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The Fifth Imam, ‘Muhammad (a.s.) Ibn Ali (a.s.)

 

Name
Imam Muhammad Ibn Ali (a.s.)
Father’s name
Imam Sajjad (a.s.)
Mother’s name
Janabe Fatimah binte Imam Hasan (a.s.) (agnomen was Ummo Abdillah)
Date of Birth
1st Rajab, 57 A. H.
Place of Birth
Madinah Munawwarah
Kuniyyat
Abu Ja’far
Titles
Ameen, Haadi, Saabir, Shaahid, Baqir, etc.
Age
57 years
Martyrdom
7th Zilhijja, 114 A.H
Buried
Jannatul Baqi, Madinah Munawwarah

 

“(Imam Baqir) who is like his beloved grandfather (Holy Prophet) (s.a.w.a.), the splitter of My knowledge and the mine of My wisdom.”

On Friday, the 1st of Rajab, 57 A.H., in the family of Imam Sajjad (a.s.), from his wife Ummo Abdillah (daughter of Imam Hasan Mujtaba (a.s.)) in the city of Madinah, a son was born who was named Muhammad. This dear child who was for some time witnessed his grandfather Imam Husain (a.s.), was present in the event of Karbala, at the age of about 4 years and in his childhood witnessed the heart rending event. Together, with the other children he was dragged from one place to another as captive in the hands of Yazeed’s agents, with the caravan, moving from Kufa to Syria. He lived for 34 years during the Imamat of his father, Imam Sajjad (a.s.) and after his demise, attained Imamat in the year 95 A.H. He was in charge of Shia leadership for 19 years.

Years before his birth, when the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was talking to his famous companion, Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari about his successors, told him that the fifth of them bears my name and is from the lineage of Husain. You, O Jabir, will also meet him. So, convey my salaam to him. Divine Destiny extended the age of Jabir and at long last the foretelling of the God’s Prophet (s.a.w.a.) turned to reality and he conveyed the message to Imam Baqir (a.s.). ‘Baqir’ literally means ‘splitter’ and various sciences appeared in the time of this Imam which will be enumerated later in the chapter. Hence the title was given to the Imam.

This is was same title bestowed upon him by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) long before his birth and while explaining the word to Jabir, he said:“He will split up the knowledge of Prophets extensively”.

During his Imamat which was the time of the downfall of the government of Bani Umayyah – Walid Ibn Abdul Malik, Sulaiman Ibn Abdul Malik, Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz, Yazid Ibn Abdul Malik and Hisham Ibn Abdul Malik ruled over the Muslim Empire. Since many movements arose in varied parts of the Islamic society against these oppressive rulers of Bani Umayyah, the government was gradually drawn towards its downfall. As a result, most of the ruling power was utilized in silencing revolts and to a large extent, the government was unable to harass Imam (a.s.). The event of Karbala and the sensitive role played by Imam Sajjad (a.s.) in preserving its memory played an effective part in the above mentioned revolts. During the 19 years of his Imamat, Imam Baqir (a.s.) took advantage of the disturbed condition of governance in establishing the cultural foundation of the Shia school of thought, inspite of the pressures of the previous rulers who had tried hard to wipe the traditions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Imams (a.s.) from public memory.

The Dissemination of Knowledge

These times became the perfect opportunity for compilation and giving shape to the foundation and principles of religion. Therefore, this was a period where comprehensive facts of the divine religion were being explained by Imam (a.s.), after a long era of intellectual and mental suffocation, created by the Umayyid and their harsh attitude towards preventing the truthful teachings of Islam.

Thus, a number of students from all over the Islamic world gathered around the Imam (a.s.) in Madinah and derived benefit from his wisdom and knowledge. Jabir Ibn Yazid Ju’fi says: I have heard more than 70000 traditions from the Imam that none except him has narrated. Muhammad Ibn Muslim, a distinguished companion of Imam (a.s.) also says: Whatever problems that had arisen, I sought the opinion of Imam about them so much so that I heard over 30000 traditions from him. This resulted in the establishment of a great centre of learning in Madinah.

The present Umayyad caliphs, not unlike their predecessors, tried to create hindrances, even to the extent of ordering their governors in Madinah to send the Imam (a.s.) to Damascus under custody so that his activities would get curtailed.

Status of Imam (a.s.)

Once when Abdul Malik Ibn Marwan had had given such an order, the governor of Madinah, while refusing to act upon it, advised the caliph.

On pondering over some of the phrases of this letter, we view the comprehensive personality of Imam Baqir (a.s.) as described by an agent of the shameful Umayyad government (whose enmity with the Prophet’s household (a.s.) is evident). He writes in the letter: Surely (as to) the person you have asked for, there is none on the face of this earth today as forgiving, ascetic and pious as him. He is the most learned, most wise and the most devoted of people in the matter of worship and striving. I think it improper on the part of the Caliph to commit aggression against him. (Thereafter he quotes a verse of the noble Qur’an) Allah does not change the condition of a nation till they change it for themselves (pointing to the fact that if you do wrong to the Imam, you will meet an evil end).

We see that the illuminated personality of the Imam extracted such a testimony from his enemy.

An Advice

In his personal life, he was sanctified with special virtues. As far as possible, he worked personally to fulfill his own needs. Once at an advanced age, he was seen toiling in the field. A person addressed him: why are you working so hard for this material world, putting in such effort? If you happen to meet death in this state, what will you do? Imam (a.s.), in a fluent and eloquent rebuttal, denounced the ways and means of the people who pretend to be pious (through deviated beliefs) and ignorant advisors, said: By Allah, if death does come upon me in this state, while (I am glad) I am obeying one of the orders of Allah; I render myself independent of you and others (like you). I fear death only at the time when I am disobeying Allah.

This manner and behavior of the Imam is a lesson for us that endeavor in worldly affairs is reckoned by him as worship and obedience to Allah. Surely, this attention towards the world has an aim and is not out of love for the world. On the contrary, it is a means for the provisions of the next world and should be considered in conjunction with the affairs of the hereafter which is a must for every realistic Muslim.

In order to refrain from the impression that by mentioning Imam’s plan for the spread of fundamental Islamic sciences, we have kept the Imam separate from social affairs and to reveal the versatile personality of Imam, we reproduce two historical incidents at this juncture.

The Syrian Court

On one occasion when Hisham Ibn Abdul Malik had ordered the Imam to be forcibly bought to Damascus, Imam (a.s.) entered his palace in the Islamic manner (not in official court etiquette) and after offering salaam to the audience he took a seat in a corner. This obviously irked Hisham who was accustomed to a different mode of address by his sycophants. He tired to humiliate Imam (a.s.) branding his family as factors of discord and disunity, calling them false leaders. The sycophants too, despite the Imam’s stand, offered false respect to Hisham in the same un-Islamic custom. At this juncture, Imam (a.s.) objected and in the grand court of Hisham, spoke so categorically defending the dignity of the Holy household of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), that everyone in the hall was stunned. At the end of his speech, he recited a Qur’anic verse and sarcastically reminded him that ultimate success and victory for the pious ones. Upon this, Hisham ordered the imprisonment of Imam (a.s.).

In the prison, the other inmates gathered around him devoutedly. When Hisham realized that he, by his own hands, had created another center of revolution, had no other choice but to release Imam (a.s.) and send him back to Madinah honourably.

Therefore, whenever the occasion permitted, and when they saw that the Islamic basics were in danger and when un-Islamic elements like the Umayyad caliph intended to degrade the great personalities, the Imams (a.s.) spoke out courageously and fearlessly.

Admonishment to the Ruler

Among the contemporary caliphs of Imam (a.s.), Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz was comparatively soft in his behavior towards him. He amicably maintained the sanctity of Imam (a.s.). One day he asked Imam (a.s.) for advice. Imam (a.s.) in a lucid and brief statement taught him the manners of an Islamic ruler, with respect to the different classes of society in the following manner: I recommend you to adopt the Muslim children as your own. Treat young Muslims like your own brothers. Consider the aged Muslims like your own father. Therefore, be grateful to your child, be bound to your brother and do good to your father. In case you begin to do a good and desirable deed, develop and continue it.

We see that as far as preaching is concerned, Imam (a.s.) gives a reminder of whatever is necessary even to the powerful caliph in a fearless manner.

Nonetheless, during the 19 years of Imamat, he endeavored in all respects to spread the sciences of the Prophet’s household (a.s.) as far as social capacity allowed and the people were in a position to bear them. At the same time, he asserted himself at times on the rulers of the dwindling Umayyad power. In this way, he would show to the people that Imams were the only solution who could show their special prowess in every field and were not unilaterally inclined.

Archery

In another of the forced journeys to Damascus which the Imam (a.s.) undertook at Hisham’s connivance, he was brought to the shooting ground. Hisham, compelled the Imam (a.s.) who was aged at the time, to shoot the target. Initially, Imam (a.s.) resisted the request. But Hisham, taking an oath obliged Imam (a.s.) to shoot. He tried to demonstrate his powers and wanted to show off in front of Imam (a.s.) to the audience that he was the bonafide claimant of rulership while Imam (a.s.) was ignorant in the ways of fighting (which is an essential quality of leadership and administration).

Unexpectedly, he saw Imam (a.s.) holding the bow and arrow and shooting 9 arrows straight at the target one after the other. Further astonishment lay in store. Imam (a.s.) shot the arrows in such a way that the first arrow hit the target and the subsequent arrows pierced straight through the tail of the earlier ones. The caliph grew upset at this demonstration of skill and asked him where he had mastered such skills in archery. The reply was: this is from our childhood in Madinah. The caliph, at this juncture, felt so ashamed that he ordered the Imam to be returned to Madinah with full respect.

Imparting Knowledge

Imam (a.s.) played a profound role in laying the foundation of classes for teaching Islam, giving shape to the school of thought and putting down in writing the basics of Islamic culture. This path and method was also adopted by his honourable son. Islamic sciences developed and spread a great deal during this period. Young students of Imam (a.s.) gained universal fame in the vast Islamic territories. Today, Shia texts are full of explanations given by Imam Baqir (a.s.). The Imam (a.s.) initiated the way for countering the misleading philosophical concepts that were adopting Islamic colour.

Martyrdom

Finally on Monday, the 7th of Zilhijja in the year 114 A.H., Imam (a.s.) was poisoned on the direction of Ibrahim Ibn Walid Ibn Abdul Malik and he departed from this world at the age of 57. He, like is father and ancestor (Imam Hasan (a.s.)) was buried in the Baqi graveyard. Even today, his grave, next to the shrine of his father, his ancestor and children in the Baqi cemetery, is the shrine for thousands of devotees of monotheism, justice and knowledge. A glance upon the history of Imam Baqir (a.s.) may be brought to conclusion with the mention of two of his invaluable sayings in the field of knowledge and justice.

Narrations

Regarding the value of knowledge, he says: The death of a scholar is much dearer to the Shaitan than the dying of 70 worshippers.

Surely the most miserable of men on Judgement Day will be the one who commands justice but resorts to cruelty and excesses.