The Sixth Imam Ja'far As-sadiq (a.s)
NAME AND PARENTAGE
His name is JA'FAR. He is also known as AS-SADIQ and ABU ABDALLAH. He is son of IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-BAQIR (AS) son of IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) son of IMAM HUSAIN (AS). His mother was UMMU FARWAH daughter of AL-QASIM son of Muhammad son of ABU BAKR who was one of the seven most prominent jurists of Medina. Thus, the sixth Imam has an impressive historical background of lineage.
He came to this world on RABI' AL-AWWAL 17, 83 A.H. (April 20, 702 A.D.), the same lunar date when his great grandfather, the holy Prophet, was born. At his birth, his father, IMAM AL-BAQIR (AS), was 26, and his grandfather IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) was still alive. The Prophet's family joyfully welcomed this auspicious addition.
Up to the age of twelve, JA'FAR was brought up under the guidance of his grandfather IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) whose main concern was to worship his Maker and reflect on the tragic events of KARBALA. Twenty-two years had lapsed since then, yet the remembrance of that shocking tragedy was still quite fresh in his memory. So, as soon as JA'FAR gained understanding, he was profoundly impressed by the continuous grief of his grandfather, so much so that he felt as if he himself was present during that tragedy. He also contemplated on the presence of his father, IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-BAQIR (AS), although only three years old, at that gruesome scene. JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) considered it as his duty to convene the recitation gatherings (MAJALIS) about that sorrowful event.
He was twelve years old when his grandfather IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) expired. Thence up to the age of 31 he passed his time under the supervision of his father IMAM AL-BAQIR (AS). It was the time when the UMAYYAD politics were tottering and Muslims were approaching IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-BAQIR (AS) in thousands. JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) was one of them, but he was a student devoted to worships and learning. Whether at Medina or in travels, he was always with his father. When HISHAM son of ABD AL-MALIK summoned IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-BAQIR (AS), JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) accompanied him, as stated above.
In 114 A.H. (732 A.D), IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-BAQIR (AS) died, and the responsibilities of Imamate devolved on the shoulders of IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS). HISHAM IBN ABD AL-MALIK was ruling in Damascus and political disturbances were afoot. The passion of taking revenge on BANI UMAYYA was strong and several descendants of IMAM ALI (AS) were preparing themselves to overthrow the regime. Most prominent among them was ZAID, the respected son of IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS). His religious zeal and piety were known throughout Arabia. He was a well versed HAFIZ of the holy QUR'AN and he had taken the field against the tyranny of the UMAYYADS.
This was a precarious juncture for IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS). As regarding hatred of the UMAYYADS, he agreed with his uncle ZAID for whom he had a great deal of respect. Since his far-sighted judgment could clearly see that his rising against the well-organized royal forces was of no avail; therefore, he did not join him for all practical reasons. But he was compassionate towards him and sympathetic to his cause, and he asked him to be judicious. As a great host of Iraqis had sworn their allegiance to him, ZAID was now quite optimistic. He gave gallant battle to the royal forces but was killed in the end. The vengeful enemies were not satisfied with ZAID'S death. They exhumed his dead body from the grave, severed his head, sent it as a trophy to HISHAM and hanged the body at the gate of KUFA where it remained for several years. One year after ZAID'S martyrdom, his son YAHYA gained the same ancestral honor. IMAM JA'FAR was surely moved by these pathetic events, but he was destined to carry out the duties of spreading the religious sciences of AHL AL-BAYT (AS).
The last days of the UMAYYADS were ruffled by political disturbances. Changes in government were many and IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) witnessed the rise and fall of many kings. After HISHAM, AL-WALID IBN YAZID IBN ABD AL-MALIK, then YAZID son of AL-WALID, then IBRAHIM IBN AL-WALID, then MARWAN AL-HIMAR came to the throne. The capture and death of the latter terminated the monarchy of tyrannical UMAYYADS. When the internal disorders and disintegration shake the foundations of a cruel government, those who are oppressed usually turn against the cruel oppressors. Only those who are above such fiery sentiments can control their passion. Usually those who seek revenge are heedless of all consequences. This is a weak point of the human nature from which only the selected few can be exempted.
During the last phase of tottering UMAYYAD rule, HASHEMITES were actively engaged in their anti-UMAYYAD activities. The ABBASIDES took advantage of their efforts and secretly formed an association, the members of which had pledged the oath to transfer the government from UMAYYADS to the HASHEMITES who really deserved it. It is clear that to rule the Islamic world was not the job of every HASHEMITE. It was the right of those divinely appointed descendants of the holy Prophet and IMAM ALI (AS) whom God had chosen to lead humanity. But these high-thinking souls never wished to take undue advantage of the situation with the aid of cunning tactics. In short, the Imams, the descendants of Imam Ali (as), never tried to acquire power through political trickery. But the ABBASIDES, who too were HASHEMITES. No doubt took the opportunity by the forelock. Availing themselves of the silence shown by the Imams, and of the compassion the people had for the HASHEMITES, they ABBASIDES saw their chances to rise to power. And when they established themselves on the throne, they became enemies of Imam Ali's posterity in the same degree or more than that which had been adopted by the heartless UMAYYADS. Details of this will be narrated in the biographies of later Imams.
The first to start the movement among the ABBASIDES was MUHAMMAD IBN ALI IBN ABDALLAH IBN AL-ABBAS who sent his agents throughout Persia to secretly obtain the oath of allegiance to the HASHEMITES' cause from the Persians. On Muhammad's death, his son IBRAHIM succeeded him. Meanwhile, the martyrdom of ZAID and his son YAHYA had fanned the flames of revolt against the UMAYYADS. The ABBASIDES took advantage of it and increased their influence in Iraq through ABU SALAMA AL-KHALLAL. Slowly but steadily, their power base increases. Through the sincere support of ABU MUSLIM AL-KHURASANI, all Western Persia and KHURASAN came under their control and the UMAYYAD governor had to flee. The name of the UMAYYAD ruler was dropped form Friday sermons, having been replaced by that of IBRAHIM IBN MUHAMMAD.
The UMAYYAD government till then was under the impression that the disturbances were merely local protests, but now the spies reported that it was a full-fledged movement initiated by IBRAHIM IBN MUHAMMAD IBN ABBAS who was residing at JABULQA. Soon IBRAHIM was arrested, imprisoned and killed ruthlessly. His family escaped the royal rage with other ABBASIDES and sought quarters with ABU SALMA in Iraq. When the news reached ABU MUSLIM AL-KHURASANI, he sent an army to Iraq which defeated the UMAYYAD forces and annexed Iraq.
ABU SALAMA AL-HKALLAL, dubbed as the Minister of the Prophet's Progeny, was especially compassionate towards Imam Ali's offspring. He wrote letters to the prominent heads of this Household inviting them to accept and share the royal power. One of such letters was addressed to IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS). In political struggles, such opportunities are considered golden, but the Imam, who was the embodiment of selflessness and self-respect, declined the offer and remained devoted to his duty of imparting knowledge. The supporters of the ABBASIDES cause and the followers of ABU MUSLIM AL-KHURASANI then took the oath of allegiance at the hand of ABU AL-ABBAS AS-SAFFAH. On RABI' II 14, 132 A.H. (November 30, 749 A.D), he was acknowledged as the ruler and caliph of the Muslim world. Establishing themselves in Iraq, they advanced towards Damascus. MARWAN assembled his forces and confronted them, but soon his army was defeated. He had to flee for his life but was later captured in Egypt and slain while fighting for his life. Then followed a reign of terror: the UMAYYADS were massacred publicly; the dead bodies of the monarchs of their dynasty were exhumed and treated in a most shocking manner; thus, the revenge upon the oppressors, the law of nature, was implemented through the ABBASIDES. In 136 A.H., AS-SAFFAH, the first ABBASIDE caliph, died. He was succeeded by his brother ABU JA'FAR AL-MANSUR, commonly known as AD-DAWANIQI.
ATROCTIES ON THE SAYYIDS
It has already been indicated that the ABBASIDES took advantage of the popularity of the SAYYIDS (descendants of HASHIM, grandfather of the holy Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny). They made it their slogan to stand and protect the rights of AHL AL-BAYT (AS). They had gathered the public around them on this very pretext, and it was their war-cry as well. So when they came to power and destroyed the UMAYYADS, they naturally feared lest the world should be disappointed and disillusioned with them, or lest a movement should start demanding that the caliphate must be vested upon the descendants of Imam Ali (as) and Fatima instead of the ABBASIDES. ABU SALAMA was leaning towards the descendants, and he was a candidate to support such a movement. Therefore, in spite of all the favors he had done to the ABBASIDES, he was the first to fall a victim to their ingratitude. He was put to death during the reign of AS-SAFFAH. Persia was under the control of ABU MUSLIM AL-KHURASANI. AL-MANSUR arranged to have him murdered most treacherously. AL-MANSUR was no longer apprehensive of the interference of any influential person in his government. He, therefore, turned all his tyranny against the SAYYIDS themselves. SHIBLI AL-AYSAMI writes this in his book SIRAT AL-NU'MAN:
"On mere suspicion, AL-MANSUR began to destroy the SAYYIDS. The prominent among them were subjected to atrocities. Muhammad son of IBRAHIM, who was the most handsome among them and was therefore called 'the silken', was walled alive. The narration of such lengthy series of atrocities demands a stone-heart to tell".
IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) was sadly touched by those events. When once the descendants of IMAM HASAN IBN ALI (AS) were all fettered, shackled and banished from Medina, he watched their plight with a saddened heart form the roof-top of his house. With flooded eyes he was heard saying: "Oh! Medina is no more a sanctuary or a place of peace…" Then he expressed his sorrow for the inactive descendants of the ANSARS thus: "The early MEDENITES (ANSARS) had invited the holy Prophet to Medina under the oath that they would protect him and his descendants just as they would protect their own kith and kin. But today the descendants of those very ANSARS act as silent onlookers and none stands up to protect the Prophet's offspring".
Having said these words, he returned to his house and fell ill, unable to move from bed for twenty days. Among the aforesaid prisoners was the aged ABDALLAH AL-MAHD, son of IMAM HASAN IBN ALI (AS) who had to suffer the hardships of a prolonged imprisonment. His son Muhammad (THU AN-NAFS AZ-ZAKIYYA) rose against the oppressive government and fell fighting near Medina in 145 A.H. The head of the young warrior was sent to his aged father in prison a shocking sight which the worn out old man could not bear, and he died shortly thereafter. Another son of ABDALLAH AL-MAHD, named IBRAHIM, also fought against MASUR'S army and fell fighting near KUFA. In the same way, ABDALLAH son of THU AN-NAFS AZ-ZAKIYYA, were all killed mercilessly. Many SAYYIDS were used alive as part of the building materials of walls.
MALTREATMENT OF IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS)
In spite of all these atrocities which have been described very briefly here, IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) went on silently propagating the teachings of AHL AL-BAYT (AS). As a result, even those who did not acknowledge him as the Imam nor knew his prestige and lineage, bowed before his knowledge and prided in being counted among his students.
AL-MANSUR wanted to decrease or remove the esteem in which IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) was held by the people. He tried to bring persons to compete with him who all proved incapable of arguing with his own students. These fellows admitted that their counterparts had acquired the religious learning from the Prophet's Progeny. The haughty ruler, therefore, ignored them but continued to undermine the popularity of the Imam. Failing in all his efforts, he decided to harass, arrest or murder him. In every town and city, hired agents were posted to monitor the activities of the SHI'AHS so that anyone suspected of supporting the Imam would be arrested. AL-MU'ALLA son of KHUNAIS was one of the many SHI'AHS who were thus arrested and murdered in cold blood.
The Imam himself was summoned from Medina to the royal palace five times, each time being in one way or another nothing but harassment. AL-MANSUR, however, could never find sufficient grounds to order his imprisonment or assassination. On the other hand, the consequent stay of the Imam in Iraq only expanded the circle of those who wanted to learn the teachings of AHL AL-BAYT (AS) from him. Perceiving this, AL-MANSUR ordered him to be sent back to Medina. Even there, he was not spared from persecution. Through saboteurs, his house was once set on fire but Providence soon put it out and nobody was harmed.
CHARACTER AND VIRTUES
IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) was one of those Infallible souls who were created by the Almighty to be models of moral excellence. The character and conduct of all those sages in different stages of their lives was the standard of excellence. The particular virtues of IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) which were recorded by the historians included hospitality, charity, the helping of the needy in secrecy, the fair treatment of the relatives, forgiveness, patience and fortitude. Once a pilgrim visiting the Prophet's mosque in Medina fell asleep there. On waking up, he hurriedly searched his belongings and found out that his purse containing one thousand DINARS was missing.
Looking around, he saw IMAM JA'FAR AS-SADIQ (AS) saying his prayers in a corner of the mosque. Bewildered and ignorant of the greatness of the Imam, he accused him of having picked his purse. The Imam asked about its contents and was told that it contained one thousand DINARS. The Imam asked the stranger to follow him to his house where he paid him the amount from his own money. When the stranger came back to the mosque satisfied, once more he checked his property and found his purse intact in bundle. Greatly ashamed of his conduct, he came to the Imam's house, apologized and asked him to take his money back. The Imam appeased him with these words: "We never take back what we once give away". Another event of the Imam's trust in God, the Sustainer, deserves mention here. During the days of scarcity, one naturally tries to hoard up as much provisions as might suffice his needs for a long time. Once on such an occasion, the Imam said to his household manager TRENCHAB: "The price of corn is rising day by day.
How much corn is there in our warehouses?" TRENCHAB said that the Imam should have no reason to worry since there was a large quantity of it to sustain them over a long period of time. The noble Imam then ordered: "Sell out all the corn today and let us face the situation along with others". Then he directed: "Pure wheat flour shall not be used in my kitchen. Let it be mixed with an equal quantity of oat flour. We must share the misfortune with the needy as long as it takes".
He used to respect the poor more than the rich and esteem their hard work. Trade was his occupation and the liked to do manual work in his gardens too. One day while wielding the spade and sweating profusely from top to toe, someone offered to do the work for him, but the labor-loving leader said: "It is no insult to bear the heat of the summer sun for the sake of my household".
To be kind to the slaves and maids was the main characteristic of this Progeny. SUFYAN ATH-THAWRI'HAS narrated a surprising event in this regard: "One I went to pay him a visit. I saw his complexion fading. On my asking him the reason, the Imam explained: 'I had forbidden my folk from ascending the stairs to the roof-top. Just now, as I entered the house, I saw a nursing maid with my babe in her arms ascending the stairs. She was so much frightened that she became nervous, and the baby fell down and died. I do not grieve on the death of the baby as much I grieve on her fright". Then he prepared to arrange for the shrouding and burial of the baby.
DISSEMINATING KNOWLEDGE AND LEARNING
His profound knowledge of religious and other sciences was famed throughout the entire Islamic world. People came from distant regions to learn from him. The number of his students reached once four thousand. Among them were scholars of jurisprudence, TAFSIR (exegesis), HADITH, etc. Heads of other religions also came there to expostulate with his students. When they went away vanquished and defeated, the Imam used to explain to his students their own weak points so that they might be careful in the future.
Sometimes he himself argued with the opponents especially the atheists. Apart from religious sciences, he used to teach some students mathematics, chemistry, medicine, etc. JABIR IBN HAYYAN of TARUS, the famous pioneer of physics, chemistry and mathematics, was his disciple who wrote about four hundred treatises based on his mentor's instruction. The jurists who learned from him and authored several volumes of books on jurisprudence can be counted by the hundreds.
Such a great and scholar can never be ambitious for power. But the government considered his popularity to be a constant threat, even though the monarchs knew that this Progeny really deserved to rule the Islamic worlds. Exhausting all its efforts, the ruling class could not find any grounds to take action against the Imam. It finally resorted to the use of their soundless weapon, poison. The governor of Medina was directed to offer him poisoned grapes, the efficacy of which ended his life on fifteenth of SHAWWAL of 148 A.H (December 4, 765 A.D.) at the age of 65. His funeral was arranged by his son successor IMAM MUSA AL-KAZIM (AS) who led the burial prayers. He was laid to rest in that compound of JANNAT AL-BAQI' where IMAM HASAN (AS), IMAM ZAIN AL-ABIDIN (AS) and IMAM AL-BAQIR (AS) lay buried.