Imam Reza’s Debates and Dialogs
Tuesday , 04/27/2021 - 14:03

In addition to the scholarly discussions with the people of the Scripture and various intellectual trends in Merv, Imam Reza (AS) promoted the knowledge and the religious insight of that region. The number of Imam Reza's debates and dialogs with the people of the Book and representatives of Christians, Jews, Manichaeans, Zoroastrians, Sabians, and Islamic sects are numerous.
The four-sided debates: The four-sided debates, which took place at one of the meetings in the presence of Ma’mun and Imam Reza (AS), is that Ma’mun ordered his minister, Fazl b. Sahl, to gather Sabi, the great Sabian leader, Great Hirbod, the prominent Zoroastrian priest and Roman Nastas, the great Christian scholar, as well as scholars of other religions to put forward an issue with them. Fazl b. Sahl gathered them all. Ma’mun told them, “I have a cousin, with whom I want you to debate. All of you come to me tomorrow morning.”
Hassan b. Muhammad Nawfili narrates, “We were at Imam’s presence, when Yasir, his servant entered and said: ‘Your Holiness! Ma’mun sends regards and says tomorrow the scholars of different religions will have a meeting with us and you might want to come too’”.
Imam said: “Salute Ma’mun, and tell him I know his purpose and I will be in his assembly tomorrow morning, God willing.” When Yasir left, the Imam told me, “Are you afraid that they will reject all my reasons and defeat me?” I said: “Your Holiness! Yes, because they are polemics and deniers and whatever you say they will not accept. If you say that God is one, they say why? If you say that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, they will say prove his prophecy. And finally any reason given, they will face it with sophistry and rejection. Avoid them!”  
The Imam said: “Ma’mun will regret this. I will argue with the Torah scholars by their Torah, with the Biblical scholars with their own Bible, with the scholars of Psalms by Psalms, with the Sabians in the language of Hebrew, with the Great Hirbod in Persian, and with the Roman scholars in the Roman language, There is no power and strength save in God the All-exalted, the Almighty.”  
The next morning, Imam Reza took ablution and left home. When he entered the mosque, he saw the scholars of the religions, some of Bani Hashim people, the elders and caliphate agents were seated with Ma’mun, and with the arrival of the Imam, Ma’mun and all the attendees stood up. The assembly of Ma’mun settled and he turned toward Catholicos (Jathliq) and stated: “O’ Catholicos! This is my cousin Ali b. Musa b. Ja’far. He is a descendant of Fatima, our Prophet's daughter and Ali b. Abi Talib. I would like you to talk and discuss with him; however, submit to justice in the debate.”
Catholicos said: “O’ Emir of the Muslims! How do I discuss and negotiate with him when we do not share any common grounds. He argues from a book that I deny, and believes in a Prophet that I have not believed.” Here, the Imam began to speak: “O’ Christian! If I argue from your Gospel for you, will you confess?” Catholicos said: “How can I deny the Gospel? Yes, I swear to God, I will admit it, even if it was to my detriment.” The Imam said: “Ask whatever you want and hear your answer.”
Catholicos asked: “What do you say about Jesus's prophecy and his Book? Do you deny something of these two?”
The Imam replied: “I admit the prophecy of Jesus and his Book and to what he gave glad tidings to his people, and the disciples have confessed it, and I disbelieve the prophecy of Jesus, who did not confess to the prophecy of Muhammad and his book and he did not gave glad tidings to his people!”
Catholicos asked again: “Do you not employ two just witnesses when judging?”
The Imam said: “Yes.”  
Catholicos said: “So, take two witnesses from disbelievers in your religion, from those who Christians do not deny their testimony to testify Muhammad's prophecy, and ask us to bring two witnesses in this sense from disbelievers in our religion.”  
The Imam replied: “Now you met the fairness, do you accept the one who was righteous and had a superior status with Jesus, son of Mary?”
Catholicos: “Who is this righteous man, name him?”
The Imam: “What do you say about Saint John of Dailam?”
Catholicos: “Very nice! You mentioned the most beloved person to Christ!”
The Imam: “Does the Bible express this saying that John of Dailam said: ‘Jesus Christ advised me of the religion of Arabian Muhammad, and gave me the glad tidings that after him there will be such a Prophet, I also gave the glad tidings to the disciples, and they believed him?”
Catholicos: “Yes!, This is what John has related from Christ, and he gave the glad tidings of his prophecy as well his household and successor; however, did not say when this will happen, and did not name this group to us, so we do not know them.”
The Imam: “If we bring somebody to read the Gospel, and recite verses from which Muhammad, his household and his nation exist in them, will you believe in him?”
Catholicos: “That would be excellent.”
Imam said to Nastas: “Do you remember the third Book of Bible?”
Nastas: “Yes, I have it memorized.”
Then, the Imam turned to Exilarch, the leader of Jews, and said: “Do you also read the Gospel?”
He said: “Yes, by my life.”
He said: “Take the third book, if there was reference to Muhammad and his household, testify for me and if it was not, do not.”
Then the Imam recounted from the third Book, until he came to the name of the Prophet, then stopped, and turned to the Catholicos and said: "O’ Christian! By the truth of Christ and his mother do you admit that I know the Gospel?”
Catholicos: “Yes.”
Then, the Imam recited him the name of the Prophet, his household and his people and added: “O’ Christian! What do you say? Is this the word of Christ? If you deny what the Bible says in this regard, you will deny both Moses and Jesus, and you are a disbeliever.”
Catholicos: “I do not deny what has become clear to me from the Gospel and I admit it.”
The Imam: “You all witnessed that he confessed. O’ Catholicos!" Ask any question you desire.”
Catholicos: “Tell us about the disciples of Jesus, how many were they, and the Bible scholars?”  
The Imam: “You asked a knowledgeable person, the disciples were twelve, and the noble and supreme one was Luke. However, the Christian scholars were three: the Great John in the land of Bach, another John in Circesium, and John of Dailam in Rajaz, and the name of the Prophet and his household and people were with him, and he gave glad tidings to Jesus’s people and the Israelites.”
Then he said: “O’ Christian! By God, we believe in Jesus who had faith in Muhammad; however, the only objection that we have to your Prophet is that he did little fasting and prayer!”
Catholicos suddenly was amazed and said: “By God, you turned your knowledge futile and you weakened your argument, and I thought you were the most knowledgeable of Muslims.”
The Imam: “But what happened?”
Catholicos: “Because you said that Jesus was weak, and he was short of prayer and fasting, while Jesus did not even break-fast for a day, and he did not sleep any night, and he was always on fast and awake at nights.”  
The Imam: “For whom did he fast and pray? Jesus believed in one God and not in the Trinity.” Catholicos could not answer, and was silent.
The Imam: “O’ Christian! I have another question.”
Catholicos modestly said: “If I know, I will answer.”
The Imam: “Do you deny that Jesus would bring the dead alive by the permission of God the Almighty?”
Catholicos was in a dead end and he inevitably said: “I deny, because he who enlivens the dead and heals the congenital blindness and the leprosy, he is the Lord and deserves divinity.”  
The Imam: “Prophet Elisha also did the same thing, and he walked on water and he raised the dead, and healed the congenital blindness and the leprosy; however, his people did not assume him divinity and no one worshiped him. The Prophet Ezekiel also did the same as Christ did and made the dead alive.”  
He then turned to Exilarch and said: “O’ Exilarch, do you find these in the Torah that Nebuchadnezzar II brought Israelite captives to Babylon when the government fought against Jerusalem? And God sent Ezekiel to them, and he revived their dead? This fact exists in the Torah; nobody denies it except the deniers of the truth.”  
Exilarch: “We have heard this and know it.”
The Imam: “You are right.” Then added: “O’ Jewish, take this book from the Torah.‛ Then he himself began to read verses from the Torah. The Jewish man was shocked and fell into wonder.”  
Then the Imam turned to the Christian and recounted some of the miracles of the Prophet of Islam about reviving some of the dead by his hands, and healing some of the incurable patients with his blessings, saying: “Nevertheless, we will never consider him our Lord. If you consider Jesus as your Lord for such miracles, you should count Elisha and Ezekiel as your deity too, because they also revived the dead, and also Abraham took the birds and beheaded them and placed them on the mountains, then called them and they all became alive. Moses also did such a thing for the seventy people who had come to the mountains with him and died due to a thunderbolt. You can never deny these truths, for the Torah, the Gospel, the Psalms and the Quran have spoken of them. So you must consider all of these as your god.”
Catholicos failed to respond, surrendered and said: “You spoke the truth and there is only one God.”
Then the Imam asked him and Exilarch about the book of Isaiah and he replied: “I'm well aware of that.”
The Imam said: “Do you remember the sentence that Isaiah said: ‘I saw someone who is riding on a roadster, wearing clothes of light -pointing to Christ- and I saw someone who is riding a camel and his light like the light of the moon (pointing to the Prophet of Islam).”
They said: “Yes, Isaiah spoke of such.”
The Imam added: “O’ Christian, remember this word of the Messiah in the Bible, who said: ‘I will go to my Lord and your Lord, and ‘Paraclete’ will come and give a just testimony about me, as I testified about him and interprets everything for you?”  
Catholicos: “We admit what you say from the Gospel.”
Then, the Imam asked several other questions about the Gospel and the disappearance of its first copy, and then it’s being rewritten by Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew, who wrote a Gospel each, and clarified the contradictions of the Catholico’s argument. Catholicos was completely frustrated, so that he was stuck. Therefore, when the Imam once again told him, “O’ Catholicos, you may ask whatever you want”, he refrained from asking any question and said: “Now, someone else ask questions, I swear to the God that I did not think there is someone like you among the Muslims.”   
Then, Imam Reza turned to Exilarch and said: “By the ten verses that were revealed to Moses, have you not seen the mention of Muhammad in the Torah?”
Exilarch said: “Yes.”
The Imam: “Did you see Jesus in the Gospel saying, ‘I will soon go to my Lord, and after me ‘Paraclete’ will come, and will testify to my rightfulness, as I testify to his rightfulness?”
Catholicos: “Yes! These words are in the Gospel.”
The Imam: “Do you want me to tell you where you did find the Gospel you lost?”
He said: “We just lost it for one day and we found it again.”  
The Imam: “Your knowledge of the Gospel is very poor. If you have lost it only one day, why is there all that difference? When the Gospel was lost among you, the Christians gathered together to see what to do.”
‚Luke and Mark said: “The Gospel is preserved in our chests, we will write it.” Then they gathered with John and Matthew, and wrote these four Gospels. So the four Gospels have differences.”
Catholicos said: “Today, I understood what was going on, and it added to my understanding and knowledge.”
Then Imam Reza spoke of some of the differences between the Gospels, so that the Catholicos said: “Luke and Mark and Matthew had false testimonies about Jesus Christ.”
Then he said: “O’ Muslim scholar! Exempt me, and let others raise questions, as I swear to Christ that amongst the Muslim scholars, there is not a single one like you.”
Imam Reza, turned to Exilarch and said: “Will you ask or I do?”
He said: “I ask; however, you should speak to me based on the Torah and the Bible, or the Psalms of David, and the Scrolls of Abraham and Moses. How do you prove Prophecy of Muhammad?”
The Imam said: “Moses, Jesus and David testified to his prophecy.”
Exilarch said: “Where?”
The Imam said: “Was it not Moses that made his testament to the Israelites that soon a Prophet would come from your brothers; attest him?”
He said: “Yes, this is Moses’s words.”
The Imam said: “From brothers of Israelites, was there a Prophet other than Muhammad?”
He said: “No.”
The Imam said: “Is there not in the Torah that the light appeared from Mount Sinai, Mount Sa'ir and Mount Faran?”
He said: “Yes, but what the interpretation is?”
The Imam said: “The appearance of light in Mount Sinai is the revelation of God to Moses and the light in Mount Sa'ir, the same revelation to the Prophet Jesus, and the purpose of the light that came from Mount Faran is the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad, since Faran is the name of one of Mountains around Mecca, where the Messenger of God has come thereof.”
Then, Imam Reza (AS) mentioned examples of the Prophets' glad tidings that came in the Torah and in the words of the Prophets Isaiah and Habakkuk, stated the signs of Prophet Muhammad and from the Psalms of the David, read a section for the Exilarch that only applied to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Then he said: “O’ Exilarch! I ask you, what are the reasons to prove the prophecy of Moses?”
Exilarch said: “Splitting the sea, turning the cane into dragon, making water flow from a rock, making light glow from the fingers and other miracles.”
The Imam said: “You are right. If extraordinary feats are the reason for the prophecy of the Prophet Moses, then why do not you admit to the prophecy of Jesus, since he brought the dead to life, healed the incurable patients, made birds from mud and gave them life?”
Exilarch said: “We have not seen these miracles from Jesus.”
The Imam said: “You have not seen the miracles of Moses, only you have heard from his companions.” Exilarch failed to answer and did not say anything.
Imam Reza said: “Prophet Muhammad did not read a book, and did not attend any teacher's class; however, he brought a book that tells about the past and the future until the Day of Judgment. He told about the secrets of the people, and he had countless miracles.”  
The Imam spoke briefly with the Great Hirbod, who was a Zoroastrian scholar, and he also failed to answer.
Then he said: “Anyone who has a question may ask.” Then, Imran Sabi, who was one of the prominent theologians and scholars, said: “I have discussed many people in Kufa and Basra; however, nobody could prove to me that this world has a single God. You prove it to me.”
The Imam spoke to him and talked about the existence of God and his attributes and eventually Imran said: “I testify that Allah is the one you described. And I testify that Muhammad is His servant, who is appointed by Him with the religion of truth and guidance.”
Then he threw himself on the ground, prostrated, and became a Muslim.
Other participants, who saw that Imran despite being very strong in debates became a Muslim, did not dare to say anything and all left the assembly.
Hassan b. Muhammad Nawfili, continues the hadith and says: “That night, the Imam invited Imran to dinner. Then he handed him a dress, a roadster and ten thousand dirhams, and placed him in charge of the Balkh’s alms. Ma’mun also donated 10,000 dirhams, and Fazl b. Sahl also gave him a great deal of money. Since then, Imran defended Islam debating with scholars from other religions and defeated them.”
Debate with Ma’mun on the infallibility of the prophets: Ali b. Jaham says: “At a meeting, a dialogue was held between the Imam and Ma’mun about the infallibility of Prophets. At that meeting, Ma’mun asked: “O’ Son of the Messenger of God! Do you believe in the infallibility of the Prophets?? The Imam said: “Yes.” He said: “So what is the meaning of these verses, in which God says: And Adam sinned against his Lord, or in the case of Jonah: so he thought that God would not have the power to provide his sustenance. Or in the case of Joseph says: Zuleikha desired Joseph, and Joseph desired Zuleikha.3 Or in the case of Prophet David says; he knew that he was entangled in the love of the woman. Or about the Messenger of God says: And you conceal in your heart what God reveals.”
Imam Reza said: “Woe to you! Fear God and do not impute to the Prophet of God abominable accusations, and do not interpret God's Book! God says, ‘No one knows the Quran except God and the true scholars.”
The meaning of Adam's sin is that God did not create him for Paradise. Adam's sin was in heaven, not on the ground, and this was a disobedience for the Lord’s fate to be fulfilled. God wanted to appoint him as his authority and his caliph on earth; however, after Adam landed on earth and became the authority of the God, became free of the guilt and mistake. Therefore, God says, “God chose Adam and Noah and Abraham and Imran’s kinsfolk over the people of the world.” However, the verse about the Jonah, that is, he thought that God would not make his sustenance tight, and if the meaning of his words was that he believed God had no power, he would have become a disbeliever.”
Ali b. Muhammad b. Jahm, however, said about David, “They say David prayed in his altar, Satan appeared in the form of a beautiful bird, he stopped his prayer and followed the bird to catch it. The bird flew until finally David reached the roof, and his eyes fell upon the wife of Uriah, and he was enchanted by her beauty.”
“Thus, he ordered her husband who was on the battlefield to be in the front line ... until finally he was killed and David took her wife.”
Imam Reza got very upset hearing these words, and he beat his forehead, and said: “You have attributed the disdain of prayer and negligence to the Prophet. What ignorance and abominable accusations to the Infallibles!”
Ali b. Jahm said: “What was the fault of David?”
The Imam said: “David thought that there was no one more knowledgeable than him on earth, so God sent two angels, and they went to him from above the altar and quarreled and asked David for judgment.”
David hasted and delivered his judgment without witness and evidence. Have you not heard that the Lord said: “O’ David! Lo! We have set thee as a viceroy in the earth; therefor judge aright between mankind.”
Ali b. Jahm said: “So what do you say of Uriah?”
The Imam said: “During the time of Prophet David, when a man demised, his wife never married. David authorized this marriage by God's command, and since this was not common, it was very hard for people to accept.”
Debate on the position of the Prophet's Household: An assembly was held in the presence of Imam Reza (AS), in which Ma’mun and a number of scholars from Iraq and Khorasan were present. Ma’mun asked the scholars, “What is the meaning of this verse, “Then we gave the Scripture as inheritance unto those whom we elected of our bondmen.”  
The scholars in the assembly said: “The purpose is all the people.”
Ma’mun asked Imam Reza (AS): “What is your opinion?”
Imam Reza said: “The purpose is the pure kinsfolk; that is, the science of the book and the Quran is with the Prophet's household, because if the purpose was all the umma, all of them should go to Paradise, because the Lord immediately after this verse says, “Gardens of Eden! They enter them”; the inheritors of the book enter the Paradise but not all the people. Thus, the purpose is the Prophet’s household, those that the Lord said: “The Lord has chosen to eradicate any evil from you, and cleanse you.” And also the Messenger of God said about them “I will leave among you two valuable things: the Book of God and my household. The two will not be separated from each other, until they will come to me at the pond of Kawthar. Be careful how you treat them. Do not teach them anything since they are more knowledgeable than you.”
One of the scholars said: “It is narrated from the Messenger of God that Muhammad’s household is his umma.”
The Imam refused the narrative and said: “Tell me, is charity forbidden for Muhammad’s kinsfolk?” They said: “Yes.”
He said: “Is it forbidden for the rest of the umma?” They said: “No.”
He said: “This is the difference of Muhammad’s kinsfolk with the rest. Woe to you! Where have you deviated? Have you turned away from the Quran? God says, “We sent Noah and Abraham and we put prophecy and the book in the Abraham’s kinsfolk, some of them were guided, and many of them became corrupted.”  According to this verse, the heirs to the Prophets and the scriptures must be pious and guided individuals, not guilty and corrupted. Do you not know the story of the son of Noah, who was a wrongdoer and perished?”
At this time, Ma’mun asked: “Has God granted the Prophet’s kinsfolk superiority over other people?"
Imam Reza said: “Yes, in verse 33 of Surat Al-i Imran it is said: “Lo! God preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of Imran above (all His) creatures”. And in verse 54 of Surat al-Nisa’, he said: “We bestowed upon the house of Abraham (of old) the Scripture and wisdom, and we bestowed on them a mighty kingdom.” And the purpose of the mighty kingdom is the obedience of the God’s chosen ones, which God later in verse 59 of this same Sura said to all believers, “O ye who believe! Obey God, and obey the messenger and those of you who are in authority.”
Formation of seminaries and educating disciples: One of the scholarly activities of Imam Reza (AS) was the formation of seminaries in Merv. The presence of Shia Muslims was so significant that Ma’mun out of fear ordered his agents to disperse Imam’s disciples. During eighteen years of his Imamate in Medina, and two years in Merv, he succeeded in educating many disciples with utmost diligence. Some sources counted the total number of his disciples at 318. For instance, we point out the scholarly position of three prominent disciples of the Imam, who were under his deep scientific influence: Abu Abdallah Muhammad b. Khalid al-Barqi (a literate, historian and familiar with Arabic language and literature. He had many works, among which eight writings have been mentioned. Hassan and Husayn b. Sa‘id Ahwazi: The number of works by this pundit is mentioned to be over 30 titles, and most of them are on the interpretation of the Quran. And Abd al-Salam b. Salih Abu Salt Hiravi: He is considered a reliable and a genuine narrator of traditions. Abu Salt has recounted many narratives, especially regarding the meetings of Imam Reza with some nobles, including Di‘bil al-Khuza‘i.
It is quoted that Imam responded to fifteen thousand questions, many of which have been gathered by the writers. Finally, it can be said that the main component and background of the Imam’s movement, in the direction of the scientific movement of Muslims and religious teachings, has been related to the Book and the Sunna.