A Short Biography of Imam Musa ibn Ja'far al-Kazim (1)

A Short Biography of Imam Musa ibn Ja’far al-Kazim


Imam Musa al-Kazim is the Seventh Apostolic Imam. His epithet was Abu ‘I-Hassan and his famous title was al-Kazim. His matchless devotion and worship of God have also earned him the title of “‘Abdu’s-Salih” (virtuous slave of God). Generosity was synonymous with his name and no beggar ever returned from his door empty-handed. Even after his death, he continued to be obliging and was generous to his devotees who came to his holy tomb with prayers and behests which were invariably granted by God. Thus, one of his additional titles is also “Babu ‘l-Hawaij” (the door to fulfilling needs).

His Birth

Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (a.s.) was born in Abwa (a place between Mecca and Medina). It is here that Bibi Amina (Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W.) mother) is buried. Imam was born when his parents were returning from Mecca. As soon as he was born he did Sajda reciting Kalima and bearing witness to the Imamate of all the other Imams including his own.

His Parents

The name of his mother was Hamidah, the daughter of a nobleman hailing from the states of Barbary. Umme Hamida was a slave girl who was brought to Medina and bought by the 5th Imam for his son for 17 dirhams. The first thing that he told her was: “You are Hamida (the praised one) in this world and Mahmuda (praiseworthy) in the hereafter”. When the women of Medina used to come to the 6th Imam to ask some questions he used to send them to Umme Hamida saying: “Her answers will be those given by me”.

His Childhood

Imam Musa al-Kazim passed twenty years of his sacred life under the gracious patronage of his holy father. His inherent genius and gifted virtues combined with the enlightened guidance and education from the Holy Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq showed in the manifestation of his future personality. He was fully versed with Divine Knowledge even in his childhood. al-‘Allamah al-Majlisi relates that once Abu Hanifah happened to call upon the holy abode of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq to ask him about some religious matters masail). The Imam was asleep and so he kept waiting outside till the Imam’s awakening. Meanwhile, Imam Musa al-Kazim, who was then five years old, came out of his house.

Abu Hanifah, after offering him his best compliments, enquired: “O the son of the Holy Prophet! What is your opinion about the deeds of a man? Does he do them by himself or does God make him do them?” “O Abu Hanifah”, the five years old Imam replied at once, in the typical tone of his ancestors, “the doings of a man are confined to three possibilities. First, God alone does them while man is quite helpless. Second, both God and man do equally share the commitment. Third, that man does them alone. Now, if the first assumption is true, it obviously proves the unjustness of God who punishes His creatures for sins which they have not committed.

And, if the second condition be acceptable, even then God becomes unjust if He punishes the man for the crimes in which He is equally a partner. However, the undesirability of both these conditions is evident in the case of God. Thus, we are naturally left with the third alternative to the problem that men are absolutely responsible for their own doings.” He is one of the Imams whose miracles in childhood are reported extensively. Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (A.S.) repeatedly pointed out Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (a.s.) as his successor because he knew of the people who after his death would differ. N.B. The Ismailis say Ismail (Imam’s eldest son who died whilst Imam Ja’fer Sadiq (a.s.) was still alive) was the 7th Imam. One of the 6th Imam’s other sons – Abdullah also claimed Imamate.)

Yaqub Al-Saraaj visited the 6th Imam once who told him to greet his son Musa who was a week old in his cradle. Imam Musa replied to the salaam and told Yaqub to change his daughters name (Humayra) as it was a name not liked by Allah. Safwan (a companion of the 6th Imam) once saw the young Imam Musa teaching the lamb he was playing with to prostrate to Allah. Once when Imam was 5 years old, Abu Hanifa came to visit the 6th Imam. He asked Imam Musa (a.s.): “O son of the Prophet! What is your opinion about the deeds of man? Does he do them on his own free will or does God make him do them?”.

The 7th Imam replied: “The doings of man can have three possibilities: God compels a man to do them whilst he is helpless. Both God and man share the commitment. Man does them alone. If the first is true then God cannot punish man for sins he did not commit. If the second is true then too God cannot punish man for he is an equal partner. Then, we are naturally left with the third, that man is absolutely responsible for his own doings”.

His Titles

(These were used to avoid using Imam’s name as the very mention of it would lead to arrest, torture, harassment and/or death.) Babul Hawaaij (Door of the fulfilment of needs). Even after his death, people have their needs fulfilled and do not return empty-handed from his shrine (Ask especially for cures for physical illnesses, especially eyes). Kadhim (One who swallows his anger). Imam Musa (a.s.) lived in an era when the rulers were the cruelest ever. Their hatred for Ahlul Bayt and their followers was intense. Imam’s followers were constantly harassed and tortured. The last 19 years of his life were spent in prison. Despite all these hardships, he was always patient spending entire nights in the worship of Allah. His character even converted the prison wardens towards him.

His Imamate

The Holy Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq breathed his last on 25th Shawwal 148 AH, and with effect from the same date, Imam Musa al-Kazim succeeded the holy office of Imamate as the Seventh Imam. The period of his Imamate continued for thirty-five years. In the first decade of his Imamate, Imam Musa al-Kazim could afford a peaceful execution of the responsibilities of his sacred office and carried on the propagation of the teachings of the Holy Prophet. But soon after, he fell a victim to the ruling kings and a greater part of his life passed in prison.

Political Condition: Imam Musa al-Kazim lived under the most crucial times in the regimes of the despotic ‘Abbasid kings who were marked for their tyrannical and cruel administration. He witnessed the reigns of al-Mansur ad-Dawaniqi, al-Mahdi and Harun ar-Rashid. al-Mansur and Harun ar-Rashid were the despotic kings who put a multitude of innocent descendants of the Holy Prophet to the sword. Thousands of these martyrs were buried alive inside walls or put into horrible dark prisons during their lifetime.

These depraved caliphs knew no pity or justice and they killed and tortured for the pleasure they derived from human sufferings. The Holy Imam was saved from the tyranny of al-Mansur because the king, being occupied with his project of constructing the new city of Baghdad, could not get time to turn towards victimizing the Imam. By 157 AH the city of Baghdad was built. This was soon followed by the death of its founder a year later.

After al-Mansur, his son al-Mahdi ascended the throne. For a few years, he remained indifferent towards the Imam. When in 164 AH he came to Medina and heard about the great reputation of the Imam, he could not resist his jealousy and the spark of his ancestral malice against the Ahlu ‘l-Bayt was rekindled. He somehow managed to take the Imam along with him to Baghdad and got him imprisoned there. But after a year he realized his mistake and released the Imam from jail. al-Mahdi was succeeded by al-Hadi who lived only for a year. Now, in 170 AH, the most cruel and tyrannical king Harun ar-Rashid appeared at the head of the ‘Abbasid Empire. It was during his reign that the Holy Imam passed the greater part of his life in a miserable prison till he was poisoned.

When his father was martyred (poisoned by the ruler Mansur Dawanaqi), Mansur asked the governor of Medina to behead all the trustees Imam had left. The governor (called Sulayman) wrote back to say that the 6th Imam had left 5 trustees of whom he (Mansur) was the first and Sulayman the second followed by Abdullah, Umme Hamida and Imam Musa (a.s.). Mansur kept quiet. After the 6th Imam’s death, Mansur encouraged the Ismaili sect to develop although he knew that Ismail had died 20 years before. At the same time, the 6th Imam’s other son Abdullah claimed Imamate (however he only lived 17 days after that).

Mansur was busy building Baghdad after that (although the torture and killing of the followers of Ahlul Bayt continued) and left Imam Musa (a.s.) for a while during which Imam had little time to teach true Islam. When Mansur died his son, Mahdi came to power in 158 a.h. He increased the atrocities on the family and followers of Ahlul Bayt. Imam Musa (a.s.) advised his followers to practice Taqiyya (meaning not to show one’s faith outwardly). Mahdi called Imam to Baghdad and imprisoned him releasing him after a while. After Mahdi came his son Musa who assumed the title Haadi. He only ruled for 15 months but the atrocities continued.

After the death of Haadi came to his brother Harun Rashid. It was he who introduced Backgammon, Chess and Music to Islamic culture (they are Haraam). Harun was told of the popularity of Imam Musa (a.s.) by Muhammad bin Ismail (Imam’s nephew) and about the collection of khums. Harun was furious and wanting to prove his relationship with the Prophet went to the Prophet’s grave and greeted the Prophet addressing him as his uncle. Imam Musa (a.s.) was there and he addressed the Prophet as his grandfather. Imam then asked Harun that if the Prophet were to come and ask Harun for his daughter’s hand in marriage would he agree? Harun said “Yes”. Imam said, “That is the difference between you and me – my daughter would be haraam for the Prophet (mahram)”.

Harun had the Imam arrested in the Prophet’s mosque whilst Imam was praying. He was handcuffed and shackled and sent to Basra. A similar caravan was sent to Baghdad to fool Imam’s followers. Imam was put into prison under the custody of Isa bin Ja’far. After a year Isa wrote to Harun saying he could no longer imprison Imam as he could find only piety and righteousness in him. Harun had Imam moved to Baghdad under the custody of Fadhl bin Rabi who too became a follower of Imam. The prisons were so small that there was no room to stand and the food was a cup of water and two pieces of dry bread a day. Imam remained patient.

Harun also hired people to kill Imam (It is reported that they were from England). They too on seeing Imam cried and refused to murder him even though they were paid to do so. Harun finally moved Imam into the care of Sindi bin Shahak (a very cruel man). Imam remained in prison for the last 19 years of his life. The 19 years of imprisonment gave the Shia population a little relief as the rulers concentrated on Imam. It enabled the Shias to disperse from Arabia to Iran, India etc. thus spreading Islam and it was one of the factors towards the popularity of the 8th Imam.

Summary of his Life Works

In a situation in which the family and followers of the Ahlul Bayt were being murdered and tortured Imam taught the true word of Allah. Through his character and piety, he showed the meaning of tabligh living up to the hadith of the 6th Imam: “Acquire a true Muslim character and that shall spread Islam”.

In 183 a.h. Sindi had Imam killed with poisoned dates. Another narration says Imam was wrapped in a carpet and he was suffocated and stamped on. His body was left on the bridge of Baghdad and an announcement was made for all to come and see him. N.B. It was a ploy to encourage Shias to come out in anger so they could be identified. When Harun Rashid’s brother Sulayman heard of this he was furious and arranged for his burial in a Quraysh cemetery outside Baghdad (the 8th Imam gave ghusl and kafan). A town grew around the tomb of the Imam called Kadhmain (meaning the two Kadhims) since the 9th Imam is also buried there.

Moral and Ethical Excellence

As regards his morality and ethical excellence, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami remarks: “The patience and forbearance of Imam Musa al-Kazim was such that he was given the title of ‘al-Kazim’ (one who swallows down his anger). He was the embodiment of virtue and generosity. He devoted his nights to the prayers of God and his days to fasting. He always forgave those who did wrong to him.” His kind and generous attitude towards the people was such that he used to patronize and help the poor and destitute of Medina and provide for them cash, food, clothes and other necessities of sustenance secretly. It continued to be a riddle for the receivers of gifts throughout the Imam’s lifetime as to who their benefactor was, but the secret was not revealed until after his death.

His Children

He had 19 sons & 18 daughters. The most famous of his sons is his successor, Imam Ali Ar-Ridha (a.s.) and the most famous of his daughters is Fatima Kubra known as Masuma Qum who is buried in Qum.

His Martyrdom

In 179 AH, Harun ar-Rashid visited Medina. The fire of malice and jealousy against the Ahlul-Bayt was kindled in his heart when he saw the great influence and popularity that the Holy Imam enjoyed amongst the people there. He got the Imam arrested while he was busy in prayer at the tomb of the Holy Prophet and kept him in prison in Baghdad for a period of about four years. On the 25th Rajab 183 AH, he got the Imam martyred by poison. Even his corpse was not spared humiliation and was taken out of the prison and left on the Bridge of Baghdad.

His devotees, however, managed to lay the holy body of the Imam to rest in al-Kazimiyyah (Iraq). al-Imam al-Kazim, peace be Upon him, said: No charity is superior to giving a helping hand to the weak. Never bother to learn something not knowing which does not do you any harm, and never neglect to learn something whose negligence will increase your ignorance.

Extracted from the book titled “A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles” P. 131-136 by WOFIS.


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