فلما انصرفت إلى الكوفة أقبلت علي الشيعة فمزقوني كل ممزق، يأكلون لحمي ويشتمون عرضي، حتى أن بعضهم استقبلني فوثب في وجهي، وبعضهم قعد لي في سكك الكوفة يريد ضربي، ورموني بكل بهتان
So when I reached Kufa, the Shīʿa turned towards me, and began tearing me to shreds, eating my flesh and disparaging my honour, such that one of them confronted me and punched me in the face, and one of them lay in ambush for me in the markets of Kufa wishing to beat me up, and they made all sorts of false accusations against me
Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar al-Juʿfī
Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar al-Juʿfī (d. before 179), a money-changer by profession, was a Kufan companion of the two Imams, al-Ṣādiq and al-Kāẓim. The reports about him that have come down to us are extremely contradictory in nature, with some reports portraying him favourably and others doing quite the opposite.
This paper studies a cross-section of the pro-Mufaḍḍal reports and demonstrates that they were circulated by a discernable ‘trend’ who identified with his ‘memory’ and were working to defend his ‘legacy’ in the context of on-going controversy over both.
Narrator-analysis of the reports allows us to identify the pro-Mufaḍḍal ‘trend’ because they exhibit a common pattern: they all, without fail, are narrated either by Mufaḍḍal himself, or those somehow connected to him (i.e. primarily associates and students), who also happen to be independently accused of Ghuluww. They can thus be categorized as the ‘Esotericists’ (those who saw the Imams more as initiators to a secret gnosis which led to the abrogation of the Law).
A creative mirror-reading of the reports brings to light not only what the controversy was all about (the main issue under contention), but also reveals the identity of those whom the reports were responding to. These can be categorized as the ‘Legalists’ (the wider community who saw the Imams more as authorities in the Law and maintained a full commitment to it).
Tooting your own Horn
A common theme of the pro-Mufaḍḍal reports is his depiction as someone appointed by the Imam over the Kufans, specifically, as a financial agent who is trusted to make use of the Imam’s wealth in his possession at his own discretion.
A companion called Abū Ḥanīfa Sābiq al-Ḥāj recounts how he was arguing with his son-in-law over inheritance in one of the streets of Kufa when Mufaḍḍal happened to pass by. Mufaḍḍal asks them to come to his house where he proceeds to settle the dispute by handing over 400 silver-coins of what seemed to be his own money before declaring:
Verily this is not my own wealth, rather, Abū ʿAbdillāh ordered me that if two men from among our fellows (i.e. the Shīʿa) argue over a matter I should resolve what is between them and recompense them from his wealth – so this is from the wealth of Abī ʿAbdillāh
Another frequently encountered theme is his depiction as the one favoured by the Imam above all the other companions, so much so, his position is to be given precedence when they (i.e. the companions) disagree.
Mufaḍḍal relates how a companion called al-Fayḍ b. al-Mukhtār came to Imam al-Ṣādiq to ask about the interpretation of a verse from the Qur’an. After receiving an answer, Fayḍ goes on to complain about the Ikhtilāf (differences) between the companions of the Imam in Kufa, when al-Ṣādiq asks him to elaborate, Fayḍ states:
I sit in on their study-circles in Kufa and am on the verge of falling into doubt because of the discrepancies in their Hadith, until I resort to Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar, so he informs me from among them (the differing positions) of that (position) which my self attains rest at and my heart is satisfied with
Whereupon Imam al-Ṣādiq is supposed to have declared:
Indeed – he (i.e. Mufaḍḍal) is as you say O Fayḍ …
A common-sense principle of ʿIlm al-Rijāl would require us to ignore both these reports when evaluating Mufaḍḍal, since it is he himself who narrates them, and they cannot be cleared of the possible motive of self-promotion.
It is not coincidental, moreover, that both reports are relayed by the notorious Muḥammad b. Sinān (d. c. 220). The latter was Mufaḍḍal’s main student and the principal transmitter of his works. There is even evidence that he saw himself as the successor of what I have called the pro-Mufaḍḍal ‘trend’ which explains why he wishes to bolster the credentials of its putative figurehead.
Consider this most blatant of self-promoting reports below.
Muḥammad b. Sinān claims to have entered in to see Imam al-Kāẓim a year before the Imam was forcefully transferred to Iraq (Baghdad) ‘while ʿAlī (i.e. al-Riḍā), his son, was in front of him’.
The Imam proceeds to inform him of the tragic happenings that were going to occur soon, including his own murder at the hands of the Abbasid tyrant, and the subsequent opposition to his son’s succession as the next Imam (i.e. alluding to the challenge of the Wāqifa).
Muḥammad declares his resolve to acknowledge al-Riḍā’s Imāma and submit to it ‘if Allah lengthens his life’ to see such a day.
The Imam informs him that Allah will indeed lengthen his life and:
You (i.e. Muḥammad) will call to his Imāma and the Imāma of the one who stands in his position after him
Muḥammad b. Sinān asks:
Who will that one be – may I be made your ransom?
al-Kāẓim informs him that it will be:
His son Muḥammad (i.e. al-Jawād)
Muḥammad b. Sinān exclaims passionately:
With pleasure and submission
At which point the Imam comments:
Thus I have found you (i.e. your name) in the Book of the Commander of the Faithful (i.e. which contains the names of the true Shīʿa)
Verily you, amongst our Shīʿa, are more apparent than lightening on a dark night
Then the crescendo:
O Muḥammad – al-Mufaḍḍal is my intimate and my comfort. And you are their intimate and their comfort (i.e. the two Imams after al-Kāẓim: al-Riḍā and al-Jawād)
It is forbidden for the Fire to touch you ever!
Of course, in keeping with our pattern, Muḥammad b. Sinān is known to have flirted with Ghuluww, specifically the Ṭayyāra (‘high-fliers’) among them, so-named because of their proclivity to soar beyond the limit in ‘exaggerating’ the status of the Imams by deifying them.
Ṣafwān b. Yaḥyā (d. c. 210), one of the Aṣḥāb al-Ijmāʿ and a contemporary of Muḥammad b. Sinān, states in a play of words:
This Ibn Sinān wished to take flight (Ar. Yuṭīr) (an allusion to the Ṭayyāra) more than once, so we clipped him (i.e. cut-off his figurative wings), and he remained with us
In a more explicit variant – we read:
Muḥammad b. Sinān was of the Ṭayyāra so we clipped him
Opposition to Mufaḍḍal
For a supposed appointee of the Imam in Kufa, one gets the sense that a large cross-section of the Shīʿa there were opposed to Mufaḍḍal. We know this because his supporters needed to address this annoying fact and in doing so indirectly reveal its presence.
Khālid al-Jawwān – someone who by his own admission had engaged in speculation on the question of the divinity of the Imam (debated whether the Imam was God-like or not) in a group of ‘our associates’ which included Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar – claims that Imam al-Kāẓim once asked him what the Kufan Shīʿa say about Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar.
He (i.e. Khālid) replied:
They say: There is in him an appearance (manner) of a Jew or a Christian – while he oversees the affair of your man (i.e. the Imam)!
The Imam is supposedly outraged to hear this:
Woe be upon them!
How wickedly they evaluated him!
He is not like that to me (i.e. in my evaluation), nor do I have someone like him among them!
This report presumes that Mufaḍḍal was working on behalf of the Imam in Kufa (i.e. the first theme), reveals the intense opposition he faced from fellow Shīʿa there, and responds to it by having the Imam state that Mufaḍḍal is incomparable amongst all his companions (i.e. the second theme).
Those Pesky Kufans
What exactly was Mufaḍḍal being accused of by his opponents ‘the Kufan Shīʿa’?
The former report only tells us that he had the ‘appearance (manner) of a Jew or a Christian’. In other words, there was something off about his life-style, something which resembled the life-style of non-Muslims and which would naturally have been frowned upon in a traditional Muslim society.
To discover more about what lay behind this opposition we need to turn to two related reports, transmitted by a direct authority of al-Kashshī and the source of about 5% of the material found in Rijāl al-Kashshī.
He is Naṣr b. al-Ṣabbāḥ (fl. 4th Century AH), a Ghālī who was known to be from the Ṭayyāra.
In the first shorter report, Naṣr b. al-Ṣabbāḥ attributes the following explanation to Ibn Abī ʿUmayr (without giving a chain to him) when seeking to address why Mufaḍḍal did not have an easy-ride in Kufa:
When Abū al-Khaṭṭāb manifested what he manifested, the Shīʿa set out to Abī ʿAbdillāh (i.e. from Kufa) and said to him: Appoint for us a man whom we can resort to for matters related to our religion and for what we require of rulings.
He (i.e. the Imam) said: You do not require that. Whenever one of you has a need he should travel to me and hear from me and depart.
They said: There is no other way (i.e. you must appoint)!
He said: I have appointed Mufaḍḍal over you, hear him and accept from him, for he does not impute to Allah and to me except the truth.
It was not long before they (i.e. the Kufans) began reviling him and his associates, saying ‘his associates do not pray, they drink Nabīdh (intoxicating drinks), they are pigeon-fanciers, and brigands, yet Mufaḍḍal is befriending them and bringing them near!’
The report reiterates the Imam’s appointment of Mufaḍḍal over the Kufans, but with the additional twist of depicting the Kufans as having themselves requested the appointment in the first place.
As is to be expected from a report circulated by a natural supporter of Mufaḍḍal, the tone of the report seems to lay the blame for what happened next, not with Mufaḍḍal, but those pesky Kufans who could not trust the person the Imam had appointed for them and turned on him soon after.
The opposition from the Kufan Shīʿa, we are told, had to do with Mufaḍḍal keeping company with open-sinners who were lax in upholding the Sharīʿa. It is not that they were non-Muslims, but their lifestyle would have made them (and Mufaḍḍal by association) ‘have the appearance (manner) of a Jew or a Christian’ as Khālid al-Jawwān’s report puts it. For just like Jews and Christians, these too were identifiable by some aspects of their public behaviour, such as missing congregational prayers in the Masājid or imbibing alcoholic drinks.
Still, the accusation remained unanswered.
Were the accusations true? Why was Mufaḍḍal associating with these fellows in the first place? And who was right in the fight between Mufaḍḍal and his Kufan opponents?
A response was offered in a second longer report which picks up where the first report had left off.
A Break-fast Early One Morning
Naṣr b. al-Ṣabbāḥ attributes to Muḥammad b. Sinān (him again) the following:
A number of the people of Kufa wrote to al-Ṣādiq saying: al-Mufaḍḍal sits with scoundrels, pigeon-fanciers and a group that drinks intoxicants, it is incumbent upon you write to him and order him not to sit with them!
So he (the Imam) wrote to al-Mufaḍḍal a letter, sealed it and handed it to them (i.e. the complainers). He ordered them to hand over the letter from their hands directly into the hands of al-Mufaḍḍal.
They came with the letter to al-Mufaḍḍal – among them (i.e. complainers who brought the letter) were Zurāra, ʿAbdallāh b. Bukayr, Muḥammad b. Muslim, Abū Baṣīr and Ḥujr b. Zāʾida – and handed over the letter to al-Mufaḍḍal.
He (Mufaḍḍal) unfastened it (i.e. broke the seal) and read it, and in it was written: ‘In the Name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful – buy this and this and buy that’, and he (i.e. the Imam) did not mention either less or much (i.e. anything) of that which they had said about him (al-Mufaḍḍal).
So when he (al-Mufaḍḍal) had read the letter he handed it to Zurāra, and Zurāra (in turn) handed it to Muḥammad b. Muslim, and so on, until the letter had revolved to them all.
Then al-Mufaḍḍal said: What do you say?
They said: This is a huge amount of wealth (being demanded), we must check first (see what we have), collect (the amount) and carry it to you afterwards, furthermore, we have not even disembarked (from the journey) after having looked into that (the letter). And they wanted to leave.
So al-Mufaḍḍal said: Not until you have the morning meal at my place (with me), so he detained them to share his meal, meanwhile al-Mufaḍḍal sent for his companions – the ones they had bad-mouthed (to al-Ṣādiq) – and they came.
He read for them the letter of Abī ʿAbdillāh, they departed from his place, and al-Mufaḍḍal had detained those others (i.e. the complainers) to eat at his place.
The youths returned, and each one of them carried according to his ability – a 1000, and 2000, and less and more, so they presented (a total of) 2000 gold-coins and 10,000 silver-coins before these (i.e. the complainers) had even finished their meal.
Whereupon al-Mufaḍḍal said to them (i.e. the complainers): You instruct me to drive away these ones (i.e. the youth) from me, do you think that Allah – the Exalted – needs your prayers and your fasts?!
The Ultimate Vindication
If there was some doubt as to which side Naṣr b. al-Ṣabbāḥ’s first report was taking in the fight between Mufaḍḍal and his opponents then this second report puts all doubt to rest.
The report assumes it as a given that Mufaḍḍal is the Imam’s main-man in Kufa, and proceeds to portray Mufaḍḍal’s opponents as snitches who cannot but help themselves in reporting back Mufaḍḍal’s supposed failings to the Imam. This back-ground allows it to have the Imam set-up a perfect riposte.
The ‘complainers’ are made to carry back a letter to Mufaḍḍal who reads it out to them. Their earlier glee must have turned to anguish when they realize that the Imam had effectively snubbed them by not paying the slightest bit of attention to their bad-mouthing of Mufaḍḍal. Instead, he had given Mufaḍḍal an instruction to do some tasks for him consistent with the theme that the latter was the Imam’s appointed deputy, especially in fiscal matters.
But now the real sting in the tail, and that too, just when they wanted to leave for home. Mufaḍḍal commands them to remain and they obey, since he is apparently senior to them in ranking. You see, the Imam had set up a test to expose them. He wants a monetary contribution. It is at this point that the so-called pious falter. When their money is on the line and their pockets about to feel the pinch.
And now the ultimate vindication, the same youth whom these ‘super companions’ had considered beneath them and labelled ‘scoundrels’ are shown to be more committed to the Cause.
In this way, Mufaḍḍal’s very weakness (i.e. his association with those sinners) is turned to a strength, used as a foil to expose the hypocrisy and snobbishness of his opponents who could talk the talk but not back it up with deeds.
The Esotericists versus The Legalists
How much fun the pro-Mufaḍḍal fabricator would have had with this one! I can almost hear him chuckling away in the dark!
I say ‘fabricator’ because it is hard to see the report as being anything other than an ingenious piece of propaganda, meticulously constructed to boost Mufaḍḍal, caricature those deemed his opponents, while neatly tying together several threads that we have already come across before.
Even ignoring the evidence of the chain, there are clues within the text itself that should allow us to conclude which milieu this report would have originated from and which community would have treasured its contents.
Let us begin with a curious point. Consider how the report, while depicting Mufaḍḍal in a favourable light, something none too controversial on its own, extends the same favourable light to his associates, ending with a vindication of them as well, despite acknowledging them to be open breakers of the Law.
For at no point does it object to the derogatory labelling aimed at Mufaḍḍal’s associates, or deny the occurrence of the sins in question (not praying, wine-drinking etc.). Nor does it offer any justification, however flimsy, for Mufaḍḍal associating with the sinners, beyond pointing out their higher loyalty to the Imam. Even the Imam is depicted as totally silent towards the elephant-in-the-room (the reason why Mufaḍḍal was being attacked in the first place)!
There is only one plausible explanation for this: The fabricator accepted the derogatory labels to be true (considered Mufaḍḍal’s associates to have been truthfully accused of these things), but alarmingly, did not consider them to be damning!
In other words, these were not sins in the first place such that he would have felt the need to defend them!
Now who would have heard this report and yet sided with Mufaḍḍal’s associates without feeling squeamish at their breaking of the Law?
There can only be one answer.
The contemporary Ghulāt (target audience of the fabricator) who would have shared the same attitude towards the Law.
For it is the Ghulāt who believed that the gnosis of the Imam frees one from the shackles of the Law.
It is the Ghulāt who used not to pray and to drink wine freely
How right was al-Kashshī’s main teacher, the prominent scholar Muḥammad b. Masʿūd al-ʿAyyāshī (d. c. 320), when he stated:
The Ghulāt are tested in the times of prayer (to see whether they pray or not)
Equally crucial is the fact that with this report we come face-to-face for the first time with the names of those who opposed Mufaḍḍal and who were previously subsumed under the generic label of ‘Kufan Shīʿa’.
Consider the targets of the caricature. These include probably the two greatest companions of the Ṣādiqayn – Zurāra and Muḥammad b. Muslim.
Why were they being singled out?
Because they were rightly seen as exemplars par excellence by the Legalists who saw the Imams primarily as authorities over the Ḥalāl and Ḥarām instead of speculating further about their cosmic and soteriological role as the Esotericists were wont to do.
Abū Baṣīr and to a lesser extent ʿAbdallāh b. Bukayr (Zurāra’s nephew and the main transmitter of his reports) match the former two in being prolific transmitters of the jurisprudential knowledge of the Imams.
It is no surprise that all four came to be enshrined as part of the acclaimed Aṣḥāb al-Ijmāʿ by the majority of the Shīʿī community who retained a full commitment to the Law (and Mufaḍḍal did not).
Now who would have heard this report and welcomed the positive portrayal of Mufaḍḍal in it even at the expense of demeaning other companions much greater than him?
There can only be one answer.
The contemporary Ghulāt (target audience of the fabricator) for whom Mufaḍḍal was a hero!
How right was Jamīl b. Darrāj (another key student of Zurāra), no small-name in the Madhhab in his own right (also a member of the Aṣḥāb al-Ijmāʿ), when he stated:
We used to identify the followers of of Abī al-Khaṭṭāb by their hatred towards these (i.e. the four pillars including Zurāra and Muḥammad b. Muslim) – the mercy of Allah be upon them
How to Read Such Reports
Was there ever a breakfast early one morning in Kufa where Mufaḍḍal got the better of his rivals?
It would be wrong to read such an account literally, and I contend (by some of the cues embedded in it) that it belong to the genre of ‘narrative fiction’ instead.
Fictional narratives cloak the fabricator’s world-view in the form of a story.
They take certain historical truths (e.g. Mufaḍḍal was a controversial money-changer claiming to have close relation with the Imams, he faced opposition in Kufa, Him and his circle were suspected of Ghuluww etc.) and weave it with fictional elements in order to make a point.
They end up saying more about contemporary times than earlier ones, for they consciously invite their audience to identify with the heroes and villains of the piece in relation to their own situation (i.e. they back-project the contemporary situation to earlier times).
In our case, what the account ultimately seeks to accomplish is to explain to an antinomian pro-Mufaḍḍal (i.e. Law-breaking) Ghālī community why it is they who were on the right (true followers of the Imams) despite the opposition they were facing from the much bigger, Law-adhering, rival community. If it can do this while at the same time vindicating their hero and getting back at the rival communities’ heroes then all the better!
The opposition they were facing, the fabricator tells them, is nothing new, but goes back already to Mufaḍḍal (the most prominent companion of the Imam in their eyes) and his Kufan opponents (Zurāra and co.).
The Ghālī audience would have naturally sided with Mufaḍḍal in the narrative of the dispute, and would have seen in the malicious tale-telling of Zurāra and co., who act as ciphers for the contemporary non-Ghālī Shīʿī community whose heroes they were, the persecution they themselves were facing from the latter.
Notice how Mufaḍḍal stands alone against a greater number of companions and even the wider Kufan community. This is an allusion to their own meagre numbers against a stronger majority.
In fact, just to make sure the parallels are clear, the fabricator very cleverly gives the audience a part to play in the story.
Those youthful (الفتيان) associates of Mufaḍḍal (اصحابه) in the report should not be taken to be referring to a random bunch of anonymous sinners who sullied Mufaḍḍal’s reputation and turned the Kufan Shīʿa against him, but rather a stand-in/place-holder for the Ghulāt who were believed to be around Mufaḍḍal and with whom the fabricator and his community could directly identify with (see themselves in).
The descriptions alternatively attached to them: ‘scoundrels’ (الشطار), ‘do not pray’ (لا يصلون), ‘a group that drinks intoxicants’ (قوما يشربون الشراب), ‘pigeon-fanciers’ (اصحاب الحمام), and ‘brigands’ (يقطعون الطريق), must have been derogatory labels that were used for the Ghulāt by their enemies. See the footnotes for etymological speculation linking these labels with the Ghulāt, even though we admittedly lack independent attestation and the exact historical back-ground for how these terms came to be used.
The fabricator, in what is a time-tested polemical move, embraces the derogatory labels thrown at them by their enemies, for they were no indictment of them like their enemies supposed them to be, and goes on to turn the tables on the throwers.
What lay at the root of the persecution they were facing?
They were facing this persecution because they, the fabricator tells them, just like those youth who associated with Mufaḍḍal, were antinomians who did not feel bound to the external rituals of the Sharīʿa like praying or refraining from wine.
But they were not wrong in doing this!
After all, it is they who were the ‘elite’ in possession of the ‘secret teaching’ of the Imams, a teaching that was kept secret from the majority rightly deemed a ‘rabble’.
The problem with the wider Shīʿī community is that they were not sufficiently submissive to the Imams (just like their heroes).
It is they who, in Naṣr’s first report, could tell the Imam ‘Appoint for us a man’ and overstep their limits in going so far as to press him by saying ‘There is no other way’ even after he had refused, having anticipated what the result of appointing Mufaḍḍal would be.
It is they who, in Naṣr’s second report, could instruct the Imam in a bossy tone ‘it is incumbent upon you write to him and order him not to sit with them!’
This theme of depicting their opponents as rebellious towards the instructions of the Imam was symbolism for the wider Shīʿī community and their forebears having failed to recognize the true status of the Imam, because of prioritizing their own ʿAql to the inscrutable verdicts of the Imam. The theme was employed even though it ran the risk of showing the Imam as hapless in front of his own companions.
If they could not submit to the Imam in a simple thing like the appointment of Mufaḍḍal, even after the Imam had declared ‘he does not impute to Allah and to me except the truth’, then how could they submit to him if the ‘secret teaching’ was divulged to them!
At the end of the day, it is them, not the majority so-called Shīʿa, who were truly obedient to the Imams, just like those youth who answered the Imam’s instruction for a financial donation at once, not the holier-than-thou self-righteous ‘super companions’ and the later wider Shīʿa community who failed the test.
The final statement put in the mouth of Mufaḍḍal is a succinct summary of what the Esotericists must have thought of the physical acts of worship which the contemporary Legalists took so much pride in: ‘do you think that Allah – the Exalted – needs your prayers and your fasts?!
Careful readers will have noticed a less well-known figure whose name stands out in the list of complainers and whom I have not yet discussed. He is Ḥujr b. Zāʾida and he has been targeted for a very personal vendetta.
To be continued …