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Isma'il b. Ja'far

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Descendant of Imam
Ismāʿīl b. Jaʿfar
Role descendant of Imam, Imam of Ismailiyya
Name Ismail b. Jafar al-Sadiq
Religious Affiliation Shia
Father Imam al-Sadiq (a)
Mother Fatima, the daughter of al-Husayn b. al-Hasan b. Ali b. Abi Talib (a)
Birth early years of the second century AH.
Place of Birth Medina
Place(s) of Residence Medina
Children Muhammad and Ali
Demise 138 AH
Place of Burial Baqi cemetery

Ismāʿīl b. Jaʿfar (Arabic: اسماعیل بن جعفر) was the elder son of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a) and is regarded by Isma'ilis to have been the successor of Imam al-Sadiq (a). The belief in his imamate marked the split of Isma'ilis from the Imamiyya. The term "Isma'ili" is derived from his name.

It has been said that Isma'il was related to Abu l-Khattab and inclined to the exaggerators.

No hadith is quoted by Isma'il in Imami hadith collections.


Isma'il's father was Imam al-Sadiq (a) and his mother was Fatima, the daughter of al-Husayn b. al-Hasan b. Ali b. Abi Talib (a).

His date of birth is not precisely known, but considering the fact that the birth of Imam al-Sadiq (a) was the late first century AH and Isma'il was his eldest son, and the fact that Isma'il was twenty five years older than Imam al-Kazim (a). Isma'il's birth must have been in the early years of the second century AH.

It is reported that Imam al-Sadiq (a) loved his son Isma'il very much.


Isma'il had two sons, Muhammad and Ali. The former had two sons, Isma'il al-Thani and Ja'far al-Akbar, and the latter had a son called Muhammad.

Isma'il's descendants spread in different places, such as Khorasan, Damascus, Egypt, Ahwaz, Kufa, Baghdad, and Yemen.

Abu l-Hasan al-Husayn b. al-Husayn, a descendant of Isma'il, was the first Husaynid sayyid who resided in Qom.

Isma'il's Personality

Little is known about Ismail's life and career. A significant point is that he was in contact with certain groups of exaggerators, and that Imam al-Sadiq (a) was aware, but unhappy about, this relation.

It is reported that Isma'il would do certain things and attend certain gatherings that undermined his moral integrity and qualification for the position of imamate after his father.

His Ties with Abu l-Khattab

The relation between the Khattabiyya and Isma'il and the former's call for Isma'il's imamate are reported in several sources, including Isma'ili, Imami, and non-Shia sources. According to Sa'd b. ‘Abd Allah and Nawbakhti, the Pure Isma'iliyya (al-Isma'iliyya al-khalisa) were a group of Khattabiyya, who believed in the death of Ismail and followed Muhammad b. Ismail as their imam. According to Abu Hatam al-Razi, the Khattabiyya believed in the imamate of Ismail at the time of Imam al-Sadiq (a).

In some Zaydi and Nusayri sources, the relation between Ismail and the Khattabiyya and the latter's role in the formation of Ismailiyya has been confirmed. Also, in Umm al-Kitab, which is a secret and sacred scripture of the Ismailis of central Asia, Abu l-Khattab is recognized as the founder of Ismailiyya.

It is noteworthy that the Fatimids never recognized in their formal statements any role for Abu l-Khattab in the development of Ismailism, and regarded him as a heretic, who was rejected and cursed by Imam al-Sadiq (a).

Massignon, on the other hand, considers the relation between Abu l-Khattab and Isma'il so strong that he claims that the origin of the teknonym Abu Isma'il—which is mentioned by al-Kashshi for Abu l-Khattab—was the fact that Abu l-Khattab was the spiritual father of Isma'il b. Ja'far. Some scholars believe that when Imam al-Sadiq (a) was alive, Abu l-Khattab and Isma'il together established a system of beliefs that later became the foundation of Isma'ilism. However, there is no evidence for this claim.

His Imamate

Main article : ''Isma'iliyya''

Isma'iliyya is a general name for shia sects who believe in the Imamate of Isma'il, son of Imam al_sadiq (a) or Muhammad b. Isma'il, the grandson of Imam, after the martyrdom of Imam al Sadiq (a).

From the Isma'ili Viewpoint

  • Mubarakiyya: According to Abu Hatam al-Razi, Mubarakiyya believed in the death of Isma'il and the imamate of his son Muhammad b. Isma'il when Imam al-Sadiq (a) was alive. They maintained that Isma'il was the successor of his father, but since he died before his father, his son Muhammad became the next Imam. This is because after Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a), the position of imamate would not be transferred from a brother to another brother.
  • Other sects: In Fatimid sources and the works of Qadi Nu'man, there is no hadith on the imamate of Isma'il. Only Ja'far b. Mansur al-Yaman has mentioned some infamous traditions on the imamate of Isma'il without mentioning their chains of transmitters.

In some Isma'ili and non-Isma'ili sources, it has been clearly stated that the Fatimid caliphs first regarded ‘Abd Allah al-Aftah, Isma'il's brother, as their Imam and ancestor, but later they left this belief and adhered to the imamate of Isma'il.

From the Imami Viewpoint

Imami scholar have denied the existence of hadiths on the imamate of Ismai'il; rather, they have mentioned some hadiths that clearly rejects his imamate, such as the hadith transmitted by Fayd b. al-Mukhtar, which is one of the most famous hadiths in this regard.

However, there are some reports in Imami sources that indicate the existence of certain hadiths on the imamate of Isma'il, which are explained by Imamis by means of the doctrine of Bada'.

Bada' in the Case of Isma'il

From the viewpoint of al-Shaykh al-Mufid, bada' in the case of Isma'il was related to his murder; that is, it was written for Isma'il to be killed, but this fate changed because of the prayers of Imam al-Sadiq (a). Al-Mufid has mentioned a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a) as a support for his viewpoint.

In some other Imami sources, bada' in the case of Isma'il was the emergence of what was hidden from the people; that is, the people regarded Isma'il as the next Imam, but when he died before his father, they realized that the reality had been something else. This explanation is based on regarding the bada' as the emergence of something that is hidden from people, even though it has always been known for God.


Different years, including 133, 138, and 145 AH, have been given in different sources as the year in which Isma'il passed away, though the year 138 seems to be more accurate.

Burial Place

Isma'il passed away in a place called ‘Urayd, near Medina. His coffin was then carried by to Baqi' cemetery , while Imam al-Sadiq (a) was walking in front of it in an exceptionally mournful way.

Ismai'il's grave used to have a mausoleum, which was destroyed by Wahhabi during their destruction of Baqi'.

Disagreement about His Death

In some Isma'ili sources, it is claimed that Isma'il did not pass away before his father. Some of theses sources mention that he was in Basra for some time after the martyrdom of Imam al-Sadiq (a) and that he carried out some miracles.

However, according to the majority of the sources, and even the official Isma'ili reports, Isma'il passed away when his father was alive.

Imam al-Sadiq's (a) Public Announcement of Isma'il's Death

According to a report from Zurara b. A'yan, shortly after Isma'il's death and before he was buried, Imam al-Sadiq (a) invited around thirty of his companions to witness the death of his son. This can indicate that some of the Imam's followers believed that Isma'il was the next Imam, and by doing this, Imam al-Sadiq (a) wanted to clear their minds of this idea. This is how Imami scholars have also explained Imam Sadiq's (a) public emphasis on the death of Isma'il.

Before burying Isma'il, Imam al-Sadiq (a) removed the shroud from his son's face several times, so that no one doubts about his death.

According to some sources, the Imam (a) asked a number of prominent figures in Medina, including the governor, to witness the death of Isma'il. He prepared a written statement on Isma'il's death, and had the witnesses sign it.

Isma'il's Tomb

Before Destruction

In the Fatimid period (297-567 AH), a great mausoleum was built over Isma'il's burial place. The walls of the mausoleum did not have any doors or windows. It was located out of Baqi' cemetery, fifteen meters away from the walls of the cemetery on the west side, facing the tombs of the four Imams in Baqi'. Half of its area was located on the street, and half of it on the sidewalk, and the pilgrims would visit his mausoleum from the sidewalk.

Isma'il's grave was visited by shia pilgrims, especially Ismailis, and, according to Ayyashi's report in the 11th century AH, it was very popular. Iranian pilgrims would visit his grave during their stay in Medina, and some of them have recorded descriptions of his mausoleum in their diaries.

After Destruction

Isma'il's mausoleum was destroyed by Wahhabis among other tomes and graves in Baqi'. In 1394 AH, when the street on the west side of Baqi' was rebuilt, the area around Isma'il's grave was destroyed and Isma'il's body allegedly appeared intact. Then, it is reported, his body was transferred by the efforts of Isma'ili leaders to a place inside Baqi'.

However, his new burial place is not exactly known; it is reported that his body was buried near the grave of Umm al-Banin, near the graves of the martyrs of Harra, or ten meters away from the grave of Halima al-Sa'diyya at the end of Baqi'.