Ali ibn Abi Talib (Arabic: عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب, ʿAlīy ibn ʾAbī Ṭālib; 13 September 601 – 29 January 661) was a cousin, son-in-law and companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who ruled as the fourth caliph from 656 until his assassination in 661. He is one of the central figures in Shia Islam and is regarded as the rightful immediate successor to Muhammad as an Imam by Shia Muslims.
Ali was born inside the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, to Abu Talib and Fatimah bint Asad. He was the first male who accepted Islam under Muhammad’s watch. Ali protected Muhammad from an early age, and took part in almost all the battles fought by the nascent Muslim community. After migrating to Medina, he married Muhammad’s youngest daughter Fatimah, and after her death, he had other wives, including Muhammad’s granddaughter Umamah bint Zaynab. He was appointed caliph by Muhammad’s companions in 656, after Caliph Uthman ibn Affan was assassinated.Ali’s reign saw civil wars and on 27 January 661, he was attacked and assassinated by a Kharijite while praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa, dying two days later on 29 January.
Ali is important to both Shias and Sunnis, politically and spiritually. The numerous biographical sources about Ali are often biased according to sectarian lines, but they agree that he was a pious Muslim, devoted to the cause of Islam and a just ruler in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah. While Sunnis consider Ali the fourth Rashidun Caliph, Shia Muslims regard Ali as the first Caliph and Imam after Muhammad. Shia Muslims also believe that Ali and the other Shia Imams, all of whom are from the House of Muhammad, known as the Ahl al-Bayt, are the rightful successors to Muhammad.
Birth and lineage
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. 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).
Birth in the Kaaba
Many sources, especially Shia ones, attest that Ali was born inside the Ka’bah in the city of Mecca, where he stayed with his mother for three days. 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.
During the life of Muhammad
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. Ali was born two or three years after Muhammad married Khadijah bint Khuwaylid. 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. 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
Ali had been living with Muhammad and his wife Khadija since he was five years old. When Ali was nine, Muhammad announced himself as the Prophet of Islam, and Ali became the first male to accept Islam in Muhammad’s presence, and the second person after Khadija. According to Sayed Ali Asgher Razwy in A Restatement of the History of Islam & Muslims, “Ali and [the] Qur’an ‘grew up’ together as ‘twins’ in the house of Muhammad Mustafa and Khadija-tul-Kubra.”
The second period of Ali’s life began in 610 when he declared Islam at the age of 9, and ended with the Hijra of Muhammad to Medina in 622.When Muhammad reported that he had received a divine revelation, Ali, then only about nine years old, believed him and professed to Islam. Ali became the first male to embrace Islam. Shia doctrine asserts that in keeping with Ali’s divine mission, he accepted Islam before he took part in any old Meccan traditional religious rites, regarded by Muslims as polytheistic (see shirk) or paganistic. Hence the Shia say of Ali that his face is honoured, as it was never sullied by prostrations before idols. The Sunnis also use the honorific Karam Allahu Wajhahu, which means “God’s Favour upon his Face.” The reason his acceptance is often not called a conversion is because he was never an idol worshipper like the people of Mecca. He was known to have broken idols in the mould of Abraham and asked people why they worshipped something they made themselves. Ali’s grandfather, along with some members of the Bani Hashim clan, were Hanifs, or followers of a monotheistic belief system prior to the emergence of Islam in Mecca.
Feast of Dhul-Asheera
Muhammad invited people to Islam in secret for three years before he started inviting them publicly. In the fourth year of his preaching, when Muhammad was commanded to invite his close relatives to come to Islam, he gathered the Banu Hashim clan in a ceremony. At the banquet, he was about to invite them to Islam when Abu Lahab interrupted him, after which everyone left the banquet. The Prophet ordered Ali to invite the 40 people again. The second time, Muhammad announced Islam to them and invited them to join. He said to them:
I offer thanks to Allah for His mercies. I praise Allah, and I seek His guidance. I believe in Him and I put my trust in Him. I bear witness that there is no god except Allah; He has no partners; and I am His messenger. Allah has commanded me to invite you to His religion by saying: And warn thy nearest kinsfolk. I, therefore, warn you, and call upon you to testify that there is no god but Allah, and that I am His messenger. O ye sons of Abdul Muttalib, no one ever came to you before with anything better than what I have brought to you. By accepting it, your welfare will be assured in this world and in the Hereafter. Who among you will support me in carrying out this momentous duty? Who will share the burden of this work with me? Who will respond to my call? Who will become my vicegerent, my deputy and my wazir?
Ali was the only one to answer Muhammad’s call. Muhammad told him to sit down, saying, “Wait! Perhaps someone older than you might respond to my call.” Muhammad then asked the members of Banu Hashim a second time. Once again, Ali was the only one to respond, and again, Muhammad told him to wait. Muhammad then asked the members of Banu Hashim a third time; Ali was still the only volunteer. This time, Ali’s offer was accepted by Muhammad. Muhammad “drew [Ali] close, pressed him to his heart, and said to the assembly: ‘This is my wazir, my successor and my vicegerent. Listen to him and obey his commands.'” In another narration, when Muhammad accepted Ali’s eager offer, Muhammad “threw up his arms around the generous youth, and pressed him to his bosom” and said, “Behold my brother, my vizir, my vicegerent…Let all listen to his words, and obey him.” Upon hearing this, the sons of Abd al-Muttalib departed from the feast, mocking Muhammad’s words, as they scoffed at Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib, “He has ordered you to listen and obey your son!”.:17 In Tarikh ut-Tabari and as-Seerat ul Halabiyya, it has been recorded that Abu Talib asks his son Ali, “What is this belief you are following?” to which Ali replies, “Father, I have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and have given credence to him, kept to him, and followed him.”
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.”
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.
Migration to Medina
In 622, the year of Muhammad’s migration to Yathrib (now Medina), Ali risked his life by sleeping in Muhammad’s bed to impersonate him, thereby thwarting an assassination attempt and ensuring Muhammad’s escape. This night is called Laylat al-Mabit. According to some ahadith, a verse was revealed about Ali concerning his sacrifice on the night of Hijra which says “And among men is he who sells his nafs (self) in exchange for the pleasure of Allah.
Ali survived the plot, but risked his life again by staying in Mecca to carry out Muhammad’s instructions: to restore to their owners all the goods and properties that had been entrusted to Muhammad for safekeeping. Ali then went to Medina with Fatimah bint Asad (his mother), Fatimah bint Muhammad (Muhammad’s daughter), and two other women.
Marriage with Fatima
In 623, Muhammad told Ali that God ordered him to give his daughter Fatimah Zahra to Ali in marriage. Muhammad said to Fatimah: “I have married you to the dearest of my family to me.” This family is glorified by Muhammad frequently and he declared them as his Ahl al-Bayt in events such as Mubahala and hadith like the Hadith of the Event of the Cloak. They were also glorified in the Qur’an in several cases such as “the verse of purification”. At the beginning they were extremely poor. Ali would often help Fatimah with the household affairs. According to some sources, Ali performed the work outside the house and Fatimah performed the work inside the house, a setup that Muhammad had determined. When the economic situations of the Muslims became better, Fatimah gained some maids but treated them like her family and performed the house duties with them. Their marriage lasted until Fatimah’s death ten years later and was said to be full of love and friendliness. Ali is reported to have said about Fatimah, “By Allah, I did never anger her or force her to do something (unwillingly) until Allah took her to the better world. She also did never anger me nor did she disobey me in anything at all. When I looked at her, my griefs and sorrows were relieved.”Ali did not marry another woman while Fatimah was alive,
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, 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. 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. 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 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.
Missions for Islam
Ali was 22 or 23 years old when he migrated to Medina. 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.” For the ten years that Muhammad led the community in Medina, Ali was extremely active in his service as his secretary and deputy, serving in his armies, the bearer of his banner, leading parties of warriors on raids, and carrying messages and orders. As one of Muhammad’s lieutenants, and later his son-in-law, Ali was a person of authority and standing in the Muslim community. 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. As Islam began to spread throughout Arabia, Ali helped establish the new Islamic order. He was instructed to write down the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the peace treaty between Muhammad and the Quraysh, in 628. Ali was so trustworthy that Muhammad asked him to carry the messages and declare the orders. In 630, Ali recited to a large gathering of pilgrims in Mecca a portion of the Quran that declared Muhammad and the Islamic community no longer bound by agreements made earlier with Arab polytheists. In 631, Ali was sent to Yemen to spread the teachings of Islam. He was also known for settling several disputes and putting down the uprisings of various tribes.
Ali took part in nearly all expeditions (with the exception of the Battle of Tabouk) 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. At Khaybar, for example, he used a heavy door as a shield, and the victory over jews was due to his courage.
Ali first distinguished himself as a warrior in 624 at the Battle of Badr. The battle began with Ali defeating the Meccan champion Walid ibn Utba; one historian described Ali’s opening victory at the battle as “the signal of the triumph of Islam.” Ali also killed many other Meccan soldiers in the battle—according to Muslim tradition, between twenty and thirty-five, with most agreeing on twenty-seven, while all the other Muslims combined killed another twenty-seven.
Ali played a major role in the Battle of Uhud, as well as many other battles, where he wielded a bifurcated sword known as Zulfiqar. He had the special role of protecting Muhammad when most of the Muslim army fled from the battle of Uhud, and it was said Lā fitā illā ʿAliyy, lā sayfa illā Dhul-Fiqār (لَا فِتَی إِلَّا عَلِيّ، لَا سَيْفَ إِلَّا ذُو ٱلْفِقَار, (There is) no brave youth except Ali, there is no sword (which renders service) except Zulfiqar). He commanded the Muslim army in the Battle of the Trench, where he defeated the legendary Arab warrior Amr ibn Abd al-Wud. Muhammad made Ali commander at this battle, 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.” Following this battle Muhammad gave Ali the name Asadullāh (which means “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.” Ali also defended Muhammad in the Battle of Hunayn in 630.
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 dispositi
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 break all the idols worshiped by the Banu Aus, Banu Khazraj, Tayy, and those in the Kaaba to purify it after its defilement by the polytheism of old times.
As Muhammad was returning from his last pilgrimage in 632, he made statements about Ali that are interpreted very differently by Sunnis and Shias.He halted the caravan at Ghadir Khumm, gathered the returning pilgrims for communal prayer and began to address them.
According to the Encyclopedia of Islam:
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)”.
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. 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.
Sources, among them both Shia and Sunni, state that, after the sermon, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman pledged allegiance to Ali. 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.
From the death of Muhammad to the caliphate
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, nor did he assume any executive position, instead withdrawing from political affairs, especially after the death of his wife, Fatimah Zahra. He used his time to serve his family and worked as a farmer. Ali dug a lot of wells and planted gardens near Medina and endowed them for public use. These wells are known today as Abar Ali (“Ali’s wells”).
Succession to Muhammad
While Ali was preparing Muhammad’s body for burial and performing his funeral rites, a small group of approximately fourteen Muslims 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.
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.
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. According to Wilferd 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. Ali also believed that he could fulfill the role of Imam without fighting.
Caliphate of Abu Bakr
Relations between Abu Bakr and Ali may have become strained after this. Following the gathering at Saqifa, Umar and his supporters were allegedly sent by the new Caliph to Ali’s house where Ali, Fatimah, and some of their allies were gathered. Several scholars, such as Al-Tabari and Ibn Qutaybah, relate that Umar threatened to burn the building down if Ali refused to acknowledge Abu Bakr’s authority. While the historian Al-Baladhuri states that the altercation never became violent and ended with Ali’s compliance, some traditions add that Umar and his supporters forcibly entered the house, resulting in Fatimah’s miscarriage of their unborn son Muhsin.The Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays (attributed to Sulaym ibn Qays, but possibly a much later creation) concludes the incident with Ali being dragged out of the house with a rope tied around his neck. These events have been disputed, with several early historical sources arguing that Fatimah’s child Muhsin had died in early childhood rather than being miscarried. Other sources add that Ali later willingly offered Abu Bakr his oath of allegiance and gave a praise-filled oration during his funeral. Professor Coeli Fitzpatrick surmises that the story of the altercation reflects the political agendas of the period and should therefore be treated with caution.
Ali compiled a complete version of the Quran, mus’haf, six months after the death of Muhammad. The volume was completed and carried by camel to show to other people in Medina. The order of this mus’haf 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.
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. 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.
Caliphate of Umar
Ali pledged allegiance to the second caliph, ‘Umar ibn Khattab, and helped him 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. 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.
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.
Caliphate of Uthman
There is controversy among historians about the relationship between Ali and Uthman. Although pledging allegiance to Uthman, Ali disagreed with some of his policies. In particular, he clashed with Uthman on the question of religious law. He insisted that religious punishment had to be meted out in several cases, such as those of Ubayd Allah ibn Umar and Walid ibn Uqba. Walid, being accused of drinking, got his legal punishment of whipping, according to some accounts, by the hand of Ali. In 650, during the pilgrimage, he reproached Uthman for his change of the prayer ritual. When Uthman declared that he would take whatever he needed from the fey’, Ali exclaimed that in that case the caliph would be prevented by force. Ali endeavoured to protect companions such as Ibn Mas’ud from maltreatment by the caliph. Ali had publicly shown sympathy for Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (who was exiled from Medina, due to his preaches against the misdeeds of the powerful) and had spoken strongly in the defence of Ammar ibn Yasir. He conveyed to Uthman the criticisms of other Companions and acted on Uthman’s behalf as negotiator with the provincial opposition who had come to Medina.
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. 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. Some other sources say Ali had acted as a restraining influence on Uthman without directly opposing him. Finally, he tried to mitigate the severity of the siege by his insistence that Uthman should be allowed water Madelung relates that 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.
Death and burial
On 19 Ramadan AH 40, which would correspond to 26 January 661, 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. ‘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).‘Ali died two days later on 29 January 661 (21 Ramadan AH 40). Al-Hasan fulfilled Qisas and gave equal punishment to ibn Muljam upon Ali’s death.
According to Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, Ali did not want his grave to be desecrated 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 Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, his descendant and the sixth Shia Imam. 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.
However, another story, usually maintained by some Afghans, notes that his body was taken and buried in the Afghan city of Mazar-E-Sharif at the famous Blue Mosque or Rawze-e-Sharif.