by Hamid Algar
-A review of previous lectures by asking the following questions:-
> What verses of the Qur’an are seen by Shi’is as particularly relevant to the Imamate, and the successorship of Imam Ali [AS]?
> Then the most significant hadith that points to the succession of Imam Ali [AS].
>Describe the role played by Imam Ali [AS] during the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW]
>What obstacles confronted Imam Ali [AS] during his tenure of the caliphate?
>Why did Imam Hassan [AS] choose to abdicate to Muawiyah?
>What lasting impact did the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS] have on the world view and the religious practise of Shi’i Muslims?
>describe the evolution of the overall Shi’i movement during the Imamates of Imam ‘Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS] and Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS].
The principle verses in mind are ayah al-tathir (the verse of purification)
‘…And Allah [sWT] only wishes to remove all abomination from you ye Ahl al-Bait (people of the house), and to make you pure and spotless.’ (33:33)
Which is taken by Shi’i Muslims as an indication of the inerrancy and freedom from sin of the household of the Prophet [sAW], which in turn is stood to mean the descendants of the Prophet [sAW] through his daughter Bibi Fatimah [AS] and his cousin and son-in-law Imam Ali [AS].
Then the ayah that runs,
‘Today we have perfected for you your religion and completed our blessing upon you and chosen for you Islam as your religion.’ (5:3)
This verse being revealed towards the end of the career of the Prophet [sAW], is taken to indicate the nomination of Imam Ali [AS] and thereby the institution of the Imamate - it is this that constitutes the perfection of religion and the completion of the Divine Bounty upon mankind. In this connection, there is the verse of communication, or proclamation – ayah al-tabligh.
‘O Messenger! Proclaim the (Message) which hath been sent to thee from thy Lord. If thou didst not, thou wouldst not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission. AndAllah will defend thee from men (who mean mischief) for Allah guideth not those who reject faith’ (5:67)
In which the Prophet [sAW] is commanded to convey that which is revealed unto him and were he failed to do so then it would be as if he had not conveyed the message at all. The topic which he is called upon to convey is left unnamed in the verse, but the verse indicates that it’s communication is equivalent to conveying the entirety of the Divine Message. It must therefore be a matter of great importance and the chronology and the context point to the nomination of Imam Ali [AS] as the successor of the Prophet [sAW] on the occasion of the farewell pilgrimage and the gathering of the pilgrims at the location of Ghadir-Khum. One could add other verses in which the Prophet [sAW] is ordered to tell the believers that, ‘I do not ask of you any reward save love for the household, or love for my relatives.’ The first three are most important.
There is the event in which the Prophet [sAW] early in his career summoned his relatives to believe in his mission and to follow him. Imam Ali [AS] as a young boy responded positively, the Prophet [sAW] bestowed upon him four significant attributes that he was to be his wasi (trustee), his heir, his khalifah and his successor after him. This is an early indication of a hadith specifying the nomination of Imam Ali [AS] as the successor to the Prophet [sAW]. At the very end of the career of the Prophet [sAW] there is hadith about the gathering of the Muslims at Ghadir-Khum, where he asked the Muslims,
‘Who has a greater claim on you than your ownselves?’
They then responded, ‘You do, O Messenger.’
Immediately after that the Prophet [sAW] said, ‘Whomsoever I am his maula, then Ali [AS] is also his maula.’
The Word maula here, is interpreted by Shi’i Muslims given the context as being the one deserving obedience and possessing authority over the believers. These are two clear and explicit hadith – one from early in the mission of the Prophet [sAW] and one coming from the final years. There is also the hadith about the city of knowledge, where the Prophet [sAW] proclaimed that he himself was the city of knowledge and Imam Ali [AS], was the gate of the city of knowledge i.e. that means by which access can be had to the knowledge of the Prophet [sAW]. Here the knowledge of the Prophet [sAW] is something other than the Qur’an (that was revealed to him and proclaimed by him), although connected to it. The body of knowledge that is given, bestowed in exclusivity on Imam Ali [AS] by the Prophet [sAW]. Then the hadith that says quite simply:-
‘Ali is the wali of every believer after me.’
Wali comes from the same origin as the word Maula and here conveys approximately the same meaning. And finally the hadith in which the Prophet [sAW] says that,
‘you are unto me as Haroon was to Musa except that there is no Prophet after me.’
In other words, the same relationship of intimacy and assistance that existed between Harun and Musa, exists between the Prophet [sAW] and Ali [AS] with the single exception that Harun was the Prophet, whereas Ali [AS] is not. One significance of this hadith is that Imam Ali [AS] is not simply the successor of the Prophet [sAW], but already with respect to the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW] has a particularly close and unique relationship. Why, because clearly Harun exercised his mission contemporaneously with Musa [AS].
Staying behind in Makkah and sleeping in the bed of the Prophet [sAW], in order to conceal the fact of the Prophet’s migration to Madinah. His being the first person to pray the canonical prayer of Islam in conjunction with the Prophet [sAW]. His role as a warrior after the migration to Madinah, and the beginning of the battles. His acting as a standard bearer to the Prophet [sAW] – in the various battles that took place. His aiding the Prophet [sAW] in the conquest of Makkah in destroying the idols that were in the courtyard of the Ka’bah.
The period in question is the period three caliphs and his abstention from public or political involvement, and his tenure as the fourth of the rightly guided caliphs (from the Sunni point of view). The obstacles that confronted him - you could talk about the existence of a rival centre of power in Damascus under the auspice of Mu’awiyah, who using the assassination of Uthman the third caliph as a pretext now wished to deny legitimacy to Imam Ali [AS] and refused him his loyalty and his obedience. You could cite the various tricks and stratagems employed by Mu’awiyah to confront Imam Ali [AS] above all the stratagem of the arbitration that caused the battle of Siffin to come to an inconclusive outcome. At the battle of Siffin, the Imam Ali [AS] was about to put flight to the army of Mu’awiyah whereupon a cry arose from the army of Mu’awiyah that the matter should be settled not on the battlefield but through arbitration causing division in the ranks of Imam Ali’s [AS] following and the frustration of the impending military victory. It can be mentioned about the diversity and fragility of Imam Ali’s [AS] following by diversity we can mean – including persons who hostility to the Umayyads was based on tribal and regional affiliation. Inhabitants of Iraq as members of different Arab tribes migrated to the Peninsula to Iraq they had simple feelings of rivalry and hostility to the Umayyads and the tribes that supported them in Syria. And infinitely smaller group, are those that supported Imam Ali [AS] on the basis of a clear understanding of the nascent Imamate – nascent in the sense that it’s doctrines had not been fully formulated although publicly proclaimed – however these people clearly realised that Imam Ali [AS] had a unique claim to legitimate rule over the Muslim community, and gave him there loyalty on that basis, but this group was relatively small. Then it can also be mentioned as a significant obstacle confronting Imam Ali [AS] the emergence of the Kharijite movement – those who rejected him allegedly because of his reluctant acceptance of the principle of arbitration, then however turned against him fully. It was one of the Kharijites who assassinated him, bringing his tenure of the caliphate to an end.
After the maryrdom of Imam Ali [AS] in Kufa, for a brief time Imam Hassan [AS] exercised rule. Certain movements elsewhere in the Muslim world and the Hijaz, Makkah and Madinah – particularly Madinah also gave him their loyalty. Nevertheless after a brief period he abdicated and turned over rule to Mu’awiyah, because he realised the fragility of his position that is that he did not have the necessary support any more than Imam Ali [AS] had had in order to successfully confront Mu’awiyah. Therefore he abdicated to Mu’awiyah on condition that if Mu’awiyah were to predecease him then the caliphate would refer to him, to Imam Hassan [AS], failing that Mu’awiyah would not nominate his son, or any of the Umayyad family to succeed him. Imam Hassan [AS] died before Muawiyah most probably poisoned at the instigation of Mu’awiyah. Even before Mu’awiyah died he broke the other conditon for Imam Hassan’s [AS] abdication by nominating his son Yazid to succeed him and in fact he attempted to force the giving of allegiance in advance of his own death to Yazid on the part of the prominent leaders of the Muslims community – including of course above all Imam Hussain [AS].
For example the movement of the tawwabun, the penitents – who out of a feeling of profound guilt of having abandoned Imam Hussain [AS] at Kerbala, went forth against overwhelming odds eager to avenge the death of the Imam [AS], they went out and followed him into martyrdom. The world view of Shi’i Muslims, one can say that the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS] and the failure of the great majority of the Muslim community to react with horror at this event, there continuance to acquiesce with respect to the Umayyad Caliph, this helped to consolidate the Shi’i community as a separate group within the Ummah of Islam, within the overall community of Islam. The claim for legitimate rule over the entire Muslim community continued, and has continued right down to then end series of the 12 Imams [AS], that is to say the unique claim of legitimacy over the entirety of the Muslim Community has through all times continued. However as a matter of historical reality, the Shi’i Imams became the leaders of a separate group within the overall Muslim community that turned to them for religious and spiritual guidance while affirming their legitimate although frustrated claim to political leadership. Then too, the question of ziyarah, pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Ali [AS] was already established, as a desirable and meritorious religious act. Ziyarah to Imam Hussain [AS] takes on a particular flavour and emphasis because of the fashion in which his martyrdom took place. He was martyred unlike Imam Ali [AS] not by a relatively marginal and small group, the Kharijites, rather he was murdered by the one who had successfully at least from the political point of view, successfully made a claim to the caliphate and was able to have that claim accepted by the great number of Muslims. Therefore the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS], highlights in a very clear and vivid fashion the view of Shi’i principles of Tawallah and Tabarrah, Tawallah – the swearing of allegiance to the Imams [AS] the Ahl al-Bayt [AS] the call to legitimacy and justice. Tabarrah – means disassociating oneself from those who are the enemies of the Ahl al-Bait [AS], it practically requires cursing against all those who have conspired against the Ahl al-Bait [AS] and denied their claims and violated their rights. Apart from the Ziyarah which can be performed from afar, not necessarily by a physical journey to Kerbala, also other rights of commemoration culminating in the theatrical representation of the tragic events above all in Iran, this is known as Ta’ziyah. The totality of these events overall form an important part of Shi’ah religiosity fosters the consciousness of Kerbala as having been a confrontation not simply between two persons – but rather between two principles, that constantly manifest in human history in different persons and entities, so that mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS], and to associate oneself emotively with the Imam [AS] has concrete political application in the present age – recent examples are the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and even the contemporary experience of Shi’i Muslims in Lebanon.
The divergent currents and rivalries that emerged within Shi’ism, this is a phenomenon that begins already in the time of Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS] as a result of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS], and his (the 4th Imam's [AS]) choice of political retreat and quietism. It also results from the as yet imperfectly elaborated doctrine of legitimacy that is the basis for the identification of the Imam [AS], this as yet is a task that has not been completed.
Imam Zain al-Abidin [AS] passed away in the year 94 AH, 712 AD. He was buried in Madinah where he had spent the entirety of his life after the tragedy of Kerbala, and before he died he nominated his eldest son Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] as his successor. When it is said that he nominated Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] as his successor there is no record of any specific occasion where he did so, nor is there extant the words that he may have used in nominating him. And it is possible that in the relevant literature there is here a retrospective attribution to Imam Zain al-Abidin [AS] of a procedure that became standard later in the lives of the 12 Imams [AS] i.e. of nominating. However it seems a reasonable assumption to make that in some fashion or another at least within the relatively narrow circle of his own followers, Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS] did indeed nominate Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] as his successor. Why is this? Because we know that Imam Zain al-Abidin [AS] in his own lifetime had opposed the movement of Mukhtar, who was promoting the claims of another son of Imam Ali [AS] to be the Imam i.e. Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah. Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah was a son of Imam Ali [AS] but from a wife other than Fatimah [AS], the daughter of the Prophet [sAW], not withstanding that Mukhtar promoted the claim of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah to be the Imam, for him to be the legitimate successor to Imam Hussain [AS]. This was disputed by Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS], on the grounds that descent from Imam Ali [AS] was not in itself enough. The descent of the Imam [AS] had to be from Imam Ali [AS] and the daughter of the Prophet [sAW], Bibi Fatimah [AS]. So that here we have a clarification already, a refinement of the legitimist criteria – It is through this line that the Imamate is transmitted. Since Imam Zain al-Abidin [AS] made this point in refuting the claims made by Mukhtar on behalf of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah, it stands to reason that he should have applied the same criteria in nominating as his own successor Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] who now emerges as the fifth Imam [AS] in the series of 12 Imams [AS].
To begin with Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] is unique in terms of lineage in that he is a descendant not only of Imam Hussain [AS] and therefore Imam Ali [AS] and Bibi Fatimah [AS], but also on his mother’s side he is a descendant of Imam Hassan [AS]. So these two lineages are united in the person of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS]. He is with respect to both maternal and paternal ancestry a descendant of the Prophet [sAW] through Imam Ali [AS] and Bibi Fatimah [AS]. So this in itself gave him a certain edge over his opponents in terms of claims to legitimacy. As for the title al-Baqir this is an abbreviation of a more complete version ‘Baqir al-‘ulum’ literally, ‘the one who splits open knowledge’. There are varying versions of how this title became bestowed upon him. The most common version invoke the oldest surviving companion of the Prophet [sAW] at that time a certain Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ansari. He was a companion of the Prophet [sAW] in a fairly substantial sense that is to say that he is not simply a contemporary of the Prophet [sAW] who had seen him but had been more closely associated with the Prophet [sAW]. Jabir had allegedly been told by the Prophet [sAW],
‘O Jabir you will one day meet a man that will have the same name as me and the same characteristics as me, he split open knowledge extensively.’
The name is the same obviously – Muhammad. In terms of characteristics – here we have an indication that in physical appearance Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] like in fact the two grandsons of the Prophet [sAW], Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS], bore a certain physical resemblance to the Prophet [sAW]. So it is interesting that several generations after the Prophet [sAW] it seems that the Imams bore a physical resemblance to him, which presumably in the course of time was diminished through marriage with a variety of wives who did not have the same lineage. In these early generations there are a number of individuals who are described as even having a physical resemblance to the Prophet [sAW], which is of course significant in that, Shi’i tradition sees in a physical resemblance, simply an outward manifestation of a more significant inward affinity between the Imams [AS] and the Prophet [sAW].
Since there are a whole series of different versions of precisely how Jabir ibn ‘Abdallah al-Ansari came to recognise Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] as the person who the Prophet [sAW] had in mind, it is difficult to be sure that any of them are true, afterall, varying contradictory narratives for a single event there is a real possibility that none of them are in fact precisely true. What is significant however in a more general sense is that this narration irrespective of its accuracy with respect to detail points again to a direct connection to the Prophet [sAW]. This significance of a direct connection to the Prophet [sAW] not only is there this assertion that Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] physically resembled the Prophet [sAW], also his coming is seen to be foretold by the Prophet [sAW], and his distinctive function i.e. splitting open knowledge is also foretold by him. In just the same way that we have seen with Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS], were from one point of view in the usage of the Prophet [sAW] himself, not simply his grandsons but his sons. So direct connection to the Prophet [sAW] aswell as by descent is something that we can deduce from the story of Jabir ibn ‘Abdallah al-Ansari. Aswell as the term ‘Baqir al-‘ulum’ or its abbreviated form Baqir – this too is of significance. From a number of points of view, firstly the fact that the essence of the Imamate is not a failed attempt to exercise political rule over the Muslims, but rather it relates in the first place to knowledge. In fact, if one were to establish a connection between the two dimensions of the Imamate, the claim to political legitimacy to rule and knowledge – one would say that because of the possession of knowledge in part, because of this possession, that the claim to legitimate rule deserves acceptance and enforcement. So in the very title given to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS], there is then a renewed emphasis on the centrality of knowledge ‘ ‘ilm’ the knowledge inherited from the Prophet [sAW], transmitted from him as central to the Imamate.
In addition to that it can be said that particularly after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS] in Kerbala and the choice of quietude of political inactivity of Imam Zain al-Abidin [AS], the emphasis on ‘ilm, the cultivation and transmission of knowledge as central and defining to the Imamate became even more important. Imam Zain al-Abidin’s [AS] Imamate had been disputed by Mukhtar – now Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] has to contend with a greater range of rivals from within the Shi’i movement – more broadly conceived. Therefore it was necessary for him to lay stress not only on his ancestry, that is the ancestry from Imam ‘Ali [AS] and Bibi Fatimah [AS] both on the fathers and the mother’s side. It was also necessary for him to draw attention to the centrality of knowledge as being the most important element in the Imamate.
Mukhtar had raised his claims on behalf of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah, already in the lifetime and the Imamate of Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS]. In 81 AH, 700 AD exactly 20 years after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS], Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah died, and Mukhtar himself died in battle. The reason for this fairly comprehensive and definitive defeat was quite simply lack of planning and caution, paucity of numbers as compared to the still formidable military capacity of the Umayyads. Such however was the persistence of the claims put forward on behalf of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah that the movement survived the death of Mukhtar and Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah. And a whole series of fragments formed to which we apply the collective name Qaisaniyyah - the totality of these groups are referred to as Qaisaniyyah. Common to the Qaisaniyyah are the following elements – first a belief in what is called ‘raj’a’. Raj’a comes from the Arabic verb to return, but what is meant is the following – a resurrection or what you might call a selective resurrection of certain people in history for a replay of the events in which they have participated so that many of the Qaisanis believed that Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah would come back. He would be literally reincarnated, he would return having suffered physical death, he would be reborn, presumarably in the same form – so that he could be easily distinguished by his still existent followers. This is to be distinguished from the general resurrection of all mankind. In other words after the raj’a the return, the person will again die – but presumerably under more favourable circumstances than before. After coming back, Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah and Mukhtar will in fact triumph over the Umayyads, then they will have a normal lifespan and die like everyone else. This is a preliminary and selective resurrection which should not be confused with the overall resurrection of all mankind at the end of time.
This theme of the raj’a did not enter mainstream Shi’i doctrine at this time, however some places for it are to be found later. It is a doctrine the acceptability of which is a matter of controversy, but it is found in the traditions of twlever Shi’ism also a minority belief that a similar raj’a will take place towards the end of time. That is that persons of Shi’i Muslim history, including Imam Hussain [AS] will also have a raj’a – they will come back in this particular sense. This however is a minority position, not strongly documented in any of the authoritative sources. Another long term doctrinal contribution of the qaisaniyyah is the notion of ghaybah. This does indeed fully delve into twelver Shi’i doctrine as something that is universally accepted and it is one of the defining beliefs of twelver Shi’ism – Ghaybah is different from Raj’a. Ghaybah has the basic meaning of absence in Arabic. What is specifically meant here is that certain sacred historic figures have absented themselves from the physical plain. They have not died, but neither are they present and living in this world. They are suspended in this world and the hereafter. However this absence will come to an end and the persons in question will return to the worldly plain but this is an entirely different matter to the raj’a. Raj’a implies a real physical death, and a real physical resurrection. Ghaybah by contrast is an absence from the worldly plain which will be followed by a return to the worldly plain. But at all times the person in the state of Ghaybah is alive. The Quranic archetype of Ghaybah is Prophet ‘Isa [AS] in that the Qur’an teaches us that ‘Isa [AS] did not die and was not crucified but rather was raised by Allah (SWT) unto Himself, the Qur’an is very categorical and explicit i.e. that they (the Romans/Jews) did not kill him or crucify him. He did not die on the cross and was not put on there in the first place. Rather Allah (SWT) raised him unto Himself. That raising of ‘Isa [AS] unto the Divine Presence is a raising of him alive without suffering death on the worldly plain. There are indications elsewhere in the Qur’an that Isa [AS] will return from this state of Ghaybah. It is not that the word Ghaybah is applied in general Islamic doctrine to the case of Isa [AS] it has not entered for example the vocabulary of Sunni Islam, but clearly here there is a parallel and the most important parallel is not with the Qaisanis who fairly quickly disappear into history but rather with mainline twlever Shi’ism. The Twelth Imam [AS] the last in the series is in a state of Ghaybah – in a state of absence from which he will at the end of time return. Historically speaking although we have some traditions from the Prophet [sAW] which hint at the Ghaybah of the 12th Imam [AS], however historically speaking the first introduction of the theme of Ghaybah does come with the Qaisaniyyah. Messianism – that is to say that the expectation of a return of a figure bestowing salvation, that is putting an end to usurpation of rule, illegitimacy and injustice, this makes it first plain occurrence in Shi’i history with this otherwise marginal movement known as the Qaisaniyyah.
Longer lived and more persistent than the Qaisaniyyah as a rival to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] was his own half brother, Zaid ibn ‘Ali Zain al-‘abidin. Already in the lifetime of Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS], Zaid had been making it plain that he had ambitions for the Imamate despite the fact that it was his elder brother Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] that had been nominated by his father. Despite the rival claims that existed between the two it is worth pointing out they concentrated their attacks on each other’s followers rather than on each others persons. For example it is known that Zaid was once taken into the presence of the Umayyad caliph Hisham, Hisham in a mocking and disrespectful fashion asked Zaid ibn Ali Zain al-Abidin how is your brother Muhammad ‘al-Baqarah’, ‘Baqarah’ being an Arabic word meaning cow. In other words in a play on words instead of referring to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] as ‘Baqir al-‘ulum’ the caliph Hisham referred to him as al-Baqarah – the cow. Whereupon he was upbraided by Zaid ibn Ali Zain al-Abidin that you are here insulting one who is of the lineage of the Prophet [sAW], and someone infinitely more elevated than yourself. For his part Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] certainly rejected the claims of Zaid to the Imamate but concentrated his activities not so much on polemics, but rather on building up his own community and clarifying what he regarded as the important principles of legitimacy. What motivated Zaid? It can be said that Zaid and his followers were above all impatient with the abstention from political action that had come to qualify the Imamate after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS]. Imam Zain al-Abidin [AS] had devoted himself to piety and religious teaching in Madinah, had distanced himself even from the movement of the Tawwabun those who had set out to avenge the death and the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS]. But there were those within the Shi’i community who did not understand the primacy which was being awarded to the cultivation of knowledge who said that the Imam [AS] as a matter of duty must necessarily rise up through armed force and insurrection if necessary to claim the Imamate. And understandable attitude in view of continuing misdeeds of the Umayyads and above all the very vivid and painful memory of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS]. However as Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] pointed out to his brother Zaid in essence by making this claim he was denying the legitimacy of his own father, that is the father of both of them Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS], because Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin had abstained from all types of insurrectionary activity. Therefore Zaid was cutting off the branch on which he himself was sitting. He could not claim to be a successor to a person to whose legitimacy he was implicitly casting into doubt. Even beyond that it can be said that implicitly Zaid ibn Ali Zain al-Abidin was criticising the record of Imam Ali [AS] himself who had adopting a similar attitude of political abstention during the rule of the first three caliphs. So there was this importance difference between them with respect to the question of insurrection or not insurrection. Zaid in order to promote the cause of the Imamate was inclined to compromise with certain elements within the Sunni community. He was inclined to accept the Shaikhain – Abu Bakr and 'Umar the first two caliphs, he was inclined to accept them as persons who had exercised the caliphate in a generally honest and acceptable fashion even though they were less virtuous and deserving of the office than Imam Ali [AS] had been. A theological matter which is known as the Imamate of the less virtuous. It is permissible as a matter of pragmatic necessity to accept that one who is less virtuous than another person may exercise rule. This of course had a certain pragmatic effect in that persons of Sunni persuasion who were dissatisfied with the Umayyads, but nonetheless retained a certain reverence for Abu Bakr and Umar would be inclined to join the movement. But there was more to it than this – once the qualified legitimacy of the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar is accepted this has ramifications on the legal plain. We have seen that Imam Ali [AS] himself, when he accepted the caliphate after the assassination of Uthman did so on the condition that he would be guided in his exercise of rule only by the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet [sAW] himself, not the precendence and rulings of Abu Bakr and Umar. Therefore when Zaid ibn Ali Zain al-Abidin now accepts the Shaikhain (Abu Bakr and 'Umar), this implies also an acceptance of certain of the legal rulings that proceed from these two individuals that had been regarded as unacceptable by Imam Ali [AS], Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS] – it would therefore have been a rupture with the precedence established by previous Imams. It can be said that these legal matters, although when you look at them individually it may not appear to be particularly significant, were at that historical juncture of importance because part of what was underway in the Muslim community as a whole now was the formation of distinct legal schools, the schools of jurisprudence. We have here another reason why the cultivation of knowledge by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] is significant.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir’s [AS] contribution in the field of religious knowledge not simply focuses attention again clearly on knowledge as the central element in the Imamate it also helps him to clarify Shi’i jurisprudence a distinct school of Shi’i law. At the same time in the Sunni community as well parallel developments are underway. Generally speaking with respect to the evolution of Shi’ism, in the Sunni context we have to bear in mind a kind of paradox or contradiction. As history proceeds and the positions of the two schools become more clarified and to a degree more antagonistic to each other still there is a kind of parallel in development – that is to say at that same time that legal questions assume major importance in the Sunni community, so too they do in the Shi’ah community. And the period of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] - in the Sunni community the period in which the distinct Sunni schools of law are taking shape, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] in formulating some of the principles of Shi’i jurisprudence is at one and the same time rejecting the enterprise of Zaid, in accepting the legal precedence of Abu Bakr and Umar, and also giving identity and cohesion to the Shi’i community into the formulation of distinct legal precepts at a time when the Sunnis are also forming their legal schools.
What are some of the issues that are at stake here? Firstly the permissibility of a substance known as nabib – it is an intoxicating drink commonly made from dates. There is in Islam the universally, unanimous prohibition of wine, made from the grape. However there was not much cultivation of grapes from the Arabian Peninsula and the common drink was nabib – an intoxicating, fermented drink made primarily from dates – also apparently from other substances on occasion. There was a difference of opinion on the permissibility or otherwise of nabib, because the word Nabib does not occur in the Qur’an in the context of the verses which prohibit the drinking of wine. A number of early schools of Sunni Jurisprudence regarded the consumption of Nabib as permissible it is true that in the course of time that was discarded with the exception of one school of law. At this particular time however it appears that nabib was regarded as permissible. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] clearly dismissed the permissibility of nabib and laid down farily strict rules for determining when a drink otherwise licit might become illicit because of fermentation. Then a more long lasting question or controversy, was the sentence in the call to prayer which is in Arabic ‘Hayah ‘ala Khair al-‘amal’ ‘come to the best of deeds.’ The Islamic call to prayer begins with the invocation of the greatness of Allah (SWT), then the testimony to the Messenger [sAW], then come to prayer, come to prayer, come to prosperity, come to prosperity. In the Shi'ah Adhan the additional sentence is recited Haya ‘ala Khair al-‘amal – ‘Come to the best of deeds’ – from the common Sunni view this is a Shi’i innovation. But from the point of view of Shi’i Islam this is the reconstruction of the integral call to prayer that was deformed by the 2nd caliph ‘Umar. It is said that this sentence was deleted from the call to prayer by ‘Umar because he was afraid that Muslims would spend all their time in prayer and for example abandon the tasks of jihad and conquest. Therefore the sentence was not added, but restored from the point of view of Shi’ah Islam.
Likewise connected with the person of the 2nd Caliph as an unacceptable innovation on his part was the prohibition of termed marriage Mu’tah. In Mu’tah a contract is established between a man and a women for being married for a certain period, the woman instead of having the usual bride price half of which she would receive on consummation of marriage, half of which is retained in case of divorce – receives a prearranged sum which will become due to her at the expiration of the period. There is no numerical limitation on the period of a Mu’tah so in theory it can be concluded at the time of a person’s death, transforming it into a permanent marriage – however there are different rights and obligations that apply to Mu’tah that do not apply to a permanent marriage or a marriage that aspires to permanence. Mu’tah was definitely practised in the time of the Prophet [sAW], it is authorised in the Qur’an however obliquely. And we know also that is was practised in the time of Abu Bakr the first Caliph, and for several years during the caliphate of ‘Umar. ‘Umar however took it upon himself to prohibit the Mu’tah and even to threaten with execution as adulterers those who persisted in practising it. From the Shi’i point of view – Umar having not been attributed as ma’sum had no authority to prohibit that which had been clearly permitted by the Prophet [sAW] and the Qur’an, therefore Mu’tah has been retained as one of the forms of marriage in Shi’i law and down to the present. The emphasis for the permissibility of Mu’tah from the time of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] onwards should not be taken to indicate the excellence of the practise itself – it is indeed permitted, it is not that refraining from it is a simple or reprehensible act. Insofar however that the conclusion of a Mu’tah marriage is implicitly in denial of the unauthorised claim introduced by ‘Umar, Insofar as it is an indication of continued loyalty to the Imams [AS] as the rightful heirs to the interpretation and application of Islamic law, insofar as Mu’tah represents that it is a virtuous and recommended act. It takes on a significance that it does not intrinsically possess.
These matters placed in the historical and polemical context, served to delineate the nascent Shi’i jurisprudence from its Sunni counterparts and it also served to create a distance between Imam Muhammad al-Baqir and his rival Zaid ibn Ali Zain al-Abidin. Also there is a question, a more significant question of the methods and principles of jurisprudence. Things mentioned so far are examples of the furu’ i.e. the branches – specific ordinances of Islamic law, they are known as the branches of the law. Then there are the principles of the law, in other words how does one arrive at a specific ruling on a given topic. These principles are known as the usul, the roots of the law. With respect to the roots of the law, Shi’ah Islam beginning with Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS], begins to evolve into a distinctive group, in a negative fashion through the rejection of qiyas – the rejection of analogical reasoning. What is the problem with analogical reasoning. In order to arrive at an ordinance a specific law or ordinance on a particular topic, the Qur’an and the Sunnah are not in themselves enough, we cannot expect to find in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah of the Prophet [sAW] explicit detailed guidance for every conceivable circumstance and situation. However the principle of the comprehensive authority of Islamic law exists – therefore how under the overall sovereignty of Islamic law are provisions to be established for each specific problem that arises. One method is by analogy, that is one takes an existing problem or a newly arising problem and sees if there is in the Qur’an or Sunnah an analogous or similar case, then on the basis of a presumed analogy proceeds to establish an ordinance – this apparently reasonable procedure is in fact fraught with many problems and difficulties. In any event it is disapproved of in Shi’i jurisprudence. Also in negative terms, Shi’i jurisprudence defines itself early on by the rejection of another rule – Ra’i. Ra’i is personal opinion – that is an individual scholar of the law will in his attempt to come up with a ruling for a particular situation simply in the absence of detailed guidance from the Qur’an apply his own understanding to the topic and admits an opinion which is known as Ra’i. Ra’i because of its arbitrary and fallible nature is rejected – because two individuals could in good faith could apply themselves to the same problem and come up with entirely different and even contradictory answers, therefore Ra’i is not regarded as acceptable. However what Shi’i jurisprudence beginning explicitly with Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] onwards does regard as an acceptable and important principle of the law is ‘aql – intelligence or reason. Which might at first sight appear to be similar to Ra’i but it is not. Intelligence is one thing and opinion is something else. What is at issue here is intelligence. Intelligence is defined in a technical fashion, which prevents it from degenerating into a purely arbitrary and personal judgement in law.
There are other matters at consideration when considering Imam Muhammad Baqir [AS] as the founder of distinctive disciplines of Shi’i learning.