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Calligraphy denoting the name of Ali

Ali (born Ali ibn Abi Talib) (600-661) was the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, who ruled over the Rashidun caliphate from 656 to 661. Sunnis consider Ali the fourth and final Khalifa' Rashidun (Righty guided caliphs) while Shias regard Ali as the first Imam and consider him and his descendants the rightful successor to Muhammad, all of which are members of the Ahl al-Bayt, the household of Muhammad. This disagreement split the Muslim community into the Sunni and Shi'a branches.

In Muslim culture, Ali is respected for his courage, knowledge, belief, honesty, unbending devotion to Islam, deep loyalty to Muhammad, equal treatment of all Muslims and generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies, and therefore is central to mystical traditions in Islam such as Sufism. Ali retains his stature as an authority on Qur'anic exegesis, Islamic jurisprudence and religious thought. Ali holds a high position in almost all Sufi orders which trace their lineage through him to Muhammad. Ali's influence has thus continued throughout Islamic history.

Early life[]


Ali was born on the 13th of Rajab A.H. and three different dates in the Christian Gregorian calender has been suggested: 23 October 596 and 17 March in 599 or 600 C.E.

Ali's father Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib was the custodian of the Kaaba and a sheikh of the Banu Hashim, a prestigious clan of the ruling tribe of Quraysh. He was also an uncle of Muhammad. Ali's mother, Fatima bint Asad, also belonged to Banu Hashim, making Ali a descendant of Ishmael, the son of Ibrahim (Bible Abraham)

Many sources, especially Shia ones, attest that during Muhammad's time Ali was born inside the Ka'ba in the city of Mecca, where he stayed with his mother for three days. According to a tradition, Muhammad was the first person whom Ali saw as he took the newborn in his hands. Muhammad named him Ali, meaning "the exalted one".

Profession to Islam[]

When Muhammad reported that he had received a divine revelation, Ali, then only about ten years old, believed him and professed to Islam.[1]According to Ibn Ishaq and some other authorities, Ali was the first male to embrace Islam. Al-Tabari adds other traditions making the similar claim of being the first Muslim in relation to Zayd or Abu Bakr.

Shi'a doctrine asserts that in keeping with Ali's divine mission, he professed to Islam before he took part in any pre-Islamic Meccan traditional religion rites, regarded by Muslims as shirk (violation against pure monotheism) or paganism. Hence the Shi'a say of Ali that his face is honored - that is, it was never sullied by prostrations before idols.

During the persecution of Muslims and boycott of the Banu Hashim in Mecca, Ali stood firmly in support of Muhammad.

Migration to Medina[]

Ali migrated to Medina shortly after Muhammad. 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 and thwart an assassination plot, so that Muhammad could escape in safety. As one of Muhammad’s lieutenants, and later his son-in-law, Ali was a person of authority and standing in the Muslim community.

Life in Medina during Muhammad's era[]

Family life[]

Medaillon chiite

An artistic depiction of Ali.

In 623, Muhammad told Ali that God ordered him to give his daughter Fatimah Zahra to Ali in marriage. Ali was much pleased to be honoured by God to marry Fatimah, and for their whole life together he was very devoted to her and loved, cared, honoured and respected her so much. After her death he said many sayings regarding her amazing personality and charater as well as their happy marriage together and how she was a perfect wife to him. This put Prophet Muhammad and Ali Ibn Abi Talib even closer.

Theirs was a simple life of striving in the way of God and through this they set a perfect example of how an ideal muslim couple should live. They chose this life and because of it they were quite poor, as they decided to give their money away to the less fortunate. Because of thier great generosity, a Quranic verse was revealed which praised them.. Throughout their life together, Ali remained poor because he did not set great store by material wealth, however this very much fitted the altruistic character of Fatimah, who would give whatever little she had to the poor. They split up thier house chores and Ali worked as a drawer and carrier of water and she as a grinder of corn. Often there was no food in her house as they would give it away to the poor. Ali noticed how hard Fatimah was working and asked her to go to the Prophet and ask for a maid to help her. Her father, the Prophet, instead taught her Tasbeeh, and it is now famously referred to as Tasbeeh Fatimah in her honour and she and Ali never stopped saying it and it did indeed relieve there hard work as they found comfort in the rememberance of God.

Their marriage lasted till Fatimah's death ten years later. Although polygamy was permitted, Ali did not marry another woman while Fatimah was alive, and his marriage to her possesses a special spiritual significance for all Muslims because it is seen as the marriage between the greatest saintly figures surrounding Muhammad. After Fatimah's death, Ali married other wives and fathered many children, however of course Fatimah was his most beloved and he remembered her and their happy life together for the rest of his life. He regarded her as superior to all women and the perfect wife, and he also regarded his children by her, namely Hasan ibn Ali, Hussein Ibn Ali, Zainab bint Ali and Umm Kulthoom bint Ali as very special and precious and different from his other children as they were the children of Fatimah and therefore the grandchildren of the Prophet himself, and his and Fatimah's sons Hasan and Hussein were the only ones to continue the progeny of the Prophet. Also her children are the Ahlul Bayt, which strictly only refers to the Prophet, Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, Hussein and certain selcted individuals from the progeny of Fatimah, hence the progeny of the Prophet, namely the imams.

Ali was prominent at 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 He was commander of the Muslim army in the Battle of Khaybar. He also defended Muhammad in Battle of Hunayn in 630. Allameh Tabatabaei explains in Tafsir al-Mizan that the word "Our selves" in this verse refers to Muhammad and Ali. Then he narrates 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 the proof for Ali's right for caliphate due to Allah made Ali like the self of Muhammad.

Ghadir Khumm[]

Investiture of Ali Edinburgh codex

The Investiture of Ali, at Ghadir Khumm (MS Arab 161, fol. 162r, AD 1309/8 Ilkhanid manuscript illustration).

As Muhammad was returning from his last pilgrimage in 632, he made statements about Ali that are interpreted very differently by Sunnis and Shias.."

This quote is confirmed by both Shi’a and Sunni, but they interpret the quote differently.

Some Sunni and Shi'a sources report that then he called Ali ibn Abi Talib to his sides, took his hand and raised it up declaring

"For whoever I am a Mawla of, then Ali is his Mawla."

The Shia's regard these statements as constituting the investiture of Ali as the successor of Muhammad and as the first Imam; by contrast, the Sunnis take them only as an expression of Muhammad's closeness to Ali and of his wish that Ali, as his cousin and son-in-law, inherit his family responsibilities upon his death. 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.[1]

On the basis of this hadith, Ali later insisted on his religious authority superior to that of Abu Bakr and Umar.

After Muhammad's death[]

Mirror writing2

Original - Eighteenth century mirror writing in Ottoman calligraphy. Depicts the phrase 'Ali is the vicegerent of God' in both directions.

About succession to Muhammad[]

After uniting the Arabian tribes into a single Muslim religious polity in the last years of his life, Muhammad's death in 632 signalled disagreement over who would succeed him as leader of the Muslim community.While Ali and the rest of Muhammad's close family were washing his body for burial, at a gathering attended by a small group of Muslims at Saqifah, a close companion of Muhammad named Abu Bakr was nominated for the leadership of the community. Others added their support and Abu Bakr was made the first caliph. The choice of Abu Bakr disputed by some of the Muhammad's companions, who held that Ali had been designated his successor by Muhammad himself.

Following his election to the caliphate, Abu Bakr and Umar with a few other companions headed to Fatimah's house to obtain homage from Ali and his supporters who had gathered there. Then, it is alleged that Umar threatened to set the house on fire unless they came out and swore allegiance with Abu Bakr. Then Umar set the house on fire and pushed the burnt door on Fatima. Some sources say upon seeing them, Ali came out with his sword drawn but was put in chains by Umar and their companions. Morever, Ali had been adjured by Muhammed not to fight even if he were to see Fatima ill-treated. It is believed by some(sunni sources) that Fatimah, in support of her husband, started a commotion and threatened to "uncover her hair", at which Abu Bakr relented and withdrew. Ali is reported to have repeatedly said that had there been forty men with him he would have resisted. Ali also believed that he could fulfil his role of Imam'ate without this fighting .

Ali himself was firmly convinced of his legitimacy for caliphate based on his close kinship with Muhammad, his intimate association and his knowledge of Islam and his merits in serving its cause. He told Abu Bakr that his delay in pledging allegiance (bay'ah) as caliph was based on his belief of his own prior title, Morever Ali was the only one who was appointed as caliph by Muhammad himself, and relating to this there are 3 verses in Sura-al Maida. Ali did not change his mind and he never pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr,Umar and Uthman but had helped them and that too for the sake of the unity of Islam, at a time when it was clear that the Muslims had turned away from him.

According to historical reports, Ali maintained his right to the caliphate and said:

"By Allah the son of Abu Quhafah (Abu Bakr) dressed himself with it (the caliphate) and he certainly knew that my position in relation to it was the same as the position of the axis in relation to the hand-mill...I put a curtain against the caliphate and kept myself detached from it... I watched the plundering of my inheritance till the first one went his way but handed over the Caliphate to Ibn al-Khattab after himself.


After Muhammad died his daughter, Fatimah, asked Abu Bakr to turn over their property, the lands of Fadak and Khaybar but he refused and told her that prophets didn't have any legacy and 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." Ali together with Umm Ayman testified to the fact that Muhammad granted it to Fatimah Zahra, when Abu Bakr requested Fatima to summon witnesses for her claim. Fatimah became angry and stopped speaking to Abu Bakr, and continued assuming that attitude until she died.

After Fatima's death Ali again claimed her inheritance during Umar's era, but was denied with the same argument. Umar, the caliph who succeeded Abu Bakr, did restore the estates in Medina to ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib and Ali, as representatives of Muhammad's clan, the Banu Hashim. The properties in Khaybar and Fadak were retained as state property. Another part of Ali's life started in 632 after death of Muhammad and lasted until assassination of Uthman Ibn Affan, the third caliph in 656. During these years, Ali neither took part in any battle or conquest. He also made gardens for his family and descendants.

Ali compiled a complete version of the Qur'an, mus'haf. six months after the death of Muhammad. The volume was completed and carried by camel to show to other people of 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 standardized mus'haf.

Ali and the Rashidun Caliphs[]

Ali did not give his oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr until some time after the death of his wife, Fatimah.

He pledged allegiance to the second caliph Umar ibn Khattab and helped him as a trusted advisor. Caliph 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 used Ali's suggestions in political issues as well as religious ones.

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, but the council's arrangement was 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 casting vote to Abdur Rahman. Abdur Rahman offered the caliphate to Ali on the condition that he should rule in accordance with the Quran, the example of the Prophet, 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.

Siege of Uthman[]

Uthman Ibn Affan, expressed generosity toward his kin, Banu Abd-Shams, who seemed to dominate him and his supposed arrogant mistreatment toward several of the earliest companions such as Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Abd-Allah ibn Mas'ud and Ammar ibn Yasir provoked outrage among some groups of people. Dissatisfaction and resistance openly arose since 650-651 throughout most of the empire. The dissatisfaction with his regime and the governments appointed by him was not restricted to the provinces outside Arabia. When Uthman's kin, especially Marwan, gained control over him, the noble companions including most of the the members of elector council, turned against him or at least withdrew their support putting pressure on the caliph to mend his ways and reduce the influence of his assertive kin.

At this time, Ali had acted as a restraining influence on Uthman without directly opposing him. On several occasions Ali disagreed with Uthman in the application of the Hudud; he had publicly shown sympathy for Abu Dharr al-Ghifari and had spoken strongly in the defense 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; because of this some mistrust between Ali and Uthman's family seems to have arisen. Finally he tried to mitigate the severity of the siege by his insistence that Uthman should be allowed water. Some other sources says Ali had acted as a restraining influence on Uthman without directly opposing him.

Charge as the fourth caliph[]

[[Image:Mohammad adil rais-Rashidun Caliphate-different phases.gif|thumb|right|375px|Domains of Rashidun empire under four caliphs. The divided phase relates to Ali caliphate.

Election as Caliph[]

Ali was caliph between 656 and 661, during one of the more turbulent periods in Muslim history, which also coincided with the First Fitna.

Uthman's assassination meant that rebels had to select a new caliph. This met with difficulties since the rebels were divided into several groups comprising the Muhajirun, Ansar, Egyptians, Kufans and Basntes. There were three candidates: Ali, Talhah and al-Zubayr. First the rebels approached Ali, requesting him to accept being the caliph. Some of Muhammad's companions tried to persuade Ali in accepting the office,

While the overwhelming majority of Medina's population as well as many of the rebels gave their pledge, some important figures or tribes did not do so. The Umayyads, kinsmen of Uthman, fled to the Levant or remained in their houses , later refusing Ali's legitimacy. Sa‘ad ibn Abi Waqqas was absent and Abdullah ibn Umar abstained from offering his allegiance, but both of them assured Ali that they would not act against him. Ali recovered the land granted by Uthman and swore to recover anything that elites had acquired before his election. Ali opposed the centralization of capital control over provincial revenues, favoring an equal distribution of taxes and booty amongst the Muslim citizens; He distributed the entire revenue of the treasury among them. Ali refrained from nepotism, including with his brother Aqeel ibn Abi Talib. This was an indication to Muslims of his policy of offering equality to Muslims who served Islam in its early years and to the Muslims who played a role in the later conquests.

Ali succeeded in forming a broad coalition especially after the Battle of Bassorah. His policy of equal distribution of taxes and booty gained the support of Muhammad's companions especially the Ansar who were subordinated by the Quraysh leadership after Muhammad, the traditional tribal leaders, and the Qurra or Qur'an reciters that sought pious Islamic leadership.

First Fitna[]

A'isha, Talhah, Al-Zubayr and Umayyad especially Muawiyah I wanted to take revenge for Uthman's death and punish the rioters who had killed him. They attacked Ali for not punishing the rebels and murderers of Uthman. However some historians believe that they use this issue to seek their political ambitions because they found Ali's caliphate against their own benefit. On the other hand, the rebels maintained that Uthman had been justly killed, for not governing according to Quran and Sunnah, hence no vengeances was to be invoked. Historians disagrees on Ali's position. Some say the caliphate was a gift of the rebels and Ali did not have enough force to control or punish them, while others say Ali accepted rebels argument or at least didn't consider Uthman just ruler.

Under such circumstances, schism took place which led to the first civil war in Muslim history. Some Muslims, who knows as Uthmanis, considered Uthman rightful and just Islamic leader till the end, who had been unlawfully killed. Thus his position was in abeyance until he had been avenged and a new caliph elected. In their view Ali was the Imam of error leading a party of infidels. Some others, who knows as party of Ali, believed Uthman had fallen into error, he had forfeited the caliphate and been lawfully executed for his refusal to mend his way or step down, thus Ali was the just and true Imam and his opponents are infidels. This civil war created permanent divisions within the Muslim community regarding who had the legitimate right to occupy the caliphate.

The First Fitna, 656–661, followed the assassination of Uthman, continued during the caliphate of Ali, and was ended by Muawiyah's assumption of the caliphate. This civil war (often called the Fitna) is regretted as the end of the early unity of the Islamic ummah (nation). Ali was first opposed by a faction led by Talhah, Al-Zubayr and Muhammad's wife, Aisha bint Abu Bakr. This group, known as "disobedients" (Nakithin) by their enemies, gathered in Mecca then moved to Basra with the expectation of finding the necessary forces and resources to mobilize people of Iraq. The rebels occupied Basra, killing many people. They refused Ali's offer of obedience and pledge of allegiance. The two sides met at the Battle of Bassorah (Battle of the Camel) in 656, where Ali emerged victorious.

Ali appointed Ibn Abbas governor of Basra and moved his capital to Kufa, the Muslim garrison city in Iraq. Kufa was in the middle of Islamic land and had strategic position.

Later he was challenged by Muawiyah I, the governor of Levant and the cousin of Uthman, who refused Ali's demands for allegiance and called for revenge for Uthman. Ali opened negotiations hoping to regain his allegiance, but Muawiyah insisted on Levant autonomy under his rule. Muawiyah replied by mobilizing his Levantine supporters and refusing to pay homage to Ali on the pretext that his contingent had not participated in his election. The two armies encamped themselves at Siffin for more than one hundred days, most of the time being spent in negotiations. Although, Ali exchanged several letters with Muawiyah, he was unable to dismiss the latter, nor persuade him to pledge allegiance. Skirmishes between the parties led to the Battle of Siffin in 657. After a week of combat was followed by a violent battle known as laylat al-harir (the night of clamor), Muawiyah's army were on the point of being routed when Amr ibn al-Aas advised Muawiyah to have his soldiers hoist mus'haf (either parchments inscribed with verses of the Qur'an, or complete copies of it) on their spearheads in order to cause disagreement and confusion in Ali's army.[2] Ali saw through the stratagem, but only a minority wanted to pursue the fight.[3]

The two armies finally agreed to settle the matter of who should be Caliph by arbitration. The refusal of the largest bloc in Ali's army to fight was the decisive factor in his acceptance of the arbitration. The question as to whether the arbiter would represent Ali or the Kufans caused a further split in Ali's army. Ash'ath ibn Qays and some others rejected Ali's nominees, ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas and Malik al-Ashtar, and insisted on Abu Musa Ash'ari, who was opposed by Ali, since he had earlier prevented people from supporting him. Finally, Ali was urged to accept Abu Musa. Some of Ali's supporters, later were known as Kharijites (schismatics), opposed arbitration and rebelled and Ali had to fight with them in the Battle of Nahrawan. The arbitration resulted in the dissolution of Ali's coalition and some have opined that this was Muawiyah's intention.[2]

In the following years Muawiyah's army invaded and plundered cities of Iraq, which Ali's governors could not prevent and people did not support him to fight with them. Muawiyah overpowered Egypt, Hijaz, Yemen and other areas. In the last year of Ali's caliphate, the mood in Kufa and Basra changed in his favor as Muawiyah's vicious conduct of the war revealed the nature of his reign. However the people's attitude toward Ali was deeply differed. Just a small minority of them believed that Ali was the best Muslim after Muhammad and the only one entitled to rule them, while the majority supported him due to their distrust and opposition to Muawiyah.


What shows Ali's policies and ideas of governing is his instruction to Malik al-Ashtar, when appointed him as governor of Egypt. This instruction which is considered by many Muslims and even non-Muslims as the ideal constitution for Islamic governance involved detailed description of duties and rights of the ruler and various functionaries of the state and the main classes of society at that time.

Since the majority of the Ali's subjects were nomads and peasants, he concerned with agriculture. He instructed to Malik to give more attention to development of the land than to the collection of the tax, because tax can only be obtained by the development of the land and whoever demands tax without developing the land ruins the country and destroys the people.


On the 19th of Ramadan, while Ali was praying in the mosque of Kufa, a Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite, assassinated him with a stroke of his poison-coated sword. Ali, wounded by the poisonous sword, lived for two days before dying in Kufa on the 21st of Ramadan in 661.

Ali ordered his sons not to attack the Kharijites, even though a single member of the group of Kharijites killed him. Ali said to his son, Imam Hasan that ibn Muljim should get equal hurt as Ali got. Thus,Imam Hasan fulfilled Qisas and gave equal hurt as Ali got to ibn Muljam.


According to Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, Ali did not want his grave to be desecrated by his enemies and consequently

Meshed ali usnavy (PD)

This mosque in an-Najaf, Iraq, is widely considered by Shi'as to be the final burial place of Al

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 Shi'as 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.


After Ali's death, Kufi Muslims pledged allegiance to his eldest son Hasan without dispute, as Ali on many occasions had declared that just Ahl al-Bayt of Muhammad were entitled to rule the Muslim community. At this time, Muawiyah held both Levant and Egypt and, as commander of the largest force in the Muslim Empire, had declared himself caliph and marched his army into Iraq, the seat of Hasan's caliphate. War ensued during which Muawiyah gradually subverted the generals and commanders of Hasan's army with large sums of money and deceiving promises until the army rebelled against him. Finally, Hasan was forced to make peace and to yield the caliphate to Muawiyah. In this way Muawiyah captured the Islamic caliphate and in every way possible placed the severest pressure upon Ali's family and his followers. Regular public cursing of Imam Ali in the congregational prayers remained a vital institution which was not abolished until 60 years later by Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz. Muawiyah also established the Umayyad caliphate which was a centralized monarchy.

Madelung writes:

Umayyad highhandedness, misrule and repression were gradually to turn the minority of Ali's admirers into a majority. In the memory of later generations Ali became the ideal Commander of the Faithful. In face of the fake Umayyad claim to legitimate sovereignty in Islam as God's Vice-regents on earth, and in view of Umayyad treachery, arbitrary and divisive government, and vindictive retribution, they came to appreciate his [Ali's] honesty, his unbending devotion to the reign of Islam, his deep personal loyalties, his equal treatment of all his supporters, and his generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies.

Shia and Sufis believe that Muhammad told about him "I'm the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate..." Muslims regard Ali as a major authority on Islam. As Henry Corbin narrates, Ali himself gives this testimony:

Not a single verse of the Qur'an descended upon (was revealed to) the Messenger of God which he did not proceed to dictate to me and make me recite. I would write it with my own hand, and he would instruct me as to its tafsir (the literal explanation)

and the ta'wil (the spiritual exegesis), the nasikh (the verse which abrogates) and the mansukh (the abrogated verse), the muhkam and the mutashabih (the fixed and the ambiguous), the particular and the general...

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ali is credited with having established Islamic theology and his quotations contain the first rational proofs among Muslims of the unity of God. Ibn Abi al-Hadid has quoted:

As for theosophy and dealing with matters of divinity, it was not an Arab art. Nothing of the sort had been circulated among their distinguished figures or those of lower ranks. This art was the exclusive preserve of Greece whose sages were it's only expounders. The first one among Arabs to deal with it was Ali.

In later Islamic philosophy, especially in the teachings of Mulla Sadra and his followers, like Allameh Tabatabaei, Ali's sayings and sermons were increasingly regarded as central sources of metaphysical knowledge, or divine philosophy. Members of Sadra's school regard Ali as the supreme metaphysician of Islam. Of course, Peak of Eloquence (Nahj al-Balagha) is an extract of Ali's quotations from a literal viewpoint as its compiler mentioned in the preface. While there are many other quotations, prayers (Du'as), sermons and letters in other literal, historic and religious books.

In addition, some hidden or occult sciences such as jafr,Islamic numerology, the science of the symbolic significance of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, are said to have been established by Ali. Masadir Nahj al-Balagha wa asaniduh written by al-Sayyid ‘Abd al-Zahra' al-Husayni al-Khatib introduces some of these sources. Also Nahj al-sa'adah fi mustadrak Nahj al-balaghah by Muhammad Baqir al-Mahmudi represents all of Ali's extant speeches, sermons, decrees, epistles, prayers, and sayings have been collected. It includes the Nahj al-balagha and other discourses which were not incorporated by ash-Sharif ar-Radi or were not available to him. Apparently, except for some of the aphorisms, the original sources of all the contents of the Nahj al-balagha have been determined.

  • Divan-i Ali ibn Abi Talib (poems which are attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib)


Ali had several wives, Fatimah being the most beloved. He had four children by Fatimah, Hasan ibn Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, Zaynab bint Ali[1] and Umm Kulthum bint Ali. His other well-known sons were al-Abbas ibn Ali born to Fatima binte Hizam (Um al-Banin) and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah.

Hasan, born in 625 AD, was the second Shia Imam and he also occupied the outward function of caliph for about six months. In the year 50 A.H., he was poisoned and killed by a member of his own household who, as has been accounted by historians, had been motivated by Mu'awiyah.

Husayn, born in 626 AD, was the third Shia Imam. He lived under severe conditions of suppression and persecution by Mu'awiyah. On the tenth day of Muharram, of the year 680, he lined up before the army of caliph with his small band of follower and nearly all of them were killed in the Battle of Karbala. The anniversary of his death is called the Day of Ashura and it is a day of mourning and religious observance for Shi'a Muslims. In this battle some of Ali's other sons were killed. Al-Tabari has mentioned their names in his history. Al-Abbas, the holder of Husayn's standard, Ja'far, Abdallah and Uthman, the four sons born to Fatima binte Hizam. Muhammad and Abu Bakr. The death of the last one is doubtful. Some historians have added the names of Ali's others sons who were killed in Karbala, including Ibrahim, Umar and Abdallah ibn al-Asqar.

His daughter Zaynab—who was in Karbala—was captured by Yazid's army and later played a great role in revealing what happened to Husayn and his followers.

Ali's descendants by Fatimah are known as sharifs, sayeds or sayyids. These are honorific titles in Arabic, sharif meaning 'noble' and sayed or sayyid meaning 'lord' or 'sir'. As Muhammad's only descendants, they are respected by both Sunni and Shi'a, though the Shi'as place much more emphasis and value on the distinction. Ali is known as "perfect man" (al-insan al-kamil) similar to Muhammad according to Shia viewpoint. Shia pilgrims usually go to Mashad Ali in Najaf for Ziyarat, pray there and read "Ziyarat Amin Allah" or other Ziyaratnames. Under the Safavid Empire, his grave became the focus of much devoted attention, exemplified in the pilgrimage made by Shah Ismail I(d. 1524) to Najaf and Karbala.

Non-Muslim views[]

Some of the non-Muslim scholars such as Edward Gibbon while, Sir William Muir However others, such as Lammens, have held a negative view of Ali.

The poet Kahlil Gibran said of him: "In my view, ʿAlī was the first Arab to have contact with and converse with the universal soul. He died a martyr of his greatness, he died while prayer was between his two lips. The Arabs did not realise his value until appeared among their Persian neighbors some who knew the difference between gems and gravels."

Historiography of Ali's life[]

The primary sources for scholarship on the life of Ali are the Qur'an and the Hadith, as well as other texts of early Islamic history. The extensive secondary sources include, in addition to works by Sunni and Shī‘a Muslims, writings by Christian Arabs, Hindus, and other non-Muslims from the Middle East and Asia and a few works by modern Western scholars. However, many of the early Islamic sources are colored to some extent by a positive or negative bias towards Ali. When paper was introduced to Muslim society, numerous monographs were written between 750 and 950 AD. According to Robinson, at least twenty-one separate monographs have been composed on the Battle of Siffin. Abi Mikhnaf is one of the most renowned writers of this period who tried to gather all of the reports. 9th and 10th century historians collected, selected and arranged the available narrations. However, most of these monographs do not exist anymore except for a few which have been used in later works such as History of the Prophets and Kings by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.932).

Shi'a of Iraq actively participated in writing monographs but most of those works have been lost. On the other hand, in the 8th and 9th century Ali's descendants such as Muhammad al Baqir and Jafar as Sadiq narrated his quotations and reports which have been gathered in Shia hadith books. The later Shia works written after the 10th century AD are about biographies of The Fourteen Infallibles and Twelve Imams. The earliest surviving work and one of the most important works in this field is Kitab al-Irshad by Shaykh Mufid (d. 1022). The author has dedicated the first part of his book to a detailed account of Ali. There are also some books known as Manāqib which describe Ali's character from a religious viewpoint. Such works also constitute a kind of historiography.

See also[]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Iranica
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External links[]

  • Ali ibn Abi Talib by I. K. Poonawala and E. Kohlberg in Encyclopedia Iranica
  • Ali, article on Enyclopaedia Britannica Online
Some of the Ali's most famous sermons and letters
Sunni biography
Shī‘a biography