Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.

JAFAR SADIK (114-148/733-765), 5TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Abu Abdullah Jafar bin Muhammad was born in 80/699 at Medina. Ibn Khallikan (1:327) and others determine his birth from the event of Amm al-Juhaf (the year of the flood) in Mecca, which according to Tabari (2:320) occurred in 80/699. According to the Arabic lexicon, jafar means stream. His father had referred to him "the best of all mankind" and "one in charge of the family of Muhammad" (qaim al-Muhammad). He is also known by the titles of al-Sadik (trustworthy), al-Sabir (patient), al-Tahir (pure one) and al-Fazil (excellent one).

Yaqubi writes that it was customary for scholars, who related anything from Imam Jafar Sadik, used to say: "the Learned One informed us". Even Malik bin Anas (d. 179/795) is reported to have said when quoting Imam Jafar Sadik's traditions: "The thiqa (truthful) Jafar bin Muhammad himself told me that ." Abu Hanifah (d. 150/767) was also a Imam's pupil for two years. The house of Imam Jafar Sadik in Medina took a real shape of a regular academy, where a galaxy of talented scholars of jurisprudence, traditions, philosophy, exegesis and theology attended the studies. It was perhaps the first academy in Islam in respect of Islamic ideology which Imam Jafar Sadik founded in Medina. The concourse of the varied minds in Medina gave an impetus to the cultivation of science and literature, where a stream of unusual intellectual activity flowed towards other Islamic states, and soon led to the growth of philosophical tendencies among the Muslims.

Abu Hashim, the eldest son of Ibn al-Hanafiya (d. 81/700) continued the mission of Mukhtar, and his followers then became known as Kaysaniyas. Caliph Hisham poisoned him, but before his death in 98/718, he quickly rushed to Humayma, and bequeathed his right to the caliphate and charge of the Kaysaniya sect to Muhammad bin Ali as he had no son.

Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet had a son, Abdullah, who never tried to establish his own caliphate. Abdullah and his son, Ali bin Abdullah resided in Humayma. It was the latter's son, Muhammad bin Ali to have taken the charge of Kaysaniya sect from the dying Abu Hashim. Thus, the house of Abbas inherited the party and organization of Abu Hashim along with his claims. Muhammad bin Ali led the Kaysaniya sect, and propagated in the name of Ahl al-Bayt, declaring that the caliph should be from Alid descent and the Umayyads had no right to rule. It was mere an ostensible slogan to perpetuate wide supports of the Alids and nourish future political ambition. Muhammad bin Ali died before attaining his objective and handed on his claims to his son, Ibrahim. He began to dispatch emissaries, starting with Khorasan, where the bulk of the Kaysaniya faction resided.

In the meantime, the newly acclaimed Umayyad caliph Marwan sought to strike at the centre of the whole movement by arresting Ibrahim. He is said to have strangled him as Yaqubi writes, by having his head put into a bag of lime until he died. Ibrahim had two brothers, Abul Abbas and Abu Jafar Mansur, both of whom escaped to Khorasan. And very soon these two brothers returned, supported by Abu Muslim's victorious troops, to lead the insurgents in their final struggle in the West. Their way had been prepared for them in Kufa by propaganda that had been carried on for more than twelve years.

In Kufa, the local reprehensive Abu Salama Hafs, the Kaysaniyan follower of Abu Hashim, known as Wazir-i Al-i Muhammad was very popular figure. Tabari (3:27) writes that, "When the news of the death of Ibrahim reached Kufa, Abu Salama on the suggestion and advice of some other Shi'as of Kufa, intended to establish the Imamate of Alids." Accordingly, he wrote letters to Imam Jafar Sadik, Abdullah al-Mahd and Umar bin Ali Zayn al-Abidin, asking each one of them in turn to come to Kufa in person and he would support their claims of Imamate. The messenger was instructed first to contact the Imam, and only if he refused, then to go to Abdullah al-Mahd, and in case of his refusal, to Umar bin Ali Zayn al-Abidin. When the messenger presented the letter first to Imam Jafar Sadik, the latter called for a lamp, burned the letter and said to the messenger, "Tell your master what you have seen" (al-Fakhri fi'l Adab as-Sultaniya, Cairo, 1966, p. 109). The messenger then came to Abdullah al-Mahd, who accepted the offer.

Meanwhile, things took a reverse turn for the Abbasid family. The army commanded by Abul Abbas and Abu Jafar Mansur, came from Khorasan to Kufa, where Abu Salama announced that Abu Muslim had now made it possible for the world of Islam to shake itself free from the Umayyads, and declared that it was to this end that he called upon them to recognize Abul Abbas, the brother of the murdered Ibrahim, as their rightful Imam and Caliph. Abul Abbas mounted the pulpit and made his inaugural speech, in which he "identified the glory of God with his own interest and those of his house. He named the Abbasids as the Ahl al-Bayt from whom uncleanliness was removed, and denied that the Alids were more worthy of the caliphate" (Tabari, 3:29). The excited crowd expressed their approval and gave their allegiance to Abul Abbas as the first caliph of the Abbasid caliphate in 132/750.

Marwan, the Umayyad caliph was at that time advancing towards Kufa with a huge army. He encountered the army from Khorasan at a point on the greater Zab river, and the battle of Zab lasted for two days. It was closely contested struggle, and the day was turned when Marwan's horse ran away without its rider. He managed to escape, but was discovered and killed. So fell the last of the Umayyads in 132/750. The total duration of the Umayyad rule till the time when Abul Abbas assumed the power of the Abbasid rule was 90 years, 11 months and 13 days.

The Alids were totally disappointed while noticing the Abbasids devouring power in the name of Ahl al-Bayt. The first task before Abbas as- Saffah therefore was to break the alliance with the Alids who were yet strong and could be dangerous. During his short rule of less than four years, he was kept fully occupied in meeting numerous insurrections and in ruthlessly killing those Alids who were suspected. The first to pay his life was Abu Salama. Abul Abbas died in 136/754, during which period, the Alids in Medina, disorganized by the frustration of their hopes, kept quiet. But when Abu Jafar Mansur, the brother of Abul Abbas as-Saffah assumed the caliphate, the Alids embittered by the usurpation of their rights by the house of Abbas, began to voice their complaints. An-Nafs az-Zakia, the son of Abdullah al-Mahd openly refused to take oath of allegiance to Mansur. Tabari (3:200) also writes that, "Malik bin Anas declared that the oath sworn to the Abbasids was no longer binding as it had been taken under compulsion."

In 137/755, Abu Muslim was lured to Iraq and murdered. Caliph Mansur thus had to face the most threatening opposition from the Alids. He concentrated his efforts on two basic points. The first was to justify the rights of his house on religious ground. The second was to gain for his caliphate the acceptance of the Muslims. He also persecuted Imam Jafar Sadik many times, but the latter retained his equanimity.

Imam Jafar Sadik died in 148/765 in Medina after the Imamate of 34 years and 7 months. Upon his death the Imamate devolved upon his elder son, Ismail. He had seven sons and four daughters. His first wife was Fatima. For the first 25 years he had only two sons by his first wife, Ismail and Abdullah and a daughter Umm Farwa. His second wife was Hamida, the mother of Musa Kazim and Muhammad. Besides, Abbas, Ali, Asma and Fatima were also the children of Imam Jafar Sadik.

Back to top