Jaʿfar al-Sadiq

Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, Abu Abd-Allah, the sixth imam of the Imami Shiʿites. He was the eldest son of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir and, on the side of his mother, Omm Farwa, a descendent of Abu Bakr by four generations.[1] He spent most of his life in Medina, where he built up a circle of followers primarily as a theologian, Hadith transmitter, and jurist (faqih).

Ja'far al-sadiq
Ja'far 1.jpg
The historical tomb of Al-baqi was destroyed in 1926. Jafar al-Sadiq was one of four Shia imams buried here.
Native name
جعفر بن محمد الصادق‎‎
Born83 AH (c. 702 CE)
Medina, Umayyad Empire
Died148 AH, aged 62- 63 (765 CE)
Medina, Abbasid Empire
Resting placeJannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia
Known forThe 6th Imam of Shi'a
Spouse(s)Fatima bint al-Hussain'l-Athram, Hamīdah al-Barbariyyah
ChildrenMusa al-Kadhim, Isma'il ibn Jafar, Abdullah al-Aftah, Ishaq, ʿAli al-Uraidhi, Al-Abbas, Muhammad al-Dibaj, Fatima, Umm Farwah, Asmaa

An erudite jurist of Medina, al-Sadiq was associated with a wide range of scholars. Abu Hanifa, and Malik b. Anas, among other prominent figures, are alleged to have heard hadith from him. Regarded as a reliable traditionalist in Sunni circles, he is cited in several isnads (chains of transmissions). Al-Sadiq is credited with the construction of a legal system called Ja’fari school of law, which Shi’ites follow. He is also seen as an eminent ascetic and is revered in Sufi circles. According to the alchemist Jabir al-Hayyan, al-Sadiq was also a teacher in alchemy.


The most extensive biographical sources for Jaʿfar al-Sadiq are to be found amongst the various Shiʿite branches, though the exact date of his birth, or his accession to the imamate are uncertain. Most sources mention 83/702 for his birth [2] Similarly, the date when he became imam [3] is recorded as 117/735 in most sources.[4] His death date is almost universally agreed to have been 148/765.

Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s life spanned the latter half of the Umayyad dynasty ruling from Damascus, which was marked by various rebellions (mainly by Shiʿite movements), the rise of the Abbasids (a movement that drew on Shiʿite themes), and the establishment of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad. Throughout this period, he appears to have maintained the politically quietist stance of his father, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir. Whether the revolt of Imam al-Baqir’s half-brother Zayd b. Ali in 122/740 was during Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s imamate or that of his father depends on which of the various dates for the latter’s death is taken. It is clear, however, that Jaʿfar al-Sadiq did not wish to be associated with the revolt and, according to a number of reports Shaikh Mofid [5] condemned the uprising, since he believed that the rebellion would be counter-productive and ultimately harmful to the true community of believers (i.e., the Shiʿites). Similarly, he refused to be involved in the Abbasid uprising and offered no support even after the Abbasids gained power in 132/750. His motives for this refusal were grounded in his belief that he alone was the imam, having been designated as such by the preceding imam, his father. This belief was founded on the doctrine of nass (clear designation) of the incumbent imam of his successor. Nass was in turn based on the notion that the incumbent imam was protected from error by God (‘Isma “inerrency”). Therefore, the incumbent imam’s designation was, in effect, a revealing of God’s will for the future leadership of the Shiʿites. Some, particularly the followers of Zayd (the Zaydiyah), did not recognize this doctrine and branched off to form their own distinct Shiʿite tradition, with quite different notions of the functions of an imam.


Apart from those traditions that record the explicit designation of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq as imam by his father, there is also a bundle of historical accounts of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq acting as Muhammad al-Baqir’s traveling companion. Such stories reinforce the closeness of the father-son relationship and further secure Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s imamate in the face of Zaydi attack. In particular, there is the story of Imam al-Baqir being summoned to Damascus by Hesham b. Abd-al-Malek (r. 724-43) after besting Nafeʿ in debate over the powers of Imam Ali b. Abi Taleb (q.v.). Jaʿfar al-Sadiq accompanied his father on this journey.[6] Such explicit confrontations with the ruling power were, however, rare for both of them. Just as he had refused to be involved in the uprisings of Zayd or the Abbasids against Umayyad rule, Jaʿfar al-Sadiq offered no support to the uprising of his own cousin Muhammad b. Abd-Allah b. Hasan, called al-Nafs al-Zakiya (the Pure Soul) and referred to as al-Mahdi [7], in 145/762 against the Abbasids after they had gained power in Baghdad.

Circle of ScholarshipEdit

Jaʿfar al-Sadiq acquired a number of followers and supporters, most (though not all) of Shiʿite persuasion. He is respected by the Sunnis as a transmitter of Hadith and a jurist (faqih), while the Shiʿites, who consider him an imam and as such infallible, record his sayings and actions in works of Hadith and jurisprudence (feqh, q.v.). The Ismaʿili jurist Qazi Abu Hanifa Noʿman b. Muhammad Qayrawani (d. 363/974), has preserved a number of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s legal opinions, presenting them as authoritative expositions of the Islamic religious law.[8] In imami Shiʿite writings, his legal dicta constitute the most important source of imami law. Indeed, imami legal doctrine is called al-Madhhab al-Jaʿfari by both Imamis and Sunnis in recognition of his legal authority. A number of works are attributed to him, though none of these can be securely described as authored by Jaʿfar al-Sadiq. Included in this list is a Quran commentary (tafsir), a work on divination (Ketab al-jafr), various versions of his will, and a number of collections of legal dicta [9]. In addition to these, there are many reports attributed to him in the early Shiʿite Hadith collections; he features as a central source of imami doctrine, for example, in Muhammad b. Yaʿqub Kolayni’s al-Kafi.

Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s circle of followers included two of the most important imami theologians, namely, Abu Muhammad Hesham b. Hakam (d. 179/796) and Abu Jaʿfar Muhammad b. Noʿman (d. after 183/799). Hesham proposed a number of doctrines that later became orthodox imami theology, including the rational necessity of the divinely guided imam in every age to teach and lead God’s community. Muhammad b. Noʿman (nicknamed Shaytan al-Taq) held anthropomorphist doctrines, which on occasions clashed with later imami theology. [10]

Jaʿfar al-Sadiq is also recorded as having taught with, or studied under Abu Hanifa and Malek b. Anas, two of the eponyms of the Sunni legal schools (the Hanafiya and the Malekiya respectively). More is recorded concerning the relationship between Abu Hanifa and Jaʿfar al-Sadiq. Shiʿite sources portray Jaʿfar al-Sadiq as consistently humbling Abu Hanifa, pointing out defects in his reasoning and his incompetence in legal argument.[11] They clearly arose out of a Shiʿi-Sunni (and more specifically Shiʿi-Hanafi) polemic, though they may reflect the character of the relationship between the two jurists.

Death and SuccessionEdit

According to most sources, Jaʿfar al-Sadiq died in 148/765 [12], supposedly poisoned by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur. He had designated Abu Muhammad Esmaʿil (q.v.), his eldest son by his first wife, Fatima, as the next imam, but Esmaʿil had predeceased him. Some claimed that Esmaʿil had not died, but was in hiding; others claimed that Esmaʿil’s son, Muhammad, should be the next imam. Both of these groups went on to form the Ismaʿiliyah (q.v.) Shiʿite.[13] Others claimed that after Esmaʿil, Jaʿfar al-Sadiq had designated his second eldest son Abd-Allah al-Aftaḥ as the next imam. The majority, though, supported the imamate of Musa al-Kazem, son of Hamida (or Homayda, a Berber slave) and Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, as the imam. It was this line which went to form the Twelver (imami) Shiʿite, which has predominated in Persia since the 16th century.[14]


The one doctrine in which a reasonably coherent doctrine merges from Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s statements is on the imamate. The imam for Jaʿfar al-Sadiq (as portrayed in the imami Hadith collections) is clearly not only a supreme legal authority, but also a means whereby the individual believer can gain knowledge of God. The supremacy of the imam’s knowledge is such that the individual believer need not embark on detailed theological argumentation himself, but instead should refer all disputes over theological doctrine to the imam.

The manner in which these doctrines are expressed by Jaʿfar al-Sadiq in the collections are sufficiently vague for them to be cited both by later orthodox imamis and by more extremist Shiʿites. For example, a report of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, transmitted through Mofazzal b. Omar and found in the standard imami Hadith collections, claims for the imams all human knowledge: “We have knowledge of the Torah, the Gospel, and the Psalms, and the explanation of all that is on the Tablets.” When asked if this was all of knowledge (al-ʿelm), he replied, “This is not knowledge. Knowledge is that which happens day after day, and hour after hour”.[15] From such a statement it is not clear whether the imam has both knowledge of the past scriptures and of worldly events, or only the former. The extremists (and indeed some more daring imami theologians) interpret the statement as meaning that the imam has both types of knowledge, and hence as further supporting evidence for the divinational knowledge of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq found in the pseudographical literature mentioned above. More conservative imamis interpret Jaʿfar al-Sadiq as stating that whilst they have knowledge of past scriptures, they do not have knowledge of future events.

In legal matters, the corpus of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s statements form the major source of imami jurisprudence. He is presented as one who denounces the legal reasoning of his contemporaries. Personal opinion (raʾy), personal juristic reasoning (ejtehad), and analogical reasoning (qias) are roundly condemned as human attempts to impose conformity, regularity, and predictability onto the Shariʿa of God. Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, in these statements, argues that God’s law is occasional and unpredictable, and that the servants’ duty is not to embark on reasoning in order to discover the law, but to submit to the inscrutable will of God as revealed by the imam. This position is most obviously seen in the various exchanges between Jaʿfar al-Sadiq and Abu Hanifa (q.v.), after whom the Hanafi school of Islamic law is named. Abu Hanifa supposedly studied with Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, but the reports recorded in imami Hadith collections do not portray him in a positive light. He is recorded as having employed analogical reasoning in his legal judgements, and Jaʿfar al-Sadiq is well known as one who rejected this approach. In one exchange Jaʿfar asked Abu Hanifa whether it is true that he uses qias. Abu Hanifa confirms this, to which Jaʿfar al-Sadiq replies, “Do not use qias for the first to use qias was the Devil himself”.[16] In another exchange, Abu Hanifa asked Jaʿfar al-Sadiq about temporary marriage (motʿa), and received the reply that this is what is referred to in the Quranic verse “For what you have enjoyed from them, give them their due as a duty” (4:24). Abu Hanifa replies “By God, I have never read this verse”.[17] Reports such as this, where Abu Hanifa is bested by Jaʿfar al-Sadiq and exposed as of inferior intellect, are extremely common, and clearly function as part of an anti-Sunni (and more specifically, anti-Hanafi) polemic. References in imami literature to the relationships between Jaʿfar al-Sadiq and Malek b. Anas are less narrative, and Malek is normally portrayed simply as one who relates Hadith from Jaʿfar al-Sadiq.[18] Non-imami Shiʿite sources, especially the Daʿa-ʾem al-Eslam of the Ismaʿil Qazi Noʿman, also contain reports of the legal opinions of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, along with those of his father Muhammad al-Baqir. In general, the reports here agree with those of the imami sources, and, according to Wilferd Madelung, provide a common legal source for the two Shiʿite groupings, and (more tantalizingly) a core of legal teaching which might be more assuredly traced back to Jaʿfar al-Sadiq himself.

Despite Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s emphasis on the imam’s supreme legal authority in the imami sources, there are also hints at a more devolved system of legal authority. Most famous amongst Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s saying in this regard is known as the Maqbula of Omar b. Hanzala. Ebn Hanzala was a disciple of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq and is cited in the esnads as relating a number of sayings from his master, and through intermediaries from Imam al-Baqir. In the Maqbula, Ebn Hanzala asks how legal disputes within the community should be solved, and whether one should take such cases to the ruler (sultan) and his judges. Jaʿfar al-Sadiq replies in the negative, indicating that he considered at least the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates illegitimate. He describes the state apparatus as taghut (an idol or demon) in the Maqbula and says that those who take their disputes to the rulers and their judges get only soht.[19] This is a common motif in subsequent imami juridical literature, as most jurists considered any state not led by the imam himself to be illegitimate, citing the Maqbula (amongst other reports from the imams) as evidence of this. In place of the state system, Jaʿfar al-Sadiq appears to recommend an informal, and unofficial system of justice for the Shiʿite community. The disputants, he claims, should turn to “those who relate our [i.e., the imams’] Hadiths.” The reason for this is that the imams have “made such a one a judge (hakem) over you.” Subsequent questions within the report prompt Jaʿfar al-Sadiq to list the means whereby a believer might choose between apparently equally qualified Hadith transmitters.[20] The report itself has been variously interpreted by subsequent imami scholars. Some considered it to confer general legal (and for some, political) authority upon the scholars after the occultation (ghayba) of the twelfth imam. Others considered Jaʿfar al-Sadiq to be referring solely to Hadith transmitters and not to the olamaʾ (scholars) in general. Whichever interpretation one favors, however, it is clear that the ultimate legal authority of the imam, in this case Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, is to be tempered through his appointment of judges of the people in his place. While the imam has optimum community legal authority, he also may, when the need arises, appoint certain persons to act as judges in his stead. Whether this delegation applies only to the time of the imams’ presence, and whether it refers to all scholars or just one subset of the olamaʾ was the subject of much subsequent debate amongst the imamiya. Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s words may have enabled the imamiya to develop an internal means of dispute resolution (and therefore avoid involvement in the judicial system of the ruling state). They did not, however, describe this alternative system in detail. That task was left to subsequent imami thinkers.

The variety of uses to which Jaʿfar al-Sadiq’s name has been put, and the ideas and teachings which have been attributed to him, are significant not only because they establish him as an important figure in the history of early Islamic thought, but also because they demonstrate the malleability of his legacy. The works attributed to him may be of dubious authenticity, but they do establish his name at least as indicating a mastery of learning generally, and the Islamic sciences in particular. It is the manner in which his contribution has been recast and, at times, re-invented that enables him to be employed by writers in the different Islamic sciences as integral to their development.

Sayings about Imam HussainEdit

Hadith on Visiting Imam Hussain’s GraveEdit

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq recites a special supplication during his prostration that has been transmitted to us by Mu’awiyah Ibn Wahab. The Imam used to say the following whenever he prostrated:

“Lord! You are the One Who chose us to receive Your bliss, promised us to intercede, granted us the knowledge of what passed and of what remains, made the hearts of some people lean towards us: I invoke You to forgive me and my brethren and those who visit the gravesite of my grandfather al-Hussain, those who spend their wealth and exhaust themselves out of their desire to express their devotion to us, hoping to earn the rewards which You have for all those who maintain their link with us, and because of the pleasure they bring to Your Prophet, and out of their response to our own order to do so. Reward them for having vexed our enemy as they sought Your Pleasure. Do reward them, O Lord, on our behalf, and grant them sustenance during the night and the day, and be generous to their families and offspring, those who succeed them in doing such good deeds. Be their Friend; ward off from them the evil of all stubborn tyrants, all those from among Your creatures. Protect their weak from the evil of the mighty ones, be they demons, humans, or jinns. And grant them the best of what they aspire as they estrange themselves from their home-lands, and for preferring us over their sons, families, and kinsfolk. Lord! Our enemies find fault with their going out to visit our shrines, yet it does not stop them from doing so, unlike those who oppose us. Lord! Have mercy on the faces transformed by the heat of the sun. Have mercy on the cheeks that touch the grave of Abu ‘Abdullah, al-Hussain. Have mercy on the eyes that weep out of kindness to us. Have mercy on the hearts that are grieved on our account and are fired with passion for us. And have mercy on those who mourn us. Lord! I implore You to be the Custodian of these souls and bodies till You bring them to the Pool [of Kawthar] on the Day of the great thirst.”

When Mu’awiyah Ibn Wahab regarded this supplication as giving “too much” for those who visit the gravesite of Imam Hussain, Imam as-Sadiq said to him, “Those in the heavens who supplicate for those who visit al-Hussain's gravesite are more numerous than those who do so on earth” .[21]


  1. Tabari, III/IV, p. 2509; Yaʿqubi, II, p. 458; Ebn Qotayba, p. 215.
  2. though 80/699 and 86/705 are also recorded; e.g., Yaʿqubi, II, p. 458; Masʿudi, IV, p. 132; ʿAmeli, IV/2, p. 29.
  3. that is, the death of his father, the fifth imam, Muhammad al-Baqir
  4. though 114/732 and 126/743 are also found in some sources; e.g., Ebn Qotayba, p., 215; ʿAmeli, IV/2, p. 3
  5. Ershad II, pp. 174-75
  6. for an account of the debate and its aftermath, see Qomi, II, pp. 246-86
  7. Ebn al-Teqtaqa, pp. 132-33
  8. shariʿa; see, e.g., Daʾaʾem I, p. 4
  9. Sezgin, I, pp. 528-32, IV, pp. 128-31, VII, pp. 323-24; ʿAmeli, IV/2, pp. 52 ff.; Aga Bozorg Tehrani, III, p. 121, XXI, pp. 110-11
  10. influenced as it was by Moʿtazelite thought; for their works see Ebn al-Nadim, pp. 223-24, tr. pp. 437-38
  11. see, e.g., Ebn Babawayh, ʿElal al-Shariʿa I, p. 86
  12. e.g., Masʿudi, IV, pp. 132-33
  13. Daftary, pp. 93-99
  14. Daftary, pp. 93-99; ʿAmeli, IV/2, p. 80
  15. Kolayni, 1994, I, pp. 224-25
  16. Kolayni, 1994, I, p. 58
  17. or alternatively “it is as if I had never read this verse”; see Horr Ameli, Wasaʾel, XXVIII, p. 8
  18. e.g., Ebn Babawayh, p. 128
  19. unlawful decision; Ebn Babawayh, Man la yahḏoroho al-faqih III, p. 3
  20. see, for example, Tusi, VI, p. 218
  21. Narrated by al-Kulayni in his book Al-Kafi, by Ibn Qawlawayh on p. 116 of Kamil al-Ziyarat by Ibn Qawlawayh al-Qummi, and by as-Saduq on p. 54 of his book titled Thawab al-A’mal.


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