Imam al-Rida's (a) Succession of al-Ma'mun

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Coin with the name of Imam al-Rida (a) as the designated successor of al-Ma'mun

Imām al-Riḍā's (a) designated succession of Maʾmūn (Arabic: الإمام الرضا و ولاية عهد المأمون) is the event of Imam al-Rida (a) being appointed as al-Ma'mun al-'Abbasi's successor for caliphate. It occurred after Imam al-Rida (a) was summoned to Merv upon al-Ma'mun's insistence.

Being Summoned to Merv

According to early sources, Imam al-Rida (a) moved from Medina to Basra.[1] However, according to some later sources, the Imam (a) first went to Mecca; on this trip, he was accompanied with Imam al-Jawad (a). Imam al-Rida (a) said farewell to the Ka'ba, and then embarked on his journey.[2] It is said that the Imam (a) departed to Basra on Muharram 15, 201/August 13, 816.

At the command of al-Ma'mun, Raja' b. Abi Dahhak, a relative of Fadl b. Sahl—al-Ma'mun's minister—, accompanied Imam al-Rida (a) from Medina to Khurasan.[3] According to al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Ma'mun's agent was Jaludi.[4] Al-Ma'mun selected a specific direction for Imam al-Rida's (a) journey so that he does not cross places populated by Shi'as, since he was afraid of Shiite assemblies around Imam al-Rida (a). Particularly, he ordered that the Imam (a) should not cross Kufa, and should instead travel from Basra, Khuzestan, and Fars to Neyshabur.[5]

According to the book, Atlas Shi'a, Imam al-Rida's (a) direction was as follows: Medina, Naqra, Hawsija, Nabaj, Hufr Abu Musa, Basra, Ahvaz, Behbahan, Istakhr, Abarkuh, Dehshir (Farashah), Yazd, Kharanaq, Rubat Pusht-i Bam, Nayshabur, Qadamgah, Deh Sorkh, Tous, Sarakhs and Merv.[6]

The most important event on the way occurred in Nayshabur where Imam al-Rida (a) cited the well-known Hadith Silsilat al-Dhahab or the Golden Chain Hadith.[7]

Proposing the Succession

When Imam al-Rida (a) was settled in Merv, al-Ma'mun sent a messenger to his house and proposed that he will resign from the caliphate and give the position to the Imam (a). He asked for the Imam's (a) opinion about the proposal. Imam al-Rida (a) opposed the suggestion. Then al-Ma'mun asked him to be his successor in the caliphate. Again Imam al-Rida (a) rejected the offer. Imam al-Rida (a) was summoned by al-Ma'mun. In a meeting where only al-Ma'mun, Imam al-Rida (a), and Fadl b. Sahl were present, al-Ma'mun told him: "I want to leave the responsibilities of the Muslims' affairs to you".

Imam al-Rida (a) replied: "O' Amir al-Mu'minin! For the sake of God, I cannot bear this responsibility and I do not have the ability to do so".

Al-Ma'mun said: "I appoint you as my successor".

Imam al-Rida (a) said: "Please excuse me from this, O' Amir al-Mu'minin!"

Al-Ma'mun responded threateningly: "'Umar b. al-Khattab established a Six-Member Council, one of whose members was your ancestor, Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a). 'Umar b. Khattab stipulated that whoever opposes the final choice should be decapitated. So there is no way for you to reject my offer".

Imam al-Rida (a) replied: "so I accept, provided that I never give orders nor prohibitions, and I never issue fatwas, nor judge, and I never appoint anyone, nor remove anyone and change anything".

Al-Ma'mun accepted the condition.[8]

Thus al-Ma'mun pledged his allegiance to Imam al-Rida (a) as his successor on Monday, Ramadan 7, 201/March 29, 817. He ordered people to wear green clothes (which was the sign of the 'Alids), instead of black clothes (that Abu Muslim Khurasani and his companions used to wear as the color of the Holy Prophet's (s) flag or as a sign for mourning the martyrs of Ahl al-Bayt (a)). He wrote a command to different territories and ordered people to pledge their allegiance to Imam al-Rida (a). Orations on minbars were given in Imam al-Rida's (a) name. Dinars and dirhams were minted in his name, and all people wore green clothes.[9]

Al-Ma'mun invited orators and poets to a celebration he held for Imam Rida's (a) succession. One of the poets in the ceremony was Di'bil b. 'Ali al-Khuza'i who received a reward from the Imam (a).[10]

Al-Ma'mun sent the order of allegiance to Imam al-Rida (a) to Mecca by 'Isa al-Jaludi. At that time, Mecca was ruled by Ibrahim b. Musa b. Ja'far who was ruling under al-Ma'mun's name. When Jaludi arrived in Mecca with his mission, he was welcomed by Ibrahim and the people of Mecca pledged their allegiance with Imam al-Rida (a) and wore green clothes.[11]


Imam al-Rida's (a) succession of al-Ma'mun is an important point in the political life of Imam al-Rida (a). In order to examine this event, the history of Islam and Umayyad caliphs and the way Abbasids took over the caliphate should be examined. Here is the situation of the Islamic territories until 203/818-9, the year in which Imam al-Rida (a) was martyred: Umayyad caliphs were generally cruel and their only aim was to reign. The only different Umayyad caliph was 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz whose government did not last long. People's hope for justice and equality were Imam 'Ali's (a) progeny, known as Ahl al-Bayt (a). The Abbasids exploited people's feelings for Ahl al-Bayt (a) to realize their own interests. They first alleged that they sought to save people from Banu Umayya. However, the affiliation of their uprising with Ahl al-Bayt (a) had different stages:

The Abbasid call to the Alids
Their call to Ahl al-Bayt (a)
Calling people to attract the satisfaction of the Holy Prophet's (s) progeny
Claiming the caliphate for themselves.[12]

When Abbasids secured the caliphate for themselves, they did not remain committed to any of their promises and maltreated people, and particularly the 'Alids, by imprisoning and killing them. Such treatments made people dissatisfied with them. In the period of al-Ma'mun, there were more riots than ever and uprisings in support of Imam 'Ali's (a) progeny in many provinces and cities. Al-Ma'mun appointed Imam al-Rida (a) as his successor for the following goals:

  • Quenching 'Alawi riots.
  • To make 'Alids acknowledge that the Abbasid government is legitimate.
  • To put down the love and respect people had for the 'Alawi household by making them seem worthless to people.[13] Particularly in the case of Imam al-Rida (a), al-Ma'mun sought to make the Imam (a) seem incompetent as a caliph.

When al-Ma'mun was asked by Hamid b. Mihran and some Abbasids why he appointed Imam al-Rida (a) as his successor, he responded: "the man's activities used to be unknown to us. He called people to himself. Thus I asked him to be my successor so that whenever he calls people to himself, it will be in our interest".

Imam al-Rida (a) was aware of al-Ma'mun's intentions and so he told him: "you seek to make people say that 'Ali b. Musa is fond of the material world, and this is the world that does not come out as he wishes to; do you not see that he accepted to succeed al-Ma'mun in order to become a caliph?'"[14]

Moreover, when people asked Imam al-Rida (a) why he accepted to be al-Ma'mun's successor, he said: "I accepted this under duress".[15]

What is more, the conditions made by the Imam (a) for the acceptance of al-Ma'mun's offer show that he wanted to be as less involved in the government as possible; he stipulated that he would never appoint anyone for a position, nor remove them from power and that he would never change a tradition or a status quo. However, soon the Abbasid household in Baghdad rose against al-Ma'mun and pledged their allegiance to Ibrahim Mahdi. On the other hand, the 'Alids knew that al-Ma'mun did not appoint Imam al-Rida (a) as his successor because of his faith and belief in the Imam (a). So the riots were back and al-Ma'mun preferred to eliminate the Imam (a).[16]


  1. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 3, p. 176; Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 486.
  2. ʿIrfānmanish, Jughrāfīyā-yi Tārīkhī, p. 28.
  3. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 465.
  4. Mufīd, al-Irshād, p. 455.
  5. Motahhari, Majmūʿa-yi āthār, vol. 18, p. 124.
  6. Jaʿfarīyān, Ḥayāt-i fikrī sīyāsī-yi Imāmān, p. 95.
  7. Faḍl Allāh, Taḥlīlī az zindigānī-yi imam Riḍā, p. 133.
  8. Mufīd, al-Irshād, p. 455-456.
  9. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 465.
  10. Mufīd, al-Irshād, p. 458-459.
  11. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 466.
  12. Ḥusaynī, Zindigī-yi sīyāsī-yi hashtumīn imam, p. 20.
  13. Ḥusaynī, Zindigī-yi sīyāsī-yi hashtumīn imam, p. 127.
  14. Ṣadūq, ʿUyūn akhbār al-Riḍā, vol. 2, p. 314-315.
  15. Ṣadūq, ʿUyūn akhbār al-Riḍā, vol. 2, p. 309, 312-313.
  16. Dihkhudā, Lughatnāma, vol. 8, p. 1310-1311.


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