What was the rank of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir in respect to science and learning?
He is famously known for analyzing and explaining various intellectual issues. He brought about an extensive movement in learning and science, and laid the foundations for an Islamic university, which reached its zenith in the time of his son Imam Sadiq.
Although he lived in unfavorable and restrictive times, Imam al-Baqir engaged in disseminating the reality of Islam. He is famously known for analyzing and explaining various intellectual issues. He brought about an extensive movement in learning and science, and laid the foundations for an Islamic university, which reached its zenith in the time of his son Imam al-Sadiq.
The scientific works of the 5th Imam and the students which his school delivered to the Muslim nation also gave fulfilment to a prediction from the Prophet of Islam. The narrator of the following tradition is Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ansari, the famous personality from the early days of Islam’s revelation.
Jabir, who was one of the great companions of the Prophet of Islam. and one who possessed a special affection for the family of the Prophet Muhammad. has written: One day the Prophet of Islam said to me: ‘After me, you will see an individual who is from my family, whose name is (the same as) my name, and whose appearance will be similar to mine. He will open the doors of knowledge to the people.’
The Prophet foretold of this event at a time when Imam al-Baqir had not yet been born; years passed from this foretelling, and the era of the 4th Imam arrived. One day during this time period, Jabir was passing through the streets of Medina, when his eye fell on Imam al-Baqir. When he paid careful attention, he noticed all of the signs exactly which the Prophet had mentioned. He asked: What is your name? The Imam replied: My name is Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn. Jabir began to kiss his forehead and said: Your grandfather, the Prophet sent you his greetings through me.
From that day on, in respect of the Prophet and as a sign of the greatness of Imam al-Baqir. he would visit the Imam twice a day. In addition, when he was in the mosque of the Prophet. he would sit amongst the crowd (and in response to those who would criticize him with impure intentions) he would narrate the prediction of the Prophet of Islam.
Imam al-Baqir was also superior in his knowledge, asceticism, eminence, and virtue over all of the rest of the Hashimis. The eminent status of his knowledge and actions were verified by friend and foe alike. A great many traditions have remained from him in the fields of Islamic rulings, commentary on the Quran, the history of Islam, and various other fields of learning… The distinguished scholars of that day, along with a number of the companions of the Prophet of Islam who were still alive at that time, benefitted greatly from the presence of Imam al-Baqir.
Jabir ibn Yazid Ja’fari, Kaysan Sajistani (from the Tabi’in) and jurisprudents such as: ibn Mubarak, Zuhri, Awza’i, Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafi’i, and Ziyad ibn Mundhar Nahdi all benefited from his knowledge and narrated his words both through intermediaries and without any intermediaries. The books and compilations of scholars and historians of the Ahl al-Sunnah, such as Ṭabari, Baladhuri, Salami, Khatib Baghdadi, Abu Na’im Isfahani, and books such as Muwaṭṭa’ Malik, Sunan Abi Dawud, Masnad Abi Hanifah, Masnad Marwazi, Tafsir Naqqashi, Tafsir Zamakhshari, as well as tens of others like them (which include some of the most important books of the Ahl al-Sunnah), all contain the words of the 5th Imam. All throughout these works, the words ‘Qala Muhammad ibn ‘Ali’ or ‘Qala Muhammad al-Baqir’ can be seen.
The books of the Shi’ah are also (naturally) full of the words and traditions of Imam al-Baqir and these pertain to many various fields and subjects.
Imam al-Baqir According to the Scholars
The reputation of the knowledge and breadth of learning of Imam al-Baqir filled the various corners of the Muslim nation to such an extent, that he was given the title ‘al-Baqir al-’Ulum’ (The opener of the doors of knowledge, and the solver of the problems of science).
ibn Hijr al-Haytami has written: ‘MuHammad al-Baqir opened many hidden treasures of science, learning, and religious law, as well as various wisdoms and subtleties. These are all very apparent, except for someone who is lacking in intelligence or is of bad character. It is for these aspects that he was called the splitter (of knowledge), the compository of learning, and the flag bearer of learning.’
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Aṭa’, who was one of the prominent personalities and scholars during the time of the Imam. has said: I never saw the scholars of Islam as being so lowly and humbled in terms of their learning, as when they were in the gatherings of Muhammad ibn ‘Ali. I saw Hakam ibn ‘Utaybah, who was known in all corners of the nation for his knowledge and jurisprudence, in the service of Muhammad al-Baqir, like a child in front of his high ranking teacher; he was on his knees, captivated and absorbed by the words and character (of the Imam).
In his speeches, Imam al-Baqir would predominantly reference the verses of the Holy Quran, and he would bring evidence from the Book of God. He would say: Whatever I say, ask me where the related verse is found in the Quran, so that I may present it to you.
The Students of Imam al-Baqir’s School
Imam al-Baqir educated many prominent students in the fields of jurisprudence, tradition, commentary, and various other Islamic sciences; each of these students was counted as a heavyweight in respect to their learning and knowledge. Prominent personalities such as Muhammad ibn Muslim, Zurarah ibn Ayn, Abu Basir, Burayd ibn Mu’awiyah Ajali, Jabir ibn Yazid, Hamran ibn Ayn, and Hisham ibn Salim were all trained in the school of Imam al-Baqir.
The sixth Imam has mentioned: ‘Our school and the traditions of my father were kept alive by four individuals. These four are: Zurarah, Abu Basir, Muhammad ibn Muslim, and Burayd ibn Mu’awiyah ‘Ajali. If it were not for these four, no one would have benefitted from the teachings of the religion and the school of thought of the Prophet. These individuals were the preservers of the religion. From amongst the Shi’ahs of our time, these individuals were the first who became acquainted with our teachings, and on the Day of Resurrection, they will be joined with us sooner than the others.’ The students of Imam al-Baqir’s school were the heads of jurisprudence and tradition during their time, and they were considered superior to their non-Shi’ah counterparts.