Shafqna: Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī
Imam al-Sādiq, the sixth the Imam, was born in 702 AD in Medina. He passed away in 765 AD there and buried in Baqīʿ Cemetry. His mother was Umm Farwa bint al-Qāsim b. Muḥammad b. Abū Bakr. Al-Sādiq’s Imamate lasted 34 years. (Irshād) His Imamate coincided with the reigns of rulers from both the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. The Umayyad caliphs of his time were as follows: Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān, Walīd b. Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Yazīd b. Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Ibrāhīm b. Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik and Marwān b. Muḥammad. The Abbasid caliphs were ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad, known as Saffāḥ and Abū Jaʿfar, known as Manṣūr.
As far as the greatness and character of Imam al-Sādiq is concerned it would be enough to know that even his sworn enemy Manṣūr shed tears when he learnt of the Imam’s martyrdom.
It was midnight. Silence and darkness dominated everywhere. Manṣūr summoned his special secretary Abū Ayyūb Khawzī to his palace. When he entered the room he saw Manṣūr sitting on a chair with a candle lit in front of him. He held a letter in his hand. He wept as he read it. Manṣūr’s secretary says he threw him the letter and said: ‘This letter has been sent to me by Muḥammad b. Sulaymān, the governor of Medina, reporting that Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad has passed away. Can anyone like Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad be found?’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)
Malik b. Anas, one of the Four Sunnī Imams, says every time he met Imam al-Sādiq, he was either praying, fasting or reciting the Qur’an. ‘The eye has not seen… anyone like him.’ (al-Tahdhīb)
Another of the Four Sunnī Imams, Abū Ḥanīfa, says: ‘When Manṣūr took Imam al-Sādiq to Iraq, I was invited by Manṣūr to debate with him. I prepared forty questions to ask him. When I entered Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad was sitting on the right. I saluted him and sat down. Manṣūr introduced me. Then upon Manṣūr’s order, I asked questions one by one and he answered all of them. In response to every question, he expressed the views of Medinans and Iraqis before expressing his own. He confirmed some views and rejected some others. He was the most cognizant…’ (Tadhkirat al-Ḥuffāẓ) During his time the Imam, al-Ṣādiq managed to train 4,000 scholars.
The ḥadīth scholar, Ḥasan b. ʿAlī Washāʿ says: ‘In the Mosque of Kufa, I met nine hundred ḥadīth collectors who quoted traditions from Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad.’ (Rijāl Najāshī)
Seven Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs ruled during the 34-year the Imamate of Imam al-Sādiq. Islamic society was unstable at that time and this instability led to the overthrow of the Umayyad Dynasty in 132 AH. The Abbasids who succeeded them were even worse.
Imam al-Sādiq who passed nearly 50 years of his life under the reign of the Umayyad dynasty was well aware of their crimes. The Umayyad rulers had executed his uncle Zayd b. ʿAlī in Kufa in 122 AH and publicly displayed his body for five years before burning it and throw his ashes into the sea. The Umayyad rulers also killed his cousin, Yaḥyā b. Zayd, in a gruesome manner.
The Imam spent the rest of his life under the reign of the Abbasids. The Abbasid rulers were so ruthless that a poet had sarcastically said: ‘I wish the Banū Marwān had continued with their tyranny to save us from the justice of Banū ʿAbbās!’
Reasons for the Overthrow of the Umayyad Dynasty
Two factors are cited as the main reasons behind anti-Umayyad uprisings in Iran and Iraq:
Heavy Taxes: Instead of focusing on increasing production to gain more revenues, the Umayyad government levied heavy taxes on the people. Each Caliph would impose heavier taxes than his predecessor. Farmers were forced to pay, in addition to official tax, the so-called ‘New Year gift’. Muʿāwiya was the first one who promoted this Sassanid practice. The annual New Year gifts amounted to 13 million dirhams in Iraq. The figure was much higher in Herat, Khorasan, Yemen and other Islamic territories. Taxes were increasing sharply under the reign of Umayyad caliphs except for ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz who lifted many of these taxes (Ibn Athīr, al-Kāmil). After his reign, however, the taxes were reinstated and people were facing more economic woes.
The challenge of the mawālī: The Umayyad dynasty was entirely Arab and it was founded on an ideology of Arab supremacism. Its caliphs appointed only Arab governors and exercised discrimination against non-Arabs in Islamic territories who were known as ‘mawālī’ (clients). In the face of this discriminatory attitude, the people in Iran and Iraq rose up and toppled the Umayyad dynasty under the slogan of setting up an Islamic government led by Prophet’s descendants.
At that time, the Prophet’ family was extremely popular in Islamic society; they symbolized justice and piety. An uprising started under the slogan of ‘The Family of Muḥammad’ and the revolutionaries made their rallying-cry ‘We demand one agreed upon from the Family of Muḥammad’ (al-riḍā min āl muḥammad) and managed to unseat the Umayyad dynasty after nine decades in power.
In the beginning, it was expected that Imam al-Sādiq would lead the revolution, but he did lend his support because he was well aware of what was going on behind the scenes. The architects of this revolution were trying to take advantage of the Family of the Prophet before changing the direction of the revolution to serve their own ends.
When ʿAbd Allāh b. Ḥasan negotiated with Imam al-Sādiq, asking him to join Saffāḥ and Manṣūr, the Imam said he could not trust the duo, predicting that they will seize power for themselves.
‘I see no purity in them,’ Imam al-Sādiq had said. (al-Kāfī)
While the conditions did not let Imam al-Sādiq establish a genuinely Islamic government, he did not miss any chance to protest the rulers. When Manṣūr wrote a letter to Imam al-Sādiq asking for some words of advice, the Imam said: ‘He who wants the world will not advise you sincerely, and he who wants the Hereafter will not support you.’ When Manṣūr received the Imam’s response, he said with surprise: ‘Imam al-Sādiq has distinguished admirers of this world and the Hereafter. Those who are around me love this world and those who are away from me want the Hereafter.’
Imam al-Sādiq’s School
The socio-political conditions allowed Imam al-Sādiq to spread Islamic teachings through training companions and writing books. In this way, he established the school his father had laid the foundations for. Imam al-Sādiq trained 4,000 students to enlighten the Islamic society. However, his intellectual contributions are not limited to matters of Qur’an interpretation, traditions and jurisprudence. He also managed to train important figures in philosophy and theology. Hishām b. Ḥakam, the author of twenty-five books, is just one of these. (Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist)
Imam al-Sādiq revealed elements of natural science to the surprise of scientists. In Tawḥīd al-Mufaḍḍal, which was dictated by the Imam, monotheism is demonstrated to be true based on the laws of nature. Jābir b. Hayyan, the famous alchemist, was also a disciple of Imam al-Sādiq. He was the first one having learnt chemistry from Imam al-Sādiq.