Today is the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Muḥammad al-Bāqir (ʿa); he was martyred on the seventh day of Dhī al-Ḥijjah in the year 114 AH according to various well known traditions. The anniversary of this day gave us another reason to gain an even deeper understanding of the teachings of this great Imam (ʿa). Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī will guide us in this journey towards understanding various key facets of the teachings of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa).
Indeed by delving into the details of the intellectual legacy of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa), and also into the traditions narrated by him in regards to the value of contemplation, the necessity of education and gaining knowledge, as well as his other teachings, one clearly realizes just how necessary it is to look deeper into the life and the scientific legacy of this Imam (ʿa). From this perspective, this article will delve into the various intellectual aspects of the teachings of the Imam (ʿa) according to the research and perspective of Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī.
A Reflection on the Meaning of the Title “Bāqir al-ʿUlūm”
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has gone on to explain the meaning of Bāqir al-ʿUlūm, which is one of the titles of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa). He has stated: ‘He was called by the title Bāqir al-ʿUlūm due to his characteristic of his amazingly vast and detailed knowledge of various difficult concepts; in essence, he was the “splitter of knowledge”. He narrated many traditions in the various fields of Islamic knowledge, such as Quranic commentary, beliefs (ʿAqāʾid), jurisprudence, and morality. He is known to have narrated so many traditions that Muḥammad ibn Muslim alone narrated thirty thousand traditions from him.’
The Fruition of Islamic Knowledge: One of the Great Legacies of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa)
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has gone on to explain the value of the traditions which are narrated by the Infallible Imams (ʿa), particularly those narrated by Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa). He has stated in this regard that: ‘Unfortunately, many of the traditions which were narrated by the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) have never reached us. When we look into the traditions which we do have in hand, it is clear that much effort was put into their collection and safekeeping.’ Many of the traditions which have reached us today (they number in the tens of thousands) were narrated by the fifth and sixth Imams (ʿa), i.e. Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa), as well as the eighth Imam (ʿa), i.e. Imam al-Ridhā (a).
The reason behind this is that these three Imams (ʿa) lived under circumstances where the pressure of their enemies (the rulers of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties) was less in severity than the other Imams (ʿa). For this reason, they were able to narrate a large number of traditions from the Prophet (ṣ), and these traditions cover many of the various fields of Islamic knowledge. Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has noted this important legacy from Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa) with the following words: ‘When we examine any book of jurisprudence, beliefs (ʿAqāʾid), the principles of jurisprudence, and ethics, we find that they are full of traditions narrated from Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). These two Imams (ʿa) have left behind a massive intellectual and spiritual legacy and the implications of their teachings for the Islamic sciences are enormous.’
The Blossoming of Shia Jurisprudence is Indebted to the Intellectual Legacy of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa)
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has mentioned that the blossoming of Shia jurisprudence is a result of the valuable teachings of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). He has stated in this regard: ‘ The reason why our jurisprudence doesn’t require Qiyās (the use of analogies in deriving rulings) is that we have access to many traditions narrated from Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). We have benefited from this great intellectual legacy while others are bereft of it and they must take recourse to analogies and educated guesswork in reaching their jurisprudential rulings. Therefore, we must look for the elements of how Shia jurisprudence progressed and grew complete in the teachings of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). Whenever we open a Shia or Sunni book, we find that there are many narrations in them from these two Imams (ʿa). This is how these Imams (ʿa) solidified the foundations of jurisprudence in Islam for us.’
Scientific Debates: Key Teachings in the Legacy of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa)
Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) would often utilize debates as an important methodology of conveying knowledge. He would use this methodology in spreading the teachings of Shia school to those who followed other religions and ideologies. Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has pointed out a specific debate of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) which he considers to be one of his most important. This debate was held in Syria and it was between the Imam (ʿa) and one of the important Christian Bishops of that region. He has stated in this regard: ‘It has been narrated in history that during one of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa)’s forced journeys’ to Syria (after being there for a period of time), he found an opportunity to awaken the people and help them to recognize the true teachings of Islam.’
A Detailed Look into Various Aspects of Imam al-Bāqir’s (ʿa)’s Debate with the Christian Arch Bishop from the Viewpoint of Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has explained what took place in the debate in the following words: ‘ The story goes that since Hishām, the Umayyad tyrant, was out of excuses to further persecute Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) by forcing him to stay in Syria, he ended up consenting to the Imam (ʿa)’s return to Medina. When the Imam (ʿa), alongside his son, left the Caliph’s palace, he came face to face with a very large and varied crowd of people who were all sitting. The Imam (ʿa) asked them why they had gathered and they replied that there was a grand gathering of Christians which took place every year and they were awaiting the arrival of the Arch Bishop so that he could help resolve some of their questions.
Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) went forward into the gathering in a very quiet and unassuming way. News of this quickly reached Hishām’s ears and Hishām sent a number of his officials to the gathering so they keep an eye on what was taking place. It wasn’t very long until the Bishop came; he was a very old man who had seen the events of many years during his long life. He was greeted by his followers with great respect and he was seated at the very front of the gathering. The Arch Bishop took a long glance at the people who had gathered until finally, his glance fell upon Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa).
When he saw Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa), he was taken by his aura and so he said to the Imam (ʿa): Are you one of us Christians or are you a Muslim? The Imam (ʿa) said: I am a Muslim. The Arch Bishop then asked: Are you one of their scholars or are you one of their unlettered ones? The Imam (a) said: I am not unlettered. The Arch Bishop then said: Should I ask you or will you ask me? Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) said: If you wish, you can ask. The Arch Bishop asked him: What is the reason that you Muslims believe that the dwellers of paradise will eat and drink but they will not go to the bathroom? Are there any examples of this phenomenon in this world?
The Imam (ʿa) replied: Yes, a clear example of this in this world is that a fetus takes in nutrition in the womb but he does not go to the bathroom. The Arch Bishop replied in wonder: but you said you were not a scholar? The Imam (ʿa) said: I did not say this; I only said that I was not unlettered. The Arch Bishop then said: I have another question. The Imam (ʿa) replied: Please go ahead. The Arch Bishop asked: Based on what reason do you believe that the fruits and blessings of paradise never decrease, and however much they are consumed, still they remain and do not decrease? Can you show a clear example of this phenomenon in this world?
The Imam (ʿa) replied: Yes, the clear example of this is found in (the perceptible phenomena of) fire. If you light another flame (from an existing flame), and repeat this one hundred times, the first flame will remain as it was and nothing will have been decreased from it. The Arch Bishop then continued asking every difficult question that came to mind and all of them were answered clearly and completely. He was soon left desperate, looking extremely incompetent and weak, and he became severely discomfited and angry. He said: Oh people, have you brought a great scholar, whose knowledge and religious scholarship is higher than mine, in order to disgrace me and to show the Muslims that their leader is superior and more learned than ours? I swear by God that I will never speak to you again, and if I remain alive until next year, you will not see me in your midst! He said these words, rose out of his seat, and left the gathering.
The news of this event quickly spread throughout Damascus, along with an accompanying wave of joy and excitement. Hishām, instead of becoming happy at this victory, became even more fearful of the spiritual influence of the Imam (ʿa) than before. In attempting damage control, and as a supposed gift to the Imam (ʿa), Hishām sent him a message insisting that he leave Damascus that very same day. As a result of his wrath, Hishām attempted to use the age old weapon of slander, in order to diminish the Imam (ʿa)’s victory; therefore, he accused the Imam (ʿa) of becoming inclined towards Christianity!
He wrote a letter to some of his governors, (including the governor the city of Madian) saying the following: ‘Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī, the son of Abū Turāb, came to me alongside his son. When I sent them back to Medina, they went to see some priests, and became inclined towards Christianity. However, due to the family relationship that they have with me, I have overlooked their faults and did not punish them. When these two individuals arrive in your city, announce to the people that I denounce them (as well as their actions). The desperate efforts of Hishām in hiding the truth of the matter were all futile, and the people, instead of coming under the influence of Hishām, were shown the true reality of the Imamate. Thus, the trip that began with compulsion and threats, ended full of amazing results and the education of the masses to the reality of the Imamate.’
Religious Rationalism: One of the Most Important Characteristics of the Intellectual School of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa)
The scientific prosperity of Shia school of thought is indeed a result of the logical and rational nature of its teachings as a whole and this is the most evident in the teachings of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa). Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has described the logical nature of the Shia school as one of its most important aspects. In order to better explain this issue, he has delved into a tradition from Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) who is narrated to have said:
‘Oh Muyassir , should I introduce our Shias to you? Muyassir replies: May I be sacrificed for you, yes please. The Imam (ʿa) then said: They are the impenetrable fortresses whose hearts are secure and whose minds are weighty and collected. They do not spread rumors, nor do they disclose the secrets, and they are not bigoted, rough, or pretentious people either. They are the monks of night, staying up (in worship), while they are the lions of the day.’
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has then explained this important tradition from Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and he has said: This short tradition describes the Shias with seven characteristics, each of which contains a wealth of wisdom and entails a world of responsibility for anyone who calls himself a “Shia”.
1. Impenetrable Fortresses:
The Shias are like impenetrable fortresses in the face of their enemy’s propaganda and lies. Today, the situation of the world has changed for the worse and the youth are in more danger than ever. Some people may ask what ways exist in order to safeguard and strengthen our youth. The reality is that if we cannot eliminate all of the dangers which threaten us, then we must make ourselves stronger in order not to be easily defeated by them.
2, 3, 4. Their Hearts are Secure, they are Rational and Wise, and They Do Not Disclose the Secrets
During the time of the Imams (ʿa), one of their complaints was that some of the Shias reveal their secrets. What is meant by “secrets” here is the powers and the spiritual rank and position of the Imams (ʿa), such as their knowledge of the unseen, their intercession on the Day of Judgment, their safeguarding of the knowledge of the Messenger of Allah (ṣ), their full knowledge of the deeds of the Shias, their miracles, as well as many other things. These were all things which the ordinary people were not able to understand, much less the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa). In spite of this, some of the Shias who were simple minded would go and tell everyone about these things. They would end up revealing everything and this would bring about conflict, animosity, and hatred amongst some segments of the people.
What is even worse is that during our own time period, a group has risen who are similar to the Ghulāt (i.e. the exaggerators) of past times. These extremists describe the Imams (ʿa) in ways which are incorrect and improper and they exaggerate their rank greatly. We must realize that these Ghulāt are very dangerous and we must be careful in regards to them. These Ghulāt have two primary problems: the first is that they destroy themselves through their words and actions. They believe that if they ascribe the divine attributes of Allah to the Imams (ʿa), or Lady Zaynab, or the martyrs of Karbalā, then this is the pinnacle of adherence to their Wilāyah.
The second issue (and in reality the bigger issue) is that we live in an age which can be considered as the age of Mass Media and socially based technology. If sometimes takes place this morning in one corner of the world, it only takes a few minutes or a few hours before it is spread to all corners of the globe. So when these extremists disclose their blasphemous words of exaggeration in regards to the Imams (ʿa), their words are spread all throughout the world in a matter of hours. This causes people to look negatively on Shias overall without realizing that this is a small fringe group which is not representing the Shias at all. Some people go as far as to call all Shias disbelievers based on the statements of these extremists, while in other cases, Shias are even killed due to this issue. These ignorant people should realize what they are doing to Shia school as a whole. At the same time, we must do our best not to allow them to gain a foothold as speakers or lecturers.
5. Love and Affection
The Shias are not rough or severe; they are full of love and affection towards others. In reality, the Shias have the spirit of Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) and the rest of the Imams (ʿa), where they would show affection and mercy even to their enemies.
6 and 7. Staying Awake at Night in Worship and Being Courageous
The Shias are not pretentious and they don’t act for the sake of showing off. They have combined two characteristics which are not typically seen together. If someone sees them at night, he would think that they are ascetics and so they are weak and incapable when it comes to day to day affairs. Yet, in the day, they are couragouse like lions and they actively participate in their society. The true Shias are those who possess these characteristics, all of which are concordant with logic and the intellect. Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has then categorized the various types of Shias into five distinct groups. These groups are as follows:
Geographical Shias: These include the people who are born in a Shia country and are counted as Shias from a statistical perspective.
Shias by Inheritance: These include the people whose parents are Shia and were raised in Shia families.
Shias in words: These are the people who verbally claim that they are Shia and the followers of Imam ʿAlī (a) but they do not perform any actions which confirm their words.
Superficial Shias: These are people who perform the superficial acts of a Shia but they have not reached the depths of the reality of being a Shia. These include the people who, for example, perform the rituals of mourning for the Imams (ʿa) or they ask them for intercession and other such actions. Yet what is the true mark of being a Shia? Is someone a true Shia if they participate in the rituals of Muḥarram or visit various holy sites? Our intention here isn’t to lessen the importance of these very important acts but to show that these people have only gone skin deep in understanding the reality of Shia school. However, when it comes to the characteristics of true Shias, i.e. the ones enumerated by Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa), many of the so-called Shias do not possess the characteristics of being ‘ascetics by night” or “lions by day”.
The Seekers of the Teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) - The True Shias:
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has emphasized that the most important mark of a true believer is that he pursues Islamic knowledge from the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa). The Ayatollah has stated in this regard: The true Shias are those who are familiar with the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) and they seek out to cultivate in themselves the characteristics mentioned in the aforementioned tradition.
The blossoming of knowledge under the guidance of the teachings of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) was so logical and profound in nature that it affected many of the great Sunni scholars as well. Many of these great scholars became Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa)’s students and companions. For example, there was Abū Isḥāq, Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad ibn Abū Yaḥyā, etc…. These students were educated under these great Imams (ʿa) and they would narrate traditions from them. Those individuals who were not unduly influenced by prejudice and bias, including Shāfiʿī, Ibn Iṣbahānī, and some others would corroborate the truthfulness of these stu-dents such as Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad.
A Final Word: A Word with The Students of the School of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa)
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has emphasized that the students of the religious seminary must continue in the path of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). He has stated in this regard: The foundation of the prophetic mission was that of knowledge and learning, for the Prophet (ṣ) came during a time of great darkness and ignorance. Allah delegated the Prophet (ṣ) to teach people the ‘Book and the wisdom’ and to purify the people’s souls. The Quran has stated in this regard: Allah created the heavens and the earth so that the people could gain knowledge from this world and realize the greatness of Allah.
In light of this, the students of the religious seminaries must thank Allah for the blessings which He has given to them in allowing them to pursue a path of knowledge. You are the soldiers of Imam al-Mahdī (ʿa) and the students of Imam al-Bāqir (ʿa) and Imam al-Ṣādiq (ʿa). We have to know that we are always sitting at the feet of these two great Imams (ʿa) and every day, our knowledge grows because of their efforts. We are hopeful that Allah will continue to bless us with learning more and more from their teachings and that he will allow us to attain their intercession on the Day of Judgment.