Imam Al-Baqir (AS) the son of Imam Al-Sajjad (AS), was born in Medina 676 AD and died in 743 in the same city. He was 36 when his father passed away. His mother was the daughter of Imam Hasan. He was the first of the Imams to have parents who were both descendants of Imam Ali (AS) and Fatimah (AS). His virtuous mother breast-fed him, a mother whom Imam Al-Sadiq (AS) heaps praise on for her virtues. (Kafi) From the time of his adolescence, Imam Al-Baqir (AS) was famous for being knowledgeable, pious and virtuous.
He regularly found solutions to the intellectual problems of Muslims. During his eighteen years of Imamate, the following Umayyad rulers were in power: Walid ibn Abd al-Malik, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik, Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, Yazid ibn Abd al-Malik and Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik. Aside from Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz, all were dreaded dictators and always caused problems for Imam Al-Baqir (AS).
Walid ibn Abdul-Malik took power in 86 AH and died ten years later. He expanded his territories, but he owed these conquests to the concept of Jihad which the Prophet (PBUH) had introduced to the Muslim community. Walid had named corrupt figures as governors to rule over the Muslims and these governors had tightened the noose around people’s necks. One of these governors was Hajjaj ibn Yusuf Al-Thaqafi, a butcher and a tyrant. He was appointed governor of Iraq where he massacred innocent people and tortured many others harshly.
Sulayman ibn Abdul-Malik took over from his brother. He died in 99 AH. During his reign, Muslims conquered some other territories. In the beginning of his rule, he showed some flexibility and released some innocent prisoners. But he was not unfamiliar with oppression and he purged some of his governors. (Tarikh Siyasi-i Islam) He was also a self-indulgent hedonist who promoted decadence; he used to pass most of his time with his harem of wives. This attitude spread to his governors and the state gradually slid into decadence. (Ibid)
Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz succeeded Sulayman. He managed to fight the corruption and discrimination of his predecessors to some extent. He banned the shameful custom of cursing the Shia Imams (AS) from the pulpit. This practice dated back to the time of Muawiyah. He died in 101 AH. After his death, Yazid ibn Abdul-Malik came to power. This man openly flouted religious and moral principles, and had no other goal but personal enjoyment. The reign of Yazid ibn Abdul-Malik marks one of the darkest periods of Umayyad rule in history; his predecessors used to recount ancient stories of Arabs to pass their leisure time, but Yazid institutionalized singing and dancing. He invited singers and entertainers from remote regions to Damascus. He also promoted gambling and games of chance in the Arab society. (Ibid)
Stories of Yazid ibn Abdul-Malik and his two favourite wives, Sallama and Habbaba, are famous (Ibid). He finally died in 105 AH. He was succeeded by Hisham ibn Abdul-Malik who was greedy, violent and utterly ruthless. He was an extremely unpopular ruler and faced uprisings against his rule. He quelled Zayd ibn Ali’s (AS) uprising and had him hanged. He died in 125 AH.
Despite the cruel rule of these caliphs, Imam al-Baqir pursued an intellectual path and laid the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic school. His efforts came to fruition during the Imamate of his son, Jaʿfar Sadiq.
The Shia Imams have all safeguarded Islam through guiding the ordinary people. Every Imam had his own method for this depending on the conditions in which he lived. The difficult conditions which Imam al-Baqir faced did allow him to do more than spread Islamic teachings. Imam Sajjad (AS) and Imam Al-Baqir (AS) were mostly active underground because government repression was so harsh.
The caliphs were outraged to hear that the Imam was secretly active, so Imam Al-Baqir (AS) and his son were summoned by the caliph of their time to be questioned about their activities. At a time the Prophet’s (PBUH) Ahadith were banned, the Imam familiarized Muslims with Islamic teachings. He nurtured Companions who went on to become hadith collectors or jurists; Muhammad bin Muslim, Zurara bin Aʿyan, Abu Basir and Barid ibn Muawiyah amongst them. Imam Al-Sadiq (AS) has praised these four individuals, saying: ‘Four people revived the school and traditions of my father.’ (Rijāl Kashshī)
Muhammad bin Muslim, a jurist, learnt 30,000 traditions from Imam al-Baqir and 16,000 traditions from Imam al-Sadiq. Another disciple of Imam Al-Baqir (AS) was Jabir al-Juʿfi who recorded 70,000 traditions from the Imam. (Aʿyan al-Shia) Hisham feared the popularity of Imam Al-Baqir (AS) and his son, Imam Al-Sadiq (AS). He ordered the governor of Medina to invite them both to come to Syria. Hisham sought a lot to humiliate them, but a debate between Imam Al-Baqir (AS) and a Christian archbishop ended in success for the Shia Imam (AS). The people of Syria became aware of the event and Hisham had no option but to let both return to Medina. (Bihar Al-Anwar) Imam Al-Baqir (AS) was poisoned by agents of Hisham ibn Abdul-Malik and died in 743 AD. He was laid to rest near his father in the Baqi Cemetery in Medina.