Islamic Perspective of Imam Ali
No one in Islam has ever received such praise and esteem as Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) received in the Islamic message, which asks its followers not only to evaluate and endear him, but also to adhere to his example and follow in his footsteps.
The Glorious Qur'an, the noble traditions and factual history contain texts and narratives which speak volumes of Imam Ali's (a.s.) merits and applaud him. The compliments are like medals which decorate his chest to distinguish him; or they are in the form of rules and commands obliging the Muslims to follow his course and guidance.
Of the "medals" which Imam Ali (a.s.) received from Allah, the Exalted, and the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) we can mention the following: 1. "...Allah's wish is only to remove uncleanness far from you, O Folk of the Household; and cleanse you with a thorough cleansing." Holy Qur'an (33:33)
Commentators on this verse say it refers specifically to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Hussain (a.s.), when the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) demanded a cloak and covered them all with it. When this verse was revealed, Um Salamah, the Messenger's wife asked: "Am I among your household?"
"No," the Messenger replied, "but you are all right."(59)
- "And whoever disputes with you concerning him, after the knowledge which has come unto you, say (unto them): Come! We will summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves, then we will pray humbly (to our Lord) and (solemnly) invoke the curse of Allah upon those who lie." Holy Qur'an (3:61)
Islamic commentators of all sects confirm that this verse was revealed when the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), accompanied Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Hussain (a.s.), went to meet the Christians of Najran for "Mubahalah" (Malediction). When the Christians saw him coming with his household, they were afraid of the consequences and excused themselves for not going through with the "Mubahalah" , and agreed to pay tribute in submission to his authority.(60)
- "And (they) feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him, (saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you. We fear from our Lord a day of frowning and of fate. Therefore Allah has warded off from them the evil of that day, and has made them find brightness and joy." Holy Qur'an (76:8-11)
Commentators unanimously agree that this verse was revealed in favor of Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Hussain (a.s.), when Hasan and Husain (a.s.) were ill, and Ali, Fatimah (a.s.) and Fiddah (their maid) had vowed to Allah to fast for three days if the two boys recovered from their illness. They did recover, and the Household (a.s.) fasted.
At sunset on the first day, a beggar knocked at their door, and they gave him what they had of barley-bread. On the second day an orphan knocked at the door and asked for food, and they fed him. On their third day of fasting, a war-prisoner came to them, and they gave him their food. Thus, the Household (a.s.) fasted for three days without tasting anything except water. Hence the revelation of these generous verses glorifies them, extols their deed, and singles them out as examplers for the others to follow.(61)
- "Count you the slaking of a pilgrim's thirst and tendance of the inviolable place of worship as (equal to the worth of him) who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and strives in the way of Allah? They are not equal in the sight of Allah. Allah guides not wrongdoing folk." Holy Qur'an (9:19)
This verse was revealed when Talhah bin Shaibah boasted to Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, saying: "I have more authority on the House (Ka'bah) because I am more authorized as I am responsible for giving out water to the pilgrims." At that moment Imam Ali (a.s.) passed by them and asked them: "What are you boasting about?" They told him. He said, "I was given as a child what none of you were given."
"What was that?" they asked him.
He replied, "I was the first to pray in Islam, and I am the Fighter (for the sake of Allah)."
Hence the revelation of the said verse was in praise of what Imam Ali (a.s.) was proud of (62)
Apart from this high appreciation of Imam Ali (a.s.) on the part of the Glorious Qur'an, the honorable traditions speak further in this respect: 1. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said:
"I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate."(63) 2. The Prophet (s.a.w.) also said, addressing Imam Ali (a.s.):
"You are to me as Aaron was to Moses, only there is no prophet after me."(64)
- And again addressing Imam Ali (a.s.):
"Only believers will love you and only hypocrites will hate you!"(65) 4. On the day of fraternization between Muhajirin (the emigrants) and Ansars (the inhabitants of Medinah who supported the Muhajirin). The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said to Imam Ali (a.s.):
"You are my brother and I am your brother. If anybody asks you, tell him: I am the servant of Allah and the brother of His Messenger. No one would claim this after you but a liar."(66) These were some of the texts which praised Imam Ali (a.s.). For more such texts look up Fada'il Khamsah min "al-Sihah al-Sittah", "Yanabi' al-Mawaddah", Ahmad bin Hanbal's "Musnad", and "Dala'il al-Sidiq", the chapter titled "Fadha'il Amir al- Mu'minin wa Imamatihi", and other references.
IMAM ALI'S MERITS:
As to the texts which impose loyalty to Imam Ali (a.s.) as the Imam and leader of the Muslims, we may quote the following: "Only Allah is your Wali and His Prophet and those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate while they bow." Holy Qur'an (5:55)
Interpreters of the Qur'an say that this verse was revealed specifically about Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.),(67) confirming the compulsion of adhering to him as an Imam, an ideological authority and a social and political leader of the nation. It was revealed when Imam Ali (a.s.) took off his ring from his finger, while kneeling in his prayer, and gave it to the poor, in charity. The verse was revealed on this very occasion, and it confirmed the leadership of Imam Ali (a.s.).
This was the speech which the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) addressed to the Muslims at a place called "Ghadir Khum", on his return from his last pilgrimage to Mecca, in which Barra' bin Azib says: "We came with the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), in the year of his last pilgrimage, to a place on the road, where he summoned the people to "collective prayer", and took Ali's hand and addressing the people, said:
Am I not more appropriate for authority over you than yourselves?" "Yes," they answered.
"Am I not more appropriate for authority over every believer than himself?" "Yes," they replied:
"Then, this (holding high Ali's hand) has authority over whom I have authority. O Allah, befriend whoever befriends him!"(68) Or, according to the wording of Ahmad bin Hanbal, the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said, "Whosoever I have authority over, Ali has also authority over him. O Allah! befriend whoever befriends him and be hostile to whoever is hostile to him."(69)
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) said:
"Ali is with the truth, and the truth is with Ali. They will never separate until they join me at the Pool (Kawthar) in the hereafter."(70) In another narrative, the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), addressing Ammar bin Yasir, said: "....And if all the people went through a valley, and Ali went through another, go through the valley through which Ali went, disregarding all other people."(71)
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) also specified:
"Every prophet has a vicegerent and inheritor..."(72) These are a few of the many confirmed and authentic Islamic texts attested to by all Muslims.(73)
THE CALIPHS' PERIOD
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) passed away with his head on the lap of Imam Ali (a.s.).(74) He departed to his Lord, the Most High, while still worried about the future of the Mission and the nation. This had been shown at his visiting the graves of the believers in Baqi', at the beginning of his fatal illness, when he said, "O inhabitants of the graves! Rejoice at what you are in, unlike what the people are in. Trials are coming like the dark parts of the night, their first following their last...."(75)
He continuously used to stress the necessity of adherence to 'Al-Thaqalain' (The Scripture and his pure progeny).(76) In the last hour of his life he asked for an inkpot and a sheet to write on it to the nation what would protect them from going astray after him.(77) These and others were signs of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) being worried about the future of the Islamic progress, despite having taken care to fortify the nation against falling into trials.
No sooner had the soul of the Messenger (s.a.w.) sublimated out of his pure body, and had Imam Ali (a.s.) and the housefolk started to prepare for the funeral, than the Ansars and some of the Muhajirin held a meeting in "Saqifah bani Sa'idah" to appoint a successor to lead the Muslims after the Prophet (s.a.w.)
After sharp and long arguments, under a climate of tension, anxiety, violence and dispute, Umar bin Al-Khattab hastened to give the pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr (78) as the Caliph after the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), and demanded from those present to do as he did. Imam Ali (a.s.) knew nothing about what was going on, but the news broke to his ears from the noise made by the people leaving the meeting at Al-Saqifah on their way to the Prophet's Mosque.
Imam Ali (a.s.) and the housefolk were still busy in funeral arrangements for the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), whose pure body remained three days (79) so that the Muslims could pay their last respects to him before his burial. As the Imam (a.s.) was not convinced by what had happened, and was firmly believing in his own right to Caliphate, he withdrew from the society and kept away from the people and their affairs for six months, during which his voice could not be heard in the so-called "Apostasy Wars" nor elsewhere.(80)
Then certain grave incidents happened endangering Islam and threatening its very existence, such as the appearance of fake prophets after the passing away of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.). There were many of them in the Arab Peninsula, such as: Musailamah al-Kaddab (the liar), Talhah bin Khuwailid al-Affak (the falsifier), Sijah bint al-Harth Addajjalah (the impostor) and others. Their appearance was a real threat to the Islamic State. At the same time, the hypocrites became stronger and their power grew in Medinah. The Romans and the Persians were also laying ambush for the Muslims.(81)
Furthermore, diverse political groups began to appear in the Islamic society as a result of the Saqifah allegiance. Imam Ali (a.s.), in dealing with the caliphate, was in accordance to the interests of Islam, to protect it and its unity against being torn to pieces and lost, and to realize the high Islamic objectives for which he had fought.
In a letter, Imam Ali (a.s.) recalls these times in this respect:
"...at every stage I kept myself aloof of the struggle for supremacy and power-politics. Still I found heretics had openly taken to heresay and schism and were trying to undermine and ruin the religion preached by our Holy Prophet (s.a.w.). I felt afraid that even after seeing and recognizing the evil, if I did not stand up to help Islam and Muslims it would be a worse calamity to me than losing authority and power over you, which is only transient and temporary. Therefore, when I stand up amidst the pressing swarm of innovations and schisms, the dark clouds of heresay dispersed, falsehood and factionalism were crushed and the religion was saved.(82)
But Imam Ali's (a.s.) voice was heard only when he was consulted and his opinion was sought. He tried, in this respect, to direct Islamic life in accordance with the teachings of the Message of Allah, the Most High, in legislative, executive and judicial fields.
Consequently, a historian studying the life of Imam Ali (a.s.) quickly meets hundreds of situations and events-during the caliphates of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman--which no one but Imam Ali (a.s.) could manage and settle according to the teachings of Islam.
The three caliphs had but to consult Imam Ali (a.s.) whenever affairs in their hands became confused. Thus, you would see him acting as a guide correcting Islamic rule in an instance, or as a judge giving his verdict in another case, or as a leader, directing the ruler to where the high Islamic ideals could be realized on the other occasions. His missionary role was tangible from the very details of his conduct during the rule of the caliphs before him.
A. THE CALIPHATE OF ABU BAKR:
- Abu Bakr once thought to attack the Romans. On consulting with a number of the companions, they hesitated, giving no decisive guidance. But on consulting with Imam Ali (a.s.), he told him positively: "If you do, you will be victorious."
Abu Bakr was pleased with this, and said to him: "May you receive good tidings!" He then ordered the expedition under the leadership of Khalid bin Sa'id.(83)
- At another time, Abu Bakr wanted to punish to a wine-drinker. The man had said: "I drank it without knowing that it is prohibited."
Abu Bakr sent somebody to ask Imam Ali (a.s.) what to do. Amir al-Mu'minin Imam Ali (a.s.) said:
"Let the man be taken by two trustworthy Muslims amongst the Muhajirin and the Ansars, asking if anyone of them had recited to him the "prohibition verse" or if anyone had told him about it on the authority of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.). If the two men testify that they did, then, punish him. If not, then ask him to repent and let him go."
The caliph did so, and finding out that the man was truthful, he released him.(84) 3. Muhammad al-Munkadir narrates that Khalid bin al-Walid wrote to the caliph Abu Bakr that he had found a man in some Arab quarters who was having sexual intercourse with another man. Abu Bakr summoned a number of the companions of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), among them Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.), who had then the most decisive word.
"This is a crime committed by no nation except one, that was the people of Lot. You know how Allah treated them. I see that this man should be burnt by fire." Abu Bakr wrote to bin al-Walid to do so.(85)
- An Archbishop of the Christians, together with a hundred of his people, put some questions to Abu Bakr. The Caliph sent for Imam Ali (a.s.). to come and answer all the questions of the Bishop. Below is one example: The Imam (a.s.) ordered some wood to be brought before him. He made a fire. When it was kindled, he asked the Bishop:
"Tell me where is the face of this fire?"
The Bishop said: "It has a face from every side of it."
Imam Ali (a.s.) said: "This fire, which is man-made, no one knows where its face is, and its creator does not resemble it: 'Unto Allah belongs the East and West and whichsoever you turn, there is Allah's countenance.' Nothing is hidden from our Lord?"(86)
- The Emperor of the Romans sent an envoy to Abu Bakr asking him about a man who never hoped to go to Paradise, never feared the Fire, never feared Allah, never prayed, never prostrated, who eats carrion and blood, gives testimony to what he has never seen, likes evil and hates the truth. Abu Bakr informed Imam Ali (a.s.). He said in his reply:
"This man is a good servant of Allah. He never hopes for Paradise and never fears the Fire, but fears Allah. He never fears His injustice, but fears His justice. He neither bows nor prostrates in performing prayer on a dead body intended for burial. He eats locusts, fish and liver. He likes wealth and children: "...your possessions and your children are a test..." He testifies to the existence of Paradise and the Fire, neither of which he has ever seen, and he hates death, which is a truth."(87)
These were some examples of his role in the historical advance of Islam during the rule of Abu Bakr.
B. THE CALIPHATE OF UMAR BIN AL-KHATAB:
- When Umar bin al-Khattab wanted to invade the Roman Empire, he consulted with the Imam (a.s.). Imam Ali (a.s.) advised him not to lead the army himself. He told him:
"...appoint an experienced officer to take charge of the invasion and place under him such soldiers who can face hardship, obey orders, and who have experience in war. If Allah grants them victory you will achieve your aim. If they are defeated you will be there at the center to protect and help the Muslims state."(88)
- Once Baitul Mal (the Public treasury) received a lot of money from Bahrain. Umar divided it among the Muslims, yet there remained some surplus. Umar called the Muhajirin and the Ansars and asked them what he should do with the surplus. They said:
"O Amir al-Mu'minin, we have kept you too busy with our affairs to let you attend to your family, trade and your own affairs, so you may take it." Umar turned to Imam Ali (a.s.) and asked him.
"What do you say?"
"They did tell you," he replied. "You tell me," said the caliph.
The Imam (a.s.) said, "Why should you take the doubtful and leave the certain?" Then he told him about a similar situation in the life of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).
At the end, he told him to distribute the surplus among the poor: "I advise you not to take any of this surplus for yourself, but to give it out to the poor."
Umar said: "You are right, by Allah!"(89)
- Ibn Abbas was quoted to have said: "I heard Umar bin al-Khattab say: 'I will not leave this wealth inside the Ka'bah-. I will take it out and spend it in the way of Allah and in the way of good. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) was there, hearing. Umar asked him, 'What do you say, by Allah? If you encourage me I will do it."
Imam Ali (a.s.) said, "How could you give it to us, whereas its owner is a man who would come at ‘the end of time’?" Thus, Umar was convinced that the jewelery of the Ka'bah should not be touched.(90) 4. Abu Ubaidah bin Jarrah and Burrah bin Ruman al-Kalbi wrote to Umar: "People are taking to drinking wine in Al-Sham. We have (so far) punished forty, but we do not think this will do.
Umar consulted the people.
Imam Ali (a.s.) said:
"My opinion is to punish them with the penalty prescribed for falsehood, eighty lashes. Because if a man drank wine he would rave, and if he raved he would spread falsehood. So, Umar used the advice in Medinah and wrote to Abu Ubaidah, who used it in al-Sham, too."(91)
- It is narrated that Umar bin al-Khattab one night caught a man and woman indulging in adultery. In the morning he said to the people: "If an Imam saw a man and a woman indulging in adultery and he punished them as prescribed, what would you say?" They said: "you are the Imam."
But Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.) said to him: "You have no right to do so, otherwise you yourself will be punished. Allah is not satisfied in this affair with less than four witnesses."
Umar ignored the matter for a longtime, then he asked them once again about it. They answered him with their former answer, and Imam Ali (a.s.) repeated his same reply. Umar acted according to Imam Ali's (a.s.) judgement.(92)
- On the authority of Ibn Sirin, Umar bin al-Khattab asked the people: "How many wives may a slave have?" Then he turned to Imam Ali (a.s.) and said, "I am addressing the man with the Ma'afiri (a cloak he wore)."
The Imam (a.s.) replied: "Two".(93)
- After the conquest of al-Sham by the Muslims, Abu Ubaidah bin al-Jarrah gathered the Muslims and consulted them about marching on to Bait al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) or to Qisariyah. Ma'adh bin Jabal told him to write to Amir al- Mu'minin Umar about it. When Umar read the letter, he consulted the Muslims about it. Imam Ali (a.s.) said:
"Tell your man to descend with his army to Bait al Maqdis. After conquering it, he may go towards Qisariya, as it will be conquered after Bait al-Maqdis, if Allah wills.
This is what we had been told by the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.)."
Umar said: "Right was al-Mustafa (the Chosen one) (s.a.w.) and right you are, O Abul Hasan." Then he wrote to Abu Ubaidah to act as Imam Ali (a.s.) had advised.(94)
- After the Muslims's victory over the Persians during Umar's rule, Umar consulted with the companions of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) about the Kufa region. Some of them said: "Let us divide it among ourselves." He, then, consulted Imam Ali (a.s.) in the matter. Imam Ali (a.s.) told him:
"If you divide it today there will remain nothing for those who will come after us. So let them cultivate it for their benefit, and in this way it will be for us and for those who will come after us."
Umar said to Imam Ali (a.s.): "May Allah make you successful...this is the (right) opinion."(95) 9- Tabari in his 'History', quotes Sa'id bin Musayab as having said:
"Umar bin Khattab gathered the people and asked them: ‘With which day should we start the date?" Imam Ali (a.s.) said: "From the day when the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) emigrated from the land of idolators (Mecca)." Umar acted accordingly, and historians started to date the events accordingly, too.(96)
These were some features of the missionary role of the Imam Ali (a.s.) during the caliphate of Umar bin Khattab.
C. THE CALIPHATE OF UTHMAN BIN AFFAN:
- An old man married a virgin girl. She became pregnant, but the old man claimed that he had not had intercourse with her. Uthman asked the woman:
"Did the old man deflower you?"
"No," she replied.
So he ordered the prescribed punishment be administered on her. Imam Ali (a.s.) interposed saying:
"A woman has two orifices for the menstrual flow, and the orifice for urine. Perhaps the old man was close enough to her that his semen managed to flow into her menstrual orifice, and thus became pregnant."
The old man admitted, saying: "I used to discharge semen on her vulva, but without reaching the point of taking her virginity." Imam Ali said:
"The pregnancy is because of him, and the child is his. I see that he should be punished for denying it."(97) 2. On the authority of Malik's 'Muwatta" , quoting Ba'jah bin Badr Juhani, who said that a woman was brought before Uthman because she had given birth to a child only after six months of pregnancy. He was about to order her to be stoned, but Imam Ali (a.s.) told him:
"If she argued with you according to the Book od Allah, she would win. Allah, the Most High, says: "...and the bearing of him and the weaning of him is thirty months..." and He says: "Mothers shall suckle their children for two whole years, (that is) for those who wish to complete the suckling." So, two years are the suckling period and six months are the pregnancy period."
Uthman said: "Let her go."(98)
These were a few examples of the great responsibility that Imam Ali (a.s.) had to understand during the Caliphs' periods. He was urged to do this by his loyalty to the Prophet's mission, to keep Islamic unity and to protect the advancement of Islam against deviation.
The second caliph recognised the importance of what Imam Ali (a.s.) did in this respect. Several times he praised Imam Ali's (a.s.) favors and singled out their importance in the advance of the Caliphate. He once said to him, "I take refuge in Allah from having to live in a community where you are not there, O Abul- Hasan!"(99)