Shafqna: Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī
Imam al-Bāqir, the son of Imam al-Sajjād, was born in Medina 676 AD and died in 743 in the same city. He was 36 when his father passed away. His mother was the daughter of Imam Ḥasan. He was the first of the Imams to have parents who were both descendants of Imam ʿAlī and Fāṭima.
His virtuous mother breast-fed him, a mother whom Imam al-Sādiq heaps praise on for her virtues. (Kāfī) From the time of his adolescence, Imam al-Bāqir was famous for being knowledgeable, pious and virtuous. He regularly found solutions to the intellectual problems of Muslims. During his eighteen years of Imamate, the following Umayyad rulers were in power: Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Sulaymān b. ʿAbd al-Malik, ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik and Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik.
Aside from ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, all were dreaded dictators and always caused problems for Imam al-Bāqir.
Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik took power in 86 AH and died ten years later. He expanded his territories, but he owed these conquests to the concept of jihād which the Prophet had introduced to the Muslim community. Walīd had named corrupt figures as governors to rule over the Muslims and these governors had tightened the noose around people’s necks. One of these governors was Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf al-Thaqafī, a butcher and a tyrant. He was appointed governor of Iraq where he massacred innocent people and tortured many others harshly.
Sulaymān b. ʿAbd al-Malik took over from his brother. He died in 99 AH. During his reign, Muslims conquered some other territories. In the beginning of his rule, he showed some flexibility and released some innocent prisoners. But he was not unfamiliar with oppression and he purged some of his governors. (Tārīkh Siyāsī-i Islām) He was also a self-indulgent hedonist who promoted decadence; he used to pass most of his time with his harem of wives. This attitude spread to his governors and the state gradually slid into decadence. (Ibid)
ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz succeeded Sulaymān. He managed to fight the corruption and discrimination of his predecessors to some extent. He banned the shameful custom of cursing the Shīʿī Imams from the pulpit. This practice dated back to the time of Muʿāwiya. He died in 101 AH. After his death, Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik came to power. This man openly flouted religious and moral principles, and had no other goal but personal enjoyment. The reign of Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik marks one of the darkest periods of Umayyad rule in history; his predecessors used to recount ancient stories of Arabs to pass their leisure time, but Yazīd institutionalized singing and dancing. He invited singers and entertainers from remote regions to Damascus. He also promoted gambling and games of chance in the Arab society. (Ibid)
Stories of Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik and his two favourite wives, Sallāma and Habbāba, are famous (Ibid). He finally died in 105 AH. He was succeeded by Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik who was greedy, violent and utterly ruthless. He was an extremely unpopular ruler and faced uprisings against his rule. He quelled Zayd b. ʿAlī’s uprising and had him hanged. He died in 125 AH.
Despite the cruel rule of these caliphs, Imam al-Bāqir pursued an intellectual path and laid the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic school. His efforts came to fruition during the Imamate of his son, Jaʿfar Sādiq.
The Shīʿī Imams have all safeguarded Islam through guiding the ordinary people. Every Imam had his own method for this depending on the conditions in which he lived. The difficult conditions which Imam al-Bāqir faced did allow him to do more than spread Islamic teachings. Imam Sajjād and Imam al-Bāqir were mostly active underground because government repression was so harsh. The caliphs were outraged to hear that the Imam was secretly active, so Imam al-Bāqir and his son were summoned by the caliph of their time to be questioned about their activities.
At a time the Prophet’s aḥādīth were banned, the Imam familiarized Muslims with Islamic teachings. He nurtured Companions who went on to become ḥadīth collectors or jurists; Muḥammad b. Muslim, Zurara b. Aʿyan, Abū Basīr and Barīd b. Muʿāwiya amongst them.
Imam al-Sādiq has praised these four individuals, saying: ‘Four people revived the school and traditions of my father.’ (Rijāl Kashshī)
Muḥammad b. Muslim, a jurist, learnt 30,000 traditions from Imam al-Bāqir and 16,000 traditions from Imam al-Sādiq.
Another disciple of Imam al-Bāqir was Jābir al-Juʿfi who recorded 70,000 traditions from the Imam. (Aʿyān al-Shīʿa)
Hishām feared the popularity of Imam al-Bāqir and his son, Imam al-Sādiq. He ordered the governor of Medina to invite them both to come to Syria. Hishām sought a lot to humiliate them, but a debate between Imam al-Bāqir and a Christian archbishop ended in success for the Shīʿa Imam. The people of Syria became aware of the event and Hishām had no option but to let both return to Medina. (Biḥār al-Anwār)
Imam al-Bāqir was poisoned by agents of Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik and died in 743 AD. He was laid to rest near his father in the Baqīʿ Cemetery in Medina.