Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.): The Imam of Knowledge and Dialogue
Ibn Hijr Al-‘Askalani, who did not believe in Al-Baqir’s Imamate, gave in his book ‘As-Sawa‘iq Al-Muhrika’ (The Burning Thunderbolts) the explanation of the term Al-Baqir: “Al-Baqir is the adjective ascribed to the one who opens up ground; i.e. split it wide open, revealing its hidden contents and treasures. Therefore, Imam Muhammad ben Ali was called Al-Baqir because he introduced and spread the knowledge and teachings of various fields and dimensions in a manner which had never been witnessed earlier. This is quite evident that only those who are blind or of evil intentions will not notice”.
Abdullah ben Ata’ Al-Makki said: “I have never seen the scholars feeling inferior in front of any person. [However, I have seen them feeling inferior] before Abi Ja‘afar, Muhammad ben Ali ben Al-Hussein. Although Al-Hakam ben ‘Uyayna was a great and old scholar, when I saw him with Al-Baqir, he was like a boy before his teacher”.
Ibn Shahr Ashoub said in the book ‘Al-Manakib’: “He was the most truthful and generous. He used to give in charity one dinar every Friday and he used to say: ‘Charity on Friday would be multiplied, since it is the best of the days.’”
Al-Mufid also said that he (a.s.) was famous for his generosity, although he was not that rich and had rather a big family.
On another level, Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.) was the master of the cultural phase of his time. Sheikh Al-Mufid said in his book ‘Al-Irshad’ (Guidance): “The surviving Companions (of the Prophet), the leading members of the next generation (tabi‘een) and the leaders of the Muslim jurists reported the principal features (ma‘alim) of religion on his [Imam Al-Baqir’s] authority”. When we study the diverse Islamic culture in the age of Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.), we would find out that most of the scholars and educated people, who were well-versed in jurisprudence, history, theology, or ethics had all quoted him. It is he who established the Islamic school that his son, Imam Ja‘afar As-Sadiq (a.s.), inherited. Moreover, he used to follow up with his students so that they would attain high educational positions. In his will to his son while he was on the verge of death, Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.) asked his son, Imam Ja‘afar As-Sadiq (a.s.) to take good care of his followers, and Imam As-Sadiq (a.s.) promised that he will leave them in a state where they do not have to ask anybody about any issue.
When he was asked about the reason why he quotes a tradition without giving it a chain of authorities – he would quote the traditions of the Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him and His Family) without mentioning their chain of authorities, but rather he would directly relate it to the Messenger and say: “The Messenger of Allah said, and he would not say so and so quoted another person who quoted another, just as other narrators do, he answered: “If I report a tradition without giving it a chain of authorities, then my chain of authorities is in fact my father on the authority of my grandfather on the authority of his father, on the authority of his grandfather, the Messenger of Allah, on the authority of Gabriel, on the authority of Allah, the Almighty.”
The Imam (a.s.) wanted the Muslims to unite, and to love one another and communicate amongst each other. He never wanted them to fight, but rather to conduct a dialogue when they differ in their points of view. He was reported to have said: “Beware! Do not acquire enmity – do not dare to fight with one another –because it rottens and turns the heart into evil –for it would create grudge in man’s heart – and causes to develop hypocrisy” – for it drives man to say what he does not believe in. He (a.s.) also says on the issue of blood relation: “Indeed, the quickest obedience in reward is the relations between blood relatives. Perhaps some people are sinners – they do not obey Allah the way they should – however, they visit each other. Thus, their properties increase and they become rich” – paying visits to blood relatives brings about money and makes one’s life prosperous.
He also says: “There is nothing that Allah loves more than being asked. And there is nothing that changes what is going to happen, except supplication.” He used to encourage people to invoke Allah in all their affairs, so that if one was afflicted by a calamity or a misfortune, he would sit before Allah and invoke Him, because Allah wanted people to ask for His help, since supplication represents the intimate relation between man and his Lord: “And your Lord says: “Call upon Me, I will answer you (40:60)”.
The Imam (a.s.) also used to call man to live for the sake of offering the good to the people. He (a.s.) says: “The quickest good in reward is benefaction – being kind to people and giving them charity – and the quickest evil in punishment is oppression – by tyrannizing people and offending them. It is enough fault for the person that he looks at the flaws of others, while he is blind of the same flaws within him – some people criticize other people for committing things they, themselves, commit. Moreover, the one who has certain flaws ought to mind them and criticize himself so as to improve them, instead of searching for other people’s flaws and criticizing them – and that he disgraces the people with what he cannot leave – he calls on people to abstain from doing something while he commits it – and that he hurts his friend with that which does not concern him” – he would sit down with people and hurt them by things that are useless and of no concern to him.
Al-Jahiz said in his book ‘Al-Bayan Wat-Tabyeen’ that Muhammad ben Ali Al-Baqir summarized the goodness of this world’s affairs in two words: “The goodness of all coexistence and living together is a full measure. Two thirds of the measure is cleverness. And one third of it is heedlessness”, meaning, that man ought to be aware and clever so as not to be deceived, and he ought to disregard few things so as not to preoccupy one’s self with marginal issues. Therefore, man’s life would be well-organized and so should be the way he treats people, so as not to be held accountable of all such sins and he would not intervene in people’s private affairs.
In one of his traditions, Al-Baqir (a.s.) says: “Do not make friends with the sinner.
Do not inform him of your secrets – if you cannot keep your own secrets, others would not keep them either, and of you disclose your secrets to the sinners, they tend to make use of them to harm you, due to their nature of sin – Ask the advice of those who fear Allah”. If you do seek advice from someone, let it be from those who fear Allah, for he who fears Allah cannot but offer you guidance and would never cheat you.
In another tradition, Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.) says: “If the servant refrains from spending on that which pleases Allah, then he will be afflicted by spending a hundred fold on that which displeases Allah,” for man ought to seek pleasing Allah, spending generously on that which Allah loves.
Dear beloved, the grand Imam has left us a great legacy that is diverse and handles several issues. He used to conduct a dialogue with those who disagree with him and succeed in convincing them, for he always had strong and solid arguments for those who think in a different way. The Imam believed in dialogue and in arguing in the best manner. Actually, this is what we ought to learn from Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.); we ought to acquire his knowledge and high morals and learn from his life how to resort to dialogue in everything we disagree on, instead of turning our disagreements into grudges and conflicts.
The Imam (a.s.) was open to all Muslims; to those who approve of his Imamate and to those who do not, for his major concern was Islamic unity and how to get the Muslims close to one another and make them meet, for he believed that if they do meet, they would conduct a constructive dialogue through which they would reach the truth and the aspired positive results.
The Imams of the Members of the House (a.s.) embody the model of the true caliphate of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him and His Family), and it is they who establish this truth for us. We ought to follow their lead in seeking knowledge and in everything we do.
Peace be upon Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.), the day he was born, the day he passed away, and the day he will be brought back to life.
* This edited article is from a sermon delivered by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (r.a) in 2009. It has been published in Bayynat and the link is: http://english.bayynat.org/Lectures/Lecture_20112009.htm