The history of mankind has witnessed many leaders over the ages. Many of these leaders achieved leadership through might or inheritance and some were chosen as leaders because of certain outstanding qualities that they possessed. Among the latter group there have also emerged some leaders whose works and contribution to humanity cannot be limited to any particular time or place; and their life-styles, their works and the sayings of such heroes continue to inspire and motivate people, generation after generation.
Amir al-Muminin, Ali ibn Abu Talib is a unique leader who stands out among all other leaders. Besides Shi"as who believe in his Imamate and Vilayat, many non-Muslims have praised his personality and unique qualities and made attempts to highlight certain aspects of the personality of this everlasting leader of ages and have written hundreds of books and research papers about him.
Imam Ali (A.S.) was brought up by the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and under his guardianship and was elevated to such a stage that it would be no exaggeration to say that he is Islam's gift to the world of humanity.
Imam Ali's (A.S.) life was not the repetition of other people"s lives, rather his life shed light on certain aspects of human life which had so far been undiscovered. He was born in Allah"s House (Ka"ba) and was martyred in Allah"s house (mosque) and his main principle throughout his life was winning Allah"s Satisfaction. Hence, one would not be wrong to say that any research on Imam Ali"s (A.S.) life and personality would highlight an aspect of his life that could be taken up as a role model for the people who seek truth; Muslim or otherwise.
Imam Ali (A.S.) from Birth to the Dawn of Islam:
Ali (A.S.) was the son of Abu Talib ibn-e Mutallib and Fatima bint Asad ibn-e Hashim. He was born on 13th Rajab, 30 years after Amal-Fil. His life began in the Holy Kaba, 1 which became the Qiblah of Muslims and ended in the Mosque of Kufa (Iraq).
It was Allah"s Will that from the early days of his life, the Prophet of Allah be brought up on his lap. Mecca and Quraysh were struck by famine. Muhammad (SAW) met his other paternal uncle Abbas who was a wealthy man and made a suggestion to him to support Abu Talib (S.A.) by taking up the guardianship of some of his children. Abbas welcomed the suggestion and they met Abu Talib (S.A.) and informed him of their intention. Abu Talib (S.A.) said: "Leave Aqil for me..." Muhammad (PBUH) chose Ali (A.S.), and Abbas took Ja'far. Later on, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) is known to have said: "I chose the one Allah had chosen for me."
Some writers are of the opinion that by accepting Imam Ali's (A.S.) guardianship, the Prophet (PBUH) meant to compensate for the favors he had received from Abu Talib and Fatima (Ali"s parents), who looked after him like their own children during his childhood. However, from what the Prophet (PBUH) had said and from Ali's (A.S.) behavior - it is quite clear that it was Allah"s Will that Ali (A.S.) should grow up with the Prophet (PBUH) and under his guardianship.
The young Ali's (A.S.) personality was being shaped by Muhammad (PBUH), when the latter declared his prophethood. According to most historians, Ali (A.S.) was the first among the men to embrace Islam. Ali (A.S.) was the only disciple of the Prophet (PBUH) who had never bowed before or worshipped idols.
He had no other ideal but to seek Allah and His prophet's (PBUH) satisfaction, and his sincerity, steadfastness, sacrifice, and bravery in supporting `Tawhid" were some of his outstanding qualities no one can ever deny.
From the Dawn of Islam to the prophet's (PBUH) Demise:
The Dawn of Islam in Arabia, which was stricken with ignorance (Jahiliyah) and superstitions, not only changed the course of history in that land but also influenced other nations and peoples of the world. Savage customs that were considered as values in those times - communal rivalries, burying baby-girls alive, etc., were rendered as disgraceful and inhuman by the new religion of Islam. This change in the social and individual beliefs and customs was the fruit of the years of struggle and endeavor by the Prophet (PBUH) and his close and sincere companions among which Ali (A.S.) played the greatest role. His contribution to the spread of Islam was exemplary and he was the greatest gift of Islam and its Prophet (PBUH) to humanity. A voluminous book is required to write about Imam Ali's (A.S.) contribution towards the establishment of Islam but in this discussion, we shall confine ourselves to reviewing only a few of them.
1. Important Incidents that took place in Mecca:
a) Yom al-Anzar
After the verse "... and warn your nearest relations...," was revealed, the Prophet (PBUH) was commissioned by Allah to make public, the invitation to accept Islam. Thus, he asked Ali (A.S.) to prepare a meal and invited his close relatives over. After the meal, he publicly announced his Prophethood and asked: "Which one of you will support me in my mission to be my brother, successor and caliph?" Only Ali (A.S.) stood up to swear allegiance, and the Prophet (PBUH) introduced him as his successor and caliph.
Despite all the efforts by Quraysh to prevent Islam from spreading, the people of "Yathreb" embraced Islam and swore allegiance to protect it with their swords. This news outraged the Quraysh who in an emergency meeting decided to assassinate the Prophet (S.A.W.) collectively. On uncovering this devious plot, the Prophet (PBUH) requested Ali (A.S.) to wear his mantle and to sleep in his place 7, in order to foil the evil plans of the enemies of Islam and to facilitate his `Hejira" (Migration) from Mecca to Medina. It was after this incident that reflected the deep devotion, courage and commitment of Imam Ali (A.S.) towards the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and his divine mission, that Jibrail (A.S.) conveyed the news:
"O" son of Abu Talib, there is none like you; Allah boasts to the angels of the seven heavens about you!"
2- Important Events in Medina:
The prophet's (PBUH) migration to Medina is a turning point in the history of Islam after which it went through a lot of ups and downs. Ali (A.S.) had an outstanding role in the events that followed the prophet's (PBUH) migration, a few of which are mentioned hereunder:
a) Ali's (A.S.) Marriage with Fatima (S.A.)
After prophet's(PBUH) migration, Imam Ali (A.S.) was given the responsibility of bringing Hazrat Fatima (S.A.), the beloved and devoted daughter of the Prophet (S.A.W.), to Medina. A few months later Ali (A.S.) married Fatima (S.A.). Ya`qubi, the Muslim historian writes:
"A group of `Muhajers" (those who had migrated from Mecca to Medina) had proposed for Fatima's (S.A.) hand in marriage. On hearing about her marriage with Ali (A.S.), some of them raised objections. In reply to their objections, the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) said: "I did not marry Fatima to Ali, rather it was Allah Who married her to Ali." 9 Interestingly, the prophet's (PBUH) lineage has been through Fatima (S.A.) and Ali (A.S.).
b) Brotherhood with the Prophet (PBUH)
To bring the Muhajers and Ansars closer to each other, the Prophet (PBUH) decreed that the Muhajers and Ansars should make brotherhood pacts among themselves; in pairs. However, he chose Imam Ali (A.S.) as his brother and said to him: "You are my brother, successor and inheritor and I inherit from you."
c) The prophet's (PBUH) Description of the Manner of Ali"s Martyrdom
During the Battle of Zat ol-Ashira, that took place in the second year of Hejira, the Prophet (PBUH) sent Ali (A.S.) and Ammar on a mission. After some time the Prophet (PBUH) joined them and found them asleep. After waking them up, he said: "Should I inform you about the two most wretched men of all people?" On receiving their positive response, he then added: `The man who slew Saleh"s camel and the man who will hit you (Ali) on the head and will make your blood flow to your beard."
d) Ali"s Unique Bravery in the Battles
Except for the Battle of Tabuk in which Ali (A.S.) remained in Medina on the prophet's (PBUH) order, he had participated actively in all the battles and played a decisive role in all of them. Although it is not possible to discuss Ali"s (A.S.) role in all these battles, we shall attempt to highlight a few of them.
i) Ali"s role in the battle of Badr cannot be comparable to any of the other companions. As written by some historians, he killed 32 enemy soldiers single-handedly.
Interestingly, 33 years later when Ali (A.S.) was forced to accept the caliphate, a group of Quraysh like Sa`id ibn-e Aas and Walid ibn-e Aqrabeh, who later on participated in the battles of Jamal and Siffin against Imam Ali (A.S.), were hesitant to swear allegiance because he had killed their fathers in the Battle of Badr.
ii) Imam Ali (A.S.) was the only companion of the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) who never fled from the battlefield. History has recorded that many of the close companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.) fled during the battles of Uhud, Kheybar and Hunayn.
e) Imam Ali (A.S.) was appointed to communicate `Surat al-Bara"at"
After the revelation of `Surat al-Bara"at", the Prophet (PBUH) appointed one of his companions to communicate the messages to the unbelievers. However, before this companion reached Mecca, the Prophet (PBUH) sent Imam Ali (A.S.) to take the newly-revealed verse from him and to personally communicate it to the unbelievers. On their return to Medina this companion asked the Prophet (PBUH) for the reason of this change of decree, to which the Prophet (PBUH) replied: "It was Allah"s will that it should be communicated by a member of my Household."
f) Ali was a Judge in Yemen during the last few years of the Prophet"s (S.A.W.) Life.
After the prophet's (PBUH) migration to Medina from Mecca, Islam spread rapidly in the Arabian Peninsula as a result of which Imam Ali (A.S.) was often sent by the Prophet (PBUH) to propagate Islam in different regions. However, what is of great importance is the mission that was not given to any other companion. Towards the end of his life, the Prophet of Allah (PBUH), asked Imam Ali (A.S.) to go to Yemen which was a rather civilized society in those days, to discharge the duties of a judge (qazi). It has been narrated that Imam Ali (A.S.) told the Prophet (S.A.W.): "I am young and do not know about judgment." The Prophet of Allah (S.A.W.) put his hand on the young Ali's (A.S.) chest and prayed: "O Allah! Guide his heart and make him articulate in judgment." Here Belazari has quoted Imam Ali (A.S.) as saying: "I swear by Allah that I have never been in doubt while passing a judgment between the disputing parties."
After the prophet's (PBUH) demise, the caliphs and particularly the second caliph frequently asked for Ali"s (A.S.) opinion on various issues and in their judgments.
Both the Sunni and Shi"a sources have narrated a number of incidents that highlight the status and position of Imam Ali (A.S.). However, undoubtedly one of the most important incidents is the `Ghadir-e-Khom". On his return from Hajjatul-Vida at a location famous as `Ghadir-e-Khom, the Prophet (PBUH) delivered a very important sermon and while holding and lifting the hand of Imam Ali (A.S.), clearly asked the people gathered there:
"O people! Is it not true that my `Vilayat" over you (believers) is of more importance than your `Vilayat" over yourselves?" To this question, the people answered in the affirmative. Then the Prophet (PBUH) announced: "The one whose Mawla (Master) I am, Ali is his Master. O Allah! Love him who loves Ali, and be the enemy of the enemy of Ali...."
In that gathering at Ghadir-e-Khom, the Prophet (PBUH) also spoke regarding other important matters that stress on the importance of Imamate and Vilayat in the Islamic context. One of his important announcements was as follows:
"O people! I shall soon be departing from your midst. And you will meet me at the Pond of `Kawthar". Then I will ask you about two precious things (Thaqalayn). So be careful as to how you treat these two, after my demise."
Then the people inquired from the Prophet (PBUH) regarding the "two precious things" which he had referred to.
The Prophet (PBUH) explained: "One of them is the Qur'an- one end of which is in Allah's Hand and the other is in yours. So stick on tightly to it, so that you protect yourself from being misled. And the second one is my Pure Household."
At the end of the prophet's (PBUH) sermon, many of the people came forward to congratulate Ali (A.S.) and to extend their hands in allegiance to him. While yet others, were confounded with doubt and ambiguity. However, as for reliable Islamic sources, this incident has strong recorded evidence and it has been narrated through many chains of transmission of both Shi"a and Sunni schools of thought.