Source: “Shia Islam AT A Glance” BY: Sheikh Abdul Jalil Nawee; and Shia Youth Inc. Website:

Imam Muḥammad al-Bāqir (a.s.), (the one who splits open knowledge) was the fifth Shiite Imam, succeeding his father Imam Zain al-Abidin (a.s.). He was born on 1 Rajab 57 A.H. in Medina. Many traditions and abundant wisdom were reported on his authority. He is revered by Shiite Muslims for his religious leadership and highly respected by Sunni Muslims for his knowledge and Islamic scholarship as a leading jurist of Medina.

Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.) had a prominent lineage in that both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Imam Hasan ibn Ali (a.s.) and Imam Husain ibn Ali (a.s.), were Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) grandsons. His mother, Fatima Umm Abd Allah, was a daughter of the second Imam al-Hasan (a.s.), the son of Imam Ali (a.s.). Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.) was born, when Mu’awiyah  was trying to pursue the pledge of allegiance for his son, Yazid.  Imam al-Baqir while still a child, his family was troubled by the tragedy of Karbala. He was about three years old when his grandfather Imam Husain (a.s.), his companions and children were massacred in Karbala in 61 A.H.


According to scholars, Imam al-Baqir (a.s.), in his youth  witnessed the struggle for power among the UmayyadsAbd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and different Shiite parties, while at the same time he saw his father remaining distant to local political activity.

Imam Al-Baqir (a.s.) was popularly known as Baqir al-‘ilm, which means “he who splits open knowledge”. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) was, therefore, said to have been famous for his heritage of knowledge. He received the nickname al-Baqir (the Ample) due to the “ample fund of knowledge” he collected. For the Shiites, however, Baqir al-‘ilm was not an ordinary title, for, they believe it was given to him by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). According to al-KulayniJabir ibn Abd Allah, the only living companion of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), used to sit in the mosque and call out: Ya baqir al-ilm, Ya baqir al-ilm. Medinans thought that Jabir was insane; however, he assured them that he had heard from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who said: “O Jabir! You will meet a man from my family who will have the same name and the same characteristics as mine. He will split open knowledge extensively.” As for how Jabir ibn Abd Allah met Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.), al-Kulayni relates that once while al-Jabir was passing a Quran school which Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (a.s.) attended as a child, he saw that the Imam was still a child and examined him to see if he has the features he had heard from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Then Jabir explained: “Characteristics of the Messenger of Allah; by Him, in whose hands is my soul, O boy, what is your name”.  When Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (a.s.) answered that he was Imam Muhammad ibn Ali ibn al-Husayn (a.s.), Jabir “approached him, kissed his head and swore by his father and mother that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had recited greeting upon him.

During the Imamah of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.), due to the oppressive manner of the Umayyads, riots broke out everywhere in the Islamic world. The disagreements within the Umayyad party kept them occupied among themselves such that they left members of the Prophet’s household undisturbed for some time. On the other hand, the tyranny placed on the members of household in the Battle of Karbala had drawn many people to the Imams. These conditions had permitted people, particularly the Shiite, to travel to Medina in large groups and to go into the Imam’s presence freely. The possibilities of spreading Islam, which had not existed for the previous Imams, was thus available to the fifth Imam. Numerous traditions related about the Imam and the numerous scholars who were trained under him obviously narrate these traditions.


After the death of Imam Ali ibn Husain Zain al-Abidin (a.s.), the fourth Imam, the majority of the Shiites agreed upon his son Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) as the next Imam, while a minority favored another son of the fourth Imam, Zayd ibn Ali, and became known as Zaidiyyah. According to the scholars, Zaid, the brother of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.), called for people on his own behalf to back his cause. It is, however, believed  that he first asked the advice of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) who advised him not to rely on the people of Kufa, explaining how they had previously behaved toward the members of household. Zaid, however, did not listen to his brother’s advice and led the people of Kufa in useless riots.  Shia scholars state that a dispute had arisen between Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) and Zaid because Zaid had been following the lessons of the Mu’tazilite, Wasil ibn Ata. Zaid had also announced that the position of an Imam was conditional on his appearing publicly to claim his rights. In response, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) said to Zaid, “Your faith then is merely in your father, as such, for according to your theory, he was not an Imam, for he certainly never came forth to assert his claims”. Zayd led an unsuccessful revolt gainst Ummayad Califate, in which he died. The event gave rise to Zaidiyyah sect of Shia Islam.


Imam al-Baqir (a.s.)  despite his not being involved in political activities, the Umayyad rulers harassed the 5th Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.). For they knew that a large number of Shia individuals and deputations, which were coming from Kufa to Medina, had no other intent but to attend Imam al-Baqir’s (a.s.) teaching and to ask him specific questions;  among these was the question of who had the right to rule. 

it is narrated that once Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, the caliph, made a pilgrimage to Mecca where Imam Mohammed al-Baqir (a.s.) and his son Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s.) were also present. There was a gathering where Imam Baqir (a.s.) delivered a sermon saying: “We are the favorite and chosen servants of God, and His vicegerents on the face of the earth. One who obeys us is successful and one who opposes would be evil and wretched”. Someone conveyed these statements to caliph Hisham. When he returned to his court in Syria, he wrote to his Governor of Medina instructing him to send Imam al-Baqir (a.s.)and his son Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) to Damascus. When they arrived, to humiliate them, he kept them waiting for three days without allowing people to meet them. On the fourth day, he called them to his court where he was practicing archery with his officials.


In  Ma’athiru’l-Baqir, the Imam discussed many topics from the nature of the soul, and the qualities of the Ulama to the attributes of God and the divine nature explaining that it was not possible for men to understand it. To illustrate; one day a man asked him: “Should I think of anything (to understand Allah)?” The Imam replied: “Yes, but you have to imagine a thing which the mind cannot contain and which is without limit. He is unlike whatever comes into your mind. Nothing resembles Him nor can any thought reach Him”. It is also among his saying that: “Talk about the creation of Allah, but do not talk about Allah Himself, for that increases the owner of the talk nothing except perplexity. He defines a Rasul as a Prophet who both hears the voice of the angel of revelation and sees the angel in a bodily form or in a dream. As for Nabi, he says, it is a Prophet who hears the voice of the angel, but does not see him; and ‘the Imam‘s condition, he says, is like that of the Nabi. The Imam was frequently referred to explain particular teachings concerning the Imamate, which is also explained in Ma’athiru’l-Baqir, a summery of which is translated into English in Canon Sell‘s Ithna ʻAsharíyya or The Twelve Shiʻah Imams.

 His another book Umm al-Kitab  is in the form of a discussion between the Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) and three of his companions. It resembles the Gospel of the Infancy, and shows how Imamate is similar to gnostic Christology. Among major ideas of this work is the numinous science of letters. The central motif of the work is the psychological-philosophical explanation of spiritual symbols, and the believers are instructed to involve themselves in acts of self purification and renovation. A large number of colors are presented to symbolize different theories and the consistent levels of consciousness that one must recognize in oneself.
Tafsir al-baqir is Imam al-Baqir’s exegesis of the Quran is yet another highly noted publication. Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, particularly a religious text. This book is in fact a collection of quotations of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) written by his student Abu al-Jarud Ziad ibn Munthar.


Imam al-Baqir had three marriages with Farwah bint Qasim, Umm Hakim bint Usayd, and Mughrila bint al-Thaqafi, and had six sons and two daughters, namely Ja’far al-Sadiq, Ibrahim, Ali, Abdullah, Ahmed, Ubaydullah, Zaynab, and Umm Salma.


Imam al-Baqir (a.s.)  lived 57 years. He ended his 19 years long Imamat on 7 Ziqaad 114 A.H. He died of poisoning. The poison was given at the order of Caliph Hisham.


  • “The virtue of knowledge is more lovable with Allah than the virtue of worship.”
  • “The believer does not spend an expense more lovable with Allah than saying the truth during consent and anger.
  • “Two kinds of my community have no share in Islam. (They are): the extremists and the fatalists.
  • “Whoever has three qualities or one of them will be in the shade of the throne of Allah: He should treat people with justice. He should do nothing unless he knows whether it pleases or angers Allah. He should seek no fault in his Muslim brother until he frees himself from that fault. For when he frees himself from a fault, he finds another fault in him. It is enough for the person that his own self diverts him from the people.” 

Next Week -Part #7 A Brief Life History of The 6th Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s.), insha’Allah.

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