The life of Hazrat Ali stands out as a beacon, radiating its light into the darkness of this world. A world torn asunder by strife, struggle and wars, a world in which the value of human life is regarded as next to nothing.
It must be borne in mind that it was Ali who gave a distinctive outlook to the intellectual, social, cultural and political concepts of his times. He was the Warrior-Saint of Islam, who spent his entire life fighting the holy wars and who in spite of his multifarious activities lit the torch of knowledge which gave unprecedented impetus to learning-a marvel of the times in which he lived. (The wonderful personality he possessed has made him the greatest hero of all times.) In the world of today, his many-sided spiritual precepts might help to solve some of the problems with which the world is faced today. His ideas were conciliatory and his message was always one of peace. He lived for justice and was very firm in his belief that every one should have a right to live in security, that there should be food, shelter and clothing for all. Humanity he considered as one family where there should be tolerance for all-irrespective of race, creed and colour and irrespective of wealth or adversity.
Nowhere was his humane attitude more apparent than when he was dispensing justice. He had the strictest ideas of duty and responsibility and even the poorest and most insignificant of suitors always found him ready to give his case a fair and prompt hearing. He was quick to forgive an offender as he was slow to resent an injury, a humane attitude which too many of his contemporaries were prone to interpret wrongly as a weakness; it was this humane attitude which above all stamped Ali as the ideal man.
In order to keep his finger on the pulse of the people, Ali often disguised himself as a traveller, perambulating the lanes of the city at night to find out for himself the condition of the poor and the needy, and to lend succour to them and at the same time to bring the delinquents to book. His tremendous physical energy thus found an outlet in the performance of many a philanthropic deed, but even so, his sense of responsibility to his people was so great that he was frequently struck with remorse for what he had left undone. Hence the bitter tears of self-deprecation which he so often shed at his prayers.
He sought always to prevent those civil wars in which blood would be shed in vain, but in his fight against the forces of evil and barbarity he showed extraordinary determination, unwavering purpose and an iron will. He was at once a recluse and a warrior, a thinker contemplating in the wastes of the desert and a commander fighting the Lord's battle against heretical foes. In his personality he combined a pious resignation to God with the greatest heroism in combat.
In his attempts to establish God's kingdom on earth, he was constantly beset by enemies who wanted to extinguish the torch of Islam, and whose activities were the more resented as they were carried out in the name of God and religion. Pitched as he was against envy, hatred and malice, he never permitted himself to falter or to stray from the path of right, even though this singleness of purpose was to cost him his life.
In the words of Gibbon, "The birth, the alliance, the character of Ali which exalted him above the rest of his countrymen, might justify his claim to the vacant throne of Arabia. The son of Abu Talib was in his own right, the chief of Bani Hashim and the hereditary prince or guardian of the city and temple of Mecca. Hazrat Ali had the qualification of a poet, a soldier and a saint; his wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings; and every antagonist, in combats of the tongue or of the sword was subdued by his eloquence and valour. From the first hour of his mission to the last rites of his funeral, the Apostle Muhammad was never forsaken by a generous friend, whom he delighted to name his brother, his vicegerent, and a faithful Aaron of a second Moses."
CHAPTER I: BIRTH OF ALI
Hazrat Ali (A.S.) was born in the Holy Kaaba at Mecca on Friday, the 13th day of Rajab, 600 A.D. Both the Holy Prophet and Hazrat Ali belonged to the same clan. They were Hashimites, the clan of Bani Hashim. Muhammad's father was Abdulla, and that of Hazrat Ali, Abu Talib. They were brothers and their father was Abdul Muttalib. Thus the Holy Prophet and Hazrat Ali were cousins. Hazrat Ali had two brothers, Ja'far and Aquil.
Hazrat Ali's mother Fatima was the daughter of Asad, a famous magnate of the Quraish clan. She was also the aunt of the Holy Prophet, being the wife of Abu Talib, the Prophet's paternal uncle. When she was pregnant, she promised Muhammad to make over to him whatever child was born to her, be it male or female. Muhammad, aware of the issue that would be brought forth, gladly accepted the offer .
Ali's holy personality began its wonderful manifestation even during the period of his mother's pregnancy. At that timer Muhammad had not yet announced his prophet hood, and yet when he passed before Fatima, who being his aunt was senior to him, she used to stand up in reverence and respect for him, and somehow something within her never allowed her to turn her face away from Muhammad as long as he was around.
When people asked her about this peculiar behaviour of hers, she would say that she could not help it, that some irresistible urge from within made her do so.
This statement was disbelieved by those who wished to test her. So one day they made her sit and they asked two strong men to hold her down when Muhammad passed by. Then they asked Muhammad if he would walk in front of he f, to which he gladly agreed. As he came in front of her, Fatima began to rise and she stood erect throwing both men aside. Muhammad who alone was aware of this mystery, used to smile.
He was keenly awaiting the birth of his cousin Ali.
During her pregnancy whenever Fatima was alone, she heard from within her a mysterious whisper which was to the glorification of God.
To understand the significance and importance of his place of birth, it is essential to know a little of the history of the Kaaba.
The first House of God was rebuilt and renovated at the command of Allah by the Prophet Abraham assisted by his worthy successor, his son Ismail, under the supervision and guidance of the Angel Gabriel. The verses of the Koran say :
"And remember when Abraham raised the foundation of the House with Ismail, (Praying) Our Lord! accept (this service) from us; verily Thou and Thou (alone) art the All-hearing and All-knowing." Chap. 2-Verse 127.
"And remember when we made the House a resort for mankind and a sanctuary (saying), Take ye the station of Abraham a place of prayer (For you); and covenanted with Abraham and Ismail (saying) purify ye two my House for those who make the circuit, and for those who prostrate (adoring)".
Chap. 2-Verse l25.
This verse clearly depicts the purpose of the Kaaba, namely that it was to be a place of worship and that it was pure and sacred.
It was to this sacred place, the Holy Kaaba, that Providence led the mother of Hazrat Ali. She felt weighed down by intense pain when Ali was due to be born. She knelt to pray. When she raised her head from her supplication, the wall of the House split as if by a miracle, to admit her within, and a portion of the wall returned to its normal position. The Kaaba was sealed, with Fatima within.
This news spread fast all over Mecca. The keys of the shrine were brought to unlock the door but all efforts ended in failure.
On the third day of this happening, with awe the wonder-struck crowds surrounding the Kaaba witnessed the lock falling of its own accord, and to their surprise Fatima emerged radiant from the sacred premises, cheerfully holding her new-born babe in her arms. Muhammad was waiting to receive her and her new-born child, and the first face that little Ali saw in this world was the smiling face of the Apostle of God, Muhammad, whom he greeted thus :
"Assalaamo alaika ya Rasoolallah" (Peace be upon thee 0 Prophet of Allah). Thus it is an undisputed fact that Ali was born a Muslim, and his first words testified to the Prophethood of Muhammad. Muhammad lovingly took him into his arms. Ali's first bath after his birth was given by Muhammad with a prediction that this babe would give him his last bath. This Prophecy was fulfilled on the death of the Holy Prophet. The child accepted no other food other than the moisture of Muhammad's tongue, which he sucked for several days after his birth. Muhammad fondled him in his lap in his infancy, and chewed his food and fed Ali on it; he often made him sleep by his side, and Ali enjoyed the warmth of Muhammad's body and inhaled the holy fragrance of his breath.
The superstitious Arabs of those times, held that every person as he came into the world was touched by the devil, and that was why new-born babies cried at birth. Since Ali was born in the sanctuary of God, to which the devil had no access, he did not cry at birth but was found smiling. Thus God had interposed a veil between the evil spirits and the child who was to grow up to exalt His Holy Name. Ali has been described as having been found like a priceless pearl in the shell of the Kaaba, or a sword in the sheath of Allah's House, or as a lamp found in Allah's abode shedding light all around.
The sanctified birth of Ali, as that of Prophet Muhammad, was foretold in the scriptures, when God said to Abraham, who asked for a blessing on Ishmael; "And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him ex ceedingly, twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation." (Genesis 17 : 20).
The felicitous Prophecy in Genesis 17:20 about the advent of a prophet is said to point to the appearance of Muhammad and Mi. While the 'Twelve Princes' of the Mosaic Scriptures are held to be none other than the twelve Holy Imams.
Hazrat Ali's birth inside the Kaaba is unique. This is the only known occasion on which a child was born within the precincts of the holy place ever since its foundation thousands of years ago.
When Ali was about five years of age, Muhammad took him away from his uncle Abu Talib to bring him up as his own child. Thus from his earliest days, Ali came directly under the tutelage of the Apostle of God, to share his high ethics and morals. Ali was ever ready to run the risk of his own life for Muhammad at times of danger and he was affectionately attached to him with unswerving faithfulness. The cousins were so fond of each other that they lived together till death parted them.
As Hazrat Ali says : "The Holy Prophet brought me up in his own arms and fed me with his own morsel. I follower'. him wherever he went, like a baby camel which follows its mother. Each day an aspect of his character would beam out of his noble soul and I would accept it and follow it as a command."
Ten years in the company of Muhammad had kept him so close and inseparable that he was one with him in character, knowledge, self-sacrifice, forbearance, bravery, kindness, generosity, oratory and eloquence. From his very infancy, he prostrated himself before God along with the Holy Prophet, as he himself said, "I was the first to pray to God along with the Holy Prophet."
According to Ibne-e-Maja page 12, Raizunnazarah Vol. II page 158, Usdul Ghulia Vol. IV page 1, and Izalathul Khofa page 252, Ali used to say : " I have prayed to God along with the Holy Prophet seven years before any other person did."
The First Believers : Ibn Abbas, Anas, Zaid bin Aqram, Salman Farsi, and others have said, "Indeed it was Ali who was the first to declare his Islam, and some say that there is a consensus for this!" Major Janet's translation of Suyuti's History of the Caliphs page 171.
The illustrious Ali was thus the first to readily embrace Islam and testified to Muhammad being the Apostle of God.
Muhammad used to say the three men viz., Ezekiel, Habib Najjar and Ali, who came forward first to bear testimony to the faith of their Prophets, Moses, Jesus, and himself respectively, were acknowledged as 1 Siddiq. Ali repudiated the claim of any other to this epithet 2.
Often did the Holy Prophet go into the depths of the solitary desert around Mecca with his wife Khadija and his young cousin and disciple, Ali, so that they might together offer their thanks to their God for His manifold blessings.
Once they were surprised in this attitude of prayer by Abu Talib, the father of Ali, who said unto Muhammad "O son of my brother, what is this religion that thou art following? "
________________________ 1 Ahmad Hanbal in his Manaqib; Nasai in his Khasaes; Hakim in his Mustadrak.
2 Ibn Athir.
"It is the religion of God, of His angels, of His prophets, and of our ancestor Abraham", answered the Prophet. "God has sent me to His servants to direct them towards the truth".
Then turning to Ali, his son, the venerable patriarch Abu Talib required what his religion was. "O Father", answered Ali, "I believe in God and His Prophet and go with him."
"Well my son," said Abu Talib, "He will not call thee to aught save what is good, wherefore thou art free to cleave unto him".
The first occasion where the Holy Prophet nominated Hazrat Ali as his vicegerent was the meeting of Dawat-eAsheera.
CHAPTER II: MUHAMMAD PROCLAIMS HIMSELF A PROPHET
In the fourth year of his Mission, Prophet Muhammad was commanded by Allah to give warning to his near relations : "Warn thy relatives of nearer kin," Sura XXVI213; so he invited them to an entertainment, with a view to carrying out the Commandment. A meal, consisting of a large cup full of milk with bread made of one sa' (about 31- seers) of wheat flour and meat, was arranged by Ali, according to the instructions given to him by the Prophet. Forty of his relations of Banu Abd-al-Mottalib attended, among whom were the Prophet's uncles, Abu Talib, Abbas, Hamza and Abu Lahab; Muhammad laid this seemingly frugal repast before them and tasted it himself beginning with the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. They all followed and ate to their fill, but to their surprise nothing was finished; everything appeared as it was when served. Abu Lahab got up, exclaiming that Muhammad had enchanted them all, and the party broke up. Muhammad could not say a word and they left; but he soon invited them again to a like feast, and this time he addressed them thus : "O Sons of Abdal-Mottalib! I know no man in all Arabia who brought for his kindred a more excellent thing than that which I have brought for you. It will serve you in this life and in the life to come. Will you believe me, I ask, if I tell you that an enemy of yours is to fall upon you by day or by night?" They all replied with one voice that they believed him to be a truthful man. Thereupon he said, "Then know you all that Allah has sent me to guide man to the right path, and has commanded me to call first my near relations, to invite them to His Holy Will and to warn them against His Wrath. You have seen the miraculous feast you are entertained with, persist not in your infidelity. 0 sons of Abd-al-Mottalib! Allah has never sent a Messenger but that he appointed one, his brother, heir and successor to him from amongst his own relations. Who therefore will henceforth be assisting me in my noble work, and become my brother, my heir and my successor? He will be to me just as Aaron was to Moses." THE FIRST DECLARATION Muhammad Proclaiming Ali His Successor Muhammad, who had delivered the speech with full religious fervour, was disappointed to find the whole assembly silent, some wondering, others smiling with incredulity and derision.
No one was forthcoming to accept him as spiritual guide. Muhammad seemed to feel sorry for them. At this juncture Ali, the favourite cousin of the Prophet, stepped forward, but Muhammad bade him wait till one of his elders came forward. The Prophet vainly tried thrice. At last Ali, disliking the ridiculing attitude which the assembly was now adopting, impatiently came forward for the third time and enthusiastically declared that not only did he believe in Muhammad to be the Apostle of God, but that he offered himself, body and soul, to the good pleasure of the Prophet. "O Prophet!" said he, "1 am the man; whosoever rises against thee, I will dash out his teeth, tear out his eyes, break his legs, rip up his belly. 0 Prophet, I shall assist thee, and I will be thy vizir over them." Thereupon Muhammad, throwing his arms round the brave and courageous youth and pressing him to his bosom exclaimed : "Behold, my brother, my vicegerent and my successor (or Caliph). Let all listen to his words and obey." Hearing this, the whole assembly, with loud contemptuous laughter, ironically exhorted Abu Talib to bow down before his son Ali, and yield him-obedience. Thus dispersed Muhammad's guests with hatred in their hearts and derision on their faces.
Thomas Carlyle in his 'Heroes and Hero-worship' says : "The assembly broke up in laughter. Nevertheless it proved not a laughable thing; it was a very serious thing. As for this young Ali, one cannot but like him. A noble minded creature, as he shows himself now, and always afterwards; full of affection, of fiery daring. Something chivalrous in him; brave as a lion, yet with a grace, a truth and affection worthy of Christian Knighthood."
"Ali started acting as the bodyguard of the Holy Prophet even when he was just a lad of thirteen or fourteen years. The young men of the Quraish under the instigation of their parents used to throw stones at the Holy Prophet.
Ali took up the work of acting as his defender; he fell upon those young men, broke the nose of one, teeth of the other, pulled the ears of the third and threw down the fourth. He often fought against those who were older than he, was often hurt, but he never forsook the self- imposed duty. After some days he got the nick name of Quazeem (the breaker or thrower) and nobody dared to throw anything at the Holy Prophet when Ali was around, and he would not allow the Holy Prophet to go out alone." (Aavan Vol. 111 Page 280).
CHAPTER III: ALI AS A YOUTH
Physical Appearance and Features Ali was a man of medium height with very big black and piercing eyes; one look at him was sufficient to know his radiant qualities of heart and head. He was muscular, had broad shoulders, powerful arms, broad chest, strong and roughened hands, a long and muscular neck and a broad forehead. He had a superb head with a face as noble as the man himself. His nose was straight and his mouth beautifully formed. The mobility of his face reflected the receptive mind and the fiery vigour of his intellect, but when he was in repose, all who came in contact with him received an ineffable impression of his spirituality. His profound and magnetic personality remained with him during his later years. The physical fatigue of incessant warfare, combined with the mental exhaustion that arose from having to deal with endless conspiracies and political treacheries was to leave its mark on his personal appearance.
Tabranee says : "He used to walk with very light tread and was vety agile ii his movements, had a very smiling face, very pleasing manners, a jovial temperament, very kind disposition and very courteous behaviour. He would never lose his temper."