The Formation of the Jaʿfarī Shiʿa Islamic School of Law from its Inception to the Occultation

By Afzal Sumar

The history of the development of the Jaʿfarī Shiʿa Islamic legal school has always fascinated me, all the more so when I continuously observed that existing academic works in the English language purporting to discuss the origins and development of the Islamic legal schools almost always ignored discussions of the inception and development of this school. This is even though Imam al-Ṣādiq (d. 148 AH / 765 AD) and the other Shiʿa Imams both prior to and succeeding him, who contributed to the Jaʿfarī madhhab’s development, were well known and respected contemporaries of the scores of legists who formed personal schools of law during the first and second century of the hijrah, many of which schools are now defunct except for the four existing Sunni schools. Indeed many of these early legists including the eponyms of the four existing Sunni legal schools had scholarly interactions with and transmitted from the Imams ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn (d. 95 AH / 713 AD), Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī (d. 114 AH / 743 AD), Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad, and ʿAlī ibn Mūsā (d. 203 AH / 818 AD), as will be shown during the course of this essay, and held them in high repute. Yet even though the four Sunni legal schools had and continue to have many areas of differences between them, with some of them rejecting the tools of legal deduction prominently used by another, their development tends to be discussed together in one volume and mention will even be made of those legists whose legal schools are non-existent today, yet Imam al-Ṣādiq or al-Bāqir will hardly get a passing mention! Indeed, I was surprised at how studiously Wael Hallaq avoided mentioning Imam al-Ṣādiq or al-Bāqir throughout his otherwise worthy book on the history of Islamic law.

Perhaps this is a reflection of past legacy, which was to view the Jaʿfarī madhhab as being one completely out of the ordinary or perhaps it is due to many scholars’ lack of knowledge of Shiʿa resources and literature.

This essay will endeavor to sketch a general outline of the development of the Jaʿfarī madhhab during the time of its founding Imams.

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