The most extensive biographical sources for Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq 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 (though 80/699 and 86/705 are also recorded; e.g., Yaʿqubi, II, p. 458; Masʿudi, IV, p. 132; ʿĀmeli, IV/2, p. 29). Similarly, the date when he became imam (that is, the death of his father, the fifth imam, Moḥammad al-Bāqer) is recorded as 117/735 in most sources (though 114/732 and 126/743 are also found in some sources; e.g., Ebn Qotayba, p., 215; ʿĀmeli, IV/2, p. 3). His death date is almost universally agreed to have been 148/765.
Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’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 ʿAbbasids (a movement that drew on Shiʿite themes), and the establishment of the ʿAbbasid caliphate in Baghdad. Throughout this period, he appears to have maintained the politically quietist stance of his father, Imam Moḥammad al-Bāqer. Whether the revolt of Imam al-Bāqer’s half-brother Zayd b. ʿAli in 122/740 was during Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’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-Ṣādeq did not wish to be associated with the revolt and, according to a number of reports Shaikh Mofid (Eršād II, pp. 174-75) 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 Shiʿ-ites). Similarly, he refused to be involved in the ʿAbbasid uprising and offered no support even after the ʿAbbasids 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 nasÂsÂ (clear designation) of the incumbent imam of his successor. NasÂsÂ was in turn based on the notion that the incumbent imam was protected from error by God (ʿesÂma “inerrency”; see ČAHĀRDAH MAʿṢUM). 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 Zaydiya), 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-Ṣādeq as imam by his father, there is also a bundle of historical accounts of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq acting as Moḥammad al-Bāqer’s traveling companion. Such stories reinforce the closeness of the father-son relationship and further secure Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s imamate in the face of Zaydi attack. In particular, thre is the story of Imam al-Bāqer being summoned to Damascus by Hešām b. ʿAbd-al-Malek (r. 724-43) after besting Nāfeʿ in debate over the powers of Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (q.v.). Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq accompanied his father on this journey (for an account of the debate and its aftermath, see Qomi, II, pp. 246-86). 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 ʿAbbasids against Umayyad rule, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq offered no support to the uprising of his own cousin Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ḥasan, called al-Nafs al-Zakiya (the Pure Soul) and referred to as al-Mahdi (Ebn al-Ṭeqṭaqā, pp. 132-33), in 145/762 against the ʿAbbasids after they had gained power in Baghdad.
Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq was, it seems, happy to pursue a scholarly imamate, studying and teaching in Medina. He 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 (see ČAHĀRDAH MAʿṢUM), record his sayings and actions in works of Hadith and jurisprudence (feqh, q.v.). The Ismaʿili jurist Qāżi Abu Ḥanifa Noʿmān b. Moḥammad Qayrawāni (d. 363/974), has preserved a number of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s legal opinions, presenting them as authoritative expositions of the Islamic religious law (šariʿa; see, e.g., Daʾāʾem I, p. 4). In imami Shiʿite writings, his legal dicta constitute the most important source of imami law. Indeed, imami legal doctrine is called al-Maḏhab 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-Ṣādeq. Included in this list is a Qurʾān commentary (tafsir), a work on divination (Ketāb al-jafr), various versions of his will, and a number of collections of legal dicta (Sezgin, I, pp. 528-32, IV, pp. 128-31, VII, pp. 323-24; ʿĀmeli, IV/2, pp. 52 ff.; Āḡā Bozorg Ṭehrāni, III, p. 121, XXI, pp. 110-11). 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 Moḥammad b. Yaʿqub Kolayni’s al-Kāfi.
Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s circle of followers included two of the most important imami theologians, namely, Abu Mo-ḥammad Hešām b. Ḥakam (d. 179/796) and Abu Jaʿfar Moḥammad b. Noʿmān (d. after 183/799). Hešām 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. Moḥammad b. Noʿmān (nicknamed Šayṭān al-Ṭāq) held anthropomorphist doctrines, which on occasions clashed with later imami theology (influenced as it was by Moʿtazelite thought; for their works see Ebn al-Nadim, pp. 223-24, tr. pp. 437-38). The “extremist” (ḡāli; see ḠOLĀT) Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb Moḥammad Asadi (executed ca. 138/755) is also said to have been associated with Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq. According to the heresiographers, Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb claimed to have been appointed as the representative of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, receiving secret doctrines from him. His extreme views on the divinity of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and his own status as the prophetic emissary of God (i.e., Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq) seem to have led Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq to repudiate him, though Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb supposedly maintained that the repudiation was part of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s technique at preserving his true nature. The followers of his doctrine were called Ḵaṭṭābiya (Ašʿari, pp. 10-13; Šahrastāni, pp. 136-38, tr. Afżal-al-Din Torka, pp. 140-41, tr. Haarbrücker, I, pp. 206-8; Naw-baḵti, pp. 68 ff.). In any case, imami tradition rejects any association between Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb’s eccentric views.
Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq is also recorded as having taught with, or studied under Abu Ḥanifa and Mālek b. Anas, two of the eponyms of the Sunni legal schools (the Ḥanafiya and the Mālekiya respectively). More is recorded concerning the relationship between Abu Ḥanifa and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq. Shiʿite sources portray Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq as consistently humbling Abu Ḥanifa, pointing out defects in his reasoning and his incompetence in legal argument (see, e.g., Ebn Bābawayh, ʿElal al-Šariʿa I, p. 86). They clearly arose out of a Shiʿi-Sunni (and more specifically Shiʿi-Ḥanafi) polemic, though they may reflect the character of the relationship between the two jurists.
According to most sources, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq died in 148/765 (e.g., Masʿudi, IV, pp. 132-33), supposedly poisoned by the ʿAbbasid caliph al-MansÂur, though to what political end is unclear. He left behind him uncertainty about the future of the imamate. He had designated Abu Moḥammad Esmāʿil (q.v.), his eldest son by his first wife, Fāṭema, as the next imam, but Esmāʿil had predeceased him. Some claimed that Esmāʿil had not died, but was in hiding; others claimed that Esmāʿil’s son, Moḥammad, should be the next imam. Both of these groups went on to form the Ismaʿiliya (q.v.) Shiʿite (Daftary, pp. 93-99). Others claimed that after Esmāʿil, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq had designated his second eldest son ʿAbd-Allāh al-Afṭaḥ as the next imam. The majority, though, supported the imamate of Musā al-Kāẓem, son of Ḥamida (or Ḥomayda, a Berber slave) and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, as the imam. It was this line which went to form the Twelver (imami) Shiʿite, which has predominated in Persia since the 16th century (Daftary, pp. 93-99; ʿĀmeli, IV/2, p. 80).
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Originally Published: December 15, 2008
Last Updated: April 5, 2012
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Vol. XIV, Fasc. 4, pp. 349-351
Robert Gleave, “JAʿFAR AL-ṢĀDEQ i. Life,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, XIV/4, pp. 349-351, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/jafar-al-sadeq-i-life (accessed on 30 December 2012).