Ali ibn Babawayh could not believe his eyes. After so many years, his prayers had finally been answered.
The letter bore the signature of the 12th imam of the Prophet Muhammed's family members (peace be upon them all). It promised the birth of two children who would be males, sources of good, scholars, truthful, and that through them, Allah would provide success and benefit to the believers.
As a result of the prayer of Imam Zamana (atf), Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Husain ibn Musa ibn Babawayh al-Qummi was born around the 306th year of Hijra. His father, popularly known as Ali ibn Babawayh, was himself a great scholar in the city of Qom and one of the staunchest voices against the liars and opportunists who had begun to claim themselves to be the representatives of the 12th Imam during the period of the minor occultation.
Muhammad ibn Ali studied under Shaikh Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Kulayni, Ali ibn Hussain Qummi, Ibrahim Baraqi, and 150 other teachers from whom he quoted narrations. Because of his surprising aptitude and impeccable memory—attributed by many to the fact that he was born from the Imam's prayer—as well as because of the title given to him by the Imam in the letter to his father, he was called Shaikh as-Saduq ("the truthful one").
The period of Shaikh as-Saduq, which coincided with the beginning of the major occultation, saw the rise of attacks on the Shia belief in the 12th imam. Shaikh as-Saduq was once visited by an eminent Shia scholar from Bukhara, who himself expressed several doubts about the possibility of a "hidden imam" who by then would be almost a hundred years old. Although Shaikh as-Saduq convinced him from a logical and theological point of view, he was quite troubled by this rise of doubt and disbelief among so many segments of the Shia population.
One day, when he fell asleep, the shaikh dreamed that he was in the Grand Mosque of Mecca. He approached the Ka'ba and saw a man standing there who had the unmistakable aura of the 12th Imam. The shaikh immediately fell at his feet and began weeping. When the Imam asked him why he was so sad, Shaikh as-Saduq told him about the rise of disbelief and doubt among the Shia as to whether their Imam really existed. The Imam smiled.
"You were born from my prayers, Muhammad ibn Ali," he said. "I have a right over you. I want you to write a book in order to prove my Occultation from the point of view of Qur'an and hadith."
The Imam also gave him specific instructions regarding the structure and content of the book. Eventually, it took the form of Ikmalud Deen Wa Itmamun Ne'ma ("Perfection of Faith and Completion of Divine Bounty" – a reference to chapter 5, verse 3 of the Qur'an, which was revealed at Ghadeer Khum). In this book, the shaikh expounded on the various verses of the Qur'an, narrations from the Infallibles, and logical evidence to prove the necessity and existence of a Living Imam.
Shaikh as-Saduq's greatest contribution in the field of jurisprudence came in the form of his book Man La Yahduruhul Faqih ("For One Without a Jurist"). In the introduction to the book, Shaikh mentions how someone brought to his attention a medical treatise called Man La Yahduruhut Tabeeb ("For One Without a Doctor"). The person asked Shaikh as-Saduq to compile a similar book on matters of jurisprudence and the practical aspects of Islam. Just like his mentor Shaikh Kulayni, Shaikh as-Saduq traveled all over the Muslim empire to collect narrations from the students and followers of the Infallibles and compiled them in this book. Along with Shaikh Kulayni's Kafi, it is used as one of four primary textbooks for any student of jurisprudence, the other two being Al-Istibsar and Tahdheebul Ahkam by Shaikh Abu Ja'far at-Tusi. On a side note, it is interesting to know that all three authors of these four primary books were named Muhammad and had the title Abu Jafar.
In the year 381 AH, this beacon of light and guidance for millions departed from this world. He was succeeded by his student Shaikh al-Mufid as the spiritual guide of the Shia world.
EDITOR'S NOTE: These articles are adaptations of lectures delivered by Maulana Sadiq Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1980s on the lives of the great scholars of Islam. The Urdu lectures can be accessed at Hussainiat.com. For previous articles in this series, please look under the History section.