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Ali was born to Abu Talib himself a renowned Quraish chief and custodian of the Holy Kaaba. Abu Talib’s father, Abdul Muttalib was the son of the great Hashim. Ali’s mother was Fatima, daughter of Asad who too was a son of Hashim. Fatima was a cousin of Abu Talib. Thus both of Ali’s parents were Hashemite, which was considered quite prestigious.
Ancestry of Ali
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was Abdul Muttalib’s grandson. His father Abdullah was Abu Talib’s brother, which therefore made Abu Talib the prophet’s uncle and Ali his first cousin.
Birth of Ali
Although his exact date of birth is not confirmed tradition says, Ali was born on the thirteenth of ” Rajab” in the 28th year of the Elephant Era (whose commencement is marked by Yemen’s ruler Abraha’s failed attempt to invade Makkah and destroy the Kaaba) The Holy Prophet of Islam was born in the Year of the Elephant which according to scholars corresponds to the year 571 A. D. If we calculate then, Ali must have been born around 599 or 600 C. E.
His birth was quite an unusual one. That day, his mother Fatima visited the Kaaba for pilgrimage. It was during her pilgrimage that she felt maternal pains and retired to a corner of the Kaaba and that is where Ali was born. Thus, Ali had the unparalleled honor of being born in the House of Allah bestowed upon him.
Legend goes that when Ali was born the Holy prophet and his wife Khadija came to see the infant. That the little boy had not yet opened his eyes was a matter of great worry for everyone. But when the prophet Muhammad held him in his hands young Ali opened his eyes, making the prophet the first person he saw after birth. The Holy Prophet named him ‘ Ali’ the derivative of Allah, since he was born the Ka’aba.
Ali was of a moderate height. He held a gracious face which reflected hispersonality. His facial features were striking with a straight nose and a beautifully formed mouth. He possessed commanding eyes, full of light and luster. It was as if rays of spirituality beamed through him , and there was a certain sense of personal magnetism that attracted people towards him. As a young man, Ali was handsome, while in his later age, he became bulky with his gray hair of the head giving way to baldness. His beard, which was often dyed red, remained thick and luxuriant.
Marriage of Ali
Initially when the Holy Prophet migrated to Yathrib he went alone but later Yathrib was named ‘ Medina’ in his honor and he called hisfamilyand other Muslims there as well. At that time the prophet’s beloved wife Khadija had expired and he had married a woman called Sauda. A year later, he married Abu Bakr’s ( Islam’s first Caliph’s)daughter Ayesha. The Holy Prophet’s youngest daughter Fatima was also old enough to be married by that time. Abu Bakr and Omar both asked for her hand in marriage but there was no answer on the part of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
In those simpler times, age differences were not a concern in marriage. Khadija had been fifteen years older to Muhammad and he himself was much older to Ayesha at the time of marriage. It is thus important to note that this was not the reason the Prophet Muhammad remained silent to these proposals but it is reasonable to conclude that he was waiting for God’s approval and guidance in making this decision. After the Battle of Badr, it was Ali’s turn to ask for Fatima’s hand in marriage and he did so. The Holy Prophet replied that he needed Fatima’s consent. When he consulted Fatima she remained silent, a sign of approval. The prophet also received a revelation signifying Allah’s approval of the marriage. Both families also mutually agreed.
The marriage of Ali and Fatima is said to be the perfect one. Indeed two pure and blessed souls unified and bonded together. Hafsa, a daughter of Omar and later a wife of the Holy Prophet described Fatima as an exemplary woman, one who’s face shone like the moon and who married a man with a superior personality.
Induction of Ali as a member of the family of the Holy Prophet
When Ali visited the Holy Prophet from the desert where he had been living, the occasion was also attended by a close few including Abu Talib and his family. The Holy Prophet loved Ali very much so much so that he requested Abu Talib to place Ali under his care. Abu Talib agreed to entrust Ali with the prophet because he knew he would care for him better than anyone else could.
It is believed that the Holy Prophet did this to relieve Abu Talib’s increasing financial worries. However, this view seems to be untrue because Abu Talib was a Quraish chief and a trader. And had he been in any financial trouble the trouble he prophet would surely have helped him. Therefore it seems that it was because of the prophet’s fondness of Ali that he took him under hisresponsibility. Abu Talib would often visit and Ali would meet his parents everyday. The Holy Prophet kept Ali as a younger brother with much affection.
Companionship of the Holy Prophet:
The period of Ali’s life which was spent with the Holy Prophet can be termed as the period ofeducationand action. It was during these 32 years, from Ali’s birth till the demise of the Holy Prophet, that Ali received his education under the loving care of the Last Prophet of Allah; embedded in himself the values of Islam; and acquired all the attributes that contribute to greatness. After the migration to Medina, he came to be known as a valiant soldier. His spoils in the battles of Badr, Uhud and the Ditch and his awe inspiring success at Khyber earned him the title of ” Lion of God”. He acted as the Governor of Yemen, and acquired good deal of experience as an administrator and judge, acquiring fame for his wise and well reasoned judgments.
The First Three Caliphs and Ali:
At the time of the demise of the Holy Prophet, Ali was a young enlightened, experienced, wise and valiant man. Despite all his qualities, Ali was passed over in the election for a caliph, as Abu Bakr took the state of affairs under his control. Ali would have to wait for 24 years before he could hold the office of caliph. During these years, Ali acted as an adviser to the caliphs in office. This was a period of inaction and contemplation, inaction on the political front as Ali kept aloof from politics and contemplation on the spiritual front as this period of Ali’s life was spent mostly in seeking spiritual perfection through prayer and remembrance of God.
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The Caliphate of Ali:
Following Uthman’s assassination, Ali took office as the next caliph of the Islamic empire. His term was a short one, marred by political upheaval, defections of close aides andcivil war. Ali was accused of involvement in the assassination of Uthman by Amer Muawiya, who mounted an anti Ali campaign. The results were the Battles of the Camel, Siffin and Nahrawan. During the course of these battles, many of his closest aides betrayed him and defected. The list of betrayals is long and includes Ali’s brother, cousins, mother in law and the whole cities of Medina and Basra. The Kharijites who had originally supported Ali also seceded and Ali was finally martyred by a Kharijite.
Ali’s concept of God
In his various sermons, Ali has dwelt upon on the various attributes of God in a skillful way. Extracts from some of his sermons are as follows: ” All praise is due to the creator of the world whose wisdom is hidden. The various subjects of nature openly confirm his existence. He is not surpassed in strength and superiority. He is the nearest to us. No one can be nearer to us than He.
His distance height has not segregated Him from His creation, and His nearness has not established Hisequalitywith His creation. He is that sublime and matchless Being in comprehending when the intellect cannot reach the bottom of His attributes, yet nothing prevents a person from comprehending Him. He is that being whose existence even an atheist feels in His heart of hearts. Undoubtedly God is free and sublime and bears no comparison with anyone, then how can anyone have the audacity to deny Him.”
Father of Sufism
Ali’s religious devotion and nearness to God has earned him the title of ” Father of Sufism”. Most of the Sufi orders claim their descent from Ali, and according to Ali Hajjweri, Ali is ranked very high in the line of Sufism. Ali is considered the Shaykh as regards the principles and practices of Sufism, as stated by Junayd of Baghdad.
Communion with God
At times, Ali would pray the whole night sobbing out of love and fear of God. For Ali, the purpose of knowledge was to awaken the spiritual faculties that every man possesses which in turn enable man to find his true and inner self. Ali observed that man could only enjoy communion with God if he would stop being proud, embody discipline, overcome his lust and submit to the Will of God.
He stressed on the people in his various sermons to lead a simple and pious life and not to indulge blindly in the pleasures of the world as the case was before Islam.. Ali said, ” Man is a wave in the boundless Sea of God. As long as man’s vision is clouded by ignorance and sensuality he will consider himself a separate entity, different from God. But when the veil between him and God is lifted, he will then know what he really is, the wave will then merge with the ocean”.
Ali on the Spiritual Front:
Ali was a wealth of knowledge. Several of the traditions (Ahadith) of the Holy Prophet are narrated by him. He was one of those companions of the Holy Prophet who used to learn the verses of the Quran as they were revealed. Later, after the death of the Holy Prophet, Ali also used to give sermons. In one such sermon, he explains the attributes of God with skillful oratory. Excerpts ” All praise is due to the creator of the world whose wisdom is hidden. The various subjects of nature openly confirm his existence. He is not surpassed in strength and superiority. He is the nearest to us.
No one can be nearer to us than He. His distance height has not segregated Him from His creation, and His nearness has not established His equality with His creation. He is that sublime and matchless Being in comprehending when the intellect cannot reach the bottom of His attributes, yet nothing prevents a person from comprehending Him. He is that being whose existence even an atheist feels in His heart of hearts. Undoubtedly God is free and sublime and bears no comparison with anyone, then how can anyone have the audacity to deny Him.”
In another sermon, he reflected on the transitory stature of this world by remarking “ For the wise, the world is a shadow, which may appear at one moment, and soon disappear.” In another sermon he makes profound remarks by stating “ Many men buy clothes, which instead of being worn by them are used in their coffin. Many persons build houses that instead of becoming abodes become their graves. No one has lived forever in this world, and no one has invented such a medicine which may make men immune from the clutches of death”. In another sermon, he discusses heaven and hell, stating hisanxietyon man’s subservience to lust, the excess of his longings. In yet another sermon, he termed the world as superficial, mortal and perishable.
Shakespeare once remarked “ Some people are born great, some achieve greatness while some have greatness thrust upon them”. As far as Ali goes, he achieved greatness through his excellent education under the watchful eye of the Holy Prophet, his absorption of Islamic teachings and virtues, his thirst for knowledge, bravery on the battlefield and the spiritual perfection that he embodied. Greatness need not be confused with success. From the political point of view Ali may seem like afailurethat was unable to quell the civil strife that raged his people and was eventually slay Ed. Instead Ali’s greatness is of an unworldly nature for he set out to spiritually perfect those around him, in times of affluence and wealth.
Ali was a man of remarkable qualities and principles. His personality embodied an unusual mix of spiritual perfection, bravery, knowledge and humbleness. He was one of those few people of his time, who could stare in the eyes of death so much that even death would start fearing of him He was an administrator, a judge, a philosopher, a statesman, a general and above all an exemplary for those seeking spiritual perfection.