Ali ibn Abi Talib (Arabic: عَلِي ابْن أَبِي طَالِب, romanized: ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib; 13 September 601 – 29 January 661) was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the last prophet of Islam. He ruled as the fourth caliph from 656 to 661, but is regarded as the rightful immediate successor to Muhammad as an Imam by Shia Muslims.
|Ali ibn Abi Talib|
Calligraphic representation of Ali's name
|4th Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate |
|Predecessor||Uthman ibn Affan|
|Successor||Hasan ibn Ali|
|1st Imam of Shia Islam|
|Successor||Hasan ibn Ali (2nd Imam)|
|Born||15 September 601 (13 Rajab 21 BH)|
Mecca, Hijaz, Arabia
(present-day Saudi Arabia)
|Died||29 January 661 (21 Ramadan AH 40)|
Kufa, Mesopotamia, Rashidun Caliphate
|Tribe||Quraysh (Banu Hashim)|
|Father||Abu Talib ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib|
|Mother||Fatimah bint Asad|
|Religion||Hanif (as of 610)/Islam|
ʿAlī bin Abī Ṭālib
ʿAlī bin Abī Ṭālib by Hakob Hovnatanyan (c. 19th century)
|Sunnism: Rightly-Guided Caliph|
Shiism: First Imam
All Islam: Ahl al-Bayt, Ṣaḥābī, Martyr; Commander of the Faithful, One Promised Paradise, The Door to the City of Knowledge, One whom God Favored, The Great News, Leader of the God-conscious, Lion of God, Brave-heart, Leader of the Knights of God, Father of the Dust, King of the Saints, Leader of the Saints
|Venerated in||All Islam (Salafis honor rather than venerate him).|
|Major shrine||Imam Ali Mosque, Najaf, Iraq|
Ali was born inside the sacred sanctuary of the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, to Abu Talib and Fatimah bint Asad. He was the first male who accepted Islam. Ali protected Muhammad from an early age and took part in almost all the battles fought by the nascent Muslim community. After migrating to Medina, he married Muhammad's daughter Fatimah. He was appointed caliph by Muhammad's companions in 656, after Caliph Uthman ibn Affan was assassinated. Ali's reign saw civil wars and in 661, he was attacked and assassinated by a Kharijite while praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa.
Ali is important to both Shias and Sunnis, politically and spiritually. The numerous biographical sources about Ali are often biased according to sectarian lines, but they agree that he was a pious Muslim, devoted to the cause of Islam and a just ruler in accordance with the Qur'an and the Sunnah. While Sunnis consider Ali the fourth and final of the Rashidun (rightly guided) caliphs, Shia Muslims regard Ali as the first Imam after Muhammad due to their interpretation of the events at Ghadir Khumm. Shia Muslims also believe that Ali and the other Shia Imams (all of whom are from the Ahl al-Bayt, Muhammad's household) are the rightful successors to Muhammad. Ali has also received recognition from a variety of non-Muslim organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Organization for Human Rights, for his governance and social justice.
- 1 Life in Mecca
- 2 Life in Medina
- 3 Caliphate
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Virtues
- 6 Family life
- 7 Views
- 8 Historiography
- 9 See also
- 10 Footnotes
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Bibliography
- 14 External links
Life in Mecca
Ali's father, Abu Talib, was the custodian of the Ka'bah and a sheikh of Banu Hashim, an important branch of the powerful Quraysh tribe. He was also an uncle of Muhammad, and had raised Muhammad after Abdul Muttalib (Abu Talib's father and Muhammad's grandfather) died. Ali's mother, Fatima bint Asad, also belonged to Banu Hashim, making Ali a descendant of Ismā'īl (Ishmael) the son of Ibrāhīm (Abraham). Many sources, especially Shi'i ones, attest that Ali was born inside the Kaaba in the city of Mecca, where he stayed with his mother for three days. His mother reportedly felt the beginning of her labour pain while visiting the Kaaba and entered it where her son was born. Some Shia sources contain miraculous descriptions of the entrance of Ali's mother into the Kaaba. Ali's birth in the Kaaba is regarded as a unique event proving his "high spiritual station" among Shia, while Sunni scholars consider it a great, if not unique, distinction.
According to a tradition, Muhammad was the first person whom Ali saw as he took the newborn in his hands. Muhammad named him Ali, meaning "the exalted one". Muhammad had a close relationship with Ali's parents. When Muhammad was orphaned and later lost his grandfather Abdul Muttalib, Ali's father took him into his house. Ali was born two or three years after Muhammad married Khadijah bint Khuwaylid. When Ali was five years old, Muhammad took Ali into his home to raise him. Some historians say that this was because there was a famine in Mecca at the time and that Ali's father had a large family to support; however, others point out that feeding Ali would not have been a burden on his father, as Ali was five years old at the time and, despite the famine, Ali's father, who was financially well-off, was known for giving food to strangers if they were hungry. While it is not disputed that Muhammad raised Ali, it was not due to any financial stress that Ali's father was going through.
Acceptance of Islam
Ali had been living with Muhammad and Muhammad's wife Khadija since he was five years old. When Ali was nine, Muhammad announced himself as the Prophet of Islam, and Ali became the first male to accept Islam. He was the second person, after Khadija, to accept Islam. According to Sayed Ali Asgher Razwy in A Restatement of the History of Islam & Muslims, "Ali and [the] Qur'an 'grew up' together as 'twins' in the house of Muhammad Mustafa and Khadija-tul-Kubra."
The second period of Ali's life began in 610 when he declared Islam at the age of 9, and ended with the Hijra of Muhammad to Medina in 622. When Muhammad reported that he had received a divine revelation, Ali, then only about nine years old, believed him and professed to Islam. Ali became the first male to embrace Islam. Shia doctrine asserts that in keeping with Ali's divine mission, he accepted Islam before he took part in any old Meccan traditional religious rites, regarded by Muslims as polytheistic (see shirk) or paganistic. Hence the Shia say of Ali that his face is honoured, as it was never sullied by prostrations before idols. The Sunnis also use the honorific Karam Allahu Wajhahu, which means "God's Favour upon his Face." The reason his acceptance is often not called a conversion is because he was never an idol worshipper like the people of Mecca. He was known to have broken idols in the mould of Abraham and asked people why they worshipped something they made themselves. Ali's grandfather, along with some members of the Bani Hashim clan, were Hanifs, or followers of a monotheistic belief system prior to the emergence of Islam in Mecca.
Feast of Dhul Asheera
Muhammad invited people to Islam in secret for three years before he started inviting them publicly. In the fourth year of his preaching, when Muhammad was commanded to invite his close relatives to come to Islam, he gathered the Banu Hashim clan in a ceremony. At the banquet, he was about to invite them to Islam when Abu Lahab interrupted him, after which everyone left the banquet. The Prophet ordered Ali to invite the 40 people again. The second time, Muhammad announced Islam to them and invited them to join. He said to them:
I offer thanks to Allah for His mercies. I praise Allah, and I seek His guidance. I believe in Him and I put my trust in Him. I bear witness that there is no god except Allah; He has no partners; and I am His messenger. Allah has commanded me to invite you to His religion by saying: And warn thy nearest kinsfolk. I, therefore, warn you, and call upon you to testify that there is no god but Allah, and that I am His messenger. O ye sons of Abdul Muttalib, no one ever came to you before with anything better than what I have brought to you. By accepting it, your welfare will be assured in this world and in the Hereafter. Who among you will support me in carrying out this momentous duty? Who will share the burden of this work with me? Who will respond to my call? Who will become my vicegerent, my deputy and my wazir?
Ali was the only one to answer Muhammad's call. Muhammad told him to sit down, saying, "Wait! Perhaps someone older than you might respond to my call." Muhammad then asked the members of Banu Hashim a second time. Once again, Ali was the only one to respond, and again, Muhammad told him to wait. Muhammad then asked the members of Banu Hashim a third time; Ali was still the only volunteer. This time, Ali's offer was accepted by Muhammad. Muhammad "drew [Ali] close, pressed him to his heart, and said to the assembly: 'This is my wazir, my successor and my vicegerent. Listen to him and obey his commands.'" In another narration, when Muhammad accepted Ali's eager offer, Muhammad "threw up his arms around the generous youth, and pressed him to his bosom" and said, "Behold my brother, my vizir, my vicegerent...Let all listen to his words, and obey him." Upon hearing this, the sons of Abd al-Muttalib departed from the feast, mocking Muhammad's words, as they scoffed at Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib, "He has ordered you to listen and obey your son!".:17 In Tarikh ut-Tabari and as-Seerat ul Halabiyya, it has been recorded that Abu Talib asks his son Ali, "What is this belief you are following?" to which Ali replies, "Father, I have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and have given credence to him, kept to him, and followed him."
During the oppression of Muslims
Migration to Medina
In 622, the year of Muhammad's migration to Yathrib (now Medina), Ali risked his life by sleeping in Muhammad's bed to impersonate him, thereby thwarting an assassination attempt and ensuring Muhammad's escape. This night is called Laylat al-Mabit. According to some ahadith, a verse was revealed about Ali concerning his sacrifice on the night of Hijra which says "And among men is he who sells his nafs (self) in exchange for the pleasure of Allah."
Ali survived the plot, but risked his life again by staying in Mecca to carry out Muhammad's instructions: to restore to their owners all the goods and properties that had been entrusted to Muhammad for safekeeping. Ali then went to Medina with Fatimah bint Asad (his mother), Fatimah bint Muhammad (Muhammad's daughter), and two other women.
Life in Medina
Ali was 22 or 23 years old when he migrated to Medina. When Muhammad was creating bonds of brotherhood among his companions, he selected Ali as his brother, claiming that "Ali and I belong to the same tree, while people belong to different trees." For the ten years that Muhammad led the community in Medina, Ali was extremely active in his service as his secretary and deputy, serving in his armies, the bearer of his banner in every battle, leading parties of warriors on raids, and carrying messages and orders. As one of Muhammad's lieutenants, and later his son-in-law, Ali was a person of authority and standing in the Muslim community.
With the exception of the Battle of Tabouk, Ali took part in all battles and expeditions fought for Islam. As well as being the standard-bearer in those battles, Ali led parties of warriors on raids into enemy lands.
Ali first distinguished himself as a warrior in 624 at the Battle of Badr. The battle began with Ali defeating the Meccan champion Walid ibn Utba; one historian described Ali's opening victory at the battle as "the signal of the triumph of Islam." Ali also killed many other Meccan soldiers in the battle—according to Muslim tradition, between twenty and thirty-five, with most agreeing on twenty-seven, while all the other Muslims combined killed another twenty-seven.
Ali played a major role in the Battle of Uhud, as well as many other battles, where he wielded a bifurcated sword known as Zulfiqar. He had the special role of protecting Muhammad when most of the Muslim army fled from the battle of Uhud and it was said "There is no brave youth except Ali and there is no sword which renders service except Zulfiqar." He commanded the Muslim army in the Battle of the Trench, where he defeated the legendary Arab warrior Amr ibn Abd al-Wud. Muhammad made Ali commander at this battle, claiming that "I will hand the standard to a man who loves Allah and His Messenger and is loved by Allah and His Messenger. He will come back with conquest." Following this battle Muhammad gave Ali the name Asadullāh (which means "Lion of God") and reportedly praised him, saying "Ali's strike on Amr ibn Abd al-Wud is greater than the worship of both mankind and jinn until the Day of Judgement." Ali also defended Muhammad in the Battle of Hunayn in 630.
Missions for Islam
Muhammad designated Ali as one of the scribes who would write down the text of the Quran, which had been revealed to Muhammad during the previous two decades. As Islam began to spread throughout Arabia, Ali helped establish the new Islamic order. He was instructed to write down the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the peace treaty between Muhammad and the Quraysh, in 628. Ali was so trustworthy that Muhammad asked him to carry the messages and declare the orders. In 630, Ali recited to a large gathering of pilgrims in Mecca a portion of the Quran that declared Muhammad and the Islamic community no longer bound by agreements made earlier with Arab polytheists. During the Conquest of Mecca in 630, Muhammad asked Ali to guarantee that the conquest would be bloodless. He ordered Ali to break all the idols worshiped by the Banu Aus, Banu Khazraj, Tayy, and those in the Ka'bah to purify it after its defilement by the polytheism of old times. Ali was sent to Yemen one year later to spread the teachings of Islam. He was also charged with settling several disputes and putting down the uprisings of various tribes.
Event of Mubahalah
According to hadith collections, in 631, an Arab Christian envoy from Najran (currently in northern Yemen and partly in Saudi Arabia) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning 'Isa (Jesus). After likening Jesus' miraculous birth to Adam's creation, Muhammad called them to mubahala (conversation), where each party should bring their knowledgeable men, women and children, and ask God to curse the lying party and their followers. Muhammad, to prove to them that he was a prophet, brought his daughter Fatimah, 'Ali and his grandchildren Hasan and Husayn. He went to the Christians and said "this is my family" and covered himself and his family with a cloak. According to Muslim sources, when one of the Christian monks saw their faces, he advised his companions to withdraw from Mubahala for the sake of their lives and families. Thus the Christian monks vanished from Mubahala. According to Allameh Tabatabaei's Tafsir al-Mizan, the word "Our selves" in this verse refers to Muhammad and Ali. Then he narrates that Imam Ali al-Rida, eighth Shia Imam, in discussion with Al-Ma'mun, Abbasid caliph, referred to this verse to prove the superiority of Muhammad's progeny over the rest of the Muslim community, and considered it proof of Ali's right to the caliphate due to God having made Ali like the self of Muhammad.
As Muhammad was returning from his last pilgrimage in 632, he made statements about Ali that are interpreted very differently by Sunnis and Shias. He halted the caravan at Ghadir Khumm, gathered the returning pilgrims for communal prayer and began to address them.
According to the Encyclopedia of Islam:
Taking Ali by the hand, he asked of his faithful followers whether he, Muhammad, was not closer (awlā) to the Believers than they were to themselves; the crowd cried out: "It is so, O Apostle of God!"; he then declared: "He of whom I am the mawla, of him Ali is also the mawla (man kuntu mawlāhu fa-ʿAlī mawlāhu)".
Shias regard these statements as constituting the designation of Ali as the successor of Muhammad and as the first Imam; by contrast, Sunnis take them only as an expression of close spiritual relationship between Muhammad and Ali, and of his wish that Ali, as his cousin and son-in-law, inherit his family responsibilities upon his death, but not necessarily a designation of political authority.  Many Sufis also interpret the episode as the transfer of Muhammad's spiritual power and authority to Ali, whom they regard as the wali par excellence.
Sources, among them both Shia and Sunni, state that, after the sermon, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman pledged allegiance to Ali. However, there have been doubts regarding the veracity of the tradition due to evidence that Ali may not have been present during the sermon, instead being in Yemen at the time—a view held by the historian Ibn Kathir.
Succession to Muhammad
The next phase of Ali's life started in 632, after the death of Muhammad, and lasted until the assassination of Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph, in 656. During those 24 years, Ali took no part in battle or conquest, nor did he assume any executive position, instead withdrawing from political affairs, especially after the death of his wife, Fatimah Zahra. He used his time to serve his family and worked as a farmer. Ali dug a lot of wells and planted gardens near Medina and endowed them for public use. These wells are known today as Abar Ali ("Ali's wells").
Ali compiled a complete version of the Quran, mus'haf, six months after the death of Muhammad. The volume was completed and carried by camel to show to other people in Medina. The order of this mus'haf differed from that which was gathered later during the Uthmanic era. This book was rejected by several people when he showed it to them. Despite this, Ali made no resistance against the standardised mus'haf.
Ali and the Rashidun caliphs
While Ali was preparing Muhammad's body for burial and performing his funeral rites, a small group of approximately fourteen Muslims met at Saqifah. There, Umar ibn al-Khattab pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr, who subsequently assumed political power. The gathering at Saqifah was disputed by some of Muhammad's companions, who held that Ali had been designated his successor by Muhammad himself.
Relations between Abu Bakr and Ali may have become strained after this. Following the gathering at Saqifa, Umar and his supporters were allegedly sent by the new Caliph to Ali's house where Ali, Fatimah, and some of their allies were gathered. Several scholars, such as Al-Tabari and Ibn Qutaybah, relate that Umar threatened to burn the building down if Ali refused to acknowledge Abu Bakr's authority. While the historian Al-Baladhuri states that the altercation never became violent and ended with Ali's compliance, some traditions add that Umar and his supporters forcibly entered the house, resulting in Fatimah's miscarriage of their unborn son Muhsin. The Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays (attributed to Sulaym ibn Qays, but possibly a much later creation) concludes the incident with Ali being dragged out of the house with a rope tied around his neck. These events have been disputed, with several early historical sources arguing that Fatimah's child Muhsin had died in early childhood rather than being miscarried. Other sources add that Ali later willingly offered Abu Bakr his oath of allegiance and gave a praise-filled oration during his funeral. Professor Coeli Fitzpatrick surmises that the story of the altercation reflects the political agendas of the period and should therefore be treated with caution.
Nevertheless, the issue of succession to Muhammad caused the Muslims to split into two groups, Sunni and Shia. Sunnis assert that even though Muhammad never appointed a successor, Abu Bakr was elected first caliph by the Muslim community. The Sunnis recognize the first four caliphs as Muhammad's rightful successors. Shias believe that Muhammad explicitly named Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm and Muslim leadership belonged to him by dint of divine order.
According to Wilferd Madelung, Ali himself was firmly convinced of his legitimacy for the caliphate based on his close kinship with Muhammad, his knowledge of Islam, and his merits in serving its cause. He told Abu Bakr that his delay in pledging allegiance (bay'ah) to him was based on his belief in his own claim to the caliphate. Ali did not change his mind when he finally pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr and then to Umar and to Uthman but had done so for the sake of the unity of Islam, at a time when it was clear that the Muslims had turned away from him. Ali also believed that he could fulfill the role of Imam without fighting.
At the beginning of Abu Bakr's caliphate, there was a controversy about Muhammad's endowment to his daughter, especially the oasis of Fadak, between Fatimah and Ali on one side and Abu Bakr on the other side. Fatimah asked Abu Bakr to turn over their property, the lands of Fadak and Khaybar, but Abu Bakr refused and told her that prophets did not have any legacy and that Fadak belonged to the Muslim community. Abu Bakr said to her, "Allah's Apostle said, we do not have heirs, whatever we leave is Sadaqa." Together with Umm Ayman, Ali testified to the fact that Muhammad granted it to Fatimah Zahra, when Abu Bakr requested her to summon witnesses for her claim. Fatimah became angry and stopped speaking to Abu Bakr, and continued assuming that attitude until she died. According to some sources, 'Ali did not give his oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr until some time after the death of his wife, Fatimah, in the year 633.
He pledged allegiance to the second caliph, 'Umar ibn Khattab, and helped him as a trusted advisor. 'Umar particularly relied upon Ali as the chief judge of Medina. He also advised Umar to set Hijra as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. 'Umar followed 'Ali's suggestions in political matters as well as religious ones.
'Ali was one of the electoral council to choose the third caliph which was appointed by 'Umar. Although 'Ali was one of the two major candidates, the council was inclined against him. Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas and Abdur Rahman bin Awf, who were cousins, were naturally inclined to support Uthman, who was Abdur Rahman's brother-in-law. In addition, Umar gave the deciding vote to Abdur Rahman, who offered the caliphate to Ali on the condition that he should rule in accordance with the Quran, the example set by Muhammad, and the precedents established by the first two caliphs. Ali rejected the third condition while Uthman accepted it. According to Ibn Abi al-Hadid's Comments on the Peak of Eloquence Ali insisted on his prominence there, but most of the electors supported Uthman and Ali was reluctantly urged to accept him.
'Uthman ibn 'Affan expressed generosity toward his kin, Banu Abd-Shams, who seemed to dominate him, and his supposed arrogant mistreatment toward several of the earliest companions such as Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Abd-Allah ibn Mas'ud and Ammar ibn Yasir provoked outrage among some groups of people. Overt resistance arose in 650–651 throughout most of the empire. The dissatisfaction with his rule and the governments appointed by him was not restricted to the provinces outside Arabia. When Uthman's kin, especially Marwan, gained control over him, the noble companions, including most of the members of elector council, turned against him or at least withdrew their support, putting pressure on the caliph to mend his ways and reduce the influence of his assertive kin.
At this time, 'Ali had acted as a restraining influence on Uthman without directly opposing him. On several occasions Ali disagreed with Uthman in the application of the Hudud; he had publicly shown sympathy for Abu Dharr al-Ghifari and had spoken strongly in the defence of Ammar ibn Yasir. He conveyed to Uthman the criticisms of other Companions and acted on Uthman's behalf as negotiator with the provincial opposition who had come to Medina; because of this some mistrust between Ali and Uthman's family seems to have arisen. Finally, he tried to mitigate the severity of the siege by his insistence that Uthman should be allowed water.
There is controversy among historians about the relationship between Ali and Uthman. Although pledging allegiance to Uthman, Ali disagreed with some of his policies. In particular, he clashed with Uthman on the question of religious law. He insisted that religious punishment had to be meted out in several cases, such as those of Ubayd Allah ibn Umar and Walid ibn Uqba. In 650, during the pilgrimage, he reproached Uthman for his change of the prayer ritual. When Uthman declared that he would take whatever he needed from the fey', Ali exclaimed that in that case the caliph would be prevented by force. Ali endeavoured to protect companions such as Ibn Mas'ud from maltreatment by the caliph. Therefore, some historians consider Ali one of the leading members of Uthman's opposition, if not the main one. But Wilferd Madelung rejects their judgment due to the fact that Ali did not have the Quraysh's support to be elected as a caliph. According to him, there is not even evidence that Ali had close relations with rebels who supported his caliphate, much less directed their actions.  Some other sources say Ali had acted as a restraining influence on Uthman without directly opposing him. However, Madelung relates that Marwan told Zayn al-Abidin, the grandson of Ali, that "No one [among the Islamic nobility] was more temperate toward our master than your master."
Ali was caliph between 656 and 661 during the First Fitna, one of the most turbulent periods in Muslim history. Since the conflicts in which Ali was involved were perpetuated in polemical sectarian historiography, biographical material is often biased. However, the sources agree that he was a profoundly religious man, devoted to the cause of Islam and the rule of justice in accordance with the Quran and the Sunnah. The sources abound in notices on his austerity, rigorous observance of religious duties, and detachment from worldly goods. Authors have noted that Ali stood firmly by his principles and would not compromise them for political self-gain.
Uthman's assassination meant that rebels had to select a new caliph. This met with difficulties since the rebels were divided into several groups: the Muhajirun, Ansar, Egyptians, Kufans and Basrites. There were three candidates: Ali, Talhah and Al-Zubayr. First the rebels approached Ali and offered him the caliphate. Some of Muhammad's companions tried to persuade Ali to accept the office, but he turned down the offer, requesting he be made a counsellor instead of a chief. Talhah, Zubayr and other companions also refused the rebels' offer as well. Therefore, the rebels warned the inhabitants of Medina to select a caliph within one day, or they would take drastic action. In order to resolve the deadlock, the Muslims gathered in the Prophet's Mosque on 18 June 656, to appoint the caliph. Initially, 'Ali refused to accept the office, simply because his most vigorous supporters were rebels. However, when some notable companions of Muhammad, in addition to the residents of Medina, urged him to accept the offer, he finally agreed. According to Abu Mekhnaf's narration, Talhah was the first prominent companion who gave his pledge to 'Ali, but other accounts claimed otherwise, stating they were forced to give their pledge. Also, Talhah and Al-Zubayr later claimed they supported him only reluctantly. Regardless, Ali refuted these claims, insisting they recognised him as caliph voluntarily. Wilferd Madelung believes that coercion was not a factor and that they pledged publicly in the mosque. While the overwhelming majority of Medina's population as well as many of the rebels gave their pledge, some important figures or tribes did not do so. The Umayyads, kinsmen of Uthman, fled to the Levant, or remained in their houses, later refusing 'Ali's legitimacy. Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas was absent and 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar abstained from offering his allegiance, but both of them assured 'Ali that they would not act against him. Ali thus inherited the Rashidun caliphate – which extended from Egypt in the west to the Iranian highlands in the east—while the situation in the Hejaz and the other provinces on the eve of his election was unsettled.
Uthman had appointed his family members as governors and in other positions of power, and public dissatisfaction with this nepotism was one of the factors that had caused a rebellion against him. In addition, Uthman's governors were widely known for their corruption and plundering. Soon after Ali became caliph, he dismissed Uthman's governors immediately, against the counsel of his advisers that it would not be politically wise to do so, as he refused to be complicit in their injustice and corruption. According to Madelung, Ali was deeply convinced of his right and his religious mission, unwilling to compromise his principles for the sake of political expediency, and ready to fight against overwhelming odds. Some of Uthman's governors were replaced, but others, such as Muawiyah I (a relative of Uthman and governor of the Levant), refused to submit to Ali's orders.
Inaugural address in Medina
When he was appointed caliph, Ali stated to the citizens of Medina that Muslim polity had come to be plagued by dissension and discord; he desired to purge Islam of any evil. He advised the populace to behave as true Muslims, warning that he would tolerate no sedition and those who were found guilty of subversive activities would be dealt with harshly.
A'ishah, Talhah, Al-Zubayr and the Umayyads, especially Muawiyah I and Marwan I, wanted 'Ali to punish the rioters who had killed Uthman. They encamped close to Basra. The talks lasted for many days and the subsequent heated exchange and protests during the parley turned from words to blows, leading to loss of life on both sides. In the confusion the Battle of the Camel started in 656, where Ali emerged victorious. Some historians[who?] believe that they used this issue to seek their political ambitions because they found Ali's caliphate against their own benefit. The rebels maintained that Uthman had been justly killed, for not governing according to the Quran and Sunnah; hence, no vengeance was to be invoked.
Some say the caliphate was a gift of the rebels and Ali did not have enough force to control or punish them, while others say Ali accepted the rebels' argument or at least did not consider Uthman a just ruler. Ali himself writes, in the Nahj al-Balagha, that he was blamed by the Umayyads for the assassination of Uthman.
The Umayyads knowledge of me did not restrain them from accusing me, nor did my precedence in accepting Islam keep these ignorant people from blaming me. Allah's admonitions are more eloquent than my tongue. I am the contester against those who break away from Faith and the opposer of those who entertain doubts. Uncertainties should be placed before Qur'an, the Book of Allah (for clarification). Certainly, people will be recompensed according to what they have in their hearts. – Nahj al-Balagha: Sermon 75
Under such circumstances, a schism took place which led to the first civil war in Muslim history. Some Muslims, known as Uthmanis, considered Uthman a rightful and just caliph till the end, who had been unlawfully killed. Some others, known as the party of Ali, believed Uthman had fallen into error, had forfeited the caliphate, and been lawfully executed for his refusal to mend his ways or step down; thus, Ali was the just and true Imam and his opponents were infidels. This was not the position of Ali himself. This civil war created permanent divisions within the Muslim community regarding who had the legitimate right to occupy the caliphate.
The First Fitna, 656–661, followed the assassination of Uthman, continued during the caliphate of Ali, and was ended by Muawiyah's assumption of the caliphate. This civil war is regretted as the end of the early unity of the Islamic ummah (nation).
Ali appointed 'Abd Allah ibn al'-Abbas governor of Basra. There were deep-seated differences, stretching back to the Roman-Persian Wars and the Byzantine–Sasanian wars, between Iraq, formerly Persian, and Syria, formerly Byzantine. The Iraqis wanted the capital of the newly-established Islamic State to be in Kufa, the Muslim garrison city in Iraq, in order to bring revenue and oppose Syria. They convinced Ali to come to Kufa and establish the capital there.
Later, Muawiyah I, governor of the Levant and cousin of Uthman, refused Ali's demands for allegiance. Ali opened negotiations, but Muawiyah insisted on Levantine autonomy under his rule. Muawiyah mobilised an army and refused to pay homage to Ali on the pretext that his contingent had not participated in the election. Ali then moved his armies north and the two sides encamped at Siffin for more than one hundred days, most of the time being spent in negotiations. Although Ali exchanged several letters with Muawiyah, he was unable to dismiss the latter, nor persuade him to pledge allegiance. Skirmishes between the parties led to the Battle of Siffin in 657.
A week of combat was followed by a violent battle known as laylat al-harir (the night of clamour). Muawiyah's army was on the point of being routed when Amr ibn al-As advised Muawiyah to have his soldiers hoist mus'haf (either parchments inscribed with verses of the Quran, or complete copies of it) on their spearheads in order to cause disagreement and confusion in Ali's army. Ali saw through the stratagem, but only a minority wanted to pursue the fight. The two armies finally agreed to settle the matter of who should be caliph by arbitration. The refusal of the largest bloc in Ali's army to fight was the decisive factor in his acceptance of the arbitration. The question as to whether the arbiter would represent Ali or the Kufans caused a further split in Ali's army. Ash'ath ibn Qays and some others rejected Ali's nominees, 'Abd Allah ibn 'Abbas and Malik al-Ashtar, and insisted on Abu Musa Ash'ari, for his neutrality. Finally, Ali was urged to accept Abu Musa. Amr ibn al-As was appointed by Muawiyah as an arbitrator. Seven months after the battle, in February 658, the two arbitrators met at Adhruh about 10 miles northwest of Maan in Jordan. Amr ibn al-As convinced Abu Musa Ash'ari that both Ali and Muawiyah should step down and a new caliph be elected. Ali and his supporters were stunned by the decision, which had lowered the caliph to the status of the rebellious Muawiyah. Ali was therefore outwitted by Muawiyah and Amr ibn al-As. When the arbitrators assembled at Daumet-ul-Jandal, a series of daily meetings were arranged for them to discuss the matters in hand. When the time arrived for making a decision about the caliphate, Amr bin al-As convinced Abu Musa al-Ashari that they should deprive both Ali and Muawiya of the caliphate, and give the Muslims the right to elect the caliph. Abu Musa al-Ashari also concurred. According to Poonawala, it seems that the arbiters and other eminent persons, with the exclusion of Ali's representatives, met in January 659 to discuss the selection of the new caliph. Amr supported Muawiyah, while Abu Musa preferred his son-in-law, Abdullah ibn Umar, but the latter refused to stand for election in default of unanimity. Abu Musa then proposed, and Amr agreed, to depose both Ali and Muawiyah and submit the selection of the new caliph to a Shura. In the public declaration that followed Abu Musa observed his part of the agreement, but Amr declared Ali deposed and confirmed Muawiya as caliph.
Ali refused to accept this state of affairs and found himself technically in breach of his pledge to abide by the arbitration. 'Ali protested that it was contrary to the Qur'an and the Sunnah and hence not binding. Then he tried to organise a new army, but only the Ansar, the remnants of the Qurra led by Malik Ashtar, and a few of their clansmen remained loyal. This put Ali in a weak position even amongst his own supporters. The arbitration resulted in the dissolution of 'Ali's coalition, and some have opined that this was Muawiyah's intention.
The most vociferous opponents in Ali's camp were the very same people who had forced Ali into the ceasefire. They broke away from Ali's force, rallying under the slogan "arbitration belongs to God alone." This group came to be known as the Kharijites ("those who leave"). They considered everyone to be their enemy. In 659 Ali's forces and the Kharijites met in the Battle of Nahrawan. The Qurra then became known as the Kharijites. The Kharijites then started killing Ali's supporters and other Muslims. They considered anyone who was not part of their group as an unbeliever. Although 'Ali won the battle by a huge margin, the constant conflict had begun to affect his standing. While dealing with the Iraqis, 'Ali found it hard to build a disciplined army and effective state institutions. He also spent a lot of time fighting the Kharijites. As a result, 'Ali found it hard to expand the state on its eastern front.
At about the same time, unrest was brewing in Egypt. The governor of Egypt, Qais, was recalled, and Ali had him replaced with Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (the brother of Aisha and the son of Islam's first caliph Abu Bakr). Muawiyah allowed 'Amr ibn al-'As to move against Egypt and 'Amr eventually conquered it for the second time in his career. Amr had first taken Egypt eighteen years earlier from the Romans but had been dismissed by Uthman. Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr had no popular support in Egypt and managed to muster 2000 men but they dispersed without a fight.
In the following years, Muawiyah's army occupied many cities of Iraq, which Ali's governors could not prevent, and the people offered no support for a defense. Muawiyah overpowered Egypt, Hijaz, Yemen and other areas. In the last year of Ali's caliphate, the mood in Kufa and Basra changed in his favour as the people became disillusioned with Muawiyah's reign and policies. However, the people's attitude toward Ali differed deeply. Just a small minority of them believed that Ali was the best Muslim after Muhammad and the only one entitled to rule them, while the majority supported him due to their distrust and opposition to Muawiyah.
Anti-corruption campaign and egalitarian policies
Ali is said to have vowed an uncompromising campaign against financial corruption and unfair privileges after he assumed the caliphate following the death of Uthman. Shias argue that his determination in pushing these reforms aroused the ire of the wealthy and the privileged former companions of the Prophet. In a well-known letter to one of his governors, Malik al-Ashtar, he articulates his pro-poor, anti-elitist approach:
Remember that displeasure and disapproval of common men, have-nots and depressed persons more than overbalances the approval of important persons and displeasure of a few big will be excused by the Lord if the general public and masses of your subjects are happy with you. The common men, the poor, apparently less important sections of your subjects are the pillars of Islam….be more friendly with them and secure their confidence and sympathy.
'Ali recovered the land granted by 'Uthman and swore to recover anything that elites had acquired before his election. Ali opposed the centralisation of capital control over provincial revenues, favouring an equal distribution of taxes and booty amongst the Muslim citizens; he distributed the entire revenue of the treasury among them. 'Ali refrained from nepotism, including with his brother 'Aqeel ibn Abu Talib. This reflected his policy of offering equality to Muslims who served Islam in its early years and to those Muslims who played a role in the later conquests.
Ali succeeded in forming a broad coalition, especially after the Battle of the Camel. His policy of equal distribution of taxes and booty gained the support of Muhammad's companions, especially the Ansar who were subordinated by the Quraysh leadership after Muhammad, the traditional tribal leaders, and the Qurra or Qur'anic reciters that sought pious Islamic leadership. The successful formation of this diverse coalition seems to be due to Ali's charisma. This diverse coalition became known as Shi'a Ali, meaning "party" or "faction of Ali". However, according to Shia, as well as non-Shia reports, the majority of those who supported 'Ali after his election as caliph were Shia politically, not religiously. Although at this time there were many who were counted as political Shia, few of them believed in Ali's religious leadership.
His policies and ideas of governing are manifested in the letter he sent to Malik al-Ashtar after appointing him governor of Egypt. This instruction, which has historically been viewed as the ideal constitution for Islamic governance, alongside the Constitution of Medina, involved detailed descriptions of the duties and rights of the ruler, the various functionaries of the state, and the main classes of society at that time. Ali wrote:
Infuse your heart with mercy, love and kindness for your subjects. Be not in face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds: either they are your brothers in faith or in creation. Error catches them unaware, deficiencies overcome them, (evil deeds) are committed by them intentionally and by mistake. So grant them your pardon and your forgiveness to the same extent that you hope God will grant you His pardon and His forgiveness. For you are above them, and he who appointed you is above you, and God is above him who appointed you. God has sought from you the fulfillment of their requirements and He is trying you with them.
Since the majority of 'Ali's subjects were nomads and peasants, he was concerned with agriculture. He instructed Malik to give more attention to land development than to the tax collection, because tax can only be obtained by the development of the land and whoever demands tax without developing the land ruins the country and destroys the people.
Assassination in Kufa
On 19 Ramadan AH 40, which would correspond to 26 January 661, while praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa, Ali was attacked by the Kharijite Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam. He was wounded by ibn Muljam's poison-coated sword while prostrating in the Fajr prayer. 'Ali ordered his sons not to attack the Kharijites, instead stipulating that if he survived, ibn Muljam would be pardoned whereas if he died, ibn Muljam should be given only one equal hit (regardless of whether or not he died from the hit). 'Ali died two days later on 29 January 661 (21 Ramadan AH 40). Al-Hasan fulfilled Qisas and gave equal punishment to ibn Muljam upon Ali's death.
After Ali's death, Kufi Muslims pledged allegiance to his eldest son Hasan without dispute, as Ali on many occasions had declared that just People of the House of Muhammad were entitled to rule the Muslim community. At this time, Muawiyah held both the Levant and Egypt and, as commander of the largest force in the Muslim Empire, had declared himself caliph and marched his army into Iraq, the seat of Hasan's caliphate.
War ensued during which Muawiyah gradually subverted the generals and commanders of Hasan's army with large sums of money and deceptive promises until the army rebelled against him. Finally, Hasan was forced to make peace and yield the caliphate to Muawiyah. Muawiyah then transformed tuned the caliphate into a secular kingdom (Sultanate). The Umayyad caliphate later became a centralised monarchy under Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.
Umayyads placed extreme pressure upon Ali's family and his Shia. Regular public cursing of Imam Ali in the congregational prayers remained a vital institution until Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz abolished the practice, 60 years later.
Umayyad highhandedness, misrule and repression were gradually to turn the minority of Ali's admirers into a majority. In the memory of later generations Ali became the ideal Commander of the Faithful. In face of the fake Umayyad claim to legitimate sovereignty in Islam as God's Vice-regents on earth, and in view of Umayyad treachery, arbitrary and divisive government, and vindictive retribution, they came to appreciate his [Ali's] honesty, his unbending devotion to the reign of Islam, his deep personal loyalties, his equal treatment of all his supporters, and his generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies.
Ibn Abi'l-Hadid narrates the following about the Umayyad treatment of Ali and his followers:
"Everybody knows that when the Umayyads held the reins of the Islamic world, they spared no single effort for extinguishing the light of Ali and inventing ﬂaws against him. Moreover, they issued the decisions of cursing him openly from the mimbars of their mosques and sentenced to death anyone who would mention any of his incalculable merits. They also prevented people from reporting any narration that might refer to any of his accolades. Finally, they even prevented people from calling their newborns by his name.":6
Burial in Najaf
According to Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, Ali did not want his grave to be desecrated by his enemies and consequently asked his friends and family to bury him secretly. This secret gravesite was revealed later during the Abbasid caliphate by Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, his descendant and the sixth Shia Imam. Most Shias accept that Ali is buried at the Tomb of Imam Ali in the Imam Ali Mosque at what is now the city of Najaf, which grew around the mosque and shrine called Masjid Ali.
Ali is respected not only as a warrior and leader, but as a writer and religious authority. A wide range of disciplines from theology and exegesis to calligraphy and numerology, from law and mysticism to Arabic grammar and rhetoric are regarded as having been first adumbrated by Ali.
According to a hadith which is narrated by Shia and Sufis, Muhammad said "I'm the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate ..." Muslims regard Ali as a major authority on Islam. According to the Shia, Ali himself gave this testimony:
Not a single verse of the Quran descended upon (was revealed to) the Messenger of God which he did not proceed to dictate to me and make me recite. I would write it with my own hand, and he would instruct me as to its tafsir (the literal explanation) and the ta'wil (the spiritual exegesis), the nasikh (the verse which abrogates) and the mansukh (the abrogated verse), the muhkam and the mutashabih (the fixed and the ambiguous), the particular and the general ...
It has been narrated that when Abbas was a baby, Ali placed him on his lap, kissed his hands and began to weep. He foretold the tragedy of Abbas and the inevitable fate of his hands which caused his wife, Umm ul-Banin, to also weep. However, he goes on to describe Abbas's future position and great status with God, and this relieves her.
According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ali is credited with having established Islamic theology, and his quotations contain the first rational proofs among Muslims of the Unity of God. Ibn Abi al-Hadid has quoted
As for theosophy and dealing with matters of divinity, it was not an Arab art. Nothing of the sort had been circulated among their distinguished figures or those of lower ranks. This art was the exclusive preserve of Greece, whose sages were its only expounders. The first one among Arabs to deal with it was Ali.
In later Islamic philosophy, especially in the teachings of Mulla Sadra and his followers, like Allameh Tabatabaei, Ali's sayings and sermons were increasingly regarded as central sources of metaphysical knowledge, or divine philosophy. Members of Sadra's school regard Ali as the supreme metaphysician of Islam. According to Henry Corbin, the Nahj al-Balagha may be regarded as one of the most important sources of doctrines professed by Shia thinkers, especially after 1500. Its influence can be sensed in the logical co-ordination of terms, the deduction of correct conclusions, and the creation of certain technical terms in Arabic which entered the literary and philosophical language independently of the translation into Arabic of Greek texts.
In addition, some hidden or occult sciences such as jafr, Islamic numerology, and the science of the symbolic significance of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, are said to have been established by Ali through his having studied the texts of al-Jafr and al-Jamia.
Ali was also a great scholar of Arabic literature and pioneered in the field of Arabic grammar and rhetoric. Numerous short sayings of Ali have become part of general Islamic culture and are quoted as aphorisms and proverbs in daily life. They have also become the basis of literary works or have been integrated into poetic verse in many languages. Already in the 8th century, literary authorities such as 'Abd al-Hamid ibn Yahya al-'Amiri pointed to the unparalleled eloquence of Ali's sermons and sayings, as did al-Jahiz in the following century. Even staffs in the Divan of Umayyad recited Ali's sermons to improve their eloquence. The most famous selection of Ali's utterances and writings has been gathered in a book called Nahj al-Balagha (Peak of Eloquence) by a 10th-century Shia scholar, Al-Sharif al-Radi, who selected them for their singular rhetorical beauty.
The sermons without dots and alephs
Of note among sermons quoted in the book is the undotted sermon as well as the sermon without Aleph. According to narrations, some companions of Muhammad had gathered somewhere discussing the role of letters in speaking. They concluded that Aleph had the greatest contribution in speaking and that dotted letters were also important. Meanwhile, Ali read two long impromptu sermons, one without using Aleph and the other without dotted letters, containing deep and eloquent concepts, according to Langroudi, a Shia author. George Jordac, a Christian author, said that sermons without Aleph and dot had to be regarded as literary masterpieces.
Ali is revered for the deep sympathy and support he showed for the poor and orphans, and the egalitarian policies he pursued during his caliphate with the aim of achieving social justice. He is quoted as saying:
If God grants wealth and prosperity to any person, he should show kindness to his deserving kith and kin, should provide for the poor, should come the assistance of those are oppressed with calamities, misfortunes and reverses, should help the poor and have-nots and should assist honest people to liquidate their loans...
It is narrated in Kitab al-Kafi that Amir al-Mu'minin Ali ibn Abi Talib was presented with honey and figs from locations near Baghdad. Upon receiving the gifts, he ordered his officers to bring the orphans so that they could lick the honey from the containers while he distributed the rest himself among the people.
The sermons, lectures and quotations attributed to Ali are compiled in several books:
- Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence) contains eloquent sermons, letters and quotations attributed to Ali, compiled by ash-Sharif ar-Radi (d. 1015). Reza Shah Kazemi states: "Despite ongoing questions about the authenticity of the text, recent scholarship suggests that most of the material in it can in fact be attributed to Ali" and in support of this he makes reference to an article by Mokhtar Jebli. This book has a prominent position in Arabic literature. It is also considered an important intellectual, political and religious work in Islam. The Urdu translator of Nahjul Balagha Allama Syed Zeeshan Haider Jawadi has compiled a list of 61 books and name of their writers from AH 204 to 488, and provided the sources in which compilation work of Sharif Razi can be traced out. Masadir Nahj al-Balagha wa asaniduh, written by al-Sayyid 'Abd al-Zahra' al-Husayni al-Khatib, introduces some of these sources. Also, Nahj al-sa'adah fi mustadrak Nahj al-balaghah by Muhammad Baqir al-Mahmudi represents all of Ali's extant speeches, sermons, decrees, epistles, prayers, and sayings that have been collected. It includes the Nahj al-balagha and other discourses which were not incorporated by ash-Sharif ar-Radi or were not available to him. Apparently, except for some of the aphorisms, the original sources of all the contents of the Nahj al-balagha have been determined. There are several Comments on the Peak of Eloquence by Sunnis and Shias such as Comments of Ibn Abi al-Hadid and comments of Muhammad Abduh.
- Supplications (Du'a), translated by William Chittick.
- Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim (Exalted aphorisms and Pearls of Speech) which is compiled by Abd al-Wahid Amidi (d. 1116) consists of over ten thousand short sayings of Ali.
- Divan-i Ali ibn Abu Talib (poems which are attributed to Ali ibn Abu Talib).
In 623, Muhammad told Ali that God ordered him to give his daughter Fatimah Zahra to Ali in marriage. Muhammad said to Fatimah: "I have married you to the dearest of my family to me." This family is glorified by Muhammad frequently and he declared them as his Ahl al-Bayt in events such as Mubahala and hadith like the Hadith of the Event of the Cloak. They were also glorified in the Qur'an in several cases such as "the verse of purification".
Ali had four children born to Fatimah, the only child of Muhammad to have surviving progeny. Their two sons, Hasan and Husain, were cited by Muhammad to be his own sons, honoured numerous times in his lifetime and titled "the leaders of the youth of Jannah (Heaven)." Ali and Fatimah also had a third son, Muhsin; however, he died as a result of a miscarriage when Ali and Fatimah were attacked after Muhammad's death. Fatimah died shortly after the attack as well.
At the beginning they were extremely poor. Ali would often help Fatimah with the household affairs. According to some sources, Ali performed the work outside the house and Fatimah performed the work inside the house, a setup that Muhammad had determined. When the economic situations of the Muslims became better, Fatimah gained some maids but treated them like her family and performed the house duties with them.
Their marriage lasted until Fatimah's death ten years later and was said to be full of love and friendliness. Ali is reported to have said about Fatimah, "By Allah, I did never anger her or force her to do something (unwillingly) until Allah took her to the better world. She also did never anger me nor did she disobey me in anything at all. When I looked at her, my griefs and sorrows were relieved." Although polygamy was permitted, Ali did not marry another woman while Fatimah was alive, and his marriage to her possesses a special spiritual significance for all Muslims because it is seen as the marriage between two great figures surrounding Muhammad.
After Fatimah's death, Ali remarried and had several other children. Among his wives after Fatimah was Umamah bint Zainab; Fatimah had told Ali to marry her after her death, as Fatimah knew that Umamah loved and would take good care of their children.
Ali had four children with Fatimah: Hasan ibn Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, Zaynab bint Ali and Umm Kulthum bint Ali. His other well-known sons were al-Abbas ibn Ali, born to Fatima binte Hizam (Um al-Banin), and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah. Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah was Ali's son from another wife from the Bani Hanifa tribe of central Arabia named Khawlah bint Ja'far, whom Ali had married after Fatimah's death.
Hasan, born in 625, was the second Shia Imam and he also assumed the role of caliph for several months after Ali's death. In the year AH 50 he died after being poisoned by a member of his own household who, according to historians, had been motivated by Mu'awiyah.
Husayn, born in 626, was the third Shia Imam, whom Mu'awiyah persecuted severely. On the tenth day of Muharram, of the year 680, Husayn lined up before the army of the caliph with his small band of followers and nearly all of them were killed in the Battle of Karbala. The anniversary of his death is called the Day of Ashura and it is a day of mourning and religious observance for Shia Muslims. In this battle some of Ali's other sons were killed. Al-Tabari has mentioned their names in his history: Al-Abbas ibn Ali, the holder of Husayn's standard, Ja'far, Abdallah and Uthman, the four sons born to Fatima binte Hizam; Muhammad and Abu Bakr. There is, however, some doubt as to whether the last died in the battle.
His daughter Zaynab—who was in Karbala—was captured by Yazid's army and later played a great role in revealing what happened to Husayn and his followers.
Ali's descendants by Fatimah are known as sharifs, sayeds or sayyids. These are honorific titles in Arabic, sharif meaning 'noble' and sayed or sayyid meaning 'lord' or 'sir'. As Muhammad's only descendants, they are respected by both Sunni and Shia.
Except for Muhammad, there is no one in Islamic history about whom as much has been written in Islamic languages as Ali. In Muslim culture, Ali is respected for his courage, knowledge, belief, honesty, unbending devotion to Islam, deep loyalty to Muhammad, equal treatment of all Muslims and generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies, and therefore is central to mystical traditions in Islam such as Sufism. Ali retains his stature as an authority on Quranic exegesis, Islamic jurisprudence and religious thought. Ali holds a high position in almost all Sufi orders which trace their lineage through him to Muhammad. Ali's influence has been important throughout Islamic history. Sunni and Shia scholars agree that The Verse of Wilayah was narrated in honour of Ali, but there are differing interpretations of wilayah and the Imamate. The Sunni scholars believe that the verse is about Ali but does not recognise him as an Imam while, in the Shia Muslim view, Ali had been chosen by God as successor of Muhammad.
Ali in the Quran
There are many verses interpreted by Shi'a scholars as referring to Ali or other Shi'a Imams. In answering question of why the names of the Imams are not expressly mentioned in the Quran Muhammad al-Baqir responds (in a Twelver hadith):[a] "Allah revealed Salat to his Prophet but never said of three or four Rakats, revealed Zakat but did not mention to its details, revealed Hajj but did not count its Tawaf and the Prophet interpreted their details. Allah revealed this verse and Prophet said this verse is about Ali, Hasan, Husayn and the other twelve Imams." According to Ali, one quarter of Qur'anic verses are stating the station of Imams.[clarification needed] Momen has listed many of these verses in his An Introduction to Shi'i Islam. However, there are few verses that some Sunni commentators interpret as referring to Ali, among which are The verse of Wilayah (Quran, 5:55) that Sunni and Shiite scholars[b] believe refers to the incident where Ali gave his ring to a beggar who asked for alms while performing ritual prayers in the mosque.The verse of Mawadda (Quran, 42:23) is another verse in which Shiite scholars, along with Sunni ones like Al-Baydawi and Al-Zamakhshari and Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, believe that the phrase Kinship refers to Ali, Fatimah and their sons, Hasan and Husayn.
The verse of purification (Quran, 33:33) is also among the verses in which both Sunnis and Shiites conjoined the name of Ali along with some other names.[c] The aforementioned verse of Mubahala, and also Quran 2:269, in which Ali is honoured with unique wisdom by both Shiite and Sunni commentators, are other verses of this kind.
The Shia regard Ali as the most important figure after Muhammad and he represents a complex, legendary figure in their memory. He is a paragon of virtues, such as courage, magnanimity, sincerity, straightforwardness, eloquence and profound knowledge. Ali was righteous but suffered injustice, he was authoritative but also compassionate and humble, vigorous but also patient, learned but also a man of labor. According to Shia, Muhammad suggested on various occasions during his lifetime that Ali should be the leader of Muslims after his death. This is supported by numerous hadiths which have been narrated by Shias, including Hadith of the pond of Khumm, Hadith of the two weighty things, Hadith of the pen and paper, Hadith of the Cloak, Hadith of position, Hadith of the invitation of the close families, and Hadith of the Twelve Successors.
Ja'far al-Sadiq narrates in hadith that whatever virtue found in Muhammad was found in Ali, and that turning away from his guidance would be akin to turning away from Allah and his Prophet. Ali himself narrates that he is the gateway and supervisor to reach Allah.
According to this view, Ali as the successor of Muhammad not only ruled over the community in justice, but also interpreted the Sharia Law and its esoteric meaning. Hence he was regarded as being free from error and sin (infallible), and appointed by God by divine decree (nass) through Muhammad. It is believed in Twelver and Ismaili Shīa Islam that 'aql, divine wisdom, was the source of the souls of the Prophets and Imams and gave them esoteric knowledge called ḥikmah and that their sufferings were a means of divine grace to their devotees. Although the Imam was not the recipient of a divine revelation, he had a close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the Imam in turn guides the people. His words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow; as a result it is a source of sharia law.
Shi'ite pilgrims usually go to Mashad Ali in Najaf for Ziyarat, pray there and read "Ziyarat Amin Allah" or other Ziyaratnamehs. Under the Safavid Empire, his grave became the focus of much devoted attention, exemplified in the pilgrimage made by Shah Ismail I to Najaf and Karbala.
Sunnis view Ali as the fourth caliph. Ali is also known as one of the greatest warrior champions of Islam. Examples include taking on the Quraish champion at the Battle of the Trench when nobody else dared. After multiple failed attempts to break the fort in the Battle of Khaybar, Ali was summoned, miraculously healed, and he captured the fort.
"What can we say about a person whose partisans have had to hide his merits because of fear, and enemies have hidden his merits out of envy? Nevertheless between these two, his merits that have become widely known are too numerous to be counted.":6
Almost all Sufi orders trace their lineage to Muhammad through Ali, an exception being Naqshbandi, who go through Abu Bakr. Even in this order, there is Ja'far al-Sadiq, the great great grandson of Ali. Sufis believe that Ali inherited from Muhammad the saintly power wilayah that makes the spiritual journey to God possible.
Sufis recite Manqabat Ali in the praise of Ali.
Ali is known by various titles, some given due to his personal qualities and others due to events in his life:
- Al-Murtaza ("The Chosen One")
- Amir al-Mu'minin (Arabic: أَمِيْر ٱلْمُؤْمِنِيْن, "Commander of the Faithful Ones")
- Bab-e Madinatul-'Ilm (Arabic: بَابِ مَديْنَةُ ٱلْعِلْم, "Door of City of the Knowledge")
- Abu Turab (Arabic: أَبُو تُرَاب, "Father of the Soil")
- Asadullah (Lion of God")
- Haydar ("Braveheart" or "Lion")
- Walad al-Kaʿbah (Arabic: وَلَد ٱلکَعْبَة, "Baby of the Kaaba")
As a "deity"
Ali is recorded in some traditions as having forbidden those who sought to worship him in his own lifetime.
Some groups such as the Alawites are claimed to believe that Ali was God incarnate. They are described as ghulat (Arabic: غُلَاة, "exaggerators") by the majority of Islamic scholars. These groups have, according to traditionalist Muslims, left Islam due to their exaggeration of a human being's praiseworthy traits.
Ali-Illahism, a syncretic religion, centres on the belief that there have been successive incarnations of their Deity throughout history, and reserves particular reverence for 'Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, who is considered one such incarnation.
The primary sources for scholarship on the life of Ali are the Qur'an and ahadith, as well as other texts of early Islamic history. The extensive secondary sources include, in addition to works by Sunni and Shī'a Muslims, writings by Christian Arabs, Hindus, and other non-Muslims from the Middle East and Asia and a few works by modern western scholars. However, many of the early Islamic sources are coloured to some extent by a positive or negative bias towards Ali.
There had been a common tendency among the earlier western scholars to consider narrations and reports gathered in later periods as fabrications, due to their tendency towards later Sunni and Shī'a partisan positions. This led these scholars to regard certain reported events as inauthentic or irrelevant. For example, Leone Caetani considered the attribution of historical reports to Ibn Abbas and Aisha as mostly fictitious while proffering accounts reported without isnad by the early compilers of history like Ibn Ishaq. Wilferd Madelung has rejected the stance of indiscriminately dismissing everything not included in "early sources" and in this approach tendentiousness alone is no evidence for late origin. According to him, Caetani's approach is inconsistent. Madelung and some later historians do not reject the narrations which have been compiled in later periods and try to judge them in the context of history and on the basis of their compatibility with the events and figures.
Until the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate, few books were written and most of the reports had been oral. The most notable work prior to this period is The Book of Sulaym ibn Qays, written by Sulaym ibn Qays, a companion of Ali who lived before the Abbasids. When paper was introduced to Muslim society, numerous monographs were written between 750 and 950. According to Robinson, at least twenty-one separate monographs have been composed on the Battle of Siffin. Abi Mikhnaf is one of the most renowned writers of this period who tried to gather all of the reports. Ninth- and tenth-century historians collected, selected and arranged the available narrations. However, most of these monographs do not exist any more except for a few which have been used in later works such as History of the Prophets and Kings by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.923).
Shia of Iraq actively participated in writing monographs but most of those works have been lost. On the other hand, in the 8th and 9th century Ali's descendants such as Muhammad al-Baqir and Jafar al-Sadiq narrated his quotations and reports which have been gathered in Shia hadith books. The later Shia works written after the 10th century are about biographies of The Fourteen Infallibles and Twelve Imams. The earliest surviving work and one of the most important works in this field is Kitab al-Irshad by Shaykh Mufid (d. 1022). The author has dedicated the first part of his book to a detailed account of Ali. There are also some books known as Manāqib which describe Ali's character from a religious viewpoint. Such works also constitute a kind of historiography.
- Note that Al-Baqir is also regarded as an Imam by the Isma'ili Shia, who believe in different Imams to the Twelvers
- See at-Tabari: at-Tarikh, vol.6, p.186; as-Suyuti: ad-Durru 'lmanthur, vol.2, pp. 293–4; ar-Razi: at-Tafsiru 'l Kabir, vol.12, p.26: az-Zamakhshari: at-Tafsir al-Kashshaf, vol.1, p.469; al-Jassas:Ahkamu 'l-Quran, vol.2, pp. 542–3; al-khazin: at-Tafsir, vol.2, p.68 Imamate: The vicegerency of the Holy Prophet By Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizv p24
- see al-Bahrani, Ghayat al-Marum, p. 126:al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, Vol. V, p.199; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al Musnad, Vol. I, p.331; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir, Vol. I, p.783; Ibn Hajar, al-Sawa'iq p.85
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- The Life of the Commander of the Faithful Ali Ibn Abu Talib (as) [permanent dead link] by Shaykh Mufid in Kitab al-Irshad
- Website devoted to the Life of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib
- A Biographical Profile of Imam Ali by Syed Muhammad Askari Jafari
- Online Biography by Witness-Pioneer
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- "Shadow of the Sun" published on first Shia Imam, a collection of 110 hadiths from Prophet (s) concerning the character of Ali.
of the Ahl al-Bayt
chief of Banu Hashim since 653
Clan of the Banu QuraishBorn: 15 September 601 Died: 29 January 661
|Shia Islam titles|
| 1st Imam of Twelver, Zaydi, Sevener and Nizari Ismaili;
Asās/Wāsih of Musta'li Ismaili
Hasan ibn Ali
Husayn ibn Ali (Nizari view)
|Sunni Islam titles|
Uthman ibn Affan
| Caliph of Islam
4th Rashidun Caliph
Hasan ibn Ali