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Trees are People

Qa'im

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Trees play a prominent role in many religious texts. With their roots in the ground and their branches stretching toward the sky, trees are linked to the heavens and the Earth, the spiritual and the material, and the vertical and the horizontal. They are like an axis or a pole that stands between both worlds. Its greenery is a symbol of life, its shade is a symbol of comfort, and its fruits are a symbol of fertility. As deciduous trees shed their leaves in some seasons, they are resurrected in others, demonstrating God's power to bring life to the dead.

Ancient people drew parallels between trees and people. A tree's fruit became a symbol of one's offspring, deeds, or knowledge, and a diagram detailing your family "roots" is a "family tree". There are many Islamic examples where this same parallel is made:

The Prophet Muhammad (s) said, "A hypocrite is like the trunk of a palm tree. When its owner intends to use it in construction, it does not fit in the place he wants it to fit. He then tries to fit it elsewhere, but it still does not fit. So in the end, he throws it in the fire." ( قال رسول الله صلى‌الله‌عليه‌وآلهمثل المنافق مثل جذع النخل أراد صاحبه أن ينتفع به في بعض بنائه فلم يستقم له في الموضع الذي أراد فحوله في موضع آخر فلم يستقم له فكان آخر ذلك أن أحرقه بالنار )

The trunk in this example is the hypocrite. The carpenter sees that it is a trunk, and potentially useful, but it does not meet his requirements. Similarly, Allah tests and tries the hypocrite, but when He sees no good and no use in him, He punishes the hypocrite with hellfire.

The Prophet Muhammad (s) said, "The believers are like sprouting plants that are swirled back and forth by the winds, as the believers are also turned and bent by pain and illness. The hypocrites are like iron rods that are not affected by anything, until they meet death and are shattered by it." ( قال رسول الله صلى‌الله‌عليه‌وآله مثل المؤمن كمثل خامة الزرع تكفئها الرياح كذا وكذا وكذلك المؤمن تكفئه
الأوجاع والأمراض ومثل المنافق كمثل الإرزبة المستقيمة التي لا يصيبها شيء حتى يأتيه الموت فيقصفه قصفا
)

Just as the trees and plants are abused by strong gusts of wind, the believer is tried with his desires (hawa, هوى, which also means "wind"). The hypocrite however is not swirled by the wind because he lives in complete heedlessness (ghafla), and is stiffened by his wickedness, until Allah destroys him.

“And those who believed and did righteous deeds will be admitted to gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein by permission of their Lord; and their greeting therein will be, "Peace!" Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability.” (14:24-26)

Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq [a] was asked about the verse, "as a goodly tree, its root set firm, its branches reaching into the sky." (14:24) He said, "The Messenger of Allah (s) is its root, Amir al-Mu'mineen is its branches, the Imams from their progeny are its twigs, the knowledge of the Imams are its fruits, and their believing Shi`a are its leaves. By Allah, when a believer gives birth, a leaf sprouts on it; and when a believers dies, a leaf falls from it." ( سألت أبا عبد الله عليه السلام عن قول الله: " كشجرة طيبة أصلها ثابت وفرعها في السماء " قال: فقال: رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله أصلها، وأمير المؤمنين عليه السلام فرعها، والائمة من ذريتهما أغصانها وعلم الائمة ثمرتها وشيعتهم المؤمنون ورقها، هل فيها فضل؟ قال: قلت: لا والله، قال: والله إن المؤمن ليولد فتورق ورقة فيها وإن المؤمن ليموت فتسقط ورقة منها. )

This is an interesting exegesis, and it is crucial to understanding the Quran's analogy. Allah says that a good word is like a good tree. As we know, Jesus (as) was called a "word" (3:45), and in Shi`i exegesis, a word is a person, because Allah summons a person into existence by simply saying a word ("be!", kun faya koon). Allah then compares a goodly word to a goodly tree (shajaratin tayyiba), and this tree may indeed be the Blessed Tree ("shajarat tuba") described elsewhere in the Quran and hadith literature, as the previous verse is describing Paradise, and tuba and tayyiba come from the same root word. The Blessed Tree is one of the best rewards in Paradise, it is said to be in the house of `Ali b. Abi Talib ( دخلت الجنة رأيت في الجنة شجرة طوبى أصلها في دار علي عليه السلام ). After all, a Paradise (jannah) in Arabic is a garden with trees. Either way, the hadith above says that this tree is the Prophet, his Ahl al-Bayt, and their followers. Another hadith compares the Ahl al-Bayt to the trees of Paradise:

Allah said to Moses regarding the Prophet (s), "You are from his Nation if you recognize His status and the status of his Ahl al-Bayt. His example and the example of his Ahl al-Bayt in the creation are like that of the trees in the Gardens of Paradise - their leaves do not shed, and their flavours do not change." ( يا موسى أنت من امته إذا عرفت منزلته ومنزلة أهل بيته ، إن مثله ومثل أهل بيته فيمن خلقت كمثل الفردوس في الجنان لا ينتشر ( 3 ) ورقها ولا يتغير طعمها )

The trees in this example are evergreen tree with perpetually fresh fruit, because life in Paradise is everlasting, and taking from the Ahl al-Bayt's knowledge will result in eternal bliss.

Just as there is a Blessed Tree in Paradise, there is a cursed tree in Hellfire.

“Is Paradise a better accommodation, or the Tree of Zaqqum? Verily, we have made it a torment for the wrongdoers. Verily, it is a tree issuing from the bottom of Hell. Its emerging fruit is as if it was the heads of devils. And verily, they will eat from it and fill their bellies with it. Then verily, they will have after it a mixture of scalding water. Then verily, their return will be to Hell.” (37:62-68)

An Umayyad man named Sa`d b. `Abd al-Malik used to visit Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a). The Imam used to call him "Sa`d the Good". Sa`d entered upon Imam al-Baqir [a], and Sa`d began weeping profusely. The Imam asked, "Why do you weep, Sa`d?" Sa`d said, "How can I not weep when I come from the lineage of the cursed tree of the Qur’an?" So Imam al-Baqir [a] said to him, "You are not from them. You are an Umayyad, but from us, the Ahl al-Bayt. Have you not heard the saying of Allah, speaking of Abraham? 'Whosoever follows me is from me.' (14:36)" ( دخل سعد بن عبد الملك وكان أبو جعفر عليه السلام يسميه سعد الخير وهو من ولد عبد العزيز بن مروان على أبي جعفر عليه السلام فبينا ينشج كما تنشج النساء (3) قال:
فقال له أبو جعفر عليه السلام: ما يبكيك يا سعد؟ قال وكيف لا أبكي وأنا من الشجرة الملعونة في القرآن، فقال له: لست منهم أنت أموي منا أهل البيت أما سمعت قول الله عز وجل يحكي عن إبراهيم: " فمن تبعني فإنه مني )

This Tree of Zaqqum has fruits that look like the heads of devils. Perhaps this is because the devils, both human and jinn, are the offspring (fruit) of evil. In this hadith, the oppressors from the Umayyads are described as the flesh-and-blood Tree of Zaqqum. They are the family that is juxtaposed to the Ahl al-Bayt in heaven.

The Messenger of Allah (s) would kiss Lady Fatima [a] frequently; and he said, "When I was taken up to heaven, I entered Paradise, and Gabriel brought me close to the Blessed Tree (Tuba). He gave me a fruit from it and I ate it. Then, Allah turned it into water in my loins. So when I descended to the Earth and went to Khadija, she became pregnant with Fatima. Whenever I long for Paradise, I kiss her, and I never kiss her without finding the fragrance of the Blessed Tree upon her, for she is [both] a human and a dark-eyed heavenly maiden." ( وعنه قال: كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله يكثر تقبيل فاطمة عليها السلام، فأنكرت ذلك عايشة، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله: يا عايشة اني لما اسرى بي إلى السماء دخلت الجنة فأدناني جبرئيل من شجرة طوبى، وناولني من ثمارها فأكلته، فحول الله ذلك ماء في ظهري فلما هبطت إلى الأرض واقعت خديجة فحملت بفاطمة، وكلما اشتقت إلى الجنة قبلتها وما قبلتها قط الا وجدت رائحة شجرة طوبى فهي حوراء انسية )

If the Blessed Tree is truly the Ahl al-Bayt, then it would make sense that Lady Fatima would also come from that tree.

Imam `Ali [a] said, "The tree whose trunk is soft has thick branches." (وقال عليه السلام : مَنْ لاَنَ عُودُهُ كَثُفَتْ أَغْصَانُهُ.)

The person who is haughty and ill-tempered can never succeed in making his surroundings pleasant. His acquaintances will feel wretched and sick of him. But if a person is good-tempered and sweet-tongued people will like to get close to him and befriend him. At the time of need they will prove to be his helpers and supporters whereby he can make his life a success.

Imam `Ali (a) said, "Prayer sheds sins like the shedding of leaves off trees" (Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 109)

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a) said, "When a believer meets the believer and shakes hands, Allah looks to them, and sins fall from their faces like leaves fall from trees." ( إن المؤمن ليلقى المؤمن فيصافحه، فلا يزال الله ينظر إليهما والذنوب تتحات عن وجوههما كما يتحات الورق من الشجر )

A man asked Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a) about the verse, "They made for him (Solomon) what he willed: synagogues and statues, basins like wells ..." (34:13) The Imam replied, "These were not statues of men or women, but rather, they were statues of trees and their like." ( قلت لأبي جعفر (عليه السلام): "يعملون له ما يشاء - من محاريب و تماثيل و جفان كالجواب" قال: ما هي تماثيل الرجال و النساء و لكنها تماثيل الشجر و شبهه )

Statues are normally ornaments that are shaped like people. In this exegesis, the statues of Solomon were in the form of trees instead, as though trees can take the place of people.

Allah said to Jesus [a], "O Jesus! How numerous are the humans, yet how few in number are the patient. The trees are many, but the good ones are few, so do not be deceived by the beauty of the tree until you have tasted its fruit." (يا عيسى ما أكثر البشر وأقل عدد من صبر، الاشجار كثيرة وطيبها قليل، فلا يغرنك حسن شجرة حتى تذوق ثمرها.)

This direct comparison between trees and people is one that can also be found in the New Testament, where Jesus allegedly says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-20) The fruits in this example are the actions of individuals, which are a better indicator to a person's inner nature than his appearance.

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a) said, regarding His saying: “So man should look to his food” (80:24). "[He should look] to his knowledge which he takes and whom he takes it from." ( عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام في قوله تعالى " فلينظر الانسان إلى طعامه " قال: إلى علمه الذي يأخذه عمن يأخذه )

This is very pertinent. Just as a person may consume the fruit of a tree, people are also consumers of knowledge. This hadith is a warning to the believers to take their knowledge from the correct source. Taking knowledge from the immaculate luminaries (a) will give them everlasting life in Paradise.

Jesus [a] said, "Wisdom is established with humility, not with arrogance, just as plants grow in plain, soft ground but not on hard ground and rocks." ( قال عيسى عليه السلام: بالتواضع تعمر الحكمة لا بالتكبر، وكذلك في السهل ينبت الزرع لا في الجبل )

Just as a tree can only grow on soft soil, the believer can only truly develop if humility is his foundation.

Imam as-Sadiq (a) said, "The one you seek and have hopes for will verily rise from Mecca. And he will not rise from Mecca until he sees what he loves, even if it happens that parts of a tree eats [its other] parts." (ابن عقدة، عن حميد بن زياد، عن الحسن بن محمد الحضرمي عن جعفر بن محمد(ع)، وعن يونس بن يعقوب، عن سالم المكي، عن أبي الطفيل عامر بن واثلة أن الذي تطلبون وترجون إنما يخرج من مكة وما يخرج من مكة حتى يرى الذي يحب ولو صار أن يأكل الاعضاء أعضاء الشجرة . )

This narration is describing the rise of the Mahdi, who would come during a great schism between the ruling family of the Middle East. Perhaps this tree eating itself is a description of the infighting between the rulers of that time, which would indeed be pleasing to the Mahdi.

There are many other examples that can be applied, from the story of Adam, to the mi`raj, to other stories involving trees in the Quran. Something to keep in mind is that the Ahl al-Bayt do not speak aimlessly - their examples are full of wisdom, and their examples are full of meaning. If one devotes himself or herself to more than a cursory reading of the scriptures, one will better understand the meaning of these symbols and find intricate connections between these examples.

May Allah give us the Blessed Tree in Paradise in the Hereafter.

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More from the Bible:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelations 22:1-2)

"Only a few of its people will be left, like stray olives left on a tree after the harvest. Only two or three remain in the highest branches, four or five scattered here and there on the limbs," declares the LORD, the God of Israel." (Isaiah 17:6)
 

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In Deuteronomy it says:

כִּי תָצוּר אֶל עִיר יָמִים רַבִּים לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ לְתָפְשָׂהּ לֹא תַשְׁחִית אֶת עֵצָהּ לִנְדֹּחַ עָלָיו גַּרְזֶן כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תֹאכֵל וְאֹתוֹ לֹא תִכְרֹת כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר

"When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you?" (Devarim 20:19)

The sages note that האדם עץ השדה can literally translate as "the man is a tree of the field" (see notes from Rashi). Rabbis usually teach this verse on Tu B'Shevat, which is a "new year" for trees! Great blog!

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         0
      اكتب وبث علمك في إخوانك، فإن مت فأورث كتبك بنيك
      Write down and spread your knowledge among your brothers. And if you are about to die then will your books to your children [What the Imam al-Sadiq is supposed to have said to al-Mufadhal]
       
      فلما انصرفت إلى الكوفة أقبلت علي الشيعة فمزقوني كل ممزق، يأكلون لحمي ويشتمون عرضي، حتى أن بعضهم استقبلني فوثب في وجهي، وبعضهم قعد لي في سكك الكوفة يريد ضربي، ورموني بكل بهتان
      When I reached Kufa and met the Shia, they tore me to shreds, eating my flesh and disparaging my honour, such that one of them faced me and punched me in the face, and one of them lay in ambush for me in the markets of Kufa wishing to beat me up, and they made false accusations against me [Mufadhal in his Last Will and Testimony]
       
      ما يقولون في المفضل بن عمر؟ قلت: يقولون فيه: هيئة يهوديا أو نصرانيا
      What do they say about al-Mufadhal b. Umar? They say: He has the appearance and manner of a Jew or a Christian [The General Populace of Kufa was not impressed by Mufadhal]
       
      Who was He?
      Abu Abdallah Mufadhal b. Umar al-Ju’fi (d. before 179), a money-changer by profession, was a Kufan companion of the two Imams, al-Sadiq and al-Kadhim. He was charged with performing certain tasks for them.
      al-Tusi sees no problem in him. He includes him among the praiseworthy ‘intimate ones’ and ‘managers of the Imam’s affairs’ citing the following report as evidence:
      علي بن محمد، قال: حدثني سلمة بن الخطاب، عن علي بن حسان، عن موسى بن بكير قال: كنت في خدمة أبي الحسن عليه السلام ولم أكن أرى شيئا يصل إلى إلا من ناحية المفضل بن عمر، ولربما رأيت الرجل يجئ بالشئ فلا يقبله منه ويقول: أوصله إلى المفضل
      Ali b. Muhammad – Salama b. al-Khattab – Ali b. Hassan – Musa b. Bukayr: I was in the service of Abi al-Hasan  عليه السلام. Nothing [of the monetary dues] used to reach him [from any other route] except through Mufadhal b. Umar. I would sometimes see a man bringing something to the Imam directly and he [the Imam] would refuse to accept it and say: take it to Mufadhal.   
      That he was an important figure who exerted considerable influence on the Shi’ite community is undeniable. This can be glimpsed from the number of narrations under his name and the books attributed to him. 
       
      A Controversial Narrator
      However, there is a controversy about his status. A controversy which probably began in his own lifetime. Some saw him as the bearer of the ‘secrets’ of the Imams who was understandably misunderstood by the laymen who could not bear them, while others saw him as a crypto-syncretist who distorted the teachings of the Imam.
      There exists both praise and censure of him attributed to the Imams. Most of the narrations which extol him are narrated by the Ghulat who glorify him as one of their pillars.
      The books ascribed to him include partially surviving esoteric manuals like Kitab al-Sirat (‘The Book of the Way’) and Kitab al-Haft wa al-Azilla (‘The Book of the Seven and the Phantoms’) among others. These are treasured by contemporary Nusayri-Alawis but would be considered heretical in the Twelver Madhhab. It is unclear whether this attribution is historical or merely based on the communal memory of his significance for their teachings. Modern academic research sees these books as consisting of many layers, with unidentified authors adding material to the oldest core.
      al-Ayyashi encountered some of this suspect literature as he retells below:
       وأمّا أبو يعقوب إسحاق بن محمد البصري، فإنّه كان غالياً، وسرت إليه إلى بغداد لاكتب عنه وسألته كتاباً أنسخه، فأخرج إليّ من أحاديث المفضّل بن عمر في التفويض ، فلم أرغب فيه فأخرج إليّ من أحاديث مشيخته من الثقات
      As for Abu Ya’qub Ishaq b. Muhammad al-Basri then he was a Ghali. I went to him in Baghdad to write from him. I asked him a book to copy so he took out for me a collection of narrations from Mufadhal b. Umar regarding Tafwidh [that the ‘Aimma are independent beings who run the world after its initial creation] but I did not express any interest in that, then he produced narrations relayed by the trustworthy ones among his teachers …
      Traditionalist scholars like al-Najashi and Ibn al-Ghadhairi had a negative assessment of him for this very reason. They went through the works ascribed to him and found them to be unpalatable.
      Ibn al-Ghadhairi is scathing when he says:
      خطابي، وقد زيد عليه شئ كثير، وحمل الغلاة في حديثه حملا عظيما
      ‘A Khattabi. A lot of fabricated material has been attributed to him. The Ghulat have launched a full-scale attack on his narrations (i.e. they have invaded his original corpus infiltrating it with their own ideas)’
      al-Najashi warns:
      وقد ذكرت له مصنفات لا يعول عليها، وإنما ذكرنا للشرط الذي قدمناه
      ‘A number of books are listed as authored by him but they are not to be depended upon. I only include their names because of the condition which we have mentioned before [i.e. to list the titles of all Shi’i authors]’
      Even if he is not responsible for what circulates under his name, the fact that the Ghulat considered him one of their own should be reason enough for caution. Anonymous writers are  known to have penned material using his name seeking to enhance the authority of their works. It is an arduous task to sift the historical from the forged.
       
      A Khattabi?
      What can be asserted without doubt is that the historical Mufadhal was at one point in time connected to Abu al-Khattab and the Khatabiyya [there is even a splinter-sect of the Khatabiyya which was named after Mufadhal i.e. the Mufadhaliyya]. They are accused of deifying al-Sadiq in some way and of believing in continuation of prophecy. We have some narrations which indicate Mufadhal’s links with such beliefs:   
      حدثني الحسين بن الحسن بن بندار القمي، قال حدثني سعد بن عبد الله بن أبي خلف القمي، قال حدثني محمد بن الحسين بن أبي الخطاب و الحسن بن موسى، عن صفوان بن يحيى، عن عبد الله بن مسكان قال: دخل حجر بن زائدة و عامر بن جذاعة الأزدي على أبي عبد الله عليه السلام فقالا: جعلنا فداك، إن المفضل بن عمر يقول إنكم تقدرون أرزاق العباد ...
      al-Husayn b. al-Hasan b. Bundar al-Qummi – Sa’d b. Abdallah b. Abi Khalaf al-Qummi – Muhammad b. al-Husayn b. Abi al-Khattab and al-Hasan b. Musa from Safwan b. Yahya from Abdallah b. Muskan who said: Hujr b. Zaida and A’mir b. Judha’a al-Azdi entered upon Abi Abdillah عليه السلام and said to him: May we be made your ransom, Mufadhal b. Umar says that you are the ones who allot the Rizq of the slaves …
      علي بن محمد، عن صالح بن أبي حماد، عن محمد بن أورمة، عن ابن سنان، عن المفضل بن عمر قال: كنت أنا والقاسم شريكي ونجم بن حطيم وصالح بن سهل بالمدينة فتناظرنا في الربوبية، قال: فقال بعضنا لبعض: ما تصنعون بهذا نحن بالقرب منه وليس منا في تقية قوموا بنا إليه، قال: فقمنا فوالله ما بلغنا الباب إلا وقد خرج علينا بلا حذاء ولا رداء قد قام كل شعرة من رأسه منه وهو يقول: لا لا يا مفضل ويا قاسم ويا نجم، لا لا بل عباد مكرمون لا يسبقونه بالقول وهم بأمره يعملون
      Ali b. Muhammad – Salih b. Abi Hammad – Muhammad b. Awrama – Ibn Sinan – al-Mufadhal b. Umar who said:  I, al-Qasim al-Shariki, Najm b. Hutaym and Salih b. Sahl were in Madina when we disputed each other over the divinity [of the ‘Aimma]. He [Mufadhal] said: We said to each other - why are we speculating on this when we are nearby to him [the Imam] and he is not in Taqiyya with us [does not answer us in dissimulation], let’s go meet him. He [Mufadhal] said: We headed towards him - by Allah we had not reached the door before he came out bare-footed, without a cloak and all the hair on his head stood on end [in apprehension] saying: No - O Mufadhal, Qasim and Najm, No! “rather mere honored slaves, never preceding Him (Allah) in word, and they always follow His orders” (21:26-27)
      حدثني حمدويه وإبراهيم ابنا نصير، قالا: حدثنا محمد بن عيسى، عن علي ابن الحكم، عن المفضل بن عمر أنه كان يبشر أبا الخطاب وفلان أنكما لمن المرسلين
      Hamduwayh b. Nusayr and Ibrahim b. Nusayr – Muhammad b. Isa – Ali b. al-Hakam: That he [Mufadhal b. Umar] used to give glad tidings to Aba al-Khattab and one other saying: ‘verily you are messengers’
      قال الكشى: وذكرت الطيارة الغالية في بعض كتبها عن المفضل: أنه قال لقد قتل مع أبي اسماعيل يعني أبا الخطاب سبعون نبيا ... وأن المفضل قال: أدخلنا على أبي عبد الله عليه‌ السلام ونحن اثنى عشر رجلا، قال: فجعل أبو عبد الله عليه‌ السلام يسلم على رجل رجل منا ويسمي كل رجل منا باسم نبي، وقال لبعضنا: السلام عليك يا نوح، وقال لبعضنا: السلام عليك يا ابراهيم، وكان آخر من سلم عليه وقال: السلام عليك يا يونس، ثم قال: لا تخاير بين الانبياء
      al-Kashshi said: The Tayyara Ghulat say in one of their books that al-Mufadhal said: Seventy prophets were killed with Aba al-Khattab … Mufadhal is also supposed to have said: Twelve of us entered in to see Abi Abdillah عليه‌ السلام. He [the Imam] began greeting each one of us individually and calling each one of us by the name of a prophet, saying to one of us ‘peace be upon you O Noah’ to another ‘peace be upon you O Ibrahim’, he greeted the last one of us saying: ‘peace be upon you O Yunus’. Then he [the Imam] said: do not distinguish between the prophets! 
       
      Mufadhal, The Khattabiyya and Ismail
      The Khatabbiya seem to have taken Ismail the son of al-Sadiq as their figure-head and pinned their hopes on him as the next Imam. It is hard to discern from the meager sources available whether Ismail’s participation in this was of his own volition or not.
      رجال الكشي: حمدويه بن نصير، عن يعقوب بن يزيد، عن ابن أبي عمير، عن هشام بن الحكم وحماد بن عثمان، عن إسماعيل بن جابر قال: قال أبو عبد الله: ايت المفضل قل له: يا كافر يا مشرك ما تريد إلى ابني تريد أن تقتله
      Hamduwayh b. Nusayr – Ya’qub b. Yazid – Ibn Abi Umayr – Hisham b. al-Hakam and Hammad b. Uthman –  Ismail b. Jabir who said: Abu Abdillah عليه السلام said: Go to Mufadhal and say to him - O Kafir, O Mushrik, what do you want for my son Ismail? Do you want to kill him!?
      The narration above has the Imam using very harsh language with Mufadhal in the context of the latter’s ‘grooming’ of Ismail which al-Sadiq felt was dangerous. 
      On the other hand, there also exists a countervailing narration as below:

      الكافي: محمد بن يحيى، عن أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى، عن علي بن الحكم، عن يونس بن يعقوب قال: أمرني أبو عبد الله عليه السلام أن آتي المفضل واعزيه باسماعيل وقال: اقرأ المفضل السلام وقل له: إنا قد اصبنا بإسماعيل فصبرنا، فاصبر كما صبرنا، إنا أردنا أمرا وأراد الله عزوجل أمرا، فسلمنا لامر الله عزوجل
      Muhammad b. Yahya – Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Isa – Ali b. al-Hakam – Yunus b. Ya’qub who said: Abu Abdillah عليه السلام ordered me to go to Mufadhal and condole him for [the death of] Ismail. He [the Imam] said: Convey my greetings of peace to Mufadhal and say to him: We have been tried through Ismail and have remained patient, so be patient the way we have been patient. We wanted something but Allah Mighty and Majestic wanted something else so we have submitted to the command of Allah Mighty and Majestic.   
      This one is much more warm. The Imam condoles Mufadhal on the occasion of Ismail’s death - the two must have been especially close - and commends him to be patient in emulation of the Imam’s own patience.   
      How can we explain this difference in tone?
       
      A Rapprochement?
      It seems that one way to reconcile between them is to posit that Mufadhal had a period of estrangement from the Imam - because of his involvement with the Khattabis and their intentions for Ismail, however, he later repented from this and broke away with Abu al-Khattab, consequently the relation with the Imam improved.
      Evidence for this can be found in the narration below:
      جبرئيل بن أحمد قال: حدّثني محمّد بن عيسى، عن يونس، عن حماد بن عثمان قال: سمعت أبا عبداللّه عليه السلام يقول للمفضّل بن عمر الجعفي: يا كافر يا مشرك ما لك ولابني، يعني إسماعيل بن جعفر، وكان منقطعا إليه، يقول فيه مع الخطابية، ثم رجع بعد
      Jibrail b. Ahmad – Muhammad b. Isa – Yunus – Hammad b. Uthman who said: I heard Aba Abdillah عليه السلام saying to al-Mufadhal b. Umar al-Ju’fi: O Kafir, O Mushrik, what do you have to do with my son - meaning Ismail b. Ja’far? - and he [Mufadhal] was loyal to him [Ismail], believing about him [that he is the Imam and much more] together with the Khatabiyya, then he returned afterwards.
      That Mufadhal returned back to the truth after deviation can be proved also by the fact that he was not among those followers of Abu al-Khattab who died with their leader when they were attacked by the men of Isa b. Musa [the Abbasid governor of Kufa] after barricading themselves in the central mosque as part of an aborted revolt.
      Another piece of evidence for this view is that Mufadhal seems to have a more cordial relation with al-Kadhim after the death of al-Sadiq [indeed there are no censures against him quoted from this Imam, which would tally with his reform in his later years]. 
      محمد بن مسعود، قال: حدثني عبد الله بن خلف، قال: حدثنا علي بن حسان الواسطي، قال: حدثني موسى بن بكير قال: سمعت أبا الحسن يقول لما أتاه موت المفضل بن عمر، قال: رحمه الله، كان الوالد بعد الوالد، أما انه قد استراح
      Muhammad b. Masud – Abdallah b. Khalaf – Ali b. Hassan al-Wasiti – Musa b. Bukayr who said: I heard Aba al-Hasan saying when he was informed of the death of al-Mufadhal b. Umar - May Allah have mercy on him, he was a father after the father [al-Sadiq i.e. a second father to him]. Verily he is now resting in peace.
       
      Summary 
      The case of al-Mufadhal is a complicated one. More needs to be done to collect all the relevant evidence and formulate a coherent position, if at all possible. This is obviously not the place for an in-depth study. Such research should also consider the provenance of famous books attributed to him like Tawhid al-Mufadhal, al-Ihlilaja etc. Having said all this, caution must be exercised as regards narrations attributed to him, specifically if the contents have to do with Imamology.
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