17th safar marks the day of shahadat of our 8th Imam - Imam Ali Raza (A.S). This sad event occurred in the year 203 Hijri under the Abbasid caliph Mamoon Rashid. Imam Ali ibne Musa Al Raza (A.S) was born on the 11th day of the Islamic month of Ziqa`d in the year 148 Hijri in the Prophet`s city of Medina. He spent his early life with his noble father, our 7th Imam - Imam Musa Al Kazim (A.S) in Medina. He was dinivley entitled "Raza" and his nickname was Abul Hasan like his great grandfather Ali ibne Abi Talib (A.S). Imam Raza (A.S) attained the holy status of Imamate on the martyrdom of his father at the hands of Haroon Rashid (L.A). That fateful year was 183 Hijri, thus the Imam was 35 years of age at that time.
Imam Raza (A.S) held the divine position of Imamate for twenty years. These twenty years were spent under three usurpers of the throne of Aal e Muhammad (A.S). The first ten years were under Haroon Rashid (L.A), the next five were under his son of Arab descent - Amin, and the last five were under Haroon Rashid`s other son (of Persian descent) - Mamoon Rashid. After the death of Haroon Rashid, his sons started quarelling over the crown of caliphate they had established. After several bloody wars, Amin was assassinated in 198 Hijri, and Mamoon Rashid took over the caliphate. Citing the sympathy of the Persian people towards the Ahl e Bait (A.S), Mamoon Rashid appeared sympathetic to the Imam`s cause at first. After assuming the role of the caliph, Mamoon Rashid invited Imam Raza (A.S) to his headquarters in the city of Marv. Imam arrived in Marv on 10th Shawwal 201 Hijri. Along the way to Marv, Imam delivered several sermons to the people of different villages and towns. One of his famous sermons was delivered in the city of Neyshapur, where the Imam told the people that worshipping God is the perfect path for salvation, and he added that worshipping God necessitates following the holy institution of Imamate.
Mamoon Rashid, in his cunning political ways, welcomed the Imam at the city of Marv himself. He offered Imam the caliphate fully knowing the fact that Imam would refuse, and so he did. He then offered Imam the successorship to caliphate. Imam turned down Mamoon`s offer first, but was later forced to accept it, as Mamoon wanted to exploit people`s sympathies towards the Imam for his personal gain. Even when Imam accepted Mamoon`s offer, he conditioned it on that Imam would not be involved in the running of governmental affairs of the appointment or dismissal of government officers. Mamoon hoped his seemingly cunnnig measure would help him overcome the difficulties his predecessors had faced from Ahl e Bait (A.S). He thought that by making Imam the successor he would, first of all, prevent the descendants of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) from rebelling against the government since they would be involved in the government themselves, and secondly, cause the people to lose their spiritual belief and inner attachment to the Imams. This would be accomplished by having the Imams become engrossed in worldly matters and the politics of the caliphate itself, which had always been considered by the Shi`ites to be evil and impure. In this way their religious organization would crumble and they would no longer present any dangers to the caliphate. Obviously, after accomplishing these ends, the removal of the Imam would present no difficulties to the Abbasid caliph.
Mamoon was confident in his plans, but he soon started realizing that it had not worked. Mamoon had scholarly discourses held in his palace, where he would invite prominent leaders of other religions to have a debate with the Imam (A.S). The Imam, being the divine holder of knowledge, was always successful against his opponents in any debate, and this led to an increase in his popularity among both Muslims and non-Muslims. As a direct consequence of his debates, the people started realizing his true holy status, and Shiism started spreading rapidly. Mamoon was distraught at witnessing such rapid rise of Shias, which was exactly opposite to what he had schemed. Therefore, Mamoon sought to find a remedy to this problem, and could not help but imprison the Imam in Sarakhs.
The Imam (A.S) was eventually poisoned by Mamoon Rashid with grapes, and he achieved martyrdom on 17th safar 203rd Hijri after enduring pain for two days. Imam was buried in the city of Toos (now known as Mashad in Iran). Imam`s shrine is a source of great miracles for the pilgrims that visit.
May God`s curse be on the enemies of Ahl e Bait (A.S). Ameen!