During the early period of Islam, religious doctrine was at the centre of the intellectual life of the community, including its political life; it had not yet become an academic preserve for professional theologians. In an environment such as this, where the early discussions and differences in the community pivoted around the question of who had the right to rule, al-Baqir introduced the idea of a non-rebelling Imamat. This was significant and timely, as many had come to believe by then that the point of claiming Imamat was to bid for power, and specifically, political power. Al-Baqir put forward the view that the institution of the Imamat was hereditary in nature and did not depend upon the “rising” of the Imam.
Another argument espoused by al-Baqir was the conviction that the Prophet had expressly designated and appointed ‘Ali as his successor before his death by nass. This meant that the Imam’s authority ought not to depend on subjective human electors or acclamation by people. The hereditary character of the nass was a crucial point in the doctrine being put forward by al-Baqir.
Furthermore, since the Imam in al-Baqir’s view, was endowed with the hereditary ‘ilm on account of the nass, “true knowledge” was vested in the Imam in the Prophet’s family; not to every member of the Prophet's family. It was thus, he held, that the tradition of the community could not be regarded as a proper source for law; only the traditions from the Imam or the traditions from the Prophet as attested by the Imams could be such a source. The attitude of al-Baqir’s school towards the majority of the early community of the Prophet’s companions, changed the legal pattern of the Shi‘a in subsequent years. The basis of Shi‘i law and theology was to emerge from this attitude and was left to develop within the circle of al-Baqir’s adherents. He thus laid the foundation of a separate school of jurisprudence - the madhhab ahl al-bayt - having different views on many aspects of fiqh.
Arzina R. Lalani received her doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Edinburgh. Formerly a recipient of the Institute's Visiting Research Fellowship (1999-2000) she is currently a Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.