"You [Ali] are my brother in this world
and the next." (Hadith)
After Uthman's martyrdom, the office of the
caliphate remained unfilled for two or three days. Many people insisted that
Ali should take up the office, but he was embarrassed by the fact that the
people who pressed him hardest were the rebels, and he therefore declined at
first. When the notable Companions of the Prophet (peace be on him) urged
him, however, he finally agreed.
Ali bin Abi Talib was the first cousin of the
Prophet (peace be on him). More than that, he had grown up in the Prophet's
own household, later married his youngest daughter, Fatima, and remained in
closest association with him for nearly thirty years.
Ali was ten years old when the Divine Message
came to Muhammad (peace be on him). One night he saw the Prophet and his
wife Khadijah bowing and prostrating. He asked the Prophet about the meaning
of their actions. The Prophet told him that they were praying to God Most
High and that Ali too should accept Islam. Ali said that he would first like
to ask his father about it. He spent a sleepless night, and in the morning
he went to the Prophet and said, "When God created me He did not consult my
father, so why should I consult my father in order to serve God?" and he
accepted the truth of Muhammad's message.
When the Divine command came, "And warn thy
Muhammad (peace be on him) invited his relatives for a meal. After it was
finished, he addressed them and asked, "Who will join me in the cause of
God?" There was utter silence for a while, and then Ali stood up. "I am the
youngest of all present here," he said, "My eyes trouble me because they are
sore and my legs are thin and weak, but I shall join you and help you in
whatever way I can." The assembly broke up in derisive laughter. But during
the difficult wars in Mecca, Ali stood by these words and faced all the
hardships to which the Muslims were subjected. He slept in the bed of the
Prophet when the Quraish planned to murder Muhammad. It was he to whom the
Prophet entrusted, when he left Mecca, the valuables which had been given to
him for safekeeping, to be returned to their owners.
Apart from the expedition of Tabuk, Ali
fought in all the early battles of Islam with great distinction,
particularly in the expedition of Khaybar. It is said that in the Battle of
Uhud he received more than sixteen wounds.
The Prophet (peace be on him) loved Ali
dearly and called him by many fond names. Once the Prophet found him
sleeping in the dust. He brushed off Ali's clothes and said fondly, "Wake
up, Abu Turab (Father of Dust)." The Prophet also gave him the title of 'Asadullah'
('Lion of God').
Ali's humility, austerity, piety, deep
knowledge of the Qur'an and his sagacity gave him great distinction among
the Prophet's Companions. Abu Bakr, 'Umar and Uthman consulted him
frequently during their caliphates. Many times 'Umar had made him his
vice-regent at Medina when he was away. Ali was also a great scholar of
Arabic literature and pioneered in the field of grammar and rhetoric. His
speeches, sermons and letters served for generations afterward as models of
literary expression. Many of his wise and epigrammatic sayings have been
preserved. Ali thus had a rich and versatile personality. In spite of these
attainments he remained a modest and humble man. Once during his caliphate
when he was going about the marketplace, a man stood up in respect and
followed him. "Do not do it," said Ali. "Such manners are a temptation for a
ruler and a disgrace for the ruled."
Ali and his household lived extremely simple
and austere lives. Sometimes they even went hungry themselves because of
Ali's great generosity, and none who asked for help was ever turned away
from his door. His plain, austere style of living did not change even when
he was ruler over a vast domain.
As mentioned previously, Ali accepted the
caliphate very reluctantly. Uthman's murder and the events surrounding it
were a symptom, and also became a cause, of civil strife on a large scale.
Ali felt that the tragic situation was mainly due to inept governors. He
therefore dismissed all the governors who had been appointed by Uthman and
appointed new ones. All the governors excepting Muawiya, the governor of
Syria, submitted to his orders. Muawiya declined to obey until Uthman's
blood was avenged. The Prophet's widow Aisha also took the position that Ali
should first bring the murderers to trial. Due to the chaotic conditions
during the last days of Uthman it was very difficult to establish the
identity of the murderers, and Ali refused to punish anyone whose guilt was
not lawfully proved. Thus a battle between the army of Ali and the
supporters of Aisha took place. Aisha later realized her error of judgment
and never forgave herself for it.
The situation in Hijaz (thc part of Arabia in
which Mecca and Medina are located) became so troubled that Ali moved his
capital to Iraq. Muawiya now openly rebelled against Ali and a fierce battle
was fought between their armies. This battle was inconclusive, and Ali had
to accept the de facto government of Muawiya in Syria.
However, even though the era of Ali's
caliphate was marred by civil strife, he nevertheless introduced a number of
reforms, particularly in the levying and collecting of revenues.
It was the fortieth year of Hijra. A
fanatical group called Kharijites, consisting of people who had broken away
from Ali due to his compromise with Muawiya, claimed that neither Ali, the
Caliph, nor Muawiya, the ruler of Syria, nor Amr bin al-Aas, the ruler of
Egypt, were worthy of rule. In fact, they went so far as to say that the
true caliphate came to an end with 'Umar and that Muslims should live
without any ruler over them except God. They vowed to kill all three rulers,
and assassins were dispatched in three directions.
The assassins who were deputed to kill
Muawiya and Amr did not succeed and were captured and executed, but
Ibn-e-Muljim, the assassin who was commissioned to kill Ali, accomplished
his task. One morning when Ali was absorbed in prayer in a mosque,
Ibn-e-Muljim stabbed him with a poisoned sword. On the 20th of Ramadan, 40
A.H., died the last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs of Islam. May God Most
High be pleased with them and grant to them His eternal reward.
After Ali's Death
With the death of Ali, the first and most
notable phase in the history of Muslim peoples came to an end. All through
this period it had been the Book of God and the practices of His Messenger -
that is, thc Qur'an and the Sunnah - which had guided the leaders and the
led, set the standards of their moral conduct and inspired their actions. It
was the time when the ruler and the ruled, the rich and the poor, the
powerful and the weak, were uniformly subject to the Divine Law. It was an
epoch of freedom and equality, of God-consciousness and humility, of social
justice which recognized no privileges, and of an impartial law which
accepted no pressure groups or vested interests.
After Ali, Muawiya assumed the caliphate and
thereafter the caliphate became hereditary, passing from one king to
Syria like many other countries around the world
witnessed, during this period, the flood of refugees
from war troubled nations like Somalia, arrival of
people from Algeria during the brutal struggling between
the Mujahidun and the government, resettlement of the
Palestinians fleeing from sophisticated guns of the
Israelis as well as adventure of African migrants for