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Ja’far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq (d. 765): Imam of the Muslims

[This is a very short summary of a forthcoming piece I am currently working on about Ja’far al-Sadiq, which will explore his status within the classical Sunni religious tradition. In the meantime, those wanting a solid, well-sourced introduction to his historical biography and legacy should consult: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/jafar-al-sadeq]

Imām Ja’far ibn Muḥammad al-Ṣādiq (d. 765) was the great-great grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He was recognized as one of the greatest authorities of his time and left a lasting legacy as one of the most important intellectual and religious figures in Islamic history. For Twelver and Isma’iil Shi’is, he was the infallible Imam of the Age, the Proof of God sent as a source of guidance for mankind. His Imamate lasted for 34 years, one of the longest in history. It was during his time that many central theological doctrines of Shi’ism began to crystallize. He is also revered within the Sunni Muslim tradition as well. He has been designated “Shaykh al-‘Ulamā’” and “Imām al-Fuqahā’” for his noble rank as one of the most knowledgeable men that the Islamic world  has ever seen. He was the teacher of Imām Mālik (d. 795), Imām Abū Ḥanifa (d. 767) and Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778), among others. He played a significant role in the development of the science of jurisprudence (fiqh) as well as the inner mystical sciences of Islam. He was a direct descendant of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (d. 661) through his father and Abu Bakr (d. 634) from his mother’s side. The overwhelming majority of Sufi chains of lineage go through him.

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‘Alī Hojvīrī (d. 1071), one of the major Persian scholars of Sufism, described Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq as “sayf-e sonnat wa jamal-e tariqat wa mo’abber-e ma’refat wa mozayyen-e safwat” (the sword of the Sunnah, the beauty of the Path, the Interpreter of Mystical Knowledge, and the adornment of Pure Devotion). Another major Persian Sufi, Shaykh Fārid al-Dīn ‘Attar (d. 1221) identified Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq as one of the most important Imams of Ahl al-Bayt who “excelled in writing on innermost mysteries and truths and who was matchless in expounding the subtleties and secrets of revelation” (latayef-e asrar-e tanzil wa tafsir). One of the statements about the Qur’an attributed to him is: “The Book of God has four things: literal expression (‘ibāra), allusion (ishāra), subtleties (laṭā’if), and deepest realities (ḥaqā’iq). The literal expression is for the common folk (‘awāmm), the allusion is for the elite (khawāṣṣ), the subtleties are for the friends of God (awliyā’), and the deepest realities are for the prophets (anbiyā’) [From Spiritual Gems: The Mystical Qur’an Commentary ascribed to Ja’far al-Sadiq as contained in Sulami’s Haqa’iq al-Tafsir (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2011), trans. Farhana Mayer, p. 1]

Among his pieces of advice to his student, Sufyān al-Thawrī, was the following:

“If God bestows on you a favor, and you wish to keep that favor, then you must praise and thank Him excessively, because He said, “If you are thankful God will increase for you” [14:7]. He also said, “If the door of provision is closed for you, then make a great deal of istighfar (begging forgiveness), because God said, “Seek forgiveness of your Lord, certainly Your Lord is oft-Forgiving” [11:52]. And he said to Sufyān, “If you are upset by the tyranny of a Sultan or other oppression that you witness, say “There is no change and no power except with God,” (la hawla wa la quwwata illa-billah) because it is the key to relief and one of the Treasures of Paradise.”

حدثنا عبد الله بن محمد بن جعفر ، ثنا محمد بن العباس ، حدثني محمد بن عبد الرحمن بن غزوان ، حدثني مالك بن أنس ، عن جعفر بن محمد بن علي بن الحسين ، قال : لما قال سفيان الثوري : لا أقوم حتى تحدثني ، قال له : أنا أحدثك وما كثرة الحديث لك بخير ، يا سفيان ، إذا أنعم الله عليك بنعمة فأحببت بقاءها ودوامها فأكثر من الحمد والشكر عليها ، فإن الله عز وجل قال في كتابه : ( لئن شكرتم لأزيدنكم ) . وإذا استبطأت الرزق فأكثر من الاستغفار فإن الله تعالى قال في كتابه : ( استغفروا ربكم إنه كان غفارا يرسل السماء عليكم مدرارا ويمددكم بأموال وبنين ويجعل لكم جنات ويجعل لكم أنهارا ) يا سفيان : إذا حزنك أمر من سلطان أو غيره فأكثر من : لا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله ، فإنها مفتاح الفرج وكنز من كنوز الجنة ، فعقد سفيان بيده ، وقال : ثلاث وأي ثلاث ، قال جعفر : عقلها والله أبو عبد الله ولينفعنه الله بها

[حلية الأولياء وطبقات الأصفياء]

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He is also revered by the scholars of hadith and he narrates at least 2000 traditions which are found in the nine major books of Sunni hadith, with 110 of these found within the six canonical collections (Sihah al-Sitta). He is often identified as the teacher of four founders of Islamic schools of jurisprudence: Mālik ibn Anas (d. 795), Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nu‘mān (d. 767)**, Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778), and ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Awzā‘ī (d. 774). In addition, the ḥadīth scholars and jurists Ibn Jurayj (d. 767), Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna (d. 815) and Shu’ba ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 776) also studied under him. The prominent polymath Jabir ibn Hayyan (d. 815) is also often listed as among his students, although this remains highly contested among scholars.

Another saying attributed to him in both Sunni and Shi’i texts is this final testament to his son Musa al-Kadhim (d. 799):

“O my son, verily the one who is satisfied with what he has is the truly wealthy, while the one who covets that which another possesses is truly impoverished…Know also that the one who exposes the sins of another, his own sins will be exposed. It is undoubted that the one who unsheathes the sword of unjust rebellion will be killed with it. Verily, the one who consorts with the foolish will become abased, while the one who affiliates with scholars will be ennobled. O my son, do not interfere in affairs that do not concern you, for therein lies humiliation. Speak the truth whether it is in your favor or against it, consult about matters with your close relatives, constantly recite the Qur’an, be a conveyor of Islam, an enjoiner of the good, a forbidder of evil, and generous to the one who seeks assistance. Always re-establish relations with the one who cuts you off. Beware of backbiting and slander for it engenders hatred and implants enmity in the heart. I warn you against exposing the faults of others for the one who does so is like an exposed target…Make sure to visit the righteous while shunning the sinful, for the latter are like a rock that provides no water, a fruitless tree, and a barren field.”

يَا بُنَيَّ ! مَنْ قَنعَ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهُ ، اسْتَغْنَى ، وَمَنْ مَدَّ عَيْنَيْهِ إِلَى مَا فِي يَدِ غَيْرِه، مَاتَ فَقِيْراً، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَرضَ بِمَا قُسِمَ لَهُ ، اتَّهمَ اللهَ فِي قَضَائِهِ، وَمَنِ اسْتَصْغَرَ زَلَّةَ غَيْرِه ، اسْتَعْظَمَ زَلَّةَ نَفْسِه، وَمَنْ كَشَفَ حِجَابَ غَيْرِه ، انكَشَفَتْ عَوْرَتُهُ ، وَمَنْ سَلَّ سَيْفَ البَغْيِ، قُتِلَ بِهِ، وَمَنِ احْتَفَرَ بِئْراً لأَخِيْهِ ، أَوقَعَهُ اللهُ فِيْهِ ، ومن دَاخَلَ السُّفَهَاءَ ، حُقِّرَ ، وَمَنْ خَالطَ العُلَمَاءَ، وُقِّرَ ، وَمَنْ دَخَلَ مَدَاخِلَ السُّوءِ ، اتُّهِمَ .

يَا بُنَيَّ ! إِيَّاكَ أَنْ تُزرِيَ بِالرِّجَالِ ، فَيُزْرَى بِكَ ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالدُّخُوْلَ فِيْمَا لاَ يَعْنِيكَ ، فَتَذِلَّ لِذَلِكَ .يَا بُنَيَّ ! قُلِ الحَقَّ لَكَ وَعَلَيْكَ، تُسْتَشَارُ مِنْ بَيْنِ أَقْرِبَائِكَ ، كُنْ لِلْقُرْآنِ تَالِياً ، وَللإِسْلاَمِ فَاشِياً ، وَللمَعْرُوْفِ آمِراً ، وَعَنِ المُنْكرِ نَاهِياً ، وَلِمَنْ قَطَعَكَ وَاصِلاً ، وَلِمَنْ سَكَتَ عَنْكَ مُبتَدِئاً ، وَلِمَنْ سَألَكَ مُعطِياً ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالنَّمِيْمَةَ ، فَإِنَّهَا تَزرَعُ الشَّحْنَاءَ فِي القُلُوْبِ ، وَإِيَّاكَ وَالتَّعَرُّضَ لِعُيُوْبِ النَّاسِ ، فَمَنْزِلَةُ المُتَعَرِّضِ لِعُيُوبِ النَّاسِ ، كَمَنْزِلَةِ الهَدَفِ ، إِذَا طَلَبْتَ الجُوْدَ ، فَعَلَيْكَ بِمَعَادِنِهِ ، فَإِنَّ لِلْجُوْدِ مَعَادِنَ ، وَللمَعَادِنِ أُصُوْلاً ، وَللأُصُوْلِ فُرُوعاً ، وَلِلفُرُوعِ ثَمَراً ، وَلاَ يَطِيْبُ ثَمَرٌ إِلاَّ بِفَرعٍ ، وَلاَ فَرعٌ إِلاَّ بِأَصلٍ ، وَلاَ أَصلٌ إِلاَّ بِمَعدنٍ طَيِّبٍ ، زُرِ الأَخْيَارَ ، وَلاَ تَزُرِ الفُجَّارَ ، فَإِنَّهُم صَخْرَةٌ لاَ يَتَفَجَّرُ مَاؤُهَا، وَشَجَرَةٌ لاَ يَخضَرُّ وَرَقُهَا ، وَأَرْضٌ لاَ يَظْهَرُ عُشْبُهَا

[al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubalā’ (Beirut, 1981), Vol. 6, p. 263]

**[As I will demonstrate in the longer post, the relationship between Abu Hanifah and Ja’far al-Sadiq has been characterized differently by various scholars, with some asserting that they were peers/colleagues in scholarship rather than the former being a student of the latter]


2 Comments

  1. […] The question of who was the rightful successor to the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq is of extreme importance. This is because the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq was the last Imam recognized by both Isma‘ili and Twelver Shi‘is. The Imam Ja‘far is also revered by Sunni Muslims as one of the great scholars of hadith as he narrates at least 2000 traditions which are found in the nine major books of Sunni hadith, with 110 of these found within the six canonical collections (Sihah al-Sitta). He was the teacher of four founders of Islamic schools of thought: Mālik ibn Anas (d. 795), Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nu‘mān (d. 767), Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778), and ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Awzā‘ī (d. 774). In addition, the ḥadīth scholars and jurists Ibn Jurayj (d. 767), Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna (d. 815) and Shu’ba ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 776) also studied under him. He was descended of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib through his father and Abu Bakr from his mother’s side. The overwhelming majority of Sufi chains of lineage go through him. It was during his time that many central theological doctrines of Shi’ism began to crystallize. He has been designated “Shaykh al-‘Ulamā’” and “Imām al-Fuqahā’” for his noble rank as one of the most knowledgeable men that the Islamic world  has ever seen. (Source: Ballandalus). […]

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