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Imam Jafar al-Sadiq's Attitude towards the Abbasid Caliphate

It appears that the members of the `Abbasid family who became part of the revolutionary movement against the Umayyads adhered to the belief, in common with the various groups of the Shi'a, that the first lawful caliph after the Prophet was `Ali[143], and that the caliphate must belong to the People of the House (Ahl al-Bayt).

The `Abbdsids preached against the Umayyads by calling for reform and justice. They invited the people to rally around the most suitable person from the progeny of Muhammad (al-Da'wa li-l-Riďa min Al Muhammad). Many Shi’ite thought that this slogan referred only to the descendants of Imam `Ali. Thus they joined the `Abbasid movement[144].

Some of the Shi'a, such as Abu Salama al-Khallal, reached high rank in the `Abbasid movement without cognizing the fact that the `Abbasids were the founders of the movement, and they aimed to monopolize the caliphate for themselves. When the propagandists overthrew the Umayyads in 132/749, Abu Salama al-Khallal, having discovered the reality of the `Abbasid's goal, endeavoured to transfer the caliphate to the `Alids by corresponding with Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, `Umar al-Ashraf and `Abd Allah al-Mahd, offering it to each of them, Imam Ja’far al-Sddiq rejected the offer bluntly by burning Abu Salama's letter, and he warned `Umar al-Ashraf and `Abd Allah al-Mahd against accepting it[145].

Al-Sadiq had already held a secret meeting with the leading personalities of the `Abbasid family, such as al-Saffah and al-Mansur at al-Abwa', near Medina, around the year 120/737, to discuss the situation of the People of the House (Ahl al-Bayt). At this meeting the attendants wanted to form an underground collusion to bring about the downfall of the Umayyads.

A proposal also was made to support the Hasanid claims put forward by `Abd Allah al-Mahd on behalf of his son Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya[146], but al-Sadiq refused to have anything to do with it. Although the `Abbasids present at this meeting made a nominal pledge to Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, al-Sadiq seems to have been aware of the possibility that their involvement with the revolutionaries, particularly the Kaysaniyya or its Hashimiyya branch; would be successful and that they would replace the Umayyads. Also al-Sadiq knew he was the true divinely appointed Imam of the Muslims and he achieved the Imamate by the testament of his father, Imam al-Baqir. Thus people should rally around him to recover his right in the caliphate. Al-Sadiq's view did not please the `Abbasids, so, they carried out their underground activities against the Umayyads without his participation.

When the `Abbasids succeeded in seizing the reins of power in 132/749 they were naturally aware of the danger from their kinsmen, the `Alids, whose claims to succession would be greater than their own if `Ali's right to the caliphate were to be accepted by the general populace. As a result the `Alids now faced `Abbasid oppression more severe than that of the Umayyads[147].

The motives for this oppression seem to have been first of all doctrinal. The early members of the `Abbasid family, such as `Abd Allah b. `Abbas[148], had confirmed `Ali's right to the Imamate (the political and religious authority) by relating many traditions attributed to the Prophet supporting it. They had also supported `Ali against the first three Caliphs and participated in the Caliphate of `Ali, and they gave some support to his son al-Hasan.[149]

In the eyes of the `Alids by taking over the Caliphate the `Abbasids became usurpers of the political authority of the Imamate. Hence the `Abbasids became suspicious of the `Alid attitude toward their authority. Secondly there were economic motives for the `Abbasid oppression since Imam al-Sadiq continued to collect the khums secretly from his followers[150], an act which the `Abbasids considered as a preparatory step towards some conspiracy to overthrow them. These two factors obliged the `Abbasids to keep al-Sadiq in Medina and to hold his followers, especially in Iraq and later in Egypt, under close scrutiny as measures to ensure the security of the state.

Thus al-Sadiq maintained an externally quiescent policy towards the `Abbasids. Yet at the same time he spread traditions amongst the Shi’ite narrators of traditions stating that the Imamate was a prerogative bestowed by God upon one of the descendants of al-Husayn, who, before his death and at the Prophet's order, had transferred it to his successor by a clear stipulation (al-Nass al-Jali)[151].

Al-Sadiq held that it was not necessary for the divinely appointed Imam to rise in revolt immediately in order to recover his rights to political authority. He should be satisfied with the spiritual leadership and perform its duties until the time when the community is sufficiently aware of his right to political power. Then God will assist him in his quest[152].

In accordance with his quiescent policy al-Sadiq announced openly that al-Qa’im al-Mahdi and not himself would achieve political power[153].

Al-Sadiq's quiescent policy did not satisfy a considerable body of his adherents. Their political ambitions caused schism amongst the Imamites. The instigator of this political movement was called Abu al-Khattab. At first he was trusted by al-Sadiq and nominated as agent (wakil) of the Shi’ite group in Kufa. But al-Sadiq then repudiated and denounced him because of his extremist theological view[154], which he had endeavoured to enforce by militant means. It seems likely that Abu al-Khattab wanted to circumvent the influence and the interference of al-Sadiq by propounding his political and revolutionary ideas to al-Sadiq's son Isma'il, who was more inclined to such thoughts than his younger brother Musa. Thus Abu al-Khattab hoped to give his revolutionary ideas religious legitimacy under Isma`il's name.

Although the rebellion of Abu al-Khattab was easily subdued at Kufa, his failure and al-Sadiq's continued insistence on a quiescent policy forced Abu al-Khattab's followers to resort to underground activities under the leadership of Muhammad b. Isma`il. This event led the adherents of al-Sadiq to split into the Isma'ilis and the Musawiyya. After his death, they split into Musawiyya, who held the Imamate of Musa al-Kazim, al-Fatthiyya, who held the Imamate of the eldest son of al-Sadiq, Abd Allah al-Aftah; al-Muhammadiyya, who held the Imamate of Muhammad b. Ja`far al-Sadiq, the Waqifa, who thought that al-Sadiq had not died but was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi; and the two Isma`ili sects who held the Imamate of Isma'il and his son Muhammad respectively[155].


[143] Ahmad b. Abi Ya`qub b. Widih al-Ya'qubi, Tarikh al-Ya`qubi (Najaf, 1964), III, 90; Ibn Khaldun, al-`Ibar wa-diwan al-Mubtada wa-l-Khabar (Cairo, 1867 70), III, 173, Tabari,III,33-4,37; al-Hilali, op.cit., 186.

[144] Ahmad Ibrahim al-Sharif, al-`Alan al-Islamif al-`Asral-`Abbasi (Cairo, 1967) 19-25; Watt, The Majesty that was Islam, 28-30, 95-8. According to al-Najashi, amongst the Imamites who participated in the 'Abbasid propaganda was Yaqlin b. Musa, who was their propagandist in Kufa; al-Najashi, 209.

[145] al-Jahshayari, Kitab al-Wuzara' wa-l-Kuttab (Cairo, 1938), 86; al-Ya`qubi, III, 89-90, 92; Tabari, III, 27, 34; Ibn al-Taqtaqa, al-Fakhri fi al-Adab al-Sultaniyya (Cairo, 1927), III, 2; Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Edinburgh, 1973), 153-4.

[146] al-Masudi, Ithbat al-Wasiyya (Najaf, 1955), 181-2; Maqatil, 209; Omar, F., "Some Aspects of the `Abbasid-Husaynid relations during the early `Abbasid period (132-193/750-809)," Arabica, XXII, 171.

[147] Kashif al-Ghita', Asl al-Shi’a wa-isulaha (Qumm, 1391), 51; Ahmad Amin, Dhuha al-Islam (Cairo, 1956), III, 281-2; al-Isfahani, Kitab al-Aghani XI,300.

[148] `Abd Allah b. `Abbas b. `Abd al-Muttalib was one of the companions of the Prophet. He was born three years before the Prophet's emigration to Medina and in-the year 68/687 in Ta'if. He was famous in his deep knowledge about the interpretation of the Qur'an and the Prophetic tradition. Thus he acquired the title Hibru-l-Umma, the learned man of the nation. Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalam, al Isaba, II, 330-4.

[149] Muhammad Riďa al-Muzaffar, al-Saqifa (Najaf, 1965), 69-70. An example of the cooperation between the `Abbasids and `Ali during his regime: he appointed Quthum b. al-`Abbas as governor of Mecca and al-Ta'if, `Ubayd Allah b. `Abbas in Yemen and Bahrain and `Abd Allah b. 'Abbas in Basra. When `Ali died `Abd Allah b. `Abbas associated with al-Hasan as a leader in his army. Tabari, V, 64-5, 137, 141-3, 155, 158-9; al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa'(Cairo, 1964), 205; al-QarashT, al-Imam al-Hasan (Najaf, 1973), 49-54.

[150]al-Kafi I, 203-4, 545-6, 516. Several sources report that the other Imams received the khums and voluntary gifts from their followers, some of whom were working in the `Abbasid offices, such as Hasan b. `Alya al-Asadi, who was the governor of Bahrain. According to another report, the ninth Imam, al- Jawad, ordered his followers to send him his share of the booty which they had seized from the Khurramiyya. al-Tusi, al-Istibsar (Tehran, 1970), II, 58, 60-2; Maqatil, 333.


[152] Omar, op. cit., Arabica, XXII (1975),175-6.

[153] For a full account of al-Sadiq's statements concerning the future Mahdi see Kama’l, 333-59.

[154] Ikhtiyar, 290-3,321,323,326. For detail about Abu al-Khattab's activities see al Shibi, K. M., al-Sila bayn al-Tasawwuf wa-l-Tashayyu`, Baghdad, 1966, 141-6; Ivanow, The Alleged founder of lsma`ilism (Bombay, 1946), 113-51; B. Lewis, The origins of Isma’ilism (Cambridge, 1940). 32, 39, 66. B. Lewis, "Abu al Khattab', E. 12

[155]N. Firaq, 56-66, al-Shibi, op. cit, 206-31; C. Huart, "Isma’iliyya' E 12

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