Ismail ibn Ja’far, part 4: Al-Mufaddal ibn Umar and the Radicalization of Ismail


Some websites have edited their old articles to add information from this article onto it. However, the research presented in my article is fully original

1 ) Who was al-Mufaddal ibn Umar?

Al-Mufaddal ibn Umar was the bab of Imam al-Sadiq. 

كان المفضل بابا لأبي عبد الله الصادق عليه السلام

(Tibb al-A’ima)

As I clarify in my post on Jabir ibn Yazid al-Ju’fi, the Bab of Imam al-Baqir:

Being the Imam’s “Bab” means you represent the Imam in word, action, and are his ambassador to the Shi’a. You are also awarded with secrets (supernatural and otherwise) that none but you will gain.”

As such, Shaykh al-Tusi mentions al-Mufaddal ibn Umar as the “safeer” of Imam al-Sadiq (similar to the Four Sufara’ / Deputies of Imam al-Sadiq)

(Al-Ghayba, vol 1, page 366-367)

And before mentioning who was a safeer during al-Ghayba, we mention a part of the reports on (safeers) specific to each imam, and and how they was deputized by the Imam to excercise his functions - in a summarized fashion


And among the praised of (these sufara’) is al-Mufaddal ibn Umar

وقبل ذكر من كان سفيرا حال الغيبة نذكر طرفا من أخبار من كان يختص بكل إمام، ويتولى له الامر على وجه من الايجاز

ومن الممدوحين المفضل بن عمر

2 ) Al-Mufaddal’s Contact with Radicals

  • A) Anti-Abbasid revolutionaries

Al-Mufaddal ibn Umar came into contact with groups of radical anti-Abbasid revolutionaries whose traits he liked.

Then, he was informed of allegations about their beliefs. However, al-Mufaddal was confused as he saw them as having only good, pious, and humble ways.

So he wrote to Imam al-Sadiq and mentioned these reported beliefs (which contradict Islam) and Imam al-Sadiq refuted them.

(Basa’ir al-Darajat, page 546)

You wrote mentioning that a people whom I know - that you admired their traits and their affair.

However, you were informed about them about things narrated about them which you hated (i.e, informed of allegations about these radicals’ beliefs).

And that you only saw them in a good, pious and humble way, and you were informed that they claim ..”

كتبت تذكر ان قوما انا عرفهم كان أعجبك نحوهم و شأنهم وانك أبلغت فيهم أمورا يروى عنهم كرهتها لهم ولم تريهم الا طريقا حسنا ورعاوتخشعا وبلغك انهم يزعمون

  • B) Continued association of al-Mufaddal

Accordingly, it seems al-Mufaddal did not see the association with these with these radicals as inappropriate. 

Perhaps, he saw them different to what was reported about them and thought that by supporting their revolutionary cause, he can support the Imam. 

Nonetheless, al-Mufaddal’s association with the radicals led most of his companions to abandon him and Mufaddal being viciously attacked by the Shi’a in Kufa.

The following account in Tuhaf al-‘Uqul by Ibn Shu’ba al-Harrani (d. 300s AH) is particularly illuminating:

(Tuhaf al-‘Uqul, page 515)

Abu Abdillah (peace be upon him) said once while I (Mufaddal) was with him: 

O Mufaddal, how many are your companions? 

I (Mufaddal) said: Few 

So when I left for Kufa, the Shi’a came to me, and they tore me to pieces, they ate my flesh (with backbiting), insulted my honor, to the extent some of them even spat on my face and some of them awaited me in the streets of Kufa to beat me up. They threw at me every false accusation, until that reached Aba Abdilah [al-Sadiq].

What I came back to in the second year was the first thing he greeted me after his salaam. Ali said: O Mufaddal, what is this that has reached me that these people say to you and about you? 

I said: Why should I care about what they say?

He (the Imam) said: “Yes, the sin of that is in them. For what are they angry? May they be miserable..

ومما فيه قالوقال أبو عبد الله (عليه السلاممرة وأنا معهيا مفضل كم أصحابك؟ فقلتقليل، فلما انصرفت إلى الكوفة أقبلت علي الشيعةفمزقوني كل ممزق، يأكلون لحمي ويشتمون عرضي، حتى أن بعضهم استقبلني فوثب في وجهي، وبعضهم قعد لي في سكك الكوفة يريدضربي، ورموني بكل بهتان، حتى بلغ ذلك أبا عبد الله (عليه السلام). ما رجعت إليه في السنة الثانية كان أول ما استقبلني به بعد تسليمهعلي أن قاليا مفضل ما هذا الذي بلغني أن هؤلاء يقولون لك وفيك؟ قلتوما علي من قولهم، قال: " أجل بل ذلك عليهم، أيغضبون بؤسا لهم

3 ) Radicalization of Ismail ibn Ja’far

Given al-Mufaddal and Ismail were both of a very close relationship to Imam al-Sadiq and both had anti-government proclivities, it would be expected that interact frequently and that the elder Mufaddal influence the youth Ismail.

This resulted in

  • al-Mufaddal excercising a mentor-like role over Ismail, teaching him radical principles.

(Rijal al-Kashi, vol 2, page 612)

I heard Aba Abdilah tell al-Mufaddal ibn Umar: 

O kafir, o mushrik! You have nothing to do with my son [Ismail ibn Ja’far]’”

جبريل بن أحمد، قالحدثني محمد بن عيسى، عن يونس، عن حماد بن عثمان، قالسمعت أبا عبد الله عليه السلام يقول للمفضل بن عمرالجعفييا كافر يا مشرك مالك ولا بني، يعني إسماعيل بن جعفر،

It is strange for Imam al-Sadiq to describe al-Mufaddal as a “kafir, mushrik” - particularly when Imam had been siding by al-Mufaddal’s side when he was attacked by the Shi’a of Kufa.

A companion of Imam al-Sadiq also described the way Imam al-Sadiq described Mufaddal to be such that “If I saw a cross on his neck and a kisteej (identifying feature of a kitabi) in the middle of it - I will know he is on the truth, after I heard you (Imam al-Sadiq) say what you said about him.”

583 - محمد بن مسعود، عن إسحاق بن محمد البصري، قالأخبرنا محمد بن الحسين، عن محمد بن سنان، عن بشير الدهان، قال، قالأبو عبد الله عليه السلام لمحمد بن كثير الثقفي، ما تقول في المفضل بن عمر؟ قالما عسيت أن أقول فيه، لو رأيت في عنقه صليبا وفيوسطه كستيجا لعلمت على أنه على الحق، بعد ما سمعتك تقول فيه ما تقول.

  • B) A close paternalistic relationship developing between Al-Mufaddal-Ismail

So close was al-Mufaddal with Ismail, that when Ismail died - Imam al-Sadiq sent a letter to al-Mufaddal mourning him (Mufaddal) for Ismail’s loss.

It is not typical for the father of a deceased to mourn the deceased’s friend, unless that friend had a fatherly and very close mentor relationship with the son.

Yunus ibn Ya’qub said I was ordered by Abu Abdillah to mourn al-Mufaddal for the loss (of Ismail. 

[The Imam] told me (Yunus) to greet al-Mufaddal with “al-Salam [alaykum]” (on the Imam’s behalf), and to tell him: 

We have been struck by [the death] of Ismail, so we were patient. So be patient, [O Mufaddal], like we had been patient. We had wanted a matter [that Ismail become the next Imam], but Allah desired a different matter. So we had submitted our will to the will of Allah.”

16 - عنه، عن علي بن الحكم، عن يونس بن يعقوب قالأمرني أبو عبد الله (عليه السلامأن آتي المفضل وأعزيه بإسماعيل وقالاقرأالمفضل السلام (1) وقل لهإنا قد أصبنا بإسماعيل فصبرنا، فاصبر كما صبرنا، إنا أردنا أمرا وأراد الله عز وجل أمرا، فسلمنا لأمر الله عزوجل. (1) 

Thus, one is left wondering:

How much radical influence did al-Mufaddal have over Ismail? What implications did this have for Ismail - given the close link to al-Mufaddal?

We will find out in the next part of this series inshallah

Wa Allahu A’lam