Religion and Law . Ja‘far ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (Ja’far al-Sadiq), a lineal descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, is the sixth imam for the Twelver Shi’is, who today are the majority religious group in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Iraq. The Twelvers regarded Ja’far as the founder of their school of jurisprudence, which is called Ja’fari in his honor. Traditions traced back to him, of which there are many, have legal authority for followers of the Ja’fari school.
Patience . Ja’far appears to have lived all of his life in Madinah, the early religious center of Islam. Forewarned by the fate of his great-grandfather, al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali, who, while trying to lead a revolt, had been slain with many of his family at Karbala’ in Iraq by an Umayyad army in 680, Ja’far preferred a quietist policy. Thereby he was able to avoid confrontation with the Umayyad rulers while nonetheless cultivating his own loyal group of followers, who held him to be the one true imam and proper leader for the Muslim community. Thus, Ja’far was able to expand his following while avoiding entanglement in the failed Shi’i revolts of Zayd ibn ‘Ali (740) and Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah (762), which he did not support. On the other hand, at the time of the downfall of the Umayyads (749), Ja’far seems to have been considered by the revolutionary forces in Kufah in Iraq as a possible candidate to be the ruler, but he laid down conditions for his own freedom of action that the revolutionaries felt were too stringent. Also, unlike his great-grandfather, he did not leap at the chance to go to Iraq to establish his claim, but believed instead that when the time was ripe, he would be called to office.
Influence . Although he did not leave behind a law-book in his name as did Malik and al-Shafi’i, he was nevertheless influential in establishing Shi’i law, which bears the stamp of its Madinan origin, as does the Maliki and the Shafi’i. Many of the traditions in later Shi’i legal compilations are traced back to Ja’far. He gathered around him a coterie of supporters who included many philosophically-minded scholars and sectaries. This situation helped contribute to the Ja’fari Shi’is acceptance of several features of Mu’tazili thought, which was influenced by Greek philosophical concepts, including, in particular, the importance of justice as an absolute value.
Marshall G. S. Hodgson,, “Dja’far al-Sadik,” in Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-ROM edition (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Syed Husain M. Jafri, The Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam (London & New York: Longman, 1979).