MOFAŻŻAL al-JOʿFI, Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Abu Moḥammad b. ʿOmar (d. before 799), a prominent member of the Kufan ḡolāt and companion of the sixth and seventh Shiʿite imams Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and Musa al-Kāẓem. In the Imami and Noṣayri traditions he is known as the author of a number of apocryphal texts with diverse contents and origins.
As a non-Arab, Mofażżal was a mawlā of the Kufan Joʿfi clan of the Yemeni tribe of Maḏḥej. He was a money-changer (ṣayrafi), and likely the financial agent of the imams Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and Musa al-Kāẓem, for whom he was able to raise money through his network of acquaintances (Kašši, nos. 592, 595; Barqi, II, p. 481; Kolayni, II, p. 209; Massignon, 1969a, p. 524, 1969b, pp. 49-50). At one point Mofażżal probably belonged to the Khattabiyya, one of the ḡolāt movements. This spoiled Mofażżal's relations with Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, who had denounced its leader Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb al-Asadi (d. 755-56) for deifying him. Eventually Mofażżal severed his ties with the Khattabiyya and was reconciled with Jaʿfar. Till the end of his life Mofażżal remained a close associate of both imams, dying during al-Kāẓem’s lifetime, that is, before 799 (Najāši, II, p. 359; Ebn al-Ḡażāʾeri, VI, p. 131; Kašši, nos. 586, 593; Baḡdādi, pp. 249-50; Šahrastāni, I, pp. 122-23, 132; Ašʿari, p. 13; Kolayni, I, p. 320; Mofid, p. 319). According to some reports, Mofażżal was closely associated with Jaʿfar’s son Esmāʿil and even taught him Khattabiyya ideas, angering thereby his father (Kašši, nos. 581, 586; Sāmarrāʾi, p. 289; Daftary, 2007, pp. 91-92).
Not much is known about Mofażżal’s religious beliefs. There are just several hadith where he is shown as arguing about the imam’s divinity and stating that the imams distribute the sustenance of people. The imam’s deification is an idea typical for the ḡolāt, and the second statement could be an echo of the beliefs of the mofawweża―a group of ḡolāt who taught that God delegated the imams and the Prophet to create all beings and to provide for them (Modarressi, 1993, p. 21). However, these traditions always end with the imam's refutation of such views (Kašši, nos. 587, 591; Kolayni, VIII, pp. 231-32).
The sources on Mofażżal’s life are few (Amin, X, pp. 132-33). There are two short notes in Najāši’s and Ebn al-Ḡażāʾeri’s biographical dictionaries, a brief passage in Šayḵ Mofid’s Eršād, around forty hadith in Imami collections, and a short letter attributed to Mofażżal titled Waṣiyat al-Mofażżal (Ḥarrāni, 1956). The attitudes toward Mofażżal in these texts are quite different: Najāši and Ebn al-Ḡażāʾeri have called him a heretic and an unbeliever, while Šayḵ Mofid considered him a learned man and a righteous scholar (Najāši, II, p. 359; Ebn al-Ḡażāʾeri, VI, p. 131; Mofid, p. 288). In hadith, Mofażżal constantly appears as the close associate of the two imams―save for the brief period of disgrace with Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq because of his Khattabiyya leanings (Kašši, nos. 216, 461, 502, 581-98, 982; Kolayni, I, pp. 52, 308, 309, 320, II, pp. 92, 192, 209, IV, p. 575, VIII, pp. 231-32, 279-81, 273-74; Ṣaffār, pp. 144, 257, 284; Barqi, II, pp. 168, 197, 368, 481; Ṭusi, 1991, II, p. 189, III, p. 104). Waṣiyat al-Mofażżal presents a sympathetic image of Mofażżal, recording his conflicts with some members of the Kufan Shiʿite community. The two biographers criticized Mofażżal because of his ḡolāt beliefs condemned in the later Imami tradition, while Mofid praised him because of his high position among the Kufan Shiʿites and his close ties with the two imams. His positive portrait in the Waṣiyat al-Mofażżal, written by the Noṣayri Ḥasan b. Shoʿba al-Ḥarrāni, reflects that the Noṣayris revered Mofażżal as the bāb (lit. “door”; see BĀB (1)) of the Imam ʿAli al-Reżā.
The Moḵammesa is another ḡolāt group that accorded Mofażżal a high position in their spiritual hierarchy (Ḥarrāni, 2006, p. 58; Friedman, p. 287; Halm, 1981, p. 78; 1982, p. 302).
Among the subjects of the Khattabiyya, several heresiographers mention a group that is called Mofażżaliya after Mofażżal al-Joʿfi. They are said to have deified Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and considered Mofażżal a prophet or an imam; they also dissociated themselves from Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb after Jaʿfar had repudiated him (Ašʿari, p. 13; Baḡdādi, pp. 240-50; Šahrastāni, I, pp. 122-23, 132; Ḥemyari, pp. 221-22). This sect is only mentioned in several heresiographic works, and does not appear in any other source featuring Mofażżal. Since not all accounts are uniform, it remains uncertain whether such a group existed at all (Abu Tammām, p. 112).
Nine works attributed to Mofażżal have been published, both as separate books and as part of larger Imami texts. Most of them are also published in volume VI of the collection Selselat al-torāṯ al-ʿAlawi (al-Majmuʿa al-mofażżaliya, eds. Abu Musa and Shayḵ Musa, n.p. (Lebanon), 2006). In addition, there are a number of manuscripts with works attributed to him (Modarressi, 2003, pp. 333-37; GAS, I, pp. 530, 534; Tehrāni, II p. 484, IV, pp. 482-3, 91, XXV, p. 237; Ivanow, 1933, p. 64; Halm, 1978, p. 166) in the collections of Ismaʿilis in India (Bohrās).
None of the available Mofażżal texts contains any conclusive proof of his authorship, and indeed most are later compositions, written between the 9th and 11th centuries. Almost all these texts are written in the form of a dialogue or a correspondence between Mofażżal and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, in which the former asks questions and the latter responds. The corpus ranges from ḡolāt works to rationalistic treatises of likely Muʿtazilite provenance, which show the amount of reverence accorded to Mofażżal by different schools within Shiʿism long after his death. While some texts are related in their content and their milieus of composition, the corpus as a whole is not unified by anything but Mofażżal’s name, and does not form a single theological or literary tradition.
Three texts are dialogues between Mofażżal and the imam about the doctrines of the Kufan ḡolāt, and they provide invaluable first-hand accounts of their teachings. The Ketāb al-ṣerāṭ (ed. Capezzone, 1995; ed. ʿAbd-al-Jalil, Benghazi, 2004) was likely composed in Kufa between the two Occultations, that is, the years 874 and 941. Its key doctrines are the idea of the path (ṣerāṭ) which leads the believer to God and consists of seven consecutive degrees of spiritual perfection, God’s manifestation in human form (tajalli), the possibility of transmigration of souls (tanāsoḵ, nasḵ) and reincarnation (masḵ, mosuḵiya), and the myth of creation and fall, all typically ḡolāt teachings (Bar-Asher and Kofsky, pp. 85-86; Friedman, pp. 244-46; Capezzone, pp. 295-315). The Ketāb al-haft wa'l-aẓella, also called Ketāb al-haft al-šarif, (ed. Arif Tamir and Ignace Khalifé, Beirut, 1960; ed. Moṣṭafā Ḡāleb, Beirut, 1964; ed. Arif Tamir, Beirut, 2007) consists of at least seven separate layers and was composed roughly between the 8th and 11th centuries. Each of the layers contains a particular version of ḡolāt teachings and mythology. Emerging in Kufa, the book was transplanted to Syria by the Noṣayris, who added several layers. Its final form is attested among the Nosayris in 11th-century Syria, where, subsequently, it fell into the hands of the Nezāri Ismaʿilis (Halm, 1981, pp. 16-86; 1982, pp. 240-74; Daftary, 2004, p. 163; Friedman, pp. 243-44). Al-Resāla al-mofażżaliya, in which Jaʿfar tells Mofażżal about such ideas as the vision of God and the relation between God and his attributes (Friedman, p. 246), is the shortest ḡolāt text attributed to Mofażżal (al-Majmuʿa al-mofażżaliya, ed. Abu Musa and Shayḵ Musa, pp. 9-18). Its origin is difficult to determine because the 2006 edition does not provide any information about its manuscripts, and the short text itself does not offer any internal clues. Since its ideas and terminology resemble those of the two previous works, it probably also belongs to the literature of the Kufan ḡolāt.
In two other works ascribed to Mofażżal, ḡolāt ideas are present but not central. The Mā yakun ʿenda ẓohur al-Mahdi is an apocalyptic treatise mainly focusing on what will happen after the appearance of the Mahdi. The text discusses mainstream Shiʿi concepts such as temporary marriage (motʿa) and ḡolāt ideas such as the cycles of history and eons (Turner, pp. 177-95).
The Ketāb mā eftaraża Allāh ʿalā al-jawāreḥ men al-imān, quoted in Ṣaffār al-Qommi’s Baṣāʾer al-darajāt (pp. 546-56), is a long letter, allegedly written by Jaʿfar in response to a query by Mofażżal. It refutes several accusations, such as sexual promiscuity and incest, which heresiographers ascribed to the ḡolāt. A curious idea, attributed specifically to the leader of the Khattabiyya Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb al-Asadi and alluded to in the Ketāb al-haft (ed. Tamir, 2007, p. 39), is that religious obligations and prohibitions are men (rejāl), and that religion is the knowledge of these men (Nowbaḵti, p. 38; Kašši, nos. 512-513; cf. Dakake, p. 130). The letter is obviously a response to the polemics against the ḡolāt that has found expression in later heresiographic accounts.
The Tawḥid al-Mofażżal and the Ketāb al-ehlilaja stand out among the Mofażżal texts for their peculiar style and the absence of Shiʿite ideas. Preserved in the Beḥār al-anwār of Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi, both works (III, pp. 57-151, 152-98) are rationalistic treatises aiming to prove God’s existence mainly through the argument from design. There is nothing properly Shiʿite in either text save for the names of Jaʿfar and Mofażżal. In fact, the Tawḥid al-Mofażżal is the Shiʿite adaptation of the Muʿtazilite treatise Ketāb al-dalāʾel wa’l-eʿtebār ʿalā al-ḵalq wa’l-tadbir (Chokr, pp. 85-87, 100-102; Turner, p. 184), attributed to Jaḥeẓ (d. 869). Even if it was not written by Jāḥeẓ, its various features indicate a composition from the second half of the 9th century. Some elements in the Ketāb al-ehlilaja suggest that it originated roughly at the same time or perhaps a little later, probably during the same period when the Shiʿite adaptation of the Tawḥid al-Mofażżal occurred. One could speculate that the two works are the earliest specimens of the Muʿtazilite influenced Shiʿite thought (Madelung, 1979, p. 15).
The Waṣiyat al-Mofażżal (Ḥarrāni, 1956) consists of two parts. The first is Mofażżal's testament, in which he admonishes the Shiʿite community to be pious and to perform their religious duties. In the second half Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq vindicates Mofażżal, condemning the Shiʿite community of Kufa for their enmity towards his disciple. There is no indication that the text is apocryphal, although it could very well be a later composition written by Mofażżal's followers (Modarressi, 2003, p. 334).
The Doʿāʾ samāt is a prayer which Moḥammad b. ʿOṯmān al-ʿAmri, the second agent of the twelfth imam, related on the authority of Mofażżal al-Joʿfi from Jaʿfar al-Ṣadeq (Ebn Ṭāwus, pp. 533-38; Majlesi, XC, pp. 96-101).
A text on the value of rice attributed to Mofażżal, titled Rewāyat al-rozz wa-mā fihi men al-fażl, has been preserved in the manuscript of Moḥammad b. Ṭāher b. Ebrāhim al-Ḥāreṯi’s chrestomathy of Ismaʿili literature titled Majmuʿ al-tarbiyāt (Ivanow, 1963, pp. 59, 101).
Lastly, there are three titles of lost works ascribed to Mofażżal: Ketāb al-yawm wa-layla, ʿElal al-šarāʾeʿ (Najāši, II, p. 416), and Ketāb, which is probably his notebook of hadith (Ṭusi, 1977, p. 169; Modarressi, 2003, p. 337).
Abu Tammām, “Ketāb al-šajara,” in An Ismaili Heresiography: The ‘Bāb al-shayṭān’ from Abū Tammām’s Kitāb al-shajara, ed. and tr. Wilferd Madelung and Paul Walker, Leiden, 1998, pp. 112-13.
Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli b. Esmāʿil al-Ašʿari, “Maqālāt al-eslāmiyin wa-eḵtelāf al-moṣallin,” in Die dogmatischen Lehren der Anhänger des Islams, ed. H. Ritter, 2 vols., Istanbul, 1929-33; repr., 1 vol., Wiesbaden, 1963, 1980, I, p. 13.
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Originally Published: January 1, 2000
Last Updated: April 19, 2012