Jafar Al-Sadiq

[ Adil Salahi ]


Abu Hanifah and Malik ibn Anas, the founders of two of the major schools of thought were among his close students. The long list of scholars who studied under him also includes Sufyan ath-Tawri, Yahya ibn Saeed, AbdulMalik ibn Juraij, Sufyan ibn Unainah, Muhammad ibn Ishaq and Shubah ibn al-Hajjaj, most of whom were scholars of high attainment in Fiqh, Hadith and History. Many of his students were either of his own age, some even older, which says much about his own achievements.

'Abu Hanifah! People are so infatuated with Ja'far ibn Muhammad that they have placed him far too highly in their esteem. Therefore, I want you to prepare some very difficult questions that you will put to him in my presence and in front of other scholars.' Such were the instructions to Imam Abu Hanifah by Al-Mansoor, the second Abbasid Caliph. Much as he loved Ja'far Al-Sadiq, and respected his scholarly achievement, Abu Hanifah had no choice but to put him to the test.

On a call from the Caliph, Imam Abu Hanifah went with his list of 40 questions. There in the court was Ja'far Al-Sadiq in the presence of Al-Mansoor and many other people. As he looked at Al-Sadiq, Abu Hanifah was in much more awe of him than of the Caliph. Asked to put the questions by the Caliph, Abu Hanifah did, one by one, and Al-Sadiq answered them all in detail. The questions were on issues on which there was much controversy among scholars.

Abu Hanifah reports that in his answer to each question, al-Sadiq said: 'You, the scholars of Iraq, say so and so, but the scholars of Madinah say such and such, while our own view is the following. He [the Caliph] may agree with us or with the scholars of Madinah or many disagree with us all, elucidating his own opinion. None of the 40 questions represented any difficulty for him.'

Such was the standing of Ja'far Al-Sadiq whom Abu Hanifah describes as the 'most learned scholar I have ever seen'. This is in line with Abu Hanifah's criterion, 'The most learned scholar is the one who knows best the differences among scholars.'

Who is this scholar best known by his title Al-Sadiq, which means 'the truthful'? He is Ja’far ibn Muhammad ibn 'Ali Zainul-'Abideen ibn Al-Husain ibn Ali ibn abi Talib, born in Madinah al-Munawwarah in the year 80 or 83 of the Islamic calender (700).
Thus he is a direct descendent of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), through his daughter Fatimah (RadiAllahu anha), wife of Ali (radiAllahu anhu), and mother of Al-Husain (RadiAllahu anhu). (This means that Al-Sadiq was of the same age as Abu Hanifah, both born in the same year). Though his paternal ancestry gives Al-Sadiq a position of great distinction, his ancestry through his mother is also of high dictinction. His mother was Farwah bint Al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu-Bakr. Ja'far Al-Sadiq's father, Muhammad al-Baqir, was a distinguished scholar, and two grandfathers were among the best known scholars of their age. His maternal grandfather, Al-Qasim ibn Muhammad, is one of the seven most distinguished scholars of the era of tabi'een (successors to the Prophet's Companions).

Perhaps Ja'far Al-Sadiq learnt more from his maternal grandfather, Al-Qasim ibn Muhammad, than his paternal grandfather, Ali Zainul-'Abideen, who died when Ja'far was only 14; he was 28 when Al-Qasim passed away.

At the time, Madinah al-Munawwarah was the most important centre of Islamic learning and scholarship. It was the city where most of the Prophet's Companions and their successors lived. Ja'far Al-Sadiq studied under the scholars there and excelled in various aspects of Islamic studies and other branches of study.

Abu Hanifah and Malik ibn Anas, the founders of two of the major schools of thought were among his close students. The long list of scholars who studied under him also includes Sufyan ath-Tawri, Yahya ibn Saeed, AbdulMalik ibn Juraij, Sufyan ibn Unainah, Muhammad ibn Ishaq and Shubah ibn al-Hajjaj, most of whom were scholars of high attainment in Fiqh, Hadith and History. Many of his students were either of his own age, some even older, which says much about his own achievements.

Ja'far Al-Sadiq travelled several times to Iraq, on Al-Mansoor's invitation. He met many scholars there who were very pleased to be able to learn from him. He established his own school of thought which ranks along with the other four schools - hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali. He was instrumental in drawing the attention of later scholars to different dicsiplines.

Perhaps no 'alim has acquired universal acclaim for his great and wide ranging scholarship more than Ja'far Al-Sadiq. he was reputed for his insight into morality and what leads to corruption. He acquired distinction in this field because of his commitment to the dictates of 'religious' conscience, upholding the truth in all situations during a period of turmoil.

Sufyan Ath-Thawri gleaned from his statements to his sons, students and people aphorisms that highlight his insight into Islamic moral teachings. Reporduced here are only soms:

'A liar is devoid of honour; an easily bored person is deprived of genuine friendship, an envious person can find no comfort and an ill-mannered one gains no respect. Place your trust in God to be a true believer; and be content with what God has given you and you will be rich.

Honesty of purpose, nobility of aims and disregard for all worldly gains and pursuits were the hallmark of Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq. He always sought the truth, plain and simple. He never pursued worldy pleasures, or matters that might not have clear approval of Islam. He was endowed with insight that helped him tread the path of piety.

A combination of painstaiking studiousness and devotions, unflagging piety and fearlessness of none but the Almighty were the essence of his honesty. No wonder he was in awe of no mortal: neither rulers, however ruthless, nor people, however numerous, could overawe Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq.

Of him, Imam Malik (rahimullah) says: 'I used to attend Ja'far ibn Muhammad who was always smiling. But whenever the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) was mentioned, he would immediately adopt a very serious attitude. I was his regular visitor for some time, and I never saw him once without either praying, fasting or reciting the Qur'an. He never quoted a hadith by the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), unless he had performed his wudu (ablutions). He was never given to idle talk. Whenever I went to [see] him, he would take the cushion he was sitting on to give it to me.'

Blessed with an inborn genius, intelligence and insight, Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq acquired vast knowledge, which placed him among the pre-eminent scholars of his age, such as Abu Hanifah (d. 150), Malik ibn Anas (d. 179) and Sufyan Ath-Thawri (d. 161).

His exceptional presence of mind glows from numerous reports of his debates with scholars, apostates and opponents of Islam. he displayed finesse in tackling Abu Hanifah's 40 tough questions, avoiding the pitfalls of scholarly differences - which he competently outlined - and confirming his own independent opinion.

His Iman, strength of faith, demonstrated itself in his perseverence in adversity. The heart rending grief at the death of his young child, he bore with equanimity. He wept, but he also remembered God's favours. 'My Lord, he said, You have taken one, but left me others. You have put me to this test, but spared me what is harder.'

He buried his son, with a prayer that was as poignant as demonstrative of his deep faith: 'We pray to God to grant us what we love to whom we love, and He favours us with that. When He wills something which distresses us concerning our loved ones, we endure with patience.'
Remembering God's favours when one is struck by a calamity is indeed a rare quality.

In his dealings with people, Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq was exceedingly generous, forbearing and patient. When someone did him wrong, he would pray to Allah to forgive him.

He was most couraeous. No surprise, considering he was a descendent of sayyidna Ali (radiAllahu anhu), the bravest of the Companions of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam). The truth, he spoke without fear whether he was in the presence of a caliph or governor, regardless of how unwelcome it was to them.

His was an awe inspiring personality: people were overwhelmed in his presence so palpable was the feeling that exuded from him. But Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq was a most kind person. He treated people with humility.

The turbulent times of Al-Sadiq gave rise to many groups and trends; most of them were political to start with, late taking on a religious cover. Perhaps the one event that caused much of this activity was the martyrdom in Karbala of Al-Husain (radiAllahu anhu), grandson of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) - with many groups calling for avenging his killing.

Groups like Kaisaniyah and Khattabiyah claimed to be supporters of the Prophet's descendents; trying to attach themselves to Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq they also claimed his support. But their deviant views were such that they went beyond the pale of Islam.
For example, the Kaisaniyah believed in the re-incarnation on the present Imam of the spirit of his predecessor, and claimed that God may change His mind according to events. The Khattabiyah gave Al-Sadiq the status of Godhead, alleging that God's spirit was embodied in him, na'udhubillah.

Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq was resolute in opposing all such views and denounced such groups, making clear that they were not Muslims. He totally dissociated himself from their claims, declaring unequivocally that he had nothing to do with them and that they had no support from him whatsoever. Moreover, he sent messengers to Iraq, where they had some following, to explain to people that none of their views was sanctioned by him and that he would be the first to take them to task. He declared his true faith and earned much respect for that.

There was similar turmoil on the intellectual stage: people were engaged in trying to undermine Islam spreading ideas and beliefs that were alien to islam. Some claimed that men had no free choice in what action he takes: everything takes place by God's will. Therefore, a person who commits all sins is the same as another who does all kinds of good deeds, because the actions of both are by God's will and neither has control over his actions. Others believed that a person who commits a cardinal sin, or even a small sin, becomes an unbeliever. Against all these, Ja'far Al-Sadiq was very active, explaining the true Islamic beliefs the presenting them clearly to people.

During his lifetime, a great political event took place, namely the overthrow of the Umayyad Caliphate and the rise of the Abbasid. In planning the overthrow, the Abbasids were working in close cooperation with their cousins, the Alawi descendents. In fact, people believed that the new rulers would belong to the Alawis, the descendents of Ali ibn Abu Talib (radiAllahu anhu). But this was not to be.

Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq did not aspire to any political position, not even to be a caliph. He did not care who was the suggested caliph. He was devoted to his scholarship. Yet, some people suggested that he was entitled to be caliph more than any of the Abbasids.

The second Abbasid Caliph, Abu Ja'afar Al-Mansoor, was very sensitive to any call to replace the new Abbasid rule, particularly after some groups advocated the appointment of Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Al-Hasan, known as Al-Nafs Al-Zakiyah, as Caliph. This led to a battle which ended with the killing of Al-Nafs Al-Zakiyah and his brother Ibrahim by Al-Mansoor's troops.

Suspecting Ja'far Al-Sadiq of supporting the uprising - a suspicion reinforced by his courtiers - the caliph summoned hum to Kufah, and reproached him severely. However, Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq's assurance that he took no part in any plot or rebellion and was, in principle, against it calmed Al-Mansoor.

Some courtiers keen to intigrate themselves with the Caliph continued to ply him with reports of Ja'far Al-Sadiq's complicity in this and that plot. Perhaps believing such reports might not be totally unfounded, Al-Mansoor called Ja'far Al-Sadiq over to Baghdad several times. And each time, he felt increasingly reassured that the reports were false. Thus Al-Mansoor's respect for the scholar grew, whom he treated with great hospitality on his visits to Iraq from Madinah al-Munawwarah.

Ja'far Al-Sadiq who enjoyed meeting people and fellow scholars was able to do so on some of his visits. People loved him dearly, particularly when he became the head of the Alawi household. He endeared himself to people by virtue of being free of deviation, exaggerated claims and extremism. These visits also gave him an insight into the sort of deviant claims some groups were making concerning the Alawi descendents. He strove hard to purge people's faith of all such aberration.

His steering away from political controversies earned him the love of both people and rulers. When he died in 148, Al-Mansoor, the same Caliph who has asked Imam Abu Hanifah to put him to a gruelling test, wept.

Historian Al-Yaqoobi mentions that Ismail ibn Ali, a close associate of the Caliph, once found him weeping. When he asked him the reason, Al-Mansoor said: "The master, the great scholar and the last of the best household has died. That was Ja'far ibn Muhammad. He was of God's chosen people and a leader in doing what is good."

What Al-Mansoor said about Ja'far Al-Sadiq was the truth. As a distinguished scholar, he earned the respect of the entire Muslim ummah, especially its most celebrated scholars, such as Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik. He continued to be revered by scholars of succeeding generations, starting with Imam Al-Shafi' and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, up to the present.

An appreciation of Ja'far Al-Sadiq will be incomplete without mentioning about his views on education which he rated so highly. He was most eager to impart practical religious education to those who attended his circle, through direct teaching or offering advice. He believed in giving the right motivation to his students and the younger generation, especially to fulfil religious duties.

He also believed most fervently in instilling in his students the values of Islam, not as a theoretical proposition or slogan but for practical application. He valued education's role in ensuring students steer away from sectarian controversy that leads to disruption and hatred in the ummah. Hence, his emphasis on the importance of well balanced education and outlook.

So, while he was all for training students to follow the best moral values and standards, he was keen on their paying attention to the need for earning their livlihood, without exaggerating its significance. Education must prepare students to respect others as well as to refrain from what is unbecoming or unlawful, to resist interfering in what does not concern them and to attend scholarly circles.

Students should be trained to speak out the truth, in any situation, enjoining what is right and condemning what is wrong; reading the Qur'an and acquiring the best social manners being of equal importance. This plan for students is to enable individuals to establish true complementarity between religious sense, moral values, manners and social attitudes - a recipe for piety and happines in this life and goodly reward in the life to come.
But all this can be achieved only if certain conditions are fulfilled such as:

  • Recognition of the importance of education and teaching.

  • A proper relationship between student and teacher, enhancing a student's willingness to learn and accept the teacher's guidance.

  • A student should love his teacher, care for his interests, and talk about him with respect in his absence, and shun laziness.

  • Education must be based on a rational basis.

  • Objectivity in scientific study, particularly in experiments.

  • Putting all subjects in an easy, acceptable form, without resorting to too much symbolism.

  • Scholarship must serve the community's interests.

Ja'far Al-Sadiq was a great scholar and educationist, a man of superior thinking and superb understanding of Islam and its teachings. His heritage needs in depth study, to exclude whatever is in conflict with his attitude and schoolarship.

In the matter of fiqh, Imam Ja'far Al-Sadiq relied on ijtihad based on the Qur'an and authentic hadith and rejected analogy as a basis of evidence to deduce rulings. Ijtihad therefore forms a distinctive part of his school of law.

Adil Salahi is author and translator of numerous books, including; 'Muhammad: Man and Prophet', and Syed Qutb's 'In the Shade of the Qur'an' Volumes.

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