The Imamat of Imam Baqir (AS) was at the beginning of the second Islamic century. After a long political unrest that occurred following the tragedy of Karbala, power was finally stable in Banu Marwan’s family, who were from the Umayyads. At that time, the Islamic society was under the influence of various false theological beliefs, and each one had its own set of followers. Islamic scholars had different opinions on Islamic laws and beliefs due to their different interpretations of the Quran and the Prophet’s teachings. Imam Baqir, in almost 20 years of his Imamat, split open the doors of Islamic knowledge and sciences from their divine source for the Muslims who were eager to learn. The Imam provided the Muslims with authentic narrations from his forefathers and the Holy Prophet. He familiarized them with the correct interpretation of the Holy Quran and challenged the false beliefs that had spread through Islamic society. The Imam used every opportunity to connect the Muslims with true Islamic teachings, and revitalized them in the society. Imam Baqir was surrounded by crowds of people who were interested to know more about the true Islam. He created an Islamic university in Medina, where many students from all over the Islamic territory attended.
The Imam of Knowledge
Imam Muhammad ibn Ali (AS), also known as Baqir or Abu-Ja’far, was born on the 1st of the month of Rajab in the year 57 Hijri in Medina. He was the oldest son of Imam Sajjad (AS). His mother, Fatimah, was the daughter of Imam Hasan (AS) and was unique in piety among the children of Imam Hasan. Thus, Imam Baqir became the only Imam whose maternal and paternal grandfathers were Imams. All the following Imams from his lineage were related to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), through both Imam Hasan and Imam Hossein (AS).
Tragedy of Karbala
Imam Baqir was about three-and-a-half years old on the day of Ashura. He was the only child of Imam Sajjad who was present in Karbala. He was among the captives who were sent to Kufa, and from there to Damascus to Yazid’s palace. Imam Baqir, who had witnessed the tragedy of Karbala and all of the atrocities inflicted upon the Ahlul-Bayt, the progeny of the Prophet, became a narrator of the tragedy. The Imam used every opportunity to narrate the story of Karbala to the Muslims and remind them of the oppression the Umayyads imposed over the Ahlul-Bayt. The famous salutation, Ziyarat Ashura, was originally narrated by him.
Meeting with Jabir ibn Abdullah
Jabir ibn Abdullah was a close companion of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet had said to him, “O’ Jabir, you will have a lengthy life and will meet someone from my progeny from the children of (Imam) Hossein whose name will be the same as my name, Muhammad.” The Prophet had said that he would be called Baqir, “the one who splits open the doors of knowledge”. The Prophet asked Jabir to pass his greetings to him upon their meeting. After many years, Jabir met Imam Baqir in Medina when the Imam was young. The Imam’s face reminded Jabir of the Prophet’s face. Jabir passed the Prophet’s greeting to the Imam and said, “You are Baqir, the one who will split open knowledge.”
Martyrdom of Imam Sajjad
Valeed could not tolerate Imam Sajjad’s social popularity and his influence among the people. Consequently, he ordered the Imam to be poisoned. When Imam Sajjad was poisoned, he called his children near him and chose his son, Muhammad, as his successor. Imam Sajjad gave Imam Baqir a heavy chest full of holy books, scriptures, and the swords of the Prophet and Imam Ali, which were passed down from the Imams. Imam Sajjad spoke to his son, Imam Baqir, in private for some time. Amongst his last words, he emphasized the importance of kindness to people. When Imam Sajjad was martyred, Imam Baqir took care of his funeral arrangements and buried him in the Baqi’ cemetery next to his uncle, Imam Hasan (AS). The fact that Imam Baqir took on this responsibility was also another sign of his Imamat, since only an Imam can perform the funeral rituals of another Imam.
Emergence of the False Theological Beliefs
Due to multiple factors, the time of Imam Baqir coincided with the appearance of various theological beliefs among the Muslims. After a long period of civil unrest following the tragedy of Karbala, Banu Marwan’s government became stable. The Islamic scholars finally had a chance to become involved in education rather than political disputes. Various Islamic scholars and jurisprudents with different opinions about Islamic laws emerged. Schools and educational facilities were established in the big cities, and the educated people were more accepting of intellectual and theological thoughts, as opposed to before. Furthermore, due to military campaigns and the expansion of the Islamic territory, Muslims were exposed to various theological beliefs from the other civilizations, and had to find persuasive answers for the questions raised by the new Muslims or the followers of other faiths. However, there was turmoil among the Muslims about the true Islamic teachings of the Prophet, due to a gap of about a century from the Prophet’s demise. In addition, all of the people who had witnessed the Prophet and could testify to his teachings had also passed away by this time. The ban on the Prophet’s narrations, which had taken effect shortly after his demise, worsened the situation. Thus, the Muslims were split in the theological beliefs that were even contradictory to each other.
The Imam: Source of Divine Knowledge
In this situation, everyone recognized the Imam’s divine knowledge. The Imam had the most freedom for scientific activities and spreading his knowledge during Umar’s government. He used this opportunity to establish himself as the main source for true Islamic teachings in society. His life was full of puzzling questions raised by the people to test his knowledge, and his answers to these questions would prove his knowledge. He also availed every opportunity to debate with various so-called Islamic scholars who were falsely interpreting the Quran or fabricating narrations. The Imam would use Quranic evidence and intellectual justifications to overcome them.
The Imam was the most authentic narrator of the traditions of the Prophet and the best interpreter of the Holy Quran. The Imam narrated authentic narrations from the Prophet and his forefathers. He had mentioned his forefathers as the chain of reference for his narrations from the Prophet. There are thousands of narrations cited from Imam Baqir, which is the second highest number among the Shia Imams after his son, Imam Sadiq (AS). He also presented the correct interpretation of the Holy Quran for the Muslims who used to have different opinions about its interpretation. He used to encourage the Muslims to ask for a reference to the Quran for every part of his speech. There is a commentary of the Holy Quran known as ‘Abu Jarud’, which is attributed to the Imam.
The Imam’s Invitation to Damascus
Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz had respect for the Imam and was interested in seeking his advice. The Imam advised and guided him for the benefit of the Muslims. However, the Imam never endorsed his government nor any other Umayyad’s. When Umar came to power, he sent an invitation for the Imam to come and meet him. The Imam accepted his invitation and went to Damascus. Umar provided the Imam with hospitality and sought his advice. The Imam recommended him to seek piety and to consider the elderly Muslims as his own father, the middle-aged Muslims as his own brothers, and the young Muslims as his own children. The Imam recommended that he practice kindness and mercy for his children, forgiveness for his brother, and good deeds for his father. The Imam asked him to be persistent in doing good deeds. Umar was surprised by the Imam’s comprehensive advice and said, “You have given me instructions that, if implemented with God’s help, would have eternal benefit for me.”
The Imam: Splitter of Knowledge
Imam Baqir continued his father, Imam Sajjad’s efforts, to interpret the true Islamic teachings. The Imam was known as Baqir, which means the splitter of knowledge, and was given this title by the Prophet. The Prophet knew that the Imam would reveal and expand the secrets of the Islamic sciences and had great respect for him. Today, the Imam is also known as the founder of Fiqh, or “Islamic jurisprudence” in the Shia school of thought. Fiqh is the knowledge about Islamic laws according to the Quran and the teachings and practices of the Prophet. The Imam not only responded to the thousands of Fiqh questions raised by Muslims during his life, but also established the principles that are used in Fiqh to derive the Islamic laws, known as the Usul al-Fiqh. These principles are still used by scholars to interpret Islamic laws for newly emerged questions. Furthermore, there are many narrations available from the Imam on other Islamic sciences, such as the interpretation of the Quran, traditions of the Prophet, ethics, history, judicial affairs, medicine, and Ilm al-Kalam, which is about defending the principles of the Islamic faith against skeptics.
The Imam established an Islamic university to benefit hundreds of students who were interested in learning Islamic studies. The names of more than 460 of the Imam’s students are recorded in history. No one would visit Medina without attending the Imam’s lectures to benefit from his knowledge. Many of the Islamic scholars would sit by the Imam humbly to learn from his knowledge, similar to a child sitting in the presence of an honorable teacher. Many of the people who had benefited from the Imam’s knowledge were non-Shias, such as Abu-Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi school of thought.
Hisham ibn Abdul-Malik in Power
After Yazid, his brother, Hisham, assumed power. He ruled for around 20 years and was the last powerful ruler of the Umayyads before their destruction. He was very picky and would personally supervise work-related affairs. He was very stingy, jealous, cruel, and heartless. He was the one who began hating Imam Sajjad ever since he saw the people respecting the Imam, while being indifferent to him near the Ka’ba during the Hajj season. His hatred and conspiracy encouraged his brother, Valeed, to order the poisoning and martyrdom of Imam Sajjad.
Hisham in Hajj
One year, Hisham went to Mecca for Hajj and saw the Muslims gather around Imam Baqir in large crowds to ask him their questions. Hisham was also informed by his brother that Imam Baqir’s son, Imam Sadiq has delivered a powerful speech for the pilgrims about the honor and divine status of the Shia Imams. Hisham decided to humiliate Imam Baqir. He sent one scholar to ask the Imam some difficult questions, but the Imam was able to respond to all of the questions. The scholar returned to Hisham, admitting the Imam’s knowledge. Hisham was very angry with the outcome, but he decided not to confront the Imam during Hajj. However, right after Hajj, he summoned the Imam and his son, Imam Sadiq, to his palace in Damascus to intimidate them.
The Imam Summoned to Damascus
When Imam Baqir arrived in Damascus, Hisham did not allow him to enter his palace for three days. On the fourth day, he accepted the Imam into his palace, where he had arranged for an archery exercise to humiliate the Imam. Hisham had assumed that the Imam was only a scholar and would not have any military skill. He insisted that the Imam participate in archery, but the Imam showed hesitance. The Imam finally accepted the challenge and shot an arrow which landed exactly on the target. He continued his archery and shot nine arrows in such a manner that each arrow landed on the tail of the previous arrow. Hisham was shocked by the Imam’s skill and performance, and confessed that the Imam was the best archer he had ever witnessed.
When the Imam left Hisham’s palace, he saw a crowd of Christians who were waiting to meet their most knowledgeable leader. Their leader would appear once a year to answer their questions. The Imam went among them as well. When the Christian leader saw the Imam and realized that he was a Muslim, he decided to humiliate the Imam by asking him challenging questions and the Imam responded to all of them. The Christian leader felt humiliated and left the crowd, promising not to appear in front of them ever again. The news of the Imam’s debate with the Christian leader spread quickly in Damascus. Hisham feared people gathering around the Imam in the heart of his government, so he sent a messenger to the Imam, asking him to leave the city immediately.
Hisham hated Imam Baqir and his Shia followers. The Imam was under the most pressure during Hisham’s government. Hisham asked his governors to increase the pressure on the Shias and deprive them of their rights. He also banned the people of Iraq, who were the largest Shia community, from meeting the Imam freely in Medina. The Imam had advised his followers to distance themselves from the Umayyads, and not to accept any governmental position.
Although Imam Baqir was pursuing a peaceful confrontation with the government, Hisham had hatred towards the Imam. Hisham feared the Imam’s social popularity as the most knowledgeable person in society. The events that occurred during the Imam’s visit to Damascus also influenced Hisham’s decision to martyr the Imam. These events included the Imam’s archery skills, his debate with Hisham leading to Hisham’s humiliation, and his debate with the Christian leader, which spread the Imam’s name among the Syrians. Thus, Ibrahim ibn Valeed, Hisham’s nephew and the governor of Medina, poisoned the Imam by Hisham’s orders. Imam Baqir’s soul ascended, and he passed away on the 7th of Zu al-Hijjah, in the year 114 Hijri, at the age of 57. Imam Sadiq took care of his father’s funeral and was followed by crowds of grieving Muslims. Imam Baqir was buried at the cemetery of Baqi’ next to the graves of his father, Imam Sajjad (AS), and his great uncle, Imam Hasan (AS).