Ali ibn Abi Talib Timeline

Ali ibn Abi Talib Timeline

  • 601

    Ali ibn Abi Talib is born in Mecca.

  • 610

    Ali ibn Abi Talib accepts Islam, and becomes one of the first Muslims.

  • 619

    Both, Ali's father Abu Talib, and Prophet Muhammad's first wife Khadija pass away. The year is termed as the year of sorrow.

  • 622

    Ali ibn Abi Talib stays behind during the Prophet Muhammad's hegira (migration to Mecca) to return the possessions of people entrusted to the Prophet.

  • 656 - 661

    Ali ibn Abi Talib succeeds Uthman to become the fourth and final caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate.

  • 656 - 661

    The murder of Caliph Uthman causes the eruption of the First Fitna (civil war). Muawiya surfaces as a major opposer of the Rashidun Caliphate.

  • 656

  • 657

    Battle of Siffin.

  • Jan 657

    Ali ibn Abi Talib moves his empire's capital to Kufa in Iraq.

  • 659

    A peace treaty is signed between the Byzantine Empire and the Rashidun Caliphate.

  • 661

    Caliph Ali is assassinated by the Kharijites.

  • Mar 670

    Hasan ibn Ali, Shia Islam's second imam (his father, Ali ibn Abi Talib, being the first imam), is poisoned to death.

  • Oct 680

    Husayn ibn Ali, Shia Islam's third imam, is beheaded by Yazid I's force at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq.

Important Figures: Ali ibn Abi Talib

One figure who has occupied a central role in the history of Islam almost from its beginnings is Ali. Like the 3 caliphs before him, Ali left an imprint on the faith that can be seen until the present day, which is why I am focusing on him as the fourth in our series on central figures. While Ali himself was not controversial and is held in high esteem by all Muslims, he is central to the question of succession after the Prophet’s death and the eventual Sunni/Shia division that resulted.

Ali was the son of Abu Talib, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, and Fatima bint Asad. Abu Talib was the sheikh of the Banu Hashim clan in the Quraysh tribe and the custodian of the Kaba. The Prophet Muhammad was very close to Ali’s family from an early age. The Prophet’s father Abdullah died before he was born and his mother Amina died when he was six. Abdul Mutallib, the Prophet’s grandfather, took him in but died shortly after. Abu Talib, then, took in the Prophet and later pledged his protection when the Prophet Muhammad began preaching Islam.

Ali was one of the early followers of Islam, becoming a Muslim as a child. His support and dedication to the Prophet Muhammad and Islam were clear from the outset. For example, in a meeting with the leaders of Quraysh, the Prophet told his fellow clansmen about the new faith and asked who would support him. Ali, even though a young boy, stood up and pledged his support. Sometimes his loyalty to the Prophet meant risking his own life. The most famous example was when the Meccans decided to assassinate the Prophet Muhammad after Abu Talib’s death. The Muslims had already began the hijra, or migration to Medina, and the Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr were the last to leave. Ali, who the Prophet knew the Meccans would not harm, slept in the Prophet’s bed waiting for the assassins. Moreover, he put himself in more danger by secretly returning property entrusted to the Prophet back to its owners before leaving Mecca.

Ali was known also for his courage on the battlefield. He was a distinguished warrior who participated in major battles. The Prophet Muhammad gave him the title Asadullah, the Lion of God, for his service to Islam. A famous story that is often related about Ali is that during a battle he was about to kill an enemy combatant. When he was about to strike him, the man spit at him so Ali left him. When asked why he did not kill him, Ali replied that if he had killed him that moment his motivation would have been a personal vendetta and not for God.

Like Uthman, Ali was also the son-in-law of the Prophet. He married Fatima and with her had 4 children. Their two sons Hasan and Husayn later also play an important role in the Shia worldview. It is documented that Ali and Fatima lived very humble lives, many times not having food. Even when Ali became the caliph, he continued to live a very austere lifestyle.

As mentioned in earlier posts, the Sunni/Shia division that eventually emerged stems from the question of succession after the Prophet Muhammad’s death. Those who became Shia believe that the Prophet designated Ali as his political successor and that leadership in general should remain within the Prophet’s family, ahl al-bayt, which for them includes Ali, Fatima, and their children. Those who became Sunni believe that the Prophet did not designate anyone to succeed him and that he left it to the community to choose its leader.

Ali does eventually become the fourth caliph of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, according to the Sunnis, and the first Imam, according to the Shia. During his tenure from 656-661, he faced immense challenges that included more than one civil war, which eventually cost him the caliphate. While the Muslim community was still reeling from the assassination of Uthman, one of Ali’s first decisions was to dismiss the provincial governors appointed by Uthman, believing that some were in fact corrupt. Muawiya, the nephew and governor of Syria, refused to step down and rejected Ali’s caliphate because he did not pursue Uthman’s murderers. This resulted in military action and the two sides, Muawiya’s and Ali’s, met at the Battle of Siffin in 657. Initially, Ali was winning but Muawiya had his forces put Qur’ans on their spears calling for arbitration, which Ali agreed to. The arbitration made Muawiya the new leader.

Like Umar and Uthman, Ali was assassinated. He was stabbed in Kufa, Iraq, while he was praying and died two days later. His assassin was among the Kharijites, a group that initially supported Ali but rejected his agreement to arbitration.

Despite the differences between Sunnis and Shia, both groups have great respect for Ali. He is remembered by all Muslims for his humility, courage, belief, loyalty, dedication, and wisdom.

Have you heard of Ali? What is your impression of him? Why do you think he is relevant today? Please share your comments below.

Ali Ibn Abu Talib Essay

Ali ibn Abu Talib was the second convert to Islam. The son of Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib, Ali married his cousin Fatima, the daughter of the prophet Muhammad and Khadija. Ali and Fatima had two sons, Hasan and Husayn, who both played key roles in the history of Islamic society. Ali also fought courageously in the battles between the small Muslim community based in Medina and the Meccan forces prior to the Prophet’s triumphal return to Mecca.

Because of his familial relationship with Muhammad, many of Ali’s supporters thought he should be Muhammad’s successor. Although the Prophet had not named a successor, some of Ali’s allies claimed that Muhammad had secretly chosen Ali to rule the Islamic community after his death. However, after some debate the Muslim majority chose Abu Bakr to be the new leader, or caliph. Many members of the powerful Umayyad clan opposed Ali, and he had also feuded with A’isha, the Prophet’s favorite wife. Thus when the next two caliphs were chosen, Ali was again passed over as leader of the Islamic community.

In 656 mutinous soldiers loyal to Ali assassinated the third caliph, Uthman, a member of the Umayyad family, and declared Ali the fourth caliph. But Muaw’iya, the powerful Umayyad governor of Syria, publicly criticized Ali for not pursuing Uthman’s assassins. A’isha sided with the Umayyads and raised forces against Ali. But she was defeated at the Battle of the Camel and forced to return home. Feeling endangered in Mecca— an Umayyad stronghold—Ali and his allies moved to Kufa, in present day Iraq. Ali’s followers were known as Shi’i, or the party of Ali. This split was to become a major and lasting rift within the Muslim community. Unlike the schism between Catholics and Protestants in Christianity, the division among Muslims was not over matters of theology but over who should rule the community. The majority, orthodox Sunnis, believed that any devout and righteous Muslim could rule. The Shi’i argued that the line of leadership should follow through Fatima and Ali and their progeny as the Prophet’s closest blood relatives.

The Syrians never accepted Ali’s leadership and the two sides clashed at the protracted Battle of Siffin, near the Euphrates River in 657. When neither side conclusively won, the famed Muslim military commander Amr ibn al-‘As negotiated a compromise that left Mu’awiya and Ali as rival claimants to the caliphate. The Kharijites (a small group of radicals who rejected city life and who believed that God should select the most devout Muslim to be leader) were outraged at Amr’s diplomacy, Mu’awiya’s elitism and wealth, and Ali’s indecisiveness. According to tradition, they devised a plot to kill all three during Friday prayers. The attacks on Amr and Mu’awiya failed, but a Kharijite succeeded in stabbing Ali to death in the mosque at Kufa in 661. Ali’s tomb in Najaf, south of present-day Baghdad, remains a major site of Shi’i pilgrimage to the present day. After Ali’s death, his eldest son, Hasan, agreed to forego his claim to the caliphate and retired peacefully to Medina, leaving Mu’awiya the acknowledged caliph.

Ali’s descendants as well as Muhammad’s other descendants are known as sayyids, lords, or sheriffs, nobles, titles of respect used by both Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. Within the various Shi’i sects Ali is venerated as the first imam and the first righteously guided caliph.

Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (p)

Name: Ali
Title: Asadullah (Lion of God) Haydar (Brave-hearted), Abu Turab (Father of Dust), Amir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful)
Kunya: Abu al-Hassan Abu al-Hassanain
Father: Abu Talib (Peace be upon him)
Mother: Fatimah bint Asad
Born: 13th Rajab, 23 BH/595 CE inside the Holy Kabah in Makkah, Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula
Died: 21st Ramadan, 40 AH/661 CE, after being struck on the head with a sword by the Kharijite, Ibn Muljam
Age at Martyrdom: 63
Period of Imamate: 29 years
Buried: Najaf, Iraq

“…and I am leaving with you two weighty things. As long as you hold onto them both, you will never go astray,” said Muhammad, the Messenger of God.

Someone from the crowd then called out, “…O Messenger of God, what are the two weighty things?”

Prophet Muhammad then stated, “The Book of God (the Qur’an) – a connection between God and you – so hold onto it and the other is my family (Ahl al-Bayt)… Indeed, (God,) the All-Attentive, the All-Aware, has told me that these two will not separate until they reach me at the pond (in heaven)…”

The Messenger of God then took the hand of ‘Ali, raised it for everyone to see, and declared three times, “…So for whomever I am the Leader, ‘Ali is the Leader.”

Prophet Muhammad continued to pray, “O God…love those who love him, detest those who detest him…and turn the Truth with him, whichever way he turns.”[i]

These were the words of Prophet Muhammad on the day of Ghadir. Following the announcement, people proceeded to congratulate their Divinely-appointed leader. Imam ‘Ali was the disciple who emanated wisdom, faith, and valor from every corner of his being. In the sphere of intellectual thought, Imam ‘Ali was an eye of piercing insight. As Commander of the Faithful, he was closest in resemblance to Prophet Muhammad. In the path of justice, Imam ‘Ali’s bravery was legendary. This was the personality of the Commander of the Faithful.

Unique Qualities

Imam ‘Ali was raised by the Prophet himself and was truly the Prophet’s shadow for most of his life. Even when the Prophet went out to the desert or nearby mountains, the young Imam was his companion. Imam ‘Ali recalled some of these moments later on in his life, when he said, “…Every year he (the Prophet) used to go in seclusion to the Cave of Hira’, where I saw him but no one else did.”[ii]

After the Prophet received revelation in the Cave of Hira’, the first man to outwardly accept the Prophet’s message was Imam ‘Ali. Indeed, Imam ‘Ali was among the very few who never believed in or bowed down to false idols – neither before nor after the advent of Islam. Prophet Muhammad once said to his companions, “The first among you to meet me at the pond (in heaven) is the first among you to embrace Islam – that is ‘Ali…”[iii]

Upon the Muslim migration (hijrah) to Madinah, the Prophet paired each one of the Muslim migrants (muhajirin) with a Muslim brother from the people of Madinah (anṣar). Once everyone had been paired, Imam ‘Ali came up to the Prophet with teary eyes saying, “You have not paired me with a brother…”

Prophet Muhammad then replied, “You are my brother, in this world and the Hereafter.”[iv]

Glimpses of the Legend

The virtues of Imam ‘Ali are too numerous to be encompassed by this short page. But mentioning some of the eternal images in Imam ‘Ali’s life may provide a glimpse into the life of a true legend.

The Battle of the Trench (Khandaq) was a notable scene for displaying Imam ‘Ali’s valor. The hero of the enemies – Amro – had been taunting the Muslims, calling out for a challenger. Many Muslims were terrified of the infamous Amro. But not Imam ‘Ali. Each time the vicious Amro would call out for a challenger, Imam ‘Ali would ask the Prophet for permission to fight. Upon the third request, Prophet Muhammad told Imam ‘Ali, “He is Amro…”

To which Imam ‘Ali replied, “And I am ‘Ali.”

Prophet Muhammad then granted Imam ‘Ali permission to fight. After some words with Amro, it became clear that a fight was inevitable. The two fought until Imam ‘Ali was struck and injured on the head. However, Imam ‘Ali was able to strike back and gain victory.

The Muslims were relieved that the invaders had just lost their wicked icon. Prophet Muhammad commented on the incident by saying,

“The challenge that ‘Ali met Amro with on the Day of the Trench (Khandaq) is greater than the deeds of my entire nation until the Day of Judgment.”[v]

While Imam ‘Ali was a courageous defender of truth on the battlefield, he was also a profoundly wise and patient leader. Imam ‘Ali carefully picked his battles without ever sacrificing his principles. After Prophet Muhammad passed away, many of the prominent companions disobeyed God’s directives to follow Imam ‘Ali as their leader. Instead, different political leaders were chosen by some of the companions. In order to safeguard the Muslim nation from civil strife and self-destruction, Imam ‘Ali opted not to bear arms against the illegitimate rulers. Imam ‘Ali continued to advise these rulers, insofar as the greater benefit of serving the truth was concerned.[vi]

Unfortunately, even when the majority of Muslims pledged allegiance to Imam ‘Ali years later, dissident groups forced Imam ‘Ali into battle, and internal conspiracies prevented him from executing all of his reformatory plans. Eventually, an assassin struck Imam ‘Ali with a poison-laden sword, while he was in prayer at the Mosque of Kufah. In the coming nights, many of the poor stopped receiving the charity they had awaited so anxiously. They realized that the mysterious angel who came to give them sadaqah at night had been none other than Imam ‘Ali.[vii][viii]

The Path of Eloquence

Some of Imam ‘Ali’s words of wisdom have been preserved and gathered in a collection known as the Path of Eloquence (Nahj al-Balaghah). Here is a taste of some of Imam ‘Ali’s words describing God, in the Sermon of Skeletons (Khutbah al-Ashbah):

“…He is Powerful, such that when imagination shoots its arrows to comprehend the extremity of His power, and mind, making itself free of the dangers of evil thoughts, tries to find Him in the depth of His realm, and hearts long to grasp the realities of His attributes and openings of intelligence penetrate beyond description in order to secure knowledge about His Being, crossing the dark pitfalls of the unknown and concentrating towards Him, He would turn them back. They would return defeated, admitting that the reality of His knowledge cannot be comprehended by such random efforts, nor can an iota of the sublimity of His Honor enter the understanding of thinkers…”[ix]

Another excerpt of Imam ‘Ali’s words teaches us a lifelong lesson on how to deal with others, especially if we find ourselves in a position of authority. In a letter to Malik al-Ashtar, the Governor of Egypt –– Imam ‘Ali wrote the following:

“…Remember, Malik, that amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people: those who have the same religion as you have – they are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than yours – they are human beings like you. Men of either category suffer from the same weaknesses and disabilities that human beings are inclined to, they commit sins, indulge in vices either intentionally or foolishly and unintentionally, without realizing the enormity of their deeds. Let your mercy and compassion come to their rescue and help in the same way and to the same extent that you expect God to show mercy and forgiveness to you…”[x]

[i] Pg. 34-35 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay Ashar by Sh. Jafar Subhani
[ii] Pg. 18-21 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay Ashar by Sh. Jafar Subhani
[iii] Pg. 35 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Jafar Subhani
[iv] Pg. 42 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Jafar Subhani
[v] Pg. 52-54 of Seerat al- A’immah by Sh. Jafar Subhani
[vi] Pg. 61-62 of Seerat al- A’immah by Sh. Jafar Subhani
[vii] Pg. 82 of Seerat al- A’immah by Sh. Jafar Subhani
[viii] Ch. 66 of A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims by S. Ali Razwy
[ix] “Letter to Malik al-Ashtar,” Nahj al-Balaghah
[x] “Khutbat al-Ashbah,” Nahj al-Balaghah


1. As Muslims, we must have intelligent and scientific thinking so that we are always able to accept the teachings of Islam properly. Like Ali ibn Abi Talib who has intelligent thinking so that he can find the real truth of Islam.

2. As Muslims, we must become strong individuals both in physical matters and in faith. Like Ali ibn Abi Talib who has always been at the forefront in defending Muslims, both thoughtfully and physically.

3. As Muslims, we must carry out the trust given as best we can because the trust is our debt to God and the trustee. Like Ali ibn Abi Talib who, despite inheriting a very chaotic condition of Muslims, he continued to carry out the mandate as the best possible caliph.

That was a little story about the caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib. Hopefully this story can be a lesson for us all and further strengthen our faith in Allah SWT. So, we can become people who are always devoted. Aamiin ya rabbal ‘alamiin.


Ali's father, Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib, was the custodian of the Ka'bah and a sheikh of Banu Hashim, an important branch of the powerful Quraysh tribe. He was also an uncle of Muhammad, and had raised Muhammad after Abd al-Muttalib (Abu Talib's father and Muhammad's grandfather) died. [19] [20] Ali's mother, Fatima bint Asad, also belonged to Banu Hashim, making Ali a descendant of Isma'īl (Ishmael), the firstborn son of Ibrahim (Abraham). [21]

Birth in the Kaaba

Many sources, especially Shia ones, attest that Ali was born inside the Ka'bah in the city of Mecca, [1] [22] [23] where he stayed with his mother for three days. [1] [24] His mother reportedly felt the beginning of her labour pain while visiting the Kaaba and entered it where her son was born. Some Shia sources contain miraculous descriptions of the entrance of Ali's mother into the Kaaba. Ali's birth in the Kaaba is regarded as a unique event proving his "high spiritual station" among Shia, while Sunni scholars consider it a great, if not unique, distinction. [5]

In Mecca

Early life

According to a tradition, Muhammad was the first person whom Ali saw as he took the newborn in his hands and Muhammad named him Ali, meaning "the exalted one". Muhammad had a close relationship with Ali's parents. When Muhammad was orphaned and later lost his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, Ali's father took him into his house. [1] Ali was born two or three years after Muhammad married Khadijah bint Khuwaylid. [25] When Ali was five years old, Muhammad took Ali into his home to raise him. Some historians say that this was because there was a famine in Mecca at the time and that Ali's father had a large family to support however, others point out that feeding Ali would not have been a burden on his father, as Ali was five years old at the time and, despite the famine, Ali's father, who was financially well-off, was known for giving food to strangers if they were hungry. [26] While it is not disputed that Muhammad raised Ali, it was not due to any financial stress that Ali's father was going through.

Acceptance of Islam

When Ali was nine or ten, Muhammad announced that he had received a divine revelation, and Ali believed him and professed to Islam. [1] [2] [27] [28] [29] According to Laura Veccia Vaglieri, Ali was one of the first believers, whether the second (after Khadijah) or the third (after Khadijah and Abu Bakr), to be disputed by Shiites and Sunnis. [30] This dispute, according to Gleave, is affected by (or perhaps originate in) sectarian interests, though the earliest sources seem to place Ali before Abu Bakr. [23] According to Muslim historians like Ibn Ishaq [31] and Ibn Hazm [2] and scholars like W. Montgomery Watt [32] Ali was the first male to profess to Islam. Encyclopedia of Britannica [1] and John Esposito [32] consider him the second Muslim, after Khadija, to accept Islam. [1] Al-Tabari narrates different narrations, each introduce one of Ali, Abu Bakr, or Zayd ibn Harithah as the first male who accepted Islam. [33] According to Watt, some sources (Ibn Sa'd, The Book of the Major Classes, History of the Prophets and Kings) consider Abu Bakr as the first male to accept Islam, however they hold the same opinion about Ali. [34]

Feast of Dhul-Asheera

Muhammad's call to Islam in Mecca lasted 13 years, from which 3 years was in secret. According to Al-Tabari, by the beginning of the public call, and after the revelation of the Quranic verse, "Warn your closest relatives"(26:214), Muhammad was commanded to invite his relatives to a feast. Thus he invited 40 of his close relatives from Banu Hashim clan to the feast. According to History of the Prophets and Kings, Ali ibn al-Athir, and Abulfeda, in this feast, Muhammad asked his relatives who is willing to assist him in mission. And he declared that whoever helped him, would be his brother, trustee and successor. None of the relatives gave an affirmative answer except Ali. Muhammad repeated his request for the second and third time. Still Ali was the only volunteer. After the third time, according to al-Tabari, Muhammad put his arm around Ali's neck and said "this is my brother, my trustee and my successor among you, so listen to him and obey", while Ali was 13 or 14 years old at the time. "And so the people arose and they were joking saying to Abu Talib [Ali's father]:He has ordered you to listen to your son and obey him!" [35] [36] [23]

Sir Richard Burton writes about the banquet in his 1898 book, saying, "It won for [Muhammad] a proselyte worth a thousand sabers in the person of Ali, son of Abu Talib." [37]

During the oppression of Muslims

During the persecution of Muslims and boycott of the Banu Hashim in Mecca, Ali stood firmly in support of Muhammad. [38]

According to Nasr, During the period (610-622 AD) when Muhammad received his first revelations, Ali along with Zayd ibn Harithah, Abu Bakr And Khadijeh was one of Muhammad's loyal companions. He helped form the nucleus of the first Islamic society. During these years, he spent most of his time providing for the needs of the believers in Mecca, especially the poor, by distributing his wealth among them and helping with their daily affairs. [1]

Migration to Medina

In the year 622, which is known as the migration year, Muhmammad's enemies were plotting to kill him, thus he asked Ali to sleep in his bed, so that he could escape to Yathrib. [1] Ali risked his life by sleeping in Muhammad's bed to impersonate him, in a night called Laylat al-Mabit. [23] [1] [27] [39] In the same night, Muhammad and Abu Bakr secretly left Mecca and arrived to Yathrib (now Medina), a few days later. This migration became the beginning of the Islamic calendar.When the enemies entered Muhammad's house with drawn daggers, they were surprised to see Ali, however, did not harm him. [1] According to Tabatabaei's exegesis, Tafsir al-Mizan, the verse (2:207) refers to this event:"And among men is he who sells his nafs (self) in exchange for the pleasure of Allah." [40] [41] [1] Ali stayed with Muhammad's family for a few more days, [1] to carry out Muhammad's instructions: to restore to their owners all the goods and properties that had been entrusted to Muhammad for safekeeping. [42] Ali then went to Medina with Fatimah bint Asad (his mother), Fatimah bint Muhammad (Muhammad's daughter), and two other women. [2] [27] At Muhammad's command, Ali went to Quba on the outskirts of Medina. According to some sources, Ali was one of the first emigrants to Medina. He was 22 or 23 at the time. [1]

In Medina

Marriage with Fatima

Shortly after migration to Medina, In 623, Muhammad told Ali that God ordered him to give his daughter Fatimah Zahra to Ali in marriage. [1] This marriage is viewed by Muslims as a union between the most important holy figures of Muhammad's relatives. Muhammad, who visited his daughter almost every day, got closer to Ali with this marriage and once told him that you are my brother in this world and the hereafter. [1] It is also narrated from Muhammad who said to Fatimah: "I have married you to the dearest of my family to me." [43] Ali's family was frequently praised by Muhammad, as Muhammad mentioned ALi, Fatimah and their sons al-Hasan and al-Husain, as his Ahl al-Bayt in events such as Mubahala and Hadith of the Event of the Cloak. They were also glorified in the Qur'an in cases such as "the verse of purification". [44] [45] Although polygamy was allowed, Ali did not marry another woman while Fatimah was alive. [42] After Fatima's death, Ali married other women and had many other children. [1]

Event of Mubahalah

According to hadith collections, in 631, an Arab Christian envoy from Najran (currently in northern Yemen and partly in Saudi Arabia) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning 'Isa (Jesus). After likening Jesus' miraculous birth to Adam's creation, [46] Muhammad called them to mubahala (conversation), where each party should bring their knowledgeable men, women and children, and ask God to curse the lying party and their followers. [47] Muhammad, to prove to them that he was a prophet, brought his daughter Fatimah, 'Ali and his grandchildren Hasan and Husayn. He went to the Christians and said "this is my family" and covered himself and his family with a cloak. [48] According to Muslim sources, when one of the Christian monks saw their faces, he advised his companions to withdraw from Mubahala for the sake of their lives and families. Thus the Christian monks vanished from Mubahala. According to Allameh Tabatabaei's Tafsir al-Mizan, the word "Our selves" in this verse [47] refers to Muhammad and Ali. Then he narrates that Imam Ali al-Rida, eighth Shia Imam, in discussion with Al-Ma'mun, Abbasid caliph, referred to this verse to prove the superiority of Muhammad's progeny over the rest of the Muslim community, and considered it proof of Ali's right to the caliphate due to God having made Ali like the self of Muhammad. [49]

Missions for Islam

Ali undertook several important missions on behalf of Muhammad. Muhammad designated Ali as one of the scribes who would write down the text of the Quran, which had been revealed to Muhammad during the previous two decades. [1] After migration, when Muhammad was creating bonds of brotherhood among his companions, he selected Ali as his brother, claiming that "Ali and I belong to the same tree, while people belong to different trees." [2] [27] [50] [51] In 628 AD, Ali was instructed to write down the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the peace treaty between Muhammad and the Quraysh. In 630 AD, the year before the Conquest of Mecca, when Abu Bakr was leading the Hajj, Muhammad recited Surah Bara'ah Min al-Mushrikin (declaring that Muhammad and the Islamic community no longer bound by agreements made earlier with Arab polytheists.) [2] [1] by Ali to the people of Mecca. [2] One year later, in 631, Ali was sent to Yemen to spread the teachings of Islam there which is known as Expedition of Ali ibn Abi Talib. [1] Ali was chosen to break the idols inside the Kaaba and other idols worshiped by the Aws, Khazraj and Tayy tribes. [2] He was also known for settling several disputes and putting down the uprisings of various tribes. [1]

Military career

Ali took part in nearly all expeditions (with the exception of the Battle of Tabouk) [27] during the life of Muhammad, often as standard-bearer and two times as commander, namely Expedition of Fadak and Expedition of Yemen. Ali's bravery became legendary later. Along with Hamza, Abu Dajana, and Zubayr, he is known for his attacks on the enemy. It is said that he alone killed more than a third of the enemy in the Battle of Badr, [42] along with the Meccan champion Walid ibn Utba. [52] In the year 5 AH, he executed the enemies who had been sentenced to death by Muhammad, and together with Zubayr, supervised the killing of the Banu Qurayza tribe. [42]

He vigorously defended Muhammad in the battles of Battle of Uhud when most of the Muslim army fled from the battle, [1] and in the Battle of Hunayn. The victory of the Muslims in the Battle of Khaybar is attributed to his courage. [2] Ali used the iron and heavy gate of Khyber fort as a shield. [42] [2]

According to a narration, Gabriel referred to the battle of Ali and his sword of Zulfiqar, which he had taken from Muhammad, and told Muhammad, "There is no sword but the Zulfiqar, and there is no Hero but Ali". [a] [1] Ali fought the great Quraysh warrior Talha ibn Abi Talha. Talha constantly boasted that he defeats any Muslim who comes his way. When Talha was defeated by Ali, he asked for mercy by saying the phrase Karram-Allah-u Wajhahu. According to Nasr, this prayer of goodness became one of the titles of Ali that is mostly used by Sunnis. This phrase, which is usually accompanied by other words, is used to send greetings and good prayers. [1]

Muhammad made Ali commander at the Battle of the Trench, claiming that "I will hand the standard to a man who loves Allah and His Messenger and is loved by Allah and His Messenger. He will come back with conquest.", [51] then Ali defeated the legendary Arab warrior Amr ibn Abd al-Wud. [53] Following this battle Muhammad gave Ali the name Asadullah (Lion of God) and reportedly praised him, saying "Ali's strike on Amr ibn Abd al-Wud is greater than the worship of both mankind and jinn until the Day of Judgement." [51]

Sherira Gaon (c. 906–c. 1006) describes in a responsum how that the head of the Jewish community in Peroz-Shapur (now al-ʾAnbār), a community numbering some 90,000, warmly welcomed Ali ibn Abi Talib when he marched with his army into the country and conquered it, and how that he received them with a friendly disposition. [54]

Conquest of Mecca

During the Conquest of Mecca in 630, Muhammad asked Ali to guarantee that the conquest would be bloodless. He ordered Ali to purify Kaaba from idols after its defilement by the polytheism of old times. [1] [2]

Ghadir Khumm

As Muhammad was returning from his last pilgrimage in 632, he made statements about Ali that are interpreted very differently by Sunnis and Shias. [1] He halted the caravan at Ghadir Khumm, gathered the returning pilgrims for communal prayer and began to address them. [55]

Taking Ali by the hand, he asked of his faithful followers whether he, Muhammad, was not closer (awlā) to the Believers than they were to themselves the crowd cried out: "It is so, O Apostle of God!" he then declared: "He of whom I am the mawla, of him Ali is also the mawla (man kuntu mawlāhu fa-ʿAlī mawlāhu)". [56] [57]

Shias regard these statements as constituting the designation of Ali as the successor of Muhammad and as the first Imam by contrast, Sunnis take them only as an expression of close spiritual relationship between Muhammad and Ali, and of his wish that Ali, as his cousin and son-in-law, inherit his family responsibilities upon his death, but not necessarily a designation of political authority. [23] [58] According to Madelung, Ali during his caliphate in Kufa, citing this event, emphasized the superiority of his position over the previous caliphs. [59] Many Sufis also interpret the episode as the transfer of Muhammad's spiritual power and authority to Ali, whom they regard as the wali par excellence. [1] [60]

Sources, among them both Shia and Sunni, state that, after the sermon, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman pledged allegiance to Ali. [61] [62] [63] However, there have been doubts regarding the veracity of the tradition due to evidence that Ali may not have been present during the sermon, instead being in Yemen at the time—a view held by the historian Ibn Kathir. [64]

The next phase of Ali's life started in 632, after the death of Muhammad, and lasted until the assassination of Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph, in 656. During those 24 years, Ali took no part in battle or conquest. [2]

Succession to Muhammad

While Ali was preparing Muhammad's body for burial and performing his funeral rites, a small group of approximately fourteen Muslims [65] met at Saqifah. There, Umar ibn al-Khattab pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr, who subsequently assumed political power. The gathering at Saqifah was disputed by some of Muhammad's companions, who held that Ali had been designated his successor by Muhammad himself. [29] [66]

Nevertheless, the issue of succession to Muhammad caused the Muslims to split into two groups, Sunni and Shia. Sunnis assert that even though Muhammad never appointed a successor, Abu Bakr was elected first caliph by the Muslim community. The Sunnis recognize the first four caliphs as Muhammad's rightful successors. Shias believe that Muhammad explicitly named Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm and Muslim leadership belonged to him by dint of divine order. [29]

According to Laura Veccia Vaglieri, whether Ali hoped he could take the position of Caliphate after Muhammad, is doubtful, since he made no effort to take control of community, in spite of being advised by al-Abbas and Abu Sufyan to do so. [67] According to Madelung, Ali himself was firmly convinced of his legitimacy for the caliphate based on his close kinship with Muhammad, his knowledge of Islam, and his merits in serving its cause. He told Abu Bakr that his delay in pledging allegiance (bay'ah) to him was based on his belief in his own claim to the caliphate. Ali did not change his mind when he finally pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr and then to Umar and to Uthman but had done so for the sake of the unity of Islam, at a time when it was clear that the Muslims had turned away from him. [29] [68] According to Madelung, if the Muslim community, or a small segment of it, favored him, he would no longer consider the caliphate just as his "right," but also as his "duty." [69] Ali believed that he could fulfill the role of Imam without fighting. [70]

According to Lewinstein, regarding the succession of Ali, historians and scholars of Islamic history have generally either accepted the view of the Sunnis or considered the truth of the matter undetectable. One of the historians who has distanced himself from this common belief is Wilferd Madelung. [71] In the Encyclopedia of Islam, Wilferd Madelung considers the main Shia claims, to be Ali's own view, because Ali considered himself the most worthy person for the caliphate, compared to other companions, and blamed the Muslim community for turning away from him, but, at the same time, he praised the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar, and condemned the destruction of their character. [72] Madelung believes that, since in the Arab customs of the time, especially the Quraysh, hereditary succession was common, and since the Quran emphasized the importance of blood ties between the early prophets, especially the Ahl al-Bayt, and since the Ansar supported Ali's caliphate, Abu Bakr knew that forming a council would lead to the election of Ali, so he led the situation in a manner that insured his own election. [73] Laura Veccia Vaglieri, On the other hand, doubts that Ali really hoped to succeed the Prophet, because the Arabs traditionally chose their leaders from among the elders, and Ali was a little over thirty years old at the time, and did not have the necessary credibility to succeed Muhammad, according to Arab traditions. Vaglieri believes that the Shias, by inventing or interpreting the words attributed to Muhammad in the light of their beliefs, insist that the Prophet intended to choose Ali as his successor, while there is no doubt that at the time of his last illness, Muhammad did not mention this desire. [30] Some sources mention Hadith of the pen and paper, as the last words of Muhammad, which is interpreted differently by Shias and Sunnis. [74]

Caliphate of Abu Bakr

According to Tabari, a group of Abu Bakr's opponents, including Zubayr, gathered at Fatimah's house. To make them come out and swear allegiance to Abu Bakr, Umar threatened to set the house on fire and pulled them out. [75] While Al-Baladhuri states that the altercation never became violent and ended with Ali's compliance, [76] some traditions add that Umar and his supporters forcibly entered the house, resulting in Fatimah's miscarriage of their unborn son Muhsin. [77] Professor Coeli Fitzpatrick surmises that the story of the altercation reflects the political agendas of the period and should therefore be treated with caution. [78]

Ali lived an isolated life during Abu Bakr's period and was mainly engaged in religious affairs, devoting himself to studying and teaching the Quran. He also advised Abu Bakr and Umar on government matters. [1] According to Ismail Poonawala, the first historically compiled Quran is attributed to Ali. Ali's knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah would help the previous caliphs in religious matters. [2] [79] According to Tabatabaei, the order of Quran, compiled be Ali, differed from that which was gathered later during the Uthmanic era. This book was rejected by several people when he showed it to them. Despite this, Ali made no resistance against the standardised mus'haf. [80]

At the beginning of Abu Bakr's caliphate, there was a controversy about Muhammad's endowment to his daughter, especially the oasis of Fadak, between Fatimah and Ali on one side and Abu Bakr on the other side. Fatimah asked Abu Bakr to turn over their property, the lands of Fadak and Khaybar, but Abu Bakr refused and told her that prophets did not have any legacy and that Fadak belonged to the Muslim community. Abu Bakr said to her, "Allah's Apostle said, we do not have heirs, whatever we leave is Sadaqa." Together with Umm Ayman, Ali testified to the fact that Muhammad granted it to Fatimah Zahra, when Abu Bakr requested her to summon witnesses for her claim. Fatimah became angry and stopped speaking to Abu Bakr, and continued assuming that attitude until she died. [81] According to some sources, 'Ali did not give his oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr until some time after the death of his wife, Fatimah, in the year 633. [2]

Caliphate of Umar

According to Encyclopedia of Brittanica, Ali pledged allegiance to the second caliph, Umar ibn Khattab, and even gave his daughter, Umm Kulthum in marriage to him. [1] Ali also helped Umar as a trusted advisor. 'Umar particularly relied upon Ali as the chief judge of Medina. He also advised Umar to set Hijra as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. 'Umar followed 'Ali's suggestions in political matters as well as religious ones. [82] According to Vaglieri, however, while it is probable that Umar asked Ali's advice on legal issues, due to his great knowledge of Quran and Sunnah, it is not certain whether his advice was accepted on political matters. As an example, Al-Baladhuri names Ali's view on Diwani revenue, which was opposite to that of Umar. Since, Ali believed the whole income should be distributed, without holding anything in stock. During the Caliphate of Umar (and Uthman) Ali held no position, except, according to Tabari, the lieutenancy of Madina, during Umar's journey to Syria and Palestine. [83] During the caliphate of Umar, Ali claimed Fatima's paternal inheritance again But Umar's answer was the same as Abu Bakr's. However, Umar agreed to return some of the property of Medina (which was considered part of Fatima's inheritance) to the sons of Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, who represented Banu Hashim But the property of Fadak and Khybar remained as state property and was not returned to Banu Hashim. [84]

Election of the third caliph

'Ali was one of the electoral council to choose the third caliph which was appointed by 'Umar. Although 'Ali was one of the two major candidates, the council was inclined against him. Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas and Abdur Rahman bin Awf, who were cousins, were naturally inclined to support Uthman, who was Abdur Rahman's brother-in-law. In addition, Umar gave the deciding vote to Abdur Rahman, who offered the caliphate to Ali on the condition that he should rule in accordance with the Quran, the example set by Muhammad, and the precedents established by the first two caliphs. Ali rejected the third condition while Uthman accepted it. According to Ibn Abi al-Hadid's Comments on the Peak of Eloquence Ali insisted on his prominence there, but most of the electors supported Uthman and Ali was reluctantly urged to accept him. [85]

According to Wilferd Madelung, Ali could not have hoped to become the caliph after Umar, on the basis of his kinship with Muhammad Because the Quraysh did not support the accumulation of prophethood and caliphate in one clan. He believes that it was not "Abu Bakr's and Umar's coup" at Saqifah which prevented ALi from becoming caliph, but it stems from the deep jealousy of the Quraysh toward Ali. Therefore, Ali's only chance to participate in the affairs of the Muslims could be his full participation in the council, which was founded by Umar. Ibn Abbas narrates that Umar once told him that Ali was in fact the most worthy person to succeed Muhammad, but we were afraid of him for two reasons. When Ibn Abbas eagerly asks Umar about these reasons, Umar replies that the first is his youth and the second is Ali's great interest in the Banu Hashim family. In his address, Omar refers to his belief in the formation of the council as the basis for appointing a caliph, and in practice, from now on, denounces any appointment of a caliph without consultation. Thus, by doing so, the caliphate could not be monopolized by certain clan and belonged to all the Quraysh. [86]

Caliphate of Uthman

There is controversy among historians about the relationship between Ali and Uthman. [87] According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr in the Encyclopedia of Britannica, Ali recognized Uthman as the caliph, but had taken a neutral position among his supporters and opponents. [1] But according to Robert M Gleave, in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Ali was at least spiritually at the forefront of Uthman's opponents. During the caliphate of Uthman, Ali, along with other companions of Muhammad, including Talhah and Zubayr, were among the critics of Uthman. He stated that 'Uthman had deviated from the Sunnah of the Prophet, [23] especially on the question of religious law which should be meted out in several cases, such as those of Ubayd Allah ibn Umar and Walid ibn Uqba(accused of drinking). [83] [87] [23] Also opposed him for changing the prayer ritual, and for declaring that he would take whatever he needed from the fey'. Ali also endeavoured to protect companions such as Ibn Mas'ud, [87] Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (who was exiled from Medina, due to his preaches against the misdeeds of the powerful) [83] [23] and Ammar ibn Yasir [2] from maltreatment by the caliph.

According to Madelung, when people revolted against Uthman in some cities and regions and moved to Medina, Uthman asked Ali to speak with them and convince them to return to their cities. Uthman, committing himself to follow Ali's advice, from now on, gave him full authority to negotiate with the insurgents as he wished. Ali reminded him that he had talked to him about this before, but 'Uthman preferred to listen to Marwan ibn Hakam and the Umayyads instead. Uthman promised that from now on, he would turn away from them and listen to Ali and ordered other Ansar and Muhajirun to join Ali. He also asked Ammar to join the group, but he rejected the offer. [88] Accordiing to Poonawala Ali had a restraining influence on Uthman at this time without directly opposing him. He conveyed criticisms of the Companions to 'Uthman, and negotiated on behalf of' Uthman with the opposition who had come to Medina which seems to have caused suspicion between 'Ali and' Uthman 's relatives. Later, when the rebels besieged Uthman's house, Ali tried to mitigate the severity of the siege by his insistence that Uthman should be allowed water. [2] When 'Uthman was in danger of being attacked, Ali sent his sons to protect his house. When Uthman was killed by the insurgents, Ali blamed his sons for inadequate protection of Uthman's house. [1]

According to Vaglieri, the rebels asked Ali to be their head, and although he refused and should be excluded from the bloody conclusion of their act, but, Vaglieri says, there are reasons that Ali was in agreement with rebels that Uthman should abdicate. [83] Wilferd Madelung believes that, due to the fact that Ali did not have the Quraysh's support to be elected as a caliph, he could not be considered as a opposition. According to him, there is not even evidence that Ali had close relations with rebels who supported his caliphate, much less directed their actions. [89] It is reported from al-Tabari that Ali tried to detach himself from the besiegers of the house of Uthman and their partisans, as soon as circumstances allowed him. [83] Madelung relates that, years later, Marwan told Zayn al-Abidin, the grandson of Ali, that "No one [among the Islamic nobility] was more temperate toward our master than your master." [90]

The First Fitna, 656–661, followed the assassination of Uthman, continued during the caliphate of Ali, and was ended by Muawiyah's assumption of the caliphate. This civil war is regretted as the end of the early unity of the Islamic ummah (nation). [91] circumstances, led to this civil war in Muslim history, wived differently by different Muslims. Some, known as Uthmanis, consider Uthman a rightful and just caliph till the end, who had been unlawfully killed. Some others, known as the party of Ali, believed Uthman had fallen into error, had forfeited the caliphate, and been lawfully executed for his refusal to mend his ways or step down thus, Ali was the just and true Imam and his opponents were infidels. This was not the position of Ali himself. This civil war created permanent divisions within the Muslim community regarding who had the legitimate right to occupy the caliphate. [92]


When Uthman was killed by insurgents from Egypt, Kufa and Basra, the potential candidates were Ali and Talha. Among the Egyptians, there were supporters for Talha, While the Basrians and Kufis, who had "heeded Ali's opposition to the use of violence", and most of the Ansar, openly tended to Ali's caliphate, and finally got the upper hand. Meanwhile, Malik al-Ashtar, the leader of the Kufis, seems to have played a key role in providing security for Ali to become caliph. [69] According to Poonawala, before the assassination of Uthman, the Basri rebels were in favor of Talha, and the Kufi rebels were in favor of Al-Zubayr, but with the assassination of Uthman, both groups converted to Ali. With the assassination of Uthman, the Umayyads fled Medina, and the Egyptians, prominent Muhajirun, and Ansar gained the control. They invited Ali to the caliphate and he accepted the position after a few days. [2] According to the narration of Muhammad Hanafiyyah, many companions met with Ali and wanted to pledge allegiance to him. At first, Ali objected, but later said that any allegiance should be in public and in the mosque. Kufi narrations state that Malik al-Ashtar was the first to pledge allegiance to him. [93] It seems that Ali personally did not force others to pledge allegiance to him. Thus, people such as Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, Abdullah ibn Umar and Usama ibn Zayd refused to pledge allegiance to Ali. [94]

According to some other historians, the election of Ali as the new caliph took place in an circumstance full of tumult, fear and panic. Caetani believes that this choice was made without the prior consent of the famous companions of Muhammad. Della Vida believes that the choice of Ali as caliph was not because he and his family held a high position or because he was loyal to Muhammad, but rather because the Ansar who had regained their influence in their city, Medina, supported him, and on the other hand, the Umayyads were troubled and disturbed. However, from its beginning, Ali's fledgling government was attacked by unfulfilled companions, as well as by Mu'awiyah, the only Umayyad governor who was able to maintain control of his state, Syria. [95] According to Madelung, "the reign of Ali bore the marks of a counter-caliphate", because he lacked the criteria set by the first two caliphs. Ali was not elected by a council (which Umar considered it as a condition for choosing a proper succession) and did not have the support of the majority of the Quraysh, who, according to Abu Bakr's constitution, were the only ruling class entitled to decide on the caliphate. [69] According to Veccia Vaglieri, Ali, allowing himself to be nominated by rebels, was an error which "exposed him to accusations of complicity" in rebels' crime, in spit of his vain effort to detach himself from them. [96]

The beginning of the caliphate

After being elected to the caliphate, Ali avoided Uthman's assassins as well as the sect that ascribe divine characteristics to him. [30] When Ali inherited the Rashidun caliphate, Islamic borders extended from Egypt in the west to the Iranian highlands in the east—while the situation in the Hejaz and the other provinces on the eve of his election was unsettled. Soon after Ali became caliph, he dismissed Uthman's governors immediately, against the counsel of Ibn Abbas and Al-Mughira, who advised him that it would not be politically wise to do so, as he refused to be complicit in their injustice and corruption. Wilferd Madelung believes that Ali was deeply aware of his Islamic duty, and in order to preserve Islamic law, was not willing to put expediency before right so much so that he was even willing to fight his opponents in this way. [97] Some of Uthman's governors were replaced, but others, such as Muawiyah I (a relative of Uthman and governor of the Levant), refused to submit to Ali's orders. [2] On becoming Caliph, Ali distributed all the sums collected in Bayt al-mal. According to Vaglieri, this action is not to be regarded as an act of demagogic, since Ali previously provoked Umar to do so. [83] 'Ali recovered the land granted by 'Uthman and swore to recover anything that elites had acquired before his election. [2] [98]

When he was appointed caliph, Ali stated to the citizens of Medina that Muslim polity had come to be plagued by dissension and discord he desired to purge Islam of any evil. He advised the populace to behave as true Muslims, warning that he would tolerate no sedition and those who were found guilty of subversive activities would be dealt with harshly. [99]

Ruling style

Ali opposed the centralisation of capital control over provincial revenues, favouring an equal distribution of taxes and booty amongst the Muslim citizens he distributed the entire revenue of the treasury among them. 'Ali refrained from nepotism, including with his brother 'Aqeel ibn Abu Talib. This reflected his policy of offering equality to Muslims who served Islam in its early years and to those Muslims who played a role in the later conquests. [2] [98] This policy, especially after the Battle of the Camel, gained the support of Muhammad's companions, especially the Ansar who were subordinated by the Quraysh leadership after Muhammad, the traditional tribal leaders, and the Qurra or Qur'anic reciters that sought pious Islamic leadership. The successful formation of this diverse coalition seems to be due to Ali's charisma. [2] [100] This diverse coalition became known as Shia Ali, "adherents of Ali" or "followers of Ali". However, according to Shia, as well as non-Shia reports, the majority of those who supported 'Ali after his election as caliph were Shia politically, not religiously. Although at this time there were many who were counted as political Shia, few of them believed in Ali's religious leadership. [101]

Many of the Quraysh tribe turned away from Ali, because he defended the rights of the Banu Hashim clan, which was the Prophet clan. He was also accused of refusing to punish the killers of Uthman and ousting Uthman's supporters from the government. [1] His policies and ideas of governing are manifested in the letter he sent to Malik al-Ashtar after appointing him governor of Egypt. This instruction, which has historically been viewed as the ideal constitution for Islamic governance, alongside the Constitution of Medina, involved detailed descriptions of the duties and rights of the ruler, the various functionaries of the state, and the main classes of society at that time. [102] [103] Since the majority of 'Ali's subjects were nomads and peasants, he was concerned with agriculture. He instructed Malik to give more attention to land development than to the tax collection, because tax can only be obtained by the development of the land and whoever demands tax without developing the land ruins the country and destroys the people. [104]

One of the changes Ali made during his caliphate was that he forbade Muslim fighters from looting and taking booty and distribute it among themselves after the conquests. Instead, he distributed the taxes collected from the cities as salaries, not spoils of war, in equal proportions, among the warriors. It is reported that this was the first subject of the dispute between Ali and the group that later constituted the Kharijites. [105]

Battle of the Camel

According to Laura Veccia Vaglieri, although A'ishah had supported opposition against Uthman, she had gone on pilgrimage to Mecca when they killed Uthman. On her way back to Medina, when she learned about this, and specially on hearing that the new Caliph was Ali, she returned to Mecca and engaged in an active propaganda against Ali. Later on Talhah and Al-Zubayr joined her and together they marched towards Iraq to gain more supporters against Ali. [96] They wanted 'Ali to punish the rioters who had killed Uthman. [106] [107] The rebels maintained that Uthman had been justly killed, for not governing according to the Quran and Sunnah hence, no vengeance was to be invoked. [2] [27] [108] According to Vaglieri, since these three leaders (A'isha, Talaha, Zubayr) were in part responsible for the fate of Uthman, their reason for rising is not clear. However, Vaglieri writes, "social and economic motives, inspired by fear of the possible influence of the extremists on Ali, seem to provide a more convincing explanation". [96] Troops encamped close to Basra. The talks lasted for many days. The two parties agreed on a peace agreement, however, according to Vaglieri, the rebels did not like the conclusion of the treaty. A brawl provoked, which expanded into a battle. [96] The Battle of the Camel started in 656, where Ali emerged victorious. [109]

Numerous explanations have been given as to the motive for the revolt against Ali. Poonawala writes that Talhah and Al-Zubayr, who had previously been frustrated with their political aspirations, became even more frustrated when they faced Ali's opposition to handing over control of Basra and Kufa. When the two heard that their supporters had gathered in Mecca, they asked Ali to allow them to leave Medina for Umrah. After that, the two broke their allegiance to Ali and blamed him for killing 'Uthman and asked him to prosecute the killers. [2]

After Talhah and al-Zubayr failed to mobilize supporters in the Hijaz, they set out for Basrah with several hundred soldiers, hoping to find the forces and resources needed to mobilize Iraqi supporters. [30] [2] When Ali learned of this, he pursued them with an army, but did not reach them. [2] Ali had no choice but to prevent the group from occupying Iraq, because Levant obeyed Muawiyah and there was chaos in Egypt as well Thus, with the loss of Iraq, its dependent eastern provinces, including Iran, were virtually lost. [30]

The rebels captured Basra [23] and killed many people. [2] In Basrah, Aisha's army attacked the Bayt al-mal, and forced Uthman ibn Hunaif, Ali's appointed governor, to leave. [110] Ali preferred to enlist the support of Kufa instead of marching to Basra. [110] Abu Musa Ashaari, the governor of Kufa, pledged allegiance to Ali before the Battle of camel, but when the war escalated, took a neutral stance, [111] and called on the people of Kufa to do the same. [110] Ali's supporters eventually expelled him from Kufa, and Ali wrote a harsh letter to him and dismissed him. [111] Ali's representatives (Malik al-Ashtar, Ibn Abbas, Hasan ibn Ali, And Ammar ibn Yasir) made many efforts to gain support for Ali's army until they finally joined 6 or 7 or 12 thousand people in Ali's army. [110] Ali approached Basrah and began talks with Talhah and al-Zubayr. Everyone at that time thought that an agreement had been reached between the two sides, but the war started suddenly. There are various narrations about the initiator of the war. According to some, Ali ordered his troops not to start a war, but when some of Ali's supporters were killed, he considered himself entitled to start it. [110] Aisha was not harmed in this battle, since Ali's army won and the war was practically over, because Talhah was wounded by Marwan ibn Hakam(according to many sources), and died after he was taken home. [110] Al-Zubair, after Ali's reminding him of Muhammad's words about himself, doubted the legitimacy of the movement he had launched and left the battlefield. Some people from the tribe of Banu Tamim pursued him and killed him conspiratorially. [110]

After the battle

Aisha was arrested but treated with respect. Ali sent her to Medina under his care, [30] and he was adamant in this decision. He spared Aisha's army and released them after taking allegiance. [110] Regarding the allegiance of Marwan and some others from Aisha's troop, there are various reports.Some historians have said that Ali forgave them without taking allegiance. Ali also prevented his troops from seizing their property as spoils of war, which caused unrest in his army. The major issue that led the extremists of Ali's corps to accuse him of apostasy was that Ali prevented women and children from being enslaved, also prevented the seizure of the property of the war victims. He only permitted the property that was found on the battlefield. They asked Ali how it was lawful to shed the blood of these people, but their property is forbidden. Later the Khawarij raised this issue as one of the reasons for Ali's apostasy. [110] [112]

Ali entered Basra and distributed the money he found in the treasury equally among his supporters. This meant that he treated the old Muslims who had served Islam from the first days and the new Muslims who were involved in the conquests, equally. [30] He appointed 'Abd Allah ibn al'-Abbas [113] governor of Basra. Then went to Kufa to gain the support of the Kufis against Mu'awiyah. They pledged allegiance to Ali. [30] Ali formed a broad coalition that added two new groups to his supporters. Qura, whose last hope was to regain their influence in Ali, and the leaders of the traditional tribes, who were fascinated by his equality in the distribution of spoils. [2]

Battle of Siffin

Immediately after Battle of the Camel, Ali turned to the Levant in the north of the Islamic lands. Muawiyah was the governor of the Levant. He was appointed governor of this region during the rein of Umar and was established there during the time of Uthman. Ali wrote a letter to Mu'awiyah and gave it to Jarir ibn Abdullah Bajli, the former governor of Hamedan, who had been chosen by 'Uthman, to deliver to Muawiyah and take allegiance from him, but Mu'awiyah kept Jarir in that land under various pretexts and During this time he prepared Damascus for battle with Ali. [23] He refused Ali's demands for allegiance. He insisted on Levant autonomy under his rule and refused to pay homage to Ali on the pretext that his contingent had not participated in the election. Ali then moved his armies north and the two sides encamped at Siffin for more than one hundred days, most of the time being spent in negotiations. Although Ali exchanged several letters with Muawiyah, he was unable to dismiss the latter, nor persuade him to pledge allegiance. Skirmishes between the parties led to the Battle of Siffin in 657. [2] [114]

A week of combat was followed by a violent battle known as laylat al-harir (the night of clamour). Muawiyah's army was on the point of being routed when Amr ibn al-As advised Muawiyah to have his soldiers hoist mus'haf (either parchments inscribed with verses of the Quran, or complete copies of it) on their spearheads in order to cause disagreement and confusion in Ali's army. [2] [114]

Hoisting Qurans on the spearheads and ceasefire

This gesture implied that two sides should put down their swords and settle their dispute referring to Quran. [96] Ali saw through the stratagem, but only a minority wanted to pursue the fight. [29] Ali warned them that Mu'awiyah was not a man of religion and that this was a deception, the Qura could not refuse the call to the Quran and some of them even threatened Ali that if he continued the war, they would hand him over to the enemy. Faced with the threat of his troops, Ali accepted a ceasefire and, due to the insistence of his soldiers, was forced to accept the arbitration of the Quran. [115] The two armies finally agreed to settle the matter of who should be caliph by arbitration. Most of Ali's soldiers were satisfied with the arbitration and were seeking the appointment of a arbitrator from Ali's corps, who had to face Amr ibn al-As, the representative of Muawiyah . The question as to whether the arbiter would represent Ali or the Kufans caused a further split in Ali's army. Ali's choice was Ibn Abbas or Malik al-Ashtar, but Ash'ath ibn Qays and Qura rejected Ali's nominees and insisted on Abu Musa Ash'ari. Abu Musa was Ali's opponent and had previously prevented the people of Kufa from helping Ali. [2] Finally, Ali was urged to accept Abu Musa. [116] [117]

They agreed on a settlement, according which two arbitrators should meet seven months later at a place halfway between Syria and Iraq. [118] The matters to be examined was not specified, but it was decided that they would make decisions based on the interests of the Ummah and not cause division and war among the ummah. The initial time for the agreement was set seven months later, the month of Ramadan, and conditions were set for the venue, witnesses and other conditions for the meeting. According to Madelung, it was clear that any opinion contrary to the Qur'an would be invalid. [2] [119] According to Vaglieri, whether Uthman's murder should be regarded as an act of justice or not, was among the issues to be determined. Since if the murder was unjust, then Muawiya would have the right to revenge. According to Vaglieri, "this was not all, for a decision in favour of Muawiya would inevitably involve, for Ali, the loss of the caliphate." [118] According to Madelung, not only was the condition of the arbitration against Ali, but the very acceptance of the arbitration was a political defeat for him. On the one hand, the arbitration weakened the belief of Ali's followers to the legitimacy of their position and caused a rift in Ali's army, and on the other hand, it assured the Levanties that Muawiyah's deceptive claims were based on the Quran. This was a moral victory for Muawiyah. Thus, when both Ali and Muawiyah knew that the arbitration would fail in the end, Muawiyah, who was losing the war, got the opportunity to strengthen his position in the Levant and propagandize against Ali. [120]

Advent of Kharijites

According to Poonawala, during the formation of the arbitration agreement, the coalition of Ali's supporters began to disintegrate. The issue of resorting to Sunnah must have been the most important reason for Qura's opposition. They agreed to the agreement because it was an invitation to peace and the use of the Quran. At that time, the terms of the agreement had not yet been determined and there was no term in which Ali would no longer be considered the Commander of the Faithful. Moreover, the expansion of the arbitrators' authority from the Quran to a Sunnah, that is ambiguous, jeopardized the credibility of the Quran Therefore, it was considered equivalent to individuals' ruling in the matter of religion. [2] Hence, the very same people who had forced Ali into the ceasefire, broke away from Ali's force, rallying under the slogan "arbitration belongs to God alone." This group came to be known as the Kharijites ("those who leave"). [121] [122] They asserted that according to Quran(8:9) [b] [123] the rebel(Muawiya), should be fought and overcome. And since there is such an explicit verdict in Quran, leaving the case to judgment of human was a sin. They camped at a place near Kufa, called Harura, and proclaimed their repentance (because they themselves first forced ALi to ceasefire which led to arbitration). Ali made a visit to the camp and managed to reconcile with them. When Ali returned to Kufa, he explicitly stated that he will abide by the terms of the Siffin treaty. The Kharijites, who had returned to Kufa with Ali, became angry when they heard this. As a result of this statement of Ali, the Kharijites secretly met with each other and asked themselves whether staying in a land ruled by injustice was compatible with the duties of the servants of God. Those who considered it necessary to leave that land, secretly fled and asked their like-minded people in Basra to do the same, and gathered in Nahrawan. [124] According to Fred Donner, the reason for the opposition of some Kharijites may have been the fear that Ali would compromise with Mu'awiyah and, after that, they would be called to account for their rebellion against 'Uthman. [125]


The first meeting of the arbitrators took place during the month of Ramadan [2] or Shawwal 37 AH, which coincided with February or March 658 AD, in the neutral zone, Dumat al-Jandal. [126] The result of this meeting was that the deeds Uthman was accused of was not tyrannical and that he was killed unjustly and Mu'awiyah has the right to revenge. According to Madelung, the decision was a political compromise that was not based on a judicial inquiry. However, the verdict on the innocence of Uthman became one of the Sunni religious beliefs. This verdict was desirable for Amr al-As because it could prevent neutral people from joining Ali. [127]

The main issue, however, was resolving the Muslims' dispute over the caliph. According to Madelung, Abu Musa Ash'ari was a neutral and peaceful person, but at this time he refused to accuse Ali or oust him and accept Mu'awiyah's caliphate. The ideal situation for Abu Musa was to constitute a caliphate council composed of neutral individuals. Amr ibn al-As intended to prevent any decision regarding Ali's caliphate or the constitution of a caliphate council. Of course, according to Madelung, the issue of Muawiyah's caliphate was not discussed at this time. Thus, Madelung states that, contrary to Vaglieri's view, the arbitration failed to achieve its main goal of resolving the dispute and ending the sedition, although it was a great political achievement for Muawiyah, and Levant pledged allegiance to Muawiyah as caliph until Dhuʻl-Hijjah (April-May) in 37 A.D. [128]

The Kufis protested against Abu Musa and he fled to Mecca. Ali denounced the verdict and announced that they had ignored two rulings of the Quran, still did not reach an agreement. He then called on the people to come together again to fight Muawiyah. [2] [129]

The second arbitration meeting probably took place in Muharram of the year 38 AH, which coincided with June or July, 658 AD, [126] or Sha'ban of that year, which coincided with January, 659 AD. [2] According to Madelung, since Ali no longer considered Abu Musa as his representative, and did not appoint anyone in replace, he did not participate in the second arbitration. But, the religious leaders of Medina, who did not participate in the first arbitration, tried to resolve the crisis of the Caliphate in this way. [115] Poonawala says that after the first arbitration, Ali and Muawiyah were no longer considered caliphs but considered rebel rulers or two rivals for the caliphate. The judges and other prominent figures, with the exception of Ali's representatives, appear to have met to discuss the election of a new caliph. [130]

The two sides met in January 659 to discuss the selection of the new caliph. Amr supported Muawiyah, while Abu Musa preferred his son-in-law, Abdullah ibn Umar, but the latter refused to stand for election in default of unanimity. Abu Musa then proposed, and Amr agreed, to depose both Ali and Muawiyah and submit the selection of the new caliph to a Shura. In the public declaration that followed Abu Musa observed his part of the agreement, but Amr declared Ali deposed and confirmed Muawiya as caliph. [2] This caused Abu Musa to get angry and leave the arbitration. [131] According to Vaglieri, this was judged in later time, as a treacherous trick and disloyal act. [132]

Ali refused to accept this state of affairs and found himself technically in breach of his pledge to abide by the arbitration. [133] [134] [135] 'Ali protested that it was contrary to the Qur'an and the Sunnah and hence not binding. Then he tried to organise a new army, but only the Ansar, the remnants of the Qurra led by Malik Ashtar, and a few of their clansmen remained loyal. [2] This put Ali in a weak position even amongst his own supporters. [133] The arbitration resulted in the dissolution of 'Ali's coalition, and some have opined that this was Muawiyah's intention. [2] [136] Still Ali assembled his forces and mobilized them toward Syria to engage in war with Muawia again, however, on reaching to al-Anbar, he realized that he should move toward al-Nahrawan, to handle Kharejits' riot first. [123]

Battle of Nahrawan

After the first arbitration, when Ali learned that Muawiya let people to pledge allegiance to him, [137] he tried to gather a new army, and to enlist Kharijites too, by assertion that he is going, as Kharijites wished, to fight against Muawiya. Ali invited the Kharijites to join the war, but they insisted that Ali should first repent of the infidelity which, in their view, he had committed by accepting arbitration. Ali angrily refused. [123] [138] According to Poonawala, at this time, only the Ansar, the remnants of the Qura led by Malik al-Ashtar, and a small number of men from their tribes remained loyal to Ali. He left Kufa with his new army to overthrow Muawiyah. [2]

While Ali was on his way to Levant, the Kharijites killed people with whom they disagreed Therefore, Ali's army,especially Al-Ash'ath ibn Qays, asked him to deal with the Kharijites first, because they felt insecure about their relatives and property. Thus, Ali first went to Nehrawan to interact with the opposition. Ali asked Kharigites to hand over the killers, but they asserted that they killed together and that it was permissible to shed the blood of Ali's followers(Shias). [139]

The battle of Nahrawan, according to Al-Baladhuri, took place in 9 Safar in 38 AH (approximately July 17, 658 AD) and according to Abu Mikhnaf in Dhuʻl-Hijjah in 37 AH, which coincided with the middle of May in 658 AD. Ali and some of his companions asked the Kharijites to renounce enmity and war, but they refused. Ali then handed over the flag of amnesty to Abu Ayyub al-Ansari and announced that whoever goes to that flag, and whoever leaves Nahrawan, and has not committed a murder, is safe. Thus, hundreds of Kharijites separated from their army, except for 1500 or 1800 out of about 4000. Finally, Ali waited for the Kharijites to start the battle, and then attacked the remnants of the Kharijite army with an army of about fourteen thousand men. Between 7 and 13 members of Ali's army were killed, while almost all Kharijites who drew their swords were killed and wounded. Ali ordered the wounded Kharijites to be handed over to their tribes for treatment. [140]

Madelung writes that the battle with the Kharijites was the most challenging event of Ali's caliphate. Although it was reasonable and necessary to fight the bloodthirsty insurgents who openly threatened to kill others, but they were previously among the companions of Ali, and like Ali, were the most sincere believers in the Quran. They could have been among Ali's most ardent allies in opposing deviations from the Quran. But Ali could not confess his disbelief at their request or consider other Muslims infidels. Or to ignore the murders they committed. However, after this incident, Ali's first priority was to reconcile among the Qura. Although Ali intended to march directly from Nahrawan to Levant, but his soldiers, led by Al-Ash'ath ibn Qays, forced him to move towards Kufa, as they complained about lack of war luggage, and there, they left his army. [141] Poonawala writes that the killing was condemned by many, and that the soldiers' escape from Ali's army forced him to return to Kufa and not to be able to march toward Muawiyah. [2]

The last year of the caliphate

During the Caliphate of Ali, civil wars broke out between Muslims. Also the Iranian uprising took place in the last year of caliphate of Ali, which was suppressed by the caliph's troops. [30] For example, the rebels in eastern Iran did not pay their taxes to the Kufi and Basri tribes. [142]

After the arbitration, although Ali did not accept the dismissal order and still called himself the caliph of the Muslims, his loyalists decreased every day. When Ali was fighting the Kharijite revolt, Muawiyah took control of Egypt. [30] Encyclopædia Iranica writes that at the end of 39 AH, he defeated Ali's troops in Egypt and made Amr ibn al-As the ruler there. At the same time, Ali lost control of the Hejaz. [2] In 40 AH, Ali did not even have control over the cities of Mecca and Medina. Ali was practically confined to the city of Kufa and was in a defensive position so that he took no action against Muawiyah's campaigns in the heart of Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. [30] Arab public opinion tended to Muawiyah's succession, because he was supported by regular forces. He could maintain power among the Arab elite and control the Islamic caliphate. [142]

In the last year of Ali's caliphate, the mood in Kufa and Basra changed in Ali's favour as the people became disillusioned with Muawiyah's reign and policies. However, the people's attitude toward Ali differed deeply. Just a small minority of them believed that Ali was the best Muslim after Muhammad and the only one entitled to rule them, while the majority supported him due to their distrust and opposition to Muawiyah. [143]

A number of Kharijites decided to assassinate Ali, Muawiyah, and Amr ibn al-As at the same time in order to rid Islam of the three men, who, in their view, were responsible for the civil war, [30] They only succeeded in killing Ali, and Muawiyah and Amr ibn al-As survived. [1] In the sources, the day of Ali's beating is reported as 17, 19, and 21 of Ramadan. But Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid considers the day 19 Ramadan AH 40, which would correspond to 26 January 661, to be more correct, and Ibn Abi'l-Hadid also writes that because these three people considered their work as worship, so they placed it on the Qadr Night of the 19th of Ramadan in order to get more rewards. The day of Ali's death has also been reported in sources from 11 to 21 Ramadan. [144]

While praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa, Ali was attacked by the Kharijite Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam. He was wounded by ibn Muljam's poison-coated sword while prostrating in the Fajr prayer. [145] Ibn MUljam wanted to flee but Abu Adma Hamedani threw him to the ground. Ali returned to his house and Ibn Muljam was brought to him. Ibn MUljam told Ali that he had been sharpening his sword for 40 days and had asked God to kill the most evil men with it. Ali replied that Ibn Muljam himself would be killed with the same sword and called him the most evil man. [144] 'Ali ordered his sons not to attack the Kharijites, instead stipulating that if he survived, ibn Muljam would be pardoned whereas if he died, ibn Muljam should be given only one equal hit (regardless of whether or not he died from the hit). [146] 'Ali died two days later on 29 January 661 (21 Ramadan AH 40), [2] [145] Al-Hasan fulfilled Qisas and gave equal punishment to ibn Muljam upon Ali's death. [143] at the age of 62 or 63. [30] Abd-al-Rahman did this with the intention of taking revenge on him for the killing of Nahrawan. [30] [2] A narration from Al-Mubarrad states that Ali forgave ibn Muljam. According to another narration, Ali ordered that Ibn Muljam be given proper food and rest, and that if Ali dies, Ibn Muljam must join him so that God will judge between him and Ali in the Hereafter. [144]

Ali knew for a long time that he was going to be killed either Muhammad had told him or he had felt it himself. There are many narrations in which Muhammad or Ali report that Ali's beard would stain with the blood of his forehead. It is mainly emphasized in Shia sources that Ali, despite being aware of his fate, did not appoint anyone else to lead the congregational prayer, and despite the fact that others had warned him about the possibility of his death. Ali had even predicted that Ibn Muljam would be his killer. The relationship between Ali and Ibn Muljam was tense. However, Ali did not take any action against Ibn Muljam as caliph. According to Ibn Sa'd, Ali said, "How can I kill someone who has not killed me yet?" Even when someone from the Murad tribe or someone who had heard the plan of murder from Ibn Muljam himself, warned Ali about this, Ali replied that every human being is guarded by two angels on his shoulders until the moment of death, and that Destiny determines the moment. [144]

According to Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, Ali did not want his grave to be exhumed and profaned by his enemies and consequently asked his friends and family to bury him secretly. This secret gravesite was revealed later during the Abbasid caliphate by Ja'far al-Sadiq, that the grave was some miles from Kufa, where a sanctuary arose later and the city Najaf was built around it. [147] [132] Most Shias accept that Ali is buried at the Tomb of Imam Ali in the Imam Ali Mosque at what is now the city of Najaf, which grew around the mosque and shrine called Masjid Ali. [148] [149]

Shia pilgrims usually go to the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf for Ziyarat, pray there and read "Ziyarat Amin Allah" [150] [151] while Sunni Muslims go to the Hazrat Ali Mazar in Balkh. Under the Safavid Empire, his grave became the focus of much devoted attention, exemplified in the pilgrimage made by Shah Ismail I to Najaf and Karbala. [29]

After Ali's death, Kufi Muslims pledged allegiance to his eldest son Hasan, as Ali on many occasions had declared that just People of the House of Muhammad were entitled to rule the Muslim community. [152] At this time, Muawiyah held both the Levant and Egypt and declared himself caliph and marched his army into Iraq, the seat of Hasan's caliphate. War ensued during which Muawiyah gradually subverted the generals and commanders of Hasan's army until the army rebelled against him. Hasan was forced to give the caliphate to Muawiyah, according to a Hasan–Muawiya treaty. [153] Umayyads placed pressure upon Ali's family and his Shia. Regular public cursing of Ali in the congregational prayers remained a vital institution until Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz abolished the practice, 60 years later. [90] According to Ibn Abi'l-Hadid the Umayyads "prevented people from reporting any narration that might refer to any of Ali's accolades. Finally, they even prevented people from calling their newborns by his name." [51] According to Madelung, "Umayyad highhandedness, misrule and repression were gradually to turn the minority of Ali's admirers into a majority. In the memory of later generations Ali became the ideal Commander of the Faithful." [154]

Ali had fourteen sons and nineteen daughters from nine wives and several concubines, among them Al-Hasan, Al-Husayn and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah played a historical role, and only five of them left descendants. [132] Ali had four children from Muhammad's youngest daughter, Fatimah: Al-Hasan, Al-Husayn, Zaynab [1] and Umm Kulthum. His other well-known sons were Al-Abbas ibn Ali, born to Umm al-Banin, and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, [155] [156] from a freed slave girl named Khawlah bint Ja'far. [23]

Fatemeh Zahra, along with her father (Muhammad), wife (ALi) and sons, (Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn), are five members of the Ahl al-Kisa. [157] Ali's descendants of Fatemeh Zahra are known as Sharif or Sayyid. They are revered by Shias and Sunnis as the only surviving generation of Muhammad. [1] Ali had no other wives while Fatima was alive. Hassan is the eldest son of Ali and Fatemeh Zahra, born in 625, was the second Shia Imam. He also assumed the role of caliph for several months after Ali's death. In the year AH 50 he died after being poisoned by a member of his own household who, according to historians, had been motivated by Mu'awiyah. [158] Husayn was the second son of Ali and Fatemeh Zahra, and the third Shia Imam, and according to most narrations, was born in Medina in 626 AD. He rebelled against Muawiah's son, Yazid, in 680 AD and was killed in the battle of Karbala with his companions. In this battle, in addition to Hussein, six other sons of Ali were killed, four of whom were the sons of Fatemeh Kalabieh, known as Umm ul-Banin. Also, al-Hassan's three sons and Hussein's two children were killed in the battle. [159] [160]

Ali's dynasty considered the leadership of the Muslims to be limited to the Ahl al-Bayt and carried out several uprisings against rulers at different times. The most important of these uprisings are the battle of Karbala, the uprising of Mukhtar al-Thaqafi by Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah,the uprising of Zayd ibn Ali and the uprising of Yahya ibn Zayd against the Umayyads. Later, Ali's family also revolted against the Abbasids, the most important of which were the uprising of Shahid Fakh and the uprising of Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya. While none of these uprisings were successful, the Idrisians, Fatimids, and Alawites of Tabarestan were finally able to form the first governments of the Ali family. [161]

The works attributed to Ali, first delivered to his followers in the form of sermons and speeches, then were written by his companions. There were also supplications such as Du'a Kumayl which were taught to his companions. [23]

Nahj al-Balagha

Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence) contains eloquent sermons, letters and quotations attributed to Ali, compiled by ash-Sharif ar-Radi. Reza Shah Kazemi states: "Despite ongoing questions about the authenticity of the text, recent scholarship suggests that most of the material in it can in fact be attributed to Ali" and in support of this he makes reference to an article by Mokhtar Jebli. [149] This book has a prominent position in Arabic literature. It is also considered an important intellectual, political and religious work in Islam. [1] [162] [163] According to Gleave, Nahj al-Balagha's third sermon, Shaqshaqiya Sermon, in which Ali reveals his claim to Caliphate and his superiority over Abu bakr, Umar and Uthman, is the most controversial section of the book. Also Letter of Ali ibn Abi Talib to Malik al-Ashtar, in which Ali "outlines his conception of legitimate and righteous rule", is an important part of this book and got much attention. [23]

Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim

Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim (Exalted aphorisms and Pearls of Speech) which is compiled by Abd al-Wahid Amidi, who according to Gleave, was either a Shafiʽi jurist or a Twelver. This book consists of over ten thousand short sayings of Ali. [164] [23]

These pietistic and ethical statements, are taken from different works, including Nahj al-Balagha and Mi'a kalima ("100 sayings" of Ali) of Jāhiẓ. [23]

Mus'haf of Ali

Other works

Du'a Kumayl is a supplication by Ali, which been taught to his companion, Kumayl ibn Ziyad. This supplication is still used by Muslims as a supplicatory prayer. [23] See also Supplications (Du'a), translated by William Chittick. [165] Divan-i Ali ibn Abu Talib, is a poetry, attributed to Ali, which allegedly, is written by Ali himself. [23] [2] According to Robert M Gleave, some secondary sources, attribute some other works to Ali such as Ṣaḥīfat al-farāʾiḍ (a short piece on inheritance law) and Kitāb al-zakāt (on alms tax) on legal matters as well as a Tafsir. These works are not extant nowadays. Ali's other attributed works are compiled in Kitab al-Kafi by Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni and many works of Al-Shaykh al-Saduq. [23]

Except for Muhammad, there is no one in Islamic history about whom as much has been written in Islamic languages as Ali. [1] In Muslim culture, Ali is respected for his courage, knowledge, belief, honesty, unbending devotion to Islam, deep loyalty to Muhammad, equal treatment of all Muslims and generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies. [166]

Ali is described as being bald, heavy built, short legged, with broad shoulders, a hairy body, a long white beard and was affected by a form of eye inflammation. In manner, it is said, he was rough, brusque, and unsociable. According to Madelung and Vaglieri, Ali has been a subject of controversy in the writings of later writers since the conflicts in which he was involved, were perpetuated in polemical sectarian historiography, biographical and history materials is often biased. [132] [167] Vaglieri names Lammens's writings as an example of hostile judgment towards Ali's behavior, and Caetani's as a milder one, however neither Lammens nor Caetani, Vaglieri says, took into consideration Ali's religiosity and its impact on his policy. According to Vaglieri, much has been said about Ali's "austerity, his rigorous observance of religious rites, his detachment from worldly goods, his scruples in regard to booty and retaliation and there is no reason to suppose all these details invented or exaggerated, since all his actions were dominated by this religious spirit. Without attempting to decide whether his devotion to Islam was always wholly unmixed with other motives, this aspect of his personality cannot be disregarded for the understanding that it affords of his psychology." [132] Authors have noted that Ali stood firmly by his principles and would not compromise them for political self-gain. [167]

Vaglieri is quoting Al-Baladhuri's view on Ali's war against "erring" Muslims as a duty "to sustain the Faith and to make the right way (al-huda) triumphant", then mentions Battle of the Camel as an example in which Ali, who had won the war, tried to relieve the defeated by preventing their women and children to be taken captive in spite of being protested by a group of his partisans. After the battle, he "wept for the dead, and even prayed over his enemies." [132]

According to Leone Caetani, the "half-divine aureole which soon encircled the figure of Ali", aside from his closeness to the prophet Muhammad, was a result of his own impression on the people of his time. According to Vaglieri, the quality which caused this impression was a "programme of social and economic reforms"(based on his religious spirit) which Ali supported it by his own authority. [168]

According to Madelung, "In face of the fake Umayyad claim to legitimate sovereignty in Islam as God's Vice-regents on earth, and in view of Umayyad treachery, arbitrary and divisive government, and vindictive retribution, they came to appreciate his [Ali's] honesty, his unbending devotion to the reign of Islam, his deep personal loyalties, his equal treatment of all his supporters, and his generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies." [154] It is reported from Al-Baladhuri that Ali wished to distribute the Sawad, (like what he did about Bayt al-mal), which is viewed as Ali's only act of extremism, by Laura Veccia Vaglieri. [83]

Ali is known by various titles, some given due to his personal qualities and others due to events in his life: [1]

  • Al-Murtaza (Arabic: ٱلْمُرْتَضَىٰ ‎, "The Chosen One")
  • Amir al-Mu'minin (Arabic: أَمِير ٱلْمُؤْمِنِين ‎, "Commander of the Faithful Ones")
  • Bab-e Madinatul-'Ilm (Arabic: بَابِ مَديْنَةُ ٱلْعِلْم ‎, "Door of City of the Knowledge")
  • Abu Turab (Arabic: أَبُو تُرَاب ‎, "Father of the Soil")
  • Asad Allah (Arabic: أَسَد ٱلله ‎, "Lion of God")
  • Haydar (Arabic: حَيْدَر ‎, "Braveheart" or "Lion")
  • Walad al-Kaʿbah (Arabic: وَلَد ٱلْکَعْبَة ‎, "Son of the Kaaba") [169]

Ali fulfills a high political, jurisprudential, and spiritual position in Shia and Sunni thought. Only in a period after the Battle of Siffin did the Khawarij have less respect for him. [23] Ali retains his stature as an authority on Quranic exegesis, Islamic jurisprudence and is central to mystical traditions in Islam such as Sufism. [166] A wide range of disciplines from theology and exegesis to calligraphy and numerology, from law and mysticism to Arabic grammar and rhetoric are regarded as having been first adumbrated by Ali. [149] His influence has been important throughout Islamic history. [1]

According to Vaglieri, Ali's position as an orator is not disputed, however, the same cannot be said of his poetic art. Still, Vaglieri, names a Diwan and prose works, attributed to him, which may be authentic. [132] Ali was also considered as a great scholar of Arabic literature and pioneered in the field of Arabic grammar and rhetoric. Numerous short sayings of Ali have become part of general Islamic culture and are quoted as aphorisms and proverbs in daily life. They have also become the basis of literary works or have been integrated into poetic verse in many languages. Already in the 8th century, literary authorities such as 'Abd al-Hamid ibn Yahya al-'Amiri pointed to the unparalleled eloquence of Ali's sermons and sayings, as did al-Jahiz in the following century. [1]

In the Quran

There are many verses interpreted by Shia scholars as referring to Ali or other Shia Imams. In answering question of why the names of the Imams are not expressly mentioned in the Quran Muhammad al-Baqir responds: [c] "Allah revealed Salat to his Prophet but never said of three or four Rakats, revealed Zakat but did not mention to its details, revealed Hajj but did not count its Tawaf and the Prophet interpreted their details. Allah revealed this verse and Prophet said this verse is about Ali, Hasan, Husayn and the other twelve Imams." [170] [171] According to Ali, one quarter of Qur'anic verses are stating the station of Imams. [ clarification needed ] Momen has listed many of these verses in his An Introduction to Shi'i Islam. [172] [173] However, there are few verses that some Sunni commentators interpret as referring to Ali, among which are The verse of Wilayah (Quran, 5:55) that Sunni and Shia scholars [d] believe refers to the incident where Ali gave his ring to a beggar who asked for alms while performing ritual prayers in the mosque. [174] [175] The verse of Mawadda (Quran, 42:23) is another verse in which Shia scholars, along with Sunni ones like Al-Baydawi and Al-Zamakhshari and Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, believe that the phrase Kinship refers to Ali, Fatimah and their sons, Hasan and Husayn. [176] [177] [178] [179]

The verse of purification (Quran, 33:33) is also among the verses in which both Sunnis and Shia conjoined the name of Ali along with some other names. [e] [172] [177] [180] [181] [182] [183] The aforementioned verse of Mubahala, and also Quran 2:269, in which Ali is honoured with unique wisdom by both Shia and Sunni commentators, are other verses of this kind. [172] [177] [184]

Sunni and Shia scholars agree that The Verse of Wilayah was narrated in honour of Ali, but there are differing interpretations of wilayah and the Imamate. [174] The Sunni scholars believe that the Verse is about Ali but does not recognise him as an Imam while, in the Shia Muslim view, Ali had been chosen by God as successor of Muhammad. [185]

In Hadiths

Ja'far al-Sadiq narrates in hadith that whatever virtue found in Muhammad was found in Ali, and that turning away from his guidance would be akin to turning away from Allah and his Prophet. Ali himself narrates that he is the gateway and supervisor to reach Allah. [186] According to Shia, Muhammad suggested on various occasions during his lifetime that Ali should be the leader of Muslims after his death. This is supported by numerous hadiths which have been narrated by Shias, including Hadith of the pond of Khumm, Hadith of the two weighty things, Hadith of the pen and paper, Hadith of the Cloak, Hadith of position, Hadith of the invitation of the close families, and Hadith of the Twelve Successors.

In Islamic philosophy and mysticism

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ali is credited with having established Islamic theology, and his quotations contain the first rational proofs among Muslims of the Unity of God. [187] Ibn Abi al-Hadid has quoted

As for theosophy and dealing with matters of divinity, it was not an Arab art. Nothing of the sort had been circulated among their distinguished figures or those of lower ranks. This art was the exclusive preserve of Greece, whose sages were its only expounders. The first one among Arabs to deal with it was Ali. [188]

In later Islamic philosophy, especially in the teachings of Mulla Sadra and his followers, like Allameh Tabatabaei, Ali's sayings and sermons were increasingly regarded as central sources of metaphysical knowledge, or divine philosophy. Members of Sadra's school regard Ali as the supreme metaphysician of Islam. [1] According to Henry Corbin, the Nahj al-Balagha may be regarded as one of the most important sources of doctrines professed by Shia thinkers, especially after 1500. Its influence can be sensed in the logical co-ordination of terms, the deduction of correct conclusions, and the creation of certain technical terms in Arabic which entered the literary and philosophical language independently of the translation into Arabic of Greek texts. [189]

In addition, some hidden or occult sciences such as jafr, Islamic numerology, and the science of the symbolic significance of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, are said to have been established by Ali [1] through his having studied the texts of al-Jafr and al-Jamia.

In Sunni view

According to Gleave, since Ali was one of Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and one of Muhammad's close companions, he has a high position in Sunni thought. However, this was not the case from the beginning. The title Rightly-Guided for Ali, was considered legitimate by the Sunni doctrine, only after Ahmad ibn Hanbal accepted Ali as one of the Rashidun caliphs. Later on Sunni authors regularly reported Ali's legal, theological, and historical views in their works, among them some sought to use Ali's sayings to disprove Shi'i position, or depict him as a supporter of Sunni doctrine. [23]

Among Sunnis, Ali has the same position as the other three caliphs however, according to Sunni doctrine of sābiqa (according which, greater religious authority is given on the basis of the chronological order of the caliphs), Ali is in a lower position than the other Rashidun Caliphs. The most troubling element of this view, is the apparent elevation of Ali's position in Muhammad's sayings, such as "I am from Ali and Ali is from me", and "Whoever counts me as his patron (mawla), then Ali is also his patron", which accordingly been interpreted so that solve the problem. (see mawla and Event of Ghadir Khumm) Some Sunni writers, on the other hand, acknowledge the preeminence of Ali's knowledge in the Sharia, and his importance in the hadiths of the Prophet, however, do not consider these as a reason to determine Ali's political designation by the Prophet. [23]

Shia view

In Shia belief, Ali holds a high position, and the belief in his legitimacy in leading the Muslims is the definite belief of the Shias. His statements are a reference for Shia legal system, and most importantly, Shias believe that Ali was superior to the rest of the companions and was appointed by Muhammad as his successor. Ali's piety and morality initiated a kind of mysticism among the Shias that brought them close to the Sunni Sufis. [23] Among the shias Imamate of Ali is one of the principles of the religion, according which, although Ali was not the recipient of a divine revelation, he had a close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the Imam in turn guides the people. His words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow as a result it is a source of sharia law. [190] [191]

Musta'lis consider Ali's position superior to that of the Imam. Both Twelvers and Isma'ilis believe in infallibility, the knowledge of the unseen, and the intercession of Ali. [23] A large volume of Shiite religious literature in various languages such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish is dedicated to Ali. [79]

Prophetic knowledge

According to a hadith which is narrated by Shia and Sufis, Muhammad said "I'm the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate . " [149] [192] [193] According to the Shia, Ali himself gave this testimony:

Not a single verse of the Quran descended upon (was revealed to) the Messenger of God which he did not proceed to dictate to me and make me recite. I would write it with my own hand, and he would instruct me as to its tafsir (the literal explanation) and the ta'wil (the spiritual exegesis), the nasikh (the verse which abrogates) and the mansukh (the abrogated verse), the muhkam and the mutashabih (the fixed and the ambiguous), the particular and the general . [194]

It has been narrated that when Abbas was a baby, Ali placed him on his lap, kissed his hands and began to weep. He foretold the tragedy of Abbas and the inevitable fate of his hands which caused his wife, Umm ul-Banin, to also weep. However, he goes on to describe Abbas's future position and great status with God, and this relieves her. [51]


Shia extremists, known as Ghulat, believed that Ali had access to God's will for example, the Nuṣayrīs believed that Ali appears as an incarnation of God, some of them(Khaṭṭābiyya), considered Ali higher than Muhammad. Nowadays, Alawites and Bektashis are viewed with suspicion by Shias and Sunnis. The Ahl al-Haq Kurds also hold a similar views mixed with reincarnation about Ali. [23]

Saba'iyya, the followers of Abdullah ibn Saba', who praised Ali beyond measures, were another Ghulat sect, which, according to Veccia Vaglieri, Ali dissociated himself from them. [83] Also, there is Ali-Illahism, a syncretic religion, which centres on the belief that there have been successive incarnations of their Deity throughout history, and reserves particular reverence for 'Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, who is considered one such incarnation. [195] These groups have, according to traditionalist Muslims, left Islam due to their exaggeration of a human being's praiseworthy traits. [196] Studies carried out by Aryeh Kofsky and Meir M.Bar Asher support the claim that the Alawites do not deify Ali but rather identify him as the unique "wasīī", meaning a "guard of Islam" chosen by God [197] Ali is recorded in some traditions as having forbidden those who sought to worship him in his own lifetime. [196]


Almost all Sufi orders trace their lineage to Muhammad through Ali, an exception being Naqshbandi, which go through Abu Bakr. Even in this order, there is Ja'far al-Sadiq, the great great grandson of Ali. [1] According to Gleave, even Naqshbandi include him into their spiritual hierarchy by depicting how Muhammad taught him special ritual principle of Ṣūfī practice, through which, believers may reach certain stages on the Sufi path. [23]

Sufis believe that Ali inherited from Muhammad the saintly power, wilayah, that enable Sufis in their spiritual journey to God. [1] Ali's position as a prominent narrator of Muhammad's esoteric knowledge, made him popular among Sufi writers. Ali is therefor, considered as an ascetic follower of Muhammad, by Sufis, as well as Sunnis and Shias. Sufis believe that Muhammad taught Ali the occult science and Jafr. [23] [1] [1]

The primary sources for scholarship on the life of Ali are the Qur'an and ahadith, as well as other texts of early Islamic history. The extensive secondary sources include, in addition to works by Sunni and Shia Muslims, writings by Christian Arabs, Hindus, and other non-Muslims from the Middle East and Asia and a few works by modern western scholars. However, many of the early Islamic sources are coloured to some extent by a positive or negative bias towards Ali. [1]

There had been a common tendency among the earlier western scholars to consider narrations and reports gathered in later periods as fabrications, due to their tendency towards later Sunni and Shia partisan positions. This led these scholars to regard certain reported events as inauthentic or irrelevant. For example, Leone Caetani considered the attribution of historical reports to Ibn Abbas and Aisha as mostly fictitious while proffering accounts reported without isnad by the early compilers of history like Ibn Ishaq. Wilferd Madelung has rejected the stance of indiscriminately dismissing everything not included in "early sources" and in this approach tendentiousness alone is no evidence for late origin. According to him, Caetani's approach is inconsistent. Madelung and some later historians do not reject the narrations which have been compiled in later periods and try to judge them in the context of history and on the basis of their compatibility with the events and figures. [198]

Until the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate, few books were written and most of the reports had been oral. The most notable work prior to this period is The Book of Sulaym ibn Qays, written by Sulaym ibn Qays, a companion of Ali who lived before the Abbasids. [199] When paper was introduced to Muslim society, numerous monographs were written between 750 and 950. According to Robinson, at least twenty-one separate monographs have been composed on the Battle of Siffin. Abi Mikhnaf is one of the most renowned writers of this period who tried to gather all of the reports. Ninth- and tenth-century historians collected, selected and arranged the available narrations. However, most of these monographs do not exist any more except for a few which have been used in later works such as History of the Prophets and Kings by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.923). [200]

Shia of Iraq actively participated in writing monographs but most of those works have been lost. On the other hand, in the 8th and 9th century Ali's descendants such as Muhammad al-Baqir and Jafar al-Sadiq narrated his quotations and reports which have been gathered in Shia hadith books. The later Shia works written after the 10th century are about biographies of The Fourteen Infallibles and Twelve Imams. The earliest surviving work and one of the most important works in this field is Kitab al-Irshad by Shaykh Mufid (d. 1022). The author has dedicated the first part of his book to a detailed account of Ali. There are also some books known as Manāqib which describe Ali's character from a religious viewpoint. Such works also constitute a kind of historiography. [201]

Qathm ibn Abbas, the governor - designate of Makkah.

Qathm was the younger brother of Obaidullah. He is said to have borne a striking resemblance to the Prophet. He was still in Medina when Makkah became a center of opposition to Ali. He, therefore, had to wait until conditions returned to normal in Makkah. After the death of Ali, he left Arabia, went to Samarkand in Central Asia, and died there.

A few months after his accession to the throne, Ali had to leave Medina for Basra to take up the challenge of the rebels, and he appointed Sahl bin Hunaif Ansari as governor of the capital in his own absence.

After the battle of Basra, Ali appointed Abdullah ibn Abbas as the new governor of that city. Abdullah was an “understudy” of his master, Ali, and won great fame for his knowledge. He was one of the earliest authorities on the science of the exegesis of Qur’an. He died in Ta'if at the age of 70.

The Prophet's Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib

Book Review: The Prophet's Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib by Hassan Abbas, Yale University Press, New Haven 2021, 300 pp.

There is no dearth of books on the life and times of Ali ibn Abi Talib, nor a shortage of accounts in the annals of Islamic history about his character, spirituality, and persona. Like the parable of the blind men and an elephant, where, having never come across an elephant, a group of blind men try to identify it by touching and describing each part as the elephant, many authors have illustrated the multifaceted personality of Ali through their own distinct lenses and painted a multitude of vignettes. This should come as no surprise it is no easy task to encapsulate the multidimensional persona of Ali.

Masterfully, in just over 300 pages, Professor Hassan Abbas has contributed to building a rich tapestry of Ali's life, and in doing so redressing some gaps and disparities with a fluidity of prose that engages the scholar as much as it captivates a lay reader. He has also skillfully navigated historical reports from the early sources based on Sunni and Shia partisan interpretations. He brings a refreshing balance by focusing on the commonalities of the two traditions, albeit without sacrificing clarity on challenging issues at the altar of diplomacy.

Like the proverbial man with sight amongst the seven blind men trying to describe an elephant, Hassan Abbas encapsulates the many dimensions of Ali's multifaceted personality. The use of extensive sources, from Sunni, Shia, Sufi traditional and contemporary scholars from East and the West, is a testimony of Hassan Abbas's endeavor to present a balanced account that serves to do some justice to the man whose sense of justice was legendary. He draws upon many worthy publications to bring about a well-balanced biography of Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Notable amongst those publications that the author has drawn upon are: Ali, The Voice of Human Justice, Jordac, George (1956) Imam' Ali: Source of Light, Wisdom and Might, Kattani, Sulayman (1983), translation by I.K.A. Howard Polarization Around the Character of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, Motahhari, Morteza (1981) Imam' Ali ibn Abi Talib: The First Intellectual Muslim Thinker, Abdul Rauf, Muhammad Living and Dying with Grace: Counsels of Hadrat Ali, Cleary, Thomas (1996) The Sacred Foundations of Justice in Islam: The Teachings of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Reza Shah-Kazemi (2007) and The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate, Wilferd Madelung (1998).

From the outset, like a well-choreographed play, the author offers a vivid narrative on the early years of Islam, contextualizing the nuances of tribal politics and how these conflicted with egalitarian concepts of Islam in the Arabian society of the day. The first two chapters narrate multiple events signifying Ali's close association with the Prophet of Islam and how this rising star in the ranks of Prophet Muhammad's companions is being groomed as the Prophet's spiritual successor of Islam. The visual of Fāṭima bt. Asad giving birth to a son within the inner sanctum of the Kaaba and how the Prophet comes to hold the newborn in his hands effuses deep spirituality.

Skillfully and persuasively, event after event, the author builds on the argument that after the Prophet’s wife Khadija, it was Ali, as a boy who was the first to accept the message of Islam. A well-referenced account portrays how Ali continued to be his most ardent supporter, while many either remained silent onlookers or vehemently opposed Prophet Muhammed.

The third chapter delves into the historical episode of Ghadir suggesting that Muhammad had indeed explicitly and recognizably appointed Ali as his successor. Hassan Abbas draws on the words of major commentators of the Quran like Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, and Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Kulayni, themselves representing different Muslim traditions. Attesting to its timing of the revelation of the verse: 'O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message", (Q 5:67) Professor Abbas lays the ground for a defining moment resulting in the declaration, 'For Whomever I am his mawla [master], Ali is also his mawla.’ To capture the spirit of the moment, the author’s choice of the stanzas by Hassan ibn Thabit, the poet laureate of the time, who was present at Ghadir, is apt:

Beside the Ghadir (pond) of the valley of Khumm,

the Prophet calls upon those close and afar

so hear carefully where ever you are!

He inquired, 'Who is your Master and Wali?'

with sincerity and zest, the crowd reverberated with a heartfelt roar,

'Our Master is our Lord, while you are our Wali,

You shall find today nonwilling to disobey.'

He then called upon Ali and spoke with his heart,

'Stand up, O Ali, for I find only you to be an Imam and a guide after I depart.'

In keeping with the balanced tone and tenor of the book, Hassan Abbas is able to navigate the controversy promulgated by later theologians and commentators on the meaning of the word 'Mawla' (and its impact on the Sunni/Shia schism), and convincingly lays the foundation for the subsequent chapters.

The title of the fourth chapter: The Succession Politics and Imperial Islam is an uncompromising yet equitable account of how internal politics after Prophet Mohammad's death pushed Ali aside and how military campaigns and expansion altered the pristine message of Islam. The book provides nuanced arguments as to why Ali remained involved with the first three caliphs, serving as an advisor and judge, and avoided any confrontation even though his claim was denied due to his rivals' political intrigues.

The introduction to the fifth chapter succinctly sums up the spirit and style of governance by Ali: “I aspire to restore the true symbols of Islam, usher in prosperity and secure peace so that the oppressed have no fear."

The chapter illustrates how Ali confronted nepotism and removed the perks of the privileged grandees who benefited from the booty and riches from the newly acquired Muslim lands and how in resisting Ali's insistence on justice and equity, there came about a significant split in the Muslim community, which has had far-reaching implications until the present time.

Rendered in almost novelesque language, the heartrending eloquence in describing the aftermath of Ali's martyrdom adds pathos, not only on the immediate impact of his death but also the long-term ramifications which continue to reverberate in the Muslim community:

"It was an ending soaked in tragedy, and even when Ibn Muljam (Ali's assassin) was killed, justice would not be served, and peace would not be found. This would eventually become one of those rare moments in history where the action of one would create a spiral in history, where a wound would never find a bandage. The cheeks of orphans were suddenly cold without the warmth of Ali's hand, the stomachs of the needy once again empty and unfed, the hearts of many broken, not to be mended any time soon. This mourning would continue even as centuries passed, Ali's name echoing in the melodies of singers and saints, his death remembered every twenty-first day of Ramadan."

Some of the most inspiring aspects of the book are the author's renditions of the mystical dimensions of Islam through the teachings of Ali, as elucidated in the penultimate chapter. Citing sermons and aphorisms that gave rise to a spiritual movement that came to be known as Sufi tradition, Professor Abbas draws on Catholic symbolism in his assertion that Ali is considered to be the "patron saint" of Sufi tradition. The reader cannot fail to be moved as the author presents a myriad of voices from many Sufi masters and poets, honoring Ali in adoration these include Rumi, Sadi, Hafez, al-Junayd, Rabia Basri, Bayazid Bastami, Amir Khusro, and even theosophists like Mulla Sadra.

The Prophet's Heir. The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib, with its rich illustrations, timelines, and an extensive bibliography is a refreshing and relevant repertoire, worthy of a broad-based readership and will be of interest as much to the academic as to a lay reader, a Muslim, or non-Muslim, and may well serve as a definitive primer in Islamic history for schools and colleges. Hopefully, it will also enhance empathetic understanding to narrow the schism in the Muslim Community. Quoting Professor Muqtedar Khan, Professor Abbas drives the point home: 'Everybody Loves Ali', 'If Ali can help Muslims come closer to God, why can't he also be someone who brings Muslims closer to each other?'

HASSAN ABBAS - Full Biography

Hassan Abbas is a Distinguished Professor of International Relations at the Near East South Asia Strategic Studies Centre (NESA), National Defense University in Washington DC. He also serves as a senior advisor at Harvard University’s Program on Shiism and Global Affairs at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Earlier he served as the Distinguished Quaid i Azam Professor at Columbia University (2009-2011). He held various fellowships including at Harvard Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program & Program on Negotiation (2002-04) the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (2005-09) Asia Society in New York as Bernard Schwartz fellow (2009-2011) and as a Carnegie fellow at the New America Foundation (2016-2018).

He appeared on various television news shows on CNN, Fox News, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose Show, MSNBC, C-Span (Washington Journal), and various programs on CBS, and NBC as an analyst on security-related issues in South Asia and the Middle East.

A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

Ali was born on the 13th of Rajab of the 30th year of the Elephant (A.D. 600). His cousin, Muhammad, was now 30 years old. Ali's parents were Abu Talib ibn Abdul Muttalib, and Fatima, the daughter of Asad, both of the clan of Hashim.

Ali was born inside the Kaaba in Makkah. The great historian, Masoodi, the Herodotus of the Arabs, writes on page 76 of Volume II of his book, Murooj-udh-Dhahab (The Golden Meadows), that one of the greatest distinctions that Ali enjoyed was that he was born in the House of Allah.Some of the other authorities who have affirmed Ali's birth in the Kaaba, are:

1.Muhammad ibn Talha el-Shafei in Matalib-us-saool, page 11.

2.Hakim in Mustadrak, page 483, Vol. III.

3.El-Umari in Sharh Ainia, page 15.

4.Halabi in Sira, page 165, Vol. I.

5.Sibt ibn al-Jauzi in Tadhkera Khawasil Ummah, page 7.

6.Ibn Sabbagh Maleki in Fusoolul Mohimma, page 14.

7.Muhammad bin Yousuf Shafei in Kifayet al-Talib, page 261.

8.Shablanji in Nurul Absar, page 76.

9.Ibn Zahra in Ghiyathul Ikhtisar, page 97.

10. Edvi in Nafhatul Qudsia, page 41.

Among the modern historians, Abbas Mahmood al-Akkad of Egypt writes in his book Al-'Abqarriyet al-Imam Ali, (Cairo, 1970), that Ali ibn Abi Talib was born inside the Kaaba.

Another contemporary historian, Mahmood Saeed al-Tantawi, of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, Arab Republic of Egypt, writes on page 186 of his book, Min Fada-il al-‘Ashrat al-Mubashireen bil Janna, published in 1976 by Matab’a al-Ahram at-Tijariyya, Cairo, Egypt:

“May God have mercy upon Ali ibn Abi Talib. He was born in the Kaaba. He witnessed the rise of Islam he witnessed the Da’wa of Muhammad, and he was a witness of the Wahi (Revelation of Al-Qur’an al-Majid). He immediately accepted Islam even though he was still a child, and he fought all his life so that the Word of Allah would be supreme.”

An Arab poet composed the following distich on the birth of Ali:

He (Ali) is the one for whom the House of Allah was turned into a maternity home And he is the one who threw the idols out of that House Ali was the first and the last child ever to be born in the Kaaba.

It was a custom of the Arabs that when a child was born, he was placed at the feet of the tribal idol or idols, thus symbolically “dedicating” him to the pagan deity. All Arab children were “dedicated” to the idols except Ali ibn Abi Talib. When other Arab children were born, some idolater came to greet them and to take them in his arms.

But when Ali was born, Muhammad, the future Messenger of God, came into the precincts of the Kaaba to greet him. He took the infant into his arms,, and dedicated him to the service of Allah. The future prophet must have known that the infant in his arms was some day going to be the nemesis of all idolaters and polytheists and of their gods and goddesses. When Ali grew up, he extirpated idolatry and polytheism from Arabia with his sword.

Birth in Kaaba was one out of many distinctions that God bestowed upon Ali. Another distinction that he enjoyed was that he never adored the idols. This again makes him unique since all Arabs worshipped idols for years and years before they abjured idolatry and accepted Islam.

It is for this reason that he is called “he whose face was honored by Allah.” His face was indeed honored by Allah as it was the only face that never bowed before any idol.

Ali was the youngest child in the family. Of the three of his brothers, Talib and Aqeel, were many years older than him Jaafer was ten years older.

The birth of Ali filled the heart of the future Apostle with boundless happiness. The child was someone “special” for him. After all, Muhammad had many other cousins and they had their own children, and Ali himself had three elder brothers but he didn't show any interest in any of them. Ali and Ali alone was the focus of his interest and love.

When Ali was five years old, Muhammad adopted him, and from that moment they were never to part with each other.

There is a story that once there was a famine in Makkah, and the surrounding areas, and Abu Talib, being in dire straits at the time, was finding it difficult to support a large establishment. It occurred to Muhammad that he ought to try to mitigate some of his uncle's burden of responsibilities, and was thus prompted to adopt Ali.

It is true that Muhammad adopted Ali but not for the reason stated above. In the first place, Abu Talib was not in such dire straits that he could not feed a child of five he was a man of rank and substance, and his caravans plied between Hijaz and Syria or between Hijaz and Yemen. In the second place, feeding a child of five years would have hardly made any difference to a man who fed even strangers if they were hungry.

Muhammad and Khadija adopted Ali after the death of their own sons. Ali thus filled a void in their lives. But Muhammad, the future prophet, also had another reason for adopting Ali. He picked out Ali to bring him up, to educate him, and to groom him for the great destiny that awaited him in the times to come. Dr. Taha Hussain of Egypt says that the Messenger of God himself became Ali's guide, teacher and instructor, and this is one more distinction that he enjoys, and which no one else shares with him (Ali).

About Islam it has been said that of all the universal religions, it is the only one which has grown in the full light of history, and there is no part of its story which is in obscurity.

Bernard Lewis

In an essay on Muhammad and the origin of Islam, Ernest Renan remarks that, unlike other religions which were cradled in mystery, Islam was born in the full light of history. “Its roots are at surface level, the life of its founder is as well known to us as those of the Reformers of the sixteenth century”. (The Arabs in History, 1960,)

G. E. Von Grunebaum

Islam presents the spectacle of the development of a world religion in the full light of history. (Islam, 1969)

Similarly, it may be said that of all the friends and companions of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, Ali is the only one who grew up in the full light of history. There is no part of his life, whether it is his infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, manhood, or maturity, that is hidden from the spotlight of history. He was the cynosure of all eyes from his birth to his death.

On the other hand, the rest of the companions of the Prophet come to the attention of the student of history only after they accept Islam, and little, if anything, is known about them until then.

Ali was destined to become the right arm of Islam, and the shield and buckler of Muhammad, the Messenger of God. His destiny was inseparably linked with the destiny of Islam, and the life of its Prophet. He was present at every juncture in the history of the new movement, and he played the stellar role in it.

It was, incidentally, a role that he alone could have played. He reflected the “image” of Muhammad. The Book of God itself called him the “soul” or the alter ego (a second self) of Muhammad in verse 61 of its third chapter, and paraded his illustrious name across the horizons of history.

In the years to come, the creative synergy of Muhammad and Ali – the master and the disciple – was going to place the “Kingdom of Heaven” on the map of the world.


Scouting Edit

Muhammad did not know that an army had left Mecca, was marching toward Medina to protect the caravan of the Quraysh, and to challenge the Muslims. When Muhammad arrived in the environs of Badr, he sent Ali to reconnoiter the surrounding country. At the wells of Badr, Ali surprised some water-carriers. In reply to his questions, they told him that they were carrying water for an army which came from Makkah, and which was encamped on the other side of the nearby hills.

Ali brought the water-carriers before Muhammad. From them he learned that the caravan of the Quraysh had already escaped, and that the Muslims, at that very moment, were confronted by the army of Mecca.

On reaching the neighbourhood of Badr, Muhammad sent forward Ali, with a few others, to reconnoiter the rising ground above the springs. There they surprised three water-carriers of the enemy, as they were about to fill their sheepskins. One escaped to the Quraysh the other two were captured and taken to the Muslim army. From them Muhammad discovered the proximity of his enemy. There were 950 men more than threefold the number of the Moslem army. They were mounted on 700 camels and 100 horses, the horsemen all clad in mail. (Sir William Muir, The Life of Mohammed, London, 1877)

Battle Edit

The battle began in the traditional Arab fashion of having a few warriors fight one-on-one before the general battle. Three warriors from the polytheists' army-Utbah ibn Rabia, Shaiba ibn Rabia, and Walid ibn Utbah-stepped up to challenge the Muslims. Their challenges were taken up by Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib (the uncle of Muhammad and Ali), Ubaydah ibn al-Harith (a cousin of Muhammad and Ali), and Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Ali's duel against Walid ibn Utba, one of Mecca's fiercest warriors, was the first of the three one-on-one duels. After a few blows were exchanged, Walid was killed. Hamza then engaged Shaybah ibn Rab'iah and cut him down. Ubayda ibn Harith, the third Muslim champion, however, received a fatal wound from Utbah ibn Rab'iah. Ali and Hamza hastily dispatched Ut'bah ibn Rab'iah, carrying Ubaida to die in the Muslim lines. [2]

By noon the battle was over. The Quraysh fled. Forty-nine of the enemy had fallen and Ali had killed twenty-two, either alone or with the help of others. An equal number was captured. The believers had lost fourteen men on the field of battle. [3]

Ali first distinguished himself as a warrior in 624, at the Battle of Badr. He defeated the Umayyad champion Walid ibn Utba as well as many other Meccan soldiers. His art of battle was so brilliant that in the battle, there were 70 Polytheist (Mushrikeen), 35 of them (more than half of them) were killed by Ali.

  • Ashraf (2005), p. 36
  • Merrick (2005), p. 247
  • Al Seerah of Ibn Hisham narrates he killed 20 people Abdul Malik Ibn Husham, Al Seerah Al Nabaweyah (Biography of the Prophet), Published by Mustafa Al Babi Al Halabi, Egypt, 1955 A.D, Part 2 page. 708-713
  • Al Maghazi put the number at 22 aghedi, Al Maghazi (The Invasions) published by Oxford Printing. Part 1 page. 152

. One year after the battle of Badr, the new army of the idolaters of Mecca was ready to take the field against the Muslims. In March 625 AD, Abu Sufyan left Mecca at the head of three thousand seasoned warriors. Most of them were foot soldiers but they were supported by a strong contingent of cavalry. Also accompanying the army, was a band of warlike women. Their duty was to wage "psychological warfare" against the Muslims by reading poetry and by singing amatory songs to spur the courage and the will-to-fight of the soldiers. They knew that nothing held such terror for the Arabs as the jibes of women for cowardice, and they also knew that nothing was so efficacious to turn them into utterly reckless fighters as the promise of physical love. These amazons included the wives of Abu Sufyan and Amr bin Aas, and the sister of Khalid bin Walid. [ citation needed ]

Killing the Pagans Standard Bearers Edit

The Meccans, generously assisted by the women who had brought their timbrels, flung insults at the Muslims. These were alternated by Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, who led triumphant choruses as she danced round the idol which perched on the camel.

Talha, the hereditary standard-bearer of the Koreishites, was the first Meccan challenger. As he stepped out of Abu Sufyan's ranks, Ali stepped out of Muhammad's. The two men met in the middle of 'no man's land.' Without words or preliminary flourishes the duel began. Talha never stood a chance. Ali's scimitar flashed in the morning sun and the head of the standard-bearer leaped from his shoulder and rolled away on the sand.

'Allahu Akbar!'(Allah is the greatest) echoed from the eagerly watching Muslims. (R. V. C. Bodley, The Messenger, the Life of Mohammed, New York, 1946)

When Ali ibn Abu Talib killed the carrier of the Meccan flag, Talhah ibn Abu Talha, it was immediately raised again by Uthman ibn Abu Talha. And when Uthman fell at the hands of Hamzah, it was raised again by Abu Sa'd ibn Abu Talhah. At the moment he raised the Meccan flag he shouted at the Muslims. "Do you pretend that your martyrs are in paradise and ours in hell? By God, you lie! If anyone of you truly believes such a story, let him come forward and fight with me." His challenge attracted Ali who killed him on the spot. The Banu Abd al Dar kept on carrying the Meccan flag until they lost nine men. (Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad)

Ali alone had killed eight standard-bearers of the idolaters of Mecca.

Ibn Athir, the Arab historian, writes in his Tarikh Kamil "The man who killed the standard-bearers (of the pagans) was Ali. [4]

The General Offensive Edit

Ali ibn Abu Talib pressed on undismayed into the enemy ranks – it was Badr again the Muslims were invincible. (Sir John Glubb, The Great Arab Conquests, 1963)

Ali and Hamza had broken the ranks of the Quraysh, and he was already deep inside their lines. Unable to resist his attack, they began to yield ground. Between them, they were grinding back the army of Quraysh.

The Flight of the Muslims Edit

The death of the bearers of the banner heightened the morale of the Muslims, who pursued the enemy headlong. This however resulted in complacency, with some of the Muslim soldiers beginning to claim war spoils for themselves whilst the battle had not yet been fully won. This allowed the pagans to launch a counter-attack, which dismayed the Muslim army and sent it into headlong retreat. Muhammad remained stranded, with only a few soldiers left to defend him against the attacks of Khalid ibn Waleed. It is recorded that 'Ali alone remained, fending off the assaults of Khaleed's cavalrymen. According to Ibn Atheer, "The Prophet became the object of the attack of various units of the army of Quraish from all sides. Ali attacked, in compliance with Muhammad's orders, every unit that made an attack upon him and dispersed them or killed some of them, and this thing took place a number of times in Uhud." [5]

. when somebody raised the cry that Muhammad was killed, chaos reigned supreme, Muslim morale plunged to the bottom and Muslim soldiers fought sporadically and purposelessly. This chaos was responsible for their killing of Husayl ibn Jabir Abu Hudhayfah by mistake, as everyone sought to save his own skin by taking flight except such men as Ali ibn Abu Talib whom God had guided and protected. (Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, 1935, Cairo)

The first of the Qurash to reach the Prophet's position was Ikrimah. As Ikrimah led a group of his men forward the Prophet turned to Ali and, pointing at the group, said, "Attack those men." Ali attacked and drove them back, killing one of them. Now another group of horsemen approached the position. Again the Prophet said to Ali, "Attack those men." 1 Ali drove them back and killed another infidel. A regiment arrived from Kinanah in which four of the children of Sufyan Ibn Oweif were present. Khalid, Abu AI-Sha-atha, Abu Al-Hamra, and Ghurab. The Messenger of God said to Ali: "Take care of this regiment." Ali charged the regiment, and it was about fifty horsemen. He fought them while he was on foot until he scattered them. They gathered again and he charged them again. This was repeated several times until he killed the four children of Sufyan and added to them six more . (Ibn Abu Al Hadeed, in his Commentary, vol 1 p 372)

It was said that during 'Ali's defence of Muhammad, a call was heard, as follows: "There is no soldier but Ali, and there is no sword save Zhulfiqar." [6]

This battle is also known as the battle of the trench. Ali ibn Abi Talib fought alongside Muhammad. After the battle of Uhud, Abu Sufyan and the other pagan leaders realized that they had fought an indecisive action, and that their victory had not borne any fruits for them. Islam had, in fact, resiled from its reverse at Uhud, and within an astonishingly short time, had reestablished its authority in Medina and the surrounding areas. Again Ali proved to be an invincible warrior by killing Amr ibn wod al ameree who was one of the most feared warriors at the time. After Ali dropped Amr ibn wod al ameree off his horse, Amr spat at Ali. Ali got angry, and so he walked away for a moment and then got back after he calmed down, he told Amr ibn wod al ameree "If i killed you then i would have satisfied myself and not God's will" and then he killed Amr. The Muslim ranks roared and were happy. Muhammad said "Ali's strike on the day of the trench, is worth the combined worship of all of mankind and Jinns" [ citation needed ]

The campaign of Khaybar was one of the greatest. The masses of Jews living in Khaybar were the strongest, the richest, and the best equipped for war of all the peoples of Arabia. Even though they were rich and lived in castles Muhammed and Ali still had respect for them in Khaybar. Imam Ali suffered from an eye illness and was not in battle-ready condition. Although he was ill, Muhammed called him and he came to his service. According to Islamic historians, Muhammed cured Ali's illness by rubbing his saliva on Ali's eyes. According to this tradition, Ali killed a Jewish chieftain with a sword-stroke, which split in two the helmet, the head and the body of the victim. Having lost his shield, Ali is said to have lifted both of the doors of the fortress from its hinges, climbed into the moat and held them up to make a bridge whereby the attackers gained access to the redoubt. This story is one basis for the Muslim view, especially in Shi'a Islam, of Ali as the prototype of heroes.

Ali also participated in the Expedition of Fidak. Muhammad sent Ali to attack the Bani Sa‘d bin Bakr tribe, because Muhammad received intelligence they were planning to help the Jews of Khaybar [7]

He also led the Expedition of Ali ibn Abi Talib as a commander in July 630. [8] Muhammad sent him to destroy al-Qullus, an idol worshipped by pagans [9]

Battle of Jamal Edit

The Battle of Jamal, sometimes called the Battle of the Camel or the Battle of Bassorah, took place at Basra, Iraq on 7 November 656. A'isha heard about the killing of Uthman (644-656), the third Caliph. At the time she was on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was on this journey that she became so angered by his unavenged death, and the naming of Ali as the fourth caliph, that she took up arms against those supporting Ali. She gained support of the big city of Basra and, for the first time, Muslims took up arms against each other. This battle is now known as the First Fitna, or Muslim civil war. [10]

Battle of Siffin Edit

The Battle of Siffin (Arabic: صفين ‎ May–July 657 CE) occurred during the First Fitna, or first Muslim civil war, with the main engagement taking place from July 26 to July 28. It was fought between Ali ibn Abi Talib and Muawiyah I, on the banks of the Euphrates river, in what is now Raqqa, Syria.

The two armies encamped themselves at Siffin for more than one hundred days, most of the time being spent in negotiations. Neither side wanted to fight. Then on 11th Safar 37 AH, the Iraqis under Ashtar's command, the Qurra, in Ali's army, who had their own camp started the fighting in earnest which lasted three days. [11] Historian Yaqubi wrote that Ali had 80,000 men, including 70 Companions who participated in the Battle of Badr, 70 Companions who took oath at Hudaibia, and 400 prominent Ansars and Muhajirun while Muawiya had 120,000 Syrians. [12] The battle of siffin was one of the bloodiest battles in the Islamic history, all of the bravest warriors of Arabia participated in the battle both from Iraq and Syria. the fighting usually began in the morning and continued till evening. at first Ali didn't want a general war because he had all the hope of convincing Muawiya to put down his rebellion. The first 3 month's both camps where in full negotiations with each other, the fighting was very limited and each day a commander of Ali's army came out with a battalion and from the other side there was the same respond. After 3 months of negotiations Ali realised that its all in vain and prepared for a general war. the night before the battle the soldiers spent their night sharpening their swords, spears and arrows. By this announcement Muawiya became worried because he knew the bravery of Ali and his swordsmanship skills. Muawiya also did the same and prepared his troops for a bloody battle. Early in the morning Ali set his troops in formation, he gave the command of the left flank to his best general Malik al-ashtar who was renown for his bravery and fighting skills, over the right flank he gave the command to a courageous soldier named Abdullah ibn Abbas, Ali himself took position in the centre of the army. By the time both armies stood in front of each other, Ali gave the order for a full attack, the fight was so fierce that even the bravest warriors perished. by midday the right flank of Ali's army began to fall en the men began to flee, when Ali saw his right flank is falling he himself moved to the right flank and faced the onslaught of the enemy who were great in numbers, Ali drove the enemy back because of his great valor and fighting skills, he slaughtered every soldiers who came in his way, when the men saw their flank is reorganized by Ali himself they came back to the battlefield for a new attack. When Ali saw his right flank back in formation he returned to the centre and made an attack with the men from the centre and his personal bodyguard elite, The attack was so fierce that the whole Syrian army where pushed back. Ali himself fought with such a valor that even the great Syrian warriors got frightened of him when they heard that Ali is coming for an attack. the battle of that day was so fierce that it continued to the night. by the time Ali and his army had pushed the Syrians 500 meters back from the battleground and victory became in sight. it is said that every man Ali killed he called out " god is great " and when it was counted it came on 534 confirmed kills which is a record in history of war.

William Muir wrote that, "Both armies drawn out in entire array, fought till the shades of evening fell, neither having got the better. The following morning, the combat was renewed with great vigour. Ali posed himself in the centre with the flower of his troops from Medina, and the wings were formed, one of the warriors from Basra, the other of those from Kufa. Muawiya had a pavilion pitched on the field and there, surrounded by five lines of his sworn body-guards, watched the day. Amr with a great weight of horse, bore down upon the Kufa wing which gave away and Ali was exposed to imminent peril, both from thick showers of arrows and from close encounter . Ali's general Ashtar, at the head of 300 Hafiz-e-Qur'an(those who had memorized the Koran) led forward the other wing, which fell with fury on Muawiya's body-guards. Four of its five ranks were cut to pieces, and Muawiya, bethinking himself of flight, had already called for his horse, when a martial couplet flashed in his mind, and he held his ground." [13]

Battle of Nahrawan Edit

The Battle of Nahrawan (Arabic: معركة النهروان ‎, romanized: M'arkah an-Nahrawān) was a battle between Ali ibn Abi Talib (the first Shi'ah Imam and the fourth Sunni Caliph) and the Kharijites, near Nahrawan, twelve miles from Baghdad.

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