find anyway not to establish for that pronoun a limit where knowledge ends?" Imran answered, "Yes, He will have to find such way." The Holy Imam(A.S.) then asked him, "Then what is that pronoun?" Imran could not provide any answer. The Holy Imam (A.S.) said, "Is it alright if I ask you about the pronoun and you define it by another pronoun? If you answer in the affirmative, then you would make both your claim and statement void. O Imran! Ought you not come to know that the One cannot be described by a pronoun, and would not be described except by a verb, by deed, by action, and He cannot be expected to be parts and kinds like human beings?"Then Imran asked him, "Master! The knowledge I have says that the being is changed in his essence by his action of creating..." The Holy Imam (A.S.) said, "Does your statement, O Imran, mean that the being does not in any way change its essence except when it affects its own essence in a way which changes it? O Imran! Can you say that the fire changes its own self, or that the heat burns itself, or have you seen anyone seeing his own vision?" Imran said, "No, I have not seen that; could you please tell me, master, is it in that in the creation, or is it the nature of creation in it?" The Holy Imam (A.S.) said, "Yes, O Imran, He is above all of that; He is not in the creation, nor is the creation in Him; He is elevated above that, and bad indeed is your knowledge about Him, and no might except in God. Tell me about the mirror: are you in it or is it in you? If neither one of you is in the other, then how did you come to see your own self's reflection in it?" Imran said, "Through the light between myself and itself." The Holy Imam (A.S.) said, "Can you see of that light more than what you can see with your own eyes?" He answered, "Yes." The Holy Imam (A.S.) said to him, "Then show it to us..." It was then that the man was too baffled to say a word. The Holy Imam (A.S.) said, "I do not see the light except leading you and the mirror to come to know each without being in either one of you. There are many such examples which the ignorant simply cannot observe, and God Has the greatest example."Thus did the Holy Imam(A.S.) face the challenge of Imran the Sabian's doubting method, demolishing its structure and dispelling the ambiguity of the complex doubts which he could not understand till vision became clear to him. The Holy Imam (A.S.) did not determine an evidence except after building it with simple easy to understand proofs out of the everyday life of man in order not to leave any way for the opponent to doubt after transforming a most complex theory into an easy and commonsense idea, all of that by employing a very beautiful and miraculous style.