Regarded as the first young man to ever convert to Islam, Hazrat Ali ibn Abu Talib (RA) is revered by Muslims as a man who fought for Islam in nearly all battles during Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) lifetime, earning the title ‘Lion of Allah.’ Hazrat Ali (RA) served Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in many ways, including scripting his letters and the revelations of the Holy Quran. He (RA) was the one who scripted the Hudaibiyya Treaty signed with the Pagans of Makkah.
Hazrat Ali (RA) was the first cousin of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and the son of his beloved uncle Hazrat Abu Talib, who had brought up the orphan Mohammad (PBUH) like his own son. He protected the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and stood by him through thick and thin. Among children, Hazrat Ali (RA) was the first to embrace Islam, so he never worshipped the idols. It is due to this reason that we use a special prayer “Karm Allah Wajhu” (May Allah bless his face) for him. Haider was the title given to him by his mother – it means lion. His other title is Asadullah which means Lion of Allah. His patronymic names are Abul Hassan and Abu Turab. The former means ‘the father of Hassan’ (the name of his great eldest son) while the latter means ‘the father of soil’ – this title was given to him owing to his humble and down-to-earth approach. Zulfiqar is the name of his sword. He (RA) was about 30 years younger to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and was brought up under his direct supervision. He was also a son-in-law of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as he married his beloved daughter Hazrat Fatima Al-Zahra (RA) who is also revered as the Leader of the Women of Paradise.
Services to the cause of Islam
1. At the time of migration, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) chose Hazrat Ali (RA) to sleep in his bed, and entrusted him the important task of handing over trusts of the people that were deposited with the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
2. After migration of Muslims to Madina when brotherhood was established between Migrants and the Ansar – Mawakhat-e-Madina – he (RA) was selected as the brother of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). At that moment, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said to him, “You are my brother in this world and in the hereafter.”
3. He (RA) was an important commander of Muslim army and he (RA) actively participated in all the battles that were fought during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
4. In 7 AH, the Muslims under the command of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) besieged the treacherous Jewish tribe at Khyber. The siege prolonged for many days and the Muslims could not subdue the fort. At that critical moment, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Tomorrow, I shall give banner of Muslim army to the person who loves Allah and His Messenger (PBUH) and who is loved by them.” Next day, this honour was conferred on Hazrat Ali (RA) who conquered that fort and also killed Marahab who was a very important leader of the Jews.
5. On the occasion of the battle of Tabook, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) appointed Hazrat Ali (RA) his deputy in Madina before embarking on the journey. On that occasion, Hazrat Ali (RA) said to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), “Do you want me to remain with women and children?” The Holy Prophet (PBUH) replied, “Do you not want to become to me as Haroon was to Musa. However, no messenger would come after me.”
6. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had great regard and affection for Hazrat Ali (RA). During the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), some Muslims differed with a decision given by Hazrat Ali (RA) after a battle. On that occasion, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) raised the hand of Hazrat Ali (RA) and told them that “whoever honours me is also required to honour Ali (RA)”.
7. He (RA) served as an advisor during the reign of first three Rightly-Guided Caliphs who held him in high esteem on account of his matchless valour, superlative wisdom, profound, vast knowledge and close relation with the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
8. He (RA) had an exemplary standard of piety. He (RA) had no love for wealth. He (RA) used to say, “One who is having voracity for wealth must be ready for the company of dogs.” He (RA) led a very simple life. At home, he didn’t have any maid and Hazrat Fatima (RA) used to perform routine household chores herself.
9. Hazrat Ali (RA) was a literate person and was one of the few members of Quraysh who could read and write. He (RA) had profound interest in enhancing his knowledge and took keen interest in imparting education to other Muslims. His inspiring quotes are beacon of information for all segments of society. About the importance of education, he (RA) said, “Knowledge is the legacy of prophets and wealth is legacy of Qaroon and Pharaoh.” The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was inspired by the high standard of his learning and said, “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its door.” In Sahih Bukhari, this tradition is reported in this manner; “I am the city of knowledge, Abu Bakr (RA) is the foundation, Umar (RA) is the walls, Usman (RA) is the roof and Ali (RA) is the door of this city.”
10. Hazrat Ali (RA) delivered unparalleled justice. Throughout his life, he (RA) strove for disseminating justice. He (RA) was highly prudent, stoic and capable to decide cases in a just and rational way. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) appointed him as a Qazi during his (PBUH) lifetime and gave him (RA) everlasting advice: “Whenever someone comes to you with a plea, listen to that but don’t make your mind. After that person, hear the point of view of all parties having interest in that matter and then apply your mind for coming to logical conclusion.”
During his own caliphate, Hazrat Ali (RA) filed a case before Qazi Shuraih seeking the custody of his lost amour that was in the possession of a Jew. The Qazi decided the case against the sitting head of the Muslims and Hazrat Ali (RA) accepted that readily. This unprecedented justice had such a profound impact on that Jew that he converted to Islam.
Election as caliph
After the tragic demise of the third Caliph, Hazrat Usman (RA), there was chaos and turmoil in Madina and the city was in the grip of rebels and assassins. In these turbulent conditions, notable companions including Hazrat Talha (RA) and Hazrat Zubair (RA) came to Hazrat Ali (RA) and requested him to become the caliph because he (RA) was acceptable to all Muslims. After some reluctance, Hazrat Ali (RA) accepted their request and the Muslims took oath of allegiance at his hands after electing him as the fourth caliph of Muslims.
Problems during his rule
1. Arrest of Hazrat Usman’s (RA) assassins: Hazrat Ali’s (RA) first task was to bring the murderers of Hazrat Usman (RA) to book. But, it was not that easy as they were much more in number and could not be recognized. So, the caliph was not in a position to take swift action against them.
2. Dismissal of Governors: Soon after becoming the caliph, Hazrat Ali (RA) dismissed governors of different provinces including the governor of Syria Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA). Other governors complied with the orders of the caliph. But Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA), who was a cousin of Hazrat Usman (RA), refused to accept those, and took up the matter of arresting Hazrat Usman’s (RA) assassins. Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA) even sent an epistle wherein he accused the caliph of sheltering the assassins of Hazrat Usman (RA) and demanded punishment for them. Hazrat Ali (RA) replied, “I have no connection with the slaying of Hazrat Usman (RA). I know that you are using the demand for handing over the assassins of Hazrat Usman (RA) for your personal motives. If you do not desist from your nefarious designs, you would be dealt in the way rebels are dealt with.” Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA) brought the chopped fingers of Hazrat Naila (RA) – the wife of Hazrat Usman (RA) – and his blood-stained clothes to Damascus. Those were displayed in the main mosque of the city for inciting the sentiments of people. Hazrat Ali (RA) prepared a force against Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA) and was about to leave for Syria when he came to know about the revolt of Hazrat Ayesha (RA).
3. Battle of Camel (Dec 656 AD): At the time of assassination of Hazrat Usman (RA), Hazrat Ayesha (RA) was in Makkah to perform Hajj. When she (RA) came to know about that tragic incident, she (RA) requested the people to avenge the murder of the third caliph. Thousands of companions, including Hazrat Talha (RA) and Hazrat Zubair (RA) entered her camp and they demanded that the new caliph punish the assassins of Hazrat Usman (RA) before taking any other action. Prior to leaving for Syria, Hazrat Ali (RA) decided to subdue this revolt. The efforts for amicably resolving the issue could not succeed. Although both Hazrat Ali (RA) and Hazrat Ayesha (RA) did not want bloodshed, the conspiracy of some unruly elements came into play and a war broke out. This war was the first unfortunate battle in which Muslims were fighting each other. The fighting raged around the camel Hazrat Ayesha (RA) was riding; therefore, it is called ‘the Battle of Camel’. The battle ended when the legs of that camel were cut off and Hazrat Ayesha (RA) fell down and got slightly injured. About 40,000 people from both sides took part in this battle, out of which 10,000 were killed including Hazrat Talha (RA) and Hazrat Zubair (RA). This battle was fought in Basra and was won by the army led by Hazrat Ali (RA).
4. Kufa as Capital: After the Battle of Camel, Hazrat Ali (RA) shifted the capital of Islamic state from Madina to Kufa mainly due to two reasons: First, the tragic martyrdom of Hazrat Usman (RA) had tarnished the sanctity of Madina and Hazrat Ali (RA) wanted to prevent recurrence of such unfortunate incidents in future. Second, Hazrat Ali (RA) enjoyed massive support in Iraq.
However, shifting of the capital reduced the central role of Madina and its inhabitants in the affairs of the Islamic state that ultimately weakened the political position of the caliph.
5. Battle of Siffin (July 657 AD): After the battle of Camel, Hazrat Ali (RA) wrote a letter to Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA) but he (RA) refused to submit to the caliph. Upon this, Hazrat Ali (RA) prepared a strong army of 65,000 troops and marched towards Syria. Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA) was ready for it and he (RA) led his army from Damascus. Both the armies met in the plain of Siffin near Aleppo. For three months, both the armies confronted each other without commencing the war. The battle began on 26th July and during its course, as many as 90 expeditions took place between the two sides. After each confrontation, there was break of one or two days for burial of those killed. About 70,000 Muslims were killed in this battle.
The army of Hazrat Ali (RA) had gained the upper hand and was about to get triumph when Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA) halted hostilities in line with a plan of his important commander Amr ibn al-Aas. On Amr’s suggestion, the Syrian soldiers took up the leaves of Quran on the points of their lances and cried, “Here is the book of Allah! Let it decide between us.” The plan worked well for Syrians. Hazrat Ali (RA) tried to convince his soldiers that it was a deceitful tactic of the enemy but they refused to fight.
Subsequently, both sides nominated one arbitrator each. Hazrat Muawiya (RA) nominated Amr ibn al-Aas who was clever and tactful person, whereas the unruly soldiers of Hazrat Ali’s (RA) army nominated Abu Musa al-Ashari who was simple and tactless. It was then agreed that the two arbitrators would meet after six months at a place between Syria and Iraq.
The Court of Arbitrators met in Feb. 658 in the presence of important companions. Prior to the arbitration, through a tactful and treacherous move, Amr ibn al-Aas convinced Hazrat Abu Musa al-Ashari that they would depose their leaders. However, in the court of arbitrators, Amr asked Abu Musa to speak first. Abu Musa announced deposing of Hazrat Ali (RA). But Amr refused to depose his leader Muawiya (RA). So, the court of arbitrators failed to settle the issue, and Hazrat Ali (RA) resolved to decide the matter through sword.
6. Revolt of the Khawarij and Battle of Nahrawan 658 AD: When Hazrat Ali’s (RA) army was returning from Siffin, it faced another serious problem; about 12,000 diehard soldiers who were Quran readers separated themselves from the main army at Harura, a village near Kufa. They are also known as the “Haruryya” after the village where they separated from Hazrat Ali’s (RA) army. They were fanatics and castigated both Hazrat Ali (RA) and Hazrat Muawiya (RA). They considered both of them as transgressors for accepting the arbitration of men over the issue of caliphate, and revolted against the caliph. The caliph himself led a strong army against them and on 22nd March 658 AD, they were annihilated in the battle of Nahrawan. Even after the end of Khawarijis, the problems of Hazrat Ali (RA) did not end. At the one hand, the problem of Hazrat Muawiya (RA) was still there unresolved while he (RA) had to face some revolts and rebellions in his own provinces of Iraq and Persia.
The battle of Nahrawan was a serious blow to Khawarijis but it could not dismantle and eliminate their nefarious ideology. Infuriated by the war, three Khwarijis hatched a conspiracy to kill Hazrat Ali (RA), Hazrat Ameer Muawiya (RA) and Amr ibn al-As on the same day i.e. 17th of Ramadan. The other two failed to succeed in their design, however, Abdurrehman ibn Muljam, who was after Hazrat Ali (RA), attacked him with a poisoned dagger in the mosque of Kufa on 17th of Ramadan in 40 AH, where the caliph was coming for leading congregational morning prayers. The caliph was critically injured and succumbed to injuries three days later on 20th Ramzan 40 AH, and with him ended the orthodox caliphate.