During the life of the Prophet himself, many of his companions also attested to the knowledge, valor, judgments, generosity, piety and faith of Ali; and to his unparalleled greatness.
LIFE OF ALI DURING THE TIMES OF THE FIRST THREE CALIPHS
On the death of the Prophet, the people of Madinah were concerned that if they remained passive, the goveniment of their city would pass over to the Muhajirs. Likewise, the Muhajirs had no intention of relinquishing the government over to the Ansar of Madinah. The most prominent companions of the Prophet hurried to join a heated conference on the matter. For Ali, the primary obligation was to bury the Prophet after his death, and there was nothing in the world that would have distracted him from carrying out his mission. He was confident that the public declaration made by the Prophet about him was sufficient reassurance for his rights of succession.
At the meeting, Abu Bakr was elected the first Caliph and Umar led the congregation 'in Madinah the next day to obtain fealty for the new Caliph. All felt betrayed and refused to give his endorsement to the process of election by which Abu Bakr became the first successor to the Prophet of Islam. As a result of this incidence, bitterness and unpleasantness ensued. However, All did not raise arms to obtain his rights by force. In fact, there were many in Madinah at that time who wanted him to do so. He only wished for Islam to remain a unified force, and showed no wish to divide the young nation by a civil war of succession. Within six months of the death of the Prophet, his beloved daughter Fatitna also passed away leaving her husband and her family in deep grief.
Just before his death, Abu Bakr named Umar as his successor. Thus Ali was deprived of his rights to become the caliph a second time. He protested against the method but again refrained from using force to assert his right to the caliphate. Despite his bitterness on the issue of Caliphate, Ali did not refrain from providing advice to the caliphs whenefer he was consulted in the matters of the State or ofj'urisprudence. When Umar was fatally wounded by Abu Lulu the dis-satisfied Persian slave, he set up an elaborate electoral council of six most eligible candidates for succession which also included Ali. However, the mechanism effectively eliminated Ali, and Uthman became the third caliph.
By this time, the boundaries of the Muslim' rule had extended to far off lands. It had been many years that Ali was not seen participating actively in matters of the State, and had retreated into a quiet life in the coastal town of Yanbu, located in the north west of Madinah. By now, the numbers of new Muslims from far off lands had exceeded those in the Arab lands. However, the reign of Uthman quickly became controversial because of his policy of promoting Umayyads to key positions throughout the empire. Many of the previous governors, who were among the respected companions of the Prophet, were replaced by the new Umayyad nominees. Most of these new officials of Uthman were neither pious nor knowledgeable in matters of religion. They were arrogant and their behavior was brutal to many companions of the Prophet who had settled in the new provinces. Complaints sent to the Caliph produced no response, as they were filtered by his personal secretary (and son-in-law) Marwan bin Hakam. This aroused wide spread dissention among the Madinan Muslims as well as the new Muslims in the peripheral provinces. Many deputations sent to meet with the Caliph returned without any change of personnel or policies.
Ultimately an angry mob of Muslims marched onto the Caliph's palace and assassinated him. The mob had consisted of a huge representation from the provinces as well as many prominent companions of the Prophet from Madinah who had opposed the policies of Uthman. For several days there was chaos in Madinah. At this point people came to Ali and unanimously elected him their Caliph. All had to accept the trust, knowing full well that the task of governing the nation at that time was a formidable one. He told the people that he would strictly follow the Quran and the Prophet in his government, and there would be some who would not like it. However, many companions who were aware of the impeccable character of Ali, were confident that he would bring justice to the people.
No sooner did the new Caliph take office, the Umayyad camp in the north under Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan began a systematic revolt against him and demanded revenge for the blood of Uthtnan (who was also from the Umayyad clan). His excuse for the rebellion was that the new Caliph did nothing to punish the killers of Utlunan.
In Madinah, several sympathizers of the slain Caliph also echoed the Umayyad uproar. Ironically, the Prophet's wife Ayesha binte Abu Bakr, who was among the foremost to protest against Uthman's policies, now wanted to avenge his murder. Whereas it is true that Ali was not pleased with the policies of Uthman, he did not form public demonstrations and never took part in any agitation or mob protest that ultimately led to Uthman's assassination.
Two of the candidates for caliphate in the electoral council designed by Umar before his death, Talha and al-Zubayr (the former a cousin and the other a brother-in-law of Ayesha), still considered themselves to be active candidates for the high position. The appointment of Ali to the Caliphate by popular vote was not acceptable to them. They also instigated the rising against the new Caliph for their own motives.
LIFE OF IMAM ALI AS A CALIPH
On becoming the Caliph of the Islamic State, Ali had a stonny five years long career. The rising against the new Caliph had a catchy slogan:'to avenge the murder of Uthman'. In this rising Talha and Zubayr enlisted the support of Aycsha, who by her own admission in later years, was 'gravely misled by the mischief mongcrs'. Muawiyah who had been a governor of the provinces of Palestine and Syria for nearly twenty five years, had enjoyed virtual autonomy during the rule of the preceding three caliphs. Taking advantage of the situation, he refused to accept Ali as the Caliph. In fact, he wanted to have the seat of Caliphate for himself Muawiyah fuelled the revolt by the three leaders in Madinah, and they marched on to the province of Basrah and took it after a bloody massacre.
THE BATTLE OF JAMAL (CAMEL)
Ali invited the instigators of the revolt to avert the civil war, avoid the inevitable killing of more Muslims on either side, and to resolve the dispute through negotiation. As the three leaders had gained victory at one front, they were confident of continued success at other fronts as well. Ali had to draw his sword when his ambassador with an invitation for peace was killed by the order from one of the revolting three leaders. This started the disgraceful Battle of the Camel. This was the first time that Muslims drew their swords against each other in battle. There were companions of the Prophet on both sides. People had forgotten the Prophet's famous saying, "Ali is with the Truth, and the Truth is with Ali."
However, at the open confrontation, Imam Ali was victorious. Although Zubayr had withdrawn from the battle, he was assassinated on his way back to Madinah. Talha bled to death from an arrow shot at him by the Uma@ad Marwan, who was a soldier in their army. At the end of the battle, Ayesha was escorted back to Madinah with great respect.
THE BATTLE OF SIFFEEN
After dealing with the revolt headed by Ayesha, Ali invited Muawiyah to come under the direct rule of the Caliph. Having enjoyed virtual autonomy and power for over two decades, Muawiyah declined to abide by the Caliph's advice. He gathered his army of regular soldiers and declared war against the Caliph. This important event took place at Siffeen.
The army of the Caliph consisted of believers whojoined forces with him as volunteers. They fought with vigor and faith but the confrontation turned out to be a long drawn out one. When Muawiyah saw that his defeat was inevitable, he resorted to a clever trick. He ordered his army to hoist copies of the Qur'an atop their spears and cry out aloud to stop the war in the name of Allah and turn to the Qur'an to resolve their differences.
EMERGENCE OF THE KHARJITES
The soldiers of the Caliph fell to the clever ploy by Muawiyah and asked Ali to resolve this matter through arbitration. Whereas Muawiyah got the arbitrar of his choice, the Caliph had to accede to the choice by the majority of his soldiers. By a deceitful maneuver during arbitration, the representative of Muawiyah gained advantage over the Caliph's camp. This sent a wave of dissent in his an-ny and caused a large portion of them to abandon allegiance to him. In fact, they took up the position of open confrontation and took up arms against him. This group of deserters is known as the Khawarij (the Khadites).
THE BATTLE OF NAHRAWAN
With an eloquent lecture to the dissenting soldiers, Ali was able to convince a large section of them to abandon their hostility and open confrontation against him. A remaining force of about four thousand soldiers persisted in their resolve to fight him. A bloody battle ensued at Nahrawan, and all but a handful of them perished. At a later date they regrouped and had a second attempt against the Caliph, but lost with massive bloodshed. Despite such grave losses, the Kh@ite movement persisted and could not be totally wiped out. The survivors retreated to the mountains to brew further mischief.
THE SEQUELAE OF SIFFEEN AND NAHRAWAN
After the battle of Nahrawan, Ali invited his army to head for Syria to subdue the rebel governor Muawiyah for his deceit. The soldiers asked Ali to return to Kufa briefly so that they could visit their families and refurbish their supplies. Having returned to Kufa, the army of volunteers simply disappeared. Thus, the righteous Caliph was unable to regroup a substantial force to bring the revolting governor of Syria under the rule of the Caliphate.
Muawiyah took this opportunity and started a systematic scheme to weaken the hold of the Caliph over the provinces. He invaded and took the western province of Egypt. Muhammad bin Abu Bakr, the governor of the province was captured on his way between Madinah and Egypt and was killed.
Muawiyah sent his army on a wild rampage in Hijaz, and all the way down to the province of Yemen, leaving in their wake indiscriminate looting and burning of property. He sent down swarms of his army contingents to the province of Basra and weakened their allegiance to the Caliph. As part of his demeaning propaganda against Ali, he introduced an ignoble practice of cursing Ali on the pulpit in the Friday congregational prayers, held throughout the territory controlled by him.
The Caliph addressed his subjects during the congregational prayers and at other occasions and appraised them of the deeds of the rebel governor. He tried to awaken their conscience and induce in them the spirit of individual dignity and self-respect. He advised them that if they remained placid, they would be the next on the rampage of Muawiyah. The untiring efforts of the Righteous Caliph in his eloquent sermons again roused his followers to regroup, and a respectable army gathered for the defense of the province of Iraq.
THE MARTYRDOM OF IMAM ALI
Imam Ali had many enemies from his first battle against the Kuffar (non-believers) during the early days of Islam down to the recurring conflicts against the charlestons who declined to accept his Caliphate, including Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan, the rebellious governor of Syria. The new faction of the Khwarij in his own caliphate were his new enemies, who wanted to have him killed. Abd ar-Rehman ibne Mulji@ a previously unknown Kharji hid in the mosque over night during the month of Ramadhan. He struck the Imam on the head with a poison-dipped sword while he was prostrate in Ms prayers. The Imam suffered from the poisonous deep cut wound for three days and died at home surrounded by his grief-stricken family.
Before he died, he called his elder son Hasan to his bedside and appointed him to be the Imam after him. On his deathbed, Imam Ali gave his last advice to his children as well as Muslims, which is summarized here: -Keep piety your foremost goal in life.
-Be organized, and always be prepared to further the cause of Islam.
-Do not forget the orphans among you.
-Remember your neighbors at all times.
-Make al-Qur'an your guide.
-Maintain prayers as your foremost discipline in life because this is the strongest pillar of your faith.
-Give freely in the name of Allah, including your lives when needed to defend Islam.
-Remain united, and protect each other from sin, because if you fail to do so, others will become your overlords.
REFLECIRIONS FROM THE LIFE OF IMAM ALI
Upon the death of the third caliph, Imam Ali became the Caliph of a vast nation of new Muslims who had not been introduced to the Ahle Bait and who had poor knowledge of the feats of Imam All or the teachings of the Prophet. However, among the companions of the Prophet, the towering personality of hnam Ali dwarfed them all. This provoked feelings ofjealousy among those who saw the opportunity slip away from their hands for the high position. Consequently the Caliphate of Imam Ali suffered a series of betrayals by many friends, companions and even Ayesha binte Abu Bakr, a wife of the Prophet. He was frustrated when he had to draw his sword against the Muslims who had previously protected and defended against the infidels. Many were confused when they saw the close companions of the Prophet come out in open confrontation in bloody battle. It was among these unsure and skepfic people that the Khaji faction emerged. It was these people who failed him in his efforts to subdue Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan, the ambitious rebel governor of Syria. When this group of people rebelled against the Imam, it further compounded the problem of dissention, dissatisfaction and division among the Muslims already spearheaded by Muawiyah.
There were others in the Imam's army who expected large gratuities from him for their services, as practiced in the preceding era. The Imam did not give in to favoritism or nepotism, and considered the public treasury to be a sacred trust that could not be violated by using it to win loyalty or services. Many of them became dissatisfied and left the Imam when he refused to meet their expectations. Even in the battlefields, he had forbidden his soldiers to loot or strip the fallen in the opposite camp.
Imam Ali had planned major reforms for the state since it had fallen into geperal abuse towards the end of the rule of the third caliph. These were delayed due to the civil disorder he had to deal with. There was only a brief period of relative peace in his province after the battle of Nahrawan in which he could institute his reforms. They illustrate his great foresight, wisdom and organization. It is not within the scope of this book to discuss or describe tlxm here. For this, the reader may rcfcr to Nalijul-Balaglia, a collection of the Imain's Sermons, letters and sayings.
The sermons and lectures of the lmwn are highly eloquent and full of knowledge and wisdom. The style in which he delivered them reminded people of the times of the Holy Prophet. The people attended the congregational prayers led by him and sat to savor the sermons he gave for their spiritual as well as worldly improvement.
Peak of Eloquence
The book nwned Nahjul-Balagha was compiled and named as such by Abul Hasan Syed Muhammad Razi, generally known as Syed Sharif al-Razi (359-406AH).
He was a brilliant student of the great jurist AbuAbd Allah Sheikh Mufid. Before his death, he had produced forty other works of reference on al-Qur'an and Hadith. However his masterpiece remains the compilation of the book Nahjul-Balagha.
Syed al-Razi had come across the sayings, sermons and letters of Imam Ali scattered in various books of theology, history, biography, literature and the commentaries of al-Qur'an and Hadith. He found references made to a considerable collection of materials by the first century scholars that had been lost due to the turmoils of the time. He went back into the written materials available to him and with painstaking meticulousness, selected the spoken word of Imam Ali. He searched and obtained the authentic collections for his book. He could only classify these materials into sermons, letters and sayings of Imam Ali. Since the reference material came to his attention at different times, the extracted materials had no chronological sequence. He died five years after the completion of his book. It is probable that if he had lived longer, he would have re@ted his collection into chronological order or according to content or topic. It is clear that he considered the work sacred and devoted many years of his life to complete it. No sooner had it gotten published, than it became the center for interpretations and commentaries by many authorities of his time. Commentaries on the book have continued to be published right through the ages, and most of these works are currently available in many languages, including English.
The book Nahjul-Balagha, as compiled by Syed al-Razi contains a collection of 245 sermons, 75 letters and 210 sayings of Imam Ali. Apparently there were many more of these sermons and letters that were not available to Syed al-Razi at the time. It was Sheikh Muhammad Abdoh (d. 1323 AH), a mufti Ourist) in Egypt, who got the Nahjul-Balagha published and thus acquainted the centers of learning in Egypt and Beirut with the wealth of knowledge contained in this book. The reader is urged to obtain a copy of the book for himself and benefit from the wisdom and knowledge of Imam Ali.
THE DEWAN (COLLECTED POETRY) OF IMAM ALI
The eloquence of Imam Ali was exemplary among his peers and has remained unmatched to this day. His normal sermons used have a poetical rhyme in them. In fact the origin of the art and science of grammar in Arabic is ascribed to him. The poetical word of Imam Ali has been quoted in many classic works, and a Dewan is ascribed to him. Only two of his poetical works are quoted below:
I."Where hearts contain despair
And the spacious breast is stifled by what is within it,
And cares make their abode and repose,
And sorrows anchor in their habitations,
And no way is seen for dispelling of distress,
And the stratagem of the cunning availeth not;
There shall come to thee in thy despair a helper,
When the answerer of prayer who is nigh, shall bring
For all sorrows when they have reached their term,
There is linked to them an approaching joy."
2."Men lust for the world and plot for it,
Yet its clearness is mingled for them with impurities.
They do not give thou of it thy portion
According to thy wisdom when it is distributed!
But men have their allotted shares according to their destinies,
How many there are of the wise and sagacious unprospered! While a fool has gained his wealth by errors,
If it could be acquired by force and rapine,
Falcons would sweep off with the subsistence of sparrows!
GNOSIS OF ALLAH ACCORDING TO IMAM ALI
1. "I know Allah by Allah, and I know that which is not Allah by the Light of Allah."
"I have seen the Face of Allah, for if I had not seen it, I could not worship Him!"
"The height of gnosis is His confirmation."
"The height of confirmation is Tawhid (Oneness)."
"The height of Tawhid is the acknowledgement of the supremacy of Allah in all matters."
"He is beyond all attributes."
"No particular attribute can give an idea of His exact nature."
"He is not bound by anything; all things are bound by Him."
"He is infinite, limitless, boundless, beyond Time, beyond Space, beyond imagination."
"Time does not affected Him."
"He existed when there was nothing."
"He will exist for ever."
"His existence is not subject to the laws of birth or death."
"He is manifest in everything, but He is distinct from everything."
"He is not the cause of anything; everything is because of Him."
"He is unique."
"He has no partner."
"He is The Creator."
"He creates as He destroys."
"All things are subject to His command."
"He orders a thing to be and it is."
2.Man is a wave in the boundless sea of Allah.
"As long as man's vision is clouded by ignorance and sensuality he will consider himself a separate entity, different from Allah.
"But when the veil between him and Allah is lifted, he will then know what he
3 . While living in the world do not renounce it, yet have no undue attachment to it. Detachment from it (zuhd) means attaining Allah.
IMAM ALI, THE ORIGINATOR OF SUFISM (MYSTICISM)
Imam Ali is acclaimed as the Father of Sufism, and the Prince of Saints. Most Suft orders claim their descent from Imam Ali and emulate him in his phi ' losophy, gnosis and worship of Allah. Imam Ali held that men should be virtuous, as virtues purify the soul; and it is only the purified soul that can be the recipient of spiritual enlightenment. This is the doctrine of Inner Light, which sits in the core of the Sufi Ihought.
IMAM ALI, THE ORIGINATOR OF FIQ (ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE)
In the years prior to his own rule, Imam Ali was consulted by the preceding Caliphs in matters of Islamic law and judgements. It is said that even his archenemy Muawiyah acknowledged his superiority in knowledge, and had consulted him on an unusual case of inheritance that he was unable to solve.
During his own rule, Imam Ali used to address the Muslims after the congregational prayers, and expounded on the Word of Allah, and elaborated its meanings and implications with the Hadith and Sunna of the Prophet. He spoke on the purity of Faith and the Fidelity 'in the ritual practices of religion, on Worship and Submission to Allah, on Charity and Alms giving, on the Conduct of one!s individual life and one's interaction with the Society at large. With his letters to his governors, he gave specific instructions on how to deal with the Muslim and the non-Muslim subjects under their charge. All aspects of human fallibility were under his direct vision, and he explained to his sub ects how to deal with them. Thus, in the light of Qur'an and Hadith, as well as his own illustrious conduct of life, he laid down the foundations of Fiq (Islamic Jurisprudence). The reader is once again referred to larger biographical works on the Imam for details.
IMAM ALI ON KNOWLEDGE
1. Knowledge is better than (worldly) wealth because: -"Knowledge is the legacy of the Prophets; wealth is the legacy of the pharaohs."
"Knowledge induces humanity in Prophets to say,'O Allah! We worship Thee and are Thine servants;'while wealth 'induces the pharaohs and the nimrods to claim godhead for themselves."
"You have to guard your wealth, but knowledge guards you."
"When knowledge is distributed it increases, but when wealth is distributed it decreases."
"A man of wealth has many enemies, but a man of knowledge has many friends. "
"A man of knowledge has a wider outlook and is apt to be generous, but a man of wealth is apt to be mean and miserly."
"Knowledge gains in depth and dimension with lapse of time, but wealth in the forms of hoarded coins and currency become rusty and loose its value."
"You can keep an account of wealth because it' limited but you cannot keep is it an account of knowledge because it is boundless."
"Knowledge illuminates the mind, but wealth is apt to darken it."
2. The highest purpose of knowledge is the awakening of latent spiritual faculties whereby one is enabled to discover his true and inner self.
3. Any form of knowledge which failed to show the infinite reality in man was useless, because it could not fill that vacuun of which the aching soul of every individual was so pathetically conscious."
Selected Sayings of Imam Ali
1. You are ordained to recognize the Imam and obey.
2. Anyone who has four attributes will not be deprived of their (four) effects:
-one who prays to Allah and implores to Him, will not be deprived of the granting of his prayers;
-one who repents for his thoughts and deeds, will not be refused acceptance of the repentance;
-one who has atoned for his sins, will not be debarred from salvation;
-one who thanks Allah for His blessings and bounties, will not be denied, for their thanks increase them.
The truth of this is attested by al-Quran:
-As far as prayers are concerned, Allah says, "Pray thee to me and I shall accept thy prayers."
-About repentance He says, " ftoever has done a bad deed or has persuaded himself to sin, and then repents and asks for His forgiveness, he willfind Allah most Forgiving and MercifuL "
-About being thankful He says, "Ifyou are thankfulfor what you are given then I shall increase My Bounties and Blessings. " -About atonement of sins He says, "Allah accepts the atonement ofthose who have committed a vice without realizing its enormity and then atonefor it.Allah accepts such attunements, He is Wise and Omniscient."
3 . Half of the success in life is to acquire friends and sympathizers.
4. This world is not a place of permanent abode. It is a passage, a road on which you are passing. There are two kinds of people: -those who have sold their souls for eternal damnation; and those who have bought their souls and freed them from damnation.
5. Minds get tired like bodies. When you feel that your mind is tired,then invigorate it with advice.
6. Obstinacy and stubbornness will not let you arrive at the correct decision.
7. In this world man is a target to the arrow of death, an easy prey of calamities and adversities:
-here every morsel and every draught is liable to choke one; -here one never receives a favor until he loses another instead;
-here every additional day in one's life is a day reduced from the total span of his existence;
-When death is the natural outcome of life how then can one expect immortality!
8. No wealth has more usefulness than intelligence and wisdom.,
-No solitude is more horrible than people avoiding you on account of your vanity and conceit or when you think your are above everybody to confide and consult.
-No eminence is more exalting than pity.
-No companion can prove more useful than politeness.
-No heritage is better than culture.
-No leader is superior to Divine Guidance.
-No deal is more profitable than good deeds.
-No profit is greater than heavenly reward.
-No abstinence is better than refraining from indulging in doubts (about religion).
-No virtue is better than refraining from prohibited deeds.
-No knowledge is superior to deep thinking and prudence.
-No worship or prayers are more sacred than fulfillment of obligations and duties.
-No religious faith is loftier than feeling ashamed to do wrong and bearing calamities patiently.
-No eminence is greater than humility.
-No exaltation or grandeur is superior to learning and knowledge.
-Nothing is more respectable than forgiveness and forbearance.
-No support and defense is stronger than consultation and counsel.
9.Anyone who loves us (Able Bait) must be ready to accept a life of austerity.
10.Best deed of a great man is to forgive and forget.