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FaithHistory

Imam Baqir: The Splitter of Knowledge

Imam Baqir was a scholar, mystic and saint who helped revive the Muslim ummah through his knowledge. On the day of his birth, we summarise his invaluable contributions.

Imam Baqir was a scholar, mystic and saint who helped revive the Muslim ummah through his knowledge. On the day of his birth, we summarise his invaluable contributions.

Imam Baqir was the grandson of Imam Hussain. Some historians maintain he was present at the Battle of Karbala being no older than four years of age. This also makes him a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Imam Baqir’s real name is Muhammad ibn Ali. He was known by the title of Baqir, which means ‘splitter of knowledge’.

He earnt this title due to his ability to split knowledge open, i.e. bring it to life. Imam Baqir made invaluable contributions to numerous Islamic sciences and helped reform the ummah through knowledge.

The State of Science During Imam Baqir’s Life

After the Prophet’s passing, some of the Arabs returned to the mindset and ideologies that were present in Arabia before Islam. The Islamic government at the time wasn’t interested in knowledge – in fact, they discouraged people from pursuing it.

Life in Arabia was becoming increasingly tribal. All resources were spent on war, battle and winning territories. As a result, any interest or progress in science was non-existent or limited at best.

Imam Baqir Enlightens the Muslim Community

Imam Baqir silently observed the Muslim community declining and decided to commit to making developments in various fields of knowledge. He withdrew from politics and devoted himself to knowledge. Historians note how he spent long periods of time in isolation.

Imam Baqir already had a fine reputation – he was a direct decedent of the Prophet. As his reputation grew, especially in the field of knowledge, many notable scholars and laypeople went to him to ask questions and to study.

Imam Baqir led the community in multiple Islamic sciences and reminded them of the Islamic way of life.

Imam Baqir and Islamic Theology

Islamic theology, or aqaid, is an essential part of the Muslim faith. While we can follow Muftis, Imams and Ayatollahs for Islamic fiqh, we have to use our own intellect to arrive at certainties regarding the existence of Allah [SWT], Prophethood, Qiyamah, and so on.

So, we can’t say, “I believe in God because Shaykh so and so told me to.” We have to arrive at a conclusion ourselves.

Imam Baqir thus exerted much efforted in clarifying theological matters. With this, the Muslim ummah would attain a better understanding of God and develop a genuine attraction to following Islam. He urged Muslims to reflect and clarified any erroneous views people may have had about God.

One aspect of monotheism or tawheed propagated by Imam Baqir is the notion that Allah [SWT] cannot be attained through reason alone. Allah [SWT] is the Creator of time and space and all creation. He is, therefore, the creator of our intellect. How is it possible for one of His creations (i.e. the intellect) to comprehend and retain a 100% understanding of Allah? Imam Baqir would argue that limited things can’t comprehend the Unlimited fully.

Imam Baqir also argued that Allah [SWT] could not be seen by the human eye, citing the following verse:

Vision comprehends Him not, and He comprehends (all) vision.”

[6:103]

There were many wrongful assumptions made about Allah [SWT]. Some would say he has body parts or human form. Although some verses of the Quran talk about Allah “watching” people or having “hands”, – these are not literal but rather metaphorical.

Imam Baqir would further argue that Allah [SWT] is an Eternal Necessary Being.

In other words, there can’t be a time when Allah [SWT] didn’t exist because He created the concept of time – so how can there be a ‘time’ where He doesn’t exist? The logical conclusion is that Allah [SWT] has always existed – an unborn, timeless and uncreated existence. This means Allah [SWT] can’t be seen. If He can be seen at some point in the timeline, that would leave a timestamp. Allah [SWT] cannot have a timestamp because He created time and, therefore cannot be a slave to its rules (like we are).

Deep stuff!

Imam Baqir and Economics

Imam Baqir strongly urged Muslims to work hard and earn a livelihood. By doing this, one can enjoy financial security and not rely on government help and charity.

People were becoming lazy to work. Others thought praying to Allah [SWT] for livelihood was enough. Imam Baqir sought to destroy these false notions.

On this note, he said:

Laziness damages the religion and the world.”

Laziness doesn’t only stop one from earning a livelihood. He also won’t perform his religious obligation. Therefore, laziness destroys our dunya and akhirah.

Imam Baqir would warn his children:

Beware of laziness and boredom, for they are the key for all evil things. Whoever is lazy, does not carry out a right (work). Whoever is tired, is impatient toward a right (work).”

Some wouldn’t work because it stops them from thinking about and worshipping Allah [SWT]. The Imam would therefore explain how working with the right intentions and earning a halal livelihood is a form of obedience to Allah [SWT] – and any form of obedience is tantamount to worship.

Once a companion came to Imam Baqir and was puzzled to see the Imam working. The companion insinuated that the Imam was after worldly advantage. Imam Baqir replied;

Let death come upon me when I am obedient to Allah, the great and Almighty. I work to prevent my soul and my family from you and the people. I fear death when it comes upon me, and I am disobedient to Allah.”

Imam Baqir and Seeking Knowledge

Imam Baqir encouraged people to seek knowledge. Knowledge builds a healthy and self-aware community. It increases the chances of a community making the right choices and safeguarding itself from worldly and divine disasters.

He said:

Learn, for learning is protection. Seeking knowledge is worship, studying it is glorification (of Allah), looking for it is jihad, teaching it (to others) is alms, and giving it to those who are appropriate for it is proximity (to Allah). Knowledge is the signpost of the garden. It is an intimate in lonesomeness, a companion in exile, a friend in estrangement, a guide to ease, a help against affliction, adornment with friends, and a weapon against enemies. By it Allah promotes some people to make them Imams (leaders) for good. So, (people) follow their example and report their works. All wet and dry things, the whales and vermin of the see, and the animals and livestock of the land ask (Allah) to bless them.”

Knowledge is half the effort. The second half is teaching it. He said:

Whoever teaches a door of guidance, will have the same reward of those who put it into practice. Nothing of the rewards of those (who put guidance into practice) will be decreased. Whoever teaches a door of error, will have the same burdens of those who put in into effect. Nothing of the burdens of those (who put error into effect) will be decreased.”

Furthermore, the Imam would recommend:

  • Keeping friends with scholars and pious people
  • Not showing off knowledge
  • Discussing knowledge
  • Acting on knowledge

Imam Baqir and Islamic Law

It’s helpful to regularly remind ourselves of the Islamic laws that apply to us in daily life. For all Muslims, this would be the laws of wudhu, salah and sawm. If we work in specific fields or run our own businesses, we have to learn the laws and etiquette of operating in those environments.

In Imam Baqir’s time, wars were rife. Therefore, he would remind people of the rules of fighting, how to treat non-Muslim subjects and similar matters that applied to the lifestyle of the Arabs. He would also cover grey matters in prayer and ablution.

Imam Baqir and Hadith

Hadith were a big issue in the ummah, namely the reliability of a narration. The first caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar banned the writing and transmission of hadith. Abu Bakr in fact burned the hadiths when he became caliph. Did you know Sahih Bukhari was compiled during the Abbasid caliphate? This was centuries after the Prophet’s death, making it very easy for false hadith’s to be in circulation.

Imam Baqir proposed a simple rule for testing a hadith: if it agrees with the Quran, we can accept the hadith, otherwise we reject it. The Quran is immune to corruption and change, therefore all hadith can be pitted against it before we choose to accept them.

Imam Baqir also suggested looking at the narrators of the hadith. How much do we know about them? Were they known to be truthful? The person(s) the hadith is being transmitted from and their character can also say a lot about the authenticity of the hadith.

Imam Baqir and Akhlaq

A healthy community is a strong and united community. On this note, Imam Baqir would remind people about their obligations to Muslims and especially womb relatives. He would talk about imbibing good qualities and doing good deeds, and how to cure ourselves of bad character traits, such as anger.

Imam Baqir Restores a Lost Society

Muslim communities who slowly distance themselves from Islam need reformation. Sometimes, reformation can come through injecting the community with knowledge, and that is the method Imam Baqir took.

For the 57 years he spent on Earth, he worked hard to revive the community through knowledge. His son Imam Sadiq, would take things further and open formal universities. Amongst his students was Abu Hanifa, of the great scholars who has his own sect.

Thus these two individuals can be credited for much of the intellectual renaissance in Muslim history.

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