Facts about Imam Ali : A Biography 

We know leaders, kings, and queens by their power and might and sometimes feel terrified hearing their names. Those in power, usually, being occupied with many apparently vital matters, forget about those beneath them, the deprived ones. But, looking at the life of Imam Ali (AS), the commander of faithful and Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) rightful successor, we find a leader whose manner was incomparable to the ones we've seen or heard about so far. He was the father of orphans, a provider for the needy, and the defender of justice. 


In what follows, we will have a glance at the life of this exceptional Islamic figure of all time. 

 

1. His Birth and Lineage 


Imam Ali (AS) was born inside the Ka'ba in Mecca on September 28, 600 CE [1]. He was from Banu Hashim branch of Quraysh. His mother was Fatima bt. Asad and His father, Abu Talib, a respected man by various Arab tribes, was the uncle and guardian of the Prophet (PBUH&HP) and was of the most celebrated personalities of the Quraysh [2]. 


2. Imam Ali (AS)'s Relationship with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP)


When he was six years old, a famine took place in Mecca. Since Imam Ali's (AS) father had a large family and providing for them in that situation was a difficult job, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and his uncle, al-'Abbas, decided to help him. Therefore, they offered to take care of his children. So, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) took Imam Ali (AS) under his own guardianship [3]. Imam Ali (AS) recounted those days as such:


"When I was a young child, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) took care of me. He would bring me to his chest and I would sleep in his bed, so close to him that I could even smell his scent. He would chew food for me and then feed me with it. He found no lies in my speech, nor any shortcomings in my actions" [4].


When the prophethood assigned to Muhammad (PBUH&HP) in 610 A.D in Hira cave through Gabriel sent by Allah, Imam Ali (AS) was the first man, and Khadija (AS) was the first woman to acknowledge his call and believed in him. The ten-year-old Ali (AS) at the time would pray with the Prophet (PBUH&HP) on the mountains around Mecca [5]. He also supported Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) when he was ordered to announce his mission publicly, starting with his close relatives. In return, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) declared him as his brother, executor of his will (Wasi), and successor [6]. 

 

In 615 A.D, Polytheists besieged Muslims in a valley called Abu Talib, where they were prohibited from trade and were under severe sanctions. During this challenging time, Imam Ali (AS) and his father Abu Talib, devotedly helped Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP). To save the Prophet's (PBUH&HP), which was under the threat of polytheists, Imam Ali (AS) risked his own life and even slept where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) used to sleep. The most well-known account of this sacrifice is when after Abu Talib's demise, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) decided to immigrate to Medina. He was informed of the secret plan of polytheists to murder him on the night when he was ready to start his journey to Medina. As a counteract, Imam Ali (AS) slept in Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) place, so that he could secretly leave his house to Medina [7]. A few days later, Imam Ali (AS), along with his mother and Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) daughter, lady Fatima (AS), joined the Prophet (PBUH&HP) in Medina. 


In 632 A.D, Imam Ali (AS) accompanied Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) on his last pilgrimage to Mecca [8]. After the Hajj, on his way back to Medina in an area called Ghadir Khum, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) proclaimed Ali (AS) to be his successor and the executor of his will [9]. This event is known as the Event of Ghadir Khum and is celebrated by many Muslims around the world.

 
3. His Marriage to Lady Fatima (AS) and Their Children

imam ali

Imam Ali (AS) asked Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) daughter's hand in marriage. He consulted this request with his daughter, lady Fatima (AS), and after realizing her willingness to marry such an honored and pious man, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) consented to their marriage. 


There is a disagreement on the exact date of their marriage; however, the most accepted one is on May 25, 624 A.D [10]. Together, they had five children named Hasan, Hussain, Zaynab and Umm Kulthum [11] and also Muhsin, who was aborted before his birth.[12]


4. Imam Ali (AS)'s Government


After Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) demise and despite his speech in the incident of Ghadir, while Imam Ali (AS) and the Prophet's (PBUH&HP) family were busy with his burial, a group of the heads of Medina gathered in a place called Saqifa Bani Sa'ida to choose a successor for the Prophet (PBUH&HP) from themselves [13]. As a result, Abu Bakr was chosen as the caliph of Muslims, which was followed by Umar ibn Khattab's caliphate and then Uthman b.Affan. 


Finally, in June, 656 A.D and after the assassination of Uthman, Imam Ali (AS) became the caliph and the leader of the Muslims. Two days after the beginning of his caliphate, in his first sermon, Ali (AS) urged that all the wealth and properties that had been unjustly taken must be returned, and emphasized justice concerning the distribution of public properties and wealth [14]. 


As George Jordac, the Lebanese Christian writer puts: 


"In the eyes of Ali son of Abu Talib rulership and caliphate did not mean that the ruler should sit on the throne of dignity, strengthen his power and make his position the means of enslaving the people… Caliphate does not mean that people should be subjugated at the point of the sword, and by means of bloodshed and force, or that they should obey the caliph on account of fear or covetousness. Ali was a man who did not worship God because he desired forgiveness or because he feared punishment. On the contrary, he worshipped God because He deserved to be worshipped. He wished that the people should obey the caliph on account of his being worthy of obedience and not because of fear or greed of gain" [15]. 


During his four-year rule, he never did injustice to a soul, and he distributed wealth among people fairly, was observant of the poor, orphans, and the homeless. He was more like a compassionate father to people than a mighty unapproachable ruler. He lived a simple life, as he thought his life had to be like the poorest in society. He never favored any of his relatives over others in his government and refused to give them what they didn't deserve or had not any right to. In short, his government was the best instance of an ideal Islamic political and social system. 


5. His Eminent Characteristics 


As Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said in a narration Imam Ali's (AS) virtues and merits are impossible to number [16]. Nevertheless, we will try to mention some of his most significant characteristics. 

 

  • His Unbound Compassion and Generosity 


Kindness and compassion was an inherent characteristic of Imam Ali (AS). Poor or rich, young or old, Muslim or non-Muslim, man or woman, all would enjoy his regard and profound generosity. It is said that he used to water the date gardens of Jews in Medina with his own hands [17]. Jordac describes this characteristic of him as such:


"Ali was more kind to the people than anyone else and refrained from harming any person. He became oblivious of his own self in order to assist others and considered this self-abnegation to be part and parcel of his life. His entire life was dedicated to the support of the oppressed and the helpless so that he might realize their rights from the tyrants who considered themselves entitled to usurp the rights of others on account of noble descent and racial discrimination." [18]


This noble character was so kind that he refused to take revenge from the person who attacked him while praying in the mosque, which caused his martyrdom a few days later. He forbade his children to bring any harm to this person and commanded them to give him food and drink instead and treat him respectfully. 

 

  • His Wisdom and Sagacity 


Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said: "I am the city of knowledge, and Ali (AS) is its gate, whoever wants to enter this city, has to pass the gate first." [19]. Allah had endowed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) a breath of His divine wisdom, so when he calls Imam Ali (AS) as "the gate" to this divine wisdom through which people can enter, he is considering Imam Ali's (AS) wisdom as the prerequisite for reaching out to this vast knowledge.

As Jordac puts: "Ali was brought up by his cousin. He became his disciple and adopted his habits and conduct. The Prophet's heritage became implanted in his heart and brain. He reflected over the Qur'an with the intellect and eye of a sage and learned its latent realities" [20]. 


Imam Ali (AS) himself used to invite people to ask him their questions before they lost him since he was sure he would answer them in the wisest manner possible [21].

 

  • His Regard for the Needy


Imam Ali (AS) used to fast during the day and give away his food to the poor at night and slept hungrily. Based on an account, he and his family fasted for three days, and each night gave away their Iftar to one needy person who had come to their door. Some interpreters of the Quran believe that this act of Imam Ali (AS) and his family was followed by revealing this verse of the Quran [22]: 

"Those who give their wealth by night and day, secretly and openly, they shall have their reward near their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve" (2:274)

imam ali


He also gave away the money he earned through labor and tied a stone to his stomach to fight off his hunger. Whenever he gained a considerable amount of money, he informed the poor and the needy of it and divided it between them and then gave thanks to Allah through performing Salat [23]. 

According to some hadiths, one day a beggar entered the mosque and asked for help; but, no one gave him anything. He raised his hands toward the sky and said, "O God! Witness that I asked for help in the mosque of Your Prophet (PBUH&HP) and no one gave me anything." When he said this, Imam Ali (AS) was performing ruku' in prayer and pointed to the small finger of his right hand which had a ring on. The beggar went near and took the ring off from Imam's (AS) finger. Some exegetes believe [24] that this verse of the Quran referred to this incident: "Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down" (5:55). 

 

  • His Pure Faith and Piety 


He loved Allah, and his love was not tainted by fear or expecting a reward. His worships and prayers were purely for His sake and with the intention of His satisfaction; "The basis of this worship is reason, conscience, and spiritual perfection" [25]. This deep and pure faith that had penetrated his very bones turned him into a self-aware and pious man who aligned his every action with Allah's will and commands. As Jordac puts: 


"Ali's piety was not the outcome of circumstances like that of other pious persons, who engage themselves in worship on account of the weakness of their souls, or to escape the vicissitudes of life and to keep aloof from the people, or in imitation of their ancestors, and the effects of the events of life confirm it because as a rule, people accord respect to ancestral customs and traditions… His worship was, in fact, a continuous effort and a campaign against mischief for the sake of human life and prosperity… According to Ali, the essence of piety is to sacrifice one's life for the sake of truth and justice" [26]


He was born in the house of Allah, Ka'aba, and martyred in his dwelling, the mosque. As if Allah had destined him to always be in His arms.

 

  • His Courage and Bravery 


Imam Ali (AS) said: "Your faith should be at such a level that you should prefer truth to falsehood even though it may cause you loss and falsehood may bring you gain" [27]. And he did so in practice. He would choose truthfulness no matter what the result and never surrendered to injustice.


Another sign of his bravery was his disapproval of going into a war. Despite his strength and high physical power, he would rather peace and would not start a war unless it was inevitable. However, when he attended a battlefield, he fought courageously and never escaped from the enemy. Even on the battlefield, he was the forgiving man who pardoned his enemy when he found them defeated and defenseless. 


6. His Martyrdom 


On the morning of January 26, 661, Imam Ali (AS) was struck with a poisoned sword of Abd al-Rahman b. Muljam al-Muradi who was one of the renegades (Kharijites) [i] while performing Salat in the Grand Mosque of Kufa (today's Najaf in Iraq). He was martyred from this injury two days later and was buried secretly at his request [28]. 


Imam Ali, The Beacon of Justice and Humanity


Imam Ali's (AS) exemplary character and life can be a guiding light for all truth-seeking human beings. His deep affection for people, his care for justice and equality, his social and political insight, and his sincere devotion and faith in Allah made him a man whose fame reaches out to generations centuries later than his martyrdom. 

 

Notes:


[i] Khawārij or Kharijites were a group of Muslims who rioted against Imam Ali (AS) in the middle of, and after, the Battle of Siffin, as well as in the event of Arbitration. They then began the Battle of Nahrawan against the Imam (AS).


References:


[1] Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 1, p. 5.
[2] Ibn Athīr, Usd al-ghāba, vol. 1, p. 15.
[3] Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-nabawīyya, vol. 1, p. 162.
[4] Nahj al-balagha, Sermon 192, p. 222. 
[5] Muṣāḥib, Dāʾirat al-maʿārif-i Farsī, vol. 2, p. 1760.
[6] Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, vol.2, p.331. 
[7] http://en.wikishia.net/view/Laylat_al-Mabit
[8] Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 2, p. 131.
[9] Ayyāshī, Tafsīr al-ʿAyyāshī, vol. 1, p. 4.
[10] Mufīd, Masār al-Shīʿa, p. 17.
[11] Masʿūdī, Ithbāt al-waṣīyya, p. 153.
[12] Ibn Shahrāshūb, Manāqib Alī b. Abī Ṭālib, vol. 3, p. 133.
[13] http://en.wikishia.net/view/Incident_of_Saqifa
[14] Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 15. , p.39.
[15] George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.72. PDF.
[16] Yusuf b. Qazawughli, Tadhkirat al-khawas, p. 13.
[17] http://en.wikishia.net/view/Imam_%27Ali_b._Abi_Talib_(a)#Moral_Characteristics
[18] George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.33. PDF.
[19] Al-Hakim al-Nishapuri, Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain, vol.3, p. 126. 
[20] George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.40. PDF.
[21] Ali ibn Abd-al-Malik al-Hindi, Kanz al-Ummal, vo.13, p.165. 
[22] Abbas Qomi, Muntahi al-Amal, vol.1, p.284. 
[23] al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-Amali, p.169. 
[24] Ḥākim al-Ḥaskānī, Shawāhid al-tanzīl, vol. 1, p. 209-239.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

[25]George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.29. PDF. 
[26] ibid, p.28. 
[27] Mohammad-Baqer Majlesi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol.70. p.106. 
[28] Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 1, p. 27-28.