The Life of Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Baqir

By: Baqir Sharif al-Qarashi

P. 381- 392
As for the talk about the time of Ima`m Abu` Ja’far (al-Ba`qir), peace be on him, and mentioning the most prominent events that occurred during it, they are numbered, according to modern studies, among methodical researches of which the researcher is in need. For studying a certain time has a strong effect on discovering the behavior of the person on whom the research is done, and on understanding his cultural and social qualities.

The time of Ima`m al-Ba`qir, peace be on him, was the most critical and sensitive of all the Islamic times. For many Islamic sects grew during it. They were among the most dangerous intellectual and social phenomena at that time. Besides the political parties attacked each other to the extent that they stopped Islam from spreading and deviated it from its way to another way without a ray of light and awareness.

However, we will talk about all the aspects of life at that time. We will leave none of them. That is as follows:
The Islamic Sects

At that time many Islamic sects grew. Some of them grew, as the researchers said, according to the command and support of the Umayyad government. There were several reasons for that. The most important one of them was that the Umayyad government wanted these sects to support it and to justify its attitude and its tendencies. We will briefly mention some of these sects. We will be honest to the truth as far as possible.

The Mu’tazilites

The Mu’tazilites played a dangerous role in the history of the intellectual and social life at that time. They left far-range effects on the intellectual Islamic life. Among them was the foundation of the ideological bases on which Sunni theology stood.[1] Cold Zihar thought that the Mu’tazilites were the first to enter and maintain the rational tendency.[2] It is necessary for us to give a brief idea about the history of the Mu’tazilites, their beliefs, and the attitude of Ima`m al-Ba`qir, peace be on him, towards their leaders.

The History of the Mu’tazilites

Zahdi Ja`r Allah thought that the theological school of the Mu’tazilites started in the beginning of the second history A. H. That was in the city of Basrah, which was the center of knowledge and literature in the Islamic state.[3] However, this school, as a political movement, was founded before this date. That was when the people pledged allegiance to Ima`m ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, peace be on him. So, a group of people retired from pledging allegiance to him. Among them were Sa’d b. Abï~ Waqqa`s, ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar, Usa`ma b. Zayd, and Mohammed b. Muslima al-Ansa`ri. Hence, they were called the Mu’tazilites (the ones who retired from). They also did not support Ima`m ‘Ali in the Battle of the Camel and Siffï~n. Moreover, al-Ahnaf b. Qays retired from the war. Then, he said to his people: “It is better for you to retire from the discord.”[4] Therefore, the Mu’tazilites appeared as a political thought at that time. As for their theological school, it appeared in the last years of the first century A. H.

The Mu’tazilites and Policy

The Mu’tazilites had religious tendencies and theological methods. They supported the rule standing at those times. Their leaders supported the authorities and justified their political behavior. Though the leaders of the Mu’tazilites affected asceticism and worship, they followed the governments standing at those times. The reason for that is that they adopted the Ima`mate of the mafdu`l (the less excellent). They said that it was permitted to prefer him to the fa`dil (the most excellent). They embraced this view to justify the caliphate of the Umayyads and the like, who assumed the leadership of government though there were persons more knowledgeable than them in the affairs of religion and the precepts of Islamic law. With that they obtained the absolute support and respect of the Umayyads. After the end of the Umayyad government, they joined the Abba`sid government. Al-Mansu`r al-Dawa`niqi turned away from the religious scholars. He was cruel towards them. He showed enmity towards them and knowledge. However, he admired ‘Amru“ b. ‘Ubayd, the spiritual leader of the Mu’tazilites. The Abba`sid kings also respected and honored Ahmed b. Abï~ Dawu`d, the second leader of the Mu’tazilites. Concerning him al-Mu’tasim said: “By Allah, we adorn with the like of this (Ahmed), rejoice at his nearness. He is loyal to us.”[5] Al-Mu’tasim visited Ahmed when he became ill. But he visited none of his brothers and his relatives. When he was asked about his visit to Ahmed, he replied: “Of course, I visit this person. For he rewards me and thanks me. He has availed me in my religion and my world.”[6]

The Italian orientalist, Nilino, and the orientalist, Nisboh, thought that the start of the i’tiza`l (retirement) was from a political origin.[7]

Ahmed Amï~n said: “Surely, the boldness of the Mu’tazilites in criticizing the men was a strong support for the Umayyads. For criticizing and analyzing the opponents and using reason in judgment for them or against them remove, at least, the thought of glorifying ‘Ali, which was spread among the masses of the people.”[8]

However, the Umayyad and the Abba`sid governments respected and honored the Mu’tazilites because of their support to them.

The Mu’tazilites and the Christians

It is not logical to say that the beliefs of the Christians had an effect on the Mu’tazilites, and that the beliefs of the Mu’tazilites were similar to that of the Christians who followed Greek philosophy. Daybu believed in that. In this connection, he said: “There are separate proofs for that a group of the early Moslems, who believed in preference, studied under Christian teachers.”[9] Dr. Nu’ma`n al-Qa`di inclined to that. In this respect, he said: “An Iraqi Christian was the first to talk about fate. The Christian became Moslem, and then he returned to his religion. Ma’bid al-Jahni and Ghayla`n al-Dimashqi learned from him.”[10] What Dr. al-Qa`di has mentioned is not a proof for what he believed in. For the Ima`ms of the members of the House (ahl al-Bayt), peace be on them, were the first to talk about fate. They explained it and supplied proof of what they believed in. Suppose that an Iraqi Christian was the first to speak about doom, this does not mean that the Christian had ideological effects on the Mu’tazilites. To say the truth, the Christians had no effects on the religious and the philosophical views of the Mu’tazilites.

The Fundamental Doctrines

As for the general ideological fundamentals in which the Mu’tazilites believed, they were five basic fundamentals. Whoever adopted them was a Mu’tazilite. Whoever denied one of them or increased them was not a Mu’tazilite.[11] They are as follows:

1. Oneness of Allah.
The strongest one of the five principles, on which the Mu’tazilites agreed, is tawhï~d, or belief in the oneness and uniqueness of Allah. They said that Allah was not similar to His creatures. They thought Allah was neither body nor accident nor essence, and that neither time nor space encompassed him. They refused everything opposing the Oneness of Allah, the Exalted, and His eternity. They denied that Allah had attributes other than himself.[12] In this respect, they said: “The existence of eternal attributes outside the Self (of Allah) leads to the existence of an eternal thing other than Himself. This requires multiplicity. This is impossible for Him, the Exalted.”[13] Moreover, they interpreted the verses that shows apparently the incarnation of Allah. Among these verses is : “The hand of Allah is on their hands.” They simplified the explanation, and supplied wonderful reliable proofs of it.

2. Divine Justice

This is the second doctrine of the fundamental doctrines of their faith. It is Divine Justice. “Allah is not in the least unjust to the servants.” He does not wrong them. They had many theological studies about The justice of Allah, the Exalted. Among them are the negation of fate, proving the freedom, will, and preference of man. It is man who finds his acts according to his freedom and his preference. That is because Allah is just and beyond all injustices. Allah does not punish a person whom he forces to perform a certain act. For whoever forces a person to perform a certain act and punishes him is unjust. Hence, Allah is far above injustice. For He, the Exalted, said: “Allah is not in the least unjust to the servants.” “Allah does not wrong them.”

Therefore reward and punishment follow the act. They do not follow anything else.

In the Divine Justice, the Mu’tazilites discussed the things that are rationally good or bad. The believed that Allah was just, and that He did only good things to His servants. This urged them to discuss the acts. In this connection, they asked: “Are the acts good in themselves? Or do they acquire their goodness and ugliness through an order from Allah?” They believed that goodness and ugliness were in the things themselves. The thing is not good through an order from Him. Rather, He ordered it to be performed for its goodness. Besides the thing is not ugly through an order from Him. Rather, he forbids it because of its ugliness. For this reason, the Mu’tazilites glorified reason, and opened the way before its maturity and promotion, as some of the researchers said.[14]

3. Promise and Threat

This is the third doctrine of their fundamental doctrines. It means that Allah is truthful (in fulfilling) His promise and threat on the Day of Judgment. Nothing will change His words. The people of the garden will be driven to the garden through their deeds. The people of the fire will be driven to the fire through their deeds, too. According to this, they denied the intercession (with Allah) for anybody on the Day of Resurrection.[15] Moreover, they denied the verses and the traditions about it.

4. Rank between two Ranks

This doctrine means that the person who commits the major sin is neither believer nor unbeliever. Rather, he is a sinner. Hence, they regarded transgression as a third independent rank from belief and unbelief. They regarded it between them. Wa`sil b. Ata`’ decided that when he said: “Belief is good qualities. When they come together, the person is called believer. It is the name of praise. The sinner has not gathered good qualities. He is not worthy of the name of praise. Therefore, he is neither believer nor unbeliever. That is because the shaha`da and all good deeds are found in him. There is no way to deny them. However, if he leaves the world and insists on the major sin without repentance, he will be among those who will be immortal in the fire.”[16] ‘Amru“ b. ‘Ubayd followed Wa`sil in that. Al-Hasan al-Basri also followed them in that. Noteworthy, he had insisted on that the person who committed a major sin was a sinner believer.[17]

5. Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil

This is the fifth doctrine of their fundamental doctrines. They thought that it was incumbent on every Moslem to enjoin good and to forbid evil with the sword. They called that jiha`d (armed struggle). If they were unable to carry that out with the sword, they had to use other than it. They had no difference in resisting both the unbelievers and the sinners.[18] However, the Mu’tazilites did not use this doctrine against the Umayyads who deviated from Islam and abased the Moslems and forced them to follow what they hated.

These are the fundamentals doctrines of the Mu’tazilites. They have many important scientific branches. They have been mentioned in the theological books.

The Shi’a and the Mu’tazilites

Some orientalists said that the Shï~’a quoted many of their theological beliefs from the Mu’tazilites, and that they constituted intellectual unity. Among them is Coldzihr, who said: “I’tiza`l or retirement has been firmly established in the books of the Shï~’a till this day of ours. So, it is a grievous mistake, whether from the viewpoint of religious history or literary history, to say that no material trace has remained for i’tiza`l or retirement after the decisive victory which the Ash’arite beliefs won. The Shï~’a have many ideological books to which they resort and to follow their examples. They are standing proof that refutes this claim. We may regard the Shï~’ite ideological books as the books of the Mu’tazilites.”[19]

Among those who held this view is Adam Mitiz, who said: “The Shï~’a had no private theological doctrine in the forth century A. H. Hence, they quoted the fundamentals and styles of theology from the Mu’tazilites. Ibn Babawayh al-Qummi, the greatest Shï~’ite scholar in the forth century A. H., followed in his book ‘Ilal al-Shara`iy’ the method of the Mu’tazilites. As for the faith and doctrine, the Shï~’a are the inheritors of the Mu’tazilites.”[20] This view has no scientific originality. However, the Shï~’a have not relied on any Islamic sect. For the Ima`ms of the members of the House (ahl al-Bayt), peace be on them, supplied them with rich abilities about theological studies and the like. They were the first to open the door to this science. Besides they were the foremost to discuss the researches of Divine oneness, and the like. For example, Nahjj al-Bala`gh of Ima`m ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, peace be on him, is full of wonderful sermons that praise the Greatness of the Creator and consider Him too exalted for the attributes of creatures. Al-Sahï~fa al-Sajja`diyah of the great Ima`m Zayn al-‘[email protected]ï~n, peace be on him, is rich in these researches. Many traditions were reported on the authority of the Ima`ms of guidance, peace be on them. In the traditions, the Ima`m refuted atheists and the like. All that supplies proof that the Shï~’a were the first to study theology. So, how do they rely on the Mu’tazilites? Shaykh al-Mufï~d said: “No Shï~’ite theologian jurist has taken theology from the Mu’tazilites.”[21]

Dr. ‘Urfa`n ‘Abd al-Hamï~d said: “As for the scholars of the Shï~’a in the past and present, they denied the claim of quotation and imitation and refuted those who believed in them. In my opinion, that is natural logical and necessary matter for those who believe in the Ima`mi doctrine, which says that the general skeleton of the Shï~’ite teachings stands on the traditions reported on the authority of the infallible Ima`m. So, the text of the doctrine requires dismissing every possibility of the outside effects. Rather, it denies them. For the Shï~’ite doctrine is an intellectual unity standing by itself and is taken from the teachings of the Ima`m.”[22]

Generally accepted Matters

The Shï~’a and the Mu’tazilites agreed on some matters from the five fundamental doctrines such as Divine Justice. Ima`m Ka`shif al-Ghita`’ said: “What makes the Mu’tazilites similar to the Shï~’a is their view: Among the attributes of Him, the Exalted, is justice which the Ash’arites deny. On this stands the matter of rational goodness and ugliness in which the Ima`mis and the Mu’tazilites believe, and which the Ash’arites also deny. For this reason, the two parties are called the ‘adliyah (the ones who believe in Divine Justice).[23]

Generally unaccepted Matters

The Shï~’a disagreed radically with the Mu’tazilites on many matters. The following is some of them:

1. The Ima`mate of the Mafdu`l

The Mu’tazilites said that it was permitted to follow the Ima`mate of the mafdu`l (the less excellent) and to prefer him to the fa`dil (the most excellent). However, the Shï~’a refused that thoroughly, and regarded it as disobedience to thinking and deviation from the Koran, which refuses to make them equal. Allah, the Exalted, said: “Are those who know and those who do not know equal?” The Shï~’a think that all the crisis from which the community suffered resulted from preferring the mafdu`l (the less excellent) to the fa`dil (the most excellent). However, the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family, nominated the best one of his family and his companions, Ima`m ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, peace be on him, to be his successor. He took the pledge of allegiance to him at Ghadï~r Khum. However, the political ambitions moved the people to remove him from the caliphate and to nominate a person other than him. This led to bad effects on the community throughout history.

However, this sensitive point is among the basic differences between the Shï~’a and the Mu’tazilites.

2. Intercession.

The Mu’tazilites said that none of the friends of Allah had the right to intercede with him for any person. Allah will reward man due to his act. If his acts were good, he would get good. If they were evil, he would get evil. The intercession of anybody would not avail him. The Shï~’a opposed that. They thought that the friends of Allah, such as the pure Ima`ms, will have the right to intercede with Allah on the Day of Judgment. That is to show their outstanding qualities and their excellent position with Allah. If they had no right to intercede with Allah, then what would distinguish them from other people on that day?

These are some of the differences between the Shï~’a and the Mu’tazilites. Violent debates occurred between the leading figures of the Shï~’a and of the Mu’tazilites.

Ima`m al-Ba`qir and the Leaders of the Mu’tazilites

The main leaders of the Mu’tazilites met Ima`m Abu` Ja’far (al-Ba`qir), peace be on him. They debated with him. They are as follows:

1. Al-Hasan al-Basri

Al-Hasan al-Basri went to Medina (Yathrib). He met Ima`m Abu` Ja’far (al-Ba`qir), peace be on him, and said to him:

– I have come to ask you about certain matters from the Book of Allah.

– Are you not the jurist of the people of Basrah?

– It may be said so.

– Is there a person in Basrah to learn from?

– No.

– Do all the people of Basrah learn from you?

– Yes.

– You have assumed a great affair. I have heard something concerning you. I do not know whether it is right or wrong.

– What is it?

– They said that you said: Allah created the servants and entrusted their affairs to them.

Al-Hasan al-Basri bowed his head. He was unable to answer the Ima`m. So, the Ima`m asked him:

Do you know him to whom Allah said in His Book: “You are safe.” Is there fear for him after the words from Him?

– No.

– I will present a verse for you. I will end addressing you. I think that you will give it another meaning. If you did that, you would destroy yourself and others.

– What is it?

– Do you know what Allah meant when he said: “And We made between them and the towns which We had blessed (other) towns to be easily seen, and We apportioned the journey therein: Travel through them nights and days, secure.”[24] I heard that you gave the people a legal opinion when you said: “It is Mecca.”

“Yes,” replied al-Hasan al-Basri.

The Ima`m supplied proof of explaining the verse. So, al-Hasan was unable to answer him. Then, the Ima`m prevented him from embracing authorization. He told him that authorization was invalid.[25]

2. Ima`m al-Baqir refuted al-Hasan al-Basri.
‘Uthma`n al-‘[email protected] came to Ima`m Abu Ja’far (al-Baqir), peace be on him, and said to him: [Al-Hasan al-Basri said:] “The fire will hurt the stomachs of the persons who conceal knowledge.” The Ima`m denied that and said: “Therefore, the believer of the family of Pharaoh will perish. Allah praised him for that. Knowledge has been concealed since Allah, the Great and Almighty, sent Noah. Let al-Hasan go to the right and left. By Allah, he will not find knowledge in anywhere except here.” He pointed to his holy chest.[26]

3. Ima`m al-Ba`qir and ‘Amru“ bin ‘Ubayd
‘Amru“ b. ‘Ubayd was the spiritual leader of the Mu’tazilites. Al-Mansu`r al-Dawa`niqi respected and honored him.[27] He came to visit Ima`m Abu` Ja’far (al-Ba`qir), peace be on him, to test him with questions. He said: “May I be your ransom, what is the meaning of the words of Him, the Exalted: Do not those who disbelieve realize that the heavens and the earth were rataq and We made them fitq? [28] What is this rataq and this fitq? “The heaven was rataq (means) that no rain came down from it,” answered Ima`m Abu` Ja’far, peace be on him, “and the earth was fitq (means) that no plants came out of it.”

‘Amru“ stopped. He could not find any opposition. He went away but then came back.

“May I be your ransom,” he said, “tell me of the words of Him, the Most High: On whomsoever My anger alights, he fall (to disaster.)[29] What is the anger of Allah?”

“The anger of Allah is His punishment,” replied Abu` Ja’far, peace be on him, “Whoever thinks that anything changes Allah is an unbeliever.”[30]

[1] Al-Falsafa al-Isla`miya, p.170.
[2] Al-‘Aqida wa al-Shari’a fi al-Isla`m, p.102.
[3] Al-Mu’tazila, p.1.
[4] Firaq al-Shi’a, p.5.
[5] Muru`jj al-Dhahab.
[6] Ta`rikh Baghdad, vol.4, pp.148-150.
[7] Dira`sa`t fi al-Firaq wa al-‘Aqa`’id al-Isla`miya, p.106.
[8] Fajr al-Isla`m, p.295.
[9] Tarikh al-Falsafa fi al-Isla`m, p.49.
[10] Al-Firaq al-Isla`miya fi al-‘Asr al-Umawi, p.290.
[11] Al-Fasl, vol.2, p.113.
[12] Al-Milal wa al-Nihal, vol.1, p.58.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Al-Firaq al-Islamiya, fi al-Shi’r al-Umawi, p.312.
[15] Al-Mu’tazila, pp.51-52.
[16] Al-Milal wa al-Nihal, p.59.
[17] Al-Murtada`, al-Ama`li, vol.1, pp.115-116.
[18] Al-Maqa`la`t, vol.3, p.278.
[19] Al-‘Aqida wa al-Shari’a fi al-Isla`m, p.223.
[20] Dira`sa`t fi al-Firaq wa al-‘Aqa`’id al-Isla`miya, p.115.
[21] Ajwibat al-Masa`’il al-Sa`gha`’iya, p.14.
[22] Dira`sa`t fi al-Firaq wa al-‘Aqa`’id al-Isla`miya, p.115.
[23] Jannat al-Ma’wa`, p.232.
[24] Koran, Saba’, 19.
[25] Al-Ihtija`jj, vol.2, pp.62-63.
[26] Al-Tafsir wa al-Mufasru`n, p.2, p.33.
[27] Wafaya`t al-A’ya`n, vol.1, p.548.
[28] Koran, al-Anbiya`’, 30.
[29] Koran, Ta`ha`, 81.
[30] Roudat al-Wa`’izin, vol.1, p.144.



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