Scientific Discoveries of Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.)

(Source: “Shia Islam At A Glance” By: Molana Sheikh Abdul Jalil Nawee)

 Imam Jafar al-Sadiq presented numerous scientific discoveries, a few of which are described below.

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) was a religious leader, a scientist, a philosopher, and a dedicated teacher. He used to teach Theology, Philosophy, Science, and Literature. He was the first scholar in the world who separated science from Philosophy. .

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) had attacked the theories of famous world philosophers and scientists like Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Lavoisier when he was a student in the Academy of his father, Imam Mohammad al-Baqar (a.s.) who died in 114 Hijra. At that time, there were no scientific, mathematical, or philosophical books or research papers available in Madina for anyone to study or review.

Aristotle was a great thinker and a philosopher. His books Arganan and Physics, are the most precious literary treasures of mankind. His theory that earth was stationary and the sun and stars rotated around it, was widely supported by Ptolemy, the Egyptian Geographer and Astronomer. In the year 94 Hijra, when a model of the then assumed solar system was brought from Egypt to Madina, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.), at that time a 11 year old boy, openly criticized and rejected that Theory. While rejecting the theory of rotation of sun, moon and planets around the earth, Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said that:

“When the sun, during its rotation around earth, passes through 12 Constellations in one year, and remains in each constellation for 30 days, why does it disappear from the sight during night time? It should remain visible from the earth during day time as well as night time.” This was a very strong objection by a boy of 11 years of age”.

At the age of 12, Imam Sadiq (a.s.) also rejected the Theory of Four Elements of Aristotle and proved it to be totally wrong. Criticizing the theory, he said:

“I wonder how a man like Aristotle could say that in the world there are only four elements Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. The Earth is not an element. It contains many metals which are elements. He said Water, Fire and Air were also not elements”.

Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) was the first person to discover that one of the elements contained by air produces acidity which helps combustion. Without the presence of this material, a combustible material will not burn. He also said this element is essential for breathing and that it supports human life. This was also an important discovery. Later on the future scientists confirmed the discovery and named this element as Oxygen..

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) described another important theory. This discovery is about the origin of the Universe. He said :

The Universe was created out of a tiny particle, which had two opposite poles, one with negative charge and other with positive charge. That particle produced Atom. In this way matter came into being. Then the matter diversified. The diversification was caused by density or rarity of the Atoms”.

In the 2nd century of the Hijra it was only in the Muslim countries that the people had the freedom to say and write freely about the heavenly bodies. That is why, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) could discuss his new theories about the sun, moon and stars. At that time the scientists who had discovered the Laws of Planetary Motion had failed to discover as to what causes day and night phenomena. It is therefore highly surprising that Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) who lived in Madina, which was not a center of knowledge and learning, made an important discovery in the field of Astronomy. He clearly stated that the earth rotates on its own orbit, completing one full orbit in one day, thus creating day and night. He said one half of the earth that faces the sun creates the day and the other half not facing the sun creates the night..

As regards the shining stars in the Universe, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) said:

“Each star is a small universe within the great universe. It is a collection of heavenly bodies like a sun and its satellite. They are all in perpetual motion so that they may not fall down and breakup. If their movement stops, the universe will come to an end. The perpetual motion supports life. It is by the Will of Allah that the eternal motion never stops and life cycle continues.” He further clarified that there are a few stars that are bigger than the sun and a lot brighter than the sun.

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) also taught his students the science of medicine. His research and his theories had great impact on science of medicine. During the second and third centuries of Hijra most of the physicians in the Middle East followed the methods of diagnosis and treatment prescribed by him.

In cases where condition of a patient was such that physician could not determine whether the patient is alive or dead, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq had suggested that a small incision should be made in his body, specially between his two fingers. If blood comes out, it was a sign that he was alive. There is an historical evidence that his theory was put to test and was found correct.

In addition to his vast knowledge of other subjects, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) was well versed in the History of Christianity. He knew the origin of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and the main cause of differences among Christians and their division into many sects. He did not want the divisive element to enter into Shia Theology, and diivide Shias like Christians. It was for that reason that he emphasized Shi’a unity stating that the Holy Prophet (pbuh), and the divinely appointed Leaders (Imams), possessed the divine knowledge relevant to the Universe and all other creations.

In the Eleventh century, Catholic Church was deadly against Astronomy, Philosophy, and other Sciences, and did not preserve any books written by the Philosophers of Greece, Rome and Alexandria. The Greek Philosophers would have been burnt alive if they dared to write about any of the sciences. Whatever ancient books and literature that were available, Muslims translated them in Arabic and preserved them in their libraries. Accordingly, Muslims became the real source of civilization in Europe. About nine hundred years ago, a majority of the Europeans were uneducated, lived uncivilized life, and had no noble quality and character. Due to ignorance and illiteracy, there was not a single library in Europe. It was their contact with Muslims that changed their life style and became civilized. Muslims had big libraries and many large centers of knowledge and learning. It was Islamic civilization and culture that influenced European life and its culture. In the year 1130 A.D. a Translation Bureau was established in Italy where all books of famous Muslim writers were translated and preserved. These translations opened the eyes of Europeans, and opened a new gate to conduct scientific and philosophical research again in Europe. .

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) had attacked the theories of famous philosophers Aristotle and Ptolemy when he was a student in the Academy of his father, Imam Mohammad al-Baqar (a.s.), who died in 114 Hijra. At that time there were no scientific, mathematical, or philosophical books or research papers. Accordingly Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) knew that Muslim world would be flooded with books of the philosopers of Greece and Alexandria and that Muslims would blindly accept everything as Gospel truth. Thus, many of their false and fallacious theories would catch their imagination, corrupt their minds, and keep them under total darkness for centuries, which actually did happen. For example, the theory of Arisstotle and Ptolemy that earth was center of the Universe and that the sun and stars rotated around it, was generally accepted by the Muslims as correct. Therefore, Imam Mohammad al-Baqar (a.s.) and after his death Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) explained the correct theories of Universe and other creations to their students, and advised them to spread their teachings and the correct theories as presented by the two leaders, among other Muslims, and their generations.

Marveling at the creation of Allah (swt), Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) remarked:

            Allah, by His Knowledge and Power, created every living being and endowed each one of them with special power and instinct so that it may succeed in its struggle for survival. How wonderful are his creations. He created animals which can survive in severe cold weather of the frigid regions of the Poles and He created animals, which can live, prosper and propagate in the scorching heat of the tropics and sandy deserts. Many animals, which live in very cold region, sleep during long winters without eating and drinking, and also without having any adverse effect on their health. The hearts of these animals beat 5,000 times per hour when they are awake, and about 60 or 70 times while they sleep during winter. As regards the animals which live in deserts, like camels, can survive for several days in deserts without water. Allah gave special power to camels by which they can sense availability of water in deserts from a significant distance. “

Shi’as believe Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) was one of the divinely appointed Imam who had unlimited knowledge of all creations. Whatever theories and research he put forward about Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Medicines was through his divine knowledge. Every physician and every scholar who reads his theories will realize and acknowledge that Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) was a genius and fully capable of making important discoveries using his great intellectual power. On one occasion, someone asked him as to when the Universe came into being, he replied that it was always there. He further added that the Universe is eternal.

Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) has to his credit a number of maxims, sayings, and short quotations. Many of them have spread throughout the world. His following Maxim gained great popularity:

‘When someone is in pain, he thinks of himself”.

This maxim is so correct that it gradually spread all over the world. This maxim is so precise, true and exact that a Canadian scholar considered it as a Law of Psychology, and said that when we have some pain in our body we cannot forget ourselves, however, when we have no pain, mental or physical, we tend to forget ourselves.

Selected quotations

  • “The most perfect of men in intellect is the best of them in ethics.”
  • “Whoever attacks a matter without knowledge cuts off his own nose.”
  • “To forbid generosity is mistrust in Allah.”
  • “Three (things) with which Allah does not increase the Muslim person but glory: To forgive him who wrongs him; to give him who deprives him, to visit him who abandons him.”[
  • “(Religious) scholars are the trustees of prophets unless they come to the doors of supreme rulers.”
  • “The richest of rich is he who is not captive for greed.”
  • “Nothing is better than silence, no enemy is more harmful than ignorance, and no illness is more dangerous than telling lies.”
  • “Verily, envy eats belief as fire eats wood.”
  • “Three (things) cause affection: Religion, modesty, and generosity … three (things) cause hatred: hypocrisy, self-admiration, and oppression.”
  • “Charity is the Zakat (alms) of blessings, intercession is the Zakat of dignity, illnesses are the Zakat of bodies, forgiveness is the Zakat of victory, and the thing whose Zakat is paid is safe from taking (by Allah).”
  • “If the ill-natured (person) knows that he tortures himself, he will be tolerant in his manners.”
  • “He who answers all that he is asked, surely is mad.”
  • “Whomsoever God removes from the degradation of sin to the exaltation of piety, he it is whom God makes rich without property and noble without the help of family.”
  • “Whoever fears God, God makes all things fear him; and whoever does not fear God, God makes him fear all things.”