Imam Musa Al-Kathem: A Shackled Light

Martyrdom of Imam Musa al-Kazim

An excerpt from Martyr Murtada Mutahari's Book: A Survey into the Lives of the Infallible Imams (peace be upon them)

An excerpt from Martyr Murtada Mutahari's Book: A Survey into the Lives of the Infallible Imams (peace be upon them)

Our topic of discussion is about the martyrdom of Imam Musa ibn Ja‘far. Why did they martyr him? First of all, the fact that Imam Musa ibn Ja‘far was martyred has been made certain and no one can deny it. According to the most famous and most valid narrations, Musa ibn Ja‘far spent four years in the corner of prison dungeons and passed away there. There are historical texts about the time the Imam spent in prison; suggestions were constantly forwarded to the Imam demanding for apology or even a verbal confession from him, but the Imam never agreed.

The Imam in Basrah Prison
The Imam served time not only in one prison, but in several prisons. They kept on transferring him from one prison to another and this was done, interestingly, because [in] any prison they took the Imam to, it would not take long for the prisoners there to become devoted to him. At first the Imam was taken to Basrah Prison. The Imam was handed over to the governor of Basrah, who at that time was ‘Isa ibn Ja‘far ibn Abi Ja‘far Mansur, the grandchild of Mansur Dawaniqi. ‘Isa ibn Ja‘far ibn Abi Ja‘far Mansur was a violent man who did not take interest in moral issues. As one of his relatives says, “They took this pious and holy man to a place where he heard things, he never had heard before.”

The Imam was taken to Basrah Prison in the Arabic month of Thul-Hijjah, of the year 178 AH, which was supposed to be a time of celebration and happiness due to ‘Id al-Adha.

The Imam spent a period of time in Basrah Prison after which even this very ‘Isa had gradually become fond of the Imam. He too, at first, truly imagined the Imam to be what the government had broadcasted of him: a rebellious man whose only skill was ‘to claim to be the rightful successor’. Upon his personal acquaintance with the Imam, he realized that the Imam was a spiritual man, whose only purpose of raising the issue of [succession] was to address its spiritual aspects. The situation then changed. He ordered a very good room to be put at the Imam’s disposal and entertained the Imam publicly.

Harun sent a secret message, in which he ordered ‘Isa to get rid of him. ‘Isa responded, “I will not do such a thing.” Finally, ‘Isa wrote a letter to the Caliph:
“Order them to come and take him back; otherwise, I will set him free myself. I cannot keep such a man as a prisoner.”

Since he was the Caliph’s cousin and the grandchild of Mansur, his words were, of course, observed.

The Imam in various prisons
They took the Imam to Baghdad and handed him over to Fadl ibn Rabi‘. Fadl ibn Rabi‘ was the son of Rabi‘, the chamberlain.
After a while, he also became fond of the Imam, changed the Imam’s conditions and placed the Imam in a better prison. The spies informed Harun that the Imam was not having a difficult time in Fadl ibn Rabi‘’s prison. They informed him that the Imam was not actually a prisoner but actually a guest. Harun took the Imam away from him and handed him over to Fadl ibn Yahya Barmaki.

After a while, Fadl also started treating the Imam that way which really frustrated Harun. He sent his spies to investigate. They found out that the story was true. He finally took the Imam away and Fadl was disfavored by Harun. In one of Harun’s gatherings, Fadl’s father (an Iranian minister who was hostile towards the Shi‘as), [in order] to stop his child from being lowered in esteem by Harun, said in Harun’s ear:
“If my son has done something wrong, I am prepared to follow any orders you may have. My son has repented, my son this and my son that…”

Afterwards, he came to Baghdad and took the Imam away from his son and handed him over to someone else called Sindi ibn Shahik who they say was not a Muslim. The Imam went through a lot of difficulties in his prison; that is to say the Imam was not left in peace in his prison.

Harun’s request from the Imam
During the last few days of the Imam’s imprisonment, which was not more than one week before his martyrdom, Harun sent this very Yahya Barmaki to the Imam and through him, in a nice and soft tone, he told the Imam:
“Send my regards to my cousin and tell him it has been proven to us you have committed no sin and are blameless. However, I have unfortunately made an oath and cannot break my word. I have made an oath not to free you before you have confessed to sinning and asked me for forgiveness. No one needs to know. It is enough if you confess in the presence of Yahya. I do not need to be there either; the presence of others is not also needed. I do not want to break my oath. You only need to confess in Yahya’s presence and say I am sorry that I have breached and I want the Caliph to forgive me. I will then set you free...”

Now look at his resistive spirit! Why are they referred to as the intercessors of the transient realm [barzakh]? Why did they become martyrs? They became martyrs in the way of their true faith and belief. They wanted to show that true faith does not allow taking steps with the oppressor. The Imam’s response to Yahya Baramaki was, “Tell Harun that there is not much left of my life and that is it.” And, after a week, the Imam was poisoned.

The reasons for the Imam’s arrest
Now why did Harun order the Imam’s arrest? Because he was jealous of the Imam’s position and felt threatened by it even though the Imam was not revolting against him, nor had he taken the smallest steps to form a revolution (a discernible revolution). Harun, however, had realized that they had started a spiritual revolution of beliefs. When Harun decided to consolidate his son Amin for the position of crown prince, followed by Ma’mun who would subsequently be followed by his son Mu‘tamid, he invited the scholars and the prominent figures of all the cities to come to Mecca that year. He organized a massive convention and took oaths of allegiance from everyone.

Who in his opinion could have been a potential obstacle for this task? Who is the one in whose presence looks would be directed upon, and would cause others to think that he would be the one worthy of the position of the caliphate? Musa ibn Ja‘far.

When Harun came to Medina, he ordered the Imam’s arrest. This very Yahya Barmaki is reported to have said, “During today or tomorrow, I think the Caliph will order the arrest of Musa ibn Ja‘far.” They asked him, “How come?” He replied, “I accompanied him in his pilgrimage [to] the Prophet in Masjid al-Nabi. When he wanted to say salutation to the Prophet, I saw him say, ‘Peace is upon you, O son of my uncle! O the Messenger of Allah’!” Then, he said, “I am very sorry that I have to arrest your son Musa ibn Ja‘far (as if he can lie to the Prophet) this is what is deemed advisable. If I do not do this, there will be upheaval in the land. To stop this and, for the interest of this land, I have to do such a thing. O the Messenger of Allah, I am apologizing.”

Yahya told his friend, “I imagine, today or tomorrow, he is going to order the Imam’s arrest.”

Harun ordered his men to go after the Imam. It just so happened that the Imam was not at home. Where was he? He was at the Prophet’s Mosque. The Imam was praying when they entered. They did not permit him to finish his prayers and dragged him out of the Prophet’s Mosque. The Imam looked at the Prophet’s grave and said, “Do you see how your nation is treating your children?”

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