The Intellectual Achievements of Imam Reza (A.S.)
Time and again, people used to benefit from the source of knowledge and intellectual virtues of Imam Reza (a.s) also. In comparison to the other Imams, Imam Reza (a.s) had more opportunities to express his teachings. Till the time he was at the Darul Hikmah in Merv, with Mamun, he was questioned by the greatest scholars and thinkers of that time. But in all those discussions he came out victorious. Mamun himself was also intellectually accomplished. But he has confessed to the unsurpassed knowledge of the Imam. He used to admit before the people that in comparison to the knowledge of the Imam he knew nothing and that the Imam is the unbounded shoreless ocean of knowledge.
Till the time, the Imam resided in Medina, all the scholars there referred to him when faced with difficult problems and the Imam used to provide them satisfactory replies based on proofs.
Abu Salt Abdus Salam bin Salih al-Hirvi used to say, "I have not seen anyone more knowledgeable than Imam Reza (a.s). and whoever came to meet the Imam, he invariably confessed to the high station of the Imam's intellectual accomplishments."
It is mentioned in Shawahidun Nubuwwah that Imam Musa Kazim (a.s) said, "I saw the Holy Prophet (S) and Ali al-Murtada (a.s) in the dream. The Holy Prophet (S) said: Your son, Ali ar-Reza, sees with the light (Nur) of Allah and speaks with the wisdom of Allah. All his words and actions are correct. There is no mistake in them. He is knowledge personified."
It is mentioned in Mufradat of Imam Raghib Isfahani that, "Never before have such personalities lived on the face of the earth one after the other, such that their statements were acceptable and reliable to all classes of people, as those of Imam Reza (a.s) and his seven predecessors."
Muhammad Isa al-Yaqtini reports, "When people differed regarding Imam Reza (a.s) I began to collect the religions questions, the replies to which I had obtained from the Imam (a.s). When they were counted, they were found to be 18000 altogether."
A Debate With An Atheist
One day a denier of God came to Imam Reza (a.s) and said, "Tell me, how your God is? And where He is?" Imam said, "What a baseless question is this? Where and how are the qualities of the creatures and not of the Creator. He is the Creator of space and conditions and He is the Maker. How can He have any relation to these things? He is not something that can be perceived by the five senses. Also, nothing can be compared to Him." He said, "You say that God is nothing because He cannot be perceived by the five senses and He also cannot be compared to anything? Then you only tell us what He is?" Imam said, "You deny Him because you cannot perceive Him. And we believe that He is God, for the same reason. If he had been perceptible He would also have become a creature like us. His imperceptibility is the proof of our helplessness and imagination and His perfection."
He said, "Then tell me, since when did He exist?" Imam said, "Tell me, when He did not exist?" He said, "I am asking you and you question me in return?" The Imam said, "When you have no knowledge about His non-existence, the question itself is invalid. That since when He exists?" He said, "What is the proof of His Being?" Imam said, "Not one, there are thousands of proofs. Observe your body itself, when we are not having control over its height and width and none of its aspects, and we have no control over its benefit and harm, we realize that there is someone else who has created it. Apart from this, the movement of the heavens and the structure of the clouds. The speed of the winds, the proper movements of the Sun, the moon and the stars etc. Are these not proof enough of a wise maker?"
He said, "If He had existed He would have been visible, like all the things of the world are visible."
Imam said, "Visible are those things, that are created by Him. If He also becomes visible what difference would remain between Him and His Creation? He is such a Being that neither can the eye behold nor the intellect understand."
He said, "But He should be at some place?" Imam said, "He is not encompassed at a particular place. Being in a limited space is the quality of a Created thing, and not that of the Creator. He is the Creator of space and Universe, and not that He Himself is enclosed in space. There is increase and decrease in limited things and His being is immune to increase and decrease. He is not made by synthesis of anything. He hears without ears and sees without eyes."
He said, "How can it be that He can hear without having ears and see without having eyes? If He has created multi-colored things, He must also have hands." The Imam said, "Do you think the Creator is like the creatures? Don't look for the qualities of the creatures in the Creator? If He is also perceived with senses like us, what would be the difference between us and Him? According to you our Creator should be like us."
A Debate With A Christian Scholar
Jasliq was a great scholar of the Christians, and he used to have debates with Islamic scholars. He used to say: The Muslims and we both agree on the prophethood of Isa (a.s) and that his book is a heavenly scripture. Also that he is alive in the heavens. The disagreement is over the prophethood of Muhammad al-Mustafa. They believe in it and we do not. But we both agree that he has died. Thus when he is no more, what is the use of his prophethood? On the contrary, since Isa is alive, it is necessary to believe in his prophethood. Most of people who heard these statements were unable to refute him.
Once, this man came to Imam (a.s) upon the instructions of Mamun and began the conversation thus:
Jasliq: First tell me whether you believe in Isa (a.s) and his book or not?
Imam: I have faith in the prophethood of that Isa who gave glad tidings to his companions regarding the prophethood of Muhammad al-Mustafa. And I testify that Taurat, which mentions this good news. But I have no faith in the Isa who does not confess the prophethood of the Seal of the Prophets and that book which does not mentions it.
As soon as he heard these words, Jasliq became speechless.
Then Imam (a.s) said, "We believe Isa to be a true prophet who gave glad tidings of the prophethood of Muhammad al-Mustafa. However, you make him defective and consider him to be needful of Prayers and fasting." He asked, "What does that mean?" Imam replied, "When in your belief, he is God himself (we seek Allah's refuge
, for whom did he pray and fast?" Jasliq could not offer any reply. After some time he said, "If he were not God, how did he enliven the dead, cure the lepers and give vision to the blind? Who can do this besides God?"
Imam said, "This was not restricted to only Isa (a.s). It was found in other prophets also. Al Yasa (a.s) used to walk on water and cure the blind and the lepers. Prophet Hizqil (a.s) made 35000 people alive after they were dead for sixty years. Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) made the birds alive. By the prayers of Prophet Musa, seventy people became alive on Mount Tur. In the same way, many people became alive after dying, due to the prayers of Prophet Muhammad al-Mustafa. Are all these prophets deserving of Godhood, according to your belief?" Hearing all this, Jasliq fell silent and at last accepted Islam.
Debate With Ras Al-Jalut
A Jewish scholar was very proud of his knowledge. One day he came to Imam Reza (a.s) and posed many questions to him. The debate is very lengthy. Here we mention only a few of his questions and their replies.
Imam: What proof do you have that Musa (a.s) was a prophet?
Ras: He performed such feats that the past prophets did not do. Like the splitting of the Nile, the staff turning into a serpent, the bursting forth of twelve springs from the stone and the "Shinning hand" etc.
Imam: You say the truth. Your statement shows that a prophet should show such feats that others are unable to do.
Ras: Without any doubt.
Imam: Then it is necessary that whoever shows such feats must be accepted as a prophet.
Ras: In addition to those miracles, Musa (a.s) had such proximity to God that none other possesses. Thus till one does not show us the same miracles and feats, we cannot accept his prophethood.
Imam: All right! Tell me, do you believe in any prophet before Musa (a.s)?
Imam: But how that is correct? Before him no prophet split the river, caused springs to flow from a stone, had a shining hand or made his staff into a snake?
Ras: No, what I mean to say is that if someone performs such feats that ordinary people are unable to do, even if they are not the same feats, we are obliged to accept his prophethood.
Imam: If it is so, why do you people not accept Isa as a prophet? He also enlivened the dead, cured the blind and lepers and made a bird of clay and blew life into it?
Ras: We did not see him do anything of the sort. People claim he did it.
Imam: Then, did you see the miracles of Musa (a.s) with your own eyes? You have heard about them also from other people.
Upon hearing this Ras al-Jalut fell silent and he did not have any reply to this.
Imam said, "In the same way you should testify to the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad al-Mustafa also because he also performed many miracles despite the fact that he was an orphan, a homeless shepherd and a paid employee of someone else. And he also did not learn a single letter from anyone. Even then he brought a perfect book like the Holy Quran, which has all the incidents of the previous prophets. In addition to this, he used to tell about what other people thought and what they had hidden in their houses."
Hearing this, Ras al-Jalut replied shamelessly, "All this is right but since the prophethood of Isa and Muhammad is not proved to us we cannot accept them as prophets." Imam said, "This is obvious ignorance. No one has any remedy for it."
Harbaz Akbar was a great Zoroastrian scholar. One day he came to Imam (a.s) and said, "I have come to make you confess the prophethood of Zoroaster."
Imam: What proof are you having about the prophethood of Zoroaster?
Harbaz: He informed us of such wonderful things that none had taught before. He made such things permissible for us, as none had made lawful before.
Imam: Did you get the teachings from Zoroaster directly?
Harbaz: No. We heard them through our elders.
Imam: Then how are you certain that except for Zoroaster no one has taught such good things?
Harbaz: This is what we have heard so far.
Imam: This is not a valid reason. Have you heard no mention about the previous prophets till now?
Harbaz: Why not?
Imam: Then why do you not testify their merits and perfections? It is possible that their perfection may be more than the perfections of Zoroaster.
Hearing these words, the priest became so confused that he was at a loss for words. So he just got up from there and left the place in haste.
Debate With A Sunni Scholar
It is mentioned in the History of Tabari that one day some people gathered in a special gathering of Mamun in order to debate with the Imam regarding Imamate. They selected Yahya bin Dhahak, who was a great Sunni scholar of that time to represent the Sunni group and debate with the Imam. Imam (a.s) told Yahya to ask him whatever he liked.
Yahya: I want you to pose questions to me.
Imam: All right, I will ask you. Tell me. What do you say about one who claims to be truthful himself, but lies about those who are truthful? Is such a person truthful? Tell me, with regard to religion is he on the right or falsehood.
Hearing this Yahya felt silent. After sometime Mamun demanded a reply. He said, "O Chief! I have no reply to this." Mamun asked Imam, "Please explain to me what you asked, that a great scholar like Yahya cannot reply." Imam said, "What reply can this poor Yahya give? If he says that the truthful ones did not lie, his reply would be incorrect. When Abu Bakr sat on the pulpit of the Prophet and confessed his helplessness and said: Though I am a ruler on you I am not better than you. Then after this his claim that he was a caliph of the prophet was incorrect or not? In the circumstances that he was not better than the people how did he become a ruler? It is necessary for the chief to be superior to the subjects. In addition to this he said from the pulpit: There is a Satan who overcomes me. Then how can he be an Imam? An Imam is one who is safe from the Satan. Thirdly, how can such a person become a ruler and caliph whose followers themselves say: The allegiance of Abu Bakr was a hasty matter. Allah saved the people from its mischief. If anyone does it again, I will kill him.
When Mamun heard this, he told those present in the assembly, "All those present here may please leave. Did I not advise you against debating with him? They are the inheritors of the knowledge of the Prophet."
Mamun’s Questions Regarding The Inerrancy Of The Prophets
One day the Abbaside Caliph Mamun asked Imam Reza (a.s):
Mamun: Do you believe in the infallibility of the Prophets?
Mamun: But the Holy Quran itself says regarding Adam (a.s): Adam disobeyed his Lord and then he became misguided. This clearly shows that Adam was a sinner.
Imam: It was Allah's command that: O Adam, you and your wife, both remain in Paradise and eat whatever you like but do not eat from that tree or of its same kind. He did not eat from that tree; rather it was Satan who instigated him to eat from another tree of the same kind.
The Satan told him, "Allah has forbidden you to eat from this particular tree and not from other tress of the same kind." Then Satan also took a false oath. Since Adam and Hawwa had never seen anyone taking a false oath before this, they were befooled. And trusting this oath they committed that act. And Adam performed this thoughtless action even before he became a prophet.
It was not a greater sin that he should become deserving of Hell. It was merely a case of giving up a preferable option (Tark-e-Awla). Or it was a detestable act (Makruh), which is acceptable from prophets before receipt of divine revelations.
When Allah appointed him as a prophet, he was infallible. He did not commit either a greater or a lesser sin.
Mamun: All right. What do you say regarding Prophet Ibrahim? The Quran mentions in clear words: "When the darkness of the light spread on him he saw a star and said: This is my Lord." Is this not obvious polytheism, that a star should be addressed as ones Lord?
Imam: The phrase: "This is my Lord" is interrogative which means; "Is this my Lord?"
Since the people of that time were star-worshippers and their belief had reached his ears, thus when he came out of the cave and saw the stars he asked by way of question: Is this my Lord? Thus when it disappeared, he said: I do not like those who disappear. That is, this cannot be a quality of my Lord. It is a quality of a creature.
When the moon arose, again he asked in a negative interrogation: Is it my Lord. In the same way he mentioned this for the sun.
Thus whatever he said was against the falsehood of the star-worshippers and not regarding his own beliefs.
Mamun: O son of the Messenger of Allah (S)! May Allah give you a good recompense. You have given a very good reply. But there remains a slight misgiving in the heart. The Almighty Allah says in the Quran: "Ibrahim said: Show me how You enliven the dead. He said: Don't you have faith (in it)? He said: yes, but that my heart should be satisfied." So, tell me, did the Khalil (friend of Allah) not have faith in the power of Allah before this?
Imam: The Almighty Allah revealed upon Ibrahim (a.s) that I will make a righteous slave of Mine as the Khalil. And if he asks Me to enliven the dead for him, I will fulfill his desire. So, Ibrahim was uncertain whether, he was that Khalil or someone else. That is why he said thus. That is, he desired certainty of the heart for this matter.
Mamun: May Allah recompense you! You have removed this objection in a beautiful manner. Now, there is one objection regarding Prophet Musa (a.s). It is that Musa (a.s) said: My Lord! Show Yourself to me so that I can see You. This shows that Prophet Musa did not even know that ones eyes could not see Allah.
Imam: It is not so. Musa (a.s) well knew that He is not visible to the eyes. But his people were insisting that he should pray to Allah to show Himself to him. "We will not bring faith in Him without seeing Him with our eyes." Thus, becoming helpless of his people he prayed to Allah in the same words, that the people insisted. Thus this request of Musa was on behalf of the people.
Mamun: It is mentioned about Yusuf (a.s) that: She intended with him and he intended with her. If Yusuf was a prophet how can he have such intention?
Imam: You have not recited the complete verse, which is as follows: Yusuf would also have intended if he had not seen the proof of his Lord. Since he was an infallible prophet, he did not make such an intention. Another meaning of this is that Zulaikha made an intention of sin, and Yusuf (a.s) made an intention "not to do it".
Mamun: All right. It is mentioned about the Messenger of Allah (S) in the Quran: Indeed We gave you a clear victory so that Allah may remit your past and future sins. This shows that the prophet was a sinner.
Imam: This verse does not denote the sin of the Prophet. Rather it means that: O Prophet! Your denouncement of the idols of the polytheists and your invitation towards the oneness of God, which were sinful actions in the eyes of the people, now that Mecca is conquered, and people willingly or unwillingly have become Muslims, thus all your past actions (sins in the view of the polytheists) are forgiven. That is, you are no more a sinner in their view.
Mamun: Son of the Messenger, I am thankful to you that you removed all my doubts.
Replies To The Queries Of Different People
We hereby present the Imam's replies to queries posed to him by different people.
Question: Is man helpless in his actions that Allah compels him to do whatever he wants?
Imam: Allah is Just. How is it possible that He should compel one to do something and then punish him for it?
Question: Is man completely free in his actions?
Imam: How is it possible? That Allah should create the people and remove His law from over them completely, leaving all their affairs to them. Neither has Allah made the people absolutely helpless nor gave them free will. Rather it is an affair between the two (extremes).
Question: There is a tradition: Allah created Adam in His own image. Does this not prove that Allah has a face?
Imam: People have not reflected on the circumstances surrounding this tradition. The actual matter is that one day the Messenger of Allah (S) passed by two people who were abusing each other. One of them said: May Allah make your face ugly and also of those who resemble you. The Prophet said: O man! Do not say this the Almighty Allah created Adam also with this same face.
Question: What does this tradition mean that the believers in Paradise would sit in their homes and continue to see their Lord?
Imam: The Almighty Allah has bestowed superiority to Prophet Muhammad al-Mustafa over all the prophets. He ordained his obedience as His obedience, his allegiance as His allegiance and his visitation as His visitation. Thus he said: One who visited me in my lifetime or after I pass away, he has visited Allah. Thus the tradition means that the believers in Paradise would be seeing the Messenger of Allah (S).
Question: What does this tradition mean: The reward of saying: There is no god except Allah (La ilaha illallaah) is equal to that of looking at the face of Allah? Does the Almighty have a face or a shape?
Imam: It is infidelity to attribute shape or face to Allah. The faces of Allah are in fact His prophets and their legatees through whom ones attention is guided to Allah. That is why they are the face of Allah. Looking at their faces carries great rewards and to remain deprived of their visitation (Ziyarat) causes loss.
Question: Are the Paradise and Hell already created?
Imam: Indeed, they are already created. Those who say that they are not yet created, they are merely in the intention of Allah, are not from us. Rather they deny us and are deniers of our Wilayat (mastership). On the Day of Judgment they would be cast into Hell forever, because they deny something that is one of the necessities of faith. The Almighty Allah says: "This is that very Hell that the people used to deny, the inmates of Hell will go about in it in boiling water."
Question: Why are men allowed four wives and women are prohibited more than one husband?
Imam: If a woman has more than one husband it would not be determined whose seed it was and in such circumstances it would be impossible to prove the paternity of the child. But in case of multiple wives this danger is absent. In addition to this, men are allowed four wives because in comparison to men the population and births of females is much more than that of males.
Question: Please explain about the birth of the male and the female child.
Imam: In the womb, the place of the male child is towards the right side and for the female child it is to the left. If the sperm goes to the right side a male child is conceived and if it goes to the left a female child is conceived. Often women are pregnant with twins. Thus if both her breasts are equally heavy, it should be known that she is carrying twins, and if only one is heavy, she is carrying one child. If the right breast is heavy, it would be a female child. If a woman carrying twins has her right breast lighter than the left, the fetus of the male child would be aborted and if the left breast becomes light the female fetus would be aborted. If both fall light, both the fetuses would be aborted.
Question: Why is fornication made unlawful?
Imam: Because, the lineage is broken. The inheritance goes away. The woman does not know by whom she has become pregnant and neither the child knows who its father is.