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Jafar Sadiq

Imam Jafar As-Sadiq (April 20, 702December 4, 765), in full Jafar ibn Muhammad ibn Zayn ibn Husayn, was the sixth Shia imam, and a theologian and jurist. His rulings are the basis of the Jafari school of Shia jurisprudence (fiqh); but he is well respected by both Shias and Sunnis. The dispute for his succession led to the split of the Ismailis from the Shia and the establishment of the Aga Khans' family line.


Jafar Sadiq or Jafar Al Saddiq (pronounced Jafar As Saddiq ) was born as Jafar Ibn Muhammad in Medina on April 20, 702. He was the son of Muhammad ibn Ali , also known as Muhammad al-Baqir and the grandson of Ali ibn Husayn, also known as Zainul Abideen. This made him a direct decendant of the Prophet of Islam - Muhammad (through Ali Ibn Abi Talib and Fatima Zahra and their son Husayn ibn Ali. His mother Umm e Farwah was the great grandaughter of Abu Bakr the first Caliph of the early Islamic State.

As a child, Jafar studied under his grandfather, Zainul Abideen. After his grandfather's death, he studied under and accompanied his father, Muhammad al-Baqir. Jafar's father would die in 743As the son of two prominent Imams, and descendents of Muhammad, he would become well versed in Islamic sciences including Hadith, Sunnah, and the Qur'an.

Jafar As Saddiq was famed for his depth and breadth of knowldege. In addition to his knowledge of Islamic sciences, Jafar was well educated in natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, anatomy, chemistry (alchemy), and other subjects. The foremost Islamic alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan (known in Europe as Geber) was his most prominent student. Other famous students of his were Abu Hanifa and Malik Ibn Anas, the founders of two Sunni schools of jurisprudence, and Wasil ibn Ata, the founder of the Mutazilite school of Islamic thought. Jafar was known for his liberal views on learning, and was keen to debate with scholars of different faiths and of different beliefs. Abu Hanifa is quoted by many souces as having said "My knowledge extends to only two years. The two i spent with Jafar As Sadiq"", some Islamic scholars have gone so far as to call Jafar As Saddiq as the root of most of Islamic jurisprudence, having a massive influence on Hanafi, Maliki and Shia schools of thought extending well into mainstream Hanbali and Shafi'i thought.

Jafar As Saddiq lived in very violent times. Jafar was considered by the Shia to be the 6th Shia Imam, as he was the son of Muhammad al-Baqir (the 5th shia Imam), grandson of Zainul Abideen (4th Shia Imam) and thus the Prophet. Jafar, himself is to have considered himself the 5th Imam although he is noted to have emphasised the Imam as the leader of the spiritual realm rather than the physical. However, his powerful position due to his lineage and his fame as the most precient Jurist of Islam he attracted the attention of the political factions emmerging towards the end of the Ummayad period.

His own family, since the Prphet's death had seen extreme violence and persecution for over four generations. Shortly after his father's death, Jafar's uncle, Zaid bin Ali led a rebellion against the Umayyads. Jafar did not participate, but many of his kinsmen, including his uncle were killed, and others were punished. Many other rebellions took place as the Umayyad dynasty began to fall, eventually giving rise to the successful challenge of the Abbasid dynasty.

However, all these factions tried to co-opt Jafar As Saddiq into supporting their rival claims. Jaffar shunned them adopting Taqqiya as a doctrine and formalising it within Islam. Taqqiya essentially is quietism - or sublimation. He famously took letters from the Abbasid leaders requesting his support and garunteeing his position as rightful Caliph of the Islamic world and placed them in the hearth, commenting "This man is not from me and cannot give me what is in the province of Allah"".

Despite Jafar's abstainment from politics, he was often harassed by the new Abbasid rulers and he was even imprisoned a few times. The reason for this persecution was due to Jafar's popularity, and his standing as a descendent of Muhammad. The rulers feared that he would be able to mobilize against them, and as such they thought it keen to keep him in check. He would die on December 4, 765, possibly from poisoning. He is buried in Medina, in the famous Jannat al-Baqi cemetery.


Jafar's first son, Ismail bin Jafar, died before Jafar. After Jafar's death, there arose a major split between the partisans of the Ithna Ashari Shias ("Twelvers"), who felt that Ismail's brother Musa al Kazim (one of Jafar's younger sons) was the rightful successor to Jafar; and the Ismailis ("Seveners"), who felt that the Ismail was the rightful successor as the seventh Imam. The Ismailis eventually became a separate sect; their supreme spiritual leaders, the Aga Khans, are descendents of Ismail.

Preceded by:
Muhammad al-Baqir
Twelver Shia Imams Succeeded by:
Musa al Kazim
Preceded by:
Muhammad al-Baqir
Sevener Shia Imams Succeeded by:
Ismail bin Jafar

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Last updated: 05-15-2005 21:45:38