By Dr. John Andrew Morrow
Shafaqna (July 9, 2019).
Delivered on Sunday, July 7, 2019, at UMAA 2019: The Conference of Imam Sadiq, Held in Washington, DC
Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq was a giant among men. He was a teacher of teachers. He was a scientist in various branches: the formal sciences, such as mathematics and logic; the natural sciences, such as cosmology, chemistry, biology and botany. He was also a social scientist with expertise in education, history, law, linguistics, psychology and sociology. Today, I will speak of Imam al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, as a scientist, as a political scientist, and highlight some lessons that need to be learned.
The primary mission of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq was the preservation of the true teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as well as the preservation of his sacred bloodline both of which were co-dependent; the one unable to exist without the other, but the latter more important than the former.
The survival of the sacred bloodline of Muhammad, Khadijah, Fatimah, and ‘Ali was the supreme cause for the enemies of God were determined to snuff it out. After all, Herod did not wait for Jesus to grow into adulthood in order to kill him. He tried to kill all the infants in the region as a pre-emptive strike against the future king of the Jews. Likewise, the Umayyads and the ‘Abbasids had no intention of waiting for the rise of the Mahdi, as a full-grown man. They wanted to prevent his very conception generations ahead of time. Nip it in the bud so to speak.
Of all the Imams, Ja‘far al-Sadiq was one of the most active and influential in the field of education. He taught thousands of students. These, in turn, produced nearly one thousand books. Some of these students were Imami Shiites. However, many of them were Zaydi Shiites and Ghulat Shiites. And scores of them were Sunnis and Sufis. In fact, the sixth Imam played a formative role in the foundation of the Maliki and Hanifi schools of jurisprudence. Had he taught hard-core Shiism, as we understand it, he would have been excoriated. He would have been branded a heretic. He would have been killed. The sixth Imam had tact. He presented Islam in such depth and breadth, showcasing its entire spectrum, that he became an authority for Sunnis, Shiites, and Sufis. Muslims from every imaginable movement fell into his orbit.
If we are to succeed in spreading Islam; if we wish to emulate the example of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, we must adopt the same approach. We need to be broad-minded. We need to paint pictures with a broad brush. We need to cast a wide net. We must not paint ourselves into a corner. We must be able to communicate with and relate to other Muslims. We must also be able to communicate with and relate to the People of the Book: Jews and Christians, along with members of other faith communities.
We must be willing and able to work with secular humanists. We need to be able to extend our reach to both liberals and conservatives, to democrats and republicans, as well as left-wingers and right-wingers. We need to seek common ground. We need to appeal to universality. We need to plant seeds. We need to be like spores. We need to be like water filling every crack and crevasse. We need to be like air: everywhere. But doing so does not mean becoming like them, adopting their ideology, forsaking our philosophy, and exchanging our values. That type of assimilation is a betrayal.
Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq did not have his eyes set on Arabia. He did not even have them set on the Arab world as vast as it was at his time. He knew, far well, that the Arabs were under the clutches of the ‘Abbasids and that most had sold their souls to them. So, he looked for more fertile ground. He looked to the hinterlands: northern Iran, the Yemen, North Africa, and al-Andalus. He examined his options. He played his cards but placed his bets on the Maghreb. And to do so, he went native.
Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq married a Berber, a member of the Amagizh people from what is now Morocco. She was known as Hamidah al-Barbariyyah. He trained her in the Islamic sciences. She became a scholar and a jurist. She used to teach women in his seminary in Medina. She was considered a saint. When his son, Imam Musa al-Kazim, grew up, his father married him to Najmah Khatun also known as Tuktam, Umm al-Banin, and Tahirah. She was also a Berber from North Africa who was renowned for her knowledge and piety. The sixth Imam also dispatched two of his companions, al-Hulwani and Abu Sufyan, to North Africa, where they settled, married Berber women, and started to sow the seeds of Shi‘ism. None of this was done haphazardly. It was long-term geo-political and religious strategic planning. It was networking and alliance building. Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq was planning a major move.
In the household of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq were raised many men of distinction: Muhammad Nafs al-Zakiyyah, Yahya ibn ‘Abdullah, and Idris ibn ‘Abdullah. They were all the great grandsons of Imam al-Hasan. Idris ibn ‘Abd Allah had a retainer. His name was Rashid al-Awrabi. He was also a Berber. Nafs al-Zakiyyah led the ‘Alid Revolt of 762 against the ‘Abbasids and was martyred. Yahya and Idris, along with their nephew al-Husayn, participated in the Battle of Fakhkh on June 11, 786.
It is surprising how little we hear about the Battle of Fakhkh considering that Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq called it the Second Karbala. The level of oppression against the Ahl al-Bayt had become unbearable and intolerable. The direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad were forcibly repatriated to Medina where they were kept under the constant watch of the ‘Abbasid forces. Every morning, they were subjected to a roll call. If a single descendant of the Prophet was missing, the entire family of the Prophet faced collective retribution.
The descendants of the Prophet were tired of taqiyyah. Islam was becoming increasingly unrecognizable. The innovations had no limits. The great grandchildren of Imam al-Hasan revolted, calling for the restoration of hayya ‘ala khayr al-amal in the ‘adhan. Imagine, they were willing to go to war over that. Why? Because simply saying it was a death sentence. That was all they wanted. Asking to say ‘Aliyyan Wali Allah or ‘Aliyyan Hujjat Allah was entirely out of the question. Fighting for hayya ‘ala khayr al-amal was considered a compromise.
History repeats itself. Just like ‘Ali was betrayed, Imam al-Hasan was betrayed, Imam al-Husayn was betrayed, Nafs al-Zakiyyah was betrayed, so were Husayn, Yahya, and Idris, the grandchildren of Imam al-Hasan. They were abandoned by their followers who fled. Husayn was killed; however, Yahya and Idris survived. Yahya headed to Ethiopia, Khorasan, and then Gilan and Mazandaran on the southwestern Caspian Sea, where he created a Shiite state.
Idris ibn ‘Abdullah headed to Morocco, to the tribe of Rashid al-Awrabi. He married a Berber by the name of Kanzah. Together, they converted the Berbers to Shiite Islam and established the Idrisid dynasty. They were harvesting the seeds that had been planted by Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq. They raised the cry of ‘Aliyyan Wali Allah across the Maghreb. They printed coins professing: Aliyyun khayru al-nas ba‘da al-nabi, kariha man kariha wa radiyya man radiyya or “‘Ali is the best of human beings after the Prophet despite the aversion of some and the pleasure of others.”
From 788 to 974, the Dynasty of the Adarisa, the Idrisids, became a refuge for Shiites of all sects and schools, producing off-chutes in al-Andalus, the Hammudids, who ruled from 1016 to 1073, along with the Hudid dynasty, which ruled from 1039 to 1110. Thanks to the strategic planning of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, Shi‘ism and the progeny of the Prophet, were able to survive and spread.
Why, we must ask, did Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq place his hope in the Amazigh people of North Africa? Why didn’t he just concentrate on his own people: the Arabs. The fact of the matter is that the Arabs had been Muslims for six generations and, except for a small group of supporters, most of them had betrayed, persecuted, and slaughtered his family and followers.
The Arabs lived under authoritarian leaders. They claimed to be Caliphs, Imams, Supreme Leaders, the Guardians of Islam, and the Shadows of God on Earth. They claimed to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah. They claimed to implement Shari‘ah law. But they were illegitimate rulers. They did not have the support of the people. They were not righteous. They were not just. If this sounds like our current day situation that is because it is. The Muslim world was suffocating. And Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq saw the same thing.
The Berbers had been semi-conquered by so-called Muslims, over the course of three major invasions in 647, 665 to 689, and then 698, invaders who showed no interest at all in inviting them to Islam. The conquerors were only interested in booty: both literal and metaphorical. Even if the Berbers converted, they were forced to pay the jizyah in the form of their girls, and boys, who were to be reduced to sexual slavery in the Arab world. But thanks to Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, thanks to his wife Hamidah al-Barbariyyah, thanks to the missionaries of the sixth Imam to the Maghreb, the illustrious al-Hulwani and Abu Sufyan, and thanks to Moulay Idris, Kanzah, and Rashid al-Awrabi, the Berbers eventually learned about true Islam as opposed to fake Islam, the Islam of God as opposed to the Islam of Satan.
The Berbers had a horrible image of Islam, and rightfully so. The Muslims who attacked them were rapists, robbers, and murderers. They were pimps and pedophiles. They were very much like ISIS. The same applies today. Many Westerners have a horrible image of Islam, and rightfully so. What do you expect? They have been shown the Islam of Yazid and al-Hajjaj. Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq did not shrug his shoulder, sulk, and say: “Gosh. Since the Berbers hate the Muslims and think that Islam is from the devil, I might as well call it quits.”
When the slaver traders brought Berbers to Medina, he would buy them, and free them. He married one. He married another to his son. He freed the slaves. He spoke to the slaves. He sent his companions to the land of these enslaved people. They married the native women. They embodied true Islam. And they won their hearts and souls. And this is what we must do with the indigenous people of this land. This is what we must do with the African descendants in the Americas. This is what we must do with poor, working class Americans who have been crushed by savage capitalism. Muslims have plenty of potential friends on all sides of the political spectrum.
Many lessons can be learned from the school of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq. They include the importance of education in its broadest sense: making the message relevant and universal. They include indigenization, the opposite of endogamy, tribalism, nationalism, racism, classism, elitism, and parochialism. The Prophet and the Imams married into other races and ethnicities, acquired other languages, and integrated into other cultures for the sake of spreading Islam. The lessons from the school of Imam al-Sadiq include political acumen and strategic planning, building bridges of friendship and solidarity, finding common ground, and fighting for common causes. Clearly, we still have much to learn from the lessons of the sixth Imam. May Allah make us worthy.