Biography of Muhammad al-Baqir (d. 732) in al-Dhahabi’s “Siyar A’lam al-Nubala'” (ca. 1340)

The following is a more-or-less complete translation (I have indicated the brief sections I have excluded) of the section on Imam Muhammad al-Baqir as it is found in the Siyar A’lam al-Nubala’ by the fourteenth-century Damascene historian and hadith expert Shams al-Dīn Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Dhahabī (d. 1348). While the portrait of Muhammad al-Baqir in al-Dhahabī’s work differs in significant ways than his portrayal in other Sunni works, it does provide an insight into how this figure was viewed by scholarly circles in the Levant during the fourteenth century. It should certainly be understood that al-Dhahabī’s representation is only one Sunni perspective of Muhammad al-Bāqir and does not provide a comprehensive view of this illustrious scholar. For a more nuanced understanding of al-Bāqir, I would recommend reading this translation alongside relevant sections from Shaykh al-Mufid’s Kitāb al-Irshād or the following article: It will especially show how al-Dhahabī’s presentation contains a strongly Sunni polemical perspective, especially with the inclusion of the various traditions relating to the first two caliphs (in addition to the reference about the uncreatedness of the Qur’an). This is not to say any of these traditions are fabricated or untrue; only that their specific inclusion and organization in this biographical section were clearly intended to make a particular statement about al-Baqir’s doctrinal affiliation. 

Abū Ja‘far al-Bāqir

He is the noble descendant of the Prophet and the Imam Abū Ja‘far Muhammad b. ‘Alī b. al-Ḥusayn b. ‘Alī, the Alid from the descendants of Fāṭima, and known also as al-Madanī [the one from Medina]. He was the son of Zayn al-‘Ābidīn and was born in 56 A.H. [676 A.D.], which was within the lifetime of ‘Ā’isha and Abū Hurayra. This has been noted by Ahmad b. al-Barqī.

He narrated hadith from his ancestors—the Prophet Muhammad, ‘Alī [b. Abī Ṭālib], al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn with mursal chains of narration. He also narrated from Ibn ‘Abbās, Abū Hurayra, Samura b. Jundub, Umm Salama, ‘Ā’isha with mursal chains of narration. Other individuals he narrated from include Ibn ‘Umar, Jābir, Abī Sa‘īd, ‘Abd Allāh b. Ja‘far, Sa‘īd b. al-Musayyib, his father Zayn al-‘Ābidīn, and Muhammad b. al-Ḥanafīyya. With regard to hadith, he was similar to his father and his son Ja‘far; all three combined do not narrate a considerably large number of hadith. However, they each produced jurisprudence and issued fatwas. The people who narrated hadith from him include his son [Ja‘far], ‘Aṭā’ b. Abī Rabāh, al-A‘raj, ‘Amr b. Dinār, Abū Yahya al-Sabī‘ī, al-Zuhrī, Yahya b. Abī Kathīr, Rabī‘a al-Rayyī, Layth b. Abī Sulaym, Ibn Juryaj, Qurra b. Khālid, Ḥajjāj b. Artah, al-A‘mash, Mukhawwal b. Rāshid, Ḥarb b. Surayj, al-Qāsim b. al-Faḍl al-Ḥuddānī, al-Awzā‘ī and others. His narrations from al-Ḥasan and ‘Ā’isha can be found in Sunan al-Nasā’ī with a munqaṭi‘ chain of narration, and his narrations from Samura are found in the Sunan Abī Dawūd.

He was an individual who possessed all the virtues of religious knowledge, pious works, wisdom, honor, trustworthiness, nobility, dignity and solemnity. He was entitled to the caliphate. He was one of the Twelve Imams followed by the Imami Shi’ites and to whom they ascribe infallibility and absolute knowledge of the faith. Only the prophets and angels possess infallibility, while ordinary human beings could be right or wrong [in their judgments] and thus their words are either followed or abandoned; except in the case of the Prophet, who was in fact infallible and divinely-guided by Revelation.

Abū Ja‘far was famously known as al-Bāqir, a term that derives from “baqara al-‘ilmi” meaning the “revealer of knowledge,” a reference to his ability to know the various forms of knowledge, the apparent and the hidden. Abū Ja‘far was an Imam, a qualified jurist (mujtahid), an interpreter of the Book of God, one of great stature; however his knowledge of the Qur’ān was not as great as that of Ibn Kathīr and others like him; nor was his ability in jurisprudence as notable as that of Abī al-Zannād and Rabī‘a; nor was his knowledge of hadith on the level of Qatada and Ibn Shihāb. This is not to lessen his eminence, but it is only to say that we assess his merits for what they are; we neither show him especially strong preference nor consider him lesser than anyone else. We love him for the sake of God Almighty for what he possessed from the degrees of perfection.

Ibn Fuḍayl narrated from Sālim b. Abī Hafṣa who said: “I asked Abū Ja‘far and his son Ja‘far about Abū Bakr and ‘Umar, and they told me: ‘O Sālim, you should affiliate yourself with with them and disassociate from their enemies, for verily they were from among the leaders of guidance (imāmay al-huda).’” Sālim openly exhibited an adherence to Shi‘ism, and thus this narration appears to be authentic. Moreover, excellence is recognized for the possessors of excellence by the people of excellence, and likewise Ibn Fuḍayl was a Shi‘i and a trustworthy narrator of hadith. The Shi’ites of our own era, however, who are full of ignorance and lies, have a strong hatred for the shaykhayn [Abū Bakr and ‘Umar], the advisers of the Prophet Muhammad, and proclaim these words of al-Bāqir and al-Ṣādiq to fall under the category of dissimulation (taqīyya).

Ishāq al-Azraq narrated from Bassām al-Ṣayrafī who said: “I asked al-Bāqir about Abū Bakr and ‘Umar, and he said: ‘By God, I will affiliate myself with them (li-atawallāhuma) and ask forgiveness for them, and I do not know of anyone else in my family (ahl baytī) who did other than affiliated themselves with them.’”

‘Abd Allāh b. Muhammad b. ‘Aqīl said: “Abū Ja‘far used to pray 150 rak‘as during the day and night.” Al-Nasā’ī and others have counted him from among the great Successors [to the Companions] of Medina, and the interpreters of the Qur’ān have a consensus regarding the authority of his opinions. Al-Qaṭī‘ī stated in his Fawā’id: “Abū Muslim al-Kajjī informed us that he heard from Abū ‘Āṣim who heard from Ja‘far b. Muhammad, who heard from his father [al-Bāqir]: ‘‘Umar [b. al-Khaṭṭāb] was unsure about how to treat the Zoroastrians, so ‘Abd al-Rahmān related to him from the Prophet: ‘Treat them the same way you treat the People of the Book.’” This hadith has a mursal chain.

Al-Zubayr b. Bakkār said: “Muhammad b. ‘Alī was known by the title ‘the Revealer of Knowledge’ (Bāqir al-‘Ilm), and his mother was Umm ‘Abd Allāh b. al-Ḥasan b. ‘Alī.”

[Some poems praising him follow]

Ibn ‘Uqda—Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allāh b. Abī Nujayh—‘Alī b. Ḥassān al-Qurashī—his uncle, ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. Kathīr—from Ja‘far b. Muhammad who said: “My father said: ‘My grandfather al-Ḥusayn sat me in his lap and told me that the Prophet of God (peace and blessings be upon him) sends you his greetings.”

Ābān b. Taghlib narrated from Muhammad b. ‘Alī who said: “Jābir b. ‘Abd Allāh came to me and said…the Prophet of God ordered me to convey his greetings to you.”

Luwayn narrated from Abū Ya‘qūb ‘Abd Allāh b. Yahya, who said: “I saw Abū Ja‘far wearing a yellow belt, and he used to pray 150 rak’as a day. And when asked about the interpretation of Q. 15: 75 (“for those who possess intelligence”), Salama b. Kuhayl stated that Abū Ja‘far is from among those to whom the verse refers.

Al-Zubayr stated in al-Nasab that it was narrated to him from ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. ‘Abd Allāh al-Zuhrī who said: “the caliph Hishām [ibn ‘Abd al-Malik] performed the pilgrimage and entered the holy sanctuary while leaning upon the hand of Sālim, his servant, and saw that Muhammad b. ‘Alī b. al-Ḥusayn was seated. Sālim told Hishām: ‘O Commander of the Faithful, this is Muhammad b. ‘Alī.’ The caliph replied: ‘The one upon whom the people of Iraq rely upon for their religious verdicts?’ Sālim said yes. Hishām told Sālim to go to [al-Bāqir] and to tell him: ‘The Commander of the Faithful asks you to explain to him how people shall be gathered on the Day of Resurrection.’ Muhammad replied to Sālim correctly, and upon seeing that [al-Bāqir] had triumphed the caliph exclaimed ‘God is great’ and said to Sālim: ‘Ask him why it is that the people will not eat and drink on that day.’ Al-Bāqir told Sālim to tell Hishām: ‘They shall be in Hellfire and will say: ‘Let some of your water, or some of God’s provisions to you flow towards us’ [Q. 7: 50].”

Al-Muṭṭalib b. Ziyād narrated from Layth b. Abī Sulaym who said: “I entered into the presence of Abū Ja‘far b. ‘Alī while he was recounting his sins and the various things people said about him, and he was in tears.’ Abū Ja‘far narrated: “The one in whose heart the pureness of faith enters will not be troubled by anything else.”

Narrated Jābir al-Ju‘fī from Muhammad b. ‘Alī who said: “The sons of Fāṭima have all agreed to speak only the best of things about Abū Bakr and ‘Umar.” Indeed, Umm Farwa b. al-Qāsim b. Muhammad b. Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq was the wife of Abū Ja‘far al-Bāqir, and the mother of his son Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq.

Muhammad b. Ṭalha b. Muṣrif narrated from Khalaf b. Ḥawshab, who narrated from Sālim b. Abī Ḥafṣa who was an extremist Shi’ite, who said: “I entered into the presence of Abū Ja‘far when he was ill and he said (and I think he said the following for my sake): ‘O God, I affiliate myself with and love Abū Bakr and ‘Umar, and by God if there was anything contradictory to this within my own soul then deny me the intercession of Muhammad on the Day of Resurrection.’”

‘Īsa b. Yūnus narrated from ‘Abd al-Malik b. Abī Sulaymān who said: “I asked Muhammad b. ‘Alī [to explain the following verse]: ‘Verily your guardians are God, his Prophet and those who believe’ [Q. 5: 55] and he replied: ‘This refers to the Companions of the Prophet.’ I told him that people believed that it referred to ‘Alī. He said: “‘Alī is one of them.’

Bassām related: “I heard Abū Ja‘far say: ‘al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn used to pray behind Marwān [b. al-Ḥakam, Umayyad governor of Medina], even though al-Ḥusayn used to openly and publicly curse Marwān while he gave his sermon on the pulpit.” [Al-Dhahabī:] Is this also considered dissimulation?!


Ishāq al-Saffār—Ibn Khalīl—Abū al-Makārim al-Taymī—Abū ‘Alī al-Muqri’—Abu Nu‘aym—‘Alī b. Ahad al-Miṣīṣī—Ahmad b. Khulayd—Abu Nu‘aym—from Bassām al-Sayrafī who said: “I asked Abū Ja‘far Muhammad b. ‘Alī about the Qur’ān and he said: ‘It is the uncreated word of God.”

Abū Nu‘aym—Muhammad b. ‘Alī b. Ḥubaysh—Ibrāhīm ibn Shurayk—‘Uqba b. Mukrim—Yūnus b. Bukayr—Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Ju‘fī—from ‘Urwa b. ‘Abd Allāh who said: “I asked Abū Ja‘far Muhammad b. ‘Alī about the ornamentation of swords. He said that it was a valid practice since Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq had ornamented his sword. I said: “And you call him al-Ṣiddīq?!”At this, he got up and looked towards the qibla and said: ‘Yes, al-Ṣiddiq; yes, al-Ṣiddīq! For verily, whoever does not say ‘al-Ṣiddīq’ [in reference to Abū Bakr], God shall not accept the truthfulness of his words in this world or the next.’”

‘Umar, the servant of Ghufra, narrated from Muhammad b. ‘Alī who said: “Never has arrogance entered into a person’s heart except that their intellect decreased by an equal measure.”

Abū Ja‘far said: “Lightning strikes both the believer and the unbeliever, but it does not strike the one who constantly remembers God.” He also stated: “Bad language is the weapon of the lowly and wretched.”

Abū Ja‘far died in Medina in 114 A.H. [732 A.D.]. It has also been said that he died in 117 A.H. [735 A.D.]. From among the most authentic of his narrations: ‘Alī b. Muhammad—‘Umar b. Muhammad—‘Abd al-Wahhāb al-Anmāṭī—Abu Muhammad b. Hazarmard—Ibn Ḥababa—Abū al-Qāsim al-Baghawī—‘Alī ibn al-Ja‘d—al-Qāsim b. al-Faḍl—who narrated from Muhammad b. ‘Alī who said: ‘Umm Salama said that the Prophet of God said: ‘Pilgrimage is the jihad of every weak person.”

[al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubalā’ (Beirut, 1981), Vol. 4: 401–409]


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