A Critical Analysis of Dr Hossein Modaressi’s View on the Life of Imam al-Sadiq

This is an abridged translation of an article that appeared in the journal, Nussūs Muāserah (49), and was originally authored by Dr Syed Redha al-Musawi. To read the original in Arabic, click here.

This article aims to critically assess 4 broad claims made by Dr Hossein Modaressi regarding the life of Imam al-Sadiq (A) in his book, Crisis and Consolidation in the Formative Period of Shiʻite Islam. These 4 claims revolve around (1) the lack of an uprising by the Imam (A) despite the ripe conditions within the Shi’i milieu, (2) His (A) lack of accepting the position of caliphate despite it being offered to him by the Abbasids, (3) His (A) ordering his companions to not refer to himself (A) as the Imam, and lastly (4) His (A) forbidding of propagating Shi’ism.

To what extent are these 4 claims correct? And to what extent do they fall in line with Shi’i theology?

The aim will be to assess the correctness of these claims as made by Dr Modaressi.

The translation of the book Crisis and Consolidation into Farsi (Maktab dar farāyand-i takāmul: naẓarī bar taṭavvur-imabānī-yi fikrī-yi tashayyuʿ dar sih qarn-i nakhustīn) caused a number of different reactions and responses, especially within the scholarly Farsi-speaking groups. This book, which is primarily a historical and sociological approach, raised a number of issues in the fields of theology and creedal matters. Some of the ideas mentioned in the book were found by some to be against the foundations of Shi’i beliefs and thus some saw the need to rise and respond to these ideas while another group did not see them as such but rather found it supportive of their own ideas that were a response to beliefs that they thought were not correct.

In the first part of his book, Dr Modaressi briefly examines the lives of the 12 imams and while discussing the life of Imam al-Sadiq (A) he mentions 4 claims:

  1. Imam al-Sadiq (A), while having the political support of many Shias (about 100,000 men) who were ready to oppose the oppressive rulers, refused to uprise and rebel against the authorities. This caused the Shias to object to Him (A).[1]
  2. The readiness of the Abbasid authorities to step down from political leadership and handing over the reigns of power to Imam Sadiq (A). However, the Imam (A) did not accept their offer.[2]
  3. In many instances, the Imam (A) did not see himself as the Imam and He rejected being addressed as such.[3]
  4. The Imam (A) would prevent his companions in engaging in any form of proselytization and preaching the Shi’i madhhab and did not allow the scholars or preachers to attract anyone from Ahlul Sunnah and calling them to join the Shi’i madhhab.[4]
[In the original Arabic, the specific quotes from Dr Modaressi have been broken down and listed in the footnotes. For ease of reading, I have copied the relevant section from Crisis and Consolidation here:]

Two decades later, however, his son, Ja’far al-Sadiq, also failed to act at a time that many considered ideal for the Imam, if he had sincerely wished to do so. He did not act, and the disillusionment engendered led the Shī’ites to reexamine long-established beliefs.

Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq was the most respected member of the House of the Prophet during the time of upheaval that saw the overthrow of the century-old Umayyad rule. Ja’far was an obvious candidate to succeed the Umayyads as leader of the Islamic state, and many expected him to step forward into the role. Iraq was full of his followers. A passionate follower told him that “half of the world” supported his claim. The people of Kufa waited only for his order to seize the city from its garrison. Even the Abbasids, who eventually took the reins of power, reportedly looked to him in the early days of their insurrection as their first choice for the spiritual leadership of their movement. His failure to take advantage of the situation led to various reactions: some of his followers even held that it was unlawful for him not to rise up; others simply showed disappointment that despite the new developments the promised golden age of the Shī’ites was no closer to its realization.

The Imam, however, remained quiet and did not enter any political activity. He also forbade his followers to engage in any political activity or to join any armed group, make Shī‘ite propaganda, or recruit new members into the Shī’ite community. Possibly along the same line, he at times did not even like to be called the Imam. He explicitly told his people that he was not the qā’im, and that there would be no change in the political status of the Shī’ite community during his generation.

In general, some of these 4 points (according to the author) are supported by Shi’i texts or at least, Shi’i texts contain analogous content. However, the writer of these lines does not feel that the last 2 points are in sync with our beliefs. As for the first 2 points, as will be seen, they can be interpreted to fall in line with our current Shi’i beliefs.

A critical examination of the 4 points

With regards to the first and second points, it has been proven that there were 2 groups of people (a group from within the Shias and a group from the Abbasids) who desired for the Imam (A) to revolt for the sake of caliphate with the claim that the time was right, and supporters were ready. However, the Imam (A), as the referent for Shi’i beliefs, rejected the possibility of this.

There are historical indications that present objective reasons as to why Imam (A) rejected the claims of these 2 groups and apparently, the questioner actually accepted the reasons of the Imam (A) and was convinced by the Imam’s justification.

Narrations evidenced in the first claim

With regards specifically to the claim of readiness of a great number of Shias, we point to – as an example – 2 narrations. They are, coincidentally, the same narrations that Dr Modaressi used in his claims:

Muhammad ibn al-Hassan and Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Bandar have narrated from Ibrahim ibn Ishaq from ‘Abd Allah ibn Hammad al-Ansari from Sadir al-Sayrafi who has said the following:

“Once I went in the presence of abu ‘Abd Allah (A), and said, ‘By Allah, it is your obligation not to sit (without proclaiming your leadership).’ The Imam asked, ‘Why O Sadir?’ I said, ‘Because your friends, Shi’a (followers) and supporters are so many. By Allah, were Amir al-Mu’minin (Ali ibn abu Talib), to have that many Shi’a (followers) as your Shi’a, friends and supporters, no one of the tribe of Tamim or ‘Ady could dare to disturb him.’ The Imam said, ‘O Sadir, how many do you think they are?’ I said, ‘One hundred thousand.’ The Imam said, ‘One hundred thousand!’ I said, ‘Yes, in fact, they are up to two hundred thousand, and I said, ‘Half of the world (population) is your Shi’a.’ “The narrator has said that the Imam remained calm and then said, ‘Is it possible to come with us to Yanbu’?’ I said, ‘It is fine with me.’ He then asked to bring a donkey and a mule already saddled. I hurried to ride the donkey and he said, ‘O Sadir, can you consider allowing me to ride the donkey?’ I said, ‘The mule is more beautiful and noble.’ He said, ‘The donkey is friendlier for me.’ I then dismounted and he rode the donkey, and I rode the mule. We traveled until it was time for prayer. He said, ‘O Sadir, dismount and we should pray.’ Then he said, ‘This ground is soft, prayer is not permissible here.’ We moved to a red ground, and he looked to a boy who shepherded goats. He said, ‘O Sadir, were I to have as many Shi’a (followers) as the number of these goats, then it would not have been permissible for me to sit (without proclaiming my leadership).’ We dismounted and prayed. When we finished the prayer, I turned to the goats and counted them. There were seventeen heads of goats in the flock.’”[5]

The narration, in general, shows that the Imam (A), as the referent and leader of the Shias, did not see the time as appropriate to revolt and seek caliphate. Rather, He (A) knew that the number of those companions and followers who could be relied upon were not enough for such a task. It should be noted that Sadir al-Sayrafi was convinced by the reply of the Imam (A) and succumbed to the Imam (A), and assuming that he was not convinced with the reply of the Imam (A), then the words of the Imam is a proof and evidence for us Shias.

The second narration, as an example of what Dr Modaressi uses to claim that the Imam did not want to revolt whilst there were many supporters who then questioned the Imam (A) for this decision is:

Sahl Ibn al-Hasan al-Khurasani who was one of the followers of Ahlul- Bayt in Khurasan (a province in Iran) came to Medina to meet Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (A). Sahl al-Khurasani said: “O son of the Messenger of Allah! You are of the Imams of Ahlul-Bayt. What prevents you from getting your right (i.e., the rule) while you find more than one hundred thousand Shi’a who are ready to fight for you?”

The Imam (A) asked him to sit down, and then ordered to turn on the oven that was in the house. After the oven became very hot and turned red, the Imam (A) said: “O Khurasani, step into the oven and sit in it.” Sahl said: “My master, O son of the Messenger of Allah! Do not punish me by fire and make it easy for me.”

At this time, Harun al-Makki entered the room, and after exchanging greetings, the Imam (A) told him to put down his shoes and to sit down inside the oven. He did so and the Imam (A) started talking to Sahl as if nothing has happened.

After some time, the Imam (A) said: “O Khurasani stand up and look inside the oven.” Sahl looked into the oven and saw Harun sitting cross-legged inside the fire. Then Imam al-Sadiq (A) asked Harun to come out of the oven and he came out healthy with no burns or injury.

At this time, the Imam (as) asked Sahl: “How many individuals do you know in Khurasan like this man?” Sahl replied: “By Allah, not even one.” The Imam (as) confirmed his saying and said, “We do not rise at this time when we do not even have five helpers (like him). We know better about the proper time.”[6]

This narration, as is apparent, shows the mistaken evaluation of one of the Shias of Khorasan of the situation of his time and his relying on quantity (number of followers) over quality (their steadfastness and loyalty). Imam al-Sadiq (A) by showing the incorrectness of this evaluation, showed that amongst the thousands claiming to be the followers of the Imam (A), there was not even one like Harun al-Makki who would remain steadfast upon his faith.

Once again, we point to the fact that the words of Imam al-Sadiq (A), regardless of whether the Khorasani man accepted His (A) proof or not, about the status of the Shias of his time, or at the very least during the transition period between Umayyads and Abbasids, counts as authoritative for us. Therefore, this hadith talks about an incorrect evaluation about the number of Shias whereby the Imam corrected the companion.

Narrations evidenced in the second claim

As for the narrations that show that the Abbasids wanted Imam Sadiq (A) to take control of the leadership, we will first mention the narrations used by Dr Modaressi and then evaluate the appropriateness of these evidences with the claim being made.

When the news reached Abu Muslim al-Khorasani of the death of Ibrahim, he directed letters towards Hijaz to Jaffer ibn Muhamad (Imam al-Sadiq), Abdullah ibn Hassan (Grandson of Imam Hassan) and Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Hussain, calling each one of them towards the caliphate. He began with Jaffer (A) and when the Imam (A) read the letter He (A) burnt it and said: “this is the reply.”

Then came Abdullah Ibn Hassan. When he read the letter, he said: “I am old, but my son Muhammad is the Mahdi of this nation.” So, he mounted [his animal] and came to Jaffer (A), so He (A) came out towards him and placed His (A) hand on the shoulder of his donkey and said: “O Aba Muhammad! What has come upon you at this hour?” So, he told him [about the letter] so He (A) replied: Don’t do it! For the affair has not yet come” so Abdullah ibn Hassan became angry and said “You know the opposite of what you are saying, but it is only jealousy for my son that has made you say this” So He (A) said: “By God, what I said was not out of envy, but this and his brother and his children (and put his hand on the shoulder of Abu l-‘Abbas al-Saffah) and not you [will take the caliphate]. Then he got up and Abd al-Samad ibn Ali and Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdullah ibn Abbas followed him. They said to Him (A): Do you [really] say that? He (A) replied: “Yes! By Allah! I say that and I know it [to be true]”[7]

In this hadith and the previous one, it shows that Imam (A) was well aware of the political and social situation of the region, whereby He recognized, to the extent that He (A) had no doubt, that the letter written to him by the Abbasids was just a plot amongst their stratagems to get control of the caliphate and thus attempted to control any possible opposition that they could face from any party that would likely revolt against them.

Imam al-Sadiq (A) showed Abdullah ibn Hassan the reality of this plot and the reality behind the letter and invitation to become caliph. It is worth noting that this plot was uncovered by history and the reasons behind it were made apparent. The Abbasids turned towards political games by playing with ethnic prejudices (ethnic differences between the Arabs and Iranians) and theological differences (partisanship with the Ahlulbayt) whereby they raised this slogan to pull the hearts of the Shias towards them and the newly converted Muslims, so that they would strengthen their ranks and increase their power but once they gained control of this affair and had authority over cities and people, they began to slaughter them.

The letters of the Abbasids to Imam al-Sadiq (A) were one of their political tactics to hide the real identity of their leaders and to disguise the reality of their situation from their opponents. Based on this, it is necessary to accurately study this important matter whereby Ibrahim under the appointment of Abul Abbās al-Saffāh identified the Imam (A) as his deputy before his death, going against the common trend at that time in this matter.[8]

Narrations evidenced in the third claim

It is possible to predicate the third claim onto two concepts:

  1. Negating of Imamate in an absolute sense, or the Imam (A) did not claim imamate for himself.
  2. Purposely not indicating towards His (A) Imamate, to protect himself.

In reality, all the narrations that have been observed by Dr Modaressi are evidence for the second concept and support the inadequacy of the first concept. From amongst those narrations, we mention what has been reported in Tafsīr al-Ayyāshi, Rijāl al-Kashi and Kitāb al-Kāfi of Sheikh al-Kulayni:

1. From Abi Ya’fur, He said: I told Abu Abdillah (A): I would like to present my beliefs to you that I practice my religion with. He (A) said: Do so. I said: I bear witness that there is no God but Allah (SWT), and I bear witness that Muhammad (SAW) is the messenger of Allah (SWT), and I testify to what He has brought from Allah (SWT). He said: Then I described for him the Imams until I reached Abu Ja’far (Imam al-Baqir (A)). I said: And I accept everything that I say about them. So He (A) said: I forbid you from taking my name in public.
Abān said: Abi Ya’fur said: I said to him with the first speech: And I speculate they are the ones about whom Allah (SWT) says in the Quran: Obey Allah, and obey the messenger and those vested with authority amongst you. So Abu Abdillah (A) said: And read another verse. I said: May I be sacrificed for you, which verse? He (A) said: Indeed your guardian is Allah and His prophet and those who believe and uphold the prayer and pay the alms whilst bowing. He (A) said: May Allah have mercy on you. I said: You say may Allah have mercy on you on this matter? So He (A) said: May Allah have mercy on you on this matter.[9]

This narration, as is apparent, shows that imam al-Sadiq (A) did not negate the position of Imamate (A) from himself but rather supported the view of Ibn Abi Ya’fur implicitly through his words: And read another verse, and made him aware of some of his spiritual positions when he read the verse “Indeed your guardian is Allah and His prophet and those who believe and uphold the prayer and pay the alms whilst bowing.” Therefore, Imam’s negation or prohibition was not regarding the position of Imamate but was directed at the issue of revealing and openly spreading this belief. The prohibition, however it was done, the evidence does not support it negating the position of Imamate from the Imam (A) but is predicated on the common state at that time of dissimulation and harassment that the Shias were facing, whereby revealing these beliefs could lead to the person holding such a belief to face many difficulties as well as leading to difficulties for other lovers and supporters of the Imam (A). With regards to Ibn Abi Ya’fur there are specific indications such as: What has been mentioned in al-Kāfi[10] whereby these evidences show that Ibn Abi Ya’fur would frequent some of the enemies of the Ahlulbayt and the people in high positions and when Imam al-Sadiq (A) was speaking to him, He (A) was looking at the possible dangers surrounding this.

2. The second narration that was evidenced by Dr Modaressi is:

Ja’far b. Ahmad from Ja’far b. Bashir from Abi Salama – the cameleer – who said: Khalid al-Bajali entered upon Abi Abdillah (A) while I was with him (i.e. the Imam), so he (Khalid) said to him: may I be made your ransom, I wish to describe to you my faith by which I worship Allah, and he (Khalid) had said to him (i.e. the Imam) before that: I wish to ask you, so he (i.e. the Imam) had said to him: ask me – for by Allah – you will not ask me about a thing except that I will narrate to you about it upon its totality (to its limit i.e. fully) and will not hide it (i.e. the answer) from you (i.e. using Taqiyya), he (Khalid) said: the first thing with which I begin is that I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, alone, there is no God other than Him, he (Abu Salama) said: so Abu Abdillah (A) said: such is our Lord, there is not with Him a God other than Him, then he (Khalid) said: and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger, he said: so Abu Abdillah (A) said: like that is Muhammad, a slave of Allah, acknowledging Him through servitude, and His messenger to His creation, then he said: and I bear witness that – Ali (A) – there was for him (i.e. Ali) of mandatory obedience upon the servants the like of that which was due for Muhammad (S) upon the people, he said: like that was Ali, he said: and I bear witness that there was for al-Hasan b. Ali (A), after Ali, of obligatory obedience over the creation, the like of that which was due for Muhammad and Ali, so he said: like that was al-Hasan, he said: and I bear witness that there was for al-Husayn of obligatory obedience over the creation, after al-Hasan, the like of that which was due for Muhammad and Ali and al-Hasan, he said: like that was al-Husayn, he said: and I bear witness that – Ali b. al-Husayn (A) – there was for him of obligatory obedience upon all of creation as it was was due for al-Husayn, so he said: like that was Ali b. al-Husayn, he said: and I bear witness that – Muhammad b. Ali (A) – there was for him of obligatory obedience upon the creation the like of that which was due for Ali b. al-Husayn, so he said: like that was Muhammad b. Ali, he said: and I bear witness that Allah has made you inherit all that, he said: so Abu Abdillah said: that is enough for you (i.e. suffices you), remain silent now, for you have spoken the truth, so he (Khalid) stopped speaking, then he (the Imam) praised Allah, and extolled him, then he said: Allah has not sent a prophet who has a posterity and descendants, except that he carried out (made to pass) for the last of them as he had carried out (enacted) for the first of them, and we are the descendants of Muhammad, he has carried out for the last of us the way he had carried out for the first one of us, and we are upon the path of our prophet, for us is the like of that which is for him in regards obligatory obedience (due to us as it was to him).[11] 

Similarly, the apparent meaning of this hadith is explicit in the Imam (A) affirming the words of Khālid al-Bajali and His (A) emphasizing on His (A) position as an Imam, but he ordered Khālid al-Bajali to be observe silence and after that He (A) began detailing about Imamate and thus blocking the paths to doubts and confusion.

3. The third narration used as an evidence by Dr Modaressi is:

From Mansur ibn Hāzim who said, “I told Imam abu ‘Abdallah (A): . . . Imam Ali (A) did not leave this world without introducing the person who possessed Divine authority over the people after him just as the holy Prophet (S) had done. The person who possessed Divine authority over the people after Imam Ali (A) was Imam al-Hassan (A). I testify that Imam al-Hassan (A) also did not leave this world without introducing the person who would possess Divine authority over the people after him just as his father and grandfather had done. The person who after Imam al-Hassan possessed Divine authority over the people was Imam al-Husayn (A). Obedience to him was obligatory by the command of Allah.” The Imam said, “May Allah’s blessings be with you.” I then kissed his head and said, “I testify that Imam al-Husayn did not leave this world without introducing the person who would possess Divine authority over the people after him. That person was Imam ali ibn al-Husayn (A) obedience to whom was obligatory by the command of Allah. The Imam said, “May Allah’s blessings be with you.” I then kissed his head and said, “I testify that Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn did not leave this world without introducing the person who would possess divine authority over the people after him. That person was Imam abu Ja‘far, Muhammad ibn Ali (A) , obedience to whom was obligatory by the command of Allah. The Imam said, “May Allah’s blessings be with you.” I then said, “Please let me kiss your head again.” The Imam (A) smiled. I then said, may Allah grant you success. I know that your holy father did not leave this world without introducing the person who would possess Divine authority over the people after him just as his father had done. I testify that yourself are the person who possesses Divine authority over the people after your holy father and that obedience to you is obligatory by the command of Allah.” The Imam (A) said, “It is true enough, The Imam said, “May Allah’s blessings be with you.” I then asked for his permission to kiss his head and the Imam (A) smiled. I kissed his head. The Imam (A) then said, “Ask whatever you want. I, from this day on, will never deny you anything.”[12]

What was said about the previous narration can also be said about this narration as well since its apparent meaning is explicit in that Imam al-Sadiq (A) was not trying to negate his Imamate. Rather, He was through his reply to the questioner trying to affirm it.

Narrations evidenced in the fourth claim

With regards to this point, it can be said that the narrations that are about prohibiting people from inviting others towards Shi’ism are of two types:

  1. Those narrations that prevent from calling towards Shi’ism due to the life of the propagator becoming endangered or being in the presence of one about whom it is not farfetched that they would not accept the message, and have low capacity in bearing the message and controlling themselves. The narrations in al-Kāfi are with regards to proving this.
  2. A group of narrations that report the prohibition of calling people towards the sect and leaving the matter of guidance to Allah (SWT).

With regards to the first type, those narrations are in line with style and beliefs of the Shiah. As an example, we quote a narration from al-Kāfi:

From Mu’alla ibn Khunayth: Once abu ‘Abd Allah (a.s.) said to me, ‘O Mu’alla, conceal our cause and do not make it public; to those who conceal our cause and do not publicize it, Allah grants honor in this world. He will make it a light between his eyes in the next life and lead him to paradise. O Mu’alla, whoever publicizes our cause and does not conceal it, Allah humiliates him in this world, removes the light between his eyes in the next life and will make darkness to lead him to fire. O Mu’alla, al-Taqiyyah is my religion and the religion of my predecessors. There is no religion for one who does not observe al-Taqiyyah. O Mu’alla, Allah loves to be worshipped secretly just as He loves to be worshipped publicly. O Mu’alla, one who publicizes our cause is like one who rejects it altogether.[13]

In an explicit manner, Imam al-Sadiq (A) in this hadith prohibits from publicizing about the matters of Imamate in the situations where Taqiyyah is necessary. In brief, the places where Taqiyyah is necessary have been defined as where there is an actual harm, regardless of whether this harm comes to the claimant or protector of the matters of Imamate and Ahlulbayt (A).[14]

As for the narrations relating to the second type then it is important to mention that all these narrations need to be scrutinized since the apparent meaning of these narrations is that they call the Shias to be wary and prudent when critiquing their opponents.

From amongst the narrations in this regard:

From Fuḍayl ibn Yasār: Once I asked abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘Can we invite people to this belief (the belief of the Shi’a Muslims)?’ He said, ‘No, do not invite them, O Fudayl. When Allah wants good for a servant of His, He orders an angel to grab him by his neck and then enters him in this belief compelled or willing.[15]

It could be gleamed from the apparent meaning of the narration that it is about prohibiting calling the Ahlu Sunnah towards Shi’ism. However, when we look at the content of the whole group of these narrations it is clear that they are about prohibiting calling that is not free from plain verbal confrontations. However, whenever this obstacle is revealed, it is allowed to propagate. Rather, it is something desired in itself.

It is also possible that the meaning of this narration is the apparent prohibition of the weak shias specifically, from inviting the Ahlu Sunnah. The evidence for this claim is a group of narrations such as the following one which warns about verbal confrontations but on the other hand emphasizes on practical invitations. It has been reported from Imam al-Sadiq (A):

Be callers (towards us) with your actions, and do not be callers to us with your tongues because the matter of this sect is not with that with the tongue. Whoever conducts a pledge will not be removed from this pledge even if his nose is hit with a sword. And for the one who hates us, if you gave him whatever is on this earth he would never love us.[16]

This narration (which we have paraphrased) calls towards propagation through akhlāq and interactions and prohibits from limiting propagation to the tongue. As is apparent, the prohibition in this narration is conditioned by some qualifiers which have been mentioned in another narrations. It is important to note that Syed al-Himyari in his Qurb al-Isnād has narrated one of these narrations that apparently has an absolute prohibition. Immediately after that, he narrates another narration with the same sanad in the chapter of Taqiyyah and protecting one’s life[17]. All these narrations show the non-existence of an absolute prohibition. Rather, a prohibition under some conditions and in different contexts due to the time or the environment.

The following narration indicates the permission from Imam al-Jawad (A) for spreading the message and other discourses that were not allowed to be spread and propagated during the times of Imam al-Sadiq (A).

From Muhammad ibn al-Hassan ibn abu Khalid Shaynula who has said the following. “I said to abu Ja‘far (a.s.), ‘May Allah take my soul in your service, our sheikhs have narrated Hadith from Imam abu Ja‘far and from Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) and at that time because of fear Taqiyah, concealment was sever. They concealed their books and did narrate from them. When they died their books came to us.’” The Imam said, “You may narrate from them because they contain the truth.”[18]

The gathering of the Shias in the Hijāz province and Iraq during the times of Imam al-Bāqir (A) and Sādiq (A), and the fear of the political authorities clamping down on the Shias and exterminating them, as well as the fear of every reporter revealing every report of the Imams are all reasons for understanding the wisdom behind issuance of the likes of the above narrations.

Decisively, the assumption of an absolute prohibition from the Imams on propagating the message of Imamate apparently contradicts the conduct of the Holy Prophet (S). We suffice by mentioning one narration as an example so that our argument becomes clear.

From Sulayman ibn Khālid: “Once I asked abu ‘Abd Allah (a.s.) ‘I know a family who listens to me, should I invite them to this cause (belief of the Shi ’a Muslims)?’ The Imam said, ‘Yes, Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, says in His book, ‘Believers, save yourselves and your families from the fire which is fueled with people and stones . . . (66:6).[19]

Similarly it is observed that al-Majlisi (in his commentary reported on Qurb al-Isnād) found that the reason for the compiler of the above book to gather these narrations and the necessity of them being in line with the narrations of the Prophet (S), proves that the prohibition on calling people towards Shi’ism was when the propagation leads to argumentation and therefore to certain harm, whereby he says the apparent meaning of these narrations is prohibiting the Shias from facing off and arguing with the opponents and it is feared that they will be inflicted with harm due to this calling and perhaps the reason was that the Shias would get too involved when propagating, supposing that by this they would complete the guidance for people. Therefore, the goal of these narrations was not to stop people from propagating when they are certain that it will lead to some benefit and no harm would be inflicted, because calling people towards guidance is the message of the Prophet and is the most important of obligations.[20]

In addition to all that, there are numerous instances where imam al-Sadiq (A) himself engaged in debate and argument with the leaders of the opponents[21], as well as approving the debates of the greatest of the companions. From amongst them: the debate of Hishām ibn al-Hakam with Amr ibn Ubayd who was the leading scholar of the Mu’tazila in that period, whereby when Imam al-Sādiq (A) heard of the debate, He (A) supported Hishām and praised him for it.[22]


In this essay, the aim was to critique four claims made by Dr Modaressi Tabatabai regarding the history of Imam al-Sadiq (A) to see how correct they were and how much in line they are with Shi’i teachings as well as their conformity with the foundations of the Shi’i madhab.

With regards to the plentifulness of the friends and companions of imam al-Sadiq (A) and yet the Imam refused to rise up, we explained that using the evidence that Dr Modaressi used, the Imam (A) wasn’t completely ruling out rising up. Rather, the Imam in response to the questioner was informing him of the necessary objective conditions that need to be in place for revolution. One of them was the existence of such supporters who were fully steadfast and had complete obedience to the Imam (A) in ease and in hardship; for quantity is not the criterion in religion as much as quality. Imam al-Sadiq (A) corrected the opinion of the questioner and revealed to him that the quantity [of supporters] he was referring to was not enough to support a revolution.

With regards to the Abbasids offering Imam (A) the reigns of the caliphate, we mentioned that the narrations and historical reports exposed the intentions of the Abbasids and that their offering was nothing more than a political tactic to hide the true identity of those they were willing to lead whereby the Imam (A) himself exposed their plans and revealed to them that they had already previously chosen Abul Abbas al-Saffah as their caliph and their requests were not real.

As for the Imam prohibiting his companions and friends from calling people towards his (A) Imamate, it has become clear from scrutinizing the same evidences and narrations that Dr Modaressi mentioned that Imam (A) – opposite to what was claimed – was in the position of proving and affirming His position as an Imam to the listener and He (A) prohibited them from revealing their beliefs whenever there was a danger to their lives.

With regards to the last of the four points that this essay tackled, whereby Dr Modaressi claimed that the Imam prohibited his followers from calling towards Shi’ism, we responded by saying that the Imam (A) himself was calling towards Shi’ism and even supported his companions when they were involved in propagation. We explained that in the cases where a prohibition was issued from the Imam (A), it was not an absolute prohibition but was based on a fear of harm being inflicted to the propagator’s life and placing the Shia community in danger and it became clear that in some instances the prohibition was based on taqqiyah and what is necessitated by the obligation of protecting one’s life.

This article was an effort in responding to a part of what Dr Modaresi has propounded and it is hoped other researchers will analyze and critique the rest of his book with the intention of revealing that which is correct and refuting the incorrect. All this should be done in an academic manner in which the respect of the author is maintained, and his ideas are treated with full objectivity and intellectual integrity.


[1] Al-Kāfi 1:307, 2:242, 8:331; Rijāl al-Kashi: 158, 353-4, 398; Ibn Shahr Āshub, Manāqib Āl Abi Tālib, 3:362

[2] Al-Kāfi 8:274; Ibn Shahr Āshub, Manāqib Āl Abi Tālib, 3:355-6; Shahristāni 1:179

[3] Al-Barqi, al-Mahāsin 1: 288-9; Tafsīr al-Ayyāshi, 1:327; al-Kāfi 1:181, 189; Rijāl al-Kashi: 281, 289, 349, 419, 421-3, 427.

[4] Al-Kāfi 1: 165-7, 2:212-4, 221-6, 369-72; al-Barqi, al-Mahāsin 1:200-1; al-Himyari, Qurb al-Isnād: 37

[5] Al-Kafi, 2:243

[6] Ibn Shahr Āshub, Manāqib Āl Abi Tālib, 4:237

[7] Ibn Shahrashub, Manāqib Aal Abī Tālib 4:229

[8] Tarikh al-Tabari, 7:423

[9] Tafsīr al-Ayyāshi, 1:327

[10] Al-Kāfi, 3:134, 1:376, 2:218, 7:404

[11] Rijāl al-Kashi, 422

[12] Al-Kāfi, 1:189; Rijāl al-Kashi: 420

[13] Al-Kāfi, 2:223-4

[14] In reference to Taqqiyah and concealing one’s faith in places where there is fear for one’s life and chances of harm, see al-Kāfi 2:217,226 – chapter of Taqiyyah and Chapter of concealing

[15] Al-Kāfi 1:167; See also al-Barqi, Mahāsin 1:202

[16] Himyari, Qurb al-Isnād: 38

[17] Ibid 17

[18] Al-Kāfi, 1:53

[19] Al-Kāfi, 2:212 in the Chapter of Calling one’s family towards faith. See also Tafsīr furāt al-Kufi: 202

[20] Al-Majlisi, Bihār al-Anwār 5:199

[21] Al-Kāfi, 1:58; 8:311

[22] Al-Kāfi, 1:169-170