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The Dissector of Knowledge

Baqir al-Uloom [as]Reminding us of our responsibility to gain knowledge is the title of the blessed grandson of Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain. The longer version of his title is Al-Baqir al-‘Uloomin Nabiyyeen, meaning the one who dissects the knowledge of the Prophets.

Baqir al-Uloom [as]As Muslims, we try keep ourselves as informed as possible about religious matters. But where does religious knowledge end and secular knowledge begin – are we supposed to learn only about prayers and supplications, exegesis and narrations, and nothing else? Furthermore, what’s the point of always learning?

To find the answer, one can simply look towards our Infallibles (peace be upon them): all of them were knowledgeable in a diverse range of topics, and the topics were not categorized as “religious” and “secular” topics. Gaining knowledge has always been a part of Islam, and as Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) said: “Learn, for learning is protection. Seeking knowledge is worship, studying it is glorification (of Allah), looking for it is Jihad, teaching it (to others) is alms, and giving it to those who are appropriate for it is proximity (to Allah). Knowledge is the signpost of the garden. It is an intimate in lonesomeness, a companion in exile, a friend in estrangement, a guide to ease, a help against affliction, adornment with friends, and a weapon against enemies. By it, Allah promotes some people to make them Imams (leaders) for good. So, (people) follow their example and report their works. All wet and dry things, the whales and vermin of the sea, and the animals and livestock of the land ask (Allah) to bless them.” (Al-Tadhkira)

Further reminding us of our responsibility to gain knowledge is the title of the blessed grandson of Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain (peace be upon them). The longer version of his title is Al-Baqir al-‘Uloomin Nabiyyeen, meaning the one who dissects the knowledge of the Prophets.

Besides sharing his pearls of wisdom from the vast treasure he had, the Imam also encouraged us to become dissectors of knowledge as well. The teachings of Islam – beautifully all-encompassing of a religion that it is – remind us that to be religious does not mean simply being knowledgeable about Islamic rituals. What kind of religiosity is it to know the history of Ashura like the back of our hands, yet to be completely ignorant of the present-day situation in Palestine? What kind of religiosity is it to shun any talk of science in the name of it being the enemy of religion? Being religious also means to be knowledgeable about the issues around us such as the economy, politics, or the educational system. Islamic knowledge is not limited; it is everything. As Muslims, it is our duty to gain as much knowledge as we can, and to use that knowledge to better serve our Lord.

The ideas of knowledge and serving Allah being linked to each other is not new, since our Infallible leaders have always told us to implement we learn. Indeed, it is only logical to act upon the knowledge once we gain it. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to get a medical prescription for an illness, only to end up not filling it!

During his Imamate, Imam Baqir had the opportunity to spread his wisdom to the Ummah. Learned figures that were famous for their knowledge used to sit before the Imam and listen intently to his words. Hakam bin ‘Utayba, for instance, “with all his reputation and prestige, used to sit at [the Imam’s] pulpit like a child sitting in front of his tutor.” (Islam: Faith, Practice & History) Be it science, economics, philosophy, or any other topic, the Imam was able to explain everything in detail and provide flawless solutions to problems.

In the Imam’s openness to a variety of subjects is a lesson for us as well. Sure, we each choose our field of specialization to study – for some it may be medicine, while for others it may be education. Either way, pursuing a specific subject does not mean closing doors upon all other subjects. Keeping informed about a variety of topics will allow us to make better decisions, and to communicate with different crowds. Our behavior needs to be such that we invite others towards our religion – and this is one way that helps to do so.

Ultimately, any knowledge we seek should be with the intention of wanting to serve the Almighty, to gain nearness to Him, and to know Him. In that regard, Imam Baqir explained: “No act is accepted except through knowing (Allah). No knowledge (of Allah) is accepted except through an act. Whoever knows (Allah) his knowledge leads him to the act. He who does not know (Allah), his action is invalid.” (Tuhaf al-Uqool) If our intention and our knowledge are sincere, then the actions that take us closer to Him will follow.

Such narrations as this are from a vast treasure of Hadith by Imam Baqir, who was able to propagate the Truth more easily under the circumstances than his grandfathers were. Everyone was drawn towards the message of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) through the Imam’s immaculate character and infinite well of knowledge. At the same time, the Umayyad caliph couldn’t stand the God-given power and great nobility of the Imam, so he committed the heinous sin of killing the Imam in a futile attempt to quell the flow of light. On the 7th of Dhil’Hajj, in the year 114 AH, the Imam returned to his Lord. He was laid to rest next to the graves of his grandfather Imam Hasan and his father Imam Zainul Abideen in Jannat al-Baqi.

Yet the light of Imam Baqir lives on in his Shias: whenever we seek knowledge, whenever we act upon that knowledge, and whenever we spread the message of Islam, we spread the pure light of his teachings.

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4 comments

  1. Mistake in article:
    The longer version of his title is Al-Baqir al-‘Uloomin Nabiyyeen

    Correction:
    Bāqir ʿuloom an-Nabiyyīn

    • There is no mistake in the article. The spelling might be different, but grammatically, what you are saying is not right. The Uloom has to have the “al” before it to indicate possession (i.e. digger OF knowledge). This is how his title in mentioned in Arabic books and duas/ziyarats as well.

  2. Salaam,

    Thanks for this insightful article. I agree with many points, especially the point about not ‘closing doors’ on ‘other subjects’. You also raised some important questions at the beginning, which prompted a few more as I was reading through and trying to relate the message to our lives.

    1. Do you see any distinction between ‘ilm’, as defined in the teachings of Ahlul Bayt, and ‘knowledge’, the way we understand this term today in the context of schools and universities?

    2. Next, is ‘knowledge’ synonymous to ‘truth’? Do all kinds of knowledge take one to the truth?

    Further, do you make any distinctions between different forms of ‘knowledge’ — attaining some of which may be obligatory for all (like attaining marifat of God), some conditionally wajib (like knowledge of medicine), some just optional (perhaps… learning history of arts), and some just distracting (perhaps… learning the minute details of NBA stars’ personal life and career moves.)

    Also, are there forms of knowledge that may be harmful?

    Consider the debates on biological and social evolution-s, or the one on intelligent design. Some perspectives in these debates are taught as objective ‘facts’ with the stamp of “science”, while others are rejected as superstition or lacking empirical evidence. If we can agree that ‘knowledge’ as taught in our schools and universities is not a ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ thing but essentially informed by and come with some perspectives, can we also suggest that with the right perspective some kinds of knowledge may be desirable, but without that perspective, they could be harmful?

    The debate between value/faith-based teaching and value/faith-neutral (read: secular) teaching in designing school curriculum is another example illustrating that ‘knowledge’ is shaped by perspectives, and it is also more than just a question of sincerity.

  3. Bāqir ʿuloom an-Nabiyyīn is the correct spelling because it’s like saying: Modeer Madrasat Al-Tollab (the principle of the school of students) , you can’t say Modeer AlMadrasat Altollab….
    That’s how it is spelled in Mafateeh Aljinan…

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