Using hitherto largely ignored Shi’i sources, Arzina R. Lalani explores Imam Muhammad al-Baqir’s pivotal contributions to Islamic thought in its early formative period, contributions that were powerfully to affect developments in Shi’a law, theology, and religious practice
Using hitherto largely ignored Shi‘i sources, both in published as well as manuscript form, Dr. Arzina Lalani reveals in this study the pivotal contribution of the Imam Muhammad al–Baqir to the formative period of Islamic thought. The author analyses Imam al–Baqir’s role in the development of early Shi‘i thought and evaluates his articulation of Shi‘i law and theology. This is the first work to focus primarily on al–Baqir’s decisive role in the exposition of key Shi‘i doctrines, especially the nature of the Imamat and the transmission of knowledge, together with the application of these doctrines in Muslim religious, theological, juridical and ethical domains.
The teachings of Imam al–Baqir come from a period in history when discussion on religious doctrine was at the centre of the intellectual life of the Muslim community, including its political life; it had not yet become an academic preserve of professional theologians. The late 1st and early 2nd centuries of Islam were crucial times for the foundation of studies connected with the Quran. Much of the discussion took place in Medina, the centre of religious learning since the time of the Prophet, where al–Baqir resided.
By the end of his lifetime, al–Baqir’s contribution had given the Shi’a not only scholarly context for the articulation of their view of Imamat, but also laid the foundation of a distinctive school of jurisprudence, the madhhab ahl al–bayt, having well–defined views on several aspects of Fiqh or jurisprudence.
Al–Baqir’s time was a period of great intellectual ferment in Islamic thought where discussions and differences in the community focused on the issues of authority. Theological discussions also took place on topics such as iman, Islam and qada wa qadar. The various theological schools and religio–political movements of the time, such as the Khawarij, the Murji’a and the Qadariyya as well as the Shi‘i communities of Kaysaniyya and the Zaydiyya, endeavored in their own different ways to develop responses to these questions.
The work shows how the concept of Imamat was articulated based on the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition. The emphasis on the hereditary nature of the Imamat proved timely and significant since many had come to believe by then that the institution was merely a political matter .
The work also explores the Imam al–Baqir’s view that the Imam is also endowed with ‘ilm, ‘true knowledge’. It was this approach that established the basis of Shi‘i law and theology that was to emerge in the years to come from the circle of his adherents and became crystallised in the time of his son, the Imam Ja’far al–Sadiq.
Born in 57/677 in Medina, around the time when Mu’awiya was trying to secure the oath of allegiance for his son Yazid, Imam al–Baqir was also called Abu Ja’far after his oldest son. His full name was Muhammad b. Ali b. al–Husayn. However, he was popularly known by the laqab or epithet al–Baqir, short for baqir al–‘ilm meaning ‘one who splits knowledge open’ or ‘one who is bountiful in knowledge’. This laqab links him to a Shi‘i tradition traced back to the Prophet.
More specifically, the function implied by the title al–Baqir is the one that the Imam did indeed perform. His capacity to ‘split open’ knowledge is readily apparent in the large number of traditions that have come down from al–Baqir in the various Shi‘i works of all persuasions, Zaydi, Ithna‘ashari and Ismaili, which forms the basis of the present work by Dr Arzina Lalani. The author has made an important contribution to the study of early Islam by demonstrating the role of Imam al–Baqir as one of the earliest and pre–eminent exponents of Shi‘i doctrines. From the prominence of his traditions in Shi‘i scholarly literature and the profoundly inspiring contributions they represent, we perceive a truly remarkable personality, one that deserves recognition as an outstanding figure in the history of the Shi‘a and a major force in the development of early Islamic thought in general.
Title: Early Shi’i Thought: The Teachings of Imam Muhammad al-Baqi
Author: Arzina R. Lalani
Publisher: I. B. Tauris In Association With The Institute Of Ismaili Studies
Length: 208 pages
Pub. Date: September 4, 2004