by Hamid Algar
-The Imamate of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS]
-The Imamate of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]
-The influence of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]
-The successorship of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]
-The emergence of the Abbasids
-The quietism of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] and the emphasis on cultivation of knowledge
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] laid emphasis on the following factors – firstly his choice inherited from his father of political quietism, that is to say his refusal openly to contest rule by the Umayyads. And secondly as a corollary to that a growing emphasis upon the transmission of a unique body of knowledge as constituted the essence of the Imamate. Thirdly a clarification of specific details on which the emergent law of the Shi’ah community differentiated itself from the legal precepts of the surrounding Sunni Community, for example in the call to prayer the inclusion of ‘haya ‘ala khair al-‘aml’ ‘Hasten to the best of deeds’ included by Shi’ah Muslims but omitted by Sunni Muslims – it was Shi’ah belief that it was blocked by the second caliph ‘Umar. Then also the question of Mu’tah – termed marriage, which again is regarded as being of continuous permissibility by Shi’ah Muslims having been only prohibited by ‘Umar the second caliph, it contravention of the existing provision. Thirdly the question of date wine ‘nabib in which there is some ambiguity amongst other schools of Islamic law emerging at the time, but was categorically prohibited by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS]. The consideration of the Imamate of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] merges easily into consideration of that of his son and successor Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] like his predecessor had to deal with a variety of claimants to the Imamate, all of them descended from Imam Ali [AS], in other words he had to fight off these claims and to clarify the principles of legitimacy, the principles of legitimate succession to the Imamate. The other aspects of the Imamate Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] continued with his predecessor only greatly intensified, in particular the codification of a separate and distinctive school of law which came to form the basis of Shi’i jurisprudence, to the degree that Shi’i jurisprudence is known till the present day as the Ja’fari school of law, Ja’fari Madhab. Therefore Shi’ism as a school of law has a strong association with Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS].
Imam Jaffer [AS] expanded upon the principles put forward by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] with respect to legitimacy. In other words he made plain that the essence of the Imamate was authorised transmission by ones predecessor. In other words not simply a claim through genealogical desendency through Imam Ali [AS] and willingness to stand against the Umayyads and come forth in rebellion, but a clear nomination as the successor to the Imamate by the preceding Imam [AS]. These are the main elements in the Imamate of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], which is a period of extreme importance in the history of Shi’ism. The Imam [AS] exercised the Imamate for a longer period than any of the other Imams, about 28 years. He lived in a period and place in which access to him was relatively easy, both for immediate followers of the Imam [AS] and for the broader Muslim community, like his father and grandfather – he resided in Madinah, with brief absences. And Madinah at this point was a centre of the cultivation of the Islamic sciences in general. And it is partly because of this that we see the influence of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] beyond the relatively narrow confines of his own group. He had considerable and important interaction with scholars of the Sunni community aswell. Which is an indication of a number of things that the lines of division between Sunni and Shi’ah, although partly under the auspices of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] were becoming clearer and clearer, still there was not yet mutual segregation, mutual hostility to a point that the exchange of influence was excluded.
In a sense we can say that this is foreshadowed in the ancestry of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. He was born in Madinah in 80 AH, 699 AD, there is an alternative date, 83 AH, 703 AD. Clearly on his father’s side he was a descendant of Imam Hussasin [AS], and therefore of Imam Ali [AS]. On his mother’s side interestingly enough he was descended from the first caliph Abu Bakr – his maternal grandfather was qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, a grandson of the first caliph Abu Bakr whose legitimate exercise of the office is of course contested by Shi’i Muslims. Although it is conceded that in his actual conduct of being the caliph he acted generally speaking with propriety and honesty. But generally speaking the principle of legitimacy is viewed as having been violated by Abu Bakr. The fact that in Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] the two lineages – the lineage of Imam Ali [AS] through Imam Hussain [AS], and the lineage of Abu Bakr converge is nonetheless interesting. It shows that there were no feelings of rancour, and of mutual hostility between the two lineages, and that in turn ties in with the statement that in the circumstances of the age Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] was also in the position to enjoy respect and exert influence among Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. The first fourteen years of his life were spent in the guardianship of his grandfather Imam Ali Zain al-‘abidin, he was at an early time noted for his piety, his devotion to prayer, and insistent withdrawal from politics. After all it might be thought that in the circumstances of the age with various elements in the Shi’i movement pressing for immediate insurrection against the Umayyads that Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] at an early age, a potentially tempestuous and adventurous age would let himself go in the direction of political rebellion. This however he studiously avoided. Also his maternal grandfather, although of a lesser influence upon him that his paternal grandfather Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin, had some influence on him also. In other words it is not simply a factor of geneality, his maternal grandfather, the grandson of the first caliph Abu Bakr seems also to have had some influence on him and seems to have been one of his teachers. Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr in terms of his religious specialisation was primarily a narrator of hadith, of the traditions of the Prophet [sAW]. Some of the numerous hadith that are transmitted by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] have come from his line also, in other words he transmits some hadith of the Prophet [sAW] on the authority of his paternal grandfather, although the great bulk of the traditions which are extremely numerous are transmitted through the Imami line from Imam Ali [AS]. When Imam Ali Zain al-‘Abidin died then Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq of course came under the tutelage of his own father, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] with whom he spent 23 years. In other words he spent 23 years, under the immediate guardianship and instruction of his father, and succeeded to the Imamate himself in the year 117 AH, 735 AD. He was at this time in his mid-thirties, fully mature, well trained by two preceding Imams – his grandfather and his father and enjoyed a position in some respects of great advantage that is he was resident in Madinah and the atmosphere was propicious there for ther cultivation of knowledge.
Madinah was one of the principle centres for the cultivation of scholarship. It’s political role had declined and had been virtually bought to an end ever since the time of Imam Ali [AS], whose caliphate began in the city of Madinah, but then in order to confront the Umayyads, to confront Muawiyah – he left Madinah and established himself in Kufah which became the capital of the Islamic realm. Imam Hassan [AS] also during his brief tenure to the caliphate also ruled from Kufah. With the triumph of the Umayyads the capital became transferred to Damascus and Syria. By way of compensation Madinah, largely freed of political turbulence became a centre for the cultivation and the transmission of knowledge. There we find two figures in particular interacting with Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], both of them founders of two Sunni schools of law – Malik ibn Anas and Abu Hanifah. In the course of time – the teachings of these two scholars, crystallised into the Maliki and Hanafi schools of law. When you speak of schools of law, it means that the method of deducing particular and specific ordinances of law from their sources as in the case of Sunni and Shi’ah Islam. The term ‘school of law’ is commonly used for Sunnis and Shi’is, or the term ‘Madhdhab’. If you look at Arabic terminology ‘madhdhab’ simply means a method of preceding or a way of preceding, a set of principles or methods for deducing the details of the law from its sources. Although of course there were originally more than four schools of law, in the course of history four schools of Sunni Law came to the forefront. Both Malik ibn Anas, and Abu Hanifah – studied with and exchanged the knowledge of hadith with Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] in Madinah. Indicating a number of things – firstly the great authority and respect in which Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] was held, and secondly that the crystallisation into separate and competing positions of Sunni and Shi’ah Islam had not yet reached its logical conclusion. In the fact that Abu Hanifah and Malik ibn Anas benefited from the teaching of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] there is a certain irony in that the Hanafi school of law which takes its origins of course from the teachings of Abu Hanifah has through a variety of historical circumstances become the most hostile in terms of the Sunni Schools of law towards Shi’i Islam. Hanafi law is that for example that predominates in the Indian subcontinent where historically polemics and more recently murderous hostility against Shi’i Muslims have been a kind of staple of religious life. Abu Hanifah however was close to Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], and as is seen when the caliphate was transferred from the Umayyads to the succeeding Abbasid dynasty he refused his loyalty to that dynasty and most probably was in the circumstances himself a Shi’i – when it is said that in the circumstances he was Shi’i – it is not meant that on record there is proof in a detailed fashion that he adhered precisely to all the specific doctrines now emerging as the basis of Shi’ism, what is meant is that there is clear evidence that he regarded Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], and by extension other members of the Prophet’s [sAW] lineage as more worthy of rule than either the Umayyads or the Abbasids that came to succeed them. If we were to imagine a kind of continuum on the one hand the acceptance of the caliphate of the Umayyads followed by the Abbasids, and on the other the positions of Shi’ah Islam – one would definitely position Abu Hanifah closer to the positions of Shi’i Islam in political terms than to the acceptance of the caliphate.
A related point is that Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] appears in the spiritual geneology of a large number of Sufi orders. With the exception of one Sufi order all the Sufi orders trace there descent from Imam Ali [AS], this should not be taken in a literal sense in that the particular practices and doctrines associated with each of the Sufi orders were actually codified and transmitted from Imam Ali [AS] to later generations. What however can take this claim of a general evidence is the indebtedness of the Sufi order as a whole to the teachings of the Imams. When one comes to Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], one finds that he is also included in the geneology of the Sufi orders. Most particularly and most ironically in the geneology of one order that does not trace its ultimate descent to Imam Ali [AS] – the Nakshabandi order. The Nakshabandi order traces its descent ultimately to the first caliph Abu Bakr and it is in this respect unique amongst all of the Sufi orders. But remarkably enough it includes in its chain of descent Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], it is difficult to be sure on what basis, maybe because of the awareness of the biological descent of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] on his mother’s side to the caliph Abu Bakr. In any case he is regarded as one link in the chain of transmission of spiritual knowledge to which the Nakshabandi Sufis lay claim. In this also there is irony in much the same way that the closeness of Abu Hanifah to Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] is belied by the later attitudes of Hanafis likewise Nakshabandis have been and to some extent still are in most regions of the Muslims world among the most hostilely disposed to Shi’i Muslims. But these are later developments, what needs to be retained at this point is the awareness that Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] exerted influence beyond his immediate circle.
The next point to consider with respect to the Imamate of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] is the fashion in which he confronted the various rivals for the Imamate. To some extent, the subject has been broached in the context of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS]’s Imamate, because most of the movements in question began then, but now the discussion is moved on and continued. First Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah the son of Imam Ali [AS] but not from the daughter of the Prophet [sAW] Bibi Fatimah [AS], rather from another wife. His claims were promoted by a person without any biological relationship, Mukhtar Thaqafi. It seems that it was more Mukhtar rather than Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah who was energetic in pressing the claim. The movement effectively died out in the year 81 AH, 700 AD when Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah himself died. There was a certain prolongation of the movement under the auspices of those who believed that he was in a state of occultation and would return, or in the belief that he was dead and would be resurrected in advance of the general resurrection to assume power in a triumphant fashion. More than the details of this movement the principles underlying it are to be retained as important, firstly for the fact that for some people within the Shi’i community, using the word Shi’ah in its broad sense what was decisive was a descent from Imam Ali [AS]. In other words that legitimist principle of dual descent not only from Ali but also from Fatimah was disregarded. Once the principle is that the descent be from Imam Ali [AS] irrespective of the wife who bore him the son then direct descent from the Prophet [sAW] is of course excluded because it is only through Bibi Fatimah [AS] that such direct descendency can happen. The principles of succession to the Imamate had not yet been sufficiently clarified, or were not yet sufficiently know by the followers of the Shi’ah movement for this important matter to be fully recognised i.e. descendency through Imam Ali [AS] and Bibi Fatimah [AS] jointly. Secondly the impatience of many followers of the Shi’ah movement – they were not content with a quiescent expectation of better times when the power could safely be removed from usurpers and placed in the hands of the Ahl al-Bait [AS], they demanded immediate action and seemed to have regarded this as crucial, as a defining attribute of the Imamate. In other words, to view it from the point of view of what emerges as the mainstream of Shi’ism, they had failed to recognise that the possession, and exercise of political power – although was a part of the Imamate was not essential to the possession of it. They had not fully absorbed and paid attention to the centrality of knowledge, spiritual guidance, interpretation of the Qur’an as the primary function of the Imam. Thirdly, with respect to the aborted movement of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah – the messianic dimension – not simply an emphasis on immediate revolutionary action as crucial for the Imamate, but when that fails then an expectation of abnormal supernatural events which would redeem the defeat that had been suffered in the short term. The first two elements, that is to say that a belief that the Imamate may legitimately claimed by any descendant of Imam Ali [AS], and then the demand for immediate revolutionary action – these eventually fall away. But the third element that is to say the expectation of messianic events does of course, become a part, and in fact a very important part of Shi’i doctrine. By saying this it does not mean that it is a contribution of the movement of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah to the evolution of Shi’ism, one can find traces of this much earlier to some of the hadith attributed to the Prophet [sAW] himself – it is simply that with the movement of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah that this messianic motif makes its first significant appearance on the historical plain.
Then there is the movement of Zaid ibn Zain al-‘abidin, Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq’s [AS] uncle – who was in a sense senior to him, as his uncle – in age. Already he had disputed the Imamate in the lifetime of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] and achieved a more lasting success than Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah. He combined a number of apparently attractive features firstly he promised to satisfy the aspiration for immediate revolutionary action – going into battle against the usurpers of power in order to restore just and legitimate rule. Then on top of that he was able to get the loyalty of many people in the Shi’i movement. On the other hand also he has an appeal to persons in the Sunni community in that he regarded as authentic and permissible the caliphate of Abu bakr and Umar, who are eventually referred to in usage of the time as Shaykhayn (the two sheikhs [elders]) it is a title of respect given to the first two caliphs. These two were regarded by Zaid as worthy of respect and although Imam Ali [AS] was more deserving of the caliphate, for Zaid the exercise of the caliphate by the Shaikhain was permissible and legal precendence established by them he promised to observe. So serious undercutting by him of one of the features that had been clearly established since the time of Imam Ali [AS] i.e. a refusal to accept any of the precedence introduced by the first two caliphs – Abu Bakr and Umar. Therefore a relatively large following gathered around Zaid – both people in the Shi’i movement who were attracted by his revolutionary tendencies and people within the Sunni community who were dissatisfied with Umayyad rule for their own reasons – and appreciated Zaid’s concession with respect to the first two caliphs. Nonetheless in the year 122 AH, 740 AD – Zaid was defeated and killed in battle. This was not the end of Zaidi Shi’ism, the son of Zaid – Yahya, managed to escape and went to the remote region of eastern Iran known as Khorasan – there he continued the battle, except that three years later in 125 AH, 743 AD – he met the same fate as his father. This movement of the Zaidi branch of the Shi’i movement to Iran is significant in that its distance from the centre of the caliphate enabled it to survive for a while. Traces of Zaidi Shi’ism can be found in areas were it has completely disappeared, in the northern regions of Iran on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the region which is known as Mazandaran and the neighbouring region of Ilan. Because of the inaccessibility of these regions, Islam had been late in coming to them, they had been separated from the Iranian Plateau by high mountains and by thick forests. Interestingly enough it was Zaidi Shi’ism which the inhabitants of the area first became acquainted with. However it became there a relatively isolated and stagnant tradition and when twelver Shi’ism at a later point in history, made its way to Iran it quickly absorbed all the remnants of Zaidi Shi’ism. There is today one significant region of Zaidi Shi’ism in the Yemen, in the south western corner of the Arabian Peninsula, not Yemen as today is defined, but traditional Yemen in the corner of the Peninsula. Yemen was ruled by Imams of the Zaidi line until the 1960’s when there was a revolution inspired by Egypt and the Zaidi Imamate was bought to an end – and the last Zaidi Imam went into retirement on the south coast of Engalnd. Zaidi Shi’im as a legal school does have a degree of historical continuity and personality. In the present one can find among Yemenis – Zaidi Shi’ah – and this intermediate position between what becomes Twelver Shi’ism and Sunni Islam is retained.
The third movement with which Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq had to deal is the movement of Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah who is the great grandson of Imam Hassan. It was his movement that was new in the time of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], the movement of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah and Zaid had begun already during the Imamate of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] and they were effectively sidelined or defeated during the Imamate of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah was well known for his piety, his erudition, his eloquence – and supported primarily in his claim to the Imamate by his own father. His father seems to have been more ambitious than he was himself. Once the Zaidi movement had been sidelined by the successive death of Zaid and his son Yahya, and of course Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah had been removed, then the father of Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah saw that the time was right to launch his son on the scene, as a claimant to the Imamate. With this of course there was a problem. Of course being a descendant of Imam Hassan [AS] there was a genealogical link through Imam Ali [AS] and Bibi Fatimah [AS] – therefore the difficulties that attended the claim of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah did not apply to him. In addition to that Imam Hassan [AS] was the elder brother – he was older that Imam Hussain [AS]. However Imam Hassan [AS] had himself abdicated from rule, and having himself abdicated was hardly in the position to transmit through his descendants that which he himself had foresworn. Moreover, to have supported the claim of Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah would have effectively lead to the disregarding of the entire lineage of Imam Hussain [AS], through Imam Ali Zain al-‘Abidin and to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS], let alone Imam Jaffar al-Sadiq [AS]. The picture gets murkier at this point, now we have to speak of the transfer of the caliphate from the Umayyads to the Abbasids.
The Umayyads the dynasty inaugurated by Muawiyah who had challenged the rule by Imam Ali [AS], and then had established effectively a hereditary monarchy under the name of the caliphate. Gradually however a movement of discontent and internal disintegration brings about the collapse of the Umayyad dynasty at around the middle of the 8th Century AD. The Abbasids are descendants of Abbas who was one of the uncles of the Prophet [sAW], a relatively late convert to Islam. The fact that the descendants of Abbas now came forward to claim the caliphate for themselves or to work for gaining the caliphate for themselves is explicable in a number of considerations, firstly – the Umayyad dynasty was in a state of internal disintegration the last Umayyad rulers were unable to transfer power effectively among themselves and moreover they were becoming more an more unpopular in the general Muslim community as a result of events not primarily connected with the Shi’i movement. They had for example gone so far as to attack Makkah itself, and burn the Ka’bah. Which was hardly a sign of devotion to Islam on there part. So the misdeeds of the Umayyads were mounting up and becoming less and less tolerable for a larger portion of the Muslim community. On top of that, precisely in the Hijaz in Makkah and Madinah there was a movement underway for the cultivation of scholarship particularly with regards to law. And this was partly a natural consequence of history – revelation had come to an end and it was necessary after revelation to codify and systematise the principles and the ordinances of Islamic law. But at the same time there was a stimulus to this process given by the misbehaviour of the Umayyads. In other words it was recognised that this emergent body of codified law was quite different from what the Umayyads were actually doing. So there was a pietistic as well as a political objection to the Umayyads. This encouraged the Abbasids to step forward as claimants to the caliphate. How, in positive terms did the Abbasids intend to justify their claim. Interestingly enough by tapping into the same legitimist sentiment that underlay the entirety of the Shi’i movement. They tried to in effect suggest that the key Quranic expression the family or the lineage of the Prophet [sAW] referred primarily if not exclusively to them. The term Ahl al-Bait [AS] is found in verse (33:33) of the Qur’an and is interpreted under a variety of evidence to mean the descendants of the Prophet [sAW] through Imam Ali [AS] and Bibi fatimah [AS]. The Abbasids tried to claim that they were those intended by the Quranic expression of Ahl al-Bait [AS]. Whether they believed this claim or not is open to question. It is unlikely that they did, it was more an opportunistic claim based upon general sentiment, obviously widespread in the community at that time, that legitimate rule belonged to the Ahl al-Bait [AS] to the descendants of the Prophet [sAW].
One sign of the opportunistic nature of the Abbasid claim is that initially they sought to present themselves as supporters of Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah. They came forward in support of one of the contestants for the Imamate. Gradually however they went beyond this, and claimed legitimate rule as the Ahl al-Bait [AS] for themselves. On what basis did they do this? There is an interesting correspondence between the second of the Abbasid caliphs and the now discarded Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah. After a certain point they thought themselves to be strong enough militarily and politically to discard Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah and to come out openly themselves as the ahl al-bait. The second of the Abbasid caliphs Mansur, wrote to Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah claiming to be the Ahl al-Bait. On what grounds? Because they are descended from Abbas the uncle of the Prophet [sAW], who at the time of the death of the Prophet [sAW] was the oldest surviving male relative. That being the case his lineage argued Mansur ought to be regarded as the Ahl al-Bait – that which continues from the Prophet [sAW]. As for the clear fact that the direct descent to the Prophet [sAW] came through his daughter Fatimah [AS] and the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet [sAW] Imam Ali [AS], Mansur said quite simply, ‘God has not made women like uncles, fathers and responsible people.’ In other words descent through the daughter of the Prophet [sAW] he dismisses as insignificant and invalid, rather descent he claims comes through uncles, or responsible people i.e. men. Quite apart from the politically incorrect nature of his claim there is nothing in Arabic or Islamic custom to make uncles heirs either in the narrow legal sense of the term or in the sense of political succession, it is clearly opportunistic argument.
Mansur then continues in the letter, ‘You are the children of the daughter, she is a woman who cannot become the Imam, how then could the Imamate be inherited through her.’ Mansur is therefore denying the claim to the Imamate of all the descendants of Imam Ali [AS] and Bibi Fatimah [AS] and claiming it for himself. Then he goes on to say, ‘You know after the death of the Prophet [sAW] no son of Abd al-Muttalib (the paternal grandfather of the Prophet [sAW]) remained alive other than Abbas, and therefore Abbas inherited his rights as the uncle of the Prophet [sAW].’ Then Mansur continued by saying that, ‘In pre-Islamic times we are family.’ That is to say that Abbas had a hereditary right to provide water to the pilgrims in Makkah (Siqayah) he says that his family retained this honorary position after the coming of Islam. In a later communication, Mansur makes the claim that he and his family possess greater administrative capacity than do any of the descendants of Imam Ali [AS], the same argument that had been used by the Umayyads in their confrontation with Imam Hassan [AS], they had the superior administrative capacity and that pragmatic argument should suffice that the caliphate or the Imamate be assigned to them. So there is here, ultimately, despite the circumstances of the age and the rather arbitrary claims made by the Abbasids, continuity between the Umayyads and the Abbasids. In both cases, a claim to greater administrative capacity, a thoroughly pragmatic and political claim, the legitimist claim put forward by the Abbasids being simply a form of propaganda suited to the circumstances of the time and not significantly maintained after the Abbasids had ensconced themselves in power.
There is however one significant difference between the Abbasids and the Umayyads, from the particular point of view in mind. The Umayyads in their mode of rule represented a fusion of Arab pre-Islamic tradition, and the monarchical traditions of the Byzantium, after all Damascus before the coming of Islam had been an important centre of Byzantine rule. And to a lesser extent Persian pre-Islamic models of rule. The Abbasids, although they seek to draw upon legitimist Islamic criteria become more completely than the Umayyads had been imitators of Persian models of imperial rule. Geography in part explains this, after all under the Abbasids the caliphate was transferred from Damascus, where it had been under the Umayyads to Baghdad, which was very close to the now ruined ancient capital of the Persian empire. It was not simply a question of core protocol, what you see now also, the pretension on the part of the Abbasids to enjoy some kind of direct Divine sanction. The legitimist argument was necessary during the period of transition after the collapse of the Umayyads, and then it was laid aside and the Ancient Iranian notion that the ruler is the shadow of God on earth now dilutes still further the concept and practise of the caliphate. The first caliphs (i.e. Umar and Abu Bakr) had called themselves the ‘Khalifah Rasul Allah’ that is the successor to the Message of God. Abu Bakr the first Khaliph was more completely titled ‘Khalifah Rasul Allah’, he was the successor to the message of Allah, Umar calls himself ‘Khaliphah Khaliphah Rasul Allah’ The successor to the successor of the Message of Allah. With each successive caliph the title was becoming longer, it became shortened to Khaliphah. However the innovation bough in by the Abbasids was to make a new connection with the word Khaliphah not with the Messenger, but rather with Allah. Mansur calls himself Khaliphat Allah, that is the, ‘Successor of God on eath’ i.e. a direct line of authority connects the caliph with God. A close approximation to the models of rule which existed in the pre-Islamic near east.
In the course of this transition from one perversion of the caliphate to another, from the Umayyads to the Abbasids, Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] despite the opportunity that was apparently presented by the insecurity and the instability of the age adhered the path of political quiescence that had already been laid out by Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS] and Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS]. And it may be said in so doing actually preserved the Shi’i cause the institution of the Imamate far more effectively than did any of the other splinter movements the Zaidi, had a certain prolongation during the period of the Abbasid caliphs but it was not crucial and took place in remote regions. Muhammad Nafs Zakiyyah was sidelined – duped by the Abbasids, although the movement of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah had a few remnants here and there, it did not amount to very much. One can say that among other things that foresight was displayed by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] in resisting the temptation felt by some members of the Shi’i community to intervene in a direct and politically straight forward fashion in the transformation that were underway. Instead what he does is to accomplish an important number of theoretical and organisational tasks. On the one hand he clarifies the principle of legitimate succession, in this he had been preceded by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS], he spelt matters out more clearly. Obviously the Abbasid claim to being the Ahl al-Bait is opportunistic short lived and spurious. Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] drawing on the antecedents set by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] introduced the principles of Nass – which means nomination or designation. Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq makes the point that each Imams claim must be certified by Nass. Part of the problem is that although we have verses from the Qur’an, and traditions of the Prophet [sAW] which point to the institution of the Imamate, and succession to the Prophet [sAW] by Imam Ali [AS] we do not have any verses of the Qur’an or traditions from the Prophet [sAW] which specify how the Imamate is to be transferred within later generations. From the Shi’i point of view, very clearly Imam Ali [AS] was nominated by the Prophet [sAW] as his successor, and the closeness of the grandsons Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS] is clear. However thereafter we cannot point to a verse of the Qur’an or a hadith which says that the succession to the Imamate should be from Imam Hussain [AS] onwards. Therefore we have the introduction or the consolidation of the principle of Nass by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] and this is extremely important. He says that Nass had existed throughout the line of the Imams onwards, that is that each Imam acting in accordance with that all important quality of Ismah (inerrancy, infallibility) had with Divine Authority transferred the Imamate to a successor by means of explicit designation. He said that this was the case with the designation of the first Imam – Imam Ali [AS] by the Prophet [sAW] and then successively to Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS] Imam Zain al-‘Abidin [AS] Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] and finally Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] himself. The question arises that whether or not the designation was written, in some cases it can have been written – this is not however crucial, what is crucial is that is should be a witnessed designation, even if it is oral and there is no document of succession which can be exhibited to the claim for the Imamate, still it must have been witnessed by a significant number of reliable people. In other words it is not enough for someone to come forwards on the basis of simply on a one on one meeting with the preceding Imam, to say that I was designated by the Imam – it has to be witnessed. Here Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] refers to that incident that happened in the very last hours of the life of the Prophet [sAW], when he called for ink and a pen to be bought. There is unanimity that that the Prophet [sAW] was unlettered, but from this it can be deduced that he wished to dictate something. Whereupon Umar said that the Prophet [sAW] is now in a state of delirium, therefore do not bring the pen and paper. Given the particular unpopularity of Umar from the point of view of Shi’i traditions for reasons that have been reviewed, the authenticity of this story might at first sight be doubted, because the undeniable implication is that Umar at a very sensitive point in the life of the Prophet [sAW] prevented him from having his last wished and words dictated – however this story is to be found in all reliable histories both Sunni and Shiah. Since Umar prevented writing implements to be bought into the presence of the Prophet [sAW] then there is no way of knowing that which he would have dictated. But of course the relevance of this incident the occurrence of which is indisputable to the claim of Nass is clear enough – that it was the wish or intention of the Prophet [sAW] on this occasion to have nominated Imam Ali [AS] as successor by way of Nass and through a written way. But as it were, there was a witnessed designation, and that is the designation that took place at Ghadir Khum. In any event, the doctrine of Nass already put forward by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] is spelled out in considerable detail by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] – looking back in the history of the Imamate, he discerns elements of transmission already having taken place.
Going together with the emphasis on Nass, is a re-assertion of the centrality of knowledge to the function of the Imam. If power is not being contested by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] – if on the one hand he rejects and does not associate himself with the various insurrectionary exercises, and on the other does not attempt to take advantage of the transitional instability between the Umayyads and the Abbasids – if not purely for political reasons but because of a growing emphasis on knowledge. It is easy to find indications of the centrality of knowledge to the Imamate very much earlier. If you look at the sermons given by Imam Ali [AS] gathered together in the Nahj al-Balaghah in the pronouncements of the correspondence with Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS] – it is already present. Here too Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] is not doing something which is new and unprecedented but rather bringing something forward and giving it greater emphasis and creating a clearer principle. That which is transmitted by way of Nass, is indeed the Imamate – not simply as a title and an office the Imamate as access to a particular body of knowledge. Here we may refer back specifically to that hadith of the Prophet in which he says, ‘I am the city of knowledge and Ali [AS] is its gate’ – that body of knowledge referred to by the Prophet [sAW] there. To Which access is had exclusively through Imam Ali [AS] is transmitted by way of Nass from one Imam to the next. How does this transmission take place, it should not be imagined that it is by way of formal instruction – it is a mode of transmission that bypasses or transcends normal rational processes of acquired learning. In a way reminiscient of receipt of revelation which does not involve intellectual exertion on the part of the Prophet [sAW], likewise without the exertion of intellectual effort, on the part of the Imam – that body of unique knowledge is transmitted to him by way of the Nass. So this knowledge is transmitted. Also certain books held to have been in the possession of Fatimah [AS] and Imam Ali [AS] are transmitted by the Imam [AS] to his successor – here what is being dealt with are identifiable material objects – books.
This is connected with the theme of ‘ilm, with a particular body of knowledge, but nonetheless distinct from it. It is said that in the possession of Bibi fatimah [AS] there had been a collection of books – the Mushaf Fatimah [AS]. The word Mushaf simply means a collection of sheets, gathered together in the form of a book. Mushaf is the word also used for a copy of the Quran, a written or printed copy of the Quran. The word Mushaf is used for the Quran because from a theological point of view the Quran is a copy and not the actual Quran itself, identifiable with the Quran itself. And this usage of the word Mushaf has given rise to ambiguity and misunderstanding, when it is said in Shi’ah tradition that Bibi Fatimah [AS] had in her possession Mushaf it does not mean that she had received a separate revelation akin to the Qur’an – it means that in her possession was indeed a book collection of leaves distinct from the Qur’an, containing detailed prescriptions of Islamic law and the prediction of future events. This book was passed on by her, to the line of the Imams [AS], as part of that which constitutes the essence of the Imamate. Likewise materially and not metaphorically is the inheritance by way of nass of the weapons of the Prophet [sAW], and of Imam Ali [AS] – swords and other weapons used by the Prophet [sAW] and Imam Ali [AS] in battle. The significance of this is very clear, it may be interpreted as a hint that although the essence of the Imamate for the indefinite future its principle function is the transmission of knowledge and the provision of spiritual guidance still the claim to exclusive legitimate authority remains – and with that claim remains also the right to be vindicated to force and military action. Therefore both the book as the symbol of knowledge and the weapon, the sword as the symbol of ultimate truth and indication of the legitimist cause – both of these form that which is inherited by the Imam [AS] and passed on.