Yahya bin Aktham offered some questions, which he had prepared and written down before, to Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) in order to try him. Here are the questions with their answers not literally mentioned:
1. Allah says in His Book, (One who had the knowledge of the Book said: I will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye). The asker was Prophet Solomon and the asked one was Asif. Was Solomon, who was a prophet, in need of the knowledge of Asif?
The answer: Prophet Solomon (a.s.) was not unable to know what Asif knew, but he wanted to make his nation of the jinn and mankind know that the authority after him would be Asif. It was from the knowledge of Solomon (a.s.) that he had taught to Asif lest his nation would disagree on his imamate and guardianship after him, and to confirm the proof before people.
2. Allah says, (And he raised his parents upon the throne and they fell down in prostration before him). How did Ya’qub (Prophet Jacob) and his sons prostrate themselves before Yousuf (Prophet Joseph) while they were prophets?
The answer: the prostration of Ya’qub before his son Yousuf was not for Yousuf, but all that from Ya’qub and his sons was obedience to Allah the Almighty and as greeting to Yousuf, as the prostration of the angels before Adam was not for Adam. Ya’qub and his sons, and Yousuf with them, prostrated themselves to thank Allah the Almighty for their reuniting. Do you not see that he said when thanking Allah at that time, (My Lord! Thou hast given me of the kingdom…)?
3. Allah says, (But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book). If the addressee was the Prophet (a.s.), then he was in doubt, but if the addressee was other than the Prophet (a.s.), then to whom the Book had been revealed?
The answer: the addressee was the Prophet (a.s.) and he was not in doubt about what Allah had revealed but the ignorant said: why did Allah not deputed a prophet from the angels? Why did He not differentiate between him (the Prophet) and the rest of people in eating, drinking, and walking in markets? So Allah revealed to his Prophet, (And We have not sent before you any messengers but they most surely ate food and went about in the markets). He said to the Prophet (a.s.): ask, in the presence of the ignorant, those who recite the Book: has Allah sent a prophet before you that he did not eat food and walk in the markets? O Muhammad, they are examples for you. Allah said, (if you are in doubt…) though there was no doubt but just for showing the truth as He said, (But whoever disputes with you in this matter after what has come to you of knowledge, then say: Come let us call our sons and your sons and our women and your women and ourselves and yourselves, then let us be earnest in prayer, and pray for the curse of Allah on the liars). If he said: “Come so that we make the curse of Allah on you”, they would not respond. Allah knew that His Prophet would carry out His mission and knew that he was truthful and not a liar but He wanted to confirm the situation when saying (if you are in doubt…).
4. Allah says, (And if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted). What are these seas and where are they?
The answer: Yes, it is so. If all the trees of the world were pens and the seas were ink supplied with other seven seas until the earth would explode into springs as it exploded in the flood, the words of Allah would not come to an end. The seas are: Ayn al-Kibrit, Ayn al-Yemen, Ayn Barhut, Ayn Tabariya, geyser of Masidan called Lisan, an African geser called Saylan, and Ayn Bahuran. And we (the Ahlul Bayt) are the words that our virtues cannot be perceived or counted.
5. Allah says, (and therein is all that souls desire and eyes find sweet). The soul of Adam desired to eat from the wheat and he ate. Then, why was he punished?
The answer: in the Paradise there are all kinds of foods, drinks, and entertainments that souls desire and eyes delight in and Allah has permitted all that for Adam. But the tree that Allah has forbidden Adam and his wife from eating from its fruit was the tree of envy. Allah asked them both not to look at those whom Allah has preferred to them and at His creatures with the eye of envy, but Adam forgot and could not help himself before that tree.
6. How is the witness of one woman permitted whereas Allah says, (and call to witness two just men among you)?
The answer: the woman whose witness is permitted though alone is a midwife but with satisfaction; otherwise no less than two women who stand instead of one man. If the woman was alone, her witness is accepted with her taking an oath.
7. Ali (a.s.) judged that a hermaphrodite was to be looked at its organ of urination to see if its urination was like that of man, then a hermaphrodite was to be considered as a man and if the urination was like that of woman then the hermaphrodite was to be considered as a woman. Who can look at the hermaphrodite? For if the looker was a man, the hermaphrodite might be a woman, and if the looker was a woman, the hermaphrodite might be a man which would be not permissible. And what about the inheritance of a hermaphrodite?
The answer: The case of a hermaphrodite is as Ali said. A hermaphrodite inherits due to its organ of urination. Some fair and just men hold mirrors in their hands and a hermaphrodite stands naked behind them. The men look in the mirrors and judge whether the hermaphrodite is a man or a woman.
8. The owner of a herd of sheep saw the shepherd copulate with a ewe. When the shepherd saw the owner, he released the ewe to go in the middle of the herd. How can that ewe be known to be slaughtered? Is it permissible to eat its meat or not?
The answer: if the owner, who saw the shepherd commit that sin, knew that ewe, he should slaughter and burn it, and if not, he should divide the sheep into two divisions and cast lots between the two divisions. If the lots fell on one division, the other division should be excluded, and so on until two sheep would remain. The lots would be cast between the two sheep and the one, which the lots fell on, should be slaughtered (and burned) and the rest of sheep would be preserved.
10. Why, in the Fajr (dawn) Prayer, the suras are recited loudly though it is from the prayers of day whereas it is the prayers of night that are recited loudly?
The answer: as for the Fajr Prayer, it is recited loudly because the Prophet (a.s.) offered it in the darkness of (the end of) night, and so it is recited in the night.
11. (Imam) Ali said to ibn Jarmuz, ‘Tell the killer of the son of Safiyyah that he shall be in the Fire.’Why did he (Imam Ali) not kill him (ibn Jarmuz) though he was the imam?
The Answer: Ali said that after the saying of the messenger of Allah. Ameerul Mo'minin did not kill him in Basra (on the day of the Camel) because he knew that he would be killed in the battle of an-Nahrawan.
12. Tell me why Ali killed the people of (the battle of) Siffin and ordered his men to kill them whether they were attacking or fleeing and he finished off the wounded, but on the day of al-Jamal (the camel) he did not kill a fleer or a wounded one and did not order his men to do that. Rather, he said, ‘Whoever keeps to his house will be safe.’ Why did he do that? If the first decision was right, so the second would be wrong.
The Answer: The imam (leader) of the people of the Camel was killed and they had no leader to refer to. They went back to their homes without fighting, deceiving, or spying. They were satisfied (after the defeat) not to be fought. But the people of Siffin belonged to a prepared company with a leader supplying them with spears, armors, and swords, caring for them, giving them good gifts, preparing great monies for them, visiting their sick, curing their wounded, giving sumpters to their footers, helping their needy, and returning them to the fight. The matter with the people of Basra (who fought in the battle of al-Jamal) was to stop fighting them when they laid down their arms, but the matter with the people of Siffin was to follow after their fleers and finish off their wounded. Without Ameerul Mo'minin and his judgments towards the people of Siffin and the people of al-Jamal, the judgment towards the disobedient of monotheists would not be known. Whoever denied that would be subjected to the sword.
13. If a man confesses, against himself, that he has committed sodomy, shall he be punished or pardoned?
The answer: if a man confesses against himself by himself with no evidence discovered by others against him, the imam, who has been appointed by Allah, has the right to punish in behalf of Allah, and he also has the right to pardon in behalf of Allah. Have you not heard the saying of Allah, (This is Our free gift, therefore give freely or withhold, without reckoning). Allah began with the giving first and then the withholding.
We answered all what you asked us about. Know that!’
Yahya was astonished at the answers of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) to these ambiguous questions and he turned to al-Mutawakkil and advised him saying, ‘We do not like you to ask this man about anything after my questions to him…In showing his knowledge there will be strengthening to ar-Rafidha (the Shia).’( Al-Manaqib by ibn Shahrashub, vol.4 p.403-406, Tuhaf al-Uqul, p.477-481 )
Reference : The Life of Imam ALI bin Muhammad AL-HADI