The Life and works of Imam Jabir bin Zayd
Abu al-Sha'tha' Jabir b. Zaid al-'Azdi al-Jawfi al-Basri of Banu 'Amr b. al-Yahmad, a branch of al-'Azd tribe. He comes from Farq, a village between Manah and Nazwa in Oman where he was probably born and where he moved with his family to settle in Darb al Jawf in Basrah, a place which took its name from the area in which the tribe of Jabir was living in Oman.
Al-Salimi suggests that Jabir was born in Farq in Oman and traveled to Basrah to acquire learning. Basrah was one of the Iraqi centres of scholarship at the time. Jabir spent his life in Basrah - as did most of his eminent fellow Successors- disseminating knowledge in mosques and religious centres, instilling good morals in people, enjoining strong adherence to the noble religion and the preservation of its principles and methods, and pronouncing fatwas on problems encountered by the people, to such an extent that Iyas b. Mu'awiyah once said: 'I have been all over Basrah and there is nomufti in it besides Jabir b. Zaid.'
The following dates are given for Jabir's birth; 18 A.H. (639 A.D.) and 21 A.H. (639 A.D.). Some sources aver that Jabir was present in Medina on the day on which the first Caliph Abu Bakr was elected. There is no information about Jabir's childhood or early life; and nothing is known about his parents.
Jabir was fortunate enough to be a contemporary of a large number of the veteran Companions. He met seventy of the Companions who were present at the greater battle of Badr and learned from them all the history (akhbar) and Traditions they knew. Jabir once said: 'I met 70 of those that fought at Badr and I took on all their knowledge, except for the Bahr ('vast sea' in terms of knowledge)', referring to Abd Allah b. Abbas, may God be satisfied with both of them. his principal teacher was 'Abdullah b. 'Abbas, the most learned man among the younger Companions and known as Habr al-'Ummah (the learned man of the Muslim community and as al-Bahr (the sea) because of his vast knowledge both of the Qur'an, its interpretation, and of the Sunnah. Jabir was a close friend of Ibn 'Abbas and his favourite pupil.
He also met A'ishah, mother of the believers, and asked her about the private life of the Prophet, and discussed with her the political problems of the Muslim community in which she played a major part.
He also received knowledge from Abdullah b. 'Umar, Abdullah b. Mas'ud, Anas b. Malik, and Jabir b. Abdullah, may God be satisfied with them.
The knowledge of Jabir was transmitted to later generations through two channels; the main one based upon what was recorded by his Ibadhi students such as Dhuman b. al-Sa'ib, Abu 'Ubaidah Muslim b. Abi Karimah, Abu Nuh Salih al- Dahhan, Hayyan al-'A'raj, and others. The second is based upon what was recorded by his non-Ibadhi students, among whom were 'Amr b. Harim, Qatadah b. Di'amah al-Sadusi (the teacher of al-Bukhari), and Aiyub al Sikhtiyani. Other individuals who took knowledge from Jabir were Abdullah b. Abadh, and Amr b. Dinar.
Jabir acquired a wide knowledge of the Qur'an, Traditions, and Futya. His teacher Ibn 'Abbas was completely satisfied with him. It is reported that Ibn 'Abbas said, "If the people of Basrah turned to the knowledge of Abu al- Sha'tha', he would enrich them with the knowledge of the Book of God." He also described Jabir as one of the learned men, and believed that Jabir had attained such a high standard of knowledge that no-one, even Ibn 'Abbas himself, need be resorted to in order to formulate legal decisions if Jabir had already expressed his opinion. When al-Rabi, a man from Basrah, asked Ibn 'Abbas for his legal decision concerning certain problems, Ibn; Abbas said, "How can you ask us when you have Jabir b. Zaid among you?" Other Companions, viz., 'Abdullah b 'Umar, Jabir b. 'Abdullah al-'Ansari, hold the same opinion of Jabir as Ibn 'Abbas; al-Bukhari reported from Jabir b. Zaid that he said, Ibn 'Umar came across me while I was performing the tawaf (circumambulation of Ka'bah) and said to me, 'Jabir, you are one of the learned men of Basrah, people will come to you asking for fatwas, so do not give any legal decision unless it is clearly stated in the Qur'an or a genuine Sunnah, otherwise you will go astray and lead the people astray." It is also reported that Zaid b. Jubair consulted the Companion Jabir b. 'Abdullah al-'Ansari about a certain case. After he had given his opinion, he said, "Why do you ask me when Abu al- Sha'tha' is among you?" So then Jabir was one of the outstanding learned men of Basrah - according to Muhammad b. Mahbub, Jabir had more knowledge than al-Hasan al-Basri. Jabir became the Mufti of Basrah and spent his life delivering legal opinions, teaching the Traditions of the Prophet, and transmitting his vast knowledge of Islam to his students.
When Jabir died, Anas b. Malik, said: 'The most knowledgeable person on the face of the earth has now died'. Thabit al-Bunani visited Jabir b. Zaid when he was near death and asked him: 'Do you desire anything?' He said: 'I desire to see al-Hasan al-Basri'. Al-Hasan was in hiding out of fear of the tyranny of the Umayyads and their agents. Thabit, knowing his whereabouts, went to al-Hasan and brought him to his dear friend, now on the edge of death the great Muslim Successor spoke to the great Muslim scholar and they exchanged mutual advice in preparation for a long separation in this world and in hope of a happy encounter in the next. Al-Hasan said of his colleague, companion and friend who had departed from this world and met with the next: 'By God, this man was a learned faqih.
Jabir's wide knowledge of the interpretation of the Qur'an and the Sunnah made him an outstanding figure in this field of knowledge, and he is described by the Traditionalists as reliable (thiqah). The only exception to this was al-'Asili, who regarded him as weak (dha'if) Traditionalist, but his view was rejected by Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani. Apart from his regular students who studied Traditions and Futya with him, people used to come to him seeking his legal opinions on religious matters. Some of these opinions were written in the form of questions sent to him by friends outside Basrah. He is described as the most learned man in the field of Fatawa. Many of his students used to put down his legal opinions in writing, but Jabir was not in favour of recording his opinions in this way; On hearing of his students writing them down, Jabir commented, "To God we belong (Inna lilah). They are writing down the opinions which I may change tomorrow! Yet not-withstanding, most of his opinions and narrations (riwayat) were recorded by his students.
Based on the reliability which Imam Jabir obtained from the Companions of the Messenger of God (PBUH), as well as the Successors, he was considered by the Scholars of Al-Jarh wa Al-Taadeel (invalidation and validation) as one of the most eminent jurists of the 1st Century AH. Al-Ajli declared him thiqah (reliable) and Ibn Hibban said: 'He was one of the Successor Scholars, knowledgeable of the Qur'an and one of the religious jurists of people of Basrah. And no one has disparaged his Adaalah (integrity).
The position of Jabir in Ijma (scholarly consensus) is prestigious. Imam Ibn Hazm mentioned in his book al-Muhalla that he deplores every Ijma that is opposed by Ali bin Abi Talib, Abdullah bin Masoud, Anas bin Malik, Ibn Abbas, and the Companion in Sham, and then the Successor in Sham, Ibn Sirin and Jabir bin Zaid.
With regard to his way of life, Jabir led a pious and ascetic existence. He once said, "I asked of my God three things which He granted me; a good wife, a good riding camel and my daily bread upon which to live from day to day." Speaking about his wealth, Jabir told his companions, "I am the richest of all of you; I possess no dirham, nor do I owe any one a dirham." al-Hajjaj b. 'Uyaynah said, "Jabir b. Zaid used to visit us in our mosque; one day he came wearing an old pair of shoes and said, "Sixty years of my life have passed; these shoes of mine I like more than any other thing which is past, unless it be good work I have done." Muhammad b. Sirin said, "Abu al-Sha'tha' was pious. Simplicity and piety are the main attributes of Jabir's life.
Jabir was well-known for never bargaining in three things: the cost of travelling to Makkah, the price of a slave that he bought in order to set free, and a sheep bought for sacrificial slaughter. He used to say: 'One does not bargain over something through which he seeks closeness to God Almighty. Whenever a stuq came into his possession, he would break it and throw it away, so that no Muslim would be tempted to use it: a stuq is a counterfeit dirham.
His heart was filled with faith in God, sincere calls to God's religion were always on his lips and his limbs constantly performed the good deeds that please God. Hind bt. al-Muhallab said, 'Jabir b. Zayd more than anyone used to give much of his time to myself and my mother. Anything that he knew would bring me closer to God, may He be exalted and glorified, he would command me to do, and anything" which he knew would make me distant from God, he would forbid me to do; he also used to tell me where to wear the veil'. She used to place her hand on her forehead, indicating the place for the veil on a Muslim woman's face.
He was more intelligent than to be deceived by the temptations of bid'ah (heresy), whether manifest or hidden. He was more tearful of God than to keep quiet about an evil act when he saw it. He was more courageous than to comply with the actions of oppressors or be satisfied with the conduct of tyrants. He was more concerned with fulfilling Islam's message than to weary of the duties of teaching in every place
He once noticed one of the chamberlains performing prayers on top of the Ka'bah. So he shouted out to him: 'You, praying on top of the Ka'bah! You are not facing any qiblah!' ibn Abbas heard him from another part of the mosque and said: 'Jabir b. Zaid is somewhere in town. That is him speaking.' This gifted teacher knew which of his students had a sound mind, a spark of talent and a keen eye, as well as being concerned for the affairs of Muslims and working to better guide them and direct them to the nobler path.
Living in Basrah, one of the major centres of political activities, and being contemporary with the events of the lively period (28-93 A.H.), Jabir was able to form a clear understanding of the complicated course of the political and religious affairs of the growing Muslim community. As a result, he chose the most effective way to attain his aims. He kept himself apart from all Political activities and followed a very careful course in his relations with the 'Umayyad rulers. On the other hand, he devoted his time to teaching people Islam and formulating legal opinions on religious problems.
Al-Hajjaj had a secretary called Yazid b. Muslim, who loved Jabir very much and admired him greatly. One day, circumstances of everyday life led to Jabir going to visit this admiring secretary. It seems the secretary wanted to please both his master and his friend, and so he set up a meeting without them being aware of it. Al-Hajjaj listened to the great imam and, admiring his knowledge and his manners, offered him the position of judge. He said to him: 'You need not seek the pleasure of anyone, we shall appoint you as judge for the Muslims.' This had been the intention of his secretary friend, but Jabir was not one who sought the things of this world. So he said to him: 'I am not up to the task.' Al-Hajjaj then asked him: 'What makes you incapable?' He said: 'An evil [a dispute] is occurring between a woman and her servant, but I cannot make peace between them.' Al-Hajjaj said: 'That is certainly a weakness'.
In this way, the great imam was able to extricate himself from this prestigious offer, which someone else would have been overjoyed with. It seems, however, that his secretary friend had not understood the imam's purpose in extricating himself (from the offer), desiring to exploit, the occasion to the benefit of the imam, and to do him a long-term favour. Thus he said to al-Hajjaj: 'Here is an idea - it is of no burden for the shayekh and of assistance to Muslims: employ him as an assistant to the Treasurer in Basrah'. Al-Hajjaj agreed to the suggestion, but the devout scholar did not accept it. He said Yazid: 'You have accomplished nothing: do you see me as assistant to the Treasurer?'
The imam did not accept the second offer which this loving and admiring person had brought to him. He avoided employment in an oppressive government: how could it be right for Jabir to assist such oppressors, when he criticized their actions on a daily basis and called for them to grant what is due to those who deserve it, to release payment and stipend to those who had a right thereto, and to give such jobs to trustworthy and careful people who fear God and dread His reckoning?
When it was time for him to return home after the visit and prepared for the journey, Yazid ordered his slaves to saddle a horse. But the imam was too ashamed before his Lord to ride a mount picked out for him by luxury-loving tyrants and bestowed upon him by opulent despots. He accordingly excused himself from his friend. A male was then brought for him. He accepted it and rode off on it, knowing full well that riding on a male was rougher and less comfortable, as well as being the opposite of prestigious, but it was closer to the Sunnah of God's Messenger, may God bless him and grant him peace: the best of creation used to ride on a grey mule called Duldula. Yazid went to excess in his generosity towards the imam, as the rich and wasteful rulers in an oppressive state are wont to do. He ordered his servants to perfume Jabir's head and beard with musk and ambergris. The great imam made his way to the Tigris and washed his head and beard, scrubbing them hard and saying: 'O God do not make it my fate that I be amid these people.'
It was Jabir's custom to do the pilgrimage each year. In one year, the governor of Basrah sent him a message asking him not leave town that year because people were in need of him for teaching and fatwas. Jabir, however, insisted on his custom and informed the governor that he would not abandon a deed for God's cause on account of a command issued by a human being, even if that human being was a governor of the Umayyad state. The governor arrested him and put him in jail.
When the crescent moon began to appear in Dhul-Hijjah, people went to see the governor and pleaded with him: 'May God make the emir good! the new moon of Dhul-Hijjah is upon us and there is almost no time left to make the journey from Basrah to Makkah'. The emir released him. When Jabir got to his house, he began to saddle up a she-camel of his- he would race her to the pilgrimage. He said: Whatsoever mercy God opens to men, none can withhold [Fatir, 2]. Then he asked Aminah, 'Do you have anything (I can take)?' She said that she did, and presented some provisions in a pair of knapsacks. He asked her not to tell anyone that he was leaving that day. When he arrived at Arafat where the people were standing (in the rite of pilgrimage), his she-camel struck the ground with the front part of her neck and began to tremble. People shouted: 'Slaughter her! slaughter her!' He then said: 'It is not fitting for a she-camel that has seen the new moon of Dhul-Hijjah in Basrah and reached people in (pilgrimage) sanctity that this be done to her.' The she-camel was unharmed. He travelled on her 24 times to do hajj and umrah.
Among the powerful families with whom Jabir established good relations was the Muhallabid family, his kinsmen; but, what was more important than kinship, Jabir was the religious teacher of this family. He used to visit them and teach them Islam and "command them to do good."
The biographers who wrote Jabir's biography gave five different dates for his death. According to those who report that Jabir died on the same week as Anas b. Malik the Companion, there are two dates; the first is 91/709,as reported by Ibn Hibban,98 the second is 93/711. This date is given by al-Rabi' b. Habib, Bukhari, Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Fallas, al-Najjar, Abu Nu'aim, al- Salimi and Ibn Hiyyan. All these are Traditionalists, who must be more accurate in giving nearly the exact date of the death of the Muhaddith (Traditionalist), for it is of great value to them, regarding the correctness of the isnad (Chain of authorities reporting a Tradition).
The Historians such as Ibn Sallam, Ibn Sa'd, Waqidi, al-Mas'udi, al-'Asma'i and Ibn Midad gave the date 103/721,100 while Shammakhi alone gave the date 96/714; Ibn Hajar quoted from Ibn 'Adiy that Jabir died in the year 104/722.
The following facts must be considered in order to try to establish the exact date of Jabir's death:
a) Most of the sources reported that on the night of his death, Jabir wised to see al Hasan al-Basri, who was at that time in hiding from al-Hajjaj. According to this information Jabir's death must have occurred before the death of al-Hajjaj in 95/713.
b) Most of the sources reported that Jabir died before the death of the Companion Anas b. Malik who said, on hearing of Jabir's death, "Today died the most learned man of the people of earth" Dates given for the death of Anas are 91 and 93. Although the precise date cannot be arrived at in a case such as this, the year 93, given by the Traditionalists and confirmed by the Ibadhi authorities, is to be considered fairly close to the truth.
Jabir is considered one of the earliest, if not the earliest, authors of Islam. Among the extant works in which legal opinions (Fatawa) and narrations (Riwayat) from Jabir are recorded are: -
1) Riwayat Dumam; narrated by Abu Sufrah 'Abd al-Malik b. Sufrah, from al-Rabi' b. Habib, from Dumam from Jabir b. Zaid.
2) Musnad al-Rabi b. Habib al-Farahidi, from Abu 'Ubaidah, and Duman from Jabir b. Zaid.
3) Jabir's correspondence (Jawabat) which contains some of his legal opinions sent in letters to some of his friends and followers.
All these were recorded by Ibadhis. There are also the following works:-
1) Kitab al-Nikah, which contains legal opinions on marriage, reported from Jabir. It is still not known by whom this book was narrated.
2) K. al-Salat, this book is narrated by Habib b. Abu Habib al-Harmi, from 'Amr b. Harim from Jabir b. Zaid.
3) The narrations from 'Amr b. Dinar, and 'Amr b. Harim, included in parts V and VI of K. Aqwal Qatadah, contain Traditions and legal opinions mainly on the subject of marriage, zakat, and prayers, besides his other legal opinions and Traditions reported from him by Qatadah.
It is reported that the books of Jabir were in the possession of Abu 'Ubaidah Muslim b. Abu Karimah, then they came to al-Rabi' b. Habib, then Abu Sufyan Mahbub b. al Rahil, then his son Mohammad b. Mahbub, from whom they were transcribed in Mecca.
Some Ibadhi historians reported that Jabir himself wrote a large book of Traditions and legal opinions (Futya) known as Diwan Jabir b. Zaid, and that a copy of the Diwan was extant in the library of the 'Abbasid Caliph Harun al- Rashid (786-809 A.D.) It is also reported that the Ibadhi scholar of Jabal Nufusah, Naffath (Faraj) b. Nasr, managed to transcribe the Diwan and brought it to Jabal Nufusah, but being in opposition to the ruler of the Jabal and Rustumid Imamate, Naffath destroyed the copy of the Diwan so that his opponents would not get access to it. The Diwan was of great value on account of the knowledge and guidance it contained, its proximity to the age of Prophethood, and its author's direct transmission from Companions, may God be satisfied with them. Its other valuable feature was as a historical relic, in that it was the first large work composed in Islam. However, Ibadhi Jurisprudence was established mainly on the basis of the Traditions, and legal opinions handed down by Jabir to his Ibadhi students. Abu 'Ubaidah Muslim b. Abi Karimah said: "Every man of Tradition who has not an Imam in jurisprudence is fallen into error. If God Almighty had not favoured us with Jabir b. Zaid we too would have fallen into error."
- Ibadhism in History: The emergence of the ibadi school; by Ali Yahya Muammar
- Studies in Ibadhism; by Amr Ennami
- The Doctrines of the Ibadhi Creed Till the End of the Second AH Century; by Musallam Salim Al-Wahibi