Distinctive Features of the Imamate of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s.)


The Imam (a.s.)’s Breadth of Knowledge

The spread and modification of Shia Islam is indebted to the scientific endeavors of Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.). On different occasions, the Imam made use of the political pressures in society caused by the transfer of power from the Umayyads to the Abbasids to revive the principles of Shia thought that the governments prevented their dissemination to define the injunctions of Islamic law (shariah) and to elevate Shia Islam. Hence, the “twelver-Imam Shiaism” is called “Ja‘fari Shiaism”. According to the renowned leader of the Hanafi sect, Abu-Hanifah, “When Mansur Dawaniqi summoned Ja‘far ibn Muhammad (a.s.), he told me, ‘People are fond of Ja‘far ibn Muhammad (a.s.). In order to denounce him, think of some difficult questions.’” So I thought of forty difficult questions. One day Mansur was in “Hayrah” and summoned me. When I went to him, I saw Ja‘far ibn Muhammad (a.s.) sitting on his right side. Mansur turned to him and said, ‘This is Abu-Hanifah.’ ‘Yes, I know him,’ he replied.Then Mansur added, ‘O Abu-Hanifah! Share your questions with Abu-Abdillah.’ I started posing the questions. For every question I asked him, he explained all about my opinion, the view of people of Medina and the Shia opinion on it. On

some questions, he agreed with us, on others with people of Medina, and still on some others he disagreed with both of us. This way, I raised forty questions and he answered all. Reaching this point, I pointed to Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.), saying,

“[He is] the most knowledgeable of people, aware of their disagreements on Fatwas and jurisprudential issues.”

(Behaarul Anwaar, vol.47, pp. 217-218)

According to the famous scholar of the 3rd century A.H., Abu-Bahr Jahizh, “Ja’far ibn Muhammad (a.s.) is a person whose knowledge is world-famous. It is said that Abu-Hanifah and Usmaan Sawri were his students. This suffices for demonstrating his high scholarly status.”

(Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) and the Four Islamic Sects, vol. 1, p. 55)

Besides strengthening the principles of Shia thought, Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) particularly endeavored to refute the principal thoughts of other sects. In a debate between him and Abu-Hanifah, he refuted the analogical reasoning of Abu-Hanifah. The Imam (a.s.) said, ‘I have heard you issue an Islamic ruling (fatwa) based on analogical reasoning.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Woe to you! The first one who expressed ideas based on analogical reasoning was Satan. When Allah ordered him to prostrate himself before Adam, he said, ‘I will not, because You have created me out of fire and him out of soil, and fire is superior to soil.’ Then, in order to invalidate ‘analogical reasoning’,

the holy Imam mentioned some instances of Islamic legal rulings opposed to this principle. He said, “Which one is worse, killing somebody unjustly or committing adultery?” “Killing someone unjustly.” “Now if acting upon analogical reasoning is to be correct, why are two witnesses enough to convict somebody of murder, but four are necessary for convicting somebody of adultery? Is this Islamic ruling in accordance with analogical reasoning?” “No.” “Which one is more important, prayer or fasting?” “Prayer.” “So why is it incumbent on menstruating women to make up for obligatory fasting, while this is not the case with obligatory prayer? Is this Islamic ruling concurrent with analogical reasoning?” “No.” “I was told you have commented on this Quranic verse, “Verily you shall be questioned about the blessings on the Day of Judgment,” as follows, “Allah will rebuke people for eating delicious foods and drinking cold water in the summer.” “Yes, I have commented on it this way. If somebody invites you over and serves you delicious food and cold water, then he reproaches you for having entertained you, what will you think of him?” “I will consider him ungenerous.” “Is Allah ungenerous?” “So what is meant by the blessings about which man will be questioned?” “This blessing is the love for us, the Holy Prophet’s Household (a.s.).”

(See its details in Behaarul Anwaar, vol.10, p. 220-221, no. 20)


Tawheed of Mufazzal: a Reflection of the Imam’s Knowledge

Mufazzal ibn Umar Kufi was a student of Imam al  Sadiq (a.s.) who was instructed by the Imam for four days and compiled the Imam’s teachings in the form of a treatise called Tawheed of Mufazzal. This book includes complicated and hidden facts about the world from humankind to astronomy. I am going to tell you about the Divine philosophy in creating the universe, with its animals, wild ones, and insects; that is, all living beings, animals and plants, from fruit trees to the edible and inedible plants, so that [people] may learn a lesson. Afterwards, the Imam spoke of the wonders of creation as Mufazzal wrote them down.

(The Conduct of the Shi‘a Leaders, Mahdi Pishwa’i, pp. 353-410)


Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.)’s Confrontation with the Tyrants of his Time

The Imam spent 21 years of his Imamate under the tyrannical rule of the second Abbasid caliph, Mansur. The struggle strategies the Imam recommended to his followers included adopting a non-violence policy, covert and overt struggle and defensive policies, showing the Shi‘as the appropriate policy of not cooperating with the government, supporting the Shi‘a uprisings while not helping those who wanted to align Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) with themselves.

(Wasaaelush Shi‘a, Hurr Ameli, vol. 18, p. 99, Hadees no. 1)

Each above-mentioned strategy is beyond the constraints of this paper. However, part of the Imam’s struggle was based on not recognizing any illegitimate government. According to Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.), a legitimate government has its roots in Allah’s order, not in social contract, coercion, and the like. For example, consider the following valid narration reported by Umar ibn Hanzhalah. It is considered accepted (maqbool) by some scholars due to the reliability of its chain of authorities; some others consider it a sound hadees. Umar ibn Hanzhalah


Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) was asked about two Shi‘as who had a dispute over debt and inheritance, and turned to the illegitimate ruler or judge for a verdict on it. He was asked if this (turning to them) was allowed. The Imam (a.s.) replied, “Whoever turns to the illegitimate ruler or judge whether rightfully or not and asks him for a verdict definitely asks taghut (false deity) for a verdict. Also, it is wrong that he should accept something by the verdict of Taghut even though it is his vested right because he enjoys it by the judgment of Taghut. Allah has ordered people to disbelieve in Taghut. He said in the Hoy Quran:

“They want to turn for judgment [in their disputes] to Taghut, though they were ordered to disbelieve in him.”

(Surah Nisaa, Verse 60)

The Imam (a.s.) was asked again, “So what should they do?” He responded, ‘They should turn to somebody who narrates our Hadiths, takes our halal and haram into account and knows our injunctions. Whatever verdict he gives, they should be content with it because I have appointed him a judge. So if they belittle his verdict which is based on our injunctions, they definitely underestimate the verdict of Allah and deny us. Whoever denies us actually denies Allah and this is tantamount to associating somebody with Allah.’

(Surah Nisaa, Verse 65)

In the above-mentioned narration, Imam al-Sadiq’s saying is well- documented by his referring to the divine word.1 Considering the verses before and after it, that is, verses 58-68, the Qur’anic verse Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) mentioned enjoys a unique theme. If we consider all  10 verses together, it will be made completely clear that the rule of Taghut and turning to him are illegitimate and unlawful. In some parts of these verses,2 Allah even swears by Himself, and He sees those who ask somebody other than the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) for a verdict on their disputes as faithless. In some other part, He views the faith of those who accept the judgment of Taghut as imaginary. In a nutshell, Allah regards turning to taghut and submitting to him as false and wrong. In this narration, Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) extended this Qur’anic verse beyond the time of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)3 to the future. Thus, when Shi‘a have dispute over an issue and there in no Infallible (a.s.), they should turn to a jurisprudent because three characteristics, namely narrating hadiths, taking halal and haram into account and knowing the injunctions, are not consistent with qualities of anybody but jurisprudents. Therefore, as for the time when there is an Imam but he is inaccessible or when he is in occultation, the permanent ruling has been made clear. The word ‘taghut’ from the root of ‘tughyan’, means rebelling against Allah and breaking divine laws, or any means of revolt and rebellion against Allah.

(Usul Kafi, Kulayni, vol. 1, p. 186, Hadees no. 3)

Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) is also quoted as saying, “Whoever does not judge by right and truth, and people seek his judgment, is considered a taghut.”

(Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) and the Four Islamic Sects, vol. 2, p. 21)

Another hadees by the sixth Imam reads as follows, “We are those obeying whom Allah has made obligatory, while you obey the one for whose ignorance people cannot provide any pretext before Allah.”

(Wasaaelush Shia, vol. 12, p. 129, Hadees no. 6)

The sixth Imam also warned jurisprudents and hadith narrators against having any tie with the  illegitimate government of that time, saying, “Jurisprudents are the trusted agents of the Prophets. If you see them turning to the kings and intimately cooperating with oppressors, be suspicious of them and do not trust them.”

(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 47, p. 184)

Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) prevented his companions from associating and cooperating with the court of the caliphate. Once a companion asked him, “Sometimes Shias become poor and short of money, and they are offered to build houses and dig a canal for the Abbasids. What do you think of this job?” The Imam (a.s.) replied, “I do not like to tie a knot or to put a lid on water-skin for them even though they pay a high wage, because those who help the oppressors will be thrown into a tent of fire until Allah gives His verdicts on all servants.”

(Nemuneh Quranic Commentary, vol. 3, p. 456)

Once Abu-Ja’far Mansur wrote to the sixth Imam, “Why don’t you come to us like others?” In response, Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) wrote, “We do not have anything worldly to be fearful of you for it. You do not have anything otherworldly either so that we pin our hopes on you for it. You do not enjoy any blessing so that we congratulate you on it, nor do you find yourself in an affliction and catastrophe so that we offer you condolence. So why do we come to you?” Mansur wrote in response, “Come and give us advice.” The Imam (a.s.) responded, “The people fond of this world do not give you advice, and the Godly people who care about the hereafter do not come to you either.”

(Irshad, Shaikh Mufeed, vol. 2, p. 170