Imam al Baqir and Imamah

Imam Mahdi radiya Llahu ‘anhu: The Awaited Reformer
September 21, 2018
September 27, 2018

Imam al Baqir and Imamah


Previously we discussed: The seclusion of Zayn al ‘Abidin resulted in the Shia aligning themselves to other movements and inevitably wandering into the realm of conjecture. The Kaysaniyyah were the pioneers of this thought process but it would no longer be restricted to them only. The stage having been set, the era of Imam al Baqir saw a number of new theories being introduced into the Shia world.

Amongst the Kaysaniyyah were those who believed that leadership had passed onto his son, ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad, known as Abu Hashim. They were called the Hashimiyyah. Upon the death of Abu Hashim again they became divided as they did on the demise of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah, and four theories emerged:

  1. Abu Hashim has died and his brother, ‘Ali, is the Imam and his successor.
  2. ‘Abdullah ibn Muawiyah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Jafar is the Imam and his successor.

This group became known as the Harithiyyah because ‘Abdullah ibn Harith promoted it.

  1. Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas is the Imam and his successor.

They became known as the Rawandiyyah.

  1. Abu Hashim is the promised Mahdi.

These were the followers of Bayan al Nahdi, and were thus dubbed the Bayaniyyah. Bayan al Nahdi later claimed to be a Nabi and even wrote to Imam al Baqir forewarning him not to deny his Prophethood.[1]

The Shia who ascribed to each of these sects would become further sub-divided, their followers either claiming them to be the Mahdi in occultation, believing in the succession of the son, or ‘bestowing’ upon them divinity and claiming prophethood for themselves.

Al Nawbakhti writes in detail about the formation of these sects within the Shia and also documents their extremist beliefs which had not existed previously. It is ironic however that many of those beliefs which he deemed extremist became part and parcel of present-day Twelver Shi’ism. The underlying reason for this assimilation into mainstream Shi’ism is that the deviants and founders of these sub-sects make up the core of the Twelver Shia tradition.

While the bulk of the Shia were justifying the leadership for ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al Hanafiyyah, ‘Abdullah ibn Muawiyah, Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al ‘Abbasi, or for the claim that Abu Hashim is the Mahdi; a minority group posited another theory that Muhammad al Baqir was the Imam after Zayn al ‘Abidin. The advocates of this view attempted to consolidate the Imamah for al Baqir using the argument of “possessing the weapon of the Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam”. And so another theory emerged.

Muhammad ibn Hasan al Saffar reports from al Baqir:

The position of the weapon to us is similar to the ark of the Bani Isra’il, wherever it is found that will be where leadership will be. So wherever the weapon is found that is where knowledge is.[2]


Even at this point there is no mention of divine appointment, but rather entitlement is being argued on the basis of possessing the sword of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

However the adherents of this view were very small in number, the majority of the Shia either following Zaid or Abu Hashim. Sayed Husain M. Jafri writes in his The Origins and early development of Shi’a Islam:

The fact remains unchallenged that after Hussain’s death the majority of the Shia’s followed Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah and not Zayn al ‘Abidin. Though the Tawwabun, as we have seen, thought of the latter as their prospective Imam, even the remnants of the Tawwabun who survived the battle of Ayn al Warda were attracted by Mukhtar to the side of Ibn al Hanafiyyah.[3]


He continues:

Thus the Mahdism of Ibn al Hanafiyyah soon became the order of the day among the Shia of Kufah. And, in course of time, the idea was popularly spread and accepted by the people and developed its own doctrines and dogma, legends and beliefs… The majority of the Shia thus in that particular period became the followers of the Mahdi-Imam attached to the person of Ibn al Hanafiyyah, and eclipsed, though only for a short period of time, the Imams from the line of Hussain.[4]


The pivots of this movement used the possession of the Prophet’s sword as proof against the Kaysaniyyah, and its sub-sects of the Harithiyyah, Rawandiyyah, Bayaniyyah, and the Zaidiyyah—who claimed the Imamah for Baqir’s brother Zaid—and even against the Hasanids who would later rebel against the Abbasids.

It is alleged that Imam al Baqir said, while addressing his rival claimants from the Ahlul Bayt:

Can’t they say with whom is the weapon of the Prophet of Allah? The sign that was on his sword was also on his two sides. If they but know.[5]


A legend was soon brought into circulation of ‘Ali Zaynul ‘Abidin summoning al Baqir and officially passing the ‘torch’ to him. Muhammad ibn Hassan al Saffar, one of the leading Shia scholars of the third century , used to say:

‘Ali ibn Hussain preferred his son, Muhammad al Baqir, at the time of his death with possessing of the shield that contain the weapon of the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.


Using this argument against the Zaidis—the followers of Zaid ibn ‘Ali—the Shia created an image of jealousy and rivalry between the members of the Ahlul Bayt. Al Saffar reports:

His (al Baqir’s) brothers challenged him on it (having sole possession of the sword) and he said to them, “By Allah, you have no right to it. If you had any right, he would not have given it to me.”[6]


The Shia were willing to portray the Ahlul Bayt as people constantly complaining, bickering, and vying with one another for power. Uncle is depicted to be against nephew, cousin against cousin, and even brother against brother; each uttering unfathomable condemnation for the other. The reputation of the Ahlul Bayt was readily sacrificed but not the false notions they ascribed to them.

The observant would have noticed the Shia doctrine of Imamah slowly starting to take shape, but it is still far from crystallization. If the Twelver doctrine of Imamah truly existed and was transmitted by the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and his Companions from the Ahlul Bayt then surely textual evidence would be the weightiest proof against those who opposed this divine line. Even more surprising is that the so-called rival claimants are no longer the likes of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman or even Muawiyah—who are deemed enemies of the Ahlul Bayt and avidly cursed—but now the enemy has become those very individuals who share the blood of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and form part of his Ahlul Bayt. If leadership had been declared for these Twelve Imams why did their own Ahlul Bayt not hold true to this declaration? Why did their partisans not testify to their Imamah but rather differed with each other concerning this?

The attitudes of the Shia and their irreconcilable differences reveal a conflicting portrait of Shi’ism when compared to the sketch of present-day Shia literature and the haughty proclamations of Shia Da’is, keenly observed in Shia Islam: A Beginners guide:

The story told in the Twelver Shia history books of an orderly succession of twelve Imams, each with a large following and believing the same doctrines as present day Twelver Shias, is largely a backward projection of the final stage; the past reconstructed in the image of the norms of the present. In so far as we can reconstruct the past, it was probably very different and much more complex than the simple picture told by the later Shia historians.

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[1] Firaq al Shia p. 28-30

[2] Basa’ir p.172

[3] Chapter 9 p. 167

[4] Ibid p. 168

[5] Basa’ir p. 178

[6] Basa’ir 180

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