|Brief life sketch of Hazrat Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)|
Name and Genealogy
Amongst the descendants of Hazrat Ibrahim a.s., Hazrat Ali a.s. belonged to the line of Quraish. He was the son of Abu Talib r.a., son of Abdul Muttalib of the distinguished tribe of Bani Hashim. Only one step above his lineage coincided with that of the Prophet s.a. of Islam. The latter being Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Abdul Muttalib and the former Ali bin Abi Talib bin Abdul Muttalib . It was his father Abu Talib who had nourished and brought up the Prophet s.a. His mother Fatima bint-e Asad was also a noble lady belonging to the tribe of Bani Hashim whom the Prophet s.a. regarded as his own mother.
When the Prophet a.s. of God was thirty years old, Ali a.s. was born on 13th of Rajab in the 30 year of Aamul Feel inside the sacred Kaaba. His father Abu Talib r.a., and his mother Fatima bint-e-Asad were very happy on his birth as parents normally are. But it was the Prophet s.a. who was most particularly pleased to see the baby. Perhaps the very features of the child were already indicating that he would grow up to be of immense help to him and prove to be his right hand in the time to come.
The responsibility for bringing him up devolved directly on Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa s.a. who devoted all his time and attention towards nurturing him with utmost love and affection, instilling in him both knowledge and noble morals. It was owing to his inherent merit and capabilities coupled with the privilege of being brought up by the exalted personality of a guardian like the Prophet s.a. that when the Prophet s.a. announced his Prophethood Ali a.s., though only ten years old, became his foremost follower and testifier of his claim.
Call To the Mission
Ali a.s. was ten years old when Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa was formally called upon to convey the divine message. This is called Besat.
The Prophet s.a. had embarked upon a mission which was against the trend of the times, the prevailing environment, the practice of the entire city and of his own people and tribe. No one was prepared to extend a helping hand and cooperate with him. It was Ali a.s. alone who was foremost in testifying the claim of the Prophet s.a. and in reposing full faith in his mission. The other personality was that of Hazrat Khadijatul Kubra who acquired the honour of precedence in embracing Islam among the women.
Period of Suffering
The moment the Prophet s.a. proclaimed his Prophethood every particle under the sun turned against him. Those very people who used to acclaim his truthfulness and trustworthiness began calling him a lunatic, a sorcerer and what not? Thorns were laid in his path, stones were pelted at him, and garbage was thrown on his head. In these hard times only a child was there to share his misery. This child was the same Ali a.s. who never lost his courage in collaborating with his cousin and in professing his love and loyalty towards him. On every occasion he acted as a shield to the Prophet s.a.against all odds. This continued for long till that crucial moment arrived when his enemies firmly decided to boycott him and the members of his household. The situation worsened so much that even their lives were in extreme danger. Abu Talib ultimately took all his companions, including Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa to a safe fortress in a mountain valley. They had to lead this life of confinement for three years. Every night there was a fear of night assault by the enemy. In view of this Abu Ta1ib did not allow the Prophet s.a. to pass the whole night on one bed, instead, he used to interchange his bed during the night with that of one of his sons, Jafar. Aqeel and Ali a.s.. The idea was that if the enemy ever found out the Prophet s.a.’s bed and attacked him, then one of his own sons may fall a victim to their assault but no harm should come to the Prophet s.a. In this way right from his childhood Ali a.s. continued to repeat in practice the lesson of self-sacrifice in defense of the holy Prophet s.a..
After some time Abu Talib left this world. The demise of his loving uncle broke the Prophet s.a.’s heart. He made up his mind to migrate to Madinah. Thereupon the enemies unanimously decided to surround the house of the Prophet s.a. at night and finally kill him. The Prophet s.a. coming to know of it, called his cousin Ali a.s. and told him about it saying, “My life can be saved if you sleep on my bed tonight covered with my mantle while I leave Makkah incognito.” Had it been some body else this news would have terrified him. But Ali a.s. expressed his gratitude to God that the life of the Prophet s.a. will be saved through him. He was happy for being required to stake his life for that of the holy Prophet s.a. Accordingly at night the Prophet s.a. left Makkah for Madinah and Ali ibne Abi Talib slept on his bed. All around the house blood thirsty enemies with drawn swords and spears were just waiting for the break of dawn to break into the house and kill the Prophet s.a. In the mean time Ali a.s. was resting peacefully and quietly on the bed and did not at all think of the lurking danger to his life. The enemies discovered in the morning that the person resting on the bed was Ali a.s. and not Muhammad . They pressurized Ali a.s. to disclose the whereabouts of the Prophet s.a. but Ali a.s. with a brave countenance firmly refused to oblige. Consequently, the Prophet s.a.starting from Makkah could traverse quite a long distance without any trouble or hindrance.
Hazrat Ali a.s. stayed at Makkah for three days. During this period he returned to their owners all the articles that were left in trust with the Prophet s.a.. Thereafter, he left for Madinah along with the ladies of the Prophet s.a.’s household. After traveling on foot day and night he reached the Prophet s.a. in such a state that blood was oozing out of his feet. This incident amply proves that the Prophet s.a. reposed utmost confidence in Ali a.s. The loyalty, courage and boldness with which Ali a.s. discharged his responsibilities is an example in itself.
The first thing that the Prophet s.a. did on his arrival in Madinah was to solemnize the marriage of his only daughter, Fatima Zahra with Ali a.s.. The Prophet s.a. deeply loved his daughter and had so much respect for her that whenever she came to him he used to stand up in reverence. Every body wanted to have the honour of marrying this venerable daughter of the Prophet s.a. One or two of them even mustered enough courage to request him for her hand in marriage. But the Prophet s.a. refused to entertain their wishes saying that the marriage of Fatima could not be solemnized without divine decree. It was in the first year of Hijrah when the Prophet s.a. chose Ali a.s. for this honour. The wedding rites were performed with utmost simplicity. The daughter of the Prophet s.a. of God, the monarch of this world and the world hereafter was married without any dowry from the Prophet s.a. . It was the amount of her Mahar (dower) offered by Ali a.s. from which some household articles were purchased and given to Fatima. It comprised some utensils of clay, pillows made out of the bark of date tree— a leather bedding, a spinning wheel, a grinding stone and a Mashk (leather bag for carrying water)— and that was all. For the payment of Mahar Ali a.s. sold his coat of mail (Zirah). The amount thus obtained did not value above one hundred and seventeen Tolas (about 1.36kg) of silver. In this way an example was set for the Muslims for all time to avoid lavish expenditure on such occasions.
The life of Fatima and Ali a.s. presented an unparallel ideal for domestic life. It was an example of how a man and a woman can prove to be the real life partners, what should be the distribution of duties between them and how they can be helpful to each other. The house was bereft of all worldly decorations; there was not a single item of personal comfort and easy living. With physical labour and toil, mental peace and mutual love and trust. The house was turned into a paradise. Each morning Ali a.s. left the house with Mashkiza (leather bag) to water the gardens of the Jews and came back home with whatever wages he earned. He would purchase barley from the market and give it to Fatima. She used to grind the barley into flour, cook food and also sweep the house. In her free hours she worked on the spinning wheel to make clothing for herself and the other members of the family. Occasionally she used to spin thread on wages and, in this way, confining herself within the four walls of the house, she used to extend a helping hand to her husband in the struggle of life.
In Madinah also the Prophet s.a.’s adversaries did not let him rest in peace. His followers who were left in Makkah were soon subjected to all sorts of atrocities. Some were killed; some others imprisoned and some beaten up. Not only this, arms and forces were also amassed and an assault was mounted on Madinah against the Prophet s.a. himself. At this juncture it was the moral duty of the Prophet s.a. to protect the houses of the residents of Madinah who had given him every kind of help when he was facing hardships. He did not at all like to fight staying in Madinah besieged by the enemy and thereby give him an opportunity to harass the peaceful inhabitants of Madinah and their womenfolk and children. Although the number of his companions was very small, comprising only three hundred and thirteen men in all with hardly any weapon with them, yet the Prophet s.a. decided to go and face the enemy outside Madinah. This was the first battle of Islam, which is known as the battle of Badr. In this battle the Prophet s.a. mostly exposed his own relations to danger. Consequently, his cousin Obaida bin Haris bin Abdul Muttalib was martyred. For Ali ibne Abi Talib this was his first experience of fighting a battle. He was only twenty-five years old but the credit for winning the battle went to him. Out of the total number of the infidels killed, half were slain by his hand while the remaining half were killed by others. Thereafter, there were important battles of Uhud, Khandaq, Khaibar and lastly Hunain in which Ali a.s. accompanied the Prophet s.a. and exhibited his incomparable valour as a warrior. Almost in all these battles Ali a.s. held the office of standard-bearer also. Besides, there were many battles in which the Prophet s.a. sent Ali a.s. alone and from all of them he returned victorious. In all these battles he exhibited indomitable valor and steadfastness. In these engagements, as in others, he showed utmost firmness, tolerance and nobility of character. All this was acknowledged by even his enemies. In the battle of Khandaq, after he had worsted the greatest warrior of the enemies, Amr bin Abdwud, he sat on his chest with the intention of severing his head. At that moment, the latter spat on his face. This enraged Ali a.s. but he got down from his chest. He did so only because he felt that if he killed him in anger then that act will not be purely for the sake of God but for the satisfaction of his own self. He killed him ultimately after sometime. According to the practice then in vogue the bodies of the vanquished enemies used to be stripped of their clothing to further humiliate them. But Ali a.s. did not even take off his coat of mail although it was very costly. So when his sister came to the dead body of her brother, she said:
“If some body else had killed my brother, I would have wept for him for the whole of my life. But I am consoled by the fact that he was killed by no other person but a noble man like Ali who did not like to humiliate the body of his adversary.”
He never harmed women and children of the enemy and never cared for the spoils of the war.
Besides participating in Jihad he was never averse to do anything for the sake of the Prophet s.a. and Islam. The tasks that he had to perform were of diverse nature. He was responsible for writing down treaties and letters. He was also the custodian of the recorded portions of the Quran. Besides, he was deputed to Yemen by the Prophet s.a. for the propagation of Islam. As a result of his successful preaching, the entire Yemen embraced Islam. When Sura-e-Barat was revealed to the Prophet s.a. Ali a.s. was appointed by God’s decree to convey it to the pagans of Makkah. Accordingly he proceeded to Makkah and recited the verses of Sura-e-Barat before the infidels. In addition to this, he was ever ready to perform every work entrusted to him by the Prophet s.a.. He was so devoted to the Prophet s.a. that very often he was seen stitching the Prophet s.a.’s slippers, Ali a.s. considered this as an honour for himself. It was due to the distinguished attributes and services rendered by Hazrat Ali a.s. that the Prophet s.a. had great respect for him and used to publicize his qualities both by his words and deeds. Sometimes he used to say: “Ali is from me and I am from Ali .” On another occasion he said: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali a.s. is its gate.” At another time he said:
“Ali a.s. is the best arbitrator amongst you,” and that “ Ali a.s. is to me what Aaron was to Moses.” Further “Ali a.s. has the same relation with me as the soul has with the body or the head has with the body.” Also, “Ali a.s. is the most beloved of God and His Prophet”
On the occasion of Mubahela, Ali a.s. earned the title, Nafs-e-Rasul (Prophet s.a.’s own self). Another honour bestowed upon him was that when the doors of all others opening in the mosque were walled up, it was Ali a.s. alone whose door was kept open. When the declaration regarding the brotherhood between Muhajirin (migrants from Makkah) and Ansar (the residents of Madinah who helped the Prophet s.a.) was made, the Prophet s.a. declared Ali a.s. as his brother in this world and the world hereafter. In the plain of Ghadeer-e-Khum, the Prophet s.a. lifted Ali a.s. up and announced before the gathering of thousands of Muslims:
“Just as I am the lord and guardian of all the Muslims anti have full authority on them, so is Ali a.s. the lord and guardian of every one.”
It was such a great honour that all the Muslims present on the occasion congratulated Ali a.s. and understood it fully well that the Prophet s.a.s had declared Ali a.s. as his successor and heir apparent.
The Prophet s.a.’s demise
Ten years had passed since Hijrat (migration to Madinah) when the Prophet s.a. was laid up with illness that led to his death. It was a great catastrophe for the Prophet s.a.’s household. During the period of illness Ali a.s. was always by his bedside and busy attending to him. The Prophet s.a. also did not want Ali a.s. to leave him even for a moment. Ultimately the last moment of the Prophet s.a.’s life arrived. He called Ali a.s. to his side and pressing him to his bosom began to talk to him in whispers for quite a long time. He also made his will to him. Even after this talk the Prophet s.a.s did not let Ali a.s. leave his side and put his hand on his chest. When the Prophet s.a.’s s soul left his body Ali a.s.’s hand was still on his chest.
After the Prophet s.a.’s demise how could the man who had been with him for the whole of his life, leave his body unattended? So, the duty of washing of the body, wrapping it in shroud and other funeral rites were performed by Ali a.s.. It was he who laid the Prophet s.a. body in the grave. After the Prophet s.a. burial, it transpired that while he was thus engaged the question of succession of the Prophet s.a. was settled. Had there been any other person in place of Ali a.s. he would have certainly taken up arms to fight for his right. But the welfare of Islam was so dear to him that although he proclaimed his right to be the Prophet s.a.’s designated and rightful successor, he avoided creating conditions that could lead to internecine war of attrition amongst the followers of Islam. Not only that he did not want any infighting amongst the Muslims he, in the interest of Islam, never hesitated to offer assistance as and when required. In respect of difficult problems or whenever his advice was sought he did not evade expressing his views. In addition to this he was, on his own, ever busy in the service of Islam in the spiritual sphere as well as in the dissemination of knowledge. He compiled the Quran in order of revelation of the verses, specifying the verses which were later cancelled and those which cancelled them; the verses which are clear and those which are obscure. He generated in the educated class of the Muslims an interest in writing and compilation of books and also a longing for research in various branches of knowledge. He himself produced a body of learned works comprising Quranic exegesis, philosophical reasoning, Islamic jurisprudence and commandments. He trained a large number of disciples who helped build in future a society of learned scholars amongst the Muslims. In order to preserve the Arabic language, Ali a.s. laid the foundation of Arabic grammar and elucidated the principles of etymology and literature. In this way Ali a.s. set an example that one must not forget one’s duties even when facing adverse conditions, deprived of authority and compelled to lead a life of neglect and seclusion. The interest of the society is not to be harmed for the sake of personal aggrandizement or to gain official position. One should in all circumstances continue to serve the society. The community and the religion as far as possible.
For twenty-five years after the Prophet s.a.’s demise Ali a.s. led a life of seclusion. In 35 A.H. the Muslims offered the office of Islamic Caliph to Ali a.s. . At first he refused, but when the insistence on part of the Muslims increased, he accepted it on the condition that he would rule strictly in accordance with the precepts laid down in the Quran and the Sunnah (practice) of the Prophet s.a.s without favour and partiality towards any body. The people agreed to this condition and thereupon he accepted the office of the Caliph. But the people could not tolerate his purely religious rule. The tribe of Bani Umayya and a number of other people who sensed danger to their own hegemony stood up in revolt against him. He deemed it his duty to resist them. As a result, the bloody battles of Jamal, Siffeen and Nahrewan took place in which Ali ibne Abi Talib exhibited the same valour which the world had witnessed in the battles of Badr Uhud. Khaibar and Khandaq and which it still remembered. On account of these infightings he did not get a chance to carry out such reforms as he wanted. Even then during this short span he restored afresh the imprints of the simple Islamic mode of life, of equality and of honest earning by hard labour. In spite of being the supreme authority of Islam he did not mind sitting at shops and selling dates. He wore patched clothes, sat in the company of poor people on ground and partook food with them. The proceeds of the Baitul Mal (public treasury) were distributed equally amongst the deserving. Once his real brother Aqeel wanted a larger share from the Baltul Mal than other Muslims, his request was turned down with the observation:
“If this were my personal property your request might have been considered favourably. But since it belongs to all the Muslims I have no right to give to any of my relatives a share larger than others.”
He was so scrupulous in these matters that while looking into the accounts of the Baitul Mal if somebody came to see him to discuss matters other than official, he would put out the lamp as he considered it improper to use the official lamp for personal and unofficial business. He always endeavored to ensure that the income of Baitul Mal reached the rightful persons as quickly as possible. He was not in favour of accumulation of government revenue in the treasury.
Alas, this protagonist of peace, equality and Islamic values could not escape the malicious designs of the worldly people. In the morning of 19 of the month of Ramazan 40 A.H.while offering prayers in the mosque he was fatally wounded by a sword dipped in poison. His mercifulness, kindness and regard for equality of all human beings was such that when his assassin was brought before him with a pale face and tears rolling down his eyes, he was touched with compassion even for him and addressing his two sons. Imam Hasan and Imam Husain said: “He is your prisoner. Do not treat him harshly. Give him the food that you yourself eat. If I recover, it will be upto me to punish him or to forgive him. But if I do not survive and you decide to avenge his crime, then strike him with sword only once as he had struck me once and in no case his hands or legs or any other part of his body should be cut off as it is against the teachings of Islam.” Ali a.s. spent two restless days on his sick bed in extreme pain and distress. Eventually the poison spread all over the body and he breathed his last on 21 of Ramazan at the time of morning prayer. Hasan a.s. and Husain a.s. performed the funeral rites and that prince of humanity was buried at Najaf at the back of the city of Kufa.
(Adopted from ‘The leading lights of Islam’ by Allama S. Ali Naqi Naqvi Sb.)