Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib
Ali ibn abi Talib, Amir al-Mu'menin
(Peace be Upon him)
Agnomen: Abu ' l-Hasan
Father's name: Abu Talib ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib
Mother's name: Fatimah bint Asad
Birth: In the Holy Ka'bah in Mecca on Friday, 13th Rajab 23 BH
Death: Died at the age of 63, in Kufah (Iraq) on Monday, 21st Ramadan 40 AH; murdered by an assassin who mortally wounded him with a poisoned sword in the mosque of Kufah during the morning prayer on 19th Ramadan; buried in an-Najaf al-Ashraf (Iraq)
Imam Ali was the cousin of our Holy Prophet. He was born in the Sacred House (Ka'bah). Providence alone had a hand in bringing his mother towards the Ka'bah. When his mother came to Ka'bah, she felt weighed down by intense pain of pregnancy. She knelt down before the Holy Structure and prayed humbly to God. 'Abbas ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib, saw 'Ali's mother praying to God. No sooner had she raised her head from supplication, then the wall of the Sacred House split by a solemn miracle. Fatimah entered the Ka'bah and that portion returned to its normal position. 'Abbas and his companions flocked at the gate of the Sacred House which was locked, and tried to open it, but in vain. They then decided to give it up, considering the miraculous nature of the event and the Divine Will in action.
The news of this miraculous incident soon spread like wild fire in Mecca. 'Ali was born within the Ka'bah with his eyes closed and his body in humble prostration before the Almighty. Fatimah stayed in the Ka'bah for three days and as the fourth day approached she stepped out, carrying her gem in her arms. To her great surprise, she found the Holy Prophet awaiting to receive the newly-born child in his anxious arms. Imamate feeling the subtle touch of prophethood, 'Ali opened his eyes and saluted the Divine Prophet: "as-Salamu 'alayka ya Rasula'lldh" (Peace be on you, O Messenger of Allah). 'Ali's birth in the Ka'bah is unique in the history of the world. Neither a prophet nor a Divine saint was ever blessed with such an honour. He was brought up under the care and affection of the Holy Prophet. As 'Ali says: "The Holy Prophet brought me up in his own arms and fed me with his own morsel. I followed him wherever he went like a baby-camel following its mother. Each day a new aspect of his character would beam out of his noble person and I would accept it and follow it as a command. " (Nahju 'I-balaghah). Ten years in the company of the Holy Prophet had kept him so close and inseparable, that he was one with him in character, knowledge, self-sacrifice, forbearance, bravery, kindness, generosity, oratory and eloquence.
From his very infancy, he prostrated before God along with the Holy Prophet. As he himself said: "I was the first to pray to God along with the Holy Prophet." " 'Ali presented in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet," says al-Mas'udi, "all along his childhood." Allah created him pure and holy and kept him steadfast on the right path. Though 'Ali is undisputably the first to embrace Islam when the Holy Prophet called upon his listeners to do so, yet by the very fact that since his infancy he was brought up by the Holy Prophet and followed him in every action and deed including prostration before Allah, he can be said to be born a Muslim, just like the Holy Prophet himself. 'Ali, at all times, accompanied the Holy Prophet to help and protect him from his enemies. He used to write down the verses of the Holy Qur'an and discuss them with the Prophet as soon as they were revealed by the Holy Messenger, the Gabriel.
He was so closely associated with the Holy Prophet that as soon as a verse was revealed to him during the day or night, 'Ali was the first to hear it. The Holy Prophet has said of 'Ali: O 'Ali, you are my brother in this world as well as in the Hereafter. I am the city of knowledge and 'Ali is the gate. Nobody knows 'Ali except Allah and I. Nobody know me except Allah and 'Ali. If you want to see the knowledge of Adam, the piety of Noah, the devotion of Abraham, the awe of Moses, and the service and abstinence of Christ, look at the bright face of Ali. When the Holy Prophet reached Yathrib (Medina) and met his followers who had come from Mecca at his call, he immediately appointed for each such followers a person from the people of Yathrib known as Ansar (Helpers), who had accepted his prophethood, to be a brother to him. His appointment of brothers was a great act of help for the refugees known as Muhajirun (Emigrants), who left their home and come to Yathrib. He made brothers of people who followed the same trade so that the Muhajirun could be usefully employed immediately.
While the Prophet was appointing an Ansar a brother to a Muhajirun 'Ali who was present there, was not appointed as a brother to any Ansar. On being questioned as to why he had not appointed a brother for 'All, the Prophet said: "He shall be a brother to me." The character and calibre of 'Al; as judged by al- Mas'udi is, "If the glorious name of being the first Muslim, a comrade of the Prophet in exile, his faithful companion in the struggle for faith, his intimate associate in life, and his kinsman; if a true knowledge of the spirit of his teachings and of the Book; if self-abnegation and practice of justice; if honesty, purity, and love of truth; if a knowledge of law and science, constitute a claim to pre-eminence, then all must regard 'Al'i as the foremost Muslim.
We shall search in vain to find, either among his predecessors (save one) or among his successors, those attributes. " Gibbon says: "The birth, the alliance, the character of 'Ali which exalted him above the rest of his country- men, might justify his claim to the vacant throne of Arabia. The son of Abu Talib was in his own right the chief of Banu Hashim and the hereditary prince or guardian of the city and the Ka'bah." " 'AIi had the qualifications of a poet, a soldier, and a saint; his wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings; and every antagonist, in the combats of the tongue or of the sword, was subdued by his eloquence and valour. From the first hour of his mission to the last rites of his funeral, the Apostle was never forsaken by a generous friend, whom he delighted to name his brother, his vicegerent, and the faithful Aaron of a second Moses."
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Under Divine instruction, the Apostle of Allah married his beloved daughter Fatimah to 'Al;, though others vainly tried for her hand. Among their children, Imam Hasan, Imam Husayn, Zaynab and Umm Kulthum have left their marks on the history of the world. After the death of Hadrat Fatimah, 'Ali married Ummu 'I-Banin. 'Abbas was born out of this wedlock and was so handsome that he was fondly called Qamar Banu Hashim. He personified loyalty and bravery and proved it in the battlefield at Karbala'.
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In the 40th year of Hijrah, in the small hours of the morning of 19th Ramadan, 'Ali was struck with a poisoned sword by a Kharijite while offering his prayers in the mosque of Kufah. (See photo on p. 56) The Lion of God, the most brave-hearted and fentle Muslim that ever lived began his glorious life with devotion to Allah and His Apostle and ended it in the service of Islam.
"And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead; nay they are alive but you do not perceive. (Qur'an, 2:154)
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THE IMAMS AND LEADERS OF ISLAM (Byal-`Allamahat-Tabatabai)
The previous discussions lead us to the conclusion that in Islam, after the death of the Holy Prophet, there has continuously existed and will continue to exist with- in the Islamic community (ummah), an Imam (a leader chosen by God). Numerous prophetic hadlths have been transmitted in Sh;'ism concerning the description of the Imams, their number, the fact that they are all of the Quraysh and of the Household of the Prophet, and the fact that the promised Mahdi; is among them and the last of them. Also, there are definitive words of the Prophet concerning the Imamate of 'Al; and his being the first Imam and also definitive utterances of the Prophet and 'Al; concerning the Imamate of the Second Imam. In the same way the Imams before have left definitive statements concerning the Imamate of those who were to come after them. According to these utterances contained in Twelve- lmam Shi'ite sources the Imams are twelve in number and their holy names are as follows: ( I ) 'Ali ibn Ab; Talib; (2) al-Hasan ibn 'Ali; (3) al-Husayn ibn 'Ali; (4) 'Ali ibn al-Husayn; (5) Muhammad ibn 'Ali;(6) Ja'far ibn Muhammad; (7) Musa ibn Ja'far; (8) 'Ali ibn Musa; (9) Muhammad ibn 'Ali; (10) 'Ali ibn Muhammad; (11) al-Hasan ibn 'Ali; and (12) the Mahdi.
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The First Imam:
Amir al-Mu'minin, 'Ali (upon whom be peace) was the son of Abu Talib, the Shaykh of the Banu Hashim. Abu Talib was the uncle and guardian of the Holy Prophet and the person who had brought the Prophet to his house and raised him like his own son. After the Prophet was chosen for his prophetic mission. Abu Talib continued to support him and repelled from him the evil that came from the infidels among the Arabs and especially the Quraysh. According to well-known traditional accounts 'Ali was born ten years before the commencement of the prophetic mission of the Prophet. When six years old, as a result of femine in and around Mecca, he was requested by the Prophet to leave his father's house and come to the house of his cousin, the Prophet.
There he was placed directly under the guardianship and custody of the Holy Prophet. A few years later, when the Prophet was endowed with the Divine Gift of prophecy and for the first time received the Divine Revelation in the cave of Hira', as he left the cave to return to town and his own house he met 'Ali on the way. He told him what had happened and 'Ali accepted the new faith. Again in a gathering when the Holy Prophet had brought his relatives together and invited them to accept his religion, he said the first person to accept his call would be his vicegerent and inheritor and deputy. The only person to rise from his place and accept the faith was 'Ali and the Prophet accepted his declaration of faith. Therefore, 'Ali was the first man in Islam to accept the faith and is the first among the followers of the Prophet to have never worshipped other than the One God. 'Ali was always in the company of the Prophet until the Prophet emigrated from Mecca to Medina.
On the night of the emigration to Medina (Hijrah) when the infidels had surrounded the house of the Prophet and were determined to invade the house at the end of the night and cut him to pieces while he was in bed. 'Ali slept in place of the Prophet while the Prophet left the house and set out for Medina. After the departure of the Prophet, according to his wish 'Ali gave back to the people the trusts and charges that they had left with the Prophet. Then he went to Medina with }:is mother, the daughter of the Prophet, and two other women. In Medina also 'Ali was constantly in the company of the Prophet in private and in public. The Prophet gave Fatimah, his sole, beloved daughter from Khadijah, to 'Ali as his wife and when the Prophet was creating bonds of brotherhood among his companions, he selected 'Ali as his brother. 'Ali was present in all the wars in which the Prophet participated, except the battle of Tabuk when he was ordered to stay in Medina in place of the Prophet. He did not retreat in any battle nor did he turn his face away from any enemy.
He never disobeyed the Prophet, so that the Prophet said: " 'Ali is never separated from the Truth nor the Truth from 'Ali." On the day of the death of the Prophet, 'Ali was thirty- three years old. Although he was foremost in religious virtues and the most outstanding among the companions of the Prophet, he was pushed aside from the caliphate on the claim that he was too young and that he had many enemies among the people because of the blood of the polytheists he had spilled in the wars fought alongside the Prophet. Therefore, 'Ali was almost completely cut off from public affairs. He retreated to his house where he began to train competent individuals in the Divine sciences and in this way he passed the twenty-five years of the caliphate of the first three caliphs who (came to power after the Prophet; the first by election of few Muslims; the second appointed by the first; and the third, chosen out of six unequal candidates nominated by the second caliph. . .?!).
When the third caliph was killed, people gave their allegiance to him and he was chosen as Caliph. During his caliphate of nearly four years and nine months, 'Ali followed, exactly, the way of the Prophet and gave his caliphate the form of a spiritual movement and renewal and began many different types of reforms. Naturally, these reforms were against the interests of certain parties that sought their own benefit. As a result, a group of the companions (foremost among whom were Talhah and Zubayr, who also gained the support of 'A'ishah, and especially Mu'awiyah) made a pretext of the death of the third caliph to raise their heads in opposition and began to revolt and rebel against 'Ali. In order to quell the civil strife and sedition, 'Ali fought successfully aware near Basrah known as the "Battle of the Camel," against Talhah and az-Zubayr in which 'A'ishah, "the Mother of the Faithful," was also involved.
He fought another war against Mu'awiyah on the border of Iraq and Syria which lasted for a year and a half and is famous as the "Battle of Siffin". He also fought the Khawarij at Nahrawan, in a battle known as the "Battle of Nahrawan". Therefore, most of the days of 'Ali's caliphate were spent in overcoming internal opposition. Finally, in the morning of the l9th Ramadan in the year 40 AH, while praying in the mosque of Kufah, he was wounded by one of the Khawarij and died as a martyr during the night of the 21st. According to the testimony of friend and foe alike, 'Ali had no shortcomings from the point of view of human perfection. And in the Islamic virtues he was a perfect example of the upbringing and training given by the Holy Prophet. The discussions that have taken place concerning his personality and the books written on this subject by Shi`tes, Sunnis and members of other religions, as well as the simply curious outside any distinct religious bodies, are hardly equaled in the case of any other personality in history.
In science and knowledge 'Ali was the most learned of the companions of the Prophet, and of Muslims in general. In his learned discourses he was the first in Islam to open the door for logical demonstration and proof and to discuss the "divine science" or metaphysics (ma'arif-e Ilahiyyah). He spoke concerning the esoteric aspect of the Qur'an and devised Arabic grammar in order to preserve the Qur'an form of expression. He was the most eloquent Arab in speech (as has been mentioned in the first part of this book). The courage of 'Ah was proverbial. In all the wars in which he participated during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet, and also afterward, he never displayed fear or anxiety. Although in many battles such as those of Uhud, Hunayn, Khaybar and Khandaq, the aides to the Prophet and the Muslim army trembled in fear or dispersed and fled, he never turned back to the enemy. Never did a warrior or soldier engage 'Ali in battle and come out of it alive.
Yet, with full chivalry he would never slay a weak enemy nor pursue those who fled. He would not engage in surprise attacks or in turning streams of water upon the enemy. It has been definitely established historically that in the Battle of Khaybar in the attack against the fort he reached the ring of the door and with sudden motion tore off the door and cast it away. Also, on the day when Mecca was conquered the Prophet ordered the idols to be broken. The idol "Hubal" was the largest idol in Mecca, a giant stone statue placed on the top of the Ka'bah. Following the command of the Holy Prophet, 'Ali placed his feet on the Prophet's shoulders, climbed to the top of the Ka'bah, pulled "Hubal" from its place and cast it down.
'Ali was also without equal in religious asceticism and the worship of God. In answer to some who had complained of 'Ali's anger toward them, the Holy Prophet said: "Do not reproach 'Ali for he is in a state of Divine ecstasy and bewilderment." Abu'd-Darda', one of the companions, one day saw the body of 'Ali in one of the palm plantations of Medina lying on the ground as stiff as wood. He went to 'Ali's house to inform his noble wife, the daughter of the Prophet, and to express his condolences. The daughter of the Prophet said: " My cousin ('Ali) has not died. Rather, in fear of God he has fainted. This condition overcomes him often."
There are many stories told of 'Ali's kindness to the lowly, compassion for the needy and the poor, and generosity and munificence toward those in misery and poverty. 'Ali spent all that he earned to help the poor and the needy, and himself lived in the strictest and simplest manner. 'Ali loved agriculture and spent much of his time digging wells, planting trees and cultivating fields. But all the fields that he cultivated or wells that he built he gave in endowment (waqf) to the poor. His endowments, known as the "alms of 'Ali," had the noteworthy income of twenty-four thousand gold dinars towards the end of his life. (shi`ite Islam)