Al-'Imam al-Rida [a] and the Heir Apparency
Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din
1. Goals and Methods:
After the martyrdom of al-'Imam al-Husayn (A) the objective of the Ahl al-Bayt (A), as we see it, was two-fold. Firstly, their goal was to protect Islam against corruption, forgery and mis-interpretation. This was done in several ways. The foremost of them was to establish the authentic Sunnah in the face of other claims which were influenced, to a lesser or greater degree, by the inclinations of existing regimes and the heresies (ahwa') of those in control of them during the Umayyad and the 'Abbasid eras.
Since the corruption (tahrif) on the Qur'anic text was out of question, the most dangerous phenomenon that confronted Islam from within was the narration of forged and corrupted traditions ascribed to the Prophet (S). The meanings of certain Qur'anic verses were distorted - particularly those concerning the most important political and social concepts - by the means of fabricated and corrupted hadith. Therefore, the Imams (A) did their best to spread the hadith among the people and employed all the means to extend the range of its circulation throughout the various regions.
Secondly, their objective was to protect the followers of the authentic Islamic path, and those who were close to it in various degrees, from ignorance, deviation and the danger of physical liquidation. Their protection from ignorance was secured by strong emphasis on the diffusion of Islamic teachings among them, through dispatching missionaries to them, founding centres of religious instruction in various regions, and establishing a rightly-guided authority for them, and these affiliated them to the path of the Ahl al-Bayt (A). This affiliation was a conscious one, based on knowledge (ma'rifah) and conviction, which guaranteed continuity and resistance in the face of trials and difficulties, not one based only on emotional attachment or merely on taqlid, for that could not ensure the perpetuity and invincibility of a revolutionary political and ideological movement as sought by the Ahl al-Bayt (A).
They were protected from deviation (fitnah) by being persistently and repeatedly prohibited from being assimilated into the infrastructive of an oppressive and irreligious political authority, and by being enjoined to keep aloof from it without dissociating themselves from the rest of the Islamic community. They were instructed to keep close relations with all the Muslims, on the basis of coexistence with the authorities while abstaining from entering their organization or participating in its establishment so far as it did not harm the general order of the society or go against the basic vital interests of the community following the path of the Ahl al-Bayt (A). They were also protected from deviation by being constantly prohibited to take sides with this or that rival party from among the oppressors who struggled for power.
They, as individuals or groups, were protected from being persecuted in their districts or from being exiled or executed by the prescription of taqiyyah. We basically understand taqiyyah as being an ordinance aimed at the protection of the lives of individuals and their personal interests, so long as that does not violate the basic principles and political commitment to society. However, when taqiyyah leads to the abandonment of the principles or deviation from them in a political issue, or when it goes against political commitment to society, then it is not lawful, because it was introduced to protect the individuals upholding and defending the principles. Thus it should be noted that taqiyyah was prescribed to safeguard the principles and to insure their success in the future. It is not reasonable, therefore, that it should become a cause of the weakening or even the destruction of those very principles for the sake of protecting the interests of the individuals.
This objective manifested itself on the plane of practice and reality, after the martyrdom of al-Husayn (A), in the form of a balance between three elements: (1) taqiyyah on the individual level, (2) preservation of the general order of the Islamic society and the Muslim community in respect of administration and public services, (3) refusal to grant political legitimacy to the oppressive regime. The Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) dealt with the existing regimes within these limits. This balance resulted in the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) working with the existing system on an administrative level, in so far as that would preserve the general order of society and provide an atmosphere conducive to safety and freedom of movement for them and their followers. Thus the goal of safeguarding the ultimate prophecy from corruption would be achieved while preserving the political stand opposing the oppressive regimes, which characterized the path of the Ahl al-Bayt (A), in a live and active state.
A situation such as this has always been a painful one for those Islamic activists who, by virtue of their stand, have various responsibilities towards the society and yet work at a socio-political stage in history during which immediate and complete revolution is not possible. It was necessary for them to ensure, firstly, that political opposition does not damage the foundations of society and upset its general order.