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Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq

By:
Robert Gleave
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq

Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148 AH / 765 CE), also known as Abū ʿAbd Allāh, was the sixth imam of the Imāmī Shīʿī Muslims. He was the eldest son of the fifth imam, Muḥammad al-Bāqir (d. 117 AH / 735 CE), and therefore the natural successor to lead the Shīʿīs. During his teaching career in Mecca, he established a reputation as a transmitter of ḥadīth, a jurist (faqīh), and a theologian (mutakallim). His fame, however, was not restricted to the Shīʿah. Sunnī writers also honor his contribution to the development of the religious sciences. During his life, he witnessed a number of Shīʿī uprisings, first against the Umayyad dynasty and later against the ʿAbbāsids. Jaʿfar appears to have held a quietist view consistently throughout his imamate. He did not encourage these revolts, and counseled his followers to avoid conflict with the ruling political power.

Within the Shīʿī tradition, Jaʿfar's contribution to the establishment of a distinct Shīʿī school is such that the Imāmī legal tradition is sometimes called al-madhhab al-Jaʿfarī (“Jaʿfar's school”). Certainly the majority of Shīʿī legal opinions, including nearly all those that distinguish them from the Sunnīs, are traced back to Jaʿfar. He is portrayed in Shīʿī ḥadīth sources as one who argued publicly with Abū Ḥanīfah, the founder of one of the Sunnī schools of law, and consistently embarrassed Abū Ḥanīfah through legal argumentation and rhetorical skills.

Aside from the various ḥadīths attributed to Jaʿfar in the Shīʿī sources, there are a number of works that he allegedly authored. The Miṣbāḥ al-sharīʿah (The Lantern of the Path) is a work on personal ethics, containing general moral advice interspersed with exhortations to perform particular rituals. A number of Qurʿān commentaries are attributed to him. They show a command of Ṣūfī terminology that certainly indicate that they were written at a later period than Jaʿfar's lifetime.

Jaʿfar allegedly made a significant contribution to the occult sciences, though once again the various works on dream interpretation, divination, and invocations are of dubious authenticity. The prominent role he plays in these sciences, however, is noteworthy. Clearly, he is remembered within the Shīʿī tradition and outside it as having hemerological powers, even if the works are of dubious authenticity. The contribution to the occult sciences is understandably linked to his deification by extremist groups, both during his lifetime and after his death. The KhaṭṭābĪyah considered Jaʿfar to be divine, with Abū al-Khaṭṭāb (d. 138 AH / 755 CE) as his prophet. Jaʿfar is supposed to have dissociated himself from these “extremist” (ghālī, pl. ghulāt) views. However, a number of texts allegedly by Jaʿfar himself, or recorded conversations with him, were produced by these ghulāt groups, including the famous Kitāb al-haft wa al-aẓilla by Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar al-Juʿfī.

Jaʿfar died in Mecca in 148 AH / 765 CE According to Shīʿī tradition he was murdered by the ʿAbbāsid Caliph al-Manṣūr. His death led to succession conflicts among the Shīʿah because Jaʿfar's eldest son Ismāʿīl predeceased him. Despite this, Ismāʿīl was still considered imam by some, who in turn supported Ismāʿīl's son, Muḥammad ibn Ismāʿīl. This group later coalesced into the Ismāʿīlī Shīʿah. The majority, however, eventually accepted the imamate of Mūsā al-Kāẓim, Jaʿfar's son by a Berber slave girl. These latter became the Twelvers (or Ithnā ʿAsharīyah) who form the majority of Shīʿī believers in the contemporary period.

See also LAW, subentry onSHīʿī SCHOOLS OF LAW, and SHīʿī ISLAM, subentry onHISTORICAL OVERVIEW.

Bibliography

  • Bowering, Gerhard. “Isnād, Ambiguity, and the Qurʿān Commentary of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq.” In Shīʿite Heritage: Essays on Classical and Modern Traditions, edited by Lynda Clarke. Binghamton, N.Y., 2001.
  • Buckley, Ronald Paul. “The Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, Abūʿl-Khaṭṭāb and the ʿAbbāsids.”Der Islam79/1(2002): 118–140.
  • Sadiq, Ja'Far, translated by Farhana Mayer. Spirictual Gems: The Mystical Qur'an Commentary Ascribed by the Sufis to Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. Fins Vitae, 2011.
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