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Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq


JAʿFAR AL-ĀDIQ (ahd. 148/765 ce) is one of the leading figures in early Islam expounding the teachings from the family of the Prophet. Active in Medina's scholarly circles, where he was born in 699 or 703, Jaʿfar al-ādiq was the most frequently cited authority on points of law and tradition. His father, Muammad al-Bāqir, was an established scholar in Medina's learned circles. Jaʿfar al-ādiq transmitted his family's wisdom to Muslims of diverse backgrounds and exponents of other religions, theosophers as well as Gnostics, who frequented his house in quest of knowledge.

In Shīʿī tradition, Jaʿfar al-ādiq is a central figure and the last common imām recognized by both the Ithnāʿasharīs and the Ismāʿīlīs. After his death, the Shīʿī imāmī community became dispersed into several groups, two of which, the Ithnāʿasharīs following Mūsā al-Kāim and the Ismāʿīlīs accepting Ismāʿīl, have survived into the twenty-first century. Jaʿfar al-ādiq's contribution and influence, however, are far wider. He is cited in a wide range of historical sources, Shīʿī as well as ūfī and Sunnī, all of which acknowledge his insightful learning, clearly testifying to his influence.

Jaʿfar al-ādiq inherited the position of Shīʿī leadership from his father, al-Bāqir, and was acknowledged as a Shīʿī imām. His family saw him as a last attempt to reconcile all the diverse groups of Muslims. The first two decades of Jaʿfar's imamate witnessed very turbulent times in early Islam, with active revolts from some extremist Shīʿah, the uprising of the Zaydīyah, and the ʿAbbāsid movement of Hāshimīyah unfolding from the Kaysāniyah. During this time, Jaʿfar al-ādiq remained distant and somewhat overshadowed politically by the numerous claimants who became embroiled in the power struggle. Some of Jaʿfar al-ādiq's difficulties were also doctrinal and came from certain individuals classed later as the ghulāt. His father had already repudiated some of them earlier. The fact that Jaʿfar managed to keep out of politics allowed him time to participate not only in scholarly activities, but also to hold private ses-sions at his home in Medina, thus maintaining his family's practice.

Thought and Law

The Shīʿī community formed around Jaʿfar, who followed the foundations laid by al-Bāqir. Elaborating and consolidating some of the doctrines put forward by his father, Jaʿfar al-ādiq developed an extensive system of law and theology so that under him the Shīʿah became very significant, with their own distinct rituals and religious doctrine. Al-Bāqir had already laid the foundations of the madhhab ahl al-bayt with specific views on rites, rituals, and practices of Islam, a contribution acknowledged in Jaʿfar's own words. Al-Bāqir's juridical views spring from his epistemology, which meant that the imām is endowed with the hereditary knowledge that rendered him an ultimate source of knowledge. It was on this basis that the legal pattern of the Shī ʿah was to change and develop within the circle of his adherents under the leadership of his son and successor, Jaʿfar al-ādiq.

Jaʿfar al-ādiq's own contribution is readily apparent in the numerous traditions recorded from him in the various Shīʿī, ūfī, and Sunnī works. In Shīʿī literature (especially Ithnāʿasharī and Ismāʿīlī literature), the prominence of Jaʿfar's traditions represent a wide range of subjects comprising both the ʿibādāt and the muʿāmalāt, incorporating topics such as faith, devotion, alms, fasting, pilgrimage, and jihād, as well as food, drink, social and business transactions, marriage and divorce, inheritance, criminal punishments, and a host of other issues dealing with every conceivable aspect of life. As is well known, law in Islam is an all-embracing body of religious commands and prohibitions, consisting not only a proper legal system, but also of ordinances governing worship and ritual.

Jaʿfar al-ādiq's teaching became so effective and influential that the Ithnāʿasharī legal school is called the Jaʿfarī madhhab after him. In addition, Fāimid Ismāʿīlī fiqh or jurisprudence, codified by al-Qāī al-Nuʿmān, is based mainly on the traditions of al-ādiq and al-Bāqir. It is practically impossible to envisage the development of the Shīʿī tradition without Jaʿfar al-ādiq; he is the most frequently quoted authority. Besides providing specific guidance to his own group, he was widely regarded as a central reference point for many others who sought his advice amidst the legal problems discussed and argued over in early Islam. Thus, within the context of his contemporaries in the ijāz and Iraq, Jaʿfar was seen as a distinguished traditionist and jurist transmitting his family's views on a wide range of issues in his time.

Jaʿfar also represented his own distinct position among the theological issues of his day, such as those of the Murjiʾa, the Qādar ī yah, the Jahmiyah, and the Muʿtazilah, undoubtedly based on his own understanding of religious leadership. He taught a middle position on the question of determinism, following his father's views, which portrayed human responsibility but preserved God's absolute authority. Knowledge was a central theme in his teaching and a duty for all Muslims to acquire through ʿaql (intellect). For him, the intellect is that supreme faculty by which God is worshiped and through which the knowledge of good and evil is acquired; this knowledge, in turn, teaches people, among other things, how to struggle against tendencies of their own lower nature in order to purify the self. His views on the imamate and those on ʿaql, ʿilm (knowledge), ʿamāl (action), and īmān were therefore geared towards self-actualization. His concern for personal ethics and morality, as well as individual communion with God, is thus aimed at obtaining that receptivity in the heart and mind that he sometimes refers to as maʿrifah (not to be confused with its later usage).

I mĀm and Teacher

For the Shīʿah, therefore, besides building an impressive edifice of Shīʿī law and theology, Jaʿfar al-ādiq also played the role of a spiritual guide, imām, and teacher, initiating followers into the inner paths of knowledge and wisdom. An important aspect of Jaʿfar's thought was a search for aqīqah (truth) in the revelation, and his teachings certainly reveal Shiism as the esoteric aspect of Islam. Undoubtedly, the crux of his teaching is the concept of the imamate, which perceives the perpetual need among humankind for an authoritative teacher who is both divinely guided and infallible.

The amānah or trust that the imām undertakes from God renders him a guarantor (ujjah ) and a link (sabab ) with the celestial world for individuals who accept his authority. This authority of the imām is part of the universal history, which begins with the pre-creation covenant, yawm al-mithāq, manifested through the chain of prophets and their legatees, the imām s. The imām 's task is therefore the purification of humanity in order to prepare appropriate receptacles for the aqīqah, which is the raison d'être of history, restoring human beings to their original home. Jaʿfar's spirituality was not simply escapism, but expressed a genuine desire to articulate this experience for others to recognize and emulate. This was his role as an imām to help others achieve this maʿrifah qalbīyah (cognition of the heart). This maʿrifah is channeled and communicated to the believers by the imām, who helps the faithful achieve aqīqah. Although Jaʿfar's traditions communicate spirituality, he did not entertain extreme Gnosticism with the insular, individualistic, and anti-intellectual implications found in some later ūfī movements. The vision of human hearts perceiving the realities of faith in human thought does not involve an esotericism refuting the authority of the intellect or that of the community. Self-sufficiency, a cardinal sin in the Qurʾān, can easily transpose into intellectual pride, and consequently according to Jaʿfar, human ʿilm is subordinated to God's gift of maʿrifah, and it is the prophets and the imām s who form the point of this contact between humans and God.

Jaʿfar al-ādiq's ideas were especially pervasive in the development of the ūfī movement, where the same issues were raised, though in a more individualistic manner. Jaʿfar's terminology made significant contributions to ūfī thought, especially in employing experience as a hermeneutical principle. Paul Nywia (1970) emphasizes this contribution of Jaʿfar al-ādiq, referring to his esoteric interpretation of the Qurʾān, collected by al-Sulamī (d. 1021). Muslim conscience is not in the world of imagination but in the living experience itself, and the external symbols have to be transformed by experience to become the truth. It is therefore important to internalize the letters or symbols in the Qurʾān through experience. Jaʿfar thus discerned in the Qurʾān a merger between the inner and the outer meanings, and he put forward a new exegesis that is no longer a reading of the Qurʾān, but a reading of the experience in a new interpretation of the Qurʾān (taʾwīl).

Jaʿfar al-ādiq is also linked to several other major disciplines of divination, including alchemy; the science of jafr, which includes letter-number correspondences; and the occult arts, including pulmonancy (divination from body pulses) and hemerology (divination using calendars of auspicious and inauspicious days). Many of these were popular among the Turks and Persians, and they have been reported in works known as fāl-nāma s. On the Indian subcontinent the fāl-nāma s played an important role in the popular life of Muslims, as well as Hindus, evidence of which is found in Sindhi pothī s (private religious manuscripts). In South Asia, Jaʿfar al-ādiq is credited with writing khab-nāma s (interpretations of dreams), sometimes referred to in Sindhi literature as risāla or bayān.

Jaʿfar's multiple roles are clearly evident in the development of intellectual and spiritual currents of his time. His seminal role in articulating Shīʿī thought provided a momentum for the development of law and theology, apparent in the monumental literature preserved in his name.


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Arzina R. Lalani (2005)

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