Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as) succeeded his father Imam Zayn al-Abidin as the fifth Imam. His mother, Fatima Umm Abdallah, was the daughter of Hasan ibn Ali, making him the first Imam who descended from both grandsons of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hasan and Husayn. He was born on 1st Rajab 57 Hijri in Madina, and lived for 57 years, martyred by poison on 7th Zilhajjah 114 Hijri also in Madina.
As a child, he was an eyewitness to the tragedy of Karbala, and later confirmed the details of what happened on the Day of Ashura to his grandfather, Imam Husayn (as) and his faithful companions. He witnessed the struggles of the people with Banu Umayyah, the ruling dynasty of the time, including an uprising against them by his own brother, Zayd ibn Ali.
He is, however, most famous for his dissemination of knowledge, and revered as a result by all Muslims, irrespective of their school of thought.
Al-Baqir is an abbreviation of Baqir al-‘ilm, which means either “he who opens knowledge”(brings it to light), or “the one who possesses great knowledge”, as he was known for his knowledge.
Baqir al-‘ilm was not an ordinary title, because it was given to him by Prophet Muhammad. According to al-Kulayni, Prophet Muhammad’s longest living companion Jabir ibn Abd Allah al-Ansari would sit in the mosque and cry: “Ya baqir al-ilm, Ya baqir al-ilm”. Although the people thought that Jabir was insane, he assured them that Prophet Muhammad had told him: “O Jabir! You will meet a man from my family who will have the same name and the same characteristics as mine. He will split open knowledge extensively.” According to al-Kulayni, Jabir ibn Abd Allah met Imam al-Baqir when passing a Quran school. He saw that the Imam was still a child and examined him to see if he had the features which the Prophet had described. Jabir asked, “Characteristics of the Messenger of Allah; by Him in whose hands is my soul, O boy, what is your name?” When Imam answered that he was Muhammad ibn Ali ibn al-Husayn, Jabir “approached him, kissed his head and swore by his father and mother that Prophet had asked him to convey his salaam.”
One such instance of his display of knowledge is shared below:
When Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik invited Imam al-Baqir (a) to Syria, he attended people’s gatherings and answered their questions. One day the Imam (a) saw Christians going to a mountain in the area. He asked his companions whether it was their celebration day. They told him: “Every year on this day, they go to a Nazarite scholar who has met the companions of Jesus’s disciples and ask him questions.” The Imam (a) covered his head and accompanied the Nazarites to the mountain and sat among them.
The Christian scholar caught a sight of the audience, and when he looked at Imam al-Baqir (a), he asked him: “are you one of us, the Christians, or a Muslim?”
The Imam (a) said: “a Muslim.”
The Christian scholar: “a Muslim scholar or an ignorant Muslim?”
The Imam (a): “not an ignorant one.”
The Christian scholar: “should I ask questions first or will you ask questions.”
The Imam (a): “ask questions if you will.”
The bishop: “why do you, Muslims, claim that residents of the Heaven eat and drink without discharging excrements? Is there an obvious analogue for this in this world?”
The Imam (a): “Yes, the obvious analogue is the foetus feeding in its mother’s womb without discharging any excrements.”
The Christian scholar: “wonderful! Did you say that you were not a scholar?!”
The Imam (a): “I did not say so. I just said that I was not ignorant.”
The Christian scholar asked another question about Heavenly fruits and blessings as follows:
“Why do you believe that Heavenly fruits and blessings never decrease, and however much they are consumed, they remain as they were? Is there an obvious analogue for this in this world?”
The Imam (a): “Yes. The obvious analogue in the sensible world is the fire. If you light hundreds of candles from the flame of a candle, the first flame will remain as it were without being decreased.”
“I ask another question. Let me know about a time which is neither part of the night, nor that of the day.”
Imam al-Baqir (a): “this is the time between the dawn and the sunrise when people in trouble find peace.”
When he heard the answer, the Christian scholar exclaimed and said: “only one question remains. I swear to God that you can never answer this one.”
The Imam (a) said: “you have certainly taken a false oath.”
The Nazarite scholar: “let me know about two people who were born on the same day and died on the same day, while one of them lived for 50 years and the other lived for 150 years.”
Imam al-Baqir (a): “they are ‘Uzair (Arabic: عُزَیر) and ‘Azra (Arabic: عَزرَة). When they were 25 years old, Uzair was passing the village of Antioch while riding his donkey. He saw that the village was destroyed, so he asked: how can God resurrect [the people of] this village after its destruction?
Although God had selected and guided him, He became displeased at Uzair and caused him to die for 100 years because of his irrelevant question. Uzair was resurrected by God along with his donkey, foods, and drinks.
Uzair went to ‘Azra, but ‘Azra did not recognize his brother, though he hosted him. ‘Azra’s children and grandchildren went to him, while he was still 25 years old. Uzair mentioned some memories of ‘Azra and his children and said that they were now very old.
‘Azra, who was 125 years old then, said: “I never saw a 25-year-old person who knows the story of me and my brother during our youth so well. Man, are you from the sky or the Earth?
Uzair said: O ‘Azra! I am Uzair. God was displeased with me and because of my irrelevant question, he caused me to die for one hundred years to teach me a lesson and reinforce my certainty. These are the donkey, the food, and the drink with which I left the house, and God has now resurrected me with the same appearance. ‘Azra accepted Uzair’s remarks. Uzair lived 25 more years with them, and then they both died on the same day.
The Christian scholar asked all the questions that occurred to him and heard convincing replies. When he failed to embarrass the Imam, he became upset and said: “People! You have brought a high-ranking scholar who has more information than me to embarrass me and to let the Muslims know that their leaders are superior to us! I swear to God that I will never talk to you, and if I live one more year, you will not see me among you!” He then left.
We learn from this story two important lessons: the first is that of humility. Even though the Imam has all the knowledge from Allah, he does not claim to be a scholar, and rather chooses to humbly say, “I am not from the ignorant ones”. Secondly, he chooses to let his knowledge speak for itself and make the scholar realise that Imam has knowledge of every question that he asks. If one is to claim to be a scholar, the obvious question that would follow is what a person is a scholar of, as usually individuals specialise in a particular field of study. By saying that he was not ignorant, the Imam makes it clear that he is knowledgeable in all fields.
About the knowledge of the Imam, Muhammad bin Muslim says, “I learnt 30000 traditions from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s).” Jabir Ibn Abdullah Al-Ansari, one of the distinguished companions of the Holy Prophet (S) used to visit Imam Baqir (a.s) regularly and inquire about religious problems. Let us read another incident of Imam Baqir (a.s) with regard to his teachings.
One day, Umar bin Ubaid, who was considered the leader of Mutazila sect asked Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s), “What is the meaning of the verse:
Do not those who disbelieve see that the heavens and the earth were closed up, but We have opened them. (Surah Anbiya 21:30)
Imam replied, “The sky was closed, means not a drop fell from the sky to the earth and the earth was closed means, no vegetation grew up from it. When Allah accepted the prayers of Adam (a.s) the earth burst forth and streams began to flow, trees grew and began to fructify. Rain fell from the sky. Thus this is the meaning of “closed up” and “We opened them”.
Once Tawus Yemeni asked Imam (a.s), “When did one-third of Adam die?” Imam replied, “It never happened so. Rather you should ask when did one-fourth of human population die? It was when Qabeel killed Habeel. At that time there were four human beings, Adam, Hawwa, Habeel and Qabeel. Thus by the slaying of Habeel, one-fourth of the population decreased.”
Tawus Yemeni asked, “What is that, which is permitted in small quantity but prohibited in large measure. Imam (a.s) replied, “It was the stream of Talut, drinking more water from it was not allowed, only a handful was permitted.”
Then he asked, “Which fast was it, when it was allowed to eat and drink?” “It was the vow of silence that Maryam (a.s) had observed,” replied the Imam (a.s). That is she did not speak to anyone in this fast.
Imam (as) spent his whole life disseminating the teachings of his grandfather, Prophet Muhammad (sawa), until he was poisoned on the instructions of Hisham ibn Abdul Malik. He was buried in al-Baqi cemetery alongside his father, Imam Zaynul Abidin (as) and his grandfather Imam Hasan (as).
written by HIWM Maulana Sayed Zafar Abbas Naquvi