LIFE AND THE TIMES OF
JA'FAR AS-SAADIQ (a)
by Late Dr. Syed Haider Hussain Shamsi
Imam Ja'far As-Saadlq
was bom in 83 AH during the reign of the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik bin Marwan.
He was only three years of age when Walid bin Abd al-Malik succeeded to the
caliphate after his father. The Imam had the good fortune of spending the
first twelve years of his life with his grandfather, Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen.
He then spent the next eighteen years of his life with his father, Imam Muhammad
Baqir. He was thirty-one years of age when his father was also martyred
with poison by Hisham bin Abd al-Malik in II 4 AH.
Thus, the hnwn had seen the reign of five Umayyad caliphs before he was
appointed Imam by his father before his death. The relatively long rule of
Hisham lasted for about twenty years. He was a contemporary of the Imam
for twelve of these years.
Hisham had kept up the pressure on the Alkyds and their followers just like his
father had done during his reign. Hisham had appointed the ruthless Khalid
bin Abd Allah Qisri as the governor of Iraq and other southern provinces.
Together, the caliph and his governor eclipsed the tyrarmy of Hujaj bin Yusuf
and his master, the caliph Abd al-Malik bin Marwan.
During the hey days of the Umayyad dynasty, the caliphs found the members of the
Aliyyld clans as easy targets for diverting the public attention from their
failure and decadence.The Aliyyids were taunted and insulted, and provoked to
such an extent that they would come out to defend their honor and integrity.
This provided the tyrants sufficient excuse to put them to sword.
Zaid bin Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen was one such martyr who was subjected to such
a fate. He could not withstand the instdts thrown at him by the governor
of Hisham. In 121 AH, he came out with a small force of loyalists for the
cause of the Truth, and fought bravely to Ws death in 122 AH. His head was
hoisted on the spear and his body was hung on the cross for full four years.
It was then taken down, only to be put to the flames.
In 125 AH, Imam Jafar as-Saadiq witnessed an exact repeat of Zaid bin All's fate
meet his son Yahya bin Zaid at the hands of the Umayyad ruler Walid II bin Yazid
II bin Abd-al Malik. His decapitated body was also hung on the cross until taken
down by Abu Muslim of Khorasan (after he helped the Abbasids to end the yoke of
the Umayyad rule). The supporters of Yahya were hunted down and ruthlessly
massacred in their homes or other hideouts. The survivors and their
sympathizers were relentlessly pursued out of Hijaz.
The rule of Walid 11 lasted only a year followed by Yazid III bin Walid I bin
Abd al-Malik. This rule lasted for even lesser period of only six months.
His brother Ibrahim succeeded him to the caliphate, only to be toppled from his
seat in just two months. In 127 AH, Marwan II followed as the last caliph
in the Marwanid dynasty, and ruled a shrinking empire for about five and a half
Not with standing the continued oppression of the Hashimites under the Umayyads,
Abd Allah bin Muawiyah (a grandson of Jifar bin Abu Talib) rose to claim the
cause of his clan in 127 AH. He met the same fate as that of his other
clan members just a few years earlier.
By this time, the end of the tyrannical rule of the Umayyads was in sight.
A secret Hashimite movement was under way in Palestine under Ibrahim Imam,
brother of Abd Allah (Saffah) bin Muhammad bin Ali bin Abd Allah bin Abbas (an
uncle of the Prophet). Their manifesto was to avenge the blood of Imam
Husain and to liquidate the Umayyads. However, their bidden and real aim
was to take over the caliphate for themselves with the help of the Aliyyids.
ploy and the popular slogan, Ibrahim Imam was able to muster support from the
oppressed Shiites. Abu Muslim who had just established an independent
principality in Khorasan under the Aliyyid flag, marched on to Iraq with a
massive force of seventy thousand strong, and ended the yoke of the Umayyads
rule in Iraq in 129 AH. In a pre-arranged banquet in Damascus, the Umayyad
princes and their heirs were arrested, and suffocated to death by encasing them
in leather sacs.
Somehow one prince, named Abd ar-Rehman escaped the doorn of the family and made
his way to the distant dominion of Spain, in the Far West. Here he
gathered support from the long settled Syrian veteran soldiers and founded a new
Imam Jafar as-Saadiq thus saw the rule of the last five caliphs of the Umayyad
dynasty, and the sufferings of his kinsmen perpetrated by them. He saw the reign
of the first two caliphs of the new Abbasid dynasty, and the start of a new era
of persecution of the Aliyyids and their followers. The atrocities
unleashed by the Abbasids to their very supporters (the Aliyyids), turned out to
be worst than those caused by their predecessors, the Umayyads.
The new dynasty of the Abbasids began to strengthen its establishment. The
oppressed had assisted 'in getting rid of the yoke of one tyrant system only to
exchange for a new one. Abu Muslim was useful to the new regime in the
mopping up operation against the remaining resistance from the Umayyad
Fearing from his success and increasing popularity, the new caliph sent him on
one such mission and had him assassinated in the field. In 132 AH,
Muhammad (Saffah), brother of Ibrahim Imam became die Caliph of the consolidated
Abbasid empire that stretched from Morocco in the West to Afghanistan in the
Muhammad Saffah died in 136 AH at the age of 32 years, and was succeeded by his
brother Abd Allah al-Mansoor (Dwaneeqi). His rule lasted for about
21years. Historians have written a great deal about his astute management
of the empire. However, he was a ruthless ruler who would order killing of
another human being without remorse. He was nicknamed Dwaneeqi because of
his extreme miserly nature. He had swom to eradicate all Aliyyids from his
dominions. He targeted the Aliyyids with insults, provocation and
deprivation. And, whenever
they arose in arms to defend their honor or their families, they were ruthlessly
slaughtered and beheaded: The survivors were thrown into dingyjails, to rot and
to die there. Thus, the fate of the respected elder, Abd Allah Mahadh, and
his son Muhammad (Nafse Zakk-iyah), along with many others from the progeny of
Imam Hasan, was not much different from that of Zaid bin Ali and his son Yahya
from the progeny of Imam Husa'm.
The jealous caliph could not tolerate the respect and popularity enjoyed by the
Imam in Madinah. He very much wanted to subject the Imam to the same
treatment as suffered by other members of his clansmen. The Imam refused
to take to an-ned retaliation. The caliph resorted to have him summoned to
his court in the presence of dignitaries and scholars from other lands without
prior warning in order to slight him in public. But he failed in his
schemes due to the
wit of the Imam Ws knowledge, his popularity, and his purity.
Finally, the Caliph managed to have his way, and had the Imam poisoned. He
succumbed to the fatal dose of poison and died in 148 AH. Before he breathed his
last breath, he appointed his son Musa to lead the Ummah after him.
It is important to point out at this stage that Ismail, the older son of the
Imam had died during the life of the Imam and was buried in the graveyard of
Jannat ul-Baqi. Muhammad bin Ismail had hoped that people would accept his
father as the successor to Imam Jafar as-Saadiq, and thus he would inherit the
honor of being the next Imam. But the position of Imamate is not a matter
of inheritance but that of a divine appointment, as the custodians of the
Message of Islam. There was a small faction of the followers who did
regard Ismail to be their Inam. And thus Muhammad bin Ismail did obtain
the honor he had aspired for among his separatist faction. However, he had
only a short life, and is lineage continued until Ubayd Allah bin Muhammad bin
Abd Allah bin Muhammad bin Ismail proclaimed himself as the awaited Mahdi.
Ubayd Allah made his way to Morocco and laid the foundation of the Fatimid
dynasty in a newly built city named Mahdiya. Later, they moved to Egypt
and ruled there for many years. The present-day Ismailia sect thus follows
a descendant from an offshoot of the Fatimids of Egypt.
1. If someone comes to a fellow Muslim seeking his help, and he
gives it to him, then Ns Muslim is like someone who is doing jihad in the name
2. Allah says that people are like His family. He who
treats them well, has earned His nearness.
3. 1 found wisdom in four things:
(i) get to know your Creator;
(ii) get to know what the Creator has provided you with;
(iii) get to know what the Creator expects of you and holds you
(iv) get to know what things would throw you out of the circle of the
4. There are four things in the conduct of the prophets of
(i) good deeds;
(ii) giving away in charity;
(iii) forbearance in times of trouble;
(iv) deliver the rights of the believers to them.
5 . A believer is afraid of two things:
(i) the previous sins, not knowing how Allah would account these;
(ii) the remaining life, not knowing what sins he might commit before his
time is up.
He would not end the night without fearing what the mom has in stock for him,
and does not end his day without fearing if he was able to accrue deeds that
would please Allah.
Nothing will avail him to things done straight except his fear for Allah.
6. No momin can reach the heights of fulfillment, of his faith
unless he has mastered three of the following:
(i) understanding and vision in faith;
(ii) a middle-of-the-road type of conduct;
(iii) forbearance during times of trouble.
7. People cannot get away from three things:
(i) a jurist who is pious and learned;
(ii) a ruler who is caring, and who could be obeyed;
(iii) a physician who is able to heal and is reliable.
8. We are ourselves the roots of all good. All good
deeds sprout from these branches. They are:
Belief in the Oneness of Allah, fasting, dispelling anger, to forgive and
to forget, benevolence towards the poor, giving the right to the neighbors, to
recognize and to respect others for their achievements, all count as good deeds.
Our enemies are the root cause of all sins. All evil deeds and
trouble sprout from these branches. They are: Lies, miserly behavior,
back-biting, meanness, usury, usurpation of the rights of the orphans, exceeding
the limits imposed by Allah, committing any sinful act hidden or openly, rape or
adultery, all of these count as sinful deeds.
9. Three types of men can be recognized under these conditions:
(i) anger of the kind and tolerant person;
(ii) battle for a brave and fearless person;
(iii) the time of need for a friend or a brother.
10. When this world becomes generous towards someone, it adds the
good deed of others into his account; but when it turns against him, then his
good deeds are added onto someone else's account.
II. It is best to sleep less at night, and talk less during the day.
12. When troubles mount on top of troubles, then the days of the
troubles are numbered.
REFLECTIONS ON THE LIFE OF IMAM JA'FAR AS-SAADIQ
Imam Baqir appointed his son as-Saadiq Imam after him. He lived
through most of the Marwanid Umayyad rule and witnessed their downfall. He
also endured the rule of the first two caliphs of the new Abbasid dynasty.
The decaying dynasty of the Umayyads and the political turmoil generated by the
Hashimite movement of the Abbasids had created a vacuum of theological leaning.
However, the Imam continued to teach large numbers of students in Madinah, and
his followers continued to benefit from him in their search for the knowledge of
school of Ahle Bait during those difficult times.
Imam Ja'far as-Saadiq is known for the reporting of authentic ahadith of the
Prophet as passed on to him through his father and forefathers. His
truthfulness and sincerity earned him the title of as-Saadiq.
Upon his death, his contemporary fuqaha (plural of the wordfaqih: leadingjurists
of Islam) expressed their feelings thus:
Imam Abu Hanifa said, "Ja'far as-Saadlq was the greatest scholar of Islamic
theology and jurisprudence. "
Imam Malik said, "My eyes have not seen a more learned, pious, and Godfearing
man than Imam Ja'far as-Saadiq."
The Imam is renamed by the vast number of his students and disciples, some of
whom had become revered as Imams among many of the Sunni sects. His
students collected volumes of quotes from him including invaluable
interpretations of the Quran and the Sunnah. These works are available
today for reference and guidance. One of his greatest disciple was Jabir
ibne Hayyan whose name is well known in history for his prolific writings and
works on the physical
sciences and on al-chemy.
The Ja'fariyya School of Islamic Jurisprudence
The laws by which Allah wanted human society to be governed, were sent
down by Him through revelations in the Book, al-Qur'an. The medium of its
conveyance was through His Messenger, the Prophet of Islam. The Prophet
lived a simple life amongst a simple people and demonstrated to them how to deal
with other people and how to live a life of piety and harmony with fellow men
Before his death, the Prophet of Islam had told the Muslims that he was leaving
among them two most valued things to which they must remain attached, if they
wished not to go astray. One of them is the holy Quran, and the other is
his Ahle Bait. Clearly those who profess that the Quran suffices them,
have failed to recognize the advice of the Prophet.
When Islam had spread to far off places as also the Muslims across other regions
and cultures, the need for expanded meanings of al-Quran and the interpretation
of Sunnah became imperative. Often false quotes ascribed to the Prophet
were come to offer explanations when no examples were found in the classic
Sunnah. The political caliphate had diverted the Muslims away from the Alul
Bait, and were themselves incapable of providing the necessary solutions to
complicated questions on the faith and the practice of Islam. The period
of decay of the Umayyad dynasty, and the coming of the Abbasids was particularly
a difficult time in this regard. This was also the time when several
jurists became active among the Sunni Musl'uns to fill the gap. Some of
them wrote books of reference on Islamic Law.
Two major schools emerged simultaneously, one in Iraq under Abu Hanifa,
popularly known as Ahle Raai and the other in Hijaz under Malik bin Anas, known
as the Classical School, or the Ahle Hadith. However, the proponents and
the supporters of these two schools used Raai (individual and personal logic)
and Qiyas (speculative derivation) whenever relevant Hadith was either
unavailable or was weak, based on island or twatur (authenticity
or continuity of reporting all the way to the Prophet). This methodology
called for the use of speculative logic and personal opinion to arrive at a
fatwa (verdict on questions of Islamic Law) on a particular question. This
meant that people could interpret the laws of Allah according to their logic or
opinion. However, the laws of Allah are beyond the scope of the human
interpolation. Man must use his intelligence to fmd ways and means to obey
of Allah and not to find the ways and means of going around them!
Imam Ja'far as-Saadiq offered such an enormous variety of answers to all Idnds
of complicated questions in Islamic Law based on Ahadith and the Sunnah of the
Prophet that he categorically rejected the methodology of Raai and Qiyas in Fiqh.
It is important that Fiqh Ja’fariyya should not be confused to authorship of
Imam Ja'far as-Saadiq. It is essentially based on the Ahadith and Sunnah
of the Prophet and the jurisprudence that had been passed down to the believers
through oral tradition by the Imams of Ahle Bait. The eponym Fiqh
Ja’fariyya (or the alternative name 'Fiqh Itrat) is applied simply to identify
it from other methods of jurisprudence evolved by other fuqaha (jurists of
Thousands of students attended and leamt Fiqh from the Imam. Much of his
teaching was committed to writing and was gathered by his students. Four
of the major compilations of the Imam's teachings have been extracted from the
1. Kafi: by Muhanunad Ya'qub Kulni.
2. Man la Yahdhr al-Faqih: by Muhammad Ali Baabwaih.
3. Tahzib, and Istibsar: by Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Tusi.
4. Kitab al-Irshad: by Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Nieman al-Baghdadi.
RISALA E TAWHEED MUFADHAL
The Epistle on the Unity of Allah
The cornerstone of Islam is Tawheed, the belief of the Oneness of Allah.
Once a companion of the Imam, called Mufadhal, requested him to expound on the
subject of Tawheed as he was faced with a contest with a group of atheists.
The Imam delivered the answer to his question in four sittings. As he
spoke, Mufadhal went on writing it down, resulting in the Risala. This is
popularly known as the Risalah-e Tawheed Mufadhal.
It is inscribed as a separate chapter in the mammoth works of Allama Muhammad
(An excerpt from the Author's book, " And the message continues--the lives
of twelve Imams of the Ahlul Bayt. "
The book can be read online in the Book Section of this website. Please
recite a Sura Fateha for Dr. Haider Shamsi).