Just before he was born, his mother Fatima binte Asad came to the Holy Kaaba. As she stood there, she felt the intense pain of pregnancy and knelt down to pray. As she raised her head from her prayers, the wall of the sacred building split by a miracle. Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib and some of his companions watched in amazement as she walked into the building which closed behind her. As the door was locked, nobody could get in. Soon the news of this miraculous event had spread round Makkah.
Fatima binte Asad stayed in the Holy Kaaba for three days and on the fourth day she stepped out holding her baby in her arms. The child had squeezed its eyes tightly shut and had not opened them since its birth. As she came out of the Holy Kaaba she saw that the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) was anxiously awaiting to receive the newly born child. He knew that this child would grow up to strengthen the cause of Islam and prove to be his right hand in the great mission that lay ahead. As he came into the arms of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.), Imam Ali (A) opened his eyes for the first time to look upon the blessed face of Prophethood.
In Nahjul Balagha Imam Ali (A) says, "The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) brought me up in his own arms and fed me his own morsel. I followed him wherever he went like a baby camel following its mother. Each day a new part of his character would become known to me and I would accept and follow it as a command."
His childhood was spent in the company of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and Imam Ali (A) was similar in his character, knowledge, self-sacrifice, patience, bravery, kindness and eloquence. From his infancy, he prostrated to Allah with the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.), and when the message of Prophethood was declared, he was the first man to become a Muslim.
After the declaration of Prophethood, Imam Ali (A) was always ready to serve the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and defend him from his enemies. He used to write down the verses of the Holy Qur'an and discuss them with the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) as soon as they were revealed to him. His matchless devotion lasted up to the day when the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) passed away in 11 A.H. The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) has said of Imam Ali (A):
"O Ali, you are my brother in this world and the Hereafter."
"I am the city of knowledge and Ali is the gate."
"Nobody knows Allah except I and Ali. Nobody knows Ali except Allah and I. Nobody knows me except Allah and Ali."
"If you want to see the knowledge of Adam, the piety of Nuh, the devotion of Ibrahim, the awe of Musa and the service and devotion of Isa, look at the bright face of Ali."
The Virtues and the Qualities of Imam Ali (A)
Imam Ali (A) was a man who possessed and displayed the greatest character that a human being is capable of achieving. In all fields he has left for his followers a model on which to base their own lives. The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said to Imam Ali (A), "O Ali, you will be engaged in disputes but you will overcome them because of seven qualities that you have which no one else has: you are the first of those who believed in me, the greatest of them in war, the most knowledgeable of them in the signs of Allah, the one of them who is most loyal in keeping the covenant (Ahd) of Allah, the most compassionate of them towards people, the most capable of giving equal treatment and the greatest of them in distinction before Allah." Hereunder, we attempt to list some of his outstanding merits.
- His faith in Allah and the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.)
Imam Ali (A) was the first man to become a Muslim. The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) has said, "The angels bless me and Ali for 70 years because, for a time, Ali and I were the only ones who recited the Kalima." He also said, "Ali was the first to believe in me and will be the first to shake my hand in greeting on the Day of Judgment. He is the greatest testifier of the truth (Siddeeq). He is the chief of the believers."
- His knowledge
The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said, "Ali is the most learned of my community and the most capable of giving legal decisions after me." Imam Ali (A) proved superiority in all branches of knowledge throughout his life. When he became the caliph, he put on the cloak and turban of the Holy Prophet (S) and went to the mosque and sat on the pulpit.
After praising Allah and giving guidance to the people, he sat back confidently, knitted his fingers and placed them on his stomach. Then, he said, "Question me before you lose me. Question me, for I have the knowledge of those who came earlier and those who will come later. I could give judgments to the people of the Tawrat by their Tawrat, to the people of the Gospels by their Gospels, to the people of the Psalms by their Psalms and the people of the Furqaan (Holy Qur'an) by their Furqaan. By Allah, I know the Qur'an and its interpretation better than anyone who claims knowledge of it."
- His bravery
Imam Ali (A) was always at the forefront of the battles of Islam and personally brought about victory for the Muslims in many of them. He was both a great soldier and a great general and was the victor of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khayber and Hunayn.
Not only was he unstoppable in the battlefield, he also taught his friends and enemies how to conduct themselves in war. His bravery extended to his general dealing with the people and he never hesitated in saying or doing something in the cause of Islam, no matter what the opposition.
- His eloquence
Imam Ali (A) had a total command over the Arabic language. He wrote various books. He compiled the Holy Qur'an and also regulated the syntax and grammar of the Arabic language. Some of his lectures and words are contained in the book Nahjul Balagha, which contains the best examples of Arabic oratory.
- His Conduct at Zul Ashira
When the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) was commanded by Allah to preach to his relatives, he called them together for a meal after which he introduced them to Islam and asked who would help him in his mission. None came forward except Imam Ali (A) although at the time he was only a young boy. At that time the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) told him, "O Ali, you are my brother, my trustee, my helper, my inheritor and my successor after me". At a time when his own family was not prepared to believe in him, the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) received the guarantee of lifetime support from Imam Ali (A).
- His Sacrifice on the Night of Migration.
After he had ordered the Muslims to leave Makkah for Madinah for their safety, the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) received the command to migrate himself. As per the command of Allah he asked Imam Ali (A) to sleep on his bed, while he left the house secretly. Although Imam Ali (A) was aware that he might be killed in the place of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) he did not hesitate to carry out the order. The plot by the Quraish to collectively kill the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) was thus averted and in recognition of the sacrifice of Imam Ali (A), Allah revealed the following verse:
And among men there is one who sells his soul seeking the pleasure of Allah and truly, Allah is affectionate to his (such) servants. Surae Baqarah, 2 : 207
- His Fulfillment of the Obligations of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) in Makkah
A lot of people in Makkah used to leave their valuables with the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) because of his reputation for honesty. Even his enemies trusted him in this matter. After he left for Madinah he instructed Imam Ali (A), who was the only person he could trust, to return the deposits to their owners. He was also entrusted the duty of bringing his own family to Madinah.
- Deputation of Imam Ali (A) to Yemen
The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) had sent Khalid bin Walid to the people of Bani Jadhima in Yemen to call them to Islam. However, Khalid exceeded his orders and made war on the people even after they had accepted Islam. In order to repair the damage done by Khalid, the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) sent Imam Ali (A) to Yemen.
He dealt gently with the people, and compensated them for their losses, paying them more than they asked. By his speeches he was responsible for the conversion of the entire Yemen to Islam and only when the faith of the people was firm, did he return to Madinah.
- Taking up the Standard at Khayber
During the battle of Khayber, the Muslims were unable to conquer one of the Jewish forts, despite numerous attempts under different commanders. Imam Ali (A) was present but could not take part due to a severe eye infection. Finally the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) declared: "Tomorrow, I will give the standard to one whom Allah and His Apostle love. He does not flee from battle and will not come back until Allah has brought about victory at his hands". The Muslims waited anxiously for the next day, each wanting to be the one chosen.
However, the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) called Imam Ali (A) and restored the health of his eyes by rubbing them with his saliva. Imam Ali (A) then went into battle with such ferociousness that none could withstand him. He did not return until he had captured every fort and brought about victory for the Muslims.
- The Delivery of the Verses of the Holy Qur'an to Makkah
The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) sent a document containing the first forty verses of Surae Tawba (Bara'at) with Abu Bakr to Makkah to read it out during the Hajj. However, the angel Jibraeel (A) came to the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) and said, "Allah sends His greetings to you and wills that the verses be delivered only by you or a man from you". The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) immediately sent Imam Ali (A) on a fast camel to overtake Abu Bakr and take the verses in his place. Thus, Imam Ali (A) completed the task of reciting the verses, which contained an important message, that the Muslims would no longer tolerate the idol worshippers, to the people of Makkah.
- The Nomination at Ghadeer Khum.
After his final Hajj, the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) received a command from Allah to inform the people of the succession of Imam Ali (A). At a place called Ghadeer Khum, the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) gave a speech in which he summarized his entire mission. At the end of it he said, "O people, for whomever I am the Master, this Ali is also his Master." There is no doubt that everyone present understood the message although many did not follow it in their greed for power and their jealousy of Imam Ali (A).
After Imam Ali (A) became the Caliph of the Muslims, he had to fight many battles. The last of these was the Battle of Nahrawan, against the Kharjites. These were the people who had deserted Imam Ali (A) because they thought he had been too lenient with Muawiya at Siffin. After their defeat they went to Makkah, where they plotted the assassination of Imam Ali (A), Muawiya and Amr al-Aas. Amr was Muawiya's close advisor and his governor in Egypt and they feared that he would claim the Caliphate after the death of Muawiya. By these murders the Kharjites thought that they could bring order to the Muslim empire. Accordingly, Abdur Rahman ibne Muljam agreed to kill Imam Ali (A), Burak bin Abdallah Tymi to kill Muawiya and Amr bin Bakr Tymi to kill Amr al-Aas.
The morning of Friday the 19th of Ramadhan was fixed for the execution. The three assassins poisoned their swords and set off towards Kufa, Damascus and Egypt. The man sent to Egypt was killed before he could approach Amr al-Aas. The second man, Burak, reached Damascus and actually struck at Muawiya but missed, and was killed before he could do him any harm. However, the man sent to kill Imam Ali (A) reached Kufa safely and stationed himself in the mosque of Kufa on the night of the 19th of Mahe Ramadhan.
On the morning of the 19th of Ramadhan, Imam Ali (A) went to the mosque of Kufa and began to wake up all the people sleeping there. Ibne Muljam was lying on his stomach so as to hide the sword, and Imam Ali (A) woke him up as well, telling him not to sleep on his stomach as that was the way of Shaitan.
After giving the Adhaan, Imam Ali (A) led the prayer and Ibne Muljam, pretending to pray, stood behind him. When Imam Ali (A) was in the state of prostration, Ibne Muljam dealt a heavy stroke with his sword on Imam Ali's (A) head. The Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.) had foretold the assassination of Imam Ali (A) and his children and had said "O Ali, I see before my eyes your beard dyed with the blood of your forehead".
The murderer was caught and brought to Imam Ali (A) and when Imam Ali (A) saw that the ropes tied to him were cutting his flesh, he forgot his own agony and requested that Ibne Muljam should be treated more humanely. Touched by these words the murderer started to weep. A smile played on Imam Ali's (A) lips and in a faint voice he said, "It is too late to repent now, you have done your deed. Was I a bad Imam or an unkind ruler?" This conduct was typical of Imam Ali (A), whose justice was always tempered with mercy, even to the worst of his enemies.
Imam Ali (A) was taken home from the mosque. During his last hours, Asbagh bin Nabata, one of his companions, visited him and asked him for some words of advice. Imam Ali (A) replied, "O Asbagh, what can be greater counsel than the fact that yesterday I was your companion, today I am your guest and tomorrow I will only be a memory."
His last words to his sons were, "Remain steadfast in piety and resign yourself to the Will of Allah. Never aspire to anything which is beyond your reach. Always be truthful and merciful towards the orphans. Help the poor and needy and try to live in the world in a way which may help it to become better."
He also instructed them to carry his coffin from behind only, as the front would be carried by unseen hands. He told them to take the route guided by the coffin itself. At the place where the coffin would stop, they would find a grave already dug for him. He also requested his sons that he should be buried secretly, because he feared his enemies might desecrate his grave.
On the 21st of Ramadhan in 40 A.H. Imam Ali (A) departed this world. He was 63 years old at the time. After washing and shrouding his body, his two sons Imam Hasan (A) and Imam Husain (A) carried the coffin. The coffin stopped at Najaf which is about four miles from Kufa. Here they found a grave already prepared with a message in it saying: "This grave has been dug by Prophet Nuh (A) for the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (A)."