`Ali ibn Abi Talib`Abd Manaf ibn `Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim ibn `Abd Manaf, Abu al-Hasan al-Qurashi al-Hashimi (d. 40), Amîr al-Muminîn, the first male believer in Islam, the Prophets standard-bearer in battle, the Door of the City of Knowledge, the most judicious of the Companions, and the "Possessor of a wise heart and enquiring tongue." The Prophet nicknamed him Abu Turâb or Father of Dust. His mother was Fatima bint Asad, whom the Prophet called his own mother and at whose grave he made a remarkable intercession. He accepted Islam when he was eight, or nine, or fourteen, depending on the narrations, but it is established from Ibn `Abbas that he was the first male Muslim after the Prophet, Khadija being the first Muslim. He was killed at age fifty-eight. From him narrated Abu Bakr, `Umar, his sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn, Ibn `Abbas, `Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, and countless others.
`Ali was a skilled and fearless fighter, and the Prophet gave him his standard to carry on the day of Badr and in subsequent battles. At the same time he was the repository of Prophetic wisdom among the Companions. The latter, when asked about difficult legal rulings, deferred to others the responsibility of answering, while `Ali, alone among them, used to say: "Ask me." `Umar said: "I seek refuge in Allah from a problem which Abu al-Hasan cannot solve." Similarly `Aisha said: "He is the most knowledgeable about the Sunna among those who remain," and Ibn `Abbas: "If a trustworthy source tells us of a fatwa by `Ali, we do not seek any further concerning it." Sulayman al-Ahmusi narrated from his father that `Ali said: "By Allah! No verse was ever revealed except I knew the reason for which it was revealed and in what place and concerning whom. Verily my Lord has bestowed upon me a wise heart and a speaking tongue." At the same time `Ali humbly declared: "What cools my liver most, if I am asked something I know not, is to say: Allah knows best."
Imam Ahmad said: "There is no Companion concerning whom are reported as many merits as `Ali ibn Abi Talib." Following are some of the hadiths to that effect.
The innovations of those who bore excessive love and admiration for `Ali appeared in his own lifetime and he himself fought them in word and deed. To those that claimed that the Prophet had appointed him as successor after him he said: "In truth, Allahs Messenger did not appoint any successor" and: "The Prophet was taken from us, then Abu Bakr was made the successor, so he did as the Prophet had done and according to his path until Allah took him from us; then `Umar was made the successor, so he did as the Prophet had done and according to his path until Allah took him from us." To those that claimed that he deserved the Caliphate better than Abu Bakr and `Umar he said: "The best of this Community after its Prophet are Abu Bakr and `Umar." To those that either hated him or overly loved him `Ali said: "Two types of people shall perish concerning me: a hater who forges lies about me, and a lover who over-praises me." To those that claimed that he or his family possessed other than the Quran which all Muslims had he said: "Whoever claims that we have something which we read other than the Quran has lied." Finally, when a group of people came to him saying: "You are He, you are our Lord! (anta Hû anta Rabbuna)" he had them executed and then ordered the bodies burnt.
When `Ali was given allegiance as Caliph he moved from Madina to Kufa in Iraq and made it his capital. His tenure lasted five years (35-40) marred by three great dissensions which tore apart the fabric of the Muslim Community: the battle of the Camel (year 36) against the party of `Aisha the Mother of the Believers, the battle of Siffin (year 37) aganst the party of Mu`awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, and the campaign against the Khawârij in the following two years, until he was assassinated by one of them in Kufa as he came out for the dawn prayer. The pretext for the meeting of the armies on the day of the Camel and the day of Siffin was the demand for `Uthmans killers on the part of `Aisha and Mu`awiya, but the winds of war were fanned by sowers of discord from inside all three camps until events escaped the control of the Companions. It is related that `Ali often expressed astonishment at the dissension and opposition that surrounded him. The Prophet had predicted these events, notably the battle of the Camel with the words: "One of you women shall come out riding a long-haired camel, and the dogs of Hawab [between Mecca and Basra] will bark at her. Many shall be killed to her right and her left, and she shall escape after near death." At any rate, Ahl al-Sunna adopted as theirs the position taken by one of the Salaf who said: "Those from whose blood Allah has kept our swords pure, we shall not soil our tongues with their slander." The most reliable book written on the divergences of the Companions is Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabis (d. 543) al-`Awasim min al-Qawasim fi Tahqiq Mawaqif al-Sahaba Ba`da Wafati al-Nabi Sallallahu `Alayhi wa Sallam.
Another innovation fought by `Ali was that of the Khawârij or "Seceders," also known as Hurûriyya after the village of Hurur, near Kufa, where they set up military quarters. They were originally a group of up to twenty thousand pious worshippers and memorizers of the Quran (`ubbâd wa qurrâ) who were part of `Alis army but walked out on him after he accepted arbitration in the crises with Mu`awiya ibn Abi Sufyan and `Aisha the Mother of the Believers. Their strict position was on the basis of the verse "The decision rests with Allah only" (6:57, 12:40, 12:67). `Ali said: "A word of truth by which falsehood is sought!" He sent them the expert interpreter of the Quran among the Companions, Ibn `Abbas, who recited to them the verses "The judge is to be two men among you known for justice" (5:95) and "Appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk" (4:35) then said: "Allah has thereby entrusted arbitration to men, although if He had wished to decide He would have decided. And is the sanctity of the Community of Muhammad not greater than that of a man and a woman?" Hearing this, four thousand of the Khawârij came back with him while the rest either left the field or persisted in their enmity and were killed in the battles of Nahrawan (year 38) and al-Nukhayla (year 39).
The Prophet had predicted that `Ali would fight the Khawârij with the words: "In truth there will be, among you, one who shall fight over the interpretation of the Quran just as I fought over its revelation." Abu Bakr and `Umar asked: "Am I he?" The Prophet said: "No, it is the one who is mending the shoes." He had given his shoes to `Ali to mend. The Prophet also predicted `Alis martyrdom with the words: "This shall be dyed red from this" and he pointed to `Alis beard and head respectively.
The Khawârij are the first doctrinal innovators in Islam. They considered all sinners apostates, as well as all those who opposed them. By this takfîr, they justified to themselves the killing and spoliation of Muslims including women and children. Muslims who joined them were forced to first declare themseves disbelievers then enter Islam again. They distinguished themselves by shaving their heads out of austerity, a practice which they innovated and which the Prophet had foretold. Yet the Khawârij deemed themselves scrupulously pious and the only true Muslims on earth. When `Alis murderer, `Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam al-Muradi, was dismembered and blinded he remained impassive and recited the Sura "Recite! In the Name of Thy Lord" (96:1) in its entirety, but when they moved to pull out his tongue he resisted; asked for the reason he said: "I hate to spend a single moment on earth not mentioning Allah." He was then executed and burnt. His forehead bore the trace of frequent prostration.
The Khawârij pre-dated the Rawâfid in their vilification of Abu Bakr and `Umar. `Ali declared it licit to fight them because they had killed the Companion Khabbab ibn al-Arathth and his wife for praising the four Caliphs. The Prophet had predicted their appearance in many hadiths. Among them:
`Ali was described as having white hair which he parted in the middle, a very large white beard, and large, heavy eyes. He was heavyset and his height was medium to short. He was blunt in his renunciation of the world even in his own dress. When Ibn al-Nabbah came to him with the news that the treasury-house was filled with gold and silver `Ali summoned the people of Kufa and distributed everything to them with the words: "O Yellow, O White! Go fool other than me." Then he ordered the treasury-house swept, and he prayed two rak`a in it. Jurmuz said: "I saw `Ali coming out of his palace wearing a waist-cloth that reached to the middle of his shank and an outer garment tucked up at the sleeves, walking in the marketplace while hitting a small drum (dirra) and enjoining upon people Godwariness and honesty in transactions. He would say: Observe good measure and do not bloat up the meat." When one of the Khawârij criticized him for what he was wearing, he said: "What do you want with my clothing? This is farther from arrogance and more suitable for me as I am imitated by Muslims."
Al-Hasan ibn `Ali narrated that the morning of his murder `Ali said: "Last night I woke up my family [to pray] because it was the night before Jum`a and the morning of Badr û the seventeenth of Ramadan û then I dozed off and the Prophet came before me. I said: O Messenger of Allah! What crookedness and contention have I found coming from your Community! He said: Supplicate against them. I said: O Allah! Substitute them with something that will be better for me, and substitute me with something that will be worse for them." Then `Ali went out to pray preceded by the muadhdhin Ibn al-Nabbah and followed by al-Hasan. `Ali came out of the gateway calling the people to prayer and was faced by two men armed with swords. Ibn Muljam struck him on the head with a poisoned sword and was caught, while the other hit the arch of the gate and fled. `Ali said: "Feed the prisoner and give him water, if I live I shall decide about him, and if I die, kill him as I was killed without further enmity. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors (2:190, 5:87, 7:55)."
It was decided to make `Alis grave a secret lest the Khawârij dig it up. After his son al-Hasan prayed the funeral prayer over him, he was buried at the Caliphal palace in Kufa, then all traces of his grave were effaced. It is also narrated that al-Hasan conveyed the body in a coffin to Madina and that on the way the camel that carried the coffin got lost by night and was found by members of the Tayyi tribe who buried the body and slaughtered the camel.
Among `Alis sayings narrated by Abu Nu`aym with his chains:
Imam al-Nawawi narrated a remarkable patrolinear chain for a hadith going back to `Ali: "Among the best of the narrations of the type sons from fathers is that of al-Khatib with a chain going back to `Abd al-Wahhab ibn `Abd al-`Aziz ibn al-Harith ibn Asad ibn al-Layth ibn Sulayman ibn al-Aswad ibn Sufyan ibn Yazid ibn Akina al-Tamimi who said: I heard my father (Yazid) say: I heard my father (Sufyan) say: I heard my father (al-Aswad) say: I heard my father (Sulayman) say: I heard my father (al-Layth) say: I heard my father (Asad) say: I heard my father (al-Harith) say: I heard my father (`Abd al-`Aziz) say: I heard my father (`Abd al-Wahhab) say: I heard `Ali ibn Abi Talib say: The compassionate (al-hannân) is he who comes to the one who shunned him. The granter of favor (al-mannân) is he who extends the favor before he is asked for it."
Main sources: Abu Nu`aym, Hilya al-Awliya 1:100-128 #4; al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala 1/2:615-660 #5.