Islamic Studies Ja`far al-Sadiq
Arzina Lalani
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0216


Jaʿfar al-Sadiq is a leading personality in the early period of Islam portraying the teachings of the Prophet’s family. Active in Medina’s scholarly circles, where he was born in 80/699 or 83/703, al-Sadiq is a frequently cited authority on points of law and tradition, especially among the Shiʿa. He stood in a direct line of descent from Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, and ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, through their son, Husayn ibn ʿAli. His father, Muhammad al-Baqir, was an established scholar in the learned circles of Medina, and his mother, Umm Farwa, was the daughter of al-Qasim b. Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, an esteemed traditionist of Medina. Jaʿfar thus grew up in an environment of learning on both sides of his family through his grandparents. He conveyed his family’s views on the early Muslim community as well as on a wide range of legal, social, theological, and mystical issues. Muslims of diverse persuasions, exponents of other religions, theosophers, Daysanis, and Manichean Gnostics all frequented his house in pursuit of knowledge. In the Shiʿi tradition of Islam, Jaʿfar is a central figure and the last common imam recognized by both Shiʿi Imami communities, the Ismaʿilis and the Ithna ʿAsharis. His contribution, however, is far wider than his own Shiʿa.

General Overviews

The existing literature on Jaʿfar al-Sadiq is vast and copious. He is cited in a wide range of sources, including the Taʾrikh of al-Tabari (al-Tabari 1879–1901) and al-Masʿudi (Murūj al-dhahab). Acknowledging his profound learning, al-Yaʿqubi’s Taʾrῑkh states that scholars used to refer to him as the learned one (al-ʿAlim) when narrating from him. Al-Dhahabi recognized his contribution to the Sunni tradition, while Abu Nuʿaym al-Isfahani 1933 and Farid al-Din Attar 1905 see him at the head of the Sufi line of saints and mystics. Scholars within the Shiʿi tradition, including al-Qadi al-Nuʿman and al-Kulayni, who draw on much earlier works, rely invariably on Jaʿfar (see al-Qadi al-Nuʿman 1951 and al-Kulayni 1968). These sources testify to his influence in the development of the intellectual currents of his time. He enhanced his father’s legacy to Shiʿi thought, providing a momentum for the development of law and theology. He was instrumental in initiating his followers in not only achieving salvation, but also in sanctification through purification. He was thus an intellectual who helped others discover the mysteries of their faith. Notwithstanding the possibility that some of his teaching may have been projected by those whom he taught, it is equally perceivable that it reflects the cultural diversity and pluralism of early Islam.

  • al-Dhahabi. Mizān al-iʿtidal. Vol. 1. Edited by Ali Muhammad al-Bajawi, 414–415. Cairo, Egypt, 1963.

    This writer has a number of works in which he mentions the contributions of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, especially his Siyar aʿlām al-nubalāʾ (2 vols., Cairo, Egypt, n.d.), where he includes a list of all those who transmitted to and from him, recognizing his contribution to the Sunni tradition. See also Tadhkirāt al- Ḥuffāz (Hyderabad, 1388/1968), Vol. 1, pp. 166–167.

  • Farid al-Din Attar. Tadhkirāt al-awliyaʾ. Edited by R. Nicholson. London, 1905.

    See part 1, pp. 9–15. This biographical prose work is by a Persian mystical poet. An author of several works, he describes here the lives and sayings of mystics with a free hand, according to H. Ritter’s article in EI2, which lists twenty-three works to his credit. Ritter also critiques the London-Leiden Persian edition by R. A. Nicholson.

  • al-Isfahani, Abu Nuʿaym. Ḥilyāt al-awliyāʾ. Vol. 3. Cairo, Egypt, 1933.

    First published in 1352. This study places Jaʿfar as the head of mystics and includes anecdotes on his interactions with the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur and with some of his contemporaries, including Abu Hanifa, Malik b. Anas, and Wasil b. ʿAta. He exhorts Sufyan al-Thawri to be thankful when blessed with goodness and to seek profuse forgiveness when blessings are slow to come. Jaʿfar is critical of those who advocate speculations using analogies. See pp. 193–198.

  • al-Kulayni. al-Uṣūl min al-Kāfῑ. Teheran, Iran, 1968.

    First published in 1388. This scholar also includes numerous reports from Jaʿfar on many aspects of the faith and the world. It has sections on the individual communion with God in the chapter on the spirit, and includes different categories on how the divine communicates with humanity, as well as giving us Jaʿfar’s theory of the intellect and knowledge.

  • al-Masʿudi, ʿAli b. Husayn. Murūj al-dhahab. Vol. 3. Beirut, Lebanon, n.d.

    A widely travelled historian, Masʿudi gives us a variant date of Jaʿfar’s birth date, and also the fact that the Jarudiyya were al-Baqir’s followers before joining his half-brother Zayd b. Ali. He tells us that the Zaydiyya existed in eight different groups. See the translation of Aloy Sprenger, Meadows of Gold, pp. 51–58, for views on light from Jaʿfar reported on Ali’s authority.

  • Poonawala, Ismail K. The Pillars of Islam. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    The Pillars of Islam have been completely revised and annotated by I. K. Poonawala, who has studied the author and Ismaʿili jurisprudence at length and in depth.

  • al-Qadi al-Nuʿman, Abu Hanifa. Daʿā’im al-Islām. Vol. 1. Edited and introduced by A. A. A. Fyzee. Cairo, Egypt, 1951.

    Commissioned by Imam al-Muʿizz, this work served as the official code of the Fatimids. It has innumerable traditions from Jaʿfar al-Sadiq on devotion and faith, purity, prayer and almsgiving, fasting, pilgrimage, and striving in the way of God. Volume 2 (Cairo, Egypt, 1961) includes aspects on food, social and business interactions, inheritance, oaths, and punishments. See Poonawala 2002.

  • al-Tabari, Abu Jaʿfar Muhammad b. Jarir. Taʾrῑkh al-rusūl wa al-mulūk. Annales. Edited by M. J. de Goeje. Leiden, The Netherlands, 1879–1901.

    This historiographical source has early reports from Abu Mikhnaf to illustrate that Jaʿfar was the successor of his father al-Baqir, inheriting his father’s following and thus a serious Shiʿi leader. It includes several incidents of disputes with other members of the Prophet’s family who were also claiming the leadership, as well as his altercations with the ruling authorities. See also translations in The History of al-Tabari, published by State University of New York Press.

  • al-Yaʿqubi, Ahmad b. Ibn Wadih. Taʾrῑkh. Vol. 2. Beirut, Lebanon: n.d.

    This concise history of the world in two volumes also includes aspects of the Shiʿi Imams. An earliest surviving example of universal history, it includes nuances from adab historiography and a good section on Jaʿfar al-Sadiq. It is al-Yaʿqubi who informs us that scholars referred to him as al-Ālim, the learned one.

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