saidina ali bin abi talib
(Life: 599 – 661 AD)
(Caliphate: 656 – 661 AD)
Preface: This is only a summary of the life of Ali ibn Abi Talib RA and does not cover all the points of his life story. It is not intended to be a biography, but rather a glimpse of the main incidents of his life so that we can get an idea of his character. For ease of reading, we have not inserted “May Allah be pleased with him (RA)” each time his name or the name of each Companion is mentioned, but please take it that the salutations apply to all of them, may Allah be pleased with them all.
How much do we know of the last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the one of whom he said that the Prophet SAW gave him a promise that: “No one will love you except a believer and no one will hate you except a hypocrite?”
It has been reported by various sources that he was born inside the Ka’bah. His full name was Ali ibn Abi Talib ibn Abdul Mutalib. He was the paternal cousin of the Prophet SAW and shared a grandfather with him in Abdul-Mutalib ibn Hakim. His father was Abi Talib, the full brother of Abdullah, the father of the Prophet SAW. After the death of Abdul Mutalib, Ali’s father, Abu Talib, became the chief of the clan. Ali’s lineage to the Prophet SAW is exceptional for not only is he the Prophet’s SAW cousin, he was also adopted into the Prophet’s SAW household when he was young. He was subsequently bestowed the title of “brother” by the Prophet SAW upon migration to Medina as he undertook to care for his welfare. Soon after Ali became the Prophet‘s SAW son-in-law when he married Fatimah after the Battle of Badr. She bore him two sons Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, and a daughter Umm Kulthoom.
Other than being the close to the companions of the Prophet SAW, Ali also fostered close ties to Umar when Ali gave his daughter Umm Kulthoom to him. It is also evident that he held a high position in Umar’s eyes for he was one of the six companions of the Prophet SAW to be nominated as Caliph upon Umar’s death.
Simplicity was the key to Ali’s existence. He was brought up in a simple and spare surrounding while he was in the Prophet’s SAW household and he continued doing so when he married Fatimah. They lived on basic food like milk, barley bread and some vegetable, although at times had to go without food for days. When Ali became a Caliph, he maintained the same austere lifestyle. Also keeping his meals simple, he said that a Caliph was entitled to two dishes, one for his family and the other for the poor.
Despite being poor and living a meager life, Ali would never let any poor man at the door leave disappointed. Such was his generosity that once, after he worked at a barley field to earn some grain, he ended up not consuming any of it as he had generously spared the portions to a beggar, an orphan and a prisoner, all three having asked him for food.
Bravery was second nature to Ali for he had fought valiantly at battles and emerged victorious, earning the title of the “Lion of Allah”. He was a party to all the battles fought with the Prophet SAW at the helm except for one.
As with all the Rightly Guided Caliphs and noble companions, Ali was educated on the basis of the Noble Qur’an, their teacher being the master of all mankind, Muhammad SAW. The verses that Ali heard directly from the Prophet SAW impacted the formation of his character. It was apparent that the words had illuminated his heart and transformed his mind and soul to become pure in faith and action. Ali memorized the Qur’an by heart and was considered to be among the top interpreters who knew every verse, line and meaning. It was narrated that Ali had said:
“By Allah, no verse of it was revealed but I know why it was revealed, when it was revealed and to whom it was revealed. My Lord has blessed me with a deep understanding and an eloquent, truthful tongue.”
Ali was always keen to teach the Noble Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet SAW to people. He found the necessity to teach the true rulings of Islam and train the believers to follow it. As a constant companion of the Prophet SAW from a very young age, he was also well versed in the Prophet’s SAW sayings (Hadiths).
Thus his religious commitment was shaped and, among other things Ali is known for his religious endeavours and that he not only fulfilled the obligatory daily prayers but also the Nawafil (additional prayers). He has also been known to spend whole nights in prayer.
HIS EARLY YEARS IN ISLAM
As Ali was raised in Muhammad’s SAW home, he was very much aware of the incident at Hira cave when Muhammad SAW received the Angel Jibreel AS and the calling to Islam. Even while Muhammad SAW isolated himself at the cave to worship Allah following the precepts of the religion of Ibrahim AS, Ali helped in bringing food to the Prophet SAW. According to majority, he was said to be between nine and fourteen (although majority of the reports conclude that he was between nine or ten) years old then.
Ibn Ishaq narrated that Ali ibn Abi Talib found the Prophet SAW and Khadijah praying. After enquiring after their actions, the Prophet SAW duly informed him that this is the religion of Allah. Ali was invited by the Prophet SAW to respond to this call too and to disbelieve in the pagan gods. Some accounts mention that Ali responded that as he has not heard of it before, he would not decide until he speaks to his father, Abu Talib, while other reports assert that Ali accepted Islam without hesitation. However, it is unanimously agreed that Ali ibn Abi-Talib became the first child to accept Islam and thus one of the earliest followers. By virtue of his young age, Ali was one of the few Makkans who had never worshipped the pagan idols, hence the expression Karamma-LLahu Wajhahu (May Allah honour his face) is often said upon mentioning his name.
Three years later when the Prophet SAW was ordered to proclaim their Islamic faith in public, Ali had anticipated the acceptance of such goodness and noble beliefs. Instead there was disbelief among the people of Mecca and insults were hurled at the believers, with them having to endure extensive oppression. As he was too young to help the Prophet SAW, Ali could only stop the younger boys who were instructed by the pagans to throw stones and sand at him.
THE HIJRAH (MIGRATION) AND AFTER
Because of the oppression and tyranny endured by the Muslims in Mecca, the Prophet SAW requested his companions and the Muslims to seek refuge by migrating. First, he directed a group to Abyssinia, where the ruler was known to be just in allowing the freedom of religion. The Prophet SAW remained in Mecca and Ali did not leave his side and tried his best to defend him.
Then the Prophet SAW and his Companions decided to migrate to Yathrib (now known as Medina) to seek protection and help and more importantly spread the word of Islam. Nearly all the Muslims in Mecca had migrated in secret with the exception of a handful, namely the Prophet SAW and his close companions Abu Bakr, Ali, Suhayb and Zaid bin Haritha. Meanwhile the Quraish chiefs were beginning to despair of the failed attempts at hindering the Prophet SAW in continuing his call to Islam and spreading the word of Allah.
When the Prophet SAW was decreed by Allah to migrate to Yathrib, he secretly left with Abu Bakr. Ali was ordered to remain in Mecca as he, known for his honesty and trust-worthiness, was entrusted with the precious belongings of some non-believers in Mecca. One night forty young men from various clans of the Quraish were called upon to surround the Prophet’s SAW home to have a share in killing him. However the Angel Jibreel AS brought him news of this and conveyed the order made by Allah to migrate to Yathrib. At midnight the Prophet SAW left his home with Abu Bakr. He requested Ali to sleep in his bed, covering himself with the Prophet’s SAW blanket. By the grace of Allah, the Prophet SAW had escaped without the young men realizing that he had left. When the men decided to enter the house to kill the Prophet SAW, they removed the blanket to discover Ali instead. He was willing to sacrifice himself for the life of the Prophet SAW.
Captured by the would-be assassins, Ali was tortured but released after some time. Soon after he delivered all properties that had been kept with the Prophet SAW on trust to their owners and left Mecca to Yathrib. The Prophet SAW had then taken in Ali and had made it known that whoever loved the Prophet SAW would love Ali and whoever hurt Ali would hurt the Prophet SAW.
Continued proximity to the Prophet SAW increased Ali’s appreciation and practice of the Sunnah. For to him, this is the best indication of living the ideal Muslim life.
- Narrated from Ahd Khayr: “Ali taught us the wudhu of the Prophet SAW.”
- It was narrated that Ali ibn Abi Talib: The Messenger of Allah SAW taught me to say when distress befalls me: “There is no God but Allah, the Forbearing, the Most Generous. Glory be to Allah and blessed be Allah, the Lord of the Mighty Throne, praise be to Allah”. This hadith is evident of the necessity of attaching one’s heart to Allah and serves as a guide and instruction for every Muslim to depend upon Allah in all his affairs.
SOME OF THE BATTLES AND CAMPAIGNS WITH THE PROPHET SAW
In keeping to the brevity of this article, we set below some of the key battles:
- The Battle of Badr was won by the Muslims despite them being outnumbered and ill equipped as compared to their opponents. At the start of the battle, the pagans requested for individual combat between heroes of the two armies. Ali was among the two emigrants who stepped up and killed his opponent. Once the battle had begun, Ali known to possess courage and exceptional skill in combat, killed several of the pagan heroes with several prisoners of war in tow.
- The Battle of Uhud in Shawwal 3 A.H. was a major loss for the Muslims. However Ali’s heroism was evident as he killed many of the polytheists and strived to defend the Prophet SAW. He saved him from harm, receiving sixteen blows as he protected him and after the battle, treated the Prophet’s SAW wounds to ensure his recovery.
- After the battle, Ali and the other Muslims accompanied the Prophet SAW to the fortress of Bani Quraithah. They battled the Jews who had previously cheated the Muslims. In this campaign, Ali carried the banner of the Messenger of Allah, fearless and their every intention of defending the religion, he had said, “By Allah, I shall go through what Hamzah went through (meaning martyrdom), or I shall breach their Fortresses.” It was victory for the Muslims, one that highlights their unwavering faith in the defence of the religion, willingness and courage to fight for their cause.
- The Prophet SAW had wanted to perform the Umrah and wanted it be known to the Quraish that he came in peace. He assigned Ali to draft the agreement. However when the polytheists of Quraish insisted the erasure of the words “Messenger of Allah”, Ali refused to comply. His love and veneration for the Messenger SAW was evident. The Prophet SAW himself erased those words for he was adamant in creating a peaceful treaty, The Treaty of Hudaybiya.
- The campaign to Khaybar in 7 A.H. was deemed as a conquest of a strategic Jewish military colony which was their last foothold in the Arabian Peninsula that also served as an observation post for them in eyeing the activities of the Muslims. The Prophet SAW started besieging the fortresses of Khaybar and conquered them one by one. The Prophet SAW gave the banner to Ali and said: “I shall give this flag to a man at whose hands Allah will grant victory; he loves Allah and His Messenger, and Allah and His Messenger love him.” In this difficult battle with the Jews, he challenged the leader named Merhab and killed him, thus conquering the town.
- Conquered Mecca as pagans had broken their covenants. Ali commandeered one wing of the army, entered the city peacefully and proceeded to destroy the stone idols.
- In 9 Hijrah the Prophet SAW led an army to Tabruk to the northern border of Arabia to deter the Romans who were trying to destroy the Islamic State. He left Ali to be the ruler of Medina in his absence. Ali was not satisfied because he wanted to join the Prophet SAW in battle and felt the shame at being left behind. The Prophet SAW said: “Do you not like to be to me like Harun was to Musa?” It was only upon hearing this analogy, Ali was then satisfied.
- When the Prophet SAW sent the Muslims to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Prophet SAW sent Ali to read a proclamation, “No idolater shall after this year perform pilgrimage. No one shall run around the Ka’bah naked. Who has a treaty with the Prophet SAW it shall continue binding till its end. For the rest, four months are allowed to every man to return to his territory, after which there will exist no obligations on the Prophet SAW except to war to those people with whom treaties have been made.”
- In the 10th year of Hijrah, the Prophet SAW sent Ali to preach Islam to the people of Yemen. It was a very successful campaign for the entire Hamadhan tribe accepted Islam.
THE DEATH OF THE PROPHET SAW
After the Prophet SAW returned from the farewell pilgrimage and particularly having heard the Prophet SAW address the Muslims in Mina of the perfect and complete religion that is Islam, Ali guessed that the Prophet SAW was soon to pass away.
When the Prophet’s SAW condition worsened, Al-Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib held Ali by the hand and said: “In three days you, by Allah, will be ruled (by somebody else). And by Allah, I feel that Allah’s Messenger SAW will die from this ailment of his, for I know how the faces of the off-spring of Abdul Muttalib look at the time of their death. So let us go to Allah’s Messenger SAW and ask him who will take over the caliphate. If it is given to us, we will know it, and if it is given to somebody else, we will request him to tell the new ruler to take care of us.” Ali said, “By Allah, if we asked Allah’s Messenger for it (the Caliphate) and he refused to give it to us, the people will never give it to us after that. And by Allah, I will not ask Allah’s Messenger for it.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
EXAMPLES OF HIS MORAL CHARACTER OF JUSTICE
Ali was known to possess an acute sense of justice for whatever he received in the treasury, he would distribute equitably without favour to family. Even when in battle and having overpowered his foes, Ali did not ill-treat them. Once when he was about to cut off the head of his victim, the desperate man spat on his face. Ali spared his life and released him, saying that if he had killed the man then, his motive will not remain purely for the cause of Allah but due to personal anger. After that Ali ran away from the man that he had just overpowered, afraid that he would be influenced by his personal anger and act upon it. Upon seeing this, the man who was about to be killed by Ali’s hands, took the shahadah and embraced Islam.
In another incident, Ali’s shield went missing after the battle of Siffin. He found it with a Christian man and it was instantly recognized by many because of its distinctive decorations and markings. Ali, who was already Caliph at the time, took the man to the judge as per the Islamic ruling instead of simply confiscating the shield. The judge asked the Christian man to respond to the allegation of the Amir al Mukminin (the Governor of the Muslims). The Christian claimed that the shield was his, but also that Amir Al Mukminin was not a liar. To this, Ali replied that the judge had no right to refer to him as the “Amir al Mukminin” when he was appearing before the judge as a normal citizen. He went on to say that the Christian man was in the right because Ali had no evidence with him. The judge ruled in favour of the Christian, who took the shield and left. A few steps later, he came back, and he said “I bear witness what I saw now is the justice of Messengers and Prophets. And the Amir Al Mukminin went to the judge to take his rights from me! I bear witness there is no one worthy of worship except Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad SAW is the Messenger of Allah.” After embracing Islam, the man admitted, “The shield is yours. I followed the army, and in a certain time I took it from you.” Later on, people bore witness this man became one of the noble characters and died as a soldier of Islam at the Al Nahrawan battle.
Imagine how desperate the ummah is for such justice and fairness today! Look at his humbleness and humility in dealing with the average man, or even the one who stole from him. Most leaders would bypass normal judicial procedures to claim their rights, and many of them are motivated by their personal emotions instead of fear of Allah.
HIS ULTIMATE NOBLE CHARACTER
Once Umar complained to the Prophet SAW that Ali never gave him salam (Islamic greetings) when they met. The Prophet SAW summoned Ali and asked him to explain his actions. Ali said that he had heard the Prophet SAW saying that whoever initiates a greeting to his brother in Islam first, will be given a palace in jannah (a high reward), and he wanted that reward to be bestowed upon Umar. This was why every time he met Umar, he delayed his greeting, so that Umar would initiate the greeting and be rewarded for it.
In another incident, Ali entered the house and gave his greetings to his wife, Fatimah, the most beloved daughter of the Prophet SAW. She had a pain in her stomach, and requested Ali to take the few dirhams she had to buy some pomegranates for her. Ali ibn Abi Talib obliged and purchased a pomegranate from the market. On the way home, a poor man in the street waved to him, saying “Ya Ali, I’m a very poor man. Do you know what I want? I want a pomegranate.” Without any hesitation Ali immediately gave the poor man the pomegranate, explaining that he had bought it for his wife but gave it to the poor man instead for the sake of Allah. The poor man offered to take half the pomegranate only, but Ali refused and instead went home empty handed. He explained the incident to Fatimah when he got home. Immediately, she replied, “Best, what you did. It is better that you give it to the poor person.” Some time later, there was a knock on the door. It was Salman Al Farisi bearing a tray of nine pomegranates in his hand. He said that a man had come to the Prophet SAW, asking him to give the pomegranates to Ali. Ali enquired whether this was all that the Prophet SAW gave him. Salman Al Farisi revealed that there was a tenth pomegranate which he had purposely concealed! After a while, Ali enquired with the Prophet SAW what actually transpired. Rasulullah SAW replied that the poor man was Angel Jibreel AS, who, in the form of a man, came to check Ali’s iman. After Ali passed the test, Allah sent down the ten pomegranates for the obedience and sacrifice of Ali and his wife for the path of Allah – for Allah rewards tenfold for every good deed performed.
How much the Companions loved each other to the point that they wanted not only to give to each other in the dunia, but also the preference to give each other the reward and high status in jannah. Look at the ultimate generosity, kindness and love for each other. Where is our iman compared to theirs, our relationship with each other, and our priority in life?
HIS CALIPHATE RULE
Following the death of Uthman, the senior companions insisted that Ali ibn Abi Talib take over as leader of the Islamic State. At the insistence of Az-Zubair and Talhah, he accepted the position as the Fourth Right Guided Caliph.
The following is from his inaugural speech:
“I advise you O slaves of Allah to fear Allah, for god-fearing is the best advice Allah’s slaves might give to one another. It is also the closest deed to His pleasure, and the most yielding of the best results in His sight. No doubt, you are ordered to fear Allah and you have been created to be faithful.
So you should beware of Allah as the Almighty has warned you of Himself. Indeed, He has warned you of a strong violence if you do not comply to his order. Furthermore, you should fear Allah so much. You should do the good deeds without the intention of showing off or gaining good reputation. Whoever does the good deeds for anything other than for the sake of Allah, surely Allah would make him suffer from the evil consequences of what he has done. Whoever does good deeds sincerely for the sake of Allah, certainly Allah would be his supporter and He would give him the goodness of his intention.
You should fear of Allah’s punishment, for He has never created you vainly nor has He left anything of your affairs to no purpose. He made you, learnt your secrets, recorded your deeds, and then decreed your terms. So let not the world deceive you with its vain hopes, for no doubt, it is to beguile its people, and how haughty he is, who is deceived by it. The hereafter is the abode of eternal stay.”
What an unusual first speech for a Caliph. It is more a speech of a devout man rather than a Caliph. He was only concerned about living piously for the sake of Allah and to have those around him also live pious lives.
Upon ascension to the Caliphate, Ali ibn Abi Talib inherited the turmoil which began with the killing of Uthman. Details of this can be found in historical accounts, but suffice to say, Ali refused to seek revenge on Uthman’s killer in order to avoid bloodshed of the ummah
The dissenters had set out to assassinate Ali, Mu’awiyah and Amr bin Al Aas. One night, one of the conspirators, Abdur-Rahman bin Muljim came into the mosque in Kufar and hid in it, aware that Ali would be offering his fajr prayers in the morning. As he began to pray, Abdur-Rahman came forward and stabbed him several times with a dagger, penetrating on the brain through the scar of an old wound.
After he was found lying wounded on the prayer mat, Ali said to his son: “Treat the man kindly and give him food and water. If I die, his life is left to justice, and he shall be slain for the deed he had done; but do not mutilate him, for that was forbidden by the Prophet SAW.”
From the miracle of prophethood was that the Prophet SAW described to him the way Ali’s martyrdom would occur. Ammar bin Yasir reported that the Prophet SAW said to Ali” “The most wretched of men are two: the people of Thamud who killed the camel and the one who would strike you over here (i.e. on the head) until your beard is wet with your blood.”
On Friday, 20 Ramadan, 40 Hijri, Ali passed away. He was sixty-three. Ali had always asked Allah that he die as a martyr for the cause of Islam and Allah accepted his prayers.
May Allah bestow His mercy on Ali for his full dedication to the welfare of Islam and the Muslims. Let us recall one of his sermons:
“Certainly, Allah did not create you in vain. He did not neglect you. Rather, He has ennobled you with abundant provision. He has earmarked rewards for you. So fear Allah, O servants of Allah, and be diligent in your quest. Be earnest in righteous actions before the arrival of the destroyer of pleasures (death). “
THE FOUR RIGHTLY GUIDED CALIPHS – CONCLUSION
Such men were chosen by Allah to be the Companions of the Prophet SAW, the supporter of the Prophet SAW, and we can see from their characters that they lived the Message, they sacrificed completely for the Message, the love of Allah and his Messenger SAW, and the ummah, was above any personal gain. Even when they became the heads of the Muslim ummah, the Caliphate and the Amir al Mukminin, they showed even more sacrifice and high noble character and elevated Islam, justice and harmony. They left a legacy, to honour them in this life and in the hereafter. These people, the ones Rasulullah SAW advised to imitate their footsteps, should be our role models.
For us today, may Allah allow us to read about them in depth from authentic sources and try to imitate them to develop our own legacy, they way they left a legacy. May Allah allow us to have a legacy to be remembered in this life and the Kingdom of Allah, to honour this noble Message, the Name of Allah, and spread the mercy, peace, justice and harmony to mankind, Ameen.
As we conclude our series on the beloved Rightly Guided Caliphs, let us all make the following dua:
“O Allah, bear witness I love them for You. Make me live according to the noble example. Make me imitate them and if I cannot reach please make me resurrected with them.” Ameen.
Acknowledgement: Most of the information for this work has been obtained from:
“Shining Stars Among the Prophet’s Companions Volume One” by Abdul Basit Ahmad
“Heroes of Islam” by Mahmoud Esma’il Sieny
“The Successors of the Messenger” by Khalid Muhammad Khalid
“Ali bin Abi Talib” by Dr Ali M. Sallabi