The Imamat of Imam Sadiq (AS) was during a critical period of history, which coincided with the change in power from the Umayyads to the Abbasids. As a result, Imam Sadiq was the only Shia Imam who had to face pressure and calamities from both the Umayyads and the Abbasids. During his Imamat, Imam Sadiq did not find it suitable to initiate an uprising, since Muslims who were all united against the Umayyads had diverse opinions about the next government. Therefore, any new government would not have been stabilized without horrific bloodshed, which was completely against the teachings of the Imam. The Imam instead used this period as a golden opportunity to establish the Shia as a prominent school of thought in Islam forever. As a result, the Shia school of thought was named Ja’fari, after Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq. Through the Imam’s teachings, Shias are proud of having a doctrine in every aspect of Islamic sciences and knowledge.
Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad, also known Sadiq or Aba-Abdellah, was born on the 17th of Rabi’ al-Awwal in the year 83 Hijri in Medina. His birthday coincides with the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The title of Sadiq, which means truthful, was originally given to him by the Prophet to distinguish him from another Ja’far from the Imam’s lineage, who would later claim Imamat. Imam Sadiq was the oldest son of Imam Baqir (AS).
The Imam Summoned to Damascus
Imam Baqir used the Hajj as an opportunity to connect with Muslims from all over the Islamic world. There were no major restrictions which would be imposed on him in Medina by the Umayyads. Imam Sadiq would accompany his father during his trips as his right hand. One year, Hisham ibn Abdul-Malik, the Umayyad caliph, went to Mecca for Hajj where he witnessed large crowds of Muslims gathered around Imam Baqir to ask questions. Hisham was also informed by his brother that Imam Sadiq has delivered an impressive speech for the pilgrims about the honor and divine status of the Shia Imams. Hisham, who felt inferior to the Imams, did not find the time suitable to confront them during the Hajj. However, right after Hajj, he summoned the Imams to his palace in Damascus to attempt to intimidate them. During this trip, Hisham failed in his multiple attempts to defame and insult the Imams. The Imams further spread their names and the Shia beliefs among the Syrians by debating with Hisham and the Christian leader, and delivered multiple speeches to the people of Damascus and Madyan.
Martyrdom of Imam Baqir (AS)
Imam Sadiq was 31 years old when his father, Imam Baqir, was poisoned and was on his deathbed. Imam Baqir made a will for Imam Sadiq to spend a portion of his wealth to hold a mourning service in Mina during the Hajj season for 10 years. He wanted to remind the Muslims about the oppression against him from the Umayyads. Imam Baqir also asked Imam Sadiq to bring some of the elders of Medina as witnesses for his will. In his will, he asked Imam Sadiq to take care of his burial and requested him to follow specific instructions for his shroud and grave. Later, Imam Sadiq asked his father about the reason for taking witnesses for such simple requests. Imam Baqir replied that he wanted the people to realize that Imam Sadiq was his rightful successor and the next Imam, and to avoid any doubts after him. Imam Sadiq took care of his father’s funeral, and was followed by crowds of grieving Muslims. The fact that Imam Sadiq took on this responsibility was also another sign of his Imamat, since only an Imam can perform the funeral rites of another Imam. Furthermore, Imam Baqir’s lineage was only continued through his eldest son, Imam Sadiq.
The Imam’s Scientific Contribution
Imam Sadiq took full control of the Islamic university that his father, Imam Baqir, had established in Medina. The Imam brought this university to the height of its prosperity by training thousands of students. In this university, the Imam emphasized to his students that they document his teachings. The names of around 4,000 of the Imam’s students who have narrated his teachings have been recorded in history. Each one of them recorded many narrations from the Imam and spread them amongst the Muslims all over the Islamic world. As a result, the Imam became very well-known among the Muslims, and many referred to him to benefit from his knowledge.
Zaid was the son of Imam Sajjad and the uncle of Imam Sadiq. He believed in the Imamat of his nephew, Imam Sadiq. He was a pious and knowledgeable man. Zaid rose up in Kufa and went into battle with his troops and fought bravely with the Umayyads. In the end, an arrow hit Zaid’s forehead. He became severely injured and was martyred. Historical records suggest that Zaid’s uprising was approved by Imam Sadiq, but due to life threats from the Umayyads, the Imam could not publicly endorse it. Moreover, Zaid’s uprising was initiated in hiding, and any public approval by the Imam could have exposed his plans. Zaid had discussed his intentions with the Imam, and the Imam had given him the choice for his uprising. The Imam knew that an uprising by a great character like Zaid would have a significant impact on removing the legitimacy of the Umayyads. It would also serve the Islamic ritual of enjoining good and forbidding evil in society. However, the Imam had informed Zaid about his fate, that he would be killed and hanged in Kufa in the case of initiating an uprising. The Imam always remembered Zaid with greatness, and said that if Zaid had succeeded, he would have returned the government to the Imam as the true successor of the Prophet.
Establishment of Ja’fari Shia School of Thought
Hisham’s death marked the beginning of a downhill spiral that led to the destruction of the Umayyad caliphate. This period of turmoil lasted about seven years, and was the ideal opportunity for the Imam to expand his scientific contributions without any significant pressure from the Umayyads. Imam Sadiq took full advantage of this opportunity to accelerate the propagation of the Islamic sciences to their peak. None of the other Imams ever had such an opportunity in their lifetime. The number of narrations recorded from Imam Sadiq is the highest amongst all of the Shia Imams. The Imam’s teachings established Shi’ism as a prominent school of thought among the sects of Islam. As a result, similar to other schools of thought, like Hanafi and Maliki that were named after their founders, the Shia school of thought was also named Ja’fari, after Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq. This name was used not only by the Imam’s followers, but also by other Muslims to refer to the Imam’s teachings ever since his time.
Confrontation with the False Theological Beliefs
Imam Sadiq continued his father’s policy against the false theological beliefs of his time, and strongly confronted them. Some of these theological beliefs existed from the time of Imam Baqir, such as Jabriyah, Qadariyah, and the Ghulat. However, some theologies emerged at the time of Imam Sadiq, such as atheism and Mu’tazila. The Imam would debate with the leaders of these false theologies, and defeat them to reveal the reality to the Muslims. The Imam was frequently contacted by his followers from all over the Islamic territory who were looking for persuasive reasoning to the doubts raised by the followers of these theologies. The Imam would guide them by providing them with justifiable reasoning.
After nearly three decades of political activities, the delegates of the Abbasids found the situation in Khorasan suitable for a rebellion against the Umayyads. They chose Abu-Muslim to initiate the uprising in Khorasan. Upon achieving power, Abu-Muslim killed all of his rivals in Khorasan. He killed everyone who was against him, including the delegates of the Abbasids, and the tribal leaders. He was a merciless man who would kill anyone whom he feared, or was suspicious of for his position. In total, he killed more than 600,000 people to establish and stabilize the Abbasid government.
Abu-Muslim contacted Imam Sadiq to gain his influential support for his uprising. He sent a letter to the Imam claiming to invite the people to the Imam, and supporting the Imam’s candidacy for the caliphate. The Imam responded, “You are not my follower, nor is this time my time.” The Imam knew that Abu-Muslim was serving the Abbasids, and was loyal to them. He was also a bloodthirsty man responsible for the loss of many innocent lives. Truly, such a government would not have been accepted by the Imam as an eligible authority. Thus, the Imam rejected any support or collaboration with Abu-Muslim.
The Abbasids as a New Government
Shortly after declaring himself as the new Caliph in Kufa, Saffah sent Khorasan’s army to fight against the Umayyads under the leadership of Marwan II. The two armies met at the Battle of Zaab in Northern Iraq, and the Umayyads were defeated even though they outnumbered the Khorasan army. Upon Marwan II’s death, the Umayyad Caliphate was officially terminated. The Umayyad Caliphate was founded by Muawiyah after the peace treaty with Imam Hasan (AS) in the year 41 of Hijri, and lasted for around 91 long years.
Saffah and the Imam
Saffah was suspicious of the Imam since the beginning of his government. Despite the Imam’s peaceful activities, Saffah feared him. He exiled the Imam to his capital, Heerah, so that he could oversee his activities. After about two years of staying in Heerah, Saffah allowed the Imam to return to Medina. The Imam could continue his scientific activities in Medina, albeit with more restrictions compared to the time before the establishment of the Abbasid government.
Mansur and the Imam
Mansur gained full control over his government after defeating the uprisings of Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya and his brother, Ibrahim. He constructed the city of Baghdad as a capital for his government to show off his incomparable power. He regarded the Imam as the only threat for his established government. In these few years, until the Imam’s martyrdom, Mansur made multiple attempts to kill the Imam. He was looking for any excuse to kill the Imam. Mansur had said that he had killed many from the Prophet’s lineage, and yet their master, Imam Sadiq, was still alive. He had also said that the Imam was like a bone in his throat; he did not have any excuse to kill him, nor could he ignore his status in society.
Mansur, who had plotted to murder the Imam on several occasions, finally ordered Muhammad ibn Sulayman, his governor in Medina, to poison the Imam. The Imam was given a poisoned grape, which caused him to become fatally ill and lose most of his body weight. The Imam’s soul ascended on the 25th of Shawwal, in the year 148 Hijri, at the age of 65, in Medina. The Imam’s martyrdom filled the entire city of Medina with grief, and the people attended his funeral in crowds. Imam Musa al-Kazim took care of his father’s funeral, and buried him in the Baqi’ cemetery. Imam Sadiq was buried next to the graves of his father, Imam Baqir, his grandfather, Imam Sajjad, and his great uncle, Imam Hasan.