By Zafarul Islam Khan
02 August 2017
Translated into English by New Age Islam
Imam Jafar bin Muhammad Sadiq is popularly known as “Jafar al-Sadiq” or simply “al-Sadiq” meaning “The truthful”, as it is narrated that he never lied in his life. He was born on 17th Rabi al-Awwal 80 AH (April 20, 702 C.E.) in the Madinah al-Rasul, and died there in 25 Shawwal 148 AH (14 December, 765 C.E.) at the age of 63. He was the sixth Imam of the Ithna Ashariya Shia sect and fifth Imam of the Shia Ismaili sect. He was also the teacher of Hanifi and Maliki and other Sunni jurists [Fuqaha]. Imam Abu Hanifah, the founder of Hanafi Jurisprudence was one of the disciples of Imam Jafar al-Sadiq.
Hazrat Jafar al-Sadiq was an Imam of the Ahle Bayt as well as a descendant of the first caliph Abu Bakr Siddiq on the side of his mother Umme Farwah bint al-Qasim bin Muhammad bin Abi Bakr. So, Imam Jafar got the honour of lineage from both Ahle Bayt and the first caliph.
Imam Jafar al-Sadiq was the teacher of all Sunni jurists, though, in the religious terminology, the Sunnis do not consider him an infallible Imam. The narrators of both Sunnis and Shias have narrated Hadith from Imam Jafar al-Sadiq. He is also considered an important figure of Sunni Sufi Naqshbandi order.
Imam Jafar Sadiq was not only an Islamic jurist but also regarded as a master of astronomy, literature, philosophy, medicine and chemistry. The famous scholar of chemistry Jabir bin Hayyan was one of the students of Imam Jafar Sadiq in chemistry.
Hazrat Imam Jafar’s father Imam Muhammad al-Baqar was the fifth Imam of Shias. After the death of his beloved father, Hazrat Jafar Sadiq was appointed Imam in his mid-thirties. It is reported that Hasham bin Abdul Malik poisoned Hazrat Imam al-Baqar.
The question of succession after Imam Jafar al-Sadiq's death was the cause of division among Shias who considered his eldest son, Isma'il bin Jafar (who had died before his father) to be the next imam, and those who believed his third son Musa bin Jafar al-Kadhim was the imam. The first group became known as the Ismailis and the second, larger, group was named Ja'fari, Musavi, Imami or Ithna Ashari [the Twelvers].
After the death of the beloved prophet (peace be upon him), the question of religious succession created difference among Muslims—that difference still exists among Sunnis and Shias. Sunni Muslims believe that the caliph was chosen through Shura, a process of community consultation [that some consider an early form of Islamic democracy]. The other party, who was later known as Ahle Tashayyu, Shias or Shiian-e-Ali bin Abi Talib believe that the prophet (peace be upon him) appointed Hazrat Ali his spiritual and temporal successor as the Maula [the imam and the caliph] and Hazrat Hasan and Hussain successively. The Shias believed that the rest of imams and caliphs would be from among the descendants of the prophet till the arrival of the last one of them the awaited Imam Mehdi.
Although some other imams and their supporters took weapons in hands for the sake of rights of Ahle Bayt, Imam Jafar Sadiq refused to do so and also prohibited his followers. It does not mean that Imam Jafar was not considered to be more deserving of Imam-ship, but he did not like rebellion against Umayyad and Abbasid leaders for the safety of his supporters and followers. It is reported that he used to burn his supporters’ letters calling him for rebellion.
It is mentioned in the books of history that Hazrat Imam Jafar Sadiq used to defend the rightly guided caliphs and condemn those who disrespected Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq. It is narrated that Zuhayr ibn Mu‘aawiyah said: My father said to Ja‘far ibn Muhammad: I have a neighbour who claims that you disavowed Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. Ja‘far said: May Allah disavow your neighbour. By Allah, I hope that Allah will benefit me through my ties of blood with Abu Bakr, for I fell ill one time and I left my will with my maternal uncle ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan ibn al-Qaasim (which means that he was very close to him).
It is narrated by Saalim ibn Abi Hafsah that he said: I asked Abu Ja‘far and his son Ja‘far about Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. He said: O Saalim, regard them as allies and disavow anyone who regards them as enemies, for they are both imams of guidance.
Then Ja‘far said: O Saalim, would a man revile his grandfather? Abu Bakr is my grandfather, and I will not attain the intercession of Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) on the Day of Resurrection if I do not regard them both (Abu Bakr and ‘Umar) as allies and disavow those who regard them as enemies.
Umayyad Caliphate was eliminated in the life of Hazrat Imam Jafar Sadiq. Then Abbasid caliphate was founded, whose leader belonged to Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, a branch of Banu Hashim. Abbasids had received cooperation of Shias in the rebellion against the Umayyad. Therefore, the Shias expected that with the arrival of the Abbasids, the leadership would come back into the hands of Ahle Bayt. Abul-Abbas was the first caliph or sultan in Abbasid kingdom, then his brother Abu Jafar al-Mansur became caliph; from which it became clear that the new kingdom would also go on the path of Umayyad Empire. In this new era too, Imam Jafar Sadiq separated himself from the acts of Fitna and kept on educating people. Many scholars of the time used to participate in his meetings for listening to his discourses. Among them were also the founder of Hanafi jurisprudence Imam Abu Hanifa and the founder of Maliki jurisprudence Imam Malik.
Despite the distance from the political activities, Imam Jafar Sadiq was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned by the Abbasid rulers, as they feared that the followers and disciples of the then Imams could establish a political movement and reinforce the new empire. Imam Jafar tolerated those trials with patience and every time after coming out of the prison, he would again be involved in teaching. During his discourses, Ahl-e-Kitab [the people of books] and the unbelievers used to participate and discuss on the religious issues. People from remote areas used to attend Imam Jafar’s classes. Thus, his disciples spread throughout the Islamic world.
Imam Jafar debated in his time with the scholars, unbelievers, Mutazalites and Zanadiqah. An Indian medical practitioner also debated with him. These debates were not only about Fiqh and Hadith but also about the philosophy and knowledge, because until that time the Greek philosophy had been translated into Arabic and it was creating problems for the people.
Imam Jafar strictly opposed Qiyas. He believed that unless there is existence of Mansoos Ul Illah, the Qiyas is invalid; it would be merely an opinion and a human process that can not achieved the divine honour.
When asked who is the most learned Islamic scholar, Imam Abu Hanifa replied that he has never seen any scholar more knowledgeable than Ja`far bin Muhammad. [He continued] When the Caliph al-Mansur felt confused, he sent to me (Abu Hanifa) and said that the people have been tempted by Ja`far ibn Muhammad, so please prepare for him some difficult questions, so I prepared for him forty cases and approached Abu Ja`far al-Mansur while Ja`far is sitting on his right-hand side. When I looked at them I felt more majesty coming from Ja`far than from Abu Ja`far. I greeted them and they gave me permission to sit. Then Ja`far turned to me and said: “O Abu `Abd Allah (Ja`far bin Muhammad) do you know this man?” He said, “Yes, it is Abu Hanifa. He has come to us.” Then he said: “O Abu Hanifa! Show us your cases so that we may ask Abu `Abd Allah.” So I started asking him and he would say: “You say that and the people of Madina say something else and we say a third thing,” and that is how he has approached all forty cases then he (Abu Hanifa) said: “didn’t we mention before that the most knowledgeable of the people is the one who knows the differences in the views of the people.” (Al-Hafizh adh-Dhahaby. Tadhkirat al-Huffazh, Stories of the Famous and Noble, Chapter 6. Ja`far bin Muhammad as-Sadiq)
It was the result of knowledge and greatness of Imam Jafar that in the initial days, the jurisprudence of Shiites was known al-Madhab al-jafiri [Jafiri jurisprudence] and Shiites as “Attaifa Al-Jafiriyah” i.e. Jafiri sect. The reported reason is that he held the status of Imamat for a long time, that is, 34 years. The era of Imam Jafar was that of knowledge, wisdom, Ilm ul Kalam [Islamic theology] and debates in which he frequently participated. Imam Jafar played a pivotal role in bringing Shia doctrine into existence.
After the advent of the descendants of Abbasids, the economic conditions of the Ahle Bayt improved as well as freedom of life that they were deprived of in the Umayyad period. In times of Imam Jafar, Abbasid caliphs focused on the elimination of the Umayyads and did not interfere with other people.
Imam Jafar is equally popular among Sunnis and Shias, with the only difference that the Sunni scholars do not deem him infallible but many Sunni Islamic scholars, such as Imam Dhahabi have written in his book “Siyar Alamin Nubala” that though “we do not regard such imams as infallible, yet each of them is entitled to caliphate.
During my research for Ph.D. at Manchester University, I saw hundreds of books of Islamic jurisprudence, while I was searching for rulings on migration for my thesis. One day I found a book "Fiqh ul Imam Jafar" in a book wardrobe. This Arabic book was probably printed in Beirut. I immediately brought it to study. Since I had read the books of Hanafi jurisprudence in the Indian Madrasas, such as Quduri, Hidaya, and Wiqaya etc, I felt as if i were reading a Hanafi book of jurisprudence. Such was the case, as it was the jurisprudence of Imam Abu Hanifa’s teacher.
To sum up, I would like to say that the difference that originated among Sunnis and Shias after Imam Jafar al-Sadiq is almost over today. In the ongoing debate over the centuries among the Akhbari Ulema of Islam, the primary viewpoint has quashed it and the position of the Wilayat-e-Faqih has existed which is not much different from the caliph. I think that in principle we have reached where our Imam left us. With some hard-work, far-sightedness and mildness, we can unite again Shias and Sunnis today, provided our Islamic scholars, Ulema and jurists strive to get out of their limited constituencies.
After Indian Madrasas Zafarul Islam Khan received education from Jamia al-Azhar and Jamia al-Qahira and then in 1986 completed his Ph.D. on “The concept of Hijrah in Islam" in Manchester University. He has delivered effective speeches in different universities of the world in addition to translating and authoring about 50 books in Arabic, English and Urdu, which have been published from Cairo, Beirut, London and Delhi
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