The fifth Imam Muhammed Ibn Ali el-Baqir(AS)
Born in Madina on Ist Rajab 57 Hijri, died in Madina on 7th Zilhijja 114 Hijri (31.1.733AD) at the age of 57 years. Period of Imamat 19 years.
On the evidence of the most authentic Hadith narrated by Sunni and Shia historians, one of the companions of the Holy Prophet Jabir Ibn Abdallah Ansari was in the presence of the Holy Prophet. He asked the Prophet about the names of descendants from his daughter Hazrat Fatima and Ali (AS). The Prophet told him,
“O Jabir, you will have a long life, and although you will go blind, but you will meet the 5th in line of my descendants whose name will be my name, who will walk like me and who will be the 5th Imam of the time. When you will meet him, give my salaams to him”.As predicted by the Holy Prophet Jabir ibn Abdullah Ansari had a long life and became blind in his old age. But he devoutly waited for the time when he would meet the 5th Imam. Each morning he would come out from his house, sit by the road side and wait for the sound of the footsteps to recognise the 5th Imam. One such day while he was waiting in the street of Madina, he heard someone walking towards him, the sound of footsteps reminded him of the way Holy Prophet used to walk. Jabir stood up, stopped the man and asked his name. He replied,”Muhammad”, Jabir asked, whose son?, he replied “Ali Ibnul Hussain”. Jabir immediately recognised the man he was talking to was the 5th Imam. He kissed his and told him the message from the Holy Prophet and that the Prophet sent his salaams to him. Imam took him to his home, asked his friends to gather as many people as they can. When they all assembled in his house, the Imam asked Jabir to tell the whole story again. Jabir narrated the story, they all cried and attested in unison of the Imamat of the Fifth Imam and also the names of the other Seven Imams in his line up to the Twelvth Imam.
After the death of the 4th Imam in 95 Hijri, the caliphs in Damascus were so preoccupied with their conquests of foreign lands that they did not have time to worry about the people in Madina, their loyalties or their hostilities. They were also satisfied that the Imams of the Ahlulbayt would not divulge in any rebellion against them due to the most peaceful and quite life of the 4th Imam Zainul Abedeen (AS). They left the people of Madina to their activities in some peace. This was the time Imams of Ahlulbayt were waiting for. Our 5th Imam opened a school to teach Qor’an and Hadith as it was taught by the Holy Prophet and Imam Ali AS).
Imam Muhammad el Baqir was said to have been higesteemed for his learning and eloquence as well as on account of his noble birth. According to Ibn Khalikan, the Imam received the title of Baqir (Splitter of knowledge) due to his ample knowledge of Deen and his enthusiasm to teach to other people. Many historians like Yakubi asserts that the Imam split open knowledge, that is scrutinized it and examined the depths of it so that it can be spread to all people truly and correctly.
In his life of respectable and scholarly retirement at Madina, the Imam was frequently called upon to explain particular teachings in regard to Imamat. A synopsis of his teaching in the Ma’athirul-Baqir is given in Cannon Sell’s Ithna Ashariya, an interesting part of which may well be quoted, as it shows the emphasis at this early period on the intellectual and spiritual character of the Imamat.
A man one day said to the Imam,”Was the Prophet heir to all the knowledge of the Prophets?" He replied,”Yes” then he was asked whether he had inherited it. He said he had. He was then asked if he could raise the dead to life, restore sight to the blind, and cleanse the leper. He said yes, by valour of God, the most high. He therefore put his hand on the blind eyes of a man sitting next to him and prayed. The next moment the blind man’s eyesight was restored. Many more such stories were told by various historians of the time.
The Imam discoursed fully on many topics such as the nature of the soul and Nafs, the nature and attributes of God, the qualities of the Ulemas. He discouraged arguments about the divine nature, saying that it was not possible for men to understand it.
One day a mu’tazili leader Wasil bin Ata asked the Imam what the anger of God meant. He said, it was simply punishment, but that this anger was not to be compared to the anger of men. God’s nature did not change. He defined a Rasul as a prophet who hears the voice of the angel(of revelation) and sees the angel in a bodily form. A Nabi, he said, is a Prophet who also hears the voice of the angel under the same conditions, but does not see him, and the Imam’s condition is like that of the Nabi but not like that of the Rasul. He said that the Imams were pure and that the Ahlulbayt were free from sin.
The Imam Baqir(AS) in defending his claims to the Imamat before the caliph Hisham quoted this verse,”This day have I perfected your religion unto you and fulfilled my mercy upon you and accepted Islam to be your Deen.” (Qur’an,S.5 V5) He went on to say that the open revelation being thus perfect, the Prophet had made known other secret matters to Ali(AS). From amongst men of the Ahlulbayt Ali(AS) had appointed a special person as his confidant, to whom this heritage of knowledge of secret things came down. Hisham replied that as God allowed no partner in the matter of knowing the secret things, how could Ali(AS) make such claims? In reply the Imam quoted many sayings of the Prophet showing a mutual relationship between himself and the high position accorded to Ali(AS). On hearing all this Hisham was silent and then permitted the Imam and his companions to return home .Neither the pomp nor the power of the caliph influenced the Imam, who boldly and without fear answered all the questions put to him.
As counsellor to the Government of the day, to rule and to administer the muslim world was certainly the right of the Ahlulbayt of the Prophet, but as common people who had no such right succumbed to the temporal power, The Imams had to lead calm and quiet lives. As such, they could have refused to give any advice or counsel to the Government of the day. But the moral height of these noble Imams rose above the standards of commoners. Like Imam Ali (AS) who cooperated with the contemporary caliphs and offered sound advice concerning the affairs of the muslims, all the Imams followed the same example and never hesitated to give well balanced pieces of advice to their contemporary rulers. Imam Baqir (AS) was no exception. The Ummayad Government had till then no currency of its own. The Byzantine currency of the Eastern Roman Empire were valid tender in Damascus as well. But during the reign of Walid Ibn Abdul Malik, there rose a rift between him and the byzantine ruler when the later decided to stamp a new currency with the phrase which was considered derogatory to the Holy Prophet.
This created suspense among the muslim Ummah. Walid convened a committee in which prominent muslim scholars participated. Imam Baqir (AS) expressed his opinion that the Government ought to strike its own currency on one side of which it should stamp the statement “La Ilaha Illallah and on the other side “Muhammad Rasul Allah”. The opinion of the Imam was unanimously approved and for the first time an Islamic coin was minted. Some of these coins were exhibited at the British Museum in 1988 at the event of the Islamic Art exhibition in London and a note shown that these coins were minted at the time of Walid Ibn Abdul Malik on the advice of the 5th Imam of Ahlulbayt.
It was during the caliphate of Umer Ibn Abdul Aziz the Ummayad caliph, that the Prophets’ descendants enjoyed a brief period of peace which lasted for only two years and five months which is the period of his Government. He lifted from them a great deal of atrocities and prohibited the cursing of Imam Ali(AS) on the pulpit on Friday, substituting it with this verse from the Holy Qur’an;
“God commands justice, the doing of good and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that ye may receive admonition.”
When the Imam met the caliph Umer Ibn Abdul Aziz, he found him weeping for the injustice inflicted by his predecessors upon the Ahlulbayt. The Imam admonished him with pieces of wisdom till the caliph sobbed, knelt down and begged for more. Then the Imam asked Umer Ibn Abdul Aziz what wrong doing he was brought here to rectify? It was none other than fadak which the messenger of God gave to his daughter Fatimah as a gift and to her descendants. As quoted in Biharul Anwar, v.4, “Umer took some writing pad and pen and wrote,’ In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is what Umer Ibn Abdul Aziz had handed back to Muhammad Ibn Ali to rectify the wrong doing with regard to Fadak.” After this event the land of “Fadak” was handed back to the Ahlulbayt. It was from the income from these lands and orchards that Schools were opened in Madina by the Fifth Imam where thousands of students came to learn the Qur’an and its true meanings. Hundreds of narrators of Hadith came out of these schools, experts in the art of Hadith and Islamic Law.
Hisham Ibn Abdul Malik succeeded Umer Ibn Abdul Aziz. He was a stone hearted, immoral person and racist. His prejudice against non- arab muslims caused him to double the taxes they had to pay, and his reign was a replay of the bloody days of Yazid Ibn Moawiya and Hajjaj Ibn Yousuf Thaqafi. It was then that the revolution of Zaid Ibn Ali bout as a continuation of the revolution of Imam Hussain(AS) and Imam Ali AS).
Imam Baqir (AS) never expressed any interest nor participated in political matters except when the ruler invited him. Since his peaceful living was devoted to people’s spiritual guidance, he was not tolerated by the Government. Hisham Ibn Abdul Malik wrote to his Governor of Madina instructing him to send Imam Baqair and his son Imam Jafar Sadiq(AS) to Damascus intending to humiliate them in front of an audience. When they reached Damascus, he kept them waiting for three days. On the fourth day he called them in his presence. He sat on a throne surrounded by his armed guards. In the centre of the courtyard, a target was set on which the elite were shooting arrows. Immediately the Imam entered, Hisham bluntly asked him to shoot arrows with others.
Imam Baqir tried to evade Hisham’s order, but the latter kept insisting and he planned to ridicule the Imam. Since the Imam led a secluded life, Hisham thought he might not have any connection with martial arts. He did not know that each descendant of the Prophet had inherited the might of Imam Ali(AS) and the courage of Imam Hu(AS). He could not realise that their calm and quiet life was lived in fulfilment of the demands of Divine Providence.
Compelled by Hisham, Imam Baqir (AS) took the bow, handling it skilfully, he shot a few arrows continuously, all sitting straight in the very heart of the centre spot. A shout of praise burst from the throats of astonished elites standing right and left of the caliph. Hisham outwitted, began to discuss the problems of the Imamat and the virtues of Ahlulbayt. He clearly saw that the Imams stay in Damascus might lead to popular respect for Ahlulbayt. So he permitted them to return home to Madinah. Inwardly his enmity of the Prophet’s family had increased,
While in Madinah Imam Baqir (AS) continued with the progress of the schools of theology opened up on his advice and with the support of the companions of Ahlulbayt. It is noted by many historians that until the death of our 5th Imam there were 25000 students in these schools learning Fiqh, Theology and Islamic science. It was at this time that 400 books of Hadith were compiled by the students of these school under the guidance of Imam Baqir (AS)
Now was the time to bring out books on Hadith, true sayings of the Prophet and also to show people in practical terms how duties were performed by the Prophet himself. It was because of this deeper and truer spread of knowledge that he became known as Baqir. The 400 books of Hadith that were written and later confirmed by his son Imam Ja’afar Sadiq (AS) when he became Imam after the death of his father, that Kulaini compiled his monumental books of Traditions named Al-Kafi, during the period of the Twelfth Imam.
As mentioned earlier the Ummayad Caliph Hisham ibn Abdul Malik was not happy with the progress our 5th Imam was making in reaching out to the people of not only Madinah but throughout the Muslim Lands. This spiritual influence would change into political influence and this would jeopardise the Caliphs own position as head of the state. The more the Ummayad Government learnt about Imam’s prestige and popularity, the more intolerable his existence became. At last they resorted to the same soundless weapon, poison which used to be applied by the cunning monarchs quite often to eliminate their opponents or suspects. A saddle was presented to the Imam in which poison was applied most skilfully. When he mounted on it the poison effected his whole body. After few days in pain the Imam expired on 7th of Zilhijja 114 Hijri.
According to his Will he was shrouded in three pieces of cloth. These included a Yamani sheet which he used to put on Friday prayers and a shirt which he always wore. He was laid to rest underneath the same dome in Jannatul Baqii where Imam Hasan and Imam Zainul Abedeen were buried.
Imam said, "Our followers are of three kinds, one who follows us but depends on others, one who is like a glass involved in his own reflections, but the best are those who are like gold, the more they suffer the more they shine.
Another famous saying of the Imam is,”I admonish you regarding five things; if you are wronged, do not commit wrong doing to others, if you are betrayed, do not betray anyone, if you are called a liar, do not be furious, if you are praised, do not be jubilant, if you are criticised do not fret and think of what is said in criticism, if you find in yourself what is criticised about you, then you are falling down in the eyes of God; when you are furious about the truth, it is much greater calamity then your falling down in the eyes of the people. And if you are opposite of what is said (in criticism) about you, then it is a merit you acquired without having to tire yourself in obtaining it.”
Our 5th Imam was succeeded by his son Ja’afar Ibn Muhammad el- Sadiq(AS) as the 6th Imam.