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The Martyrdom of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (Peace Be Upon Him)

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Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (Peace be upon him) was born in the city of Medina on the 17th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, in the year 83 of the Hijri lunar calendar. His noble father was Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him), and his revered mother was Umm Farwah, the daughter of Qasim bin Muhammad bin Abu Bakr. His honorable name was Ja’far, with the well-known title of al-Sadiq and the honorific appellation Abu Abdullah.

His martyrdom occurred in the city of Medina, due to the conspiracies of Mansour Dawaniqi, the tyrannical Abbasid caliph. This tragic event took place on the 25th of Shawwal in the year 148 of the Hijri lunar calendar when he was 65 years old. The Imam was poisoned and is buried in the cemetery of Baqi.

Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) began his efforts with scientific pursuits, opening up a productive intellectual sphere from which emerged many great scholars and thinkers. His intellectual legacy has significantly influenced the Muslim community, leaving behind a vast treasure of knowledge, imparted through the education of his scholarly disciples.

Some of the prominent disciples of this distinguished figure include Hisham bin Hakam, Mumin Taq, Muhammad bin Muslim, Zurara bin A’yun, and others, all of whom are shining exemplars of the educational institution of the Imam. His scholarly movement expanded to such an extent that it enveloped all Islamic regions. People spoke of his knowledge, and his reputation was woven into the fabric of all cities and lands.

A Glimpse Into Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq’s Era

The fruitful life of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) coincided with the reign of five caliphs from the Umayyad dynasty (Hisham bin Abdul Malik, Walid bin Yazid, Yazid bin Walid, Ibrahim bin Walid, and Marwan the Donkey). Each, in their own way, contributed to the anguish and distress that affected the noble soul of the infallible Imam. Two caliphs from the Abbasid dynasty (Saffah and Mansour) also assumed the caliphate during the Imam’s era, demonstrating that they surpassed the Umayyads in tyranny and oppression. As such, the last ten years of the noble Imam’s life were marked by increasing insecurity and distress.

The era of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (Peace be upon him) was one of the most turbulent periods in Islamic history. On the one hand, continuous upheavals and revolutions were carried out by various groups, notably by those seeking vengeance for Imam al-Hussain (Peace be upon him). The revolution of “Abu Salama” in Kufa and “Abu Muslim” in Khorasan and Iran were among the most significant.

On the other hand, the Imam’s era was marked by the clash of different schools of thought, ideologies, and a diversity of philosophical and theological perspectives. This era emerged from the interactions between Islamic nations and the inhabitants of conquered countries, and also from the relations between Islamic centers and the external world. This generated a fervor and excitement among Muslims for understanding and research.

The Moral Attributes of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (Peace Be Upon Him)

There are numerous reports in the narrative sources about the moral characteristics of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him), such as his asceticism, generosity, extensive knowledge, prolific worship, and recitation of the Quran. Muhammad bin Talha described Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq as one of the greatest figures of the Ahlul Bait (People of the House of the Prophet ), endowed with abundant knowledge, deeply devoted to worship, asceticism, and Quranic recitation.

Malik bin Anas, one of the leading jurists of the Sunni tradition, said, “Throughout the period I was with Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, I always found him in one of three states: praying, fasting, or saying dhikr (reciting the remembrance of God).”

According to Bihar al-Anwar, when a poor man asked the Imam for assistance, he gave him four hundred dirhams. When the Imam saw the man’s gratitude, he also gave him his ring, which was worth ten thousand dirhams.

There are also narrations about Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq’s secret acts of charity. As reported in the book al-Kafi, he would fill a sack with bread, meat, and money during the night, and anonymously distribute it at the doors of the poor in the city. Abu Ja’far Khasa’ami narrated that Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq handed him a bag of money to be given to a person from the Bani Hashim, instructing him not to reveal who had sent it. According to Khasa’ami, when the man received the money, he prayed for the anonymous sender, saying, “He always sends money to me, but Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, despite his wealth, gives me nothing.”

Founder of the Ja’fari School of Thought

In such challenging circumstances, when Shi’ism was on the verge of extinction, that is, when the true Islam was being colored by the hues of the caliphs and displayed as Umayyad or Abbasid Islam, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq took the initiative. He engaged in the revival and reconstruction of Islamic knowledge and established a grand scientific school. The result of this endeavor was four thousand specialized students (like Hisham, Muhammad bin Muslim, etc.) in various fields of knowledge who spread across the vast Islamic nation of that time.

Each of these students was, on the one hand, a conveyer of the Imam’s logic, which is the logic of Islam itself. They were guardians of religious and scientific heritage and preservers of genuine Shi’ism. On the other hand, they were defenders against the infiltration of anti-Islamic ideas and destructive influences among Muslims. The establishment of such an intellectual school and the renovation and revival of Islamic teachings in this manner led to Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq being known as the head of the Ja’fari school of thought (Shi’ism).

Scientific Activities

During the imamate of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him), due to the weakening Umayyad government, greater freedom for expressing beliefs emerged and numerous scientific discussions on various topics took place. This scientific and religious freedom, which was lesser for most of the Twelve Imams, enabled the Imam’s students to freely participate in scientific discussions. Aban ibn Taghlib reported that people asked their jurisprudential questions from him in the mosque.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq narrated numerous traditions in various areas of jurisprudence, theology, and more. According to Ibn Hajar Haytami, people quoted abundant knowledge from him, and his reputation spread everywhere. Abu Bahr Jahiz also wrote that his knowledge and jurisprudence filled the world. Hasan ibn Ali Washa said that he saw nine hundred people in the Kufa mosque who were quoting hadiths from Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq.

Martyrdom of the Imam in the City of the Prophet (PBUH)

Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) passed away on the 25th of Shawwal, 148 AH, at the age of 65. He is often referred to as “Sheikh al-A’imma” due to his relatively longer life span compared to the other Imams who were martyred. His holy body was buried in the Baqi cemetery next to his father, grandfather, and uncle, Imam al-Mujtaba (peace be upon him). According to a narration, after enduring extensive torment and harassment by agents of Mansur Dawaniki, he was martyred by poison.

The Plot to Kill Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (PBUH)

Mansur could not bear to see the Imam’s progress and his greatness. He plotted to kill him through poisoning. It is noteworthy that the Abbasids learned the lesson of poisoning the Imams from their predecessors, the Umayyads. Muawiyah had repeatedly mentioned that God had “soldiers from honey” which referred to the poisoned honey he gave to his enemies.

Ibn Shahr Ashub wrote in Manaqib that Abu Ja’far Mansur poisoned him because of the grudges Mansur held against him and the fear he felt from the people’s support for the Imam. Mansur was someone who showed no mercy even to those who struggled to bring him to the caliphate. He even murdered Abu Muslim Khurasani, who had made significant efforts to establish the Abbasid state.

The Final Moments of Imam al-Sadiq’s (PBUH) Life

Sheikh Tusi narrates from Salemah, a maid of Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him), who said that she was present during his last moments. He lost consciousness and when he regained his consciousness, he ordered: “Give seventy gold coins to Hasan bin Ali bin Al-Hussein bin Ali bin Abi Talib (known as Aftas) to give to such and such person, such and such amount.” I asked, “Are you giving and forgiving a man who attacked you with a sword and wanted to kill you?” He responded, “Do you want me not to be among those whom God has praised for maintaining family ties, as described in the verse, ‘Those who join what Allah has commanded to be joined and fear their Lord and are afraid of the bad reckoning’?”

He then said, “O Salemah, indeed, Allah has created paradise and made it fragrant, and the pleasant scent of it can be smelled from a distance of two thousand years. But those who sever their ties of kinship and those who are undutiful to their parents will not smell its fragrance.”

His Last Wishes

He made several wills at the moment of his martyrdom, some related to imamate, some related to family matters, and some related to the public. He told his children: “Make sure you die as Muslims.” He told his relatives and family, “Indeed, our intercession does not reach those who take prayer lightly.” He instructed his family to hold a mourning ceremony for him during the Hajj season in Mina for several years after his martyrdom.

He ordered to send a gift to his relatives and kin, even seventy dinars for Hasan Aftas among his kin; Hasan Aftas was the same person who attacked the Imam with a dagger. He wanted to implement the Quranic verse about maintaining kinship ties. He appointed Imam Kazim (peace be upon him) as the next Imam, who was twenty years old at the time according to a document. Part of his instructions was about his own ghusl (Islamic ritual washing), shroud, and grave, for which there are Islamic rulings; and finally, part of the will was about people, the essence of which was to invite dignity and tranquility, protect the tongue, avoid lying and slandering and hostility, stay away from aggression, avoid envy and abandon sins.

In the last moments of his life when he saw death approaching, he ordered all his close family and relatives to gather around his bed. After they all gathered around the Imam, he opened his eyes and looked at each of them one by one and said: “Indeed, our intercession does not reach those who take prayer lightly.”

Words of Imam al-Sadiq (PBUH)

Hafs bin Ghiath reported that he heard Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (Peace be upon him) saying: “All good things are placed in a house, and the key to it is asceticism and lack of desire for the world.”

Then he said, “The Messenger of God (Peace be upon him) has said: ‘A man will not taste the sweetness of faith until he does not care about who the world is in the hands of and who is consuming it.'”

Then Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) said: “It is forbidden for your hearts to know and understand the sweetness of faith unless they practice asceticism towards the world and lack desire for it.” (Usul al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 128 – Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 73, p. 49)

Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed, hearts rust like copper rusts, so polish them with seeking forgiveness.” (‘Uddat al-Da’i: p. 249)

Imam al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) said in a hadith: “Avoid the calamities and your lives will be prolonged.” (‘Uyun Akhbar Al-Rida (peace be upon him): vol. 2, p. 36, Hadith 90)

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