Muhammad b. ʿAli b. al-Husayn b. ʿAli b. Abi Talib (Arabic: محمد بن علي بن حسین بن علي بن أبي طالب) (b. 57/677 – d. 114/733) known as Imam al-Baqir (a) and Baqir al-'Ulum, was the fifth Imam of the Shi'a, whose period of Imamate lasted nineteen years.
Imam al-Baqir (a) made a great scientific movement which reached its peak at the time of his son Imam al-Sadiq (a). His narrations in religion, conduct of the Prophet (s), Qur'an sciences, moral conduct, and manner is more than what is remained from the children of Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a). Thus, during his imamate, a great step was taken towards organization of Shi'i thought in different fields including ethics, jurisprudence, theology, exegesis, etc. According to historical sources he was present at Battle of Karbala as a child.
Zaynab, Umm Salama
Muhammad b. ‘Ali b. al-Husayn b. ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, known as al-Baqir (a) was the fifth Imam of the Shi’a faith, son of Imam al-Sajjad (a), the fourth Imam of the Shi’a faith. His mother was Umm ‘Abd Allah, daughter of Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba (a). Hence he is called Hashimite among Hashimites, ‘Alavi among ‘Alavis, and Fatimi among Fatimis.
Naming, Teknonym, and Epithets
Many years before Imam al-Baqir (a) was born, the Prophet (s) named him Muhammad and titled him as al-Baqir. Hadith al-Lawh transmitted by Jabir b. ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari and others corroborates with this.
His epithets were, al-Baqir, al-Shakir (the thankful to God), and al-Hadi (the guide), the former of which is the most famous. The meaning of “al-Baqir” is “splitter.” Al-Ya’qubi wrote that, “He (a) was named al-Baqir since he split knowledge.” His famous teknonym is Abu Ja’far. In hadith references, he (a) is mostly referred to as Abu Ja’far al-Awwal.
In narrations, Umm Farwa is mentioned as the wife of Imam al-Baqir (a), who was the mother of Imam al-Sadiq (a). Also narrations mention another woman called Umm Hakim, daughter of Usayd al-Thaqafi as a wife of Imam (a), who was the mother of two of the Imam’s (a) children and another wife of Imam (a) who was a concubine and the mother of three other children of Imam (a).
The number of the children of Imam al-Baqir (a) was seven, including five sons and two daughters:
Proofs of Imamate
Jabir b. ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari narrated, in his response to a question about Imams after Imam ‘Ali (a), the Prophet (s) said, “al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a), the two Masters of the Youths of Paradise, then the Master of Worshipers of his time ‘Ali b. al-Husayn (a), then al-Baqir, Muhammad b. ‘Ali (a), whom you will see, O Jabir…”
Also, Imam al-Sajjad (a) frequently attracted attention towards his son, Imam al-Baqir (a). For example, when his other son ‘Umar asked him about why Imam al-Sajjad (a) paid more attention to Imam al-Baqir (a), Imam (a) answered, “It is because the imamate will remain in his descendants until the day our Upriser rises and will fill the world with justice and equality. So, he [al-Baqir] is both Imam and the father of Imams (a).”
Al-Shaykh al-Mufid said Imam al-Baqir (a) was superior to all his brothers in knowledge, piety, and dignity. He had a higher position in relation to his siblings. Everyone praised him with glory and he was respected by the Suuni and Shi’a scholars. He (a) had knowledge of religion, the Qur’an, ethics, and morals to such a great extent that even these had not been formerly taught by any of the children of al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a). The rest of the companions of the Prophet (s), noble ones among the Followers, and highest ranking of jurisprudence scholars have narrated from him. His position in merits and nobility reached a level of being exemplary among the people of knowledge. They wrote works and composed poems to praise his personality.
It is reported that ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan minted coins with Islamic inscriptions for the first time with the suggestion of Imam al-Baqir (a). Before that Roman coins were used in transactions. Some have attributed the suggestion to Imam al-Sajjad (a) as the story has occurred in the time of Imam al-Sajjad (a), others believe that Imam al-Baqir (s) suggested minting coins by the order of Imam al-Sajjad (a).
From 94/712-13 to 114/732-33, there was a period of different schools of jurisprudence emerging and narrating many hadiths about exegesis. This was because of the weakening of the Umayyad government and the conflicts among statesmen over power. Sunni scholars, Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, Makhul al-Shami, Hisham b. ‘Urwa, etc. were active in narrating hadiths and issuing Fatwa, and other groups tried to spread their own beliefs such as Khawarij, Murji’a, Kaysaniyya, and Ghulat.
Before this time, Shi’a jurisprudential viewpoints were clarified in a few issues like adhan, taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation), funeral prayer, …. By the begining of Imam al-Baqir’s (a) imamate a great scientific movement by him emerged in Shi’a which reached its peak at the time of his son, Imam al-Sadiq (a). He (a) was superior to all nobles of Banu Hashim in knowledge, piety, dignity, and merits. His narrations in religion, conduct of the Prophet (s), Qur’an sciences, moral conduct, and manners are more than what remained from the children of Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a) until then. It was in this period that Shi’a started to well establish its culture -including jurisprudence, exegiseis, and ethics.
Imam al-Baqir (a) strongly rejected reasoning of the followers of analogy (qiyas) in jurisprudence and took sharp stances against other Islamic sects and this way tried to separate the authentic ideological domain of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) in different fields from other sects. Regarding Khawarij, he (a) said, “Khawarij suffered out of ignorance; while religion is more lenient and flexible than how they know it.”
The scientific fame of Imam al-Baqir (a) was not only known in Hijaz but also had spread in Iraq and Khurasan. There is even a report saying about the Imam (a), “I saw people of Khurasan had circled around him and asked him their scientific questions.”
Imam al-Baqir (a) had dedicated a part of his time to explain exegesis issues, by holding exegesis sessions and answering the questions of scholars and other people. It is said that Imam al-Baqir (a) wrote a book in exegesis of the Qur’an which Ibn Nadim has mentioned in his al-Fihrist.
Imam (a) considered the knowledge of the Qur’an only held by the Ahl al-Bayt (a), since it is only they who can distinguish the clear issues in the Qur’an from unclear ones and the abrogating from the abrogated. Such power is not held by anyone other than the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and thus Imam al-Baqir (a) said, “Nothing is farther than exegesis of the Qur’an from the intellect of people; since, a verse which is a cohesive speech, the beginning of which happens to be about one issue and the end of it about another issue and this cohesive speech is interpreted from different aspects.”
Imam al-Baqir (a) paid particular attention to hadiths (or traditions) from the Prophet (s) to the extent that Jabir b. Yazid al-Ju’fi narrated 70,000 traditions from the noble Prophet (s) from him (a). Also, Aban b. Taghlib and other students of Imam al-Baqir (a) narrated a great number of this tremendous legacy from the Imam (a).
Imam al-Baqir (a) did not suffice to only narrating and spreading traditions, but he (a) also encouraged his companions to strive in understanding traditions and learning their meanings. In a statement, he (a) said:
“Know the levels of our Shi’a by the number of hadiths from the Ahl al-Bayt (a) they narrate and their knowledge to them, which is the knowledge to hadith (dirayat al-hadith); and it is through understanding of hadiths that the faithful reach highest levels of faith.”
At the time of Imam al-Baqir (a), the emerging foundations and expression of different beliefs and thoughts were easier, due to opportunity and the lack of pressure and control by the government which also caused deviant thoughts to spread in the society. Under these circumstances, Imam al-Baqir (a) had to announce authentic Islamic beliefs, denounce and reject false beliefs, and answer related questions. Therefore, he (a) held his theological discussions with the direction towards the mentioned issues. Among such issues was the inability of human intellect to understand the truth of God, eternal existence of the Necessary Existent, and the necessity to obey Imam.
Imam al-Baqir’s (a) debates with different people over different issues were among his scientific activities. Some of his debates are as listed below:
Fighting with Israelites [Beliefs Imported in Islam]
Jews were among the present groups in society at the time of Imam al-Baqir (a) and they had a deep influence over the culture at that time. Some of the Jewish scholars pretended to become Muslims and others remained openly Jewish. Their influence spread in the Islamic society and thus, they became the authorities of some simple-minded people. Imam’s (a) reaction included fighting with the Jews and their malicious instigation in Islamic culture, and renouncing their invented false hadiths about divine prophets (a) or issues which tarnished the true face of the Prophets (a). Below is an example:
Zurara b. A’yan narrated that, “I was sitting before Imam al-Baqir (a) while he (a) was facing Ka’ba, he said, ‘Looking at the Ka’ba is an act of worship.’ At that time, a man called ‘Asim b. ‘Umar came to Imam (a) and said Ka’b al-Ahbar says, ‘Every morning, Ka’ba prostrates towards Jerusalem.’ Imam (a) said, ‘What do you think about the opinion of Ka’b al-Ahbar?’ The man answered, ‘His talk is right.’ Imam al-Baqir (a) said, ‘You and Ka’b al-Ahbar are both incorrect,’ then, while very disappointed, he said, ‘God has not created a monument more beloved than Ka’ba on earth”.
The situation at that time prepared a foundation that Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a) benefitted highly from. That opportune situation was the result of weakness of the Umayyad government. Internal crises of their political system did not allow the rulers to suppress the voices of Ahl al-Bayt (a) and isolate them as previous rulers had done. This situation helped Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a) to give jurisprudential, exegesis-related, ethical opinions in jurisprudence and hadith books.
From the viewpoint of Shi’a scholars, the most prominent jurists of the beginning centuries of Islam were six people who were all companions of Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a): Zurara b. A’yan, Ma’ruf b. Kharrabudh al-Makki, Abu Basir al-Asadi, Fudayl b. Yasar al-Basri, Muhammad b. Muslim and Burayd b. Mu’awiya al-‘Ijli.
Some of the companions and students of Imam al-Baqir (a), regarding credit and reliability are approved by both Sunni and Shi’a, a group of them have not been accepted by Sunni rijal scholars due to their deep Shi’a tendencies and have only been accepted by Shi’a scholars.
However, there should be no claim that Imam al-Baqir (a) was free from restrictions which governments imposed on the Ahl al-Bayt (a); rather, undoubtedly the ruling atmosphere of the life of Imam al-Baqir (a) was in a state of Taqiyya. At that point, because of the specific culture which was inflicted upon the society as a result of the ruling of unjust governments, leaving Taqiyya would mean abandoning scientific activities and preaching principle teachings of religion.
There are different narrations and historical opinions regarding the person who martyred Imam al-Baqir (a). Some sources have mentioned Hisham b. Abd al-Malik as the one who martyred him. Some have accused Ibrahim b. al-Walid as the person who poisoned the Imam (a). Some narrations have considered Zayd b. al-Hasan as the person who facilitated the plot for martyring the Imam (a). In either case, Imam al-Baqir (a) was martyred during the caliphate of Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik, because his caliphate was from 108/726-7 until 125/742-3 and the last year ever mentioned for the martyrdom of Imam al-Baqir (a) is 118/736.
Although the reports are seemingly different, it is not impossible that they could all be correct to a certain degree. There lies a possibility that several people cooperated in the martyrdom of Imam al-Baqir (a), as the reports refer to each of them. Regarding the violent behavior of Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik towards Imam al-Baqir (a) and the undeniable enmity of Umayyads with Imam Ali’s (a) descendants, there is no doubt that Hisham had strong motivation to play a role in the martyrdom of Imam al-Baqir (a) even if it was indirectly. Clearly, to have made his plot materialize, Hisham would have used trustworthy people. Therefore, he employed Ibrahim b. al-Walid who was an Umayyad and an enemy of the Ahl al-bayt (a), who could use a person who could easily enter the home of Imam al-Baqir (a). Through him, the scheming plot of Hisham unfolded and Imam (a) was martyred.
Imam al-Baqir’s (a) personality was not only outstanding in the views of the Shi’a but in the views of Sunni scholars he (a) was a unique personality too. Below, some examples are mentioned:
Ibn Hajar al-Haytami wrote, “Abu Ja’far Muhammad al-Baqir (a) had disclosed so many hidden treasures of sciences, truth behind rulings, and points of wisdom that are not hidden except to ignorant or ill-wishers and thus they have called him Baqir al-‘ilm [splitter of knowledge]. He is a great source and the one who establishes knowledge. He (a) spent his life in worship of God and in the ranks of mystics, he reached a status beyond description. He (a) has many words in the journey towards God and Islamic teachings”
‘Abd Allah b. ‘Ata’ who was a distinguished scholar at the time of Imam (a) said, “I saw scholars not humbled before anyone, more humble than I saw them before Abu Ja’far (a).”
I'v set up a dedicated page where you can have easy access to all my lectures on from my YouTube Channel. This page will be regularly be updated and is the most up to date source for all content.