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QUESTION: Was Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) the founder of the Shi‘a school or its promulgator and explainer?

Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq & the Shi’a School of Thought

By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Lutfullah as-Safi al-Gulpaygani
QUESTION: Was Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) the founder of the Shi‘a school or its promulgator and explainer?
ANSWER: Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) acquainted the public with the original Shi‘a school of thought, which perhaps even some friends and devotees of Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them) had not recognized properly. By establishing that vast school of knowledge, he familiarized the people with the realities of true Islam, which are fulfilled by following ‘Ali and the Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them). This was while in the periods before Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) the opportunity for disseminating knowledge was not to the extent that it reached in his time.
This does not mean that Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) is the founder of Shi‘a thought, since as explained earlier Shi‘a thought existed in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) in an organized and systematic manner. Mutawatir traditions and the illuminating guidance of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) had specified its limits, and passage of time and occurrences had no share in its development. Of course, these affairs had an influence in its propagation, promulgation, and organization in later periods, especially in the time of Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) and Imam al-Baqir (peace be upon him), and in fact these very incidents made more clear the truth of this school of thought as opposed to the opposing school of thought.
One of the reasons for the success of Shi‘a thought in the issue of Imamah was that during the rule of Banu Umayyah the people witnessed conduct and actions of the claimants to succession of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) which were incompatible with any of the Islamic laws and principles.
This conduct even became a cause for the people’s rebellion against them in different instances, though most of these rebellions were quelled by force and in appearance the government of Banu ‘Umayyah continued, but overall these events caused the Shi‘a school to spread and become entrenched in people’s hearts.

Before Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him)
QUESTION: Has the Shi‘a school been discussed in the speech of the religious leaders before Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him)?
ANSWER: As we mentioned before, Shiaism is an genuine Islamic school introduced by the person of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), and all can understand this point from the matter found in Nahj al-Balaghah and the sayings of Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him).
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) and Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) explained the various dimensions of this school for the people and perfected the people’s information about it and eliminated the over- and under-exaggeration existing regarding this issue.
They demonstrated that the principle of Imamah was an genuine and entirely Islamic concept and the reference point of explaining its reality and limits are the Imams (peace be upon them), just as they are the reference for explaining all Islamic concepts and terminology and Qur’anic verses. When their unparalleled and great-learned position became apparent, all understood that those eminent men possessed all abilities and at the same time were the sole reliable source in recognizing the principle of Imamah and its entire and original concept. Of course, this does not mean that we should presume that the principle of Imamah was their innovation or, as some who do not believe in the unseen world say, a product of history.
Among the reliable traditions according to Ahl al-Sunnat are the traditions of ‘Ali ibn Husayn (peace be upon him), Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him), and Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him); as Ahmad Shakir has written in his commentary of al-Ba`ith al-Hathith, the spiritual position and Imamah of the Imams before these two Imams was very firm in the hearts of the people.
The belief that the Imams are al-Qur’an al-Natiq (the Qur’an that speaks), i.e. they know the specific Qur’anic meanings and expressions, was raised on numerous occasions previous to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) in the words of his noble father Imam ‘Ali Zain al-‘Abidin (peace be upon him) and before him in the traditions of Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him), Imam al-Hasan (peace be upon him), and Imam al-Husayn (peace be upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) has pointed to this issue in traditions that have passed the limit of tawatur (consecutive narration) and he (peace be upon him and his family) introduced the Imams as equals of the Qur’an. In the books of Ahl al-Sunnat, a sermon has been narrated from Imam ‘Ali Zain al-‘Abidin (peace be upon him) in which the placing of Imamah in Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them) and their being the sole referral authority and Divine authority for mankind has been discussed explicitly and in depth.

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