What is the story related to the shooting competition of Imam al-Baqir (‘a) in the gathering of Hishām ibn ‘Abd al-Malik?
Hishām ordered the governor of Medina to send for Imam al-Baqir (‘a) and his son, Ja’far ibn Muhammad (‘a) and to tell them to come to Syria. Without having a choice, the Imam (‘a) and his son (‘a) left for Damascus and they soon arrived there. Hishām had decided to set up an archery competition in order to embarrass the Imam (‘a). Hishām assumed that with the defeat of the Imam (‘a) in such a competition, he would be lowered in the view of the people. In addition, even though the Imam (‘a) had arrived in Damascus, he postponed their meeting for three days.
Interestingly enough, if the government of Hishām had made itself the focus of learning and scholarly knowledge, then it would have had a gathering of eloquent and knowledgeable scholars who could have been invited to discuss and debate various matters with the Imam (‘a). Hishām’s government, like much of the Umayyid governments which came before him, was bereft of such individuals, and instead, poets, storytellers, and eulogists had taken their place.
Due to this situation, Hishām did not attempt to gather scholars to debate the Imam (‘a); he knew full well that if he engaged in such a gathering, not one of his functionaries would come out of it in victory. Instead, he decided to engage the Imam (‘a) in another way; a way which he thought would assure him victory.
In preparation of this, he gathered a group of people before the entry of the Imam (‘a) in to the palace, and had them busy themselves in shooting at targets. Imam al-Baqir (‘a) entered in to the gathering and sat for a little while. Suddenly, Hishām faced the Imam (‘a) and said, ‘Do you wish to participate in this archery competition?’ The Imam (‘a) replied: ‘I have become old and my time for shooting is past; excuse me from this.’
Hishām, who assumed that he had gained an excellent opportunity and was about to defeat the Imam (‘a), insisted, and at the same time, signaled for one of the notables of the Banū Ummayyah to give him his bow. The Imam (‘a) reached out and took the bow. He set an arrow on the string and then took aim. He released the arrow, and the arrow hit the exact center of the target! Then he took a second arrow and set it upon the string; when he released his second shot, it hit the other arrow exactly and split it dead center. The third arrow again hit the second and split that one as well. In this same fashion, the Imam (‘a) shot nine arrows, all of which hit the previous arrows and split the wood!
This amazing scene affected everyone who was present and they were struck with amazement and surprise. Hishām, who had calculated incorrectly on all counts, was also taken severely by surprise. Uncontrollably he said: Amazing oh Abū Ja’far. You are the master of archers from amongst the Arabs and Ajams (non-Arabs); how was it that you said you had become old? At this point, Hishām looked downwards for several moments and was quiet with thought. Then he sat Imam al-Baqir (‘a) and his son (‘a) next to himself and honored and praised them in an exceptional and unusual manner. He then faced Imam al-Baqir (‘a) and said: The Quraysh, due to the light of your existence, are worthy of being the masters amongst the Arabs and Ajams (non-Arabs). Tell me, who taught you this skill of archery and how long did it take you to master it? Imam al-Baqir (‘a) responded: You know that the people of Medina practice this art; in the days of my youth, I also spent a period of my time engaged in it, but later I left it; today, since you insisted, I accepted perforce.
Hishām said: Does your son Ja’far (Imam al-Ṣadiq (‘a)) also have this level of proficiency in shooting? Imam al-Baqir (‘a) replied: ‘We, the Household, are the ‘Perfection of the Religion’ and the ‘Completion of the Blessings’; the verse (الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ) has been revealed about us (Imamate and Wilāyah) and we succeed one another. The earth will never remain empty of one of us.’