It has been explained in detail in the preceding chapter how the activist claimants of the House of 'Ali were crushed, their apparently popular movements collapsed one after the other, and the 'Abbasids finally managed to firmly establish themselves as the sole authority of both the state and religion. A process of assimilation was set into motion and most of the cross-currents represented by a number of politic-religious or religio-political groups were gradually being absorbed, under the patronage of the state authority, into a synthesis to be known as the Jama'a, which was supposed to support and in turn was supported by the 'Abbasid caliphate.
In this setting the strategic task of the Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq was to save the basic ideal of Shi'ism from absorption by the emerging synthesis on the one hand, and to purify it from extremist and activist tendencies within itself on the other. Thus the circumstances in which the Imamate of Ja'far happened to fall afforded him a unique opportunity, denied to his father and grandfather, to firmly establish and explain the principles of legitimacy. The rudiments of the concept and function of the Imam had already been introduced by 'Ali in his speeches, by Hasan in his letters to Mu'awiya and by Husayn in his correspondence with the Shi'ism of Kufa and Basra, which we have discussed in the preceding chapters. After the death of Husayn, the concept of legitimacy within the family of Muhammad and of the function of the Imam restricted to religious and spiritual guidance of the community were laid down by Zayn al-'Abidin and Muhammad al-Baqir. Now, after the removal of other contenders from the scene Ja'far enjoyed a strategically advantageous position, and it was his task to elucidate the doctrine of the Imamate and elaborate it in a definitive form.
In this attempt Ja'far put the utmost emphasis on two fundamental principles. The first was that of the Nass that is, the Imamate is a prerogative bestowed by God upon a chosen person, from the family of the Prophet, who before his death and with the guidance of God, transfers the Imamate to another by an explicit designation (Nass). On the authority of Nass, therefore, the Imamate is restricted, through all political circumstances, to a definite individual among all the descendants of 'Ali and Fatima, whether he claims the temporal rule for himself or not. Naturally, the transfer of the Imamate through Nass would be both incomplete and meaningless unless it could be traced back to the person of 'Ali, who should have been entrusted with the office of the Imamate by the Prophet himself.
The Nass thus initiated by the Prophet came down from 'Ali to Hasan, from Hasan to Husayn, and then remained strictly in the line of Husayn until through successive Nass it reached Ja'far. This theory, as we shall see presently, distinguished Ja'far's Imamate from all other claimants, who did not claim a Nass from any preceding Imam. Zayd clearly denied that there was an explicit Nass or designation of 'Ali by Muhammad,1 or that there was any designation of the next Imam by the preceding one. Nor did Muhammad an-Nafs az-Zakiya or his brother Ibrahim ever resort to the principle of Nass from any preceding authority. On the contrary, as Ash'ari points out,2 the idea of Nass was the key trait of the Rawafid3 as opposed to the supporters of Zayd and later on An-Nafs az-Zakiya. Ash'ari's statement is in accordance with the unanimous reports given by the Twelver writers themselves, such as Nawbakhti; Sa'd al- Ash'ari, and Kashshi, of Muhammad al-Baqir's followers, who upheld him against Zayd as the only legitimist 'Alid authority on the principle of Nass though the doctrine of Nass was not yet fully elaborated in his time. A comparison between the traditions related from Al-Baqir and those from Ja'far would demonstrate that Ja'far became increasingly clear and emphatic in his expositions on the doctrine of the Nass Imamate. As a result, a further comparison between the attitudes of the followers of these two respective Imams discloses a trend towards a clear acceptance of Ja'far as the Imam largely on the principle of Nass This is evident from the action of a group of the Kufan Shi'is who, after the death of Al-Baqir, adhered for some time to Zayd, but soon abandoned him and went over to Ja'far, whom they regarded as the representative of Al-Baqir's claims.4
Hodgson quotes Strothmann's suggestion, “that the story of the Kufan Shi'is abandoning Zayd for Ja'far shows that they already accepted the idea of a line of Imams by inheritance.”5 The idea of the Nass Imamate, however, became such a common instrument that not only Ja'far, but a number of ghulat (extremist Shi'is of Kufa, who will be discussed later), such as Bayan, Abu Mansur, and Mughira,6 claimed inheritance from Al-Baqir and achieved some short-lived success. There are numerous references in our sources to the effect that Ja'far repeatedly condemned those fanatics and warned his followers not to accept their traditions.
The second fundamental principle embodied in the doctrine of the Imamate as elaborated and emphasized by Ja'far was that of 'Ilm. This means that an Imam is a divinely inspired possessor of a special sum of knowledge of religion, which can only be passed on before his death to the following Imam. In this way the Imam of the time becomes the exclusively authoritative source of knowledge in religious matters, and thus without his guidance no one can keep to the right path.7
This special knowledge includes both the external (zahir) and the esoteric (batin) meanings of the Qur'an.8 A close scrutiny of the traditions related from Al-Baqir and then mostly from Ja'far on the subject of the Imamate will show that they rotate around these two principles of Nass and 'Ilm, which are not merely conjoined or added to one another, but are so thoroughly fused into a unitary vision of religious leadership that it is impossible to separate the one from the other. Hence Nass in fact means transmission of that special knowledge of religion which had been exclusively and legitimately restricted to the divinely favoured Imams of the House of the Prophet through 'Ali, and which can only be transferred from one Imam to his successor as the legacy of the chosen family. Thus, for the adherents of Ja'far, his claim was not just that he was an Imam who ought to be a member of the 'Alid family, but that he was the particular individual, from the descent of the Prophet, designated by his father and therefore inherently possessed of all the authority to guide believers in all religious matters.
As we shall see presently in the traditions of Al-Baqir and Ja'far as-Sadiq, this emphasis on the aspect of “special knowledge” having been possessed by the Imams of the House of the Prophet was a natural corollary of and a necessary response to the situation and tendencies of the epoch. This was the time when there was a wide search for Hadith and a vigorous attempt was being made to construct total systems of the pious life in Islam.
These efforts eventually issued in the formulation of a complete system of Shari'a law. It was the time of Malik b. Anas and Abu Hanifa, the Imams of Fiqh who were busy working out their legal systems in their respective centres of Medina and Kufa. Ja'far as-Sadiq, being the descendant of the Prophet and known for his and his family's learning in religious matters, was evidently looked upon by the community in general at least as an Imam of Fiqh, like that of Malik and Abu Hanifa, concerned with working out the proper details of how the pious should solve the various cases of conscience that might arise. So he appears in Sunni traditions to a degree, and even, as has been pointed out earlier, Abu Hanifa is reported to have been his pupil. But, unlike Malik and Abu Hanifa to the Sunni Muslims, to the followers of the House of the Prophet Ja'far had a unique authority in these matters by virtue of his position as Imam by Nass; that is, to the Shi'a his was the final decision on earth in these matters, whereas the others, as was indeed admitted, had no more legal authority in principle than any of their followers.9
“This claim was perhaps initially less a matter of the knowledge he had (from his father) than of the authoritative use he could make of it, or in other words, his hereditary authority to decide cases. Any sovereign must be empowered to make the final decisions in any legal matter; hence the Imam's very claim that sovereignty was justly his could readily entail a claim to final authority in legal, and in this case all religious, matters. Such a claim would be readily transmuted to one of supernatural knowledge in many minds. But in an Imam where the authority was not in actual fact the sovereign, and his 'Ilm remained on a theoretical level, that discernment, that 'Ilm which should guide his decisions, took on a special sacredness and became a unique gift inherited from Imam to Imam. Accordingly, as the exclusively authorized source of the knowledge of how to lead a pious life, the Imam had an all-important function whether he was a ruler or not.”10
With the Imamate thus based on Nass and 'Ilm, as explained by Ja'far, it should no longer be difficult for us to understand why Ja'far himself remained absolutely indifferent in all those struggles for power which took place in his lifetime. In his doctrine of the Imamate it was not at all necessary for a divinely appointed Imam to rise in rebellion and try to become a ruler. To him his place was above that of a ruler, who should only carry out what an Imam decides as a supreme authority of religion. It was on this basis that when Zayd came out with his claims, Ja'far raised no protest and even exalted Zayd's virtues before a delegation of Kufan Shi'is. But at the same time he said to Fudayl b. Rassan that had Zayd become a king, he would not have known how to act and fulfil his duties.11 In this way he implied that Zayd had the right to political authority only. He made similar remarks when Muhammad an-Nafs az-Zakiya rose to claim the Imamate. Ja'far emphatically denied any share in the religious leadership of the community for the descendants of Hasan,12 from whom Husayn inherited the Imamate, which then remained in the latter's progeny.
According to the traditions related in this connection, Al-Baqir designated Ja'far as his successor in many ways. He called him “the best of all mankind in his time”, and “the one in charge of the family of Muhammad” (Qa'im Al Muhammad), and also trusted him with the books and scrolls and the weapons of the Prophet, which were in his possession.13 These scriptures containing special knowledge of religion and the weapons of the Prophet must only come into the possession of the true Imam, who is designated by Nass by the previous Imam.
Thus by declaring that they were in his trust, Ja'far denied the rights of An-Nafs az-Zakiya, who asserted that he had the sword of the Prophet.14 Whether these family treasures were in the custody of Ja'far or were in the possession of the Hasanid claimants, the fact remains that Ja'far himself claimed the spiritual leadership of the community which he based on the same principles as Al-Baqir, namely on Nass. Ja'far explained that the Imamate is bequeathed from father to son, but not necessarily to the eldest son, for “as Daniel selected Solomon from among his progeny,” so an Imam designates as his successor the son he considers really worthy of the office. Thus Ja'far could annul the appointment of his eldest son Isma'il, who died before him, pass over the candidature of his next son, Abd Allah, and nominate the third, Musa al-Kazim.15
In explaining the position of the Imam, Ja'far made repeated declarations in unequivocal terms and proclaimed that the Imamate is a covenant between God and mankind, and recognition of the Imam is the absolute duty of every believer.16 “Whoever dies without having known and acknowledged the Imam of his time dies as an infideL”17 The Imams are the proofs (Hujja) of God on earth, their words are the words of God, and their commands are the commands of God. Obedience to them is obedience to God, and disobedience to them is disobedience to God. In all their decisions they are inspired by God, and they are in absolute authority. It is to them, therefore, that “God has ordained obedience”18 (Qur'an Iv, 59).
Ja'far goes on to declare that the Imam of the time is the witness for the people and he is the gate to God (Bab Allah) and the road (Sabil) to Him, and the guide thereto (Dalil), and the repository of His knowledge, and the interpreter of His revelations. The Imam of his time is a pillar of God's unity (tawhid). The Imam is immune from sin (khata) and error (dalal). The Imams are those from whom “God has removed all impurity and made them absolutely pure” (Qur'an, XXXIII, 33); they are possessed of the power of miracles and of irrefutable arguments (dalil); and they are for the protection of the people of this earth just as the stars are for the inhabitants of the heavens. They may be likened, in this community, to the Ark of Noah: he who boards itobtains salvation and reaches the gate of repentance.19
In another tradition, “God delegated to the Imams spiritual rulership over the whole world, which must always have such a leader and guide. Even if only two men were left upon the face of the earth, one of them would be an Imam, so much would his guidance be needed.”20 In fact, according to the Imam Ja'far's explanation, there are always two Imams, the actual or “speaking” Imam (Natiq) and his son-successor, who during the lifetime of his father is “silent” (samit).21 The silent Imam does not know of his exalted position until his father's death, for only then is he entrusted with the scriptures and the secrets of religion. When the father expires, his son immediately steps into his place and becomes the “proof” (al-Hujja) for mankind.22
As has been pointed out earlier, in order to prove his rights to the Imamate on the principle of Nass it was only logical that the utmost emphasis should be put first of all on 'Ali rights to the spiritual leadership of the community as the divinely favoured legatee of the Prophet. It was not a new thing, however. 'Ali himself had put forward his claim time and again after the death of the Prophet until his own assassination ;and thereafter Hasan, Husayn, Zayn al-'Abidin, and Muhammad al-Baqir never missed an opportunity to pronounce 'Ali's rights and superiority to the heritage of the Prophet. Ja'far, enjoying better circumstances than his predecessors, only elucidated and systematized concepts and ideals they had already introduced in rudimentary form. Thus he, as indeed did his father before him, quoted many verses of the Qur'an which in his interpretation proved the appointment of 'Ali to the Imamate. The numerous verses quoted in this connection by the Shi'i sources23 are among those which are accepted by all Muslims as the 'Ayn al Mutashabihat: unclear verses which require interpretation (ta'wil), as opposed to the Ayat al-Muhkamat: clear or firm verses in which there is no room for any interpretation. In the Qur'an we read:
“God, it is He Who has sent down to you the Book. Some of its verses are perspicuous (muhkamat), these are the basis of the Book: others are unclear (Mutashabihat)… No one knows their interpretation except God, and those who are firm in their knowledge say, 'We believe therein, it is all from our Lord.”24
It was at the time of Ja'far that such verses were being interpreted by the religious leaders of the community. Ja'far, by virtue of his birth and family background, perhaps had better claims to explain the Qur'an than the other Muslims;
and it was, therefore, quite natural for a section of the community adhering to the family of the Prophet to give more weight to Ja'far's interpretations than to those who only acquired knowledge through scholarship.
Like Nass, the “special knowledge” of religion ('Ilm) which Ja'far declared for himself should also be traced back to 'Ali, from whom it passed from Imam to Imam until it came into Ja'far's possession. Thus Ja'far said that the Prophet entrusted 'Ali with the greatest name of God and the traditions pertaining to the knowledge of prophethood (Athar an-Nubuwwa).25 This is only one of numerous traditions recorded by the Shi'i sources regarding the extraordinary knowledge with which 'Ali distinguished himself among all those around the Prophet. There must, however, have been some substance to the fame and widespread reputation of the unparalleled knowledge of 'Ali; not only the Shi'i sources and Ja'far's traditions, but most of the Sunni sources and their standard collections of Hadith, have recorded a number of traditions in regard to 'Ali's superior knowledge.26
As has been pointed out earlier, the Caliph 'Umar is frequently quoted as saying that ”'Ali is the best of all the judges of the people of Medina and the chief of the readers of the Qur'an.”27 Perhaps the most representative tradition of 'Ali's erudite knowledge, recorded even by most of the Sunni sources, is one which has the Prophet saying: “I am the city of knowledge ('Ilm), and 'Ali is its door.”28 With the overwhelming testimony coming down to us from both Sunni and Shi'I sources, there seems to be little doubt that 'Ali was acknowledged as having extraordinary knowledge in religious matters. Inheritance of this knowledge thus became a source of the claim of special rights for the legitimist Imams of the House.
Another very relevant and rather difficult problem connected with Ja'far's claims to the Nass and inheritance of “special knowledge” was the question of the scope and applicability of the term Ahl al-Bayt. On the one hand, all the descendants of 'Ali, whether through Fatima or not, were claiming membership of the “Sacred House”. On the other hand, the 'Abbasids, being the descendants of Hashim, also claimed the prerogative of the Ahl al-Bayt and were revered by their followers as God's inspired Imams and as the Mahdi.
Ja'far thus put his utmost emphasis on a tradition from the Prophet which would limit the inclusive meaning of the Qur'anic verse referring to the people of the House “from whom [all kinds of] uncleanliness were removed” to 'Ali, Fatima, and their progeny. This tradition is known as the Hadith al-Kisa or as the Hadith Ashab al-Kisa. The Hadith runs: “Muhammad made 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn enter under his mantle (kisa) in the house of Umm Salima and then said: 'Every Prophet has his family (ahl) and his charge (thaql); these, O God, are my family and my charge.' Hearing this, Umm Salima asked: 'Am I not from the people of your House?' The Prophet replied: 'No, may you be well; only these under the mantle are the people of my House and my charge.”'29
The tradition is a long one. But perhaps the most important part of it is when the archangel Gabriel came down to announce the “Verse of the Purification”30 for the “Five of the Mantle”,31 and Muhammad introduced them to the angel saying: “There are, under the mantle, Fatima, her husband 'Ali, and her two children Hasan and Husayn.”
One can see clearly that the point of gravity is laid here not on 'Ali, but on Fatima, with reference to whom 'Ali, Hasan, and Husayn are introduced. Pre-Islamic literature is not devoid of examples where people are introduced through their mothers or wives. In the case of Fatima, we have seen in the previous chapter that An-Nafs az-Zakiya in his letter to Mansur made special reference to his relationship to Fatima. The reference to her was also made essential even by the Zaydis, who restricted the Imamate to only those 'Alids who were Fatimids. But it was Ja'far who in his elaborations put extreme emphasis on this point. It had indeed an immense potential appeal for the claims of the legitimist Imams. Eventually Fatima came to be regarded, especially among the Twelver Shi'is, as one of the most respected figures.
Through such traditions, Ja'far in his own lifetime established for his line of Imams the sanctity of the Ahl al- Bayt as an inherited quality confined only to those of the children of Fatima who were ordained to be the Imams, and in this way rejected the claims of all other Hashimites, whether 'Alids or 'Abbasids.
Such an hereditary claim to the Imamate based on Nass and “special knowledge”, as elaborated by Ja'far and his father Al-Baqir, however, greatly exposed the claimants to the danger of persecution by the 'Abbasids, who also claimed spiritual leadership of the community. Thus arose the famous doctrine of Taqiya (dissimulation) on which Ja'far put the utmost emphasis, raising it almost to the status of a condition for Faith. It is interesting to note that there is not a single tradition on Taqiya from any Imam prior to Al-Baqir, which is a sufficient proof that the doctrine of Taqiya was first introduced by him and was further elaborated by Ja'far, and that it was, in fact, a need of the time and the circumstances in which they were living and working out the tenets for their followers. One may see that the theory of Taqiya suits very well the theory of extraordinary knowledge embodied in the Imams, which should be limited to a few selected persons who inherited that knowledge through Nass. Thus Ja'far said:
“This affair (amr) [the Imamate and the esoteric meaning of religion] is occult (mastur) and veiled (muqanna) by a covenant (mithaq), and whoever unveils it will be disgraced by God.”32
In a conversation with Mu'alla b. Khunays, one of the extremists of Kufa whom Ja'far discredited, the Imam said:
“Keep our affair secret, and do not divulge it publicly, for whoever keeps it secret and does not reveal it, God will exalt him in this world and put light between his eyes in the next, leading him to Paradise. O Mu'alla, whoever divulges our affair publicly, and does not keep it secret, God will disgrace him in this world and will take away light from between his eyes in the next, and will decree for him darkness that will lead him to the Fire. O Mu'alla, verily the Taqiya is of my religion and of the religion of my father, and one who does not keep the Taqiya has no religion. O Mu'alla, it is necessary to worship in secret as it is necessary to worship openly. O Mu'alla, the one who reveals our affairs is the one who denies them.”33
The esoteric mysteries of religion were Wilayat Allah, which God entrusted to Gabriel, who brought them to Muhammad. The Prophet, in turn, handed them over to 'Ali, and they became the inheritance of the Imams, who are bound to keep them secret.34 The duty, therefore, incumbent on the Faithful is that they should not impart their faith to those who do not share the same beliefs. Ja'far thus accused the Kaysanites of betraying religion when they spread its secrets among the common people: “Our secret continued to be preserved until it came into the hands of the sons of Kaysan (wuld Kaysan) [his followers] and they spoke of it on the roads and in the villages of the Sawad.”35
A careful examination of the development of the concept and doctrine of the Taqiya would clearly reveal the fact that it was a natural corollary of the prevalent circumstances of the time and an inevitable necessity imposed by the danger of following certain religious or political views. To announce publicly that certain persons were divinely inspired Imams and therefore the sole object of obedience was a direct challenge to the authority of the 'Abbasid caliphs, who claimed to have combined in themselves both the temporal and religious sovereignty. Shi'ism thus had to find its own means to preserve itself in that difficult situation.
This was accomplished through the introduction of the doctrine of dissimulation, but this, according to the pattern of the epoch, where the entire pattern of life was considered from a religious standpoint, must be supported by certain passages from the Qur'an or a Hadith indicating a precedent. According to Ja'far, both Joseph and Abraham practised Taqiya when they resorted to concealment of the truth: the first when he accused his brother of theft, and the second when he asserted that he was ill.36 Muhammad himself, accordingly, is reported to have practised Taqiya until the verse in which he was ordered to preach publicly was revealed. It reads: “O you Apostle, reveal the whole that has been revealed to you from your Lord; if you do it not, you have not preached His message and God will not defend you from wicked men.”37 Another verse which was used to support the doctrine of Taqiya reads:
“And who disbelieves in God after believing in Him, except under compulsion, and whose heart is confident in faith ”38
In Al-Baqir's period the doctrine of Taqiya was established in Shi'ism, and we may attribute the rudiments of its theory to him. But it was left to Ja'far to give it final form and make it an absolute condition of true faith: “Fear for your religion and protect it [lit. veil it] with the Taqiya, for there is no faith (Iman) in whom there is no Taqiya.”39 Goldhizer traces the history of the doctrine of Taqiya and finds it practised without being announced as a principle even by Muhammad b. al- Hanafiya, though in his findings, too, it was Ja'far who so elaborated Taqiya as one of the doctrines of Shi'i faith out of the political needs of his time.40
It is, however, hardly disputable that the doctrine of Taqiya, thus made a necessary part of faith by Ja'far, ultimately served the Shi'is as a very useful instrument in the preservation of their doctrinal discipline during all unfavourable and rather hostile political circumstances. This is also evident from another tradition from Ja'far quoted by Saduq in his Creed, where the Imam says: “Mix with the people [i.e., enemies] outwardly, but oppose them inwardly so long as the Amirate is a matter of opinion.”41 On another occasion, when Zakariya b. Sabiq enumerated the Imams in the presence of Ja'far and reached Muhammad al-Baqir, he was interrupted by Ja'far's exclamation: “That is enough for you. God has affirmed your tongue and has guided your heart.”42 We may conclude from all these traditions that the real meaning of Taqiya is not telling a lie or falsehood, as it is often understood, but the protection of the true religion and its followers from enemies through concealment in circumstances where there is fear of being killed or captured or insulted.
There is another important point which must be discussed here briefly. A considerable number of traditions are to be found, especially in the earliest Shi'i collection of hadith, Al- Kafi, which describe the Imams as supernatural human beings. What was the origin of these traditions, and to what extent are the Imams themselves responsible for them? These traditions are reported, as indeed are all Shi'i traditions, on the authority of one of the Imams, in this case mainly from Al-Baqir and Ja'far. But were these Imams really the authors of such traditions, which describe their supernatural character?
The first thing which must be noted in this connection is that while Al-Baqir and Ja'far themselves lived in Medina, most of their followers lived in Kufa. This fact brings us to a crucial problem. Kufa had long been a centre of ghulat speculations and activities. Whether 'Abd Allah b. Saba',43 to whom the history of the ghulat is traced, was a real personality or not, the name As-Saba'iya44 is often used to describe the ghulat in Kufa who believed in the supernatural character of 'Ali. According to the heresiographers, Ibn Saba was the first to preach the doctrine of waqf (refusal to recognize the death of 'Ali) and the first to condemn the first two caliphs in addition to 'Uthmin.45 Baghdadi says that As-Saba'iya mostly consisted of the old Saba'iyans of South Arabia, who survived all vicissitudes until the time of Mukhtar and formed the nucleus of his “chair-worshippers”.46
This early group of ghulat seems to have been absorbed by the Kaysaniya, who believed in Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya's Mahdism and followed his son Abu Hashim 'Abd Allah. The death of Abu Hashim was the turning point in the history of the ghulat, for it caused the split in consequence of which they separated into two distinct groups. One upheld the various successors of Abu Hashim and believed in his concealment and return and eventually transplanted themselves into Iran, where they grew into the Kharramite revolutionary movement towards the end of the Umayyad period. The other group overlapped the Kaysanite stage, remained in Kufa, and somehow connected itself with the Husaynid Imams.
The most conspicuous names in this second group, who became the followers of Al-Baqir and then of Ja'far as-Sadiq, are Hamza b. 'Umara al-Buraydi, Bayan b. Sim'an, Sa'd an-Nahdi, Mughira b. Sa'id al-'Ijli, his Co-tribesman Abu Mansur al-'Ijli, and Muhammad b. Abi Zaynab Miqlas b. Abi'l-Khattab. It would be too lengthy to even briefly describe their extremist teachings here; suffice it to say that they preached that the Imams were the incarnations of God, that the divine particle incarnate in 'All b. Abi Talib enabled him to know the unseen, foretell the future, and to fight against the infidels, that the power of the invisible angelic world was in 'Ali like a lamp within a niche in a wall, and that God's light was in 'Ali as the flame in a lamp.47 In connection with these ghulat and their teachings, here we will only point out that from Al-Baqir onwards, all the subsequent Imams always cursed them and repeatedly warned their followers not to accept traditions from them.48
Kashshi quotes Ja'far, who complains of Mughira, for example, as misrepresenting Al-Baqir, and adds that all the ghuluw ascribed to Al- Baqir was from Mughira.49 In fact Ja'far and all the Imams who followed him were always unequivocal in violently cursing the ghulat and condemning their teachings.
There was, however, another very active group in Kufa, busy in advancing the cause of Al-Baqir and Ja'far. The most important among them were people such as Jabir b. Yazid al-Ju'fi,50 Abu Hamza ath-Thumali;51 and Mu'adh b. Farra an-Nahwi.52 Paying only occasional visits to the Imams In Medina and enjoying their confidence, they severed their relations with the ghulat of Kufa. On behalf of the Imams they had doctrinal quarrels with the ghulat and preached against the latter's excessive claims regarding the nature and function of the Imams. They did remain faithful to a certain doctrinal discipline, imposed by the Imams, while this was aggressively violated by the ghulat. Yet, when we see the traditions related by Jabir and his associates in this group, it seems that they must have been influenced by some of the ideas propagated by the ghulat, especially those of Bayan b. Sim'an and Mughira b. Sa'id.
Perhaps no follower of Al-Baqir and Ja'far dared to go so far in his assertions as Jabir. It will suffice to quote here only one from a great number of traditions related by Jabir, which indicates his semi-ghulat tendencies. Jabir related that Al- Baqir said:
”'O Jabir, the first beings that God created were Muhammad and his family, the rightly guided ones and the guides; they were the phantoms of light before God.' I asked, 'And what were the phantoms?' Al-Baqir said, 'Shadows of light, luminous bodies without spirits; they were strengthened by the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds), through which Muhammad and his family worshipped God. For that reason He created them forbearing, learned, endowed with filial piety, and pure; they worship God through prayer, fasting, prostrating themselves, enumerating His names, and ejaculating: God is great.”'53
If we compare the ideas of the ghulat concerning God's light in 'Ali, pointed out above, with Jabir's description of the Imams as the “shadows of light” and “luminous bodies”, there seems to be a common trend of thinking between the two.
It is perhaps for this reason that later ghulat groups accepted Jabir as their forerunner. This is indicated by the assertions of Abu'l-Khattab and his successors, who claimed Jabir as their predecessor. Thus Umm at-Kitab is said to contain the teachings of Al-Baqir, Jabir b. 'Abd Allah al-Ansari, and Jabir al-Ju'fl.54 Another religious writing, Risalat al-Ju'fi, containing Isma'ili doctrines, is based mainly on the expositions of Jabir on the authority of Al- Baqir.55 Apparently neither the doctrine of Umm al-Kitab nor that of Risalat al-Ju'fi represent the views of Al-Baqir, and probably only little of what Jabir himself taught. It is nevertheless an important point that he was regarded as the spiritual forefather of the post-Khattabite ghulat.
However, in spite of the fact that ghuluw was repeatedly condemned by Al-Baqir, Jafar, and the successive Imams of the Husaynid line, a number of traditions containing some ghulat ideas found their way into Shi'i collections of hadith. Most of these traditions are related from Jabir al-Ju'fi But it is now by no means possible to ascertain whether Jabir himself was the author of these traditions or whether these were attached to his name by the later ghulat and were circulated in the Imamate circles. In both the Sunni and the Shi'i science of hadith, little attention was paid to the substance of a tradition: usually a hadith was either accepted or rejected according to the credibility and trustworthiness of its transmitters. In the Shi'i science of hadith, the main criterion was that if a person was proven to have been a devoted and sincere adherent of the Imam of his time, his traditions were acceptable. Jabir, in spite of his semi-ghulat tendencies and exaggerations, whether authentic or forged, nevertheless remained, throughout his life, faithful to Al-Baqir and Ja'far. When Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni (died 328/939) compiled the first collection of the Shi'I traditions, Al-Kafi fi'l-'Ilm ad-Din, his purpose was to collect whatever came to him on the authority of those who were known as the adherents of any one of the Imams. In this way a great many traditions ascribing supernatural and super human characteristics to the Imams, propounded by the semi-ghulat circles in Ku fa, crept into the Shi'i literature.
There are, however, numerous traditions in Kafi in which both Al-Baqir and Ja'far clearly denied that they possessed supernatural powers and discounted the miracles attributed to them.56 It is thus most unlikely that Ja'far was personally responsible for all those fantastic descriptions of the super-natural character of the Imams which were circulated in his name by his semi-ghulat followers in Kufa. Indeed, Ja'far did not excommunicate them as he did, for example, in the case of Abu'l-Khattab, and as Al-Baqir did in the cases of Bayan, Abu Mansur, and Mughira. In Kafi itself, there are many traditions from both Al-Baqir and Ja'far as-Sadiq in which they declared that they were simply God-fearing men, distinguished from others only because they were the Prophet's nearest relatives and thus became the custodians and trustees of his message. And by virtue of their devotion to God and because of the fact that perfect knowledge of God had come to them through Nass and 'Ilm, they were able to live their lives in complete obedience to the will of God.57 Regarding the traditions pertaining to the supernatural character of the Imams, perhaps the most decisive and revealing is the statement of Ja'far himself in which he said:
“Whatever is in agreement with the Book of God, accept it; and whatever is contrary to it, reject it.”58 When we recall that Ja'far as-Sadiq was at least a century before the time of Bukhari and Muslim, it is significant to find that it is the Imam Ja'far who is credited with establishing this criterion for testing hadith, one which came to be regarded as the most important principle to observe in judging traditions.59
Moreover, the fact that the ghulat or semi-ghulat were attributing their own thoughts to the Imams and that the Imams were not responsible for these statements is further illustrated by a report given by Kashshi. A follower of the Imam 'Ali ar-Rida once read before him certain Hadith which he had copied from the notebooks of those in Iraq who had taken down sayings of Al-Baqir and Ja'far. The Imam strongly rejected the authenticity of those traditions and declared that Abu'l-Khattab and his followers had contrived to have their lies accepted in those notebooks.60 Similar traditions have been noted earlier wherein Ja'far complained of Mughira misrepresenting Al-Baqir.
We have so far been discussing the extremists and semi-extremists of Ja'far's circle and their excessive claims for the persons of the Imams. Not all of Ja'far's followers were fanatics, however. A considerable number of them were simply Shi'ism distinguished from the other Muslims only by the higher degree of their devotion to the memory of 'Ali and by their conviction that he was the best person after the Prophet for the combined office of the spiritual and temporal leadership of the community. Thus they considered the Imamate as the right of 'Ali and his descendants, ordained to them by God. The beat example of these forerunners of the Shi'is, later to become the Twelvers, is 'Abd Allah b. Abi Ya'fur, a resident of Kufa. He opposed his fellow Kufans, such as Mu'alla b. Khunays, who asserted that the Imams were prophets. Ibn Abi Ya'fur objected to this and said that they were only pure, God-fearing, learned theologians entrusted with guiding the community on the path of God.61 Very strict in his religious practices, he was highly favoured and respected by Ja'far.62 He enjoyed the respect of the moderate traditionists' circles, and when he died during the lifetime of Ja'far, many of the Ahl al-Hadith and pro-Shi'I Murijtes accompanied his bier.63
There was still another group among the followers of Ja'far, busy in the intellectual or dialectical questions of the day, along the lines of the Mu'tazila. It is indicative of Ja'far's leadership that he gathered around himself the men who could stand with remarkable vigour among those of the Muslim scholars who were speculating on the philosophical problems of the time. This group of the first Shi'i speculative theologians, to be discussed presently, who provided the intellectual element in the Imamate of Ja'far, stand out from the Shi'i extremists even in the hostile presentations of some of the heresiographers. Ash'ari takes much interest in them and clearly distinguishes them from the extremists or semi-extremists among the Shi'is of Ja'far's following. It may also be noted here in passing that a close study of the heresiographical works, such as those of Ash'ari and Baghdadi, enable us to discern the cross-currents and intermingling of ideas between the Shi'i and Sunni schools of thought at their evolutionary stages. However, the attachment of this group to the Imam marked a great advance in the development of Shi'ism in its own right. These speculative theologians of Ja'far's circle were later regarded as the elite of the Shi'i mutakallimun, though before the science of kalam became a definite branch of learning the early Shi'i mutakallimun, who formed the backbone of the future Twelver Shi'a, were speculative theologians, traditionists, and jurists all at the same time.
In this group, mention should first be made of Abu'l-Hasan b. A'yan b. Susan, better known by his kunya, Az-Zurara. He was a mawla of the Banu Shayban of Kufa, and the grandson of an enslaved Greek monk who adopted Islam.64 Zurara originally belonged to the supporters of Zayd b. 'Ali, for together with his brother Humran b. A'yan and At-Tayyar, great Mu'tazilite leader. This itself suggests that under Mu'tazilite influence Zurara developed his interest in speculative theology. Zurara and his two brothers later changed their allegiance and attached themselves to Al-Baqir, Humran being the first to take this step.65
After the death of Al-Baqir, Zurara belonged to the circle of the closest adherents of Ja'far as-Sadiq, who spoke Of him with great appreciation: “Four men are the best beloved by me, whether alive or dead: Burayd b. Mu'awiya al-'Ijli, Zurara, Muhammad b. Muslim, and Al-Ahwal”.66 Ibn Abi 'Umayr67 said that he and his contemporaries were beside Zurara “like children around their teacher”.68 It seems that because of his vehement activities in the cause of Ja'far, Zurara met with some difficulties and even dangers. Thus, to spare him hardships, Ja'far, resorting to the principle of Taqiya, apparently disavowed him and even cursed him. Justifying this, he said that in order to save Zurara, he had acted in the same way as the Prophet Khidr, when he sank a ship to save it from being taken from its owners by a tyrannous king.69
Zurara, who only occasionally paid visits to Ja'far in Medina or met him in Mecca, lived in Kufa and there had a large circle of disciples. Though Zurara was also regarded as a traditionist, a lawyer, and a theologian, he attained his great renown in the fields of the science of tradition and in kalam. In fact, he was the founder of the Shi'i school of speculative theology in the proper sense, and the first teacher of kalam70 from within the circle of Ja'far.
Among Zurara's pupils, who were all devoted followers of Ja'far, were his own sons Hasan,71 Husayn,72 and 'Ubayd Allah ;73 his brother Hurman, the grammarian and one of the foremost companions of Al-Baqir ;74 Hamza, the son of Hurman;75 Bukayr b. A'yun76 and his son 'Abd Allah;77 Muhammad b. al-Hakam ;78 Humayd b. Rabbah;79 Muhammad b. an-Nu'man al-Ahwal, and Hisham b. Salim al- Jawaliqi.80 The circle of Zurara was usually known as Az-Zurariya or At- Tamimiya,81 and its intellectual activities in the field of scholastic theology greatly strengthened the cause of Ja'far and later that of Musa al-Kazim.82
Together with other theological and scholastic problems, Zurara and his disciples evolved the theory that the knowledge of God is an obligation on every believer and cannot be attained without an Imam designated by God, and thus complete obedience to the Imam is a religious duty. The Imams by necessity are endowed with special knowledge. Therefore, what other men can attain by discursive reason (nazar), an Imam always knows owing to his special knowledge and his superior and unequalled power of reasoning. Zurara and his circle promulgated their views on almost every question of what we now call scholastic philosophy, such as the attributes of God, His Essence and His Actions, His Intention or Will, and the human capacity.83 The impression we get of Zurara from the sources, especially from Kashshi, is that he played a very important role in the development of legitimist Shi'i thought and contributed a great deal to the formation of the Imamate creed. He is one of the most frequently quoted authorities in all the major books of the Shi'is.
Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Nu'man al-Ahwal was another striking personality among the speculative theologians of Kufa who linked the question of the Imamate with other fundamental scholastic problems. His circle is described by the heresiographers as An-Nu'maniya, and he distinguished himself among all the adherents of Ja'far for his excellence in dialectics and learning in theology, as well as for the piquancy of his answers in disputes with his adversaries. An extremely committed Shi'i, Al-Ahwal was at first one of the most devoted adherents of Al-Baqir, whose claims he defended against Zayd. He later became an equally ardent supporter of Ja'far as-Sadiq and finally of Musa al-Kazim.
The greater part of his intellectual activities in promoting the Shi'i cause was perhaps spent during the Imamate of Ja'far. He is counted among the most prominent companions of Ja'far, and was one of those who accepted Musa al-Kazim as their Imam immediately after the former's death, and without considering the candidature of any other son of Ja'far.84 He is frequently reported to have held heated debates with the great jurist Abu Hanifa, whom he despised for being a Murjite. Abu Hanifa, on his part, treated him with scorn and contempt.85 Al-Ahwal is described as the most courageous and vociferous in his convictions regarding the rights of the legitimist Imams on rational grounds.86 As a zealous supporter of the legitimist line, he upheld the dogma of the God-imposed duty of complete obedience to the Imams, and of the supreme knowledge possessed by them, necessary for the guidance of men.
He is said to have been a prolific writer, and a number of his works are mentioned by various authorities. His writings include his Kitab al-Imama, his Kitab ar-Radd 'ala'l-Mu'tazila fi Imamat al-Mafdul, and a number of other treatises, probably of a polemical nature.87 The titles of the books ascribed to him suggest that the question of the Imamate was one of the main issues between the Mu'tazila and the Shi'i thinkers of that time. Kashshi records a number of controversial debates held by him in support of Ja'far's rights to the Imamate, and also quotes Ja'far as saying: “Al-Ahwal is most beloved by me, whether alive or dead.”88
Another foremost supporter of Ja'far in this circle was Hisham b. Salim al-Jawaliqi, who was brought up in his childhood as a slave from Jurjan, and became a mawla of Bishr b. Marwan. He also lived in Kufa, earning his living as a seller of fodder ('allaf). Like his close friend Al-Ahwal, he led a large circle of disciples and propounded his theories on all questions of the nature and attributes of God.89
Perhaps the greatest of all the Shi'i thinkers of Ja'far's following were Abu Muhammad Hisham b. al-H akam90 and 'Ali b. Isma'il al-Maythami.91 The former was originally a disciple of Jahm b. Safwan, the Jubrite, but converted to the Shi'i doctrine and became a most devoted follower of Ja'far As-Sadiq. He must have been quite young at that time, for he lived until the Imamate of 'Ali ar-Rida and was one of his closest companions.92
The theories regarding God and other scholastic questions propounded by these five most important thinkers of Ja'far's period are too lengthy to be examined here. What mainly concerns us at present is their contribution to the doctrine of the Imamate, which they linked up with fundamental principles of a scholastic nature. A remarkable fact is that although these five thinkers often differ from each other on many questions, their teachings and ideas concerning the Imamate are almost the same. The essence of their doctrine of the Imamate is that the Prophet appointed 'Ali to the Imamate by an explicit designation (nass), and after him, his sons Hasan and Husayn acceded to the Imamate in the same way. This appointment was based on the principle that mankind needs an Imam to lead it on the right path as much as an individual needs intelligence to co-ordinate the activities of his body and to guide him. To guide mankind and preserve it from straying, an Imam must be infallible. This is because the Imam, who is below the status of a Prophet, can receive no revelation from God. Therefore, since he is the infallible guide appointed through the Grace of God, obedience to him is synonymous with obedience to God, while disobedience is the same as infidelity.93
While so many speculative theologians from among the followers of Ja'far were busy working out the scholastic problems of the time, there were a good many in his circle who concentrated their efforts mainly on legal questions. It has been pointed out earlier that the distinction between jurists and traditionists at this stage, especially among the Shi'is, was not very clear. Nevertheless, there was a difference in their respective interests. Some were more interested in the traditions of a dogmatic and doctrinal nature, others in the traditions concerning practical problems. Thus most of the traditions dealing with legal matters are reported on the authority of Jamil b. Darraj, 'Abd Allah b. Miskan, 'Abd Allah b. Bukayr, Hammad b. 'Uthman, Hammad b. 'Isa, and Aban b. 'Uthman.94
All of them belonged to the close circle of Ja'far and are unanimously accepted by all the Twelver Shi'i writers as the most authoritative transmitters of legal traditions and as the eminent jurists from among the disciples of Ja'far. Kashshi describes them as “the six most reliable authorities among all the followers of Ja'far on legal traditions; on their trustworthiness and profound knowledge of law there has been a complete consensus among the Shi'I scholars.”95 Kashshi's statement is confirmed by examining Kulayni's al-Kafi, Saduq's Man La Yahduruhu'l Faqih, and Tusi's Istibsar and Tahdhib al-Ahkam. These “Four Standard Books” (Al-Kutub al-Arba') have the same importance for the Shi'ism as the six canonical collections of Sunni Hadith (Sihah as-Sitta) have for the Sunnis.
To this list of the frequently quoted jurists of Ja'far's period must be added the name of Aban b. Taghlib b. Riyah,96 an important and outstanding jurist-traditionist, and formerly an associate of Zayn al-'Abidin and Al-Baqir. When he died in 140/757, Ja'far is reported to have said, “I would love to have my Shi'a like Aban b. Taghlib,” and “his death grieved my heart.”97 Aban's name appears in a good number of traditions, mostly of a practical nature.
It is important to note that almost all these jurist traditionists of Ja'far's circle were in continuous attachment to three or at least two generations of the legitimist Imams, either Zayn al-'Abidin, Al-Baqir, and Ja'far, or Al-Baqir, Ja'far, and Musa, while some others who joined Ja'far served the line of the legitimist Imams till 'Ali ar-Rida.
From this brief summary of the activities of individuals and groups working under the leadership of the Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq in all the fundamental branches of religious learning, we may deduce two conclusions. First, at that formative stage of Islamic thought and institutions, the contributions made by these people, based on the teachings of Ja'far and his predecessors, provided a solid foundation for the elaboration of the dogma and legal system of Imamate Shi'ism by the later Twelver theologians and jurists. Second, the fact that so many persons, working in various aspects of religious life, chose to gather around Ja'far with the acceptance of his Imamate on the Principle of Nass, set the Imamate stream of Shi'ism well on the way to its own distinct character within Islam.
There are many Shi'i creeds preserved for us by the earliest Shi'i sources, such as Kashshi, which explain the beliefs of the Imamate Shi'is during the lifetime of Ja'far as-Sadiq. One of these creeds, pronounced by 'Amr b. Hurayth before Ja'far, reads:
“I would like to describe my religion (dini) and what I believe, so that you may confirm me in my faith. My religion is that I testify that there is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Apostle and Servant. I testify that the coming of the Day of Judgement is not subject to doubt, and that God will resurrect those who are in their graves. I testify to the obligations of prayer, the paying of the zakat, fasting in the month of Ramadan, and the duty of pilgrimage to the House (Ka'ba) for those who have the means for it.
I testify to the wilaya of 'Ali b. Abi Talib, the commander of the faithful (Amir al-Mu'minin) after the Prophet of God, may the Blessings of God be upon them both, and the wilaya of Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, the wilaya of 'Ali b. al- Husayn and that of Muhammad al-Baqir, and after his, yours. I testify that you are the Imams. In this religion I live, and in this religion I shall die, and this is the religion by which I worship God.”
Having heard this, Ja'far declared:
“This, by God, is indeed my religion and the religion of my fathers, who worshipped God openly and in secret; so fear God and hold your tongue from saying anything except that which is good.”98
Similar statements are recorded by Kashshi from Dawud b. Yunus and Khalid b. Bajali.99 A detailed account of the Twelver Shi'i beliefs dealing with all articles of faith, whether fundamental (usul) or non-fundamental (furu'), are given by Shaykh Ibn Babawayh al-Qummi, better known as Shaykh as-Saduq (died 381/991-2), in his creed entitled Risalat al- 'Itiqadat. Shaykh Saduq is universally acknowledged by the Twelver Shi'a as one of their greatest authorities, and his Risala, one of the earliest extant Shi'i creeds, is accepted as the most authoritative statement of their beliefs. Comparing this Shi'i creed with the standard Sunni creeds, such as Fiqh Akbar I, Fiqh Akbar II, and the Wasiyat Abi Hanafa, one finds that except on the question of the Imamate the differences between the Sunnis and the Shi'is are of the same nature as, say, the differences between the Asha'ira and the Mu'tazila. The Shi'i views are in most cases the same as those of the Mu'tazila, who certainly remained part of Sunni Islam, though their rationalistic views were ultimately rejected by the Jama'a.
The question of the Qur'an may serve as the best illustration of this fundamental unity. The Shi'i belief, as stated by Shaykh as-Saduq, reads:
“Our belief concerning the Qur'an is that it is the Word of God, His revelation sent down by Him, His speech and His Book … 'Falsehood cannot come at it from before it or behind it. It is a revelation from the Wise, the Praiseworthy' (Qur'an, XLI, 42)… And our belief is that God, the Blessed and Exalted, is its Creator and Revealer and Master and Protector and Utterer. Our belief is that the Qur'an, which God revealed to His Prophet Muhammad, is [the same as] the one between the boards (daffatayn). And it is that which is in the hands of the people, and is not greater in extent than that. The number of Suras as generally accepted is one hundred and fourteen.”100
In this statement of Saduq on the Qur'an, two points are worth noticing. First, the Shi'a, like the Mu'tazila, believe that the Qur'an is the created word of God, and not uncreated and eternal as taught by the Asha'ira and officially accepted by Sunni Islam. The second and more important point is that the text of the Qur'an as it is to be found in the textus receptus, which is in the hands of everyone in the shape of a book, is accepted wholly by the Shi'is, just as it is by the Sunnis. Thus the assertion that the Shi'is believe that a part of the Qur'an is not included in the textus receptus is erroneous.
We are not, however, concerned here with the details of the Shi'i creed or the development of the Shi'i legal and theological systems, which took place in progressive stages, as indeed was also the case in Sunni Islam. Nor is this work meant to discuss the contributions of the last six Imams after Ja'far as-Sadiq, after which the Imamate Shi'a came to be known as the Ithna 'Ashariya, or the Twelvers. Our purpose has only been to trace the origins and early development of those religious inclinations through which the Shi'is eventually came to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Muslim community.
Keeping in view what has been discussed throughout this work, and looking at the activities of those who gathered around. Ja'far as-Sadiq, we may conclude that the Imamate Shi'is, by the time of Ja'far's death in 148/765, had acquired a distinct character of their own. The actual disagreements between the Shi'is and the Sunnis in certain details of theology and legal practices were not as important as the “Spirit” working behind these rather minor divergences. This “Spirit”, arising from the differences in the fundamental approach and interpretation of Islam, as discussed in Chapter I, issued forth in the Shi'i concept of leadership of the community after the Prophet. It is this concept of divinely ordained leadership which distinguishes Shi'i from Sunni within Islam; and thus it has been on the emergence of this concept that our attention has been focused in these pages.