The Life of Imam Ali Ibn Musa al-Rida

By : Baqir Sharif al-Qarashi

P. 157 – 190

The time of the Ima’m, peace be on him, isfamous for the debates and arguments which spread amongthe great figures of religions, of Islamic schools, and of others. Violent discussions took place among them on numerous theological researches, especially as it concerns the fundamentals of religion. Theology books and others are full of different kinds of such an ideological conflict accompanied by evidence which the theologians have produced in support oftheir own beliefs.

One of the matters which led to violent arguments and discussions between the Shï‘ites and the Sunnis was that of the Ima’mate. The Shï‘ites maintained that the Ima’mate was similar to the Prophecy, which was not subject to the choice and election of the community; rather it was decided by Allah, the Exalted, Who chose for it whomever He willed from among His righteous servants whose hearts He examined for faith. Also they made a condition that the Ima’m should be infallible of errors, the most learned of the community, and the most knowledgeable of it in the affairs of Islamic law and all sciences of life. However, the Sunnis denied that in general. It is worth mentioning that the debates during the time of the Ima’m took place among the great figures of Islamic schools in the palaces of the kings and of their ministers. For example, the Bara’mika held meetings in their own palaces and summoned to themtheologians from among the Sunni (religious) scholars. The theologians debated with the great scholar, Hisha’m b. al-Hakam, and discussed with him the matter of the Ima’mate, and he disproved their vague errors with firm argument and inclusive proof. Without doubt the Bara’mika held such sessions and discussed such a matter not because of some scientific reasons; rather they wanted to understand the definite evidence which the Shï‘ites produced in support of their beliefs in the Ima’mate.

Al-Ma’mu’n appointed Ima’m al-Rida’, peace be on him, as his heir apparent. However, he was not sincere in this purpose; nor did he believe that the Ima’m was more appropriate than him for the caliphate. He (al-Ma’mu’n) ordered all his governors in Islamic world to summon the great (religious) scholars, who were experienced in different kinds of science, to go to Khurasa’n in order to question the Ima’m about the most difficult scientific matters. When they came to him (al-Ma’mu’n), he mentioned the matter before them and promised to enrich those who would question the Ima’m and render him incapable of answering them. Generally speaking, he appointed him as his heir apparent for the following political reasons:

1. Al-Ma’mu’n intended to destroy the beliefs of the Shï‘ites and to efface their traces. (He wanted the religious scholars) to render Ima’m al-Rida’, peace be on him, incapable ofanswering them, that he might use his incapability as means to cancel the beliefs of the Shï‘ites, who maintained that the Ima’m should be the most learned of the people of his time and most knowledgeable of them in all kinds of science. Of course, if the Ima’m had been incapable of disproving the scholars’ beliefs, he would have shaken the entity of the Shï‘ites and abrogated their beliefs in the Ima’ms of the members of the House, ahl al-Bayt, peace be on them.

2. If the Ima’m had been unable to answer the religious scholars’ questions, al-Ma’mu’n would have been able to remove him from regency. In other words al-Ma’mu’n would have been able to achieve his political aims through the Ima’m, for he had told the people that he nominated him for that important office because he was the most learned of the community, and when he had concluded that he was not the most learned of it, he removed him from the office. Meanwhile, his mass media would have announced that the Ima’m had fallen short of answering the scholars’ questions, that it might respond to the ‘Abba’sid family’s feelings. It is worth mentioning that the members of this family were displeased with al-Ma’mu’n when he nominated the Ima’m for regency, so they removed him from the caliphate and pledged allegiance to Ibra’hïm, the singer, as we will see in the chapters that follow.

Any how, the leading scholars had prepared the most difficult scientific questions and asked the Ima’m about them, and he skillfully answered them with. The narrators have mentioned: “He (Ima’m al-Rida’) was asked about more than twenty thousand questions in different times to the extent that al-Ma’mu’n’s palace became a scientific center, that the leading scholars admired the Ima’m’s talents and abilities, that they announced to the people the Ima’m’s great abilities in knowledge and excellence, and that most of them believed in his Ima’mate. So Al-Ma’mu’n prevented the scholars from debating with the Ima’m lest they should admire him.” The narrators have mentioned some questions. We will mention them along with the Ima’m’s answers to them as follows:
1. ‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i’s Questions

‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i was a great philosopher and was the spiritual leader of the tribe of the Sa’bi’a during the time of the Ima’m, peace be on him. He was summoned by al-Ma’mu’n in order to examine the Ima’m, and he had prepared for him the most difficult and vaguest philosophical questions. The researcher, Shaykh Mohammed Taqi al-Ja‘fari, has explained ‘Umra’n’s questions and commented on them, saying: “This debate contains the most important and vaguest theological questions about transcendental wisdom, which tires researchers’ intellects when they reflect on it. Experts have not given enough answers to these questions, for other questions may arise from the questions, and the arising questions may be vaguer than the previous ones themselves. ‘Umra’n, in this narration, raised these vague questions and they were answered by Ima’m ‘Ali b. Mu’sa” al-Rida’, peace be on him, the eighth of Allah’s proofs over His servants and of His testamentary trustees on His earth. What the Ima’m explained during this debate is a clear way which cannot be effaced by the dust of the material veils which are raised by limited reasons in the fortress of dark, sensible things. In this manner the realities which incomplete reason cannot recognize manifest themselves to those who cling to the beliefs of the members of the House of Prophethood, the source of Message, the place of the angles who came one by one, and descending place of Revelation.”

We will mention al-Sa’bi’i’s questions along with the Ima’m’s answers to them just as al-Shaykh al-Sadu’q has mentioned in (his book) ‘Uyu’n Akhba’r al-Rida’.We will also mention some extracts of al-Shaykh al-Ja‘fari’s commentaries on them. The delegation who accompanied ‘Umra’n (al-Sa’bi’i) presented a group of questions. After the Ima’m, peace be on him, had answered the questions of the delegation including eminent Christian and Jewish (religious) scholars, he said to them: “People, if any of you is familiar with Islam and wants to question (me), then let him question (me) without any shame.”

‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i, an expert in theology, addressed the Ima’m with politeness and admiration, saying: “O Scholar of the people, were it not for that you invited (me) to question you, I would not question you. I entered Ku’fa, Basrah, Syria (Sha’m) and al-Jazira. There I met some theologians but none of them was able to establish for me that the One, namely Allah is One who has no second, not other than Him standing through his oneness. May Iquestion you?”

(‘Umra’n) al-Sa’bi’i put forth his deep question, and (said) that the (religious) scholars of Ku’fa, Basrah, Syria (Sha’m) and al-Jazira were not able to answer it. He asked the Ima’m to answer it. The Ima’m smiled at him, saying: “If there is (a person called) ‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i among the group (of the people), then you are he.”

“I am he,” replied ‘Umra’n.

“‘Umra’n, question (me). You must be just. Beware of nonsense and injustice,” declared the Ima’m.

(‘Umra’n) al-Sa’bi’i bowed his head, and then he said to the Ima’m with politeness and magnification: “By Allah, my master, I want nothing except that you establish for me a thing to which I will cling and (which I) do not pass.”

(‘Umra’n) al-Sa’bi’i expressed his good intention, for he wanted to understand the reality and nothing else.

The Ima’m, peace be on him, said: “Question (me) whatever you desire.”

The session was full of (religious) scholars and leaders; among them was al-Ma’mu’n. They kept silent, that they might listen to ‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i’s questions and to the Ima’m’sanswers to them. Then (‘Umra’n) al-Sa’bi’i put forth his questions as follows:

Q1 (i.e. question 1): “Can you tell me about the first being and about what he created?” As for the thing about which (‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i) questioned, it is the first thing and the first material from which Allah created all things. The thing about which he questioned was not the existence of Allah, the Almighty Originator. That is because Allah’s existence can easily be recognized by those who have awareness and will, and have no doubt, for all things in the universe display the existence of their Creator, and for it is impossible for effect to exist without any cause. Now, let us listen to the answer of the Ima’m, peace be on him, to this question:

Ans. 1(i.e. answer 1): “As for the One, He has always been One Being; He has neither limits nor accidental qualities; and He will always remain so. Then He created unprecedented, different creatures with accidental qualities and different limits, (i.e. He created them) not through a thing which He established nor through a thing which He limited nor according to a thing which He imitated or adopted as a previous exemplar for them. Then, after that,He made the creatures, choice and non-choice, different and harmonious (in) types and tastes. He (created them not) for a need of them nor for an excellent rank which He did not attain but through them nor did He see for Himself an increase or a decrease in what He created.”

This paragraph gives an account of the answer of the Ima’m, peace be on him, as follows:

Firstly, Allah, the Exalted, is One; there is nothing with Him; He has neither limits nor accidental qualities like those possible being; He is One Being; He has always been and will always remain so. His Oneness is neither numeral nor qualitative nor generic; rather it means that He is not associated with material and immaterial things. He occupies the most perfect rank; none of possible beings is like Him, for they are ascribed to Him asmade things ascribed to maker, so Blessed is Allah!

Secondly, the view of the Bedouins was that every image should depend and occupy a certain matter. This view is right regarding things other than the Necessary Being, the Most High. As for Him, He does not create things from previous things nor from a things which He had created. Rather He says to thing ‘be’ and it is. He originated the creation of things not according to thing which He imitated or adopted as a model. He has the greatest power which originates the creation of things of which He has no need, for He is the Only Source of favor toward creatures.

The Ima’m, peace be on him, turned to ‘Umra’n (al-Sa’bi’i) and asked him: “‘Umra’n, did you understand this (matter)?”

“Yes,” he replied, “by Allah, master.”

“The Ima’m added:” “Know, ‘Umra’n, that if He had created what He created for a need, He would have not created anything exceptthose whom He asked for the help in His needs, and that He should have created a hundred fold of what Hecreated. That is because the more the helpers are, the more powerful their leader (sahib) is. As for need, ‘Umra’n, it is impossible, for whateverHe creates, other needs arise, but you can say that the creatures need each other. As a result I can say that He did not create the creatures for a need, and He preferred some of them to others while He had no need of those whom he had preferred; nor had He a vengeance on those whom He had abased.”

This statement completes that which is before it (and shows) that Allah, the Exalted, created the creatures while He had no need of them; rather they have need of His favor, His mercy, and His bestowal. He is absolutely munificent, so he spreads mercy and beneficence over all beings and creatures. An example of His bounty is that He prefers some of His creatures to others while He is in no need of those whom He prefers; nor has He a vengeance on those whom He abases.

Q2: “Master, was the Being known to Himself by His Own Self?”

This question is very deep. Al-Shaykh al-Ja‘far has explained it as follows: “You may get a thing and establish it as reality through a scientific discovery. That thing divides into its own identity and dismisses other than it, and thus it is bounded. Stone cannot be obtained scientifically unless the nonexistence of all its opposites is added its identity. (In other words), the scholar cannot recognize and attain being unless he dismisses all things except it. This was the reason for ‘Umra’n’s question about whether He, the Exalted, recognized Himself by Himself. At that time, if the Ima’m’s answer had been ‘yes’, ‘Umra’n would have asked another question: “Did recognizing Himself by Himself require dismissing reasonable beings other than Him?”

Ans. 2: He, peace be on him, said: “Knowledge is acquired by something which negates its opposites, so that the thing itself would be existing through what it is negated, without the existence of anything which contradicts its existence, a need arises to negate that thing about itself by defining what is known about it.” Then the Ima’m turned to ‘Umra’n and asked Him: “‘Umra’n, did you understand?”

“Yes, by Allah, master,” replied ‘Umra’n. The result of the answer of the Ima’m, peace be on him, was that what al-Sa’bi’i had mentioned would be correct if the known being was compared with many things opposing it, so it required dismissing those things in order to get the known (being). However, as for Allah, the Exalted, Creator of the universe and Giver of life, He had nothing to compare Himself with it, so He was in no need of dismissing it in order that He might decide His will through that dismissal.

Q3: “Tell me, then, by what means did He come to know what He knew – with mind or without mind?

By this question al-Sa’bi’i intended to force the Ima’m to confess that Allah, the Exalted, was compound, for He had mind.

Ans. 3: “If it had been by mind, would He then find anyway not to appoint for that mind a bound where knowledge ended?”

The Ima’m wanted (to say) that it was necessary for mind to recognize His reality and essence. Then he asked him the following question: “Then what is that mind?”

Al-Sa’bi’i kept silent and was unable to say anything, for the Ima’m did not leave any room for him to establish his belief. Then the Ima’m turned to him and said: “Is it all right if I ask youabout the mind and you define it by another mind? If you answer in the affirmative, then you would make both your claim andstatement void.”

The Ima’m established perfect argument and definite proof of the voidness of the belief of al-Sa’bi’i, who thought that Allah, the Exalted, could be recognized by mind. Accordingly, there should be another mind to recognize the selfness of Him, the Exalted. This mind depends on another mind, and so on. This matter leads to an endless chain. If the second mind depends on the first mind, it will result in vicious circle. The philosophers and theologians have unanimously greed that both matters (i.e., endless chain and vicious circle) are not corrupt because they result in corrupt matters. Then the Ima’m completed his argument and his proof, saying: “‘Umra’n, is it not incumbent on you to know that the One cannot be described by mind, and it is not said that He has more than one deed, work, and make. None imagines that He has views and members like those of the creatures. Therefore, understand that and correct (your beliefs) with it as long as you have come to know of (it).”

The Ima’m, peace be on him, wanted (to say) that Allah’s different deeds and works were not similar to those of possible beings who were in need of means and mediations such as intellect and all manifest members to carry them out; it is impossible for Allah, the Exalted, to have such means and mediations.

Q4: “Do you not tell me how the bounds of His creatures are?”

‘Umra’n questioned (the Ima’m) about the bounds which distinguish the creatures from each other. The Ima’m answered him:

Ans. 4: “You have asked, then know that the bounds of His creatures are of six kinds: touched, weighed, seen, that which has no taste (soul), seen but has no weight nor touch nor sense nor color nor taste, ordination, accidental qualities, shapes, length, width. Among them are act and movements which make things, do them, change them from state to state, increase them, and decrease them. As for works and deeds, they set out, for they have no time more than that which is ordained for their need. When it (deed) finished by thing, it sets out with movement, and effect remains. It takes the same course of speech which goes and its effect remains.”

The Ima’m’s answer is full of mentioning characteristics and qualities by which things are distinguished, whether they are living beings or not.

Q5: “Master, will you not tell me about the Creator? If He is One, there is nothing other than Him and nothing is with Him, has He not changed (His Essence) through His creating the creatures?”

This question means that the natural realities founded by Allah, the Exalted, require changing the Almighty Creator due to their change. This means that they are united with Him in His selfness; this is impossible.

Ans. 5: “He (Allah) is Eternal. He, the Great and Almighty, does not change through His creating the creatures, but the creatures change through His changing them.”

The result of the answer of the Ima’m, peace be on him,is that the Almighty Creator is the Maker and Founder of all things and is Eternal, so He requires no change out of the change of possible beings and creatures.

Q6: “Master, with what have we recognized Him?”

Ans. 6: “With other than Him.”

All the seen and the unseen things in the universe are evidence for the existence of the Almighty Creator. We have recognized Him through His creatures, and believed in Him through His marvelous make. He has become manifest and clear during this time in which man has invaded outer space. The great make of Him, the Exalted, has manifested itself for mankind through what He has deposited in this space, such as the stars which are neither counted nor numbered, and which move according to regulation and accuracy. If they oppose their course, they will collide and disappear, and no trace of them will remain. So glory belongs to Allah, the Wise Originator!

Q7: “Which thing is other than Him?”

Ans. 7: “His desire, His name, His attribute, and the like. All these are originated, created, managed.”

We have recognized Allah, the Exalted, through His will, His name, and His attributes, which are evidence for Him, may He be glorified. In the Supplication for the Morning, (it has been mentioned): “Oh He who demonstrates His Essence by His Essence.” All the beings in the universe depend on Him as the made depend on the maker.

Q8: “Master, which thing is He?”

Ans. 8: “He is light, namely He guides His creatures from among the people of the heaven and the earth. You have no right against me than my professing His oneness.”

Through his question, ‘Umra’n intended to know the reality of Allah, the Exalted. He imagined that He, the Exalted, was like the rest of possible beings. This is impossible. Man does not know his own body and the small systems therein, so how can he know the essence of the Almighty Creator, the Shaper and Originator of the worlds? The Ima’m answered that he came to know of Allah through His manifest attributes, such as His guiding His creatures and other clear proofs which demonstrate the existence of their Almighty Creator.

Q9: “Master, was He not silent before (creating) the creatures and then He spoke?”

Ans. 9: “Silence is not except out of utterance before it. An example of that it is not said that the lamp is silent and does not utter; nor is it said that the lamp shines, so what does it want to do toward us, for light is from the lamp, not out of an act or make from it; it is not a thing other than it. When it shines for us, we say: ‘It has shone for us, so that we may seek light through it.’ In this manner you can understand your affair.”

The meaning of the answer of the Ima’m, peace be on him, is that silence and utterance follow one another in a matter which accepts them like the succession oftalent and non-talent. As for the utterance of Allah, it is not like the utterance of those speakers from among possible beings. In other words utterance and silence do not hold good for Him as they hold good for possible beings. The Shï‘ites believe that utterance is one of the attributes of action, and that it does not persist in the essence of Him, the Exalted, as the persisting of the essential attributes. That is because it is He, the Exalted, who creates utterance and speech when He wills (to create them). Ima’m al-Rida’, peace be on him, gave an example of that through the lamp, for it is not said that the lamp is silent, does not utter and, also ascribing the addition to the lamp, it is not optional for it (to utter). This is one of the possibilities regarding the explanation of the speech of the Ima’m, peace be on him.

Q10: “Master, the knowledge I have says that the Being is changed in His essence by His action of creating.”

Ans. 10: “‘Umra’n, does your statement 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? Can you say that the fire changes its own nature, or that the heat burns itself, or have you seen anyone seeing his own vision?”

‘Umra’n had already mentioned this question; nevertheless the Ima’m, peace be on him, answered it, and he, peace be on him, increased it in explanation. He said to him: “The being does not in any way change its essence. For example, the actions which issue from soul do not bring about increase therein nor decrease. Yet, there is another example which is the eye. Though vision issues from it, it does not bring about increase therein nor decrease.”

Q11: “Will you not tell me, master? Is He in the creatures or are the creatures in Him?”

Ans. 11: “He is above all that, ‘Umra’n. He is not in the creatures; nor are the creatures in Him; He is exalted above that. I will teach you what you do not know, and there is no strength save in Allah. 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 reflection in it, ‘Umra’n?”

The Ima’m, peace be on him, made it impossible for Allah, the Exalted, to exist in His creatures or they exist in Him. He gave an example of that through the reflection in the mirror; it is not in the mirror; nor is the mirror in it; rather it is light which brings about seeing the reflection in the mirror and it is not in any way in it. Ibn al-Fa’rid says:

Through His Unity all many (things) has lasted for it, so

it has become correct and every cause has come to it.

The essence of union has become single for Himself, even

if its units fall under it.

I looked but did not see (anything) except pure unity

already covered by many (things) without any partner. Regarding this matter there are deep philosophical researches, but we have not mentioned them lest the book should be too long.

Q12: “Through the light between myself and it?”

This question is related to that which is before it, and we have explained it.

Ans. 12: “Can you see of that light more than what you can see with your own eyes?”

“Yes,” replied ‘Umra’n.

“Then show it to us,” demanded the Ima’m.

‘Umra’n kept silent, not knowing what to say. For the Ima’m did not leave any room for him to defend his own beliefs. Then the Ima’m continued his talk, saying: “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 such examples which the ignorant simply cannot observe, and the greatest example belongs to Allah.”
The Debate is being postponed

The time of the prayer came. It was necessary for the Ima’m to postpone the debate, so he turned to al-Ma’mu’n and said to him: “(The time of) the prayer has just come.” ‘Umra’n feared that the debate between him and the Ima’m would not be resumed, so he said to him: “Master, do not interrupt my questions, for my heart has sympathized (with you).”

The Ima’m, peace be on him, promised him to resume the debate, then he rose and performed the obligatory prayer.
The Debate is being resumed

The session returned. It was attended by al-M’mu’n, the eminent religious scholars, and high ranking commanders. Then the Ima’m turned to ‘Umra’n and said to him: “‘Umra’n, question me.”

Q13: “Master, will you tell me about Allah, the Great and Almighty? Does He exist in His reality or in description?”

Ans. 13: “Verily, Allah is the Originator, the One, the First Being. He has always been One. There is nothing with Him. He is single without a second with Him. He is neither known (i.e. in His reality) nor unknown nor clear nor ambiguous nor remembered nor forgotten nor a thing to which the title of a thing is applied nor from a time He was nor to a time He will be nor on a thing He stood nor on a thing He stands nor on a thing He depends nor in a thing He is hidden. All that was before the creation.[1]As for the whole you have applied to Him, it was attributes which appeared later, and translation through which understands he who understands.

“Know that the meaning of origination (ibda’d‘), will, and intention is one, but their titles are three. The first was His origination (ibada’’), His will, and His intention which He made the origin of all things, evidence for all perceived things, separator for all vague things. All things were separated by these words, such as the name of right and wrong, action, done, meaning other than meaning. All affairs gathered on them. When He originated the words, He did not make meaning for them other than themselves. They came to an end and had no existence, for they were originated with an origination.

“The light in this place, which is the light of the heavens and the earth, is the first action of Allah. As for the letters, they are the done (thing) which the speech concerns. All the acts of worship were from Allah, the Great and Almighty. He taught them to His creatures. They are thirty-three letters. Twenty-eight letters of them indicates the letters of Arabic. Twenty-two of the twenty-eight letters shows the letters ofAssyrian and Hebrew. Five letters of them were changed (and are) in the rest of the languages of non-Arabs in the regions. These five letters were derived from the twenty-five letters, so the letters became thirty-three. As for the five different (letters), it is not permissible to mention them more than what we have mentioned. Then He made the letters after He had counted them and numbered them firmly. So His sign was like these words of Him, the Exalted: ‘Be and it is.’ Make,be from it, and the made be from it. So the first creature of Allah, the Great and Almighty, was the origination which had neither weight nor movement nor hearing nor color nor sense; the second creature was the letters which had neither weight nor color. They were heard and described; (none) looked at them. As for the third creature, it was all the kinds which were sensed, touched, with taste, and seen. As for Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, was before the letters which indicate nothing other than themselves.” Al-Ma’mu’n admired (this answer) and did not understand most meanings of these deep words which we will leave without any explanation, for it takes us a long time to explain them. Then he asked the Ima’m: “How they (i.e. the letters) indicate nothing other than themselves?”

The Ima’m answered him and explained the matter for him, saying: “Surely, Allah, the Blessed and Most High, never gathered a thing from them for another meaning. When He created from them four or five or six words or more than that or less than that, He created them for a certain meaning, and they were not for anything except for an originated meaning, which was nothing before that (time).

Q14: “How can we come to know of that?”

Ans. 14: “As for the way and explaining knowledge, it is (as follows): You mention the letters when you want nothing other than themselves. You mention them one by one when you say: Alif, ba’’, ta’’ tha’’, jeem, ha’’, kha’’, until you finish them. You will find no meaning other than themselves. When you gather them and make from them letters and make from them the name and adjective for a certain meaning, you will not seek the meaning of what you have meant. They are proof of their meanings and the cause of the thing described by them. Did you understand them?”

“Yes,” was the answer.

The Ima’m continued his speech about explaining the meanings of the letters when they were put together, saying: “Know that it (the letter) is not an adjective of that which is not described nor a bound of that which is not bounded. As for the attributes and the names, they indicate perfection and existence, not an example of encompassment, as the bounds, which are – squaring, making triangle, and making hexagon. That is because Allah, the Great and Almighty, is known by the attributes and the names, not by limits, such as length, width, littleness, muchness, color, weight, and the like. Nothing of these limits is applied to Allah, that His creatures may know Him through knowing themselves, according to the necessity which we have mentioned.

“However, Allah, the Great and Almighty, is indicated by His attributes, known by His names, and His creatures are proofs of Him, that the willing seeker concerning that may be in no need of the vision of an eye nor hearing of an ear nor touching of the palm of hand nor encompassment of a heart. If His attributes, great be His laudation, do not indicate Him; His names do not summon to Him; the knowledge of the creatures does not perceive His core; the creatures will worship His names and His attributes, not His core. If this is such, then the one god will be other than Allah, for his attributes and his names are other than him. Did you understand, ‘Umra’n?”

“Yes, master, increase me,” replied ‘Umra’n.

The Ima’m continued his interesting speech after he had gained mastery over those who attended the session. He said: “Beware of the statement of the ignorant from among the of blindness and error who claim that Allah, the Great and All-holy, exists in the hereafter for reckoning concerning reward and punishment, and He is not in the world for the acts of obedience and hope. If Allah, the Great and Almighty, has defects in this world, he will never be in the next. However, the people have gone astray, become blind, and deaf toward the truth while they do not know. That is according to the words of Him, the Great and Almighty: And whoever is blind in (the world), he shall also be blind in the hereafter and more erring from the way.[2]I mean that he is blind toward the existing realities. Those who have intellects know that the proof of what is there (in the next world) is not but through what is here (in the world). He who takes the knowledge of that (world) according to his own view, seeks its existence and perceiving it through his own soul, and not through other than it, increases himself nothing of the knowledge of that (world) but fairness, for Allah, the Great and Almighty, has placed the knowledge of that (world) with special group of people who think, know, and understand.”

Q15: “Master, tell me about origination: Is it creation or other than creation?”

Shaykh al-Ja‘fari commented on this question, saying: “This is also one of the questions which have tired the minds and reasons of mankind, for it is (the question) which has brought about the disunity of the different ways and sects. Some of them say: Origination such as materials, images, reasons, souls, and the like is absolutely impossible whether it is from the Necessary Being or from the possible being. Others have absolutely regarded it as possible. Others have confined the possibility of origination to Allah, the Exalted, in general, namely that He, the Exalted, is powerful to originate any being He wills without any material before it, and change befalls it. They have also said: ‘It (origination) requires His absolute power and the ability of the object. Yet others follow other ways.[3]”

Ans. 15: “Rather it (origination) is still creation and is not perceived through stillness. It becomes creation for it is something originated. It is Allah who originates it and it becomes His creature. Allah, the Great and Almighty, creates it, and there is no third (thing) between them, and no third (thing) is other than them. So what Allah, the Great and Almighty, creates is His creature. Perhaps, the creatures is still, moving, different, harmonious, known, and ambiguous. All the bounded things are the creatures of Allah, the Great and Almighty. Know that all the things which the senses find for you are meanings perceived by the senses, and every sense demonstrates what Allah, the Great and Almighty, has placed in its perception, and the heart understands all of that. Know that the One who is standing without any ordination or bounds created creatures ordained by bounds and ordination, and what He creates is two creatures: the ordination and the ordained. In each of them there is neither color nor weight nor taste. He makes one of them perceive the other and makes them perceive in their nature. He does not create a single thing standing in its nature without other than it which He wills to be proof of His selfness and His existence, so Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, is Single and One; there is no second with Him in order to make Him stand, to support Him and to hide Him. The creatures hold each other through the permission and will of Allah, the Exalted. Men have differed over this subject to the extent that they have gone astray, become perplexed, and sought salvation from darkness with darkness through their describing Allah, the Exalted, with their own qualities, so they have become very far away from the truth. If they describe Allah, the Great and Almighty, with His own attributes, and describe the creatures with their own qualities, they will profess understanding and certainty, and will not defer over (Him). When they seek that toward which they are perplexed, they become confused. Allah guides whomever He wills to the straight path.”

Q16: “I witness that He is just as you have described. However, I have another question.”

“Question whatever you desire.”

“I want to question you about the All-wise (Allah): In which thing is He? Does anything encompass Him? Does He change from state to state? Is He in need of a thing?”

Ans. 16: “I will tell you, ‘Umra’n, so understand Whom you have questioned about. He is the most ambiguous matter which the creatures face. As for those whose reasons are different and whose clemency is distant, they do not recognize (Him). As for those who are just and have reasons, they are able to recognize (Him). As for the first (thing) of that: If the creation of what He creates is out of His need of it, it is permissible for one to say: He changes according to what He creates because of His need of that. However, He, the Great and Almighty, does not create anything out of need, and He is still firm, not in a thing nor on a thing, but it is the creatures which hold each other, enter in one another, and come forth from each other. As for Allah, the Great and All-holy, He holds the whole of that through His power. He does not enter a thing and comes out of it. The preservation of it does not tire Him, nor is He incapable of holding it. None of the creatures knows how that is except Allah, the Great and Almighty, His messengers whom He informed of it, the people of His secrets, those who keep His command, and His guardians who undertake His Law. Rather His command is like the twinkling of an eye. If He wills a thing, He only says to it: Be, so there it is, in accordance with His desire and will. Nothing is nearer to Him than a thing; nothing is farther from Him than a thing. Did you understand, ‘Umra’n?”

“Yes, master,” replied ‘Umra’n.

Whatever knowledge is given to man, he is incapable of understanding his own soul and his wonderful small systems, so how can he recognize or encompass the Almighty Creator, the Originator of the worlds and Giver of life. Ibn Abu’ al-Haddïd says:

Intellect has become perplexed concerning You, O Wonder of the universe!

Whenever my mind comes a span of the hand nearer to You, it becomes a mile far.

You have perplexed the possessors of reason and confused brain.

Surely, the human brain is limited, so how can it recognize the reality of Allah, the Exalted. Yes, we have recognized Him and believed in Him through His creatures, for every atom in this universe displays the existence of the Almighty Creator, Who knows all things in the heaven and the earth.
Al-Sa’bi’i becomes Muslim

‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i acknowledged the many scientific abilities of the Ima’m, peace be on him, such as his definite answers to the most difficult philosophical questions, which none was able to answer except the testamentary trustees of the prophets whom Allah endowed with knowledge and sound judgment. Accordingly, he embraced Islam and began saying: “I witness that Allah, the Most High, is as you have described, and witness that Mohammed, may Allah bless him and his family, is His Servants sent with guidance and the religion of the truth.”

Then he prostrated himself in prayer before Allah and submitted to Him. The religious scholars and the theologians admired the Ima’m’s knowledge and talents, hence they told the people about his excellence and abundant knowledge. As for al-Ma’mu’n, he drowned in pain, harbored malice against the Ima’m, envied him, and then left the session.
Mohammed Fears for the Ima’m

Mohammed b. Ja‘far, the Ima’m’s uncle, feared al-Ma’mu’n for the safety of the Ima’m. He attended the session and saw the Ima’m’s domination over ‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i, who was an excellent philosopher of the time, so he summoned al-Hasan b. Mohammed al-Nawfali, the Ima’m’s companion, and said to him: “Have you not seen what your companion (the Ima’m) brought?” “No, by Allah,” said al-Nawfali, “I think that ‘Ali b. Mu’sa’ al-Rida’ has never gone into anything, and we do not know him through it. He always speak about theology in Medina and the theologians gather before him.”

Then al-Nawfali informed him of the Ima’m’s knowledge and excellence, saying: “The pilgrims come to him and ask him about the lawful and the unlawful, and he answers them. Perhaps he goes into theology when someone comes to him and debates with him.”

However, Mohammed expressed his fear of al-M’mu’n for his nephew, saying: “I fear that this man (i.e. al-Ma’mu’n) will envy him, give him poison (to drink), and creates an affliction against him. So advise him to refrain from these things.”

As for al-Nawfali, he had good opinion of al-Ma’mu’n, did not fear him for the Ima’m, so he said to Mohammed: “The Ima’m (i.e. al-Ma’mu’n) wants nothing except to examine him, that he may know whether he (the Ima’m) has something of the knowledge of his fathers.”

Mohammed was not satisfied with al-Nawfali’s statement, for he thought that al-Ma’mu’n was wicked, so he said to al-Nawfali: “Say to him (al-Rida’): Your uncle dislikes this chapter (of theology) and asks you to refrain from these things for several reasons….”

The Ima’m’s uncle was right in his intuition, for he knew that the ‘Abba’sid family harbored malice against the members of the House (ahl al-Bayt), peace be on them, and showed enmity toward them. Moreover, (‘Umra’n) al-Sa’bi’i’s questions and his adopting Islam at the hand of the Ima’m moved the spites of al-Ma’mu’n and he assassinated him, as we will see in the chapters that follow.

Al-Nawfali related to the Ima’m, peace be on him, Mohammed’s words, and he thanked him for them and prayed for him.
The Ima’m honors ‘Umra’n

Through his debates, the Ima’m made ‘Umra’n adopt Islam. (This was a great achievement), for the latter was the most prominent scholar of his time. The Ima’m sent for him. When he came, the Ima’m , welcomed and received him with honor. Then he gave him garments and ten thousand dirhams. ‘Umra’n was pleased with that, so he prayed for the Ima’m and thanked him for that, saying: “May I be your ransom, you have followed the deeds of your grandfather, the Commander of the faithful.”

‘Umra’n came frequently to the Ima’m and made used of his abundant knowledge. After that, as the historians say, he became a summoner to Islam. The theologians from among the possessors of statements and innovations came to him and asked him about the most important questions. He answered their questions to the extent that he made them avoid him. Al-Ma’mu’n gave him ten thousand dirhams and, in addition, al-Fadl gave him some money. Then the appointed him as a governor over the charities of Balkh, and he did right things.[4]
The Questions of Sulayma’n al-Maru’zi

As for Sulayma’n al-Maru’zi, he was skilled in philosophy and experienced in theological researches. He was the most prominent religious scholars in Khurasa’n. Al-Ma’mu’n invited him, met him with friendly reception and honor, and said to him: “My cousin, ‘Ali b. Mu’sa’ al-Rida’, peace be on him, has come to me from al-Hija’z. He likes theology and theologians. Will you come to us on the 8th day of Dhu al-Hijja (youm al-Tarwiya) in order to debate with him.”

Sulayma’n was afraid of that. He thought that the Ima’m would be unable to answer his questions, and that the ‘Alawides would harbor malice against him. Accordingly, he apologized to al-Ma’mu’n, saying: “I dislike to question him in your session and among a group of the Ha’shimites. The people will regard him as defective when he debate with me on theology. Defects are not permissible for him.”

Al-Ma’mu’n made covenant with him and promised that no harm or detested things would befall him. He said (to him): “I have invited you because I know that you are learned (in theology). I have no intention except that you silence him (Ima’m al-Rida’) in one argument.”

This statement demonstrates that al-Ma’mu’n had evil intention toward the Ima’m, harbored malice against him, and showed enmity toward him. Sulayma’n felt safety from any aggression against him, and then he said to al-Ma’mu’n: “(I will be) sufficient, Commander of the faithful, bring us together and do not dispraise me.” Meanwhile al-Ma’mu’n sent his messenger to the Ima’m and asked him to come in order to debate with Sulayma’n. The Ima’m responded to that and attended along with a delegation from among his eminent companions including ‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i, who became a Muslim at the hand of the Ima’m. Then a debate took place between Sulayma’n and ‘Umra’n al-Sa’bi’i on al-bida’’. Sulayma’n denied al-bida’’ while ‘Umra’n confirmed it. Then Sulayma’n sought the Ima’m’s view about it and he confessed it. He established it through some verses from the Holy Qur’a’n. Then al-Ma’mu’n turned to Sulayma’n and said to him: “Question Abu’ al-Hasan about whatever you desire. You must listen well and be fair.” Sulayma’n asked the Ima’m the following questions:

Q1: “What is your view about Him whom has made will as name and attribute such as All-living, All-hearing, All-seeing, and All-powerful?”

Ans. 1: “You want to say that things were originated and became different because He desired and willed, and you do not want to say that things were originated and became different because He is All-hearing and All-seeing. This is proof of that they (i.e. will and desire) are not similar to All-hearing, All-seeing, and All-powerful.”

Sulayma’n interrupted the Ima’m, saying: “He has always been willing.”

The Ima’m answered him: “Sulayma’n, His will is (something) other than Him.”

Sulayma’n numbered (some attributes) to show that Allah, the Exalted, was united with His intention. So, the Ima’m disproved Sulayma’n’s vague error, saying:

“You have proved along with Him something other than Him which has always been.”

“I have not proved (that),” replied Sulayma’n

“Is it (the will ) originated?” asked Sulayma’n.

“No, it is not originated,” answered the Ima’m.

The Ima’m confused Sulayma’n and he began saying contradictory statements. He (Sulayma’n) sometimes said that will was eternal and sometimes said that it was originated. Therefore, al-Ma’mu’n shouted at him and asked him not to show obstinacy and to show fairness in his speech, saying: “You must be fair. Do you not see that the people of consideration are around you?”

Then al-Ma’mu’n turned to the Ima’m and said to him: “Abu’ al-Hasan, debate with him on theology, for he is the theologian of Khurasa’n.”

The Ima’m asked him: “Is it (the will) originated?”

Sulayma’n denied the origination of the will, so the Ima’m answered him:

“Sulayma’n, it is originated. If thing is not eternal, it is originated; if it is not originated, it is eternal.”

Sulayma’n interrupted (the Ima’m) saying: “His (Allah’s) will is (part) of Him just as His hearing, His sight, and His knowledge are (parts) of Him.”

The Ima’m disproved his statement, asking: “Did He will Himself?”

“No,” was the answer.

The Ima’m began confuting his statement, saying: “Therefore, the willing is not like the All-hearing and the All-seeing.”

Sulayma’n (answered) at random, for the Ima’m left no room for him to defend his own vague errors. He (Sulayma’n) said: ‘Surely, He willed Himself just as He heard Himself, saw Himself, and recognized Himself.”

The Ima’m confuted his statement, asking: “What is the meaning of that He willed Himself? Did He will to be a thing? Did He will to be All-living, All-hearing, All-seeing, and All-powerful?”

Sulayma’n did not know what to say, so he answered: “Yes.”

“Did that occur through His will?” asked the Ima’m.

“Yes,” was the answer.

The Ima’m began refuting Sulayma’n’s statement and showing the contradiction therein, saying: “Your statement: ‘He willed to be All-living, All-hearing, and All-seeing,’ has no sense. Was that through His will?”

As the matter was deep, Sulayma’n said: “Yes, that was through His will.”

The people in the session burst into laughter. Al-Ma’mu’n laughed at the contradictory speech of Sulayma’n. However, the Ima’m turned to the people and asked them to show gentleness toward Sulayma’n. Then he asked him: “Sulayma’n, do you think that He (i.e. Allah, the Exalted) has altered from state to state and changed due to it? This is something through which Allah is not described.”

Sulayma’n became feeble and kept silent, so the Ima’m turned to him in order to establish proof against him, saying: “Sulayma’n, I want to ask you a question.”

“Question (me), may I be your ransom,” replied Sulayma’n.

“Tell me about you and your companions: Do you debate with the people on theology according to what you understand and know or according to what you do not understand and know?”

“Rather, according to what we understand and know,” answered Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m began establishing proof against Sulayma’n’s vague errors, saying: “The thing which the people know is that the willing is other than will, that the willing is before will, that the doer is before the thing done. This (statement) disproves your statement: ‘Will and the willing is one thing.’”

Sulayma’n said: “May I be your ransom, isn’t that of Him as the people know and understand?”

The Ima’m continued refuting Sulayma’n’s vague errors, saying: “I think that you have claimed the knowledge of that without knowledge and said: ‘Will is like hearing and seeing.’ If you have such a view, then it is something which is neither known nor is understood.”

Sulayma’n became perplexed and was unable to answer because of the many scientific abilities of the Ima’m, peace be on him. The Ima’m resumed his debate in order to complete proof against him, saying:

“Sulayma’n, does Allah know all those who are in the Garden and the Fire?”

“Yes,” Sulayma’n retorted.

The Ima’m opposed him, saying: “Is what Allah, the Exalted, knows (part) of that?”

“Yes,” was the answer.

“If it is to the extent that nothing of it remains but is, will He increase them or cut them off from it (the fruit of the Garden)?”

“Rather, He increases them,” replied Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m disproved his statement, saying: “From your statement I see that He increases them what is not in His knowledge that it will be.”

Sulayma’n said: “May I be your ransom, the willing has no limit.”

The Ima’m continued disproving Sulayma’n’s vague errors, saying: “In your view, is that His knowledge does not encompass what therein (in the Garden) if He does not know the limit of that (which is in the Garden). If His knowledge does not encompass what therein, He does not know what is therein before it is. Allah, the Great and Almighty, is High above that!”

Sulayma’n began apologizing and putting right his view, saying: “Verily, I said that He did not know that, for it has no limit, and for Allah, the Great and Almighty, described them (the people of the Garden) with everlastingness, and we hated to make cessation for them.”

The Ima’m went on refuting his vague errors and his descriptions, saying: “His knowledge of that does not bring about His cutting them from it, for He may know that; then He increase them; then He does not cut them off from it. This is what Allah, the Great and Almighty, has said in His Book: So oft as their skins are thoroughly burned, We will change them for other skins, that they may taste the chastisement.[5]And He said to the people of the Garden: A gift which shall never be cut off.[6]And He, the Great and Almighty, said: And abundant fruit, neither intercepted nor forbidden.[7]Therefore, He, the Great and Almighty, knows that, so He does not cut them off from increase. Have you seen that He renews what the people of the Garden eat and drink?”

“Yes,” was the answer.

“Does He cut them (the people of the Garden) off from it (fruit), while He puts (another) in the place of it?” asked the Ima’m.

“No,” was the answer.

The Ima’m, peace be on him,continued establishing his beliefs, saying: “If He puts (another) in the place of it, then it (the fruit) is everlasting; therefore they are not cut off from it.”

Sulayma’n went on clinging to vague errors and imaginations which the Ima’m had already disproved through undeniable proofs, saying:

“Yes, He cuts them off from it and does not increase them.”

The Ima’m opposed that and confuted it with these words of him: “Therefore, He destroys (them) therein. This (statement), Sulayma’n, cancels everlastingness and opposes the Book, for Allah, the Great and Almighty, says: They have therein whatever they wish and with Us is more yet.[8]And He, the Great and Almighty, says: A gift which shall never be cut off.[9]And He, the Great and Almighty, says: Nor shall they be ever ejected from it (the Garden).[10]And He, the Great and Almighty, says: Abiding therein forever.[11]And He, the Great and Almighty, says: And abundant fruit, neither intercepted nor forbidden.”

Sulayma’n kept silent, not knowing what to answer after the Ima’m had closed before him all avenues of argument. Then the Ima’m asked him: “Sulayma’n, tell me about will: Is it an action or not?”

“Rather, it is an action,” replied Sulayma’n.

“Therefore, it is originated, for all actions are originated,” declared the Ima’m.

All possible beings are effects, made, and originated. As for the Necessary Being, the Most High, it is impossible for Him to have the qualities of the possible being. Sulayma’n was unable to say anything and began contradicting himself, saying:

“It (i.e. will) is not an action.”

As for Sulayma’n, he had already admitted that it was an action. As a result, the Ima’m turned to him and asked him: “Is there anyone besides Him who, too, is eternal?”

Sulayma’n dodged and did not answer the Ima’m’s question, saying: “Will is the brining forth.”

The Ima’m answered: “This is the thing because of which you criticized Dira’r[12]and his companions, saying that everything Allah, the Great and Almighty, has created in heaven or earth, ocean or land – such as dog or pig, monkey, human or an animal – is Allah’s will, and that Allah’s will lives, dies, goes away, eats, drinks, marries, feels pleasure, wrongs, commits immoral acts, disbelieves, becomes a polytheist, so He renounces it and repeats Himself through it, and this is its bound.”

The Ima’m, peace be on him, demonstrated Dira’r’s corrupt viewpoints which Sulayma’n and his companions had criticized. He refuted all these corrupt viewpoints before Sulayma’n, but the latter did not understand the Ima’m’s statement and said: “It (i.e. will) is like hearing, seeing, and knowledge.”

Sulayma’n repeated what he had already said that will was like hearing and seeing. The Ima’m had already confuted this corrupt statement, yet he, peace be on him, asked him: “Tell me: Are hearing, seeing, and knowledge made?”

“No,” was the answer.

The Ima’m criticized Sulayma’n for his contradictory statement, saying: “How did you negate Him? You sometimes said that He did not will and sometimes you said that He willed, and that it (i.e. will) was not one of His actions.”

Sulayma’n said at random: “Surely, that is like our statement: He sometimes knows and sometimes does not know!”

The Ima’m answered with inclusive proof, saying: “That is not the same, for negating the known is not like negating knowledge; negating what is willed is (not like) negating will, for if the thing is not willed, there will be no will. Knowledge may be established even if the known is not like seeing. Man may be knowing even though he is not the one who enlightens (others). Knowledge may be established even if it is not the known.”

Sulayma’n answered: “It (i.e. will) is made.”

The Ima’m invalidated Sulayma’n’s statement, saying: “Therefore, it (will) is originated and is not like hearing and seeing, for hearing and seeing are not made, and this is made.”

Sulayma’n said: “It (will) is one of His eternal attributes.”

The Ima’m answered him, saying: “Therefore man must be eternal, for his quality is eternal.”

Sulayma’n began dodging in his speech and said: “No, because He did not do it (will).

As a result, the Ima’m criticized him for that and said: “Khurasa’ni, what numerous your errors are! Are things not according to His will?”

Sulayma’n insisted on his error, saying: “No.”

The Ima’m answered him: “If things are not according to His will nor His desire nor His command nor His practice, then how are they? High is Allah above that!”

Sulayma’n became perplexed. He was unable to say anything. Then the Ima’m continued confuting Sulayma’n’s vague errors and imaginations, asking him: “Will you not tell me about these words of Him, the Great and Almighty: And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein?[13]Does He not mean by that that He creates His own will?”

“Yes,” Sulayma’n retorted.

The Ima’m answered him: “If He creates His own will, then your statement is thatwill is He or a futile thing of Him, for it is not (possible) for Him to create Himself and does not change His state. Exalted is Allah above that.”

Sulayma’n opposed (the Ima’m), saying: “By that He does not mean that He creates His own will?”

“So what does He mean?” asked the Ima’m.

“He means doing a thing,” was the answer.

The Ima’m rebuked him, saying: “Woe unto you! How many times have you repeated this matter? I told you that will is created, for the action of a thing is originated.”

“Therefore will has no sense,” declared Sulayma’n.

“Do you think that He describes Himself with will which has no sense? If will has no old or new meaning, then your statement, ‘Allah, the Great and Almighty, has always been willing’ is groundless.”

Sulayma’n began clinging to vague errors, saying: “I mean that will is one of Allah’s eternal actions.”

The Ima’m answered him, saying: “Do you not know that thing is not done and eternal and new at the same time?”

Sulayma’n became perplexed after the Ima’m had disproved all his vague errors and made clear for him that every possible thing was created and not eternal, and that the will of Allah was not like the qualities of the possible being.

The Ima’m continued establishing his proofs against Sulayma’n, saying: “There is no harm on you. Complete your questions.”

“Will is one of His attributes,” declared Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m criticized him for repeating this statement, saying: “How many times have you said that it is one of His attributes? Is His will originated, or has it always been so?”

“Originated,” was the answer.

The Ima’m said: “Alla’hu Akbar! You are telling me that His attribute is originated. Had it been one of His attributes, an eternal one, then He willed nothing, for the thing which has always been so is not done.”

Sulayma’n began contradicting himself, saying: “Things are not a will, and He did not will anything.”

The Ima’m answered him, saying: “You have hissed, O Sulayma’n! He did and created as long as His will and His creation are eternal! This is the attribute of someone who does not know what he is doing. Exalted is Allah above all of that.”

Again Sulayma’n contradicted himself and said: “Master, I have already informed you that will is like hearing, seeing, and knowing.”

As a result, al-Ma’mu’n shouted at Sulayma’n, saying: “Woe unto you, Sulayma’n! How you have erred and how often you have repeated yourself? Stop it and take another (matter), for you seem to be unable to provide any answer better than that.”

The Ima’m turned to al-Ma’mu’n and said to him: “Leave him, Commander of the faithful. Don’t interrupt his questions, for he will regard it as an argument (against me).”

Then the Ima’m looked at Sulayma’n and said to him: “Speak, Sulayma’n.”

Sulayma’n continued saying: “I have already informed you that will is like hearing, seeing, and knowing.”

The Ima’m replied to him: “There is no harm, tell me about the meaning of this. Is it one meaning or different meanings?”

“One meaning,” came the answer.

“Is the meaning of will one?” asked the Ima’m.

“Yes,” was the answer.

The Ima’m answered him with an irrefutable answer, saying: “If its meaning is one, then it will be the will of standing, sitting, life, and death. If His will is one, parts of which do not go ahead parts, and parts of which do not oppose parts.”

Sulayma’n replied, saying: “Surely, its meaning is different.”

The Ima’m understood that Sulayma’n was uncertain, so he asked him: “Tell me about the willing: Is He the will or other than it?”

“Rather, He is the will,” replied Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m answered him: “In your view, is the willing different when He is the will.”

“Master, the will is not the willing,” explained Sulayma’n.

Yet the Ima’m understood that Sulayma’n was not sure, so he said to him: “Will is originated; otherwise there is (something) other than Him along with Him.”

“Will is one of His names,” said Sulayma’n.

“Did He name Himself with that?” asked the Ima’m.

“No,” replied Sulayma’n, “He did not name Himself with that.”

“Therefore, you have no right to name Him with what He did not name Himself,” said the Ima’m.

Sulayma’n dodged and said: “He described Himself that He was willing.”

The Ima’m said: “His attribute is not His selfness. That He is willing is telling of that He is will and is not telling of that will is one of His names.”

“That is because His will is His knowledge,” declared Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m asked: “If He knows thing, does He lose (His) will.”

“Yes,” was the answer.

“If He does not will thing, does He not know it?” asked the Ima’m.

“Yes,” replied Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m began explaining Sulayma’n’s corrupt views, saying: “From where did you say that? What is the evidence for that His will is His knowledge? He may know what He does not will by no means, and that is these words of Him, the Great and Almighty: And if We will, We should certainly take way that which We have revealed to you.[14]Therefore, He knows how He takes it away, but He never takes it away.”

Sulayma’n said: “That is because He finished the affair, so He did not increase anything therein.”

The Ima’m replied, saying: “This is the statement of the Jews. So why did He, the Exalted, say: Call upon Me, I will answer you.[15]”

As for Sulayma’n, he denied that and said: “By that He meant that He had power over it.”

The Ima’m asked him: “Does He promise what He does not fulfill? Why did He say: He increases in creation what He wills?[16]And He, the Great and Almighty, said: Allah makes to pass away and establishes what He wills [17], while He finished this matter.”

Sulayma’n became perplexed after the Ima’m had closed before all avenues of argument. Wherever he went, the Ima’m faced him with an irrefutable argument and inclusive proof in order to invalidate his viewpoints. Then the Ima’m, peace be on him, continued confuting Sulayma’n’s vague errors, saying: “Sulayma’n, did He know that a human being would be and He did not will to create a human being by no means? That a human being will die today and He will not make him die today?”

“Yes,” retorted Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m hastened to refute these contradictory words of Sulayma’n, asking: “Does He know that what He wills exists or does He know what He will not exists?”

Sulayma’n opposed the Ima’m, saying: “He knows that both of them exist.”

The Ima’m answered him according to his contradictory statement, saying: “Therefore, He knows that man is living and dead, standing and sitting, blind and seeing at the same time. This is impossible.”

Sulayma’n began saying more contradictory statements regarding the questions of the Ima’m, saying: “May I be your ransom, He knows that one of them exists.”

The Ima’m said: “There is no harm (on you), which of them exists – the one which He wills to be or the one which He wills not to be?”

Sulayma’n began saying at random, not knowing what to say, and not knowing his contradictory statements: “He wills what He wills to be!”

The people including al-Ma’mu’n burst into laughter. As for Ima’m al-Rida’, he smiled at Sulayma’n and said to him: “You have erred and left your statement: He knows that a person will die today and He does not will to make him die today, that He wills to createcreatures and He will not to create them. If your knowledge is not enough (to understand) what He wills not to be, then He knows only what He wills to be.”

Sulayma’n tried to correct his statement, saying: “My statement is that will is neither He nor a thing other than Him!”

The Ima’m indicated Sulayma’n’s contradiction, saying: “If you say that will is not He, then you have regarded it as (something) other than him. If you say that will is not (a thing) other than Him, then you have regarded it as Him.”

Sulayma’n asked: “Does Allah know how He creates thing?”

“Yes,” replied the Ima’m.

“Surely, this establishes thing.”

The Ima’m answered him with a wise answer, saying: “You have said something impossible. That is because man may build a wall even if he does not build, sew even though he does not sew, make thing well despite he does not make it. Sulayma’n, do you know that He is One without anything with Him?”

“Yes,” was the answer.

“Does this establish thing?”

As for Sulayma’n, he denied what he said previously, saying: “He does not know that He is One without anything with Him.”

“Do you know that?” asked the Ima’m.

“Yes,” came the answer.

“Therefore, You, Sulayma’n, more knowledgeable than Him!”

“The matter is impossible,” declared Sulayma’n.

The Ima’m asked him: “Is it impossible in your view that He is One without anything with Him, that He is All-hearing, All-seeing, All-wise, All-powerful…?”

“Yes,” was the answer.

The Ima’m answered with a wise answer, saying: “How did He, the Great and Almighty, say that He was One, All-living, All-hearing, All-seeing, All-wise, All-powerful, All-knowing, All-aware, while He did not know that and His being accused of lying? Exalted is Allah above that.”

The Ima’m added, saying: “How does He will to create that which He does not know how to create and what it is? If creator does not know how to create thing before he creates it, then he is perplexed. Exalted is Allah above that, a great exaltation!”

Sulayma’n said at random: “Will is power.”

The Ima’m replied: “He, the Great and Almighty, always has power over what He will. There is no escape from that, for He, the Blessed and Exalted, said: And if We will, We should certainly take away that which We have revealed to you. If will is power, He wills take it away because of His power.”

Feebleness appeared on Sulayma’n’s face, and he stood perplexed before this Ocean of knowledge and merit. As a result, he kept silent. Al-Ma’mu’n turned to him and praised the Ima’m’s talents saying: “Sulayma’n, this is the most learned of the Ha’shimites!”

This debate contains very important theological researches which show that the Ima’m has great scientific abilities which demonstrates the beliefs of the Ima’mi Shï‘ites, who maintain that the Ima’m should be the most learned of the people of his time. This debate aborted the attempt of al-Ma’mu’n, who intended to render the Ima’m incapable of answering even one question, that he might use his incapability as means to defame the beliefs of the Shï‘ites concerning the Ima’m. Shaykh al-Sadu’q, may Allah make shine his grave, has commented on this debate, saying: “Al-Ma’mu’n brought to Ima’m al-Rida’ the theologians of the sects and misleading inclinations in order to disable him through one of them. That is because of his envy toward him and his scientific position. All those who debated with him (al-Rida’) on theology acknowledged his merit and his arguments against them. That is because Allah, may His name be blessed, refuses (everything) except raising His word, completing His light, and making shine His proof. In this manner He, the Blessed and Exalted, promised in His Book, saying: Most surely We help our apostles and those who believe in this world’s life.[18]By who believe He means the leading Ima’ms and their followers who know them and learn from them through helping them with argument against those who oppose them as long as they live in the world. In this manner He will behave toward them in the next world. Surely, Allah, the Great and Almighty, does not break promise.[19]”

[1]In a copy: “Before His creating the creatures.”

[2]Qur’a’n, 17, 72.

[3]Tuhaf al-‘Uqu’l, p. 527.

[4]‘Uyyu’n Akhba’r al-Rida’, vol. 1, pp. 168-178. Reports similar to his have been mentioned by al-Tabrasi in (his book) al-Ihtija’jj, al-Majjlisi in al-Biha’r, and al-Hasan b. Shu‘ba’ in Tuhaf al-‘Uqu’l.

[5]Qur’a’n, 4, 56.

[6]Ibid., 11, 108.

[7]Ibid., 56, 33.

[8]Ibid., 50, 35.

[9]Ibid., 11, 108.

[10]Ibid., 15, 48.

[11]Ibid., 98, 8.

[12]Dira’r is one of the Shaykhs of the Mu‘tazilites in theology and belongs to the Aba’diya.

[13]Qur’a’n, 17, 16.

[14]Ibid., 17, 86.

[15]Ibid., 40, 60.

[16]Ibid., 35, 1.

[17]Ibid., 13, 39.

[18]Ibid., 40, p. 51.

[19]‘Uyu’n Akhba’r al-Rida’, vol. 1, pp. 182-191.



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