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Debate of Imam al-Rida (a) with Abu Qurra

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This article is an introduction to the Debate of Imam al-Rida (a) with Abu Qurra; to read its text see text:Debate of Imam al-Rida (a) with Abu Qurra.

Imam al-Rida’s debate with Abu Qurra is a scholarly dialogue concerning whether God is a corporeal body. Imam al-Rida’s interlocutor in this debate was Abu Qurra, who believed that God is a corporeal body, is visible with physical eyes, is located in a place, has a tongue just like human tongues, and talks with that tongue.

Abu Qurra adduced Quranic verses and hadiths to substantiate his claim. On the contrary, Imam al-Rida (a) cited Quranic verses to raise objections against his view. According to Ahmad al-Tabrisi, Abu Qurra failed to give adequate replies to Imam al-Rida’s objections.

The hadith appears in Kulayni's al-Kafi, al-Shaykh al-Saduq's al-Tawhid, and Ahmad al-Tabrisi's al-Ihtijaj.

A Brief Overview of the Debate

According to Safwan b. Yahya, the transmitter of this conversation, the debate was held at the request of Abu Qurra the jurist and a senior proponent of mujassima (literally: corporealists: those who believe that God is a corporeal body). He asked Safwan to ask for Imam al-Rida’s permission for a meeting.

Abu Qurra begins with questions concerning jurisprudential rulings, but these are not cited in the hadith. He then poses the issue of God’s attributes. He makes recourse to certain Quranic verses and hadiths to show that God talks in the same way in which humans talk, and that God is visible with physical eyes. Moreover, he argues that God is located in a place.

Imam al-Rida (a) appeals to Quranic verses to repudiate Abu Qurra’s claims. According to this hadith, Abu Qurra is at loss for words in reply to Imam al-Rida's objections.

Sources

Imam al-Rida’s debate with Abu Qurra was first cited in al-Kafi by Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni. Al-Kulayni has cited the debate in terms of two hadiths with the same chain of transmitters: the first is cited in the section on “repudiation of seeing God” and the second is cited in the section on “the throne and the seat.”

Al-Shaykh al-Saduq has cited the first hadith in his al-Tawhid as quoted from al-Kulayni. However, Ahmad b. ʿAli al-Tabrisi, a Shi'a muhaddith and theologian in the sixth/twelfth century, has cited the entire debate in his al-Ihtijaj, which is much lengthier than the sum of the two hadiths cited by al-Kulayni.

In Allama al-Majlisi’s Bihar al-anwar, the debate is cited as quoted from al-Kulayni, al-Shaykh al-Saduq, and Ahmad al-Tabrisi.

References