Ali al-Ridha

Ali al-Reza
علي الرضا   (Arabic)

8th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam
Born c. (766-01-01)1 January 766 CE[1]
(11 Dhul Qa`dah 148 AH)
Medina, Abbasid Empire (now Saudi Arabia)
Died c. 26 May 818(818-05-26) (aged 53)
(17 Safar 203 AH)
Tus, Persia, Abbasid Empire ( Now Iran, Islamic Republic of )
Cause of death Death by poisoning according to most Shi'a Muslims
Resting place Imam Reza shrine, Iran
36°17′13″N 59°36′56″E / 36.28694°N 59.61556°E / 36.28694; 59.61556
Other names Alī 'ibn Mūsā
Term 799–819 CE
Predecessor Musa al-Kadhim
Successor Muhammad al-Jawad
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Sabīkah aka Khayzurān[2]
Children Muhammad at-Taqi
Parent(s) Musa al-Kadhim
Ummul Banīn Najmah[2]

'Alī ibn Mūsā al-Rezā (Arabic: علي بن موسى الرضا), also called abu al-Hasan, Ali al-Reza (c. 29 December 765 – 23 August 818)[2] or in Persia(Iran) as Imam Reza (Persian: امام رضا), was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and the eighth Shia Imam after his father Musa al-Kadhim and before his son Muhammad al-Jawad. He was an Imam of knowledge according to the Zaydi (Fiver) Shia school and Sufis. He lived in a period when Abbasid caliphs were facing numerous difficulties, the most important of which was Shia revolts. The Caliph Al-Ma'mun sought out a remedy for this problem by appointing Al-Ridha as his successor, through whom he could be involved in worldly affairs. However, according to the Shia view, when Al-Ma'mun saw that the Imam gained even more popularity, he decided to correct his mistake by poisoning him. The Imam was buried in a village in Khorasan, which afterwards gained the name Mashhad, meaning the place of martyrdom.[4][5]

The Tomb of Imam Reza at Mashhad is one of the largest and most visited holy sites in Islam

Birth and family life

On the eleventh of Dhu al-Qi'dah, 148 AH (December 29, 765 CE), a son was born in the house of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (the seventh Imam of Twelver Shia Islam) in Medina. He was named Ali and titled al-Ridha, however in the Shia sources he is commonly called Abu’l-Ḥasan al-Ṯānī so as not to be confused with his father, Imam Musa al-Kadhim. His father was known as Abu’l-Ḥasan al-Awwal. He was born one month after the death of his grandfather, Ja'far as-Sādiq, and brought up in Medina under the direction of his father.[6] His mother, Najmah, was also a distinguished and pious lady. It is said that the boy al-Ridha required a great deal of milk, so that when his mother was asked whether her milk was sufficient, she answered, "it is not because my milk is not sufficient, but he wants it all the time, and consequently I am falling short in my prayers."[5] She was originally a Berber (from the Maghreb i.e. Northwest Africa).[7] She was purchased and freed by Bibi Hamidah Khatun, the wife of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq,[8] and like Bibi Hamidah was a notable Islamic scholar.[9]

Surname & father-name

He described among Shia Narrations as the second abul hasan in contrary of first Abul Hasan who was his father Imam Musa Kazim. Also there are other honorific titles attributed to him such as Saber, Vafi, Razi,Zakki amd Vali[10]

Designation as Imam

The eighth Imam had reached the Imamate, after the death of his father, through Divine Command and the decree of his forefathers,[11] especially Imam Musa al-Kadhim, who would repeatedly tell his companions that his son Ali would be the Imam after him.[12] As such, Makhzumi says that one day Musa al-Kadhim summoned and gathered us and entitled him as "his executor and successor."[13]

Yazid ibn Salit has also related a similar narration from the seventh Imam when he met him on his way to Mecca: "Ali, whose name is the same as the First and the forth Imam, is the Imam after me." Said the Imam. However, due to the extreme choking atmosphere and pressure prevailed in the period of Musa al-Kazim, he added, "What I said must remain (restricted) up to you and do not reproduce it to anybody unless you know he is one of our friends and companions."[14][15] The same is narrated from Ali bin Yaqtin, from Imam Musa al-Kazim who has said "Ali is the best of my children and I have conferred on him my epithet"[12] According to Wāqedī, even in his youth, Ali al-Ridha would transmit Hadith from his father and his uncles and gave Fatwa in the mosque of Medina.[6][16] Ali al-Ridha was not looked upon favorably by Hārūn Rashīd; and the people of Medina were disallowed from visiting and learning from him.[17] According to Donaldson he was twenty or twenty-five years old when he succeeded his father as Imam in Medina, and it was about eighteen years later, when the Caliph Al-Ma'mun "undertook to ingratiate himself with the numerous Shia parties by designating Ali ar-Ridha as his successor to the Caliphate."[5]

Political situation of his era

After the death of Harun al-Rashid in 809, Harun's two sons began fighting for control of the Abbasid Empire. One son, Al-Amin, had an Arab mother and thus had the support of Arabs, while his half-brother Al-Ma'mun had a Persian mother and the support of Persia.[18] After defeating his brother, al-Ma'mun faced many insurrections from the followers of the Prophet's family in many areas.[16]

The Shia of al-Ma'mun's era, like the Shia of today, who made a large population of al-Ma'mun's Iran, regarded the Imams as their leaders who must be obeyed in all aspects of life, spiritual and terrestrial, as they believed in them as the real caliphs of the Islamic Prophet, Muhammad. The Abbasids, like the Umayyads before them, realized this as a big threat to their own caliphate, since the Shias saw them as usurpers of al-Ma'mun which was far from the sacred status of their Imams. Allamah Tabatabaei writes in his book Shi'ite Islam, that in order to quiet the many Shia rebellions around his government, al-Ma'mun summoned Imam al-Ridha to Khorasan and wanted to offer him the role of Crown Prince to prevent the Shias and relatives of al-Ridha from rebelling against the government, seeing as they would then be fighting their own Imam; secondly, to cause the people to lose their spiritual belief and inner attachment to the Imams, because the Imam would be associated with the corrupt government of al-Ma'mun.[19] Thirdly, he intended it to fool other Shias into believing that his government was not so bad after all, because al-Ridha would then come into power after Ma'mun. And fourthly, he wanted to keep a close watch over the Imam of the Shias himself, so that nothing could happen without al-Ma'mun's knowledge.

Word spread quickly among al-Ma'mun's circles that al-Ma'mun was not sincere in his offer to make Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha the Crown Prince, and that it was simply a political move. Al-Ma'mun also became paranoid and thought that al-Ridha would see through it as well, and so would his Shias. In order to quiet the doubts of the people, al-Ma'mun first offered al-Ridha the caliphate itself. Al-Ridha, who knew the real reason of this offer, politely refused it[20] and said:

“If this caliphate belongs to you, then it is not permissible for you to take off the garment in which Allah has clothed you and to give it to other than you. If the caliphate does not belong to you, then it is not permissible for you to give me that which does not belong to you.”[16]

Al-Ma'mun kept trying to make his offer seem sincere and kept re-offering the caliphate, and finally moved on to his real plan to make his Crown Prince be Ali al-Ridha. When Imam al-Ridha also declined this position, al-Ma'mun threatened him saying "Your ancestor Ali was chosen by the second caliph to be in a six member council to elect the third caliph, and ordered to kill any one of the six who didn't comply. If you do not accept the position of Crown Prince in my government, I will follow through on the same threat". al-Ridha said he would accept, under the condition that none of the affairs of government would be his. He would neither appoint anyone, nor dismiss. He would not rule, or pass laws. He would only be Crown Prince in name. al-Ma'mun became happy that al-Ridha had accepted and would stay out of his way in governing, and agreed to the condition.

Al-Ma'mun even changed the black Abbāsid flags to green,[21][22] the traditional color of Shia[22] Mohammad's flag and Ali's cloak.[23] He also ordered to mint coins with names of both Al-Ma'mun and Ali al-Ridha.[22]

Ali al-Ridha admonishes his brother

Pilgrims of Imam Ali Riza's Shrine in Mashhad, Khorasan

When al-Ridha was summoned to Khurasan and reluctantly accepted the role of successor to al-Ma'mun,[11][24] al-Ma'mun summoned the Imam's brother, Zayd, who had revolted and brought about a riot in Medina to his court in Khorasan. Al-Ma'mun kept him free as an honor to Ali al-Ridha and overlooked his punishment.[25]

One day, however, when Ali al-Ridha was delivering a speech in a grand assembly, he heard Zayd praising himself before the people, saying I am so and so. Ali al-Ridha asked him saying:[26]

"O Zayd, have you trusted upon the words of the grocers of Kufa and are conveying them to the people? What kind of things are you talking about? The sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatimah Zahra are worthy and outstanding only when they obey the command of Allah, and keep themselves away from sin and blunder. You think you are like Musa al-Kadhim, Ali ibn Husayn, and other Imams? Whereas, they took pains and bore hardships on the way to Allah and prayed to Allah day and night. Do you think you will gain without pain? Be aware, that if a person out of us the Ahl al-Bayt performs a good deed, he gets twice the reward. Because not only he performed good deeds like others but also that he has maintained the honor of Muhammad. If he practices something bad and does a sin, he has performed two sins. One is that he performed a bad act like the rest of the people and the other one is that he has negated the honor of Muhammad. O brother! The one who obeys Allah is from us the Ahl al-Bayt and the one who is a sinner is not ours. Allah said about the son of Noah who cut the spiritual bondage with his father, "He is not out of your lineage; if he was out of your lineage, I would have (saved) and granted him salvation."[26]


Al-Ma'mun was very interested in working on various sciences translated into Arabic. Thus he arranged debates between the Imam and Muslim scholars and the leaders of religion sects who came in his presence.[6][11] One of the discussions was on Divine Unity with Sulaiman al-Mervi; a scholar from Khorasan, another discussion with Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Jahm was devoted to the sinlessness of the Prophets, which led to another debate on the same subject which Ma'mun took a great part in it himself. Many of these debates are recorded in the collections of Shia hadiths, like Oyoun Akhbar Al-Ridha. The following is an example of these debates which took place between the Imam and an unbeliever(Zindīq).[4][6]

(The Imam) said to him (Zindīq), "Dost thou see that if the correct view is your view then are we not equal? All that we have prayed, fasted, given of the alms and declared of our convictions will not harm us. If the correct view is our view then have not you perished and we gained salvation?" the Man said. "Then let me know, how is He and where is He?" Abu-l-Hasan(the Imam)answered, "surely the opinion thou hast adopted is mistaken. He determined the 'where', and He was, when there was no 'where'; and He fashioned the 'how', and He was, when there was no 'how'. So He is not known through 'howness' or 'whereness'" The man said, "So then surely He is nothing if He cannot be perceived by any of the senses." Abu-l-Hasan said, "when our senses fail to perceive Him, we know for certain that He is our Lord …" The man said, "Then tell me, when was He?" Abu-l-Hasan said, "Tell when He was not, and then I will tell you when He was..." The man said, "Then why has He veiled Himself (from men)?" Abu-l-Hasan replied, "Surely the veil is upon creatures because of the abundance of their sins. As for Him, no secret is hidden from Him during the day or the night…"

This is a long debate, entitled, The Veil, full text of which could be find in the A Shiite Anthology translated by William Chittick.[4] According to some accounts, Ma'mun's main objective from holding the meetings was that he was hoping that the Imam won't be able to give an answer to every question asked of him. It is related from al-Nawfali who quoted the Imam as saying :"Would you (al-Nawfali) like to know when al-Ma'mūn will feel remorseful? ...When he hears me argue with the people of the Torah quoting their own Torah, with the people of the Gospel quoting their own Gospel, with the people of the Psalms quoting their own Psalms, with the Zoroastrians arguing in their Persian language, with the Romans in their own Latin... then al-Ma'mūn will realize that he will not achieve what he aspires..."[27]

A version of the Quran written by Al-Ridha, now in the Qom Museum, Iran


Al-Risalah al-Dhahabiah

Al-Risalah al-Dhahabiah (The Golden Treatise) is a treatise on medical cures and the maintenance of good health which is said to have been written in accordance with the demand of Ma'mun.[6][28] It is regarded as the most precious Islamic literature in the science of medicine, and was entitled "the golden treatise" as Ma'mun had ordered it to be written in gold ink.[6] It has been explained in this treatise that one's health is threatened when his blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm are unbalanced; and that nutrition and traditional medicine may be used to cure imbalances. Among his sayings is, "Do you think that you are a small body, while the greatest world has folded itself in you?"[27] Research in the related documents, historical evidence and present volumes of this treatise indicates that even if a book titled Al-Risalah al-Dhahabiah could be attributed to Al-Ridha, it doesn’t constitute that the present versions are that precise book, and it cannot be taken into use as "Sunnah".[29]


Main article: Sahifah of al-Ridha

The Sahifah is a collection of hadith attributed to Ali al-Ridha which was transmitted by Abdallah ibn Aḥmad ibn Amer, who heard them from his father Aḥmad, who was said to have heard it from Ali al-Ridha in 194 AH (809-10 CE) at Medina.[6] It contains hadiths on various topics like the invocation of Allah, the importance of praying five times a day and of saying the prayer for the dead, the excellence of the household of the Prophet, of the believer, of good manners, and of strengthening the bonds of kinship, and the danger of cheating, of backbiting, and of tattling. It discusses each member of the household of the Prophet.[27]

Uyun al Akhbar ar Reda

Uyun al Akhbar ar Reda is a book in which is gathered together everything that has been related about Imam from debates on religious questions and the sayings which have been recorded from him, to the explanations of the reason his name was chosen, and traditions concerning his death and the miracles which have occurred at his tomb. It is collected by Ibn Babawayh known as Al-Shaykh al-Saduq.[4]

Feqh al-Reżā

Feqh al-Reżā (al-Rida's Jurisprudence) Also called al-Fiqh al-Radawi, is also attributed to Imam al-Ridha. It was not known till the 10th/16th century when it was judged to be authentic by Muhammad Baqir Majlisi. However, most of Imami scholars doubted its authenticity.[6]

Connection to Sufism

It has been commonly held that Maruf Karkhi who was converted to Islam through Ali al-Ridha is one of the foremost figures in the golden chain of most Sufi orders. He was a devoted student of Ali al-Ridha and is an important figure for Sufism and Shi'ism.[30] According to Corbin, although at the end of the Safavid period a Ni'mat Allahi Sufi from India named Ma'sum been sent by his spiritual master, Shaykh Shah 'Ali Rida Dakhani, to Iran and settled with his family at Shiraz, to restore the Ni'mat Allahi order in Iran, however the Sufi order while owes its name to Shah Ni'mat Allah Wali, [lower-alpha 1] goes back originally to the Eighth Shia Imam, the Imam 'Ali Rida through Ma'ruf al-Karkhi.[31]

Selected Sayings


Al-Ma'mun thought he would solve the problems of Shia revolts by naming al-Ridha as his successor. After finally being able to persuade al-Rida to accept this position, al-Ma'mun realized his mistake, for Shia began to gain even more popularity. Moreover, Arab party in Baghdad were furious when they heard that al-Ma'mun not only appointed the imam as his successor, but sent out commands that the Abbasid'd black flag should be changed to green in honor of the Imam. They were afraid that the empire would be taken from them. They got together, therefore, to depose Ma'mun and give allegiance to Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi, who was the uncle of Ma'mun.[5] When Ma'mun heard this, the Imam advised him to solve the problem by dismissing him from his position but he did not heed and decided to return to Baghdad and assert his rights.[5] However, when they reached the town of Sarakhs, his vizier was assassinated, and when they reached Tus, Mamoon poisoned the Imam. Then, Muhammad Taqi imam's son came. Mamoon ordered that he be buried next to the tomb of his own father, Harun al-Rashid, and showed extreme sorrow in the funeral ritual and stayed for three days at the place. According to Madelung the unexpected death of both the vizier and the successor, "whose presence would have made any reconciliation with the powerful ʿAbbasid opposition in Baghdad virtually impossible, must indeed arouse strong suspicion that Ma'mun had had a hand in the deaths."[6][27] The more popular record about his death is that he died in 203 AH, at the age of 50. The precise day is not agreed upon.[32]

Imam Reza Mosque

Main article: Imam Reza Shrine

Today the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad occupies a total area of 598,657 square metres (147.931 acres) the shrine area occupies 267,079 square metres (65.997 acres) while the seven courtyards surrounding it cover an area of 331,578 square metres (81.935 acres),[33] together having an area larger than Masjid al-Haram and Masjid al-Nabawi (which have areas of 356,800 square metres (88.2 acres)[34] and 400,500 square metres (99.0 acres) respectively). Based on this, some sources describe it as the largest mosque in the world.[35]

The courtyards also contain a total of 14 minarets,[36] and 3 fountains.[37] From the courtyards, external hallways named after scholars lead to the inner areas of the mosque. They are referred to as Bast (Sanctuary), since they were meant to be a safeguard for the shrine areas.[38]

The Bast hallways lead towards a total of 21 internal halls (Riwaq) surrounding the burial chamber of Ali al-Ridha. Adjacent to the burial chamber is also a mosque dating back to the 10th century known as, Bala-e-Sar mosque.[39]

See also


  1. The name of Shah Nimatullah Wali is inseparable from the history of Shia Sufism in Iran over the last seven centuries. Amir Nur al-Din Ni'mat Allah was born in 730/1329-1330 to a family of Sayyids who were descended from the Fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir


  1. Shabbar, S.M.R. (1997). Story of the Holy Ka'aba. Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain. Retrieved 28 October 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. 2004. p. 137.
  3. al-Qummi, Shaykh Abbas (1998). "2". The Last Journey, Translation of Manazile Akherah. Aejazali Turabhusain Bhujwala. Qum: Imam Ali Foundation. pp. 62–64.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Tabåatabåa'åi, Muhammad Husayn (1981). A Shi'ite Anthology. Selected and with a Foreword by Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i; Translated with Explanatory Notes by William Chittick; Under the Direction of and with an Introduction by Hossein Nasr. State University of New York Press. pp. 49–50 & 138–139. ISBN 9780585078182.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Donaldson, Dwight M. (1933). The Shi'ite Religion: A History of Islam in Persia and Irak. BURLEIGH PRESS. pp. 161–170.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 W. Madelung (1 August 2011). "ALĪ AL-REŻĀ, the eighth Imam of the Emāmī Shiʿites.". Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  7. Rizvi, Sayyid Saeed Akhtar. Slavery From Islamic and Christian Perspectives. Vancouver Islamic Educational Foundation. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
  8. Jaffer, Masuma (2003). Lady Fatima Masuma (a) of Qum (first ed.). Qum: Jami‘at al-Zahra - Islamic Seminary for Women.
  9. Rizvi, Sayyid Saeed Ahktar (1988). Slavery, from Islamic & Christian perspectives (2nd (rev.) ed., 1988. ed.). Richmond, B.C.: Vancouver Islamic Educational Foundation. ISBN 0-920675-07-7.
  11. 1 2 3 Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1975). Shi'ite Islam. Translated by Sayyid Hossein Nasr. State University of New York Press. pp. 68–69&76. ISBN 0-87395-390-8.
  12. 1 2 Al-Tabrizi, Al-Mirza Jawad. A Concise Treatise of Authentic Traditions Regarding the Right to Divine Leadership (Imamate) of the Twelve Imams (in Persian). The Sun Behind The Clouds Publications. Retrieved September 2014. Check date values in: |access-date= (help); External link in |publisher= (help)
  13. Tabasi, Mohammad Mohsen (2007). "Imam Ridha in the narrations of Ahl al-Sunnah". Kowsar Culture (72): 67. Retrieved September 2014. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. Al-Kulayni Arazi, Sheikh Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Yaqub Ibn Isha. Al Kafi.
  15. Tabarsi, Fazl ibn Hassan. Elam al-Vora Be-A'lam al-Hoda. Vol. 2. p. 50.
  16. 1 2 3 Al-Qurashi, Baqir Shareef. The Life of Imam ‘Ali al-Hadi, Study and Analysis. Abdullah al-Shahin. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  17. Shabbar, S.M.R. Story of the Holy Ka’aba. Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain Category:. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  18. Sykes, Sir Percy (27 September 2013). A History Of Persia. Routledge. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-1-136-52597-1.
  19. Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1975). Shi'ite Islam. Translated by Sayyid Hossein Nasr. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-87395-390-8.
  20. Dungersi, Mohammed Raza (1996). A Brief Biography of Imam Ali bin Musa (a.s.): al-Ridha. Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-9976-956-94-8.
  21. Khaldūn, Ibn (1958). The Muqaddimah : an introduction to history ; in three volumes. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09797-6.
  22. 1 2 3 Bobrick, Benson (14 August 2012). The Caliph's Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad. Simon and Schuster. pp. 205–. ISBN 978-1-4165-6806-3.
  23. Esposito, John L. (27 December 1999). The Oxford History of Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-988041-6.
  24. Meri, Josef W.; Bacharach, Jere L. (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization: A-K, index. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-96691-7.
  25. Fadlallah, Muhammad Jawad. Imam ar-Ridha’, A Historical and Biographical Research. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  26. 1 2 Al-Saduq, Al-Shaykh (2006). UYUN AKHBAR AL-REZA The Source of Traditions on Imam Reza (a.s.) (Vol. 2) (first ed.). Qom: Ansariyan Publications. p. 520.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 al-Qarashi, Bāqir Sharif. The life of Imām 'Ali Bin Mūsā al-Ridā. Translated by Jāsim al-Rasheed.
  28. Muhammad Jawad Fadlallah. Imam ar-Ridha’, A Historical and Biographical Research. Yasin T. Al-Jibouri. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  29. Najasyi, Amad ibn Ali ibn Ahmad (1987). Fehrest Asma Mushannif al-Syiah. Qom: Daftare entesharate Eslami. p. 337.
  30. Nicholson, R.A.; Austin, R.W.J. (2012). "Maʿrūf al-Kark̲h̲ī". Encyclopaedia of Islam (second ed.).
  31. Corbin, Henry (2001). The History of Islamic Philosophy. Translated by Liadain Sherrard with the assistance of Philip Sherrard. London and New York: Kegan Paul International. pp. 308, 314.
  32. قمی, شیخ عباس. منتهی الامال. 3. p. 1723.
  33. "The Glory of the Islamic World". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-25.
  34. Great Mosque of al-Haram at ArchNet
  35. Andrew Higgins (2 June 2007). "Inside Iran's Holy Money Machine". WSJ. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  36. "Minarets". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
  37. "Saqqah Khaneh". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
  38. "The Bast (Sanctuaries) Around the Holy Shrine". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
  39. "Riwaq (Porch)". Imam Reza (A.S.) Network. Retrieved 2009-05-26.

External links

Ali al-Ridha
of the Ahl al-Bayt
Clan of the Banu Quraish
Born: 11th Dhul Qi'dah 148 AH 29 December 765 CE Died: 17th Safar 203 AH 23 August 818 CE
Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
Musa al-Kazim
8th Imam of Twelver Shi'a Islam
Succeeded by
Muhammad al-Taqi
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