Sayyidina `Ali ibn Abi Talib (r)

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad


`Ali ibn Abi Talib `Abd Manaf ibn `Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim ibn `Abd Manaf, Abu al-Hasan al-Qurashi al-Hashimi (d. 40), Amîr al-Mu’minîn, the first male believer in Islam, the Prophet’s standard-bearer in battle, the Door of the City of Knowledge, the most judicious of the Companions, and the “Possessor of a wise heart and enquiring tongue.” The Prophet nicknamed him Abu Turâb or Father of Dust. His mother was Fatima bint Asad, whom the Prophet called his own mother and at whose grave he made a remarkable intercession. He accepted Islam when he was eight, or nine, or fourteen, depending on the narrations, but it is established from Ibn `Abbas that he was the first male Muslim after the Prophet, Khadija being the first Muslim. He was killed at age fifty-eight. From him narrated Abu Bakr, `Umar, his sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn, Ibn `Abbas, `Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, and countless others.

`Ali was a skilled and fearless fighter, and the Prophet gave him his standard to carry on the day of Badr and in subsequent battles. At the same time he was the repository of Prophetic wisdom among the Companions. The latter, when asked about difficult legal rulings, deferred to others the responsibility of answering, while `Ali, alone among them, used to say: “Ask me.” `Umar said: “I seek refuge in Allah from a problem which Abu al-Hasan cannot solve.” Similarly `A’isha said: “He is the most knowledgeable about the Sunna among those who remain,” and Ibn `Abbas: “If a trustworthy source tells us of a fatwa by `Ali, we do not seek any further concerning it.” Sulayman al-Ahmusi narrated from his father that `Ali said: “By Allah! No verse was ever revealed except I knew the reason for which it was revealed and in what place and concerning whom. Verily my Lord has bestowed upon me a wise heart and a speaking tongue.” At the same time `Ali humbly declared: “What cools my liver most, if I am asked something I know not, is to say: ‘Allah knows best’.”

Imam Ahmad said: “There is no Companion concerning whom are reported as many merits as `Ali ibn Abi Talib.” Following are some of the hadiths to that effect.

On the eve of the campaign of Khaybar, the Prophet said: “I shall give the standard to a man who loves Allah and His Messenger, and whom Allah loves and also His Messenger.” `Umar said: “I never liked to be entrusted leadership before that day.” The next day the Prophet summoned `Ali and gave him the flag.

Salama ibn `Amr narrated that the day of Khaybar, the Prophet summoned `Ali who came led by the hand, as he was suffering from inflammation of the eyes. The Prophet then blew on his eyes and gave him the flag. Another version states that Ibn Abi Layla told his father to ask `Ali why he wore summer clothes in winter and winter clothes in summer. `Ali said: “The day of Khaybar the Prophet summoned me when my eyes were sore. I said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allah! I have ophtalmia.’ He blew on my eyes and said: ‘O Allah! remove from him hot and cold.’ I never felt hot nor cold after that day.”

The Prophet left `Ali behind in the campaign of Tabuk. The latter said: “O Messenger of Allah! Are you leaving me behind with the women and children?” The Prophet replied: “Are you not happy to stand next to me like Harun next to Musa, save that there is no Prophet after me?”

The Prophet said: “I am the city of knowledge and `Ali is its gate.” Another version states: “I am the house of wisdom and `Ali is its gate.”

When Allah revealed the verse: “Come! We will summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves, then we will pray humbly and invoke the curse of Allah upon those who lie” (3:61), the Prophet summoned `Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn, and said: “O Allah! These are my Family.”

The Prophet said: “Anyone whose protecting friend (mawla) I am, `Ali is his protecting friend.” `Umar said: “Congratulations, O `Ali! You have become the protecting friend of every single believer.”

The Prophet said: “`Ali is part of me and I am part of `Ali! No-one conveys something on my behalf except I or he.” The context of this hadith was the conveyance of Sura Bara’a to the Quraysh and the rescinding of the Prophet’s pact with them. The scholars have explained that the Prophet’s phrase “X is part of me and I am part of X” is a hyperbole signifying oneness of path and agreement in obeying Allah. The Prophet said that phrase also about the following: the Companion Julaybib who was found dead after a battle next to seven enemies killed by him; the Ash`aris; and the Banu Najya.

Some people complained to the Prophet about `Ali, whereupon he stood and said: “Do not accuse `Ali of anything! By Allah, he is truly a little rough (la’ukhayshan) in Allah’s cause.”

When the Prophet sent `Ali to Yemen the latter said: “O Messenger of Allah, you are sending me to people who are older than me so that I judge between them!” The Prophet said: “Go, for verily Allah shall empower your tongue and guide your heart.” `Ali said: “After that I never felt doubt as to what judgment I should pass between two parties.”

The Prophet said: “The most compassionate of my Community towards my Community is Abu Bakr; the staunchest in Allah’s Religion is `Umar; the most truthful in his modesty is `Uthman, and the best in judgment is `Ali.” `Umar said: “`Ali is the best in judgment among us, and Ubayy is the most proficient at the Qur’anic readings.” Ibn Mas`ud similarly said: “We used to say that the best in judgment among the people of Madina was `Ali.” It is a measure of al-Hasan al-Basri’s greatness that `Ali once followed his recommendation in a judicial case.

`Amr ibn Sha’s al-Aslami complained about `Ali upon returning from Yemen where he had accompanied him. News of it reached the Prophet who said: “O `Amr! By Allah, you have done me harm.” `Amr said: “I seek refuge in Allah from harming you, O Messenger of Allah!” He said: “But you did. Whoever harms `Ali harms me.” The Prophet also used the terms “Whoever harms X has harmed me” about his uncle al-`Abbas.

Umm Salama said to Abu `Abd Allah al-Jadali: “Is Allah’s Messenger being insulted among you?! [in Kufa]” He said: “Allah forbid!” She said: “I heard Allah’s Messenger say: ‘Whoso insults `Ali, insults me.’”

`Ali said: “In truth the Prophet has made a covenant with me saying: ‘None loves you except a believer, and none hates you except a hypocrite.” Abu Sa`id al-Khudri subsequently said: “In truth we recognized the hypocrites by their hatred for `Ali.” Jabir said: “We did not know the hypocrites of this Community except by their hatred for `Ali.”

The innovations of those who bore excessive love and admiration for `Ali appeared in his own lifetime and he himself fought them in word and deed. To those that claimed that the Prophet had appointed him as successor after him he said: “In truth, Allah’s Messenger did not appoint any successor” and: “The Prophet was taken from us, then Abu Bakr was made the successor, so he did as the Prophet had done and according to his path until Allah took him from us; then `Umar was made the successor, so he did as the Prophet had done and according to his path until Allah took him from us.” To those that claimed that he deserved the Caliphate better than Abu Bakr and `Umar he said: “The best of this Community after its Prophet are Abu Bakr and `Umar.” To those that either hated him or overly loved him `Ali said: “Two types of people shall perish concerning me: a hater who forges lies about me, and a lover who over-praises me.” To those that claimed that he or his family possessed other than the Qur’an which all Muslims had he said: “Whoever claims that we have something which we read other than the Qur’an has lied.” Finally, when a group of people came to him saying: “You are He, you are our Lord! (anta Hû anta Rabbuna)” he had them executed and then ordered the bodies burnt.

When `Ali was given allegiance as Caliph he moved from Madina to Kufa in Iraq and made it his capital. His tenure lasted five years (35-40) marred by three great dissensions which tore apart the fabric of the Muslim Community: the battle of the Camel (year 36) against the party of `A’isha the Mother of the Believers, the battle of Siffin (year 37) aganst the party of Mu`awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, and the campaign against the Khawârij in the following two years, until he was assassinated by one of them in Kufa as he came out for the dawn prayer. The pretext for the meeting of the armies on the day of the Camel and the day of Siffin was the demand for `Uthman’s killers on the part of `A’isha and Mu`awiya, but the winds of war were fanned by sowers of discord from inside all three camps until events escaped the control of the Companions. It is related that `Ali often expressed astonishment at the dissension and opposition that surrounded him. The Prophet had predicted these events, notably the battle of the Camel with the words: “One of you women shall come out riding a long-haired camel, and the dogs of Haw’ab [between Mecca and Basra] will bark at her. Many shall be killed to her right and her left, and she shall escape after near death.” At any rate, Ahl al-Sunna adopted as theirs the position taken by one of the Salaf who said: “Those from whose blood Allah has kept our swords pure, we shall not soil our tongues with their slander.” The most reliable book written on the divergences of the Companions is Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi’s (d. 543) al-`Awasim min al-Qawasim fi Tahqiq Mawaqif al-Sahaba Ba`da Wafati al-Nabi Sallallahu `Alayhi wa Sallam.

Another innovation fought by `Ali was that of the Khawârij or “Seceders,” also known as Hurûriyya after the village of Hurur, near Kufa, where they set up military quarters. They were originally a group of up to twenty thousand pious worshippers and memorizers of the Qur’an (`ubbâd wa qurrâ’) who were part of `Ali’s army but walked out on him after he accepted arbitration in the crises with Mu`awiya ibn Abi Sufyan and `A’isha the Mother of the Believers. Their strict position was on the basis of the verse “The decision rests with Allah only” (6:57, 12:40, 12:67). `Ali said: “A word of truth by which falsehood is sought!” He sent them the expert interpreter of the Qur’an among the Companions, Ibn `Abbas, who recited to them the verses “The judge is to be two men among you known for justice” (5:95) and “Appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk” (4:35) then said: “Allah has thereby entrusted arbitration to men, although if He had wished to decide He would have decided. And is the sanctity of the Community of Muhammad not greater than that of a man and a woman?” Hearing this, four thousand of the Khawârij came back with him while the rest either left the field or persisted in their enmity and were killed in the battles of Nahrawan (year 38) and al-Nukhayla (year 39).

The Prophet had predicted that `Ali would fight the Khawârij with the words: “In truth there will be, among you, one who shall fight over the interpretation of the Qur’an just as I fought over its revelation.” Abu Bakr and `Umar asked: “Am I he?” The Prophet said: “No, it is the one who is mending the shoes.” He had given his shoes to `Ali to mend. The Prophet also predicted `Ali’s martyrdom with the words: “This shall be dyed red from this” and he pointed to `Ali’s beard and head respectively.

The Khawârij are the first doctrinal innovators in Islam. They considered all sinners apostates, as well as all those who opposed them. By this takfîr, they justified to themselves the killing and spoliation of Muslims including women and children. Muslims who joined them were forced to first declare themseves disbelievers then enter Islam again. They distinguished themselves by shaving their heads out of austerity, a practice which they innovated and which the Prophet had foretold. Yet the Khawârij deemed themselves scrupulously pious and the only true Muslims on earth. When `Ali’s murderer, `Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam al-Muradi, was dismembered and blinded he remained impassive and recited the Sura “Recite! In the Name of Thy Lord” (96:1) in its entirety, but when they moved to pull out his tongue he resisted; asked for the reason he said: “I hate to spend a single moment on earth not mentioning Allah.” He was then executed and burnt. His forehead bore the trace of frequent prostration.

The Khawârij pre-dated the Rawâfid in their vilification of Abu Bakr and `Umar. `Ali declared it licit to fight them because they had killed the Companion Khabbab ibn al-Arathth and his wife for praising the four Caliphs. The Prophet had predicted their appearance in many hadiths. Among them:

`Ali sent the Prophet a treasure which the latter proceeded to distribute. The Quraysh became angry and said: “He is giving to the nobility of Najd and leaving us out!” The Prophet said: “I am only trying to win their hearts over to us.” Then a man came with sunken eyes, protruding cheeks, big forehead, profuse beard, and shaven head. He said: “Fear Allah, O Muhammad!” The Prophet replied: “And who shall obey Allah if I disobey him? Does Allah trust me with the people of the earth, so that you should not trust me?” One of the Companions û Khalid ibn Walid û asked permission to kill the man but the Prophet did not give it. He said: “Out of that man’s seed shall come a people who will recite the Qur’an but it will not go past their throats. They will pass through religion the way an arrow passes through its quarry. They shall kill the Muslims and leave the idolaters alone. If I live to see them, verily I shall kill them the way the tribe of `Ad was killed.” Ibn Taymiyya cited this hadith as proof that the Khawârij shaved their heads.

“The Khawârij are the dogs of Hell-fire.”

`Ali was described as having white hair which he parted in the middle, a very large white beard, and large, heavy eyes. He was heavyset and his height was medium to short. He was blunt in his renunciation of the world even in his own dress. When Ibn al-Nabbah came to him with the news that the treasury-house was filled with gold and silver `Ali summoned the people of Kufa and distributed everything to them with the words: “O Yellow, O White! Go fool other than me.” Then he ordered the treasury-house swept, and he prayed two rak`a in it. Jurmuz said: “I saw `Ali coming out of his palace wearing a waist-cloth that reached to the middle of his shank and an outer garment tucked up at the sleeves, walking in the marketplace while hitting a small drum (dirra) and enjoining upon people Godwariness and honesty in transactions. He would say: ‘Observe good measure and do not bloat up the meat.’” When one of the Khawârij criticized him for what he was wearing, he said: “What do you want with my clothing? This is farther from arrogance and more suitable for me as I am imitated by Muslims.”

Al-Hasan ibn `Ali narrated that the morning of his murder `Ali said: “Last night I woke up my family [to pray] because it was the night before Jum`a and the morning of Badr ûthe seventeenth of Ramadan û then I dozed off and the Prophet came before me. I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! What crookedness and contention have I found coming from your Community!’ He said: ‘Supplicate against them.’ I said: ‘O Allah! Substitute them with something that will be better for me, and substitute me with something that will be worse for them.’” Then `Ali went out to pray preceded by the mu’adhdhin Ibn al-Nabbah and followed by al-Hasan. `Ali came out of the gateway calling the people to prayer and was faced by two men armed with swords. Ibn Muljam struck him on the head with a poisoned sword and was caught, while the other hit the arch of the gate and fled. `Ali said: “Feed the prisoner and give him water, if I live I shall decide about him, and if I die, kill him as I was killed without further enmity. ‘Lo! Allah loves not aggressors’(2:190, 5:87, 7:55).”

It was decided to make `Ali’s grave a secret lest the Khawârij dig it up. After his son al-Hasan prayed the funeral prayer over him, he was buried at the Caliphal palace in Kufa, then all traces of his grave were effaced. It is also narrated that al-Hasan conveyed the body in a coffin to Madina and that on the way the camel that carried the coffin got lost by night and was found by members of the Tayyi’ tribe who buried the body and slaughtered the camel.

Among `Ali’s sayings narrated by Abu Nu`aym with his chains:

From al-Husayn ibn `Ali: “The most sincere of people in their actions and the most knowledgeable of Allah are those who are strongest in their love and awe for the sanctity of the people of lâ ilâha illallâh.”

From `Abd Khayr: “Goodness does not consist in having much property and children, but in doing many good deeds, increasing your gentle character, and adorning yourself before people with the worship of your Lord. Then, if you do well, glorify Allah; if you do ill, ask forgiveness of Him. There is no good in the world except for two types of people: someone who sins and then follows up with repentence, and someone who races to do good deeds. What is done in Godwariness is never little, and how can something be little if accepted by Allah?”

From Abu al-Zaghl: “Remember five instructions from me in following which you shall sooner exhaust your camels than run out of their benefit: let no servant hope for anything except from his Lord; let him not fear anything except his own sin; let no ignorant person feel ashamed to ask about what he knows not; let no knowledgeable person, if asked about what he knows not, feel ashamed to say Allah knows best; and patience is in relation to belief like the head to the body, one has no belief if he has no patience.”

From Muhajir ibn `Umayr: “What I fear most is the hankering after idle desires and long hopes. The former blocks one from the truth and the latter causes forgetfulness of the hereafter. In truth the world has gone its way out, in truth the hereafter has come journeying to us û and each of the two has its own sons. Therefore be a son of the hereafter and do not be a son of the world! Today there are deeds without accounts, and tomorrow, accounts without deeds.”

From Abu Araka: “I have seen a remnant of the Companions of Allah’s Messenger. I see no-one that resembles them. By Allah! They used to rise in the morning disheveled, dust-covered, pale, with something between their eyes like goat’s knees, as they had spent the night chanting Allah’s Book, turning from their feet to their foreheads. If Allah was mentioned they swayed the way trees sway on a windy day, then their eyes poured out tears untilû by Allah! û they soaked their clothes. By Allah! It is as if folks today sleep in indifference.”

From al-Hasan ibn `Ali: “Blessed is the servant that cries constantly to Allah, who has known people while they have not known him, and Allah has marked him with His contentment. These are the true beacons of guidance. Allah repels from them every wrongful dissension and shall enter them into His own mercy. They are not the wasteful tale-bearers nor the ill-mannered self-displayers.”

From `Asim ibn Damura: “The true, the real faqîh is he who does not push people to despair from Allah’s mercy, nor lulls them into a false sense of safety from His Punishment, nor gives them licenses to disobey Allah, nor leaves the Qur’an for something else. There is no good in worship devoid of knowledge, nor in knowledge devoid of understanding, nor in inattentive recitation.” This is comparable to al-Hasan al-Basri’s own definition: “Have you ever seen a faqîh? The faqîh is he who has renounced the world, longs for the hereafter, possesses insight in his Religion, and worships his Lord without cease.”

From `Amr ibn Murra: “Be wellsprings of the Science and beacons in the night, wearing old clothes but possessing new hearts for which you shall be known in the heaven and remembered on the earth.”

“This world lasts for an hour: Spend it in obedience.”

“Thus does Knowledge die: when those who possess it die. By Allah, I do swear it! The earth will never be empty of one who establishes the proofs of Allah so that His proofs ans signs never cease. They are the fewest in number, but the greatest in rank before Allah. Through them Allah preserves His proofs until they bequeath it to those like them (before passing on) and plant it firmly in their hearts. By them knowledge has taken by assault the reality of things, so that they found easy what those given to comfort found hard, and found intimacy in what the ignorant found desolate. They accompanied the world with bodies whose spirits were attached to the highest regard. Ah, ah! How one yearns to see them!”

Imam al-Nawawi narrated a remarkable patrolinear chain for a hadith going back to `Ali: “Among the best of the narrations of the type ‘sons from fathers’ is that of al-Khatib with a chain going back to `Abd al-Wahhab ibn `Abd al-`Aziz ibn al-Harith ibn Asad ibn al-Layth ibn Sulayman ibn al-Aswad ibn Sufyan ibn Yazid ibn Akina al-Tamimi who said: I heard my father (Yazid) say: I heard my father (Sufyan) say: I heard my father (al-Aswad) say: I heard my father (Sulayman) say: I heard my father (al-Layth) say: I heard my father (Asad) say: I heard my father (al-Harith) say: I heard my father (`Abd al-`Aziz) say: I heard my father (`Abd al-Wahhab) say: I heard `Ali ibn Abi Talib say: ‘The compassionate (al-hannân) is he who comes to the one who shunned him. The granter of favor (al-mannân) is he who extends the favor before he is asked for it.”

Main sources: Abu Nu`aym, Hilya al-Awliya’ 1:100-128 #4; al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’ 1/2:615-660 #5.