42 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 Introduction Hadhrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib(ra) Karram Allahu Wajhahu (allah bless his countenance with respect) is revered by millions of Shi’a Muslims around the world, and considered second in importance by them after the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). He was one of the earliest and most significant Muslims and became the 4th Khalifah (Successor) of Islam. He was respected as an authority on the Holy Qur’an and also on Islamic legal matters. In this article, we will explore his life and role in Islam, his close relationship with the Holy Prophet(saw), and also the events that lead to the Sunni and Shi’a split in Islam. Care has to be taken to paint a balanced picture rather than blind adherence to the ‘accepted’ history of either side. Background ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib(ra) was born in the year 599 in Makkah, Arabia, to Abu Talib and Fatimah bint Asad. It was Abu Talib, the leader of the Banu Hashim branch of the tribe of Quraish and uncle of the Prophet(saw), who had taken in the young Muhammad(saw) many years earlier when he was orphaned as a child and lost his grandfather Shaibah ibn Hashim (‘Abdul Muttalib). Prophet Muhammad(saw) grew up and then left the home of Abu Talib to be a trader and was later married to Khadijah(ra) for whom he worked. It was three years after Muhammad’s(saw) marriage that his cousin ‘Ali(ra) was born, when the Prophet(saw) was thirty. Relationship with the Prophet(saw) Whilst still a young boy, the Prophet(saw) decided to take ‘’Ali(ra) under his wing and act as his guardian as he had seen his uncle struggling to provide for all of his children when he himself had grown up in the household. He had Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) By Fazal Ahmad – UK Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 42 43The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 a great influence on young ‘’Ali(ra). When the Prophet(saw) had been contemplating God in the cave of Hira near Makkah, it was ‘Ali(ra) who would take food to him up in the cave. Following a series of other revelations, the Holy Prophet(saw) had received a Divine revelation: And warn thy nearest kinsmen. (Ch:26: V.215) Holy Prophet(saw) stood on Mount Safa and called every Quraish tribe by name and warned them of the divine punishment that waited them if they did not give up their evil ways (Bukhari). The Holy Prophet(saw) approached his own family and clan and said: ‘O sons of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, I know of no Arab who has come to his people with a nobler message than mine. I bring you the best of this world and the next. God has commanded me to call you unto Him. Which of you, then, will help me in this, and be my brother, my executor and my successor among you?’ ‘Ali(ra) was just ten years of age and was intrigued watching his cousin and his aunt Khadijah prostrated and uttering praises to their deity ‘Allah’. On questioning the Prophet(saw), the reply was: “We were worshipping Allah, the One. I advise you to do the same. Never bend your head before Laat, ‘Uzzah or any other idol.” Laat, Uzzah and others were the main deities of the local Nabatean tribes and the Makkans, and their idols filled the Ka’abah at that time. ‘Ali(ra) was impressed by the answers to his questions and immediately professed Islam and became the first free male Muslim. He answered the call of the Messenger saying: “My eyes are sore and my legs are thin, but I’ll stand by you, O Messenger of Allah!” Thereafter ‘Ali’s relationship grew stronger as he learned more about the faith and saw first-hand the direct relationship that the HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 43 44 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 Prophet(saw) had with God. His father Abu Talib died before he accepted Islam, but had provided full protection to his nephew from the Makkans and had tried to temper the reaction of the Makkan leaders who felt that his new message was driving a wedge between the young and their parents, and between slaves and their masters. In the year 622, when the Muslims were forced to flee from Makkah to Madinah in order to escape persecution, there were concerns that the Makkans might try to attack and kill the Prophet(saw) whilst he was still in his home. ‘Ali(ra) was asked to sleep in the Prophet’s bed and to be his decoy until the Prophet(saw) was safely away from the city, which he did. ‘Ali(ra) risked his life but survived. Some accounts even describe how the plotters of the Quraish had surrounded the house and entered in order to kill the person they thought was the Prophet(saw). When they lifted the blanket, they were shocked to see young ‘Ali(ra) lying there. In all of that time, they had not noticed that the Prophet(saw) had escaped from the house at midnight under Divine protection. According to those accounts, the youths then beat and arrested young ‘Ali(ra) but later released him. Some had suggested that he should pay with his life, but his calm attitude led to his release. He also bravely stayed three days longer in order to return property that had been entrusted with the Prophet(saw) for safe-keeping back to their owners. At that time, although most Makkans had not accepted Islam, they still regarded the Prophet(saw) as the most trustworthy person in the tribe and would entrust their precious items with him. ‘Ali(ra) was given the task of returning all items before the Muslims migrated to Yathrib (Madinah). All this time, ‘Ali(ra) faced the danger of attack, but bravely carried out his duties before himself emigrating to Madinah. This selfless sense of duty and bravery would be his hallmark as he matured. During the ten years that the community lived in exile in Madinah, ‘Ali(ra) was tasked to take part in expeditions, defensive HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 44 45The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 45 46 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 wars and as a messenger. It was at the Battle of Badr in 624 that he first displayed his tenacity whilst facing the worst possible persecution. The Makkans came to anihilate the Muslims, ‘Ali(ra) demonstrated great courage on the battlefield and is recorded by Ibn Hisham and Al Maghazi as killing at least 20 of the pagan attackers. He even defeated their champion, al-Waleed ibn ‘Utbah. At the start of the engagement, the Makkans would often demand that their champions take on the champion of the Muslims, and normally it was ‘Ali(ra) who bravely stepped up to take on the challenge on behalf of his community. However, it was not just his bravery that became evident. He was also very calm and purposeful in his endeavours. His approach was not an overly aggressive one, but rather based on his duty for Islam, and he would not allow his emotions to rule over his behaviour. There is one notable event when Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) overpowered one of the opponents in individual combat. Just as he was about to deliver the fatal blow, his opponent, spat on the face of Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) in desperation. To the amazement of the onlookers, ‘Ali(ra) let him go. When asked why he had freed his opponent, ‘Ali(ra) explained that if he had killed the foe after he had spat on his face, his motive may have become revenge rather than the defence of Islam. So not only did he display the utmost bravery, he also modelled himself on the highest moral character even in the battlefield during the most extreme of emotions. This demonstrated the control that he had on his emotions, and also his pure motives. At later battles such as Uhud, he again demonstrated the same courage, and was recognised by his special shaped sword, known as Zulfiqar, which had a double point and was slightly curved in shape. According to al-Tabari, it was ‘Ali(ra) who carried the standard for the Muslim army and also struck down the standard- bearers of the pagans. It was at that battle that the enemy had dug a pit and covered it with twigs and grass. The Prophet(saw) had fallen HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 46 47The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 into the pit and was helped out by ‘Ali(ra) and Abu Bakr(ra). Later, ‘Ali(ra) and his wife Fatimah cleaned and dressed the wounds of the Prophet(saw). In times of peace, ‘Ali(ra) undertook labour work for the sake of Islam while the Muslims tried to establish themselves in the new city of Madinah. He was earning a living by drawing out water from wells to irrigate the farms around Madinah. ‘Ali(ra) had the great honour of becoming the son-in-law of the Prophet(saw) when he married his youngest daughter Fatimah in 625, just a year after the Battle of Badr in which he had shown such bravery. The Prophet(saw) showed great affection for his new son-in- law and anointed both ‘Ali(ra) and HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 47 48 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 Fatimah on the day of the marriage in a way that he had not done for any other marriage. At the time, the Muslims were very simple and had very few possessions, especially as they had fled Makkah and left most of their belongings there. ‘Ali(ra) offered his armour as dowry for his marriage to Fatimah, which reflected his circumstances at that time. At the same time, the Prophet(saw) gave his daughter a simple mattress, a water bag, a cot, two grinding stones and two earthenware pitchers. This illustrates the modesty prevalent amongst those early Muslims. Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) and Fatimah(ra) had three sons, Hasan, Husain and Muhsin, the latter dying in infancy. They also had a daughter named Zainab. The marriage had further strengthened the bonds between ‘Ali(ra) and the Prophet(saw). Sahl ibn Sa’d records: ‘The name that ‘Ali(ra) loved the most was Abu Turab (‘Dusty One’ or literally ‘Father of Dust’), and he rejoiced in being called by it. No one named him Abu Turab except the Prophet(saw). because one day, when he was angry with Fatimah, he went out and laid down against the wall of the mosque, and then the Prophet(saw) came and his back was covered in dust. The Prophet(saw) began to rub the dust from his back saying, “Sit down Abu Turab”.’ This is an illustration of the fondness that the Holy Prophet(saw) had for ‘Ali(ra). Likewise it is related that the Holy Prophet(saw) was seated next to ‘Ali(ra) eating some dates. The Holy Prophet(saw) put the pips in front of him while ‘Ali(ra) out of mischief placed his pips in front of the Holy Prophet(saw). To the remark that he had had a lot, the quick-witted Holy Prophet(saw) remarked that some consume their fruit with the pip. Finally, when the Muslims marched back to Makkah in 630 to establish freedom of worship at the Ka’abah, ‘Ali(ra) led one division of the army to peacefully take the city, and then was instrumental in destroying many HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 48 49The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 of the old stone idols within the Ka’abah precincts. The magnanimity of the Muslims towards their old foes, who had chased them into exile and had still attacked them in Madinah so many times, is one of the great episodes of history. The Prophet(saw) forgave the Makkans. In 631, ‘Ali(ra) was given the honour of leading a mission to Yemen to proclaim the new religion to those people, and this turned out to be the last missionary expedition sent in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(saw). God graced his visit in mid-winter and although the Yemeni tribes had been hostile at first, very soon the entire tribes of Madhhaj and Hamadan accepted the new faith. This followed a previous attempt by Khalid bin Waleed a couple of years earlier, but Khalid was not as eloquent in his description of Islam or his knowledge of the Qur’an and had not been successful, whereas ‘Ali(ra) was able to win over the tribesmen. Having played a prominent role, ‘Ali(ra) was as shocked as all of the Muslims when in 632, the Holy Prophet(saw) passed away. Being a close family member, he had been at the Holy Prophet’s bedside in the last few days and he along with his uncle Abbas were part of the group that washed the Holy Prophet’s body before burial . He also helped to place the coffin into the grave. As agreed, a group of senior Muslims voted on the issue of the successor, and the vote went to Abu Bakr(ra) who was greatly respected. It is at this point that the Shi’as deviate from the Sunnis, in that they believe that ‘Ali(ra) was the rightful Khalifa and was unhappy with the positions of the first three Khulafa Abu Bakr(ra), ‘Umar(ra) and ‘Uthman(ra). Some Shi’as go as far as to curse the previous Khulafa for denying ‘Ali(ra) his titles at ‘tabarra’ sessions. To get a better understanding, we should investi- gate his behaviour and role under the other Khulafa based on facts and evidence instead of specu- lating on what he may have thought, or concocting ideas that he ‘pretended’ to accept the other Khalifahs. HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 49 50 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 Reports about ‘Ali’s acceptance and oath of allegiance to the first Khalifa range from an immediate acceptance to a delay of a few days. It is more in keeping with his character to consider that he immediately accepted the vote and showed his loyalty towards the new Khalifa, as he was very keen that Muslims must remain united. At one end of the spectrum, the Shi’a claim that he remained aloof as he thought that he had the rightful claim to Khilafah. However, even in their source ‘Minar ul Huda’ edited by Sheikh ‘Ali al-Bahraani, ‘Ali(ra) is quoted as saying: “I kept myself in the background until I realised that certain groups had renounced Islam and were inviting people to join them in order to annihilate Islam…. I therefore went to Abu Bakr and swore allegiance to him and always remained shoulder to shoulder with him in fighting the troubles which very soon finished.” The scholar Ibn-Jareer al-Tabari (838 – 923) records the incident through the witness of Habeeb ibn Thaabit in his Tarikh ur-Rasul wal Mulk as follows: ‘Ali was sitting in his house when a man came and told him that Abu Bakr was sitting in the mosque accepting oaths of allegiance from Muslims gathered there. On hearing this, ‘Ali at once left his house and did not even wait to dress himself properly. He was then wearing only a long shirt. He showed this much haste because he did not like to lag behind in this matter. So he came and took the oath of allegiance and seated himself near Abu Bakr.’ (al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, Vol.2) Certainly ‘Ali(ra) himself had no illusions. When questioned later, as reported by Ibn-i-‘Asakar, he replied that the Holy Prophet(saw) had not died suddenly, but over the course of a long illness. In that time, he had never indicated that ‘Ali(ra) was the rightful Khalifa to follow him. In fact, during those days, he had instructed that Abu Bakr(ra) lead the prayers. Surely HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 50 51The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 this was the best indication of the status of the Companions at the time. It is also related that Abu Bakr(ra) denied Fatimah(ra) the right to an estate on the basis that the Holy Prophet’s(saw) estate, belonged to the treasury. Again, this narration is dismissed but ‘Ali’s(ra) subsequent denial at a meeting with Abu Bakr(ra) showing that Ali(ra) remained totally loyal to Abu Bakr(ra). Role under the other Khulafa ‘Ali(ra) was a devoted Muslim who had strong opinions, but still served the other Khulafa with full loyalty. At the time of Abu Bakr(ra), ‘Ali(ra) was still young and inexperienced in leadership so he would have learned a lot about governance by watching how the first Khalifa quelled anxieties and potential factions after the death of the Prophet(saw) through his moderate and balanced understanding of Islam. He obeyed all the commands of Abu Bakr(ra) and became a trusted friend and ally. Those first few months were traumatic as the Muslims settled under new leadership, and the trauma was heightened for Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) when just a few months into the new Khilafat, he lost his beloved wife Fatimah. After Abu Bakr(ra) passed away, Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) was elected as the second Khalifa and once again, ‘Ali(ra) was to serve in a prominent role. He was made a senior judge by Hadhrat Umar(ra) on account of his profound knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and comprehensive knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. Umar(ra) would often pass over the more difficult cases to ‘Ali(ra) as he knew he could trust his judgement. On one occasion, when Hadhrat Umar(ra) was visiting Jerusalem after the Muslims had been victorious in taking it peacefully, he left ‘Ali(ra) in charge of Madinah, at that point the capital of the Islamic Empire. Again this shows the degree of trust and regard that the Khalifa had for ‘Ali(ra). Of course, ‘Ali(ra) did not always see eye to eye with the Khulafa. There were times when he HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 51 52 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 disagreed, such as on the subject of the distribution of wealth that came back as spoils from defensive conflicts. While Umar(ra) decided to retain a portion for unforeseen circumstances, ‘Ali(ra) wished that all of the money be distributed, as they should rely entirely upon God in times of difficulty. He may also have been gaining favour from the military as he had the same dispute with ‘Uthman(ra) later as Karen Armstrong writes: ‘Increasingly, the malcontents looked to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin, who, it seems, had opposed the policies of both ‘Umar and ‘Uthman, standing for ‘soldiers’ rights’ against the power of the central authority.’ (Islam – A Short History, p.28) He may have disagreed on some issues, but he also acted as a trusted counsel for the Khulafa. At times of disorder, ‘Uthman(ra) would send ‘Ali(ra) to investigate and report back e.g. when a party from Egypt had claimed that a harsh instruction had been sent to the Governor of Egypt in al-Fustat (modern Cairo). However, this was a concocted letter, and ‘Ali(ra) helped to unearth the plot. Even when ‘Uthman(ra) was attacked at home, the front of the house was being guarded by Hasan and Husain, the two sons of Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra); but unfortunately the rebels managed to set fire to the front creating a diversion and attacked from the back of the house. Khilafat of ‘Ali(ra) When the third Khalifa ‘Uthman(ra) was assassinated, ‘Ali(ra) was elected as the fourth Khalifa of Islam at a time of plots and unrest. ‘Uthman(ra) had also been a son-in- law of the Prophet(saw) and was an upright leader, so ‘Ali(ra) would have been shocked by his untimely death. ‘Ali(ra) was not keen to accept Khilafat, but the people of Madinah were in panic because, over two thousand rebels who had killed ‘Uthman(ra) were now creating disorder in the city. The Muslims gathered in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and as the clamour grew from the Ansar and HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 52 53The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 Muhajirun of Madinah, they persuaded Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) to accept Khilafat to try to restore order. They all pledged allegiance to him that day. Some of the Umayyad family did not pledge allegiance, and fled to Syria with the blood-stained shirt of the late Khalifa. In his first address, ‘Ali(ra) was forceful and told the congregation: “The area around the Ka’abah is sacred. Allah commands the Muslims to live as brothers. A Muslim is he who does not hurt anyone with his word or deed. Fear Allah in your dealings with other men. On the Day of Judgement, you will have to answer for your dealings, even with animals. Obey Allah, the Almighty. Do not cast aside His commandments.” ‘Ali(ra) knew that difficult times lay ahead. The forces of suspicion and lawlessness had been unleashed. It would require tireless work, patience and much tact to restore law and order. ‘Ali(ra) hoped to accomplish the task with the co- operation of the people and his trusted advisors. Soon after his first address, a deputation including Talha and Zubair asked the Khalifa to enforce Shariah Law and to punish the murderers of ‘Uthman(ra). Emotions were still running high, but ‘Ali(ra) replied: “I will not let ‘Uthman’s death go unavenged, but you must wait. Conditions are not normal yet. The rioters are still powerful in Madinah. We are in their grip. My own position is shaky, so please wait. As soon as conditions allow, I will do my duty.” The answer clearly did not satisfy all of the companions, but ‘Ali(ra) began by changing the leadership to reflect his own trusted associates. Among the regional governors, several were replaced by close aides such as Salman Farsi and Malik al-Ashtar. Not everyone agreed with the changes. He was also advised to make some tactical decisions to keep various parties happy, as Ibn Khaldun describes: HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 53 54 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 ‘At the beginning of his (term of) office, ‘Ali himself was advised by al-Maghirah to leave az-Zubair, Mu’awiyah, and Talha in their positions, until the people had agreed to render the oath of allegiance to him and the whole thing was consolidated. After that, he might do what he wanted. That was good power politics. ‘Ali, however, refused. He wanted to avoid deceit, because deceit is forbidden by Islam.’ (Ibn Khaldun, p.165) The whole situation following the death of ‘Uthman(ra) still troubled him deeply. ‘Ali(ra) honestly believed that the troubles faced by the third Khalifa were due to the men around him of the Banu Umayya family who had taken advantage of his age and forbearance to gain political power which they later misused. This is why he had replaced so many of them from office in the outlying territories. ‘Ali(ra) had gained a reputation for inspiring others through his letters and sermons. He used his deep well of knowledge gained from so many years of close proximity to the Prophet(saw) to extol virtues such as justice and compassion when dealing with non-Muslims who were now coming under Muslim rule and care. Battle of the Camel Soon, ‘Ali(ra) faced a rebellion by those same companions Talha and Zubair in which the Prophet’s wife ‘A’ishah(ra) also took part in December 656. The reason was their frustration at ‘Ali’s failing to punish the rebels who had killed Hadhrat ‘Uthman(ra). ‘Ali(ra) too had wanted justice and to deal with them, but he wanted to restore order first and then deliver justice, rather than further fan the flames of ill-feeling. However, not everyone had the patience for his pragmatic approach. ‘A’ishah(ra) had been on Hajj when the late Khalifah had been killed. She was appalled and addressed a public gathering in Makkah to gather support to avenge the killing. She took an army of hundreds of men to Basrah to gain further support and en route it became three thousand men. Basrah was divided in opinion, but HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 54 55The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 after taking the city, the leaders rooted out suspects from the uprising against ‘Uthman(ra). Hundreds of men were interro- gated, and some were found guilty and killed. Basrah was in the grip of a reign of terror. Now ‘A’ishah(ra) sought support from the rest of the Muslim world to punish the suspects, and the unrest grew. ‘Ali(ra) was forced to take his own troops to Basrah to tackle the unrest joined by 9,000 men from Kufa. On reaching Basrah, ‘Ali(ra) sent a peace delegation to ‘A’ishah(ra) with the message: “The demand for revenge is very just, but how can you lay hands on the mischief-mongers without first making the hands of the Khalifa strong? … If you really want to end trouble, gather under the banner of the Khalifa. Do not plunge people into civil war.” Both sides seemed destined on peace, but a party led by ‘Abdullah bin Saba realised that they would be found out for the insurgence against ‘Uthman(ra) and so, at night their party manufactured a conflict between the two camps and relayed messages to both sides that the other party had betrayed them. Full-scale fighting ensued and to ‘Ali’s horror, 10,000 men died in fighting amongst Muslims. At the end, he was victorious, but his heart bled for the needless loss. Although ‘Ali(ra) defeated this rebellion in what became known as the Battle of the Camel at Basrah, the unrest continued. ‘A’ishah(ra) was sent back to Madinah but without sanctions. Despite the hostility of Talha and Zubair, when ‘Ali(ra) learned that they had been killed, he wept for them, and explained that the battle was the result of misunderstandings. However, they both held a high status amongst the Muslims at the time of the Prophet(saw), and ‘Ali(ra) had heard the Holy Prophet(saw) once say: ‘Every Prophet had a disciple and az-Zubair is my disciple.’ Any thought that ‘Ali(ra) glorified in combat is totally false. He was forced into these situations due to troublemakers that were infil- HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 55 56 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 trating Islam and did not have pure motives. Any attempts to link ‘Ali(ra) to the plot that led to the murder of ‘Uthman(ra) are also totally false. In his first sermon as recorded by al- Tabari, he condemned the murder and called the antagonists the ‘instruments of Satan’. He had reminded his congregation of the grave nature of the crime of shedding the blood of a fellow Muslim. It was from this stance that he wanted to first get calm and unity back amongst the Muslims. Dispute with Mu’awiyah Mu’awiyah, the Governor of Syria, and ‘Ali(ra) had struggled in the prolonged Battle of Siffin in 657 when Mu’awiyah had tried to wrestle the Khilafat away from ‘Ali(ra). Eventually, they decided upon arbitration, which was not settled conclusively at Adhruh. A group of 4,000 from ‘Ali’s army left him and became a threat in their own right, later known as the Kharijites. They sacked Ctesiphon (modern Mada’in) but were later defeated by those still loyal to ‘Ali(ra) at the Battle of Nahrawand in 658. Despite the worsening political problems as the Islamic Empire grew, Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) kept his faith in God, and would be found in deep prayer. He was not only regular in his obligatory prayers, but was also regular in observing additional (Nawafil) prayers, often absorbed in worship throughout the night. It was his prayers that protected him and the early Muslims from potentially much worse situations plotted against them. Someone asked ‘Ali(ra): ‘Why do the people disagree concerning you, and why did they not disagree concerning Abu Bakr(ra) and Umar(ra)?’ He replied: ‘Because Abu Bakr(ra) and Umar(ra) were in charge of men like me, and I today am in charge of men like you.’ He had a keen sense of justice, and was often quoted advising followers to treat others the way that they wished to be treated themselves. It was in this spirit HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 56 57The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 that he was trying to achieve stability and balance across the Muslim world before improving the spiritual state of his followers. The harsh treatment meted out to the Kharijites at Nahrawand lost him favour in some quarters. The Kharijites sought what they considered to be true Muslim leadership in accordance with the Holy Qur’an, and no compromise with those seeking political advantage. This view started to gain some support, although their interpretation of motives was as prone to error as the supposed errors themselves. After the Battle of the Camel, Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) spent some time in Basra on the southern coast of modern Iraq, and there he appointed his cousin ‘Abdullah, the son of ‘Abbas, as the governor of the area. ‘Ali(ra) then entered Kufa in January, a relatively new garrison town in Iraq established just twenty years earlier. He transferred the capital from Madinah to Kufa in modern Iraq while Damascus, the other seat of power, was now under the control of Mu’awiyah. This was a signi- ficant moment as from that time onwards, Madinah never again became the seat of authority and power for Islam. ‘Ali(ra) was a decent and upright man, but he was now struggling to come to terms with the political manoeuvres going on all around him. Achievements ‘Ali(ra) was respected and was known for his qualities which included piety, great knowledge and courage. During the lifetime of the Prophet(saw), he had memorised the Qur’an and recited it to him; and in later life, he became an authority on the scriptures. ‘Ali(ra) did not just memorise the verses of the Qur’an; he also knew the context of each verse: when the verse was revealed, where and in what circumstances. Having been such a close companion of the Holy Prophet(saw) for thirty years, he was also an authority on the sayings and traditions of the Prophet(saw) and had memorised hundreds of traditions. He would often narrate these traditions, and HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 57 58 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 was also very proficient at delivering speeches referring to both the Qur’an and the Hadith. Having such an in-depth knowledge of the Qur’an, it is natural that he was considered an authority on Islamic legal matters. ‘A’ishah(ra) is quoted as saying: ‘As for him [‘Ali], he is the most knowledgeable of those who remain in the Sunnah.’ Similarly, Abu Hurairah quotes Hadhrat ‘Umar(ra) as saying: ‘Ali is the best of us in judicial decision’. ‘Ali(ra) was a simple man like all of the Khulafah. He had endured difficult times as a Muslim and preferred simplicity. He wore simple clothes and ate simple food. He was always concerned about the welfare of others. He often went without food, and even when he became a Khalifah, he continued to live a simple lifestyle and remained focused on his service of the community. Some reports cite that his meals consisted of a cup of milk, a piece of bread and some vegetables. He lived in a simple house just like the other Muslims around him without any extravagance. There is an account of when he and his wife Fatimah were eating some dry bread, and a beggar approached their door and asked for food. They gave him the bread and remained hungry for the rest of the day. He imparted those same values to his sons as he said: ‘Keep company with good people and keep away from bad people. The worst food you take is the one you earn in a forbidden way. Be kind to anyone who might be harsh to you, for after a while he would become kind to you’. It is very easy to view the life of the Khulafah as a series of struggles and battles, but there would not have been a core of well-trained, motivated and dedicated Muslims had it not been for their efforts. It was their values of love, compassion, fair treatment and desire for knowledge that would be later reflected in the HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 58 59The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 great periods of Islam such as Al- Andalus in Spain and Baitul Hikmah in Baghdad. ‘Ali’s death Despite his best attempts to create calm among the Muslims, the growing divisions led to inevitable tensions. ‘Ali(ra) was killed in the year 661 in the city of Kufa at the age of 62. He had been attacked by one of the remaining Kharijite vigilantes by the name of ‘Abd ar- Rahman ibn Muljam during the month of Ramadhan whilst leading Fajr prayers. ‘Ali(ra) managed to survive for a couple of days during which he conveyed his wishes to his son Hasan whom he addressed as follows: ‘Love Allah and obey Him and live for the service of the people in the way of Allah. And do not forget to set apart the best of your time for communion with Allah, although every moment of yours is for Him, provided it is spent sincerely in the service of your people.’ Amazingly, he even instructed his sons not to molest his killer, and asked them to offer him food and provide for his shelter. Such mercy for his killer shows the extent of his character. He is quoted as saying: ‘Treat the man kindly and give him food and water. If I die, his life is left to justice, and he shall be slain for the deed he has done; but do not mutilate him, for that was forbidden by the Prophet(saw).’ After ‘Ali(ra) passed away, it is thought that he was buried in private and secret to prevent his grave from being desecrated by his enemies. There was doubt about his gravesite until a later Khalifah Harun al-Rashid (786 – 809), was told that the site was on raised ground at a site in Najaf. At his orders, a great mosque and shrine was built around the tomb. There are several accounts of how the Khalifah learned of the site of the tomb including one that the sixth Shi’a Imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq told him so based on information passed down amongst the Shi’a leadership. A small minority of Shi’as still believe that the actual tomb is at the Rawze-e-Sharif HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 59 60 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 (also known as the Blue Mosque) in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. ‘Ali’s Legacy ‘Ali had become respected as an authority on Islam, and a collection of his speeches and letters was preserved under the title Nahjul Balaghah (The Peak of Eloquence). His family also went on to honour his wishes and to serve the community. His sons Hasan and Husain both played a key role. It is thought that Hasan declined taking on the Khilafat in order to prevent further schisms among the Muslims, and this enabled Mu’awiyah to take on the Khilafat and establish what became known as the Umayyad Arab dynasty. This seizure of power cut-off the Khulafa Rashidun from the subsequent rulers of the Muslim Empire, continuing in name only through various dynasties till the Ottoman Empire formally terminated the last remnant of Khilafat. However, for the Shi’as, ‘Ali(ra) had been the first Imam, and HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) ‘Ali’s Shrine in Najaf, Iraq Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 60 61The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 therefore his sons took on the mantle, Hasan being the second Imam and Husain the third. The descendants of ‘Ali(ra) through Hasan and Husain were the only bloodline of the Prophet(saw) through his daughter Fatimah and are still honoured to this day with the title ‘Syed’ (or ‘Sayyid’). Examples of the bloodline include the Sharifs and Idrisids of Morocco, Banu Salih of Ghana descended through grandsons of Hassan, and the Suleymanids of Yemen descended through a son of Hasan. The issue that worried ‘Ali(ra) the most was the unity of the Muslims. He struggled continuously to bring all of the parties together despite calls from all sides to take decisive action. His belief in the need for unity and order compelled him to try to steer a more moderate course, and even at the worst times when he faced armies of Muslims, his intention was dialogue and arbitration. However, the motives of the trouble-makers had nothing to do with the faith, and eventually, ‘Ali(ra) lost the battle. A more lasting legacy of Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) was his profound first-hand recollection of the actions and sayings of the Holy Prophet(saw). He related 586 hadith, which were then transmitted by many others such as his sons Hasan and Husain, and then Abu Musa, Abu Imamah and Abu Hurairah amongst others. The Shi’a Split Islam soon split into many factions, the two most notable being the Sunnis and Shi’as. The question to ask is whether this was the intention of Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) or of ‘A’ishah(ra). Certainly the early Muslims, having faced such severe persecution at the hands of the Makkans would have wanted unity and compassion, not division and infighting. So what were the main events and triggers for the split? Under the surface, there had been a growing undercurrent of discontent against the politi- cisation of Arab Islam in which new adherents from nearby Persia were told that they needed an Arab patron in order to be considered a HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 61 62 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 Muslim. Some of the Arabs were trying to use their shared nationality with the Prophet(saw) as a means of gaining political and monetary power. The Persians wished to return to the theological roots of Islam which they felt could only be recovered through the direct family of the Prophet(saw), now represented in the families of the sons of ‘Ali(ra). So the killing of Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) and the passing of power back to a political Arab was seen as a disaster, and when Husain and his followers were massacred cruelly at Kerbala a few years later in 680, this compounded the feeling of tragedy and disaster for the Shi’as. It is these incidents that Shi’as still commemorate to this day in the festival on the tenth of Muharam by inflicting wounds on themselves in an effort to particpate to an extent in the martyrdom of Imam Husain. Clay tablets from this area are used to place on prayer mats by some Shi’as for prostration. It is interesting that as-Suyuti quotes Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) as saying: ‘The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace, called me and said, “‘Ali, there is in you a resemblance to Isa(as); the Jews hated him so much that they slandered his mother, and the Christians loved him so much that they gave him a degree which was not his.’ The Holy Prophet(saw) may have known that ‘Ali(ra) would suffer at the hands of the factions during his Khilafat, but also that later generations might overly venerate him just like the Christians e.g. invoking his name for help (Ya ‘Ali Madad). Conclusions Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra), of all of the early Khulafa, had a direct and personal relationship with the Holy Prophet(saw) and was one of the earliest Muslims to pledge his allegiance to the new faith. He was a man of principles and had a strong sense of justice and fair- play especially as Islam came to influence other nations beyond Arabia. His knowledge of the Holy Qur’an was supreme as he had memorised it in his younger HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 62 63The Review of Religions – December 2007KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 years, and validated his understanding through recitation in front of the Holy Prophet(saw). Although undoubtedly very brave, ‘Ali(ra) was unable to control the political machinations happening all around him, and this ultimately led to his downfall, and the end of an era of Rightly-Guided Khulafa. Much has been made of his own special status and indeed a large number of Muslims (Shi’as) fervently believe that it was his rightful destiny to alone be the Khalifa of the Prophet(saw). Would if Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) have recognised many of the claims made in his name today which appear to drive a wedge between him and the other Khulafa? Would he instead have described his loyalty to each of the Khulafa, and how he reluctantly took office and tried so hard to unite the Muslim Ummah? Perhaps we can leave the last word to the famous historian of the 18th Century, Edward Gibbon, who wrote: ‘The first of the true believers might aspire to march before them in this world and the next; and if some were of a graver and more rigid cast, the zeal and virtue of ‘Ali were never outstripped by any recent proselyte. He united the qualifications of a poet, a soldier and a saint: his wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings; and every antagonist, in the combats of the tongue or of the sword, was subdued by his eloquence and valour.’ REFERENCES 1. The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Cyril Glasse, Harper San Francisco, 1999. 2. Life of Muhammad, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford, UK, 1990. 3. Islam – a short history, Karen Armstrong, Phoenix Press, London 2001. 4. The Preaching of Islam, T. W. Arnold, Aryan Books HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 63 64 The Review of Religions – December 2007 KHILAFAT: Special Edition 3 International, New Delhi, 1998. 5. Al-Quds, Mohammed Abdul Hameed Al-Khateeb, Ta-Ha Publishers, London 1998. 6. Intrigues against Khilafat-i- Rashida and their Impact, Maulana Sheikh Mubarak Ahmad, Ascot Press, London. 7. Khulafa-e-Rashideen, Majeed A Mian, Review of Religions, Vol.92, No.3, March 1997. 8. The Book of Character – writings on character and virtue from Islamic and other sources, Camille Helminski, The Book Foundation, Bristol 2004. 9. The History of the Khalifas who took the right way, Jalaladdin as-Suyuti, Ta-Ha Publishers, London 2006. 10. Nubuwwat & Khilafat – Prophethood and its successorship, Islam International Publications Ltd, Tilford, UK, 2006. 11. The Excellent Exemplar: Muhammad the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, The Chaucer Press, UK, 1962. 12. ‘Ali Bin Abi Talib – the fourth Caliph of Islam, Abdul Basit Ahmad, Darussalam Publishers, London, UK, 2001. 13. The Muqaddimah – an introduction to History, Ibn Khaldun, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, USA, 2005. 14. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, Volume 5, p.381, London, 1858. HADHRAT ‘ALI(RA) Dec 2007.qxd 3/1/08 19:29 Page 64
The close bond between Hadhrat 'Ali (ra) and the Holy Prophet (saw) and how this contributed to his unique knowledge of the Qur'an and Hadith. Also an analysis of the role of Hadhrat 'Ali(ra) under the first three Khulafa and his achievements as the fourth Khalifah.