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Rashidun Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib - علي بن أبي طالب.svg
Calligraphic representation of Ali's name in Rashidun form
4th Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate
PredecessorUthman ibn Affan
SuccessorHasan ibn Ali
1st Shia Imam
SuccessorHasan ibn Ali
Born13 September 601
(13 Rajab 23 BH)
Mecca, Hejaz, Arabia[2][3]
Died28 January 661
(21 Ramadan AH 40)
(aged 60)[4]
Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf or Hazrat Ali Mazar in Mazar-i-Sharif
  • Fatimah
  • Umamah bint Abi al-As
  • Umm al-Banin
  • Layla bint Mas'ud
  • Asma bint Umais
  • Khawlah bint Ja'far
  • Al Sahba' bint Rabi'ah
  • Umm Sa'id bint Urwah
  • Muhayaah bint Imra al-Qais
  • Descendants of Ali
  • Al-Hasan
  • Al-Husayn
  • Zaynab
  • Umm Kulthum
  • Muhsin
  • Muhammad
  • Abbas
  • Ruqayya
  • Abdullah
  • Jafar
  • Hilal
  • 'Awn
  • Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (stepson)
Full name
Ali ibn Abi Talib (Arabic: عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب)
TribeBanu Hashim (Ahl al-Bayt)
FatherAbu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib
MotherFatimah bint Asad


Template:Caliphate Ali ibn Abi Talib (Arabic: عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب‎; 13 September 601 _ 28 January 661)[5] was a cousin, son-in-law and companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He ruled as the fourth rightly guided caliph from 656 until his assassination in 661. He is also one of the central figures in Shia Islam, being regarded as the rightful immediate successor to Muhammad and the first Imam by all branches of Shia Muslims.[2] He is the son of Abu Talib and Fatimah bint Asad, the husband of Fatima, and the father of Hasan, Husayn and Zaynab.[5]

As a child, Muhammad took care of him. After Muhammad's invitation of his close relatives, Ali became one of the first believers in Islam at the age of about 9 to 11.[6] He then publicly accepted his invitation on Yawm al-Inzar[7] and Muhammad called him his brother, guardian and successor.[6] He helped Muhammad emigrate on the night of Laylat al-Mabit, by sleeping in his place.[6] After migrating to Medina and establishing a brotherhood pact between the Muslims, Muhammad chose him as his brother.[5] In Medina, he was the flag bearer in most of the wars and became famous for his bravery.[6]

The issue of his right in the post-Muhammad caliphate caused a major rift between Muslims and divided them into Shia and Sunni groups.[2] On his return from the Farewell Pilgrimage, at Ghadir Khumm, Muhammad uttered the phrase, "Whoever I am his Mawla, this Ali is his Mawla." But the meaning of Mawla was disputed by Shias and Sunnis. On this basis, the Shias believe in the establishment of the Imamate and caliphate regarding Ali, and the Sunnis interpret the word as friendship and love.[2][8] While Ali was preparing Muhammad's body for burial, a group of Muslims met at Saqifah and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr.[9] Ali pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr, after six months, but did not take part in the wars[10] and political activity, except for the election of the third caliph. However, he advised the three caliphs whenever they wanted, in religious, judicial, and political matters.[2]

After Uthman was killed, he was elected as the next Caliph, which was coincided with the first civil wars between Muslims. Ali faced two separate opposition forces: a group led by Aisha, Talha, and Zubayr in Mecca, who wanted to convene a council to determine the caliphate; and another group led by Mu'awiya in the Levant, who demanded revenge for Uthman's blood. He defeated the first group in the Battle of the Camel; but in the end, Battle of Siffin with Mu'awiya was militarily ineffective, and led to an arbitration which ended politically against him. Then, in the year 38 AH, he fought with the Kharijites - who considered Ali's acceptance of arbitration as heresy, and revolted against him - in Nahrawan and defeated them.[6] Ali was eventually killed in the mosque of Kufa by the sword of one of the Kharijites, Ibn Muljam Moradi, and was buried outside the city of Kufa. Later his shrine and the city of Najaf were built around his tomb.[6]

Despite the impact of religious differences on Muslim historiography, sources agree that Ali strictly observed religious duties and avoided worldly possessions. Some writers accused him of lack of political skill and flexibility.[5] According to Wilferd Madelung, Ali did not want to involve himself in the game of political deception which although deprived him of success in life, but, in the eyes of his admirers, he became an example of the piety of the primary un-corrupted Islam, as well as the chivalry of pre-Islamic Arabia.[11] Several books are dedicated to the hadiths, sermons, and prayers narrated by him, the most famous of which is Nahj al-Balagha.

Early life[edit]

According to older historical sources, Ali was born on 13th of Rajab, about the year 600 AD, in Mecca. Many sources, especially Shia ones, attest that Ali was the only person who was born inside the Kaaba.[2][12][6] His father, Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib, was the leader of Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe.[5] He was also Muhammad's uncle and raised him, when his parents died. Later on, when Abu Talib became impoverished, Ali who was five at the time, was taken home and raised by Muhammad and his wife, Khadija.[2]

Ali's mother, Fatimah bint Asad, also belonged to Banu Hashim, making Ali a descendant of Ishmael, the firstborn son of Abraham (Ibrahim).[13]

When Ali was nine or ten, Muhammad announced that he had received a divine revelation, and Ali believed him and professed to Islam.[2][5][14] He was one of the first believers, whether the second (after Khadija) or the third (after Khadija and Abu Bakr), to be disputed by Shias and Sunnis,[10] though, according to Gleave, earliest sources seem to place Ali before Abu Bakr.[lower-alpha 13][6]

Muhammad's call to Islam in Mecca lasted 13 years, from which 3 years was in secret. According to Tabari, by the beginning of the public call, and after the revelation of the verse: "Warn your closest relatives" (Qur'an, 26:214), Muhammad was commanded to invite his relatives to a feast. Thus he invited 40 of his close relatives from Banu Hashim clan to the feast. According to Tabari, Ali ibn al-Athir, and Abulfeda, in this feast, Muhammad asked his relatives; who is willing to assist him in the mission. Then he declared that whoever helped him, would be his brother, trustee and successor. None of the relatives gave an affirmative answer except Ali. Muhammad repeated his request for the second and third time. Still Ali was the only volunteer. After the third time, Tabari writes, Muhammad put his arm around Ali's neck and said "this is my brother, my trustee and my successor among you, so listen to him and obey", while Ali was 13 or 14 years old at the time. Thus the people got up while joking and saying to Abu Talib; "He has ordered you to listen to your son and obey him!"[7][6] During the period (610-622 AD) when Muhammad received his first revelations, Ali along with Zayd ibn Harithah, Abu Bakr and Khadijeh was one of Muhammad's loyal companions. He helped form the nucleus of the first Islamic society. During these years, he spent most of his time providing for the needs of the believers in Mecca, especially the poor, by distributing his wealth among them and helping with their daily affairs.[2]

From migration to Medina to the death of Muhammad[edit]

In the year 622, which is known as the migration year, Muhmammad's enemies were plotting to kill him, thus he asked Ali to sleep in his bed, so that he could escape to Yathrib (now Medina).[2] Ali risked his life by sleeping in Muhammad's bed to impersonate him, in a night called Laylat al-Mabit.[6][2] When the enemies entered Muhammad's house with drawn daggers, they were surprised to see Ali, however, did not harm him.[2] According to Shia scholar, Tabatabaei, the verse "And among men is he who sells his nafs (self) in exchange for the pleasure of God" (Qur'an 2:207) refers to this event.[21] Ali waited for some instructions, before he left Mecca with Muhammad's family.[lower-alpha 14] He was 22 or 23 at the time.[2] Shortly after migration to Medina, In 623, Muhammad reportedly told Ali that he was instructed by God to give his daughter, Fatima, to Ali in marriage.[lower-alpha 15][2] Although polygamy was allowed, Ali did not marry another woman while Fatima was alive.[22] After Fatima's death, Ali married other women and had many other children.[2]

Event of Mubahalah[edit]

According to hadith collections, in 631, an Arab Christian envoy from Najran (currently in northern Yemen and partly in Saudi Arabia) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning 'Isa (Jesus). After likening Jesus' miraculous birth to Adam's creation,[24] Muhammad was instructed by Quran[25] to call them to mubahala (asking God to curse the lying party), where each party should bring their men, women and children, and ask God to curse the lying party and their followers.[26] According to Allameh Tabatabaei's Tafsir al-Mizan, the word "Our selves" in this verse[25] refers to Muhammad and Ali. Then he narrates that Imam Ali al-Rida, eighth Shia Imam, in discussion with Al-Ma'mun, Abbasid caliph, referred to this verse to prove the superiority of Muhammad's progeny over the rest of the Muslim community.[27]

Missions for Islam[edit]

Ali undertook several important missions on behalf of Muhammad. Muhammad designated Ali as one of the scribes who would write down the text of the Quran, which had been revealed to Muhammad during the previous two decades.[2] After migration, when Muhammad was creating bonds of brotherhood among his companions, he selected Ali as his brother, claiming that "Ali and I belong to the same tree, while people belong to different trees."[5][28][29][30] In 628 AD, Ali was instructed to write down the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, the peace treaty between Muhammad and the Quraysh. In 630 AD, the year before the Conquest of Mecca, when Abu Bakr was leading the Hajj, Muhammad recited Surah Bara'ah Min al-Mushrikin (declaring that Muhammad and the Islamic community no longer bound by agreements made earlier with Arab polytheists.)[5][2] by Ali to the people of Mecca.[5] One year later, in 631, Ali was sent to Yemen to spread the teachings of Islam there which is known as Expedition of Ali ibn Abi Talib.[2] Ali was chosen to break the idols inside the Kaaba and other idols worshiped by the Aws, Khazraj and Tayy tribes.[5] He was also known for settling several disputes and putting down the uprisings of various tribes.[lower-alpha 16] [2]

Military career[edit]

Template:Campaignbox Campaigns of Ali

Arabic calligraphy which means "There is no brave youth except Ali and there is no sword which renders service except Zulfiqar"

Ali took part in nearly all expeditions (with the exception of the Battle of Tabouk)[28] during the life of Muhammad, often as standard-bearer; and two times as commander, namely Expedition of Fadak and Expedition of Yemen. Ali's bravery became legendary later. Along with Hamza, Abu Dajana, and Zubayr, he is known for his attacks on the enemy. It is said that he alone killed more than a third of the enemy in the Battle of Badr,[22] along with the Meccan champion Walid ibn Utba.[32] In the year 5 AH, he executed the enemies who had been sentenced to death by Muhammad, and together with Zubayr, supervised the killing of the Banu Qurayza tribe.[22]

He vigorously defended Muhammad in the battles of Battle of Uhud when most of the Muslim army fled from the battle,[2] and in the Battle of Hunayn. The victory of the Muslims in the Battle of Khaybar is attributed to his courage.[5] Ali used the iron and heavy gate of Khyber fort as a shield.[22][5]

According to a narration, Gabriel referred to the battle of Ali and his sword of Zulfiqar, which he had taken from Muhammad, and told Muhammad, "There is no sword but the Zulfiqar, and there is no Hero but Ali".[lower-alpha 17][2] Ali fought the great Quraysh warrior Talha ibn Abi Talha. Talha constantly boasted that he defeats any Muslim who comes his way. When Talha was defeated by Ali, he asked for mercy by saying the phrase Karram-Allah-u Wajhahu. According to Nasr, this prayer of goodness became one of the titles of Ali that is mostly used by Sunnis. This phrase, which is usually accompanied by other words, is used to send greetings and good prayers.[2]

Muhammad made Ali commander at the Battle of the Trench, claiming that "I will hand the standard to a man who loves Allah and His Messenger and is loved by Allah and His Messenger. He will come back with conquest.",[30] then Ali defeated the legendary Arab warrior Amr ibn Abd al-Wud.[33] Following this battle Muhammad gave Ali the name Asadullah (Lion of God) and reportedly praised him, saying "Ali's strike on Amr ibn Abd al-Wud is greater than the worship of both mankind and jinn until the Day of Judgement."[30]

Sherira Gaon (c. 906–c. 1006) describes in a responsum how that the head of the Jewish community in Peroz-Shapur (now al-ʾAnbār), a community numbering some 90,000, warmly welcomed Ali ibn Abi Talib when he marched with his army into the country and conquered it, and how that he received them with a friendly disposition.[34]

Zulfiqar with, and without the shield. The Fatimid depiction of Ali's sword as carved on the Gates of Old Islamic Cairo, namely Bab al-Nasr
Ali's Sword and shield carved on Bab al-Nasr gate wall, Cairo

Conquest of Mecca[edit]

During the Conquest of Mecca in 630, Muhammad asked Ali to guarantee that the conquest would be bloodless. He ordered Ali to purify Kaaba from idols after its defilement by the polytheism of old times.[2][5]

Ghadir Khumm[edit]

The Investiture of Ali, at Ghadir Khumm (MS Arab 161, fol. 162r, 1307/8 Ilkhanid manuscript illustration)

As Muhammad was returning from his last pilgrimage in 632, he made statements about Ali that are interpreted very differently by Sunnis and Shias.[2] He halted the caravan at Ghadir Khumm, gathered the returning pilgrims for communal prayer and began to address them.[35]

According to the Encyclopedia of Islam:

Taking Ali by the hand, he asked of his faithful followers whether he, Muhammad, was not closer (awlā) to the Believers than they were to themselves; the crowd cried out: "It is so, O Apostle of God!"; he then declared: "He of whom I am the mawla, of him Ali is also the mawla (man kuntu mawlāhu fa-ʿAlī mawlāhu)".[36][37]

Shias regard these statements as constituting the designation of Ali as the successor of Muhammad and as the first Imam; by contrast, Sunnis take them only as an expression of close spiritual relationship between Muhammad and Ali, and of his wish that Ali, as his cousin and son-in-law, inherit his family responsibilities upon his death, but not necessarily a designation of political authority.[6][38] According to Madelung, Ali during his caliphate in Kufa, citing this event, emphasized the superiority of his position over the previous caliphs.[39] Many Sufis also interpret the episode as the transfer of Muhammad's spiritual power and authority to Ali, whom they regard as the wali par excellence.[2][40]

Sources, among them both Shia and Sunni, state that, after the sermon, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman pledged allegiance to Ali.[41][42]

In a Sunni collection of Hadith recorded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, for example, we read:

We were with the Apostle of God in his journey and we stopped at Ghadir Khumm. We performed the obligatory prayer together and a place was swept for the Apostle under two trees and he performed the mid-day prayer. And then he took Ali by the hand and said to people: Do you not acknowledge that I have a greater claim on each of the believers than they have on themselves? And they replied Yes! And he took Ali's hand and said: Of whomsoever I am Lord [Mawla], then Ali is also his Lord. O God! be thou the supporter of whoever support Ali and the enemy of whoever oppose him. And Umar met him [Ali] after this and said to him: congratulations, O son of Abu Talib! Now morning and evening [i.e. forever] you are the master of every believing man and woman.[lower-alpha 18][43]

According to Wain, there have been doubts regarding the veracity of the tradition due to evidence that Ali may not have been present during the sermon, instead being in Yemen at the time—a view held by the historian Ibn Kathir.[44]

Life under Rashidun Caliphs[edit]

The next phase of Ali's life started in 632, after the death of Muhammad, and lasted until the assassination of Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph, in 656. During those 24 years, Ali took no part in battle or conquest.[5]

Succession to Muhammad[edit]

Ambigram depicting Muhammad (right) and Ali (left) written in a single word. The 180-degree inverted form shows both words.

While Ali was preparing Muhammad's body for burial and performing his funeral rites, a small group of approximately fourteen Muslims[45] met at Saqifah. There, Umar ibn al-Khattab pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr, who subsequently assumed political power. The gathering at Saqifah was disputed by some of Muhammad's companions, who held that Ali had been designated his successor by Muhammad himself.[14][9]

Nevertheless, the issue of succession to Muhammad caused the Muslims to split into two groups, Sunni and Shia. Sunnis assert that even though Muhammad never appointed a successor, Abu Bakr was elected first caliph by the Muslim community. The Sunnis recognize the first four caliphs as Muhammad's rightful successors. Shias believe that Muhammad explicitly named Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm and Muslim leadership belonged to him by dint of divine order.[14]

According to Laura Veccia Vaglieri, whether Ali hoped he could take the position of Caliphate after Muhammad, is doubtful, since he made no effort to take control of community, in spite of being advised by al-Abbas and Abu Sufyan to do so.[46] According to Madelung, Ali himself was firmly convinced of his legitimacy for the caliphate based on his close kinship with Muhammad, his knowledge of Islam, and his merits in serving its cause. He told Abu Bakr that his delay in pledging allegiance (bay'ah) to him was based on his belief in his own claim to the caliphate. Ali did not change his mind when he finally pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr and then to Umar and to Uthman but had done so for the sake of the unity of Islam, at a time when it was clear that the Muslims had turned away from him.[14][47] According to Madelung, if the Muslim community, or a small segment of it, favored him, he would no longer consider the caliphate just as his "right," but also as his "duty."[48] Ali believed that he could fulfill the role of Imam without fighting.[49]

According to Lewinstein, regarding the succession of Ali, historians and scholars of Islamic history have generally either accepted the view of the Sunnis or considered the truth of the matter undetectable. One of the historians who has distanced himself from this common belief is Wilferd Madelung.[50] In the Encyclopedia of Islam, Wilferd Madelung considers the main Shia claims, to be Ali's own view, because Ali considered himself the most worthy person for the caliphate, compared to other companions, and blamed the Muslim community for turning away from him, but, at the same time, he praised the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar, and condemned the destruction of their character.[51] Madelung believes that, since in the Arab customs of the time, especially the Quraysh, hereditary succession was common, and since the Quran emphasized the importance of blood ties between the early prophets, especially the Ahl al-Bayt, and since the Ansar supported Ali's caliphate, Abu Bakr knew that forming a council would lead to the election of Ali, so he led the situation in a manner that insured his own election.[52] Laura Veccia Vaglieri, On the other hand, doubts that Ali really hoped to succeed the Prophet, because the Arabs traditionally chose their leaders from among the elders, and Ali was a little over thirty years old at the time, and did not have the necessary credibility to succeed Muhammad, according to Arab traditions. Vaglieri believes that the Shias, by inventing or interpreting the words attributed to Muhammad in the light of their beliefs, insist that the Prophet intended to choose Ali as his successor, while there is no doubt that at the time of his last illness, Muhammad did not mention this desire.[10] Some sources mention Hadith of the pen and paper, as the last words of Muhammad, which is interpreted differently by Shias and Sunnis.[53]

Caliphate of Abu Bakr[edit]

According to Tabari, a group of Abu Bakr's opponents, including Zubayr, gathered at Fatimah's house. To make them come out and swear allegiance to Abu Bakr, Umar threatened to set the house on fire and pulled them out.[54] While Al-Baladhuri states that the altercation never became violent and ended with Ali's compliance,[55] some traditions add that Umar and his supporters forcibly entered the house, resulting in Fatimah's miscarriage of their unborn son Muhsin.[56] Professor Coeli Fitzpatrick surmises that the story of the altercation reflects the political agendas of the period and should therefore be treated with caution.[57]

Ali lived an isolated life during Abu Bakr's period and was mainly engaged in religious affairs, devoting himself to studying and teaching the Quran. He also advised Abu Bakr and Umar on government matters.[2] According to Ismail Poonawala, the first historically compiled Quran is attributed to Ali. Ali's knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah would help the previous caliphs in religious matters.[5][58] According to Tabatabaei, the order of Quran, compiled be Ali, differed from that which was gathered later during the Uthmanic era. This book was rejected by several people when he showed it to them. Despite this, Ali made no resistance against the standardised mus'haf.[59]

At the beginning of Abu Bakr's caliphate, there was a controversy about Muhammad's endowment to his daughter, especially the oasis of Fadak, between Fatimah and Ali on one side and Abu Bakr on the other side. Fatimah asked Abu Bakr to turn over their property, the lands of Fadak and Khaybar, but Abu Bakr refused and told her that prophets did not have any legacy and that Fadak belonged to the Muslim community. Abu Bakr said to her, "Allah's Apostle said, we do not have heirs, whatever we leave is Sadaqa." Together with Umm Ayman, Ali testified to the fact that Muhammad granted it to Fatimah Zahra, when Abu Bakr requested her to summon witnesses for her claim. Fatimah became angry and stopped speaking to Abu Bakr, and continued assuming that attitude until she died.[60] According to some sources, 'Ali did not give his oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr until some time after the death of his wife, Fatimah, in the year 633.[5]

Caliphate of Umar[edit]

According to Encyclopedia of Brittanica, Ali pledged allegiance to the second caliph, Umar ibn Khattab, and even gave his daughter, Umm Kulthum in marriage to him.[2] Ali also helped Umar as a trusted advisor. 'Umar particularly relied upon Ali as the chief judge of Medina. He also advised Umar to set Hijra as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. 'Umar followed 'Ali's suggestions in political matters as well as religious ones.[61] According to Vaglieri, however, while it is probable that Umar asked Ali's advice on legal issues, due to his great knowledge of Quran and Sunnah, it is not certain whether his advice was accepted on political matters. As an example, Al-Baladhuri names Ali's view on Diwani revenue, which was opposite to that of Umar. Since, Ali believed the whole income should be distributed, without holding anything in stock. During the Caliphate of Umar (and Uthman) Ali held no position, except, according to Tabari, the lieutenancy of Madina, during Umar's journey to Syria and Palestine.[62] During the caliphate of Umar, Ali claimed Fatima's paternal inheritance again; But Umar's answer was the same as Abu Bakr's. However, Umar agreed to return some of the property of Medina (which was considered part of Fatima's inheritance) to the sons of Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, who represented Banu Hashim; But the property of Fadak and Khybar remained as state property and was not returned to Banu Hashim.[63]

Election of the third caliph[edit]

The election of Uthman, from Balami's Tarikhnama

'Ali was one of the electoral council to choose the third caliph which was appointed by 'Umar. Although 'Ali was one of the two major candidates, the council was inclined against him. Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas and Abdur Rahman bin Awf, who were cousins, were naturally inclined to support Uthman, who was Abdur Rahman's brother-in-law. In addition, Umar gave the deciding vote to Abdur Rahman, who offered the caliphate to Ali on the condition that he should rule in accordance with the Quran, the example set by Muhammad, and the precedents established by the first two caliphs. Ali rejected the third condition while Uthman accepted it. According to Ibn Abi al-Hadid's Comments on the Peak of Eloquence Ali insisted on his prominence there, but most of the electors supported Uthman and Ali was reluctantly urged to accept him.[64]

According to Wilferd Madelung, Ali could not have hoped to become the caliph after Umar, on the basis of his kinship with Muhammad; Because the Quraysh did not support the accumulation of prophethood and caliphate in one clan. He believes that it was not "Abu Bakr's and Umar's coup" at Saqifah which prevented ALi from becoming caliph, but it stems from the deep jealousy of the Quraysh toward Ali. Therefore, Ali's only chance to participate in the affairs of the Muslims could be his full participation in the council, which was founded by Umar. Ibn Abbas narrates that Umar once told him that Ali was in fact the most worthy person to succeed Muhammad, but we were afraid of him for two reasons. When Ibn Abbas eagerly asks Umar about these reasons, Umar replies that the first is his youth and the second is Ali's great interest in the Banu Hashim family. In his address, Omar refers to his belief in the formation of the council as the basis for appointing a caliph, and in practice, from now on, denounces any appointment of a caliph without consultation. Thus, by doing so, the caliphate could not be monopolized by certain clan and belonged to all the Quraysh.[65]

Caliphate of Uthman[edit]

There is controversy among historians about the relationship between Ali and Uthman.[66] According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr in the Encyclopedia of Britannica, Ali recognized Uthman as the caliph, but had taken a neutral position among his supporters and opponents.[2] But according to Robert M Gleave, in the Encyclopedia of Islam, Ali was at least spiritually at the forefront of Uthman's opponents. During the caliphate of Uthman, Ali, along with other companions of Muhammad, including Talhah and Zubayr, were among the critics of Uthman. He stated that 'Uthman had deviated from the Sunnah of the Prophet,[6] especially on the question of religious law which should be meted out in several cases, such as those of Ubayd Allah ibn Umar and Walid ibn Uqba(accused of drinking).[62][66][6] Also opposed him for changing the prayer ritual, and for declaring that he would take whatever he needed from the fey'. Ali also endeavoured to protect companions such as Ibn Mas'ud,[66] Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (who was exiled from Medina, due to his preaches against the misdeeds of the powerful)[62][6] and Ammar ibn Yasir[5] from maltreatment by the caliph. According to Madelung, when people revolted against Uthman in some cities and regions and moved to Medina, Uthman asked Ali to speak with them and convince them to return to their cities. Uthman, committing himself to follow Ali's advice, from now on, gave him full authority to negotiate with the insurgents as he wished. Ali reminded him that he had talked to him about this before, but 'Uthman preferred to listen to Marwan ibn Hakam and the Umayyads instead. Uthman promised that from now on, he would turn away from them and listen to Ali and ordered other Ansar and Muhajirun to join Ali. He also asked Ammar to join the group, but he rejected the offer.[67] Accordiing to Poonawala Ali had a restraining influence on Uthman at this time without directly opposing him. He conveyed criticisms of the Companions to 'Uthman, and negotiated on behalf of' Uthman with the opposition who had come to Medina; which seems to have caused suspicion between 'Ali and' Uthman 's relatives. Later, when the rebels besieged Uthman's house, Ali tried to mitigate the severity of the siege by his insistence that Uthman should be allowed water.[5] When 'Uthman was in danger of being attacked, Ali sent his sons to protect his house. When Uthman was killed by the insurgents, Ali blamed his sons for inadequate protection of Uthman's house.[2] Template:Campaignbox First Fitna

Map of the First Fitna; green territory under Ali's control; pink territory under Mu'awiya's control.

According to Vaglieri, the rebels asked Ali to be their head, and although he refused and should be excluded from the bloody conclusion of their act, but, Vaglieri says, there are reasons that Ali was in agreement with rebels that Uthman should abdicate.[62] Wilferd Madelung believes that, due to the fact that Ali did not have the Quraysh's support to be elected as a caliph, he could not be considered as a opposition. According to him, there is not even evidence that Ali had close relations with rebels who supported his caliphate, much less directed their actions. [68] It is reported from al-Tabari that Ali tried to detach himself from the besiegers of the house of Uthman and their partisans, as soon as circumstances allowed him.[62] Madelung relates that, years later, Marwan told Zayn al-Abidin, the grandson of Ali, that "No one [among the Islamic nobility] was more temperate toward our master than your master."[69]


The First Fitna, 656–661, followed the assassination of Uthman, continued during the caliphate of Ali, and was ended by Muawiyah's assumption of the caliphate. This civil war is regretted as the end of the early unity of the Islamic ummah (nation).[70] circumstances, led to this civil war in Muslim history, wived differently by different Muslims. Some, known as Uthmanis, consider Uthman a rightful and just caliph till the end, who had been unlawfully killed. Some others, known as the party of Ali, believed Uthman had fallen into error, had forfeited the caliphate, and been lawfully executed for his refusal to mend his ways or step down; thus, Ali was the just and true Imam and his opponents were infidels. This was not the position of Ali himself. This civil war created permanent divisions within the Muslim community regarding who had the legitimate right to occupy the caliphate.[71]


Allegiance is given to Ali, electing him as caliph, following the murder of Uthman (from a 16th-century Turkish manuscript)

When Uthman was killed by insurgents from Egypt, Kufa and Basra, the potential candidates were Ali and Talha. Among the Egyptians, there were supporters for Talha, While the Basrians and Kufis, who had "heeded Ali's opposition to the use of violence", and most of the Ansar, openly tended to Ali's caliphate, and finally got the upper hand. Meanwhile, Malik al-Ashtar, the leader of the Kufis, seems to have played a key role in providing security for Ali to become caliph.[48] According to Poonawala, before the assassination of Uthman, the Basri rebels were in favor of Talha, and the Kufi rebels were in favor of Al-Zubayr, but with the assassination of Uthman, both groups converted to Ali. With the assassination of Uthman, the Umayyads fled Medina, and the Egyptians, prominent Muhajirun, and Ansar gained the control. They invited Ali to the caliphate and he accepted the position after a few days.[5] According to the narration of Muhammad Hanafiyyah, many companions met with Ali and wanted to pledge allegiance to him. At first, Ali objected, but later said that any allegiance should be in public and in the mosque. Kufi narrations state that Malik al-Ashtar was the first to pledge allegiance to him.[72] It seems that Ali personally did not force others to pledge allegiance to him. Thus, people such as Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, Abdullah ibn Umar and Usama ibn Zayd refused to pledge allegiance to Ali.[73]

According to some other historians, the election of Ali as the new caliph took place in an circumstance full of tumult, fear and panic. Caetani believes that this choice was made without the prior consent of the famous companions of Muhammad. Della Vida believes that the choice of Ali as caliph was not because he and his family held a high position or because he was loyal to Muhammad, but rather because the Ansar who had regained their influence in their city, Medina, supported him, and on the other hand, the Umayyads were troubled and disturbed. However, from its beginning, Ali's fledgling government was attacked by unfulfilled companions, as well as by Mu'awiyah, the only Umayyad governor who was able to maintain control of his state, Syria.[74] According to Madelung, "the reign of Ali bore the marks of a counter-caliphate", because he lacked the criteria set by the first two caliphs. Ali was not elected by a council (which Umar considered it as a condition for choosing a proper succession); and did not have the support of the majority of the Quraysh, who, according to Abu Bakr's constitution, were the only ruling class entitled to decide on the caliphate.[48] According to Veccia Vaglieri, Ali, allowing himself to be nominated by rebels, was an error which "exposed him to accusations of complicity" in rebels' crime, in spit of his vain effort to detach himself from them.[75]

The beginning of the caliphate[edit]

Coin minted under Ali's Caliphate in Bishapur, 36 AH/656CE

After being elected to the caliphate, Ali avoided Uthman's assassins as well as the sect that ascribe divine characteristics to him.[10] When Ali inherited the Rashidun caliphate, Islamic borders extended from Egypt in the west to the Iranian highlands in the east—while the situation in the Hejaz and the other provinces on the eve of his election was unsettled. Soon after Ali became caliph, he dismissed Uthman's governors immediately, against the counsel of Ibn Abbas and Al-Mughira, who advised him that it would not be politically wise to do so, as he refused to be complicit in their injustice and corruption. Wilferd Madelung believes that Ali was deeply aware of his Islamic duty, and in order to preserve Islamic law, was not willing to put expediency before right; so much so that he was even willing to fight his opponents in this way.[76] Some of Uthman's governors were replaced, but others, such as Muawiyah I (a relative of Uthman and governor of the Levant), refused to submit to Ali's orders.[5] On becoming Caliph, Ali distributed all the sums collected in Bayt al-mal. According to Vaglieri, this action is not to be regarded as an act of demagogic, since Ali previously provoked Umar to do so.[62] 'Ali recovered the land granted by 'Uthman and swore to recover anything that elites had acquired before his election.[5][77]

When he was appointed caliph, Ali stated to the citizens of Medina that Muslim polity had come to be plagued by dissension and discord; he desired to purge Islam of any evil. He advised the populace to behave as true Muslims, warning that he would tolerate no sedition and those who were found guilty of subversive activities would be dealt with harshly.[78]

Ruling style[edit]

Ali opposed the centralisation of capital control over provincial revenues, favouring an equal distribution of taxes and booty amongst the Muslim citizens; he distributed the entire revenue of the treasury among them. 'Ali refrained from nepotism, including with his brother 'Aqeel ibn Abu Talib. This reflected his policy of offering equality to Muslims who served Islam in its early years and to those Muslims who played a role in the later conquests.[5][77] This policy, especially after the Battle of the Camel, gained the support of Muhammad's companions, especially the Ansar who were subordinated by the Quraysh leadership after Muhammad, the traditional tribal leaders, and the Qurra or Qur'anic reciters that sought pious Islamic leadership. The successful formation of this diverse coalition seems to be due to Ali's charisma.[5][79] This diverse coalition became known as Shia Ali, "adherents of Ali" or "followers of Ali". However, according to Shia, as well as non-Shia reports, the majority of those who supported 'Ali after his election as caliph were Shia politically, not religiously. Although at this time there were many who were counted as political Shia, few of them believed in Ali's religious leadership.[80]

Many of the Quraysh tribe turned away from Ali, because he defended the rights of the Banu Hashim clan, which was the Prophet clan. He was also accused of refusing to punish the killers of Uthman and ousting Uthman's supporters from the government.[2] His policies and ideas of governing are manifested in the letter he sent to Malik al-Ashtar after appointing him governor of Egypt. This instruction, which has historically been viewed as the ideal constitution for Islamic governance, alongside the Constitution of Medina, involved detailed descriptions of the duties and rights of the ruler, the various functionaries of the state, and the main classes of society at that time.[81][82] Since the majority of 'Ali's subjects were nomads and peasants, he was concerned with agriculture. He instructed Malik to give more attention to land development than to the tax collection, because tax can only be obtained by the development of the land and whoever demands tax without developing the land ruins the country and destroys the people.[83]

One of the changes Ali made during his caliphate was that he forbade Muslim fighters from looting and taking booty and distribute it among themselves after the conquests. Instead, he distributed the taxes collected from the cities as salaries, not spoils of war, in equal proportions, among the warriors. It is reported that this was the first subject of the dispute between Ali and the group that later constituted the Kharijites.[84]

Battle of the Camel[edit]

Aisha battling the fourth caliph Ali in the Battle of the Camel

According to Laura Veccia Vaglieri, although A'ishah had supported opposition against Uthman, she had gone on pilgrimage to Mecca when they killed Uthman. On her way back to Medina, when she learned about this, and specially on hearing that the new Caliph was Ali, she returned to Mecca and engaged in an active propaganda against Ali. Later on Talhah and Al-Zubayr joined her and together they marched towards Iraq to gain more supporters against Ali.[75] They wanted 'Ali to punish the rioters who had killed Uthman.[85][86] The rebels maintained that Uthman had been justly killed, for not governing according to the Quran and Sunnah; hence, no vengeance was to be invoked.[5][28][87] According to Vaglieri, since these three leaders (A'isha, Talaha, Zubayr) were in part responsible for the fate of Uthman, their reason for rising is not clear. However, Vaglieri writes, "social and economic motives, inspired by fear of the possible influence of the extremists on Ali, seem to provide a more convincing explanation".[75] Troops encamped close to Basra. The talks lasted for many days. The two parties agreed on a peace agreement, however, according to Vaglieri, the rebels did not like the conclusion of the treaty. A brawl provoked, which expanded into a battle.[75] The Battle of the Camel started in 656, where Ali emerged victorious.[88]

Numerous explanations have been given as to the motive for the revolt against Ali. Poonawala writes that Talhah and Al-Zubayr, who had previously been frustrated with their political aspirations, became even more frustrated when they faced Ali's opposition to handing over control of Basra and Kufa. When the two heard that their supporters had gathered in Mecca, they asked Ali to allow them to leave Medina for Umrah. After that, the two broke their allegiance to Ali and blamed him for killing 'Uthman and asked him to prosecute the killers.[5]

After Talhah and al-Zubayr failed to mobilize supporters in the Hijaz, they set out for Basrah with several hundred soldiers, hoping to find the forces and resources needed to mobilize Iraqi supporters.[10][5] When Ali learned of this, he pursued them with an army, but did not reach them.[5] Ali had no choice but to prevent the group from occupying Iraq, because Levant obeyed Muawiyah and there was chaos in Egypt as well; Thus, with the loss of Iraq, its dependent eastern provinces, including Iran, were virtually lost.[10]

The rebels captured Basra[6] and killed many people.[5] In Basrah, Aisha's army attacked the Bayt al-mal, and forced Uthman ibn Hunaif, Ali's appointed governor, to leave.[89] Ali preferred to enlist the support of Kufa instead of marching to Basra.[89] Abu Musa Ashaari, the governor of Kufa, pledged allegiance to Ali before the Battle of camel, but when the war escalated, took a neutral stance,[90] and called on the people of Kufa to do the same.[89] Ali's supporters eventually expelled him from Kufa, and Ali wrote a harsh letter to him and dismissed him.[90] Ali's representatives (Malik al-Ashtar, Ibn Abbas, Hasan ibn Ali, And Ammar ibn Yasir) made many efforts to gain support for Ali's army until they finally joined 6 or 7 or 12 thousand people in Ali's army.[89] Ali approached Basrah and began talks with Talhah and al-Zubayr. Everyone at that time thought that an agreement had been reached between the two sides, but the war started suddenly. There are various narrations about the initiator of the war. According to some, Ali ordered his troops not to start a war, but when some of Ali's supporters were killed, he considered himself entitled to start it.[89] Aisha was not harmed in this battle, since Ali's army won and the war was practically over, because Talhah was wounded by Marwan ibn Hakam(according to many sources), and died after he was taken home.[89] Al-Zubair, after Ali's reminding him of Muhammad's words about himself, doubted the legitimacy of the movement he had launched and left the battlefield. Some people from the tribe of Banu Tamim pursued him and killed him conspiratorially.[89]

After the battle[edit]

Aisha was arrested but treated with respect. Ali sent her to Medina under his care,[10] and he was adamant in this decision. He spared Aisha's army and released them after taking allegiance.[89] Regarding the allegiance of Marwan and some others from Aisha's troop, there are various reports.Some historians have said that Ali forgave them without taking allegiance. Ali also prevented his troops from seizing their property as spoils of war, which caused unrest in his army. The major issue that led the extremists of Ali's corps to accuse him of apostasy was that Ali prevented women and children from being enslaved, also prevented the seizure of the property of the war victims. He only permitted the property that was found on the battlefield. They asked Ali; how it was lawful to shed the blood of these people, but their property is forbidden. Later the Khawarij aised this issue as one of the reasons for Ali's apostasy.[89][91]

Ali entered Basra and distributed the money he found in the treasury equally among his supporters. This meant that he treated the old Muslims who had served Islam from the first days and the new Muslims who were involved in the conquests, equally.[10] He appointed 'Abd Allah ibn al'-Abbas[92] governor of Basra. Then went to Kufa to gain the support of the Kufis against Mu'awiyah. They pledged allegiance to Ali.[10] Ali formed a broad coalition that added two new groups to his supporters. Qura, whose last hope was to regain their influence in Ali, and the leaders of the traditional tribes, who were fascinated by his equality in the distribution of spoils.[5]

Battle of Siffin[edit]

Combat between the forces of Ali and Muawiyah I during the Battle of Siffin, from the Tarikhnama

Immediately after Battle of the Camel, Ali turned to the Levant in the north of the Islamic lands. Muawiyah was the governor of the Levant. He was appointed governor of this region during the rein of Umar and was established there during the time of Uthman. Ali wrote a letter to Mu'awiyah and gave it to Jarir ibn Abdullah Bajli, the former governor of Hamedan, who had been chosen by 'Uthman, to deliver to Muawiyah and take allegiance from him, but Mu'awiyah kept Jarir in that land under various pretexts and During this time he prepared Damascus for battle with Ali.[6] He refused Ali's demands for allegiance. He insisted on Levant autonomy under his rule and refused to pay homage to Ali on the pretext that his contingent had not participated in the election. Ali then moved his armies north and the two sides encamped at Siffin for more than one hundred days, most of the time being spent in negotiations. Although Ali exchanged several letters with Muawiyah, he was unable to dismiss the latter, nor persuade him to pledge allegiance. Skirmishes between the parties led to the Battle of Siffin in 657.[5][93]

A week of combat was followed by a violent battle known as laylat al-harir (the night of clamour). Muawiyah's army was on the point of being routed when Amr ibn al-As advised Muawiyah to have his soldiers hoist mus'haf (either parchments inscribed with verses of the Quran, or complete copies of it) on their spearheads in order to cause disagreement and confusion in Ali's army.[5][93]

Hoisting Qurans on the spearheads and ceasefire[edit]

This gesture implied that two sides should put down their swords and settle their dispute referring to Quran.[75] Ali saw through the stratagem, but only a minority wanted to pursue the fight.[14] Ali warned them that Mu'awiyah was not a man of religion and that this was a deception, the Qura could not refuse the call to the Quran and some of them even threatened Ali that if he continued the war, they would hand him over to the enemy. Faced with the threat of his troops, Ali accepted a ceasefire and, due to the insistence of his soldiers, was forced to accept the arbitration of the Quran.[94] The two armies finally agreed to settle the matter of who should be caliph by arbitration. Most of Ali's soldiers were satisfied with the arbitration and were seeking the appointment of a arbitrator from Ali's corps, who had to face Amr ibn al-As, the representative of Muawiyah . The question as to whether the arbiter would represent Ali or the Kufans caused a further split in Ali's army. Ali's choice was Ibn Abbas or Malik al-Ashtar, but Ash'ath ibn Qays and Qura rejected Ali's nominees and insisted on Abu Musa Ash'ari. Abu Musa was Ali's opponent and had previously prevented the people of Kufa from helping Ali.[5] Finally, Ali was urged to accept Abu Musa.[95][96]

They agreed on a settlement, according which two arbitrators should meet seven months later at a place halfway between Syria and Iraq.[97] The matters to be examined was not specified, but it was decided that they would make decisions based on the interests of the Ummah and not cause division and war among the ummah. The initial time for the agreement was set seven months later, the month of Ramadan, and conditions were set for the venue, witnesses and other conditions for the meeting. According to Madelung, it was clear that any opinion contrary to the Qur'an would be invalid.[5][98] According to Vaglieri, whether Uthman's murder should be regarded as an act of justice or not, was among the issues to be determined. Since if the murder was unjust, then Muawiya would have the right to revenge. According to Vaglieri, "this was not all, for a decision in favour of Muawiya would inevitably involve, for Ali, the loss of the caliphate."[97] According to Madelung, not only was the condition of the arbitration against Ali, but the very acceptance of the arbitration was a political defeat for him. On the one hand, the arbitration weakened the belief of Ali's followers to the legitimacy of their position and caused a rift in Ali's army, and on the other hand, it assured the Levanties that Muawiyah's deceptive claims were based on the Quran. This was a moral victory for Muawiyah. Thus, when both Ali and Muawiyah knew that the arbitration would fail in the end, Muawiyah, who was losing the war, got the opportunity to strengthen his position in the Levant and propagandize against Ali.[99]

Advent of Kharijites[edit]

According to Poonawala, during the formation of the arbitration agreement, the coalition of Ali's supporters began to disintegrate. The issue of resorting to Sunnah must have been the most important reason for Qura's opposition. They agreed to the agreement because it was an invitation to peace and the use of the Quran. At that time, the terms of the agreement had not yet been determined and there was no term in which Ali would no longer be considered the Commander of the Faithful. Moreover, the expansion of the arbitrators' authority from the Quran to a Sunnah, that is ambiguous, jeopardized the credibility of the Quran; Therefore, it was considered equivalent to individuals' ruling in the matter of religion.[5] Hence, the very same people who had forced Ali into the ceasefire, broke away from Ali's force, rallying under the slogan "arbitration belongs to God alone." This group came to be known as the Kharijites ("those who leave").[100][101] They asserted that according to Quran(8:9)[lower-alpha 19][102] the rebel(Muawiya), should be fought and overcome. And since there is such an explicit verdict in Quran, leaving the case to judgment of human was a sin. They camped at a place near Kufa, called Harura, and proclaimed their repentance (because they themselves first forced ALi to ceasefire which led to arbitration). Ali made a visit to the camp and managed to reconcile with them. When Ali returned to Kufa, he explicitly stated that he will abide by the terms of the Siffin treaty. The Kharijites, who had returned to Kufa with Ali, became angry when they heard this. As a result of this statement of Ali, the Kharijites secretly met with each other and asked themselves whether staying in a land ruled by injustice was compatible with the duties of the servants of God. Those who considered it necessary to leave that land, secretly fled and asked their like-minded people in Basra to do the same, and gathered in Nahrawan.[103] According to Fred Donner, the reason for the opposition of some Kharijites may have been the fear that Ali would compromise with Mu'awiyah and, after that, they would be called to account for their rebellion against 'Uthman.[104]


The first meeting of the arbitrators took place during the month of Ramadan[5] or Shawwal 37 AH, which coincided with February or March 658 AD, in the neutral zone, Dumat al-Jandal.[105] The result of this meeting was that the deeds Uthman was accused of was not tyrannical and that he was killed unjustly and Mu'awiyah has the right to revenge. According to Madelung, the decision was a political compromise that was not based on a judicial inquiry. However, the verdict on the innocence of Uthman became one of the Sunni religious beliefs. This verdict was desirable for Amr al-As because it could prevent neutral people from joining Ali.[106]

The main issue, however, was resolving the Muslims' dispute over the caliph. According to Madelung, Abu Musa Ash'ari was a neutral and peaceful person, but at this time he refused to accuse Ali or oust him and accept Mu'awiyah's caliphate. The ideal situation for Abu Musa was to constitute a caliphate council composed of neutral individuals. Amr ibn al-As intended to prevent any decision regarding Ali's caliphate or the constitution of a caliphate council. Of course, according to Madelung, the issue of Muawiyah's caliphate was not discussed at this time. Thus, Madelung states that, contrary to Vaglieri's view, the arbitration failed to achieve its main goal of resolving the dispute and ending the sedition, although it was a great political achievement for Muawiyah, and Levant pledged allegiance to Muawiyah as caliph until Dhuʻl-Hijjah (April–May) in 37 A.D.[107]

The Kufis protested against Abu Musa and he fled to Mecca. Ali denounced the verdict and announced that they had ignored two rulings of the Quran, still did not reach an agreement. He then called on the people to come together again to fight Muawiyah.[5][108]

The second arbitration meeting probably took place in Muharram of the year 38 AH, which coincided with June or July, 658 AD,[105] or Sha'ban of that year, which coincided with January, 659 AD.[5] According to Madelung, since Ali no longer considered Abu Musa as his representative, and did not appoint anyone in replace, he did not participate in the second arbitration. But, the religious leaders of Medina, who did not participate in the first arbitration, tried to resolve the crisis of the Caliphate in this way.[94] Poonawala says that after the first arbitration, Ali and Muawiyah were no longer considered caliphs but considered rebel rulers or two rivals for the caliphate. The judges and other prominent figures, with the exception of Ali's representatives, appear to have met to discuss the election of a new caliph.[109]

The two sides met in January 659 to discuss the selection of the new caliph. Amr supported Muawiyah, while Abu Musa preferred his son-in-law, Abdullah ibn Umar, but the latter refused to stand for election in default of unanimity. Abu Musa then proposed, and Amr agreed, to depose both Ali and Muawiyah and submit the selection of the new caliph to a Shura. In the public declaration that followed Abu Musa observed his part of the agreement, but Amr declared Ali deposed and confirmed Muawiya as caliph.[5] This caused Abu Musa to get angry and leave the arbitration.[110] According to Vaglieri, this was judged in later time, as a treacherous trick and disloyal act.[111]

Ali refused to accept this state of affairs and found himself technically in breach of his pledge to abide by the arbitration.[112][113][114] 'Ali protested that it was contrary to the Qur'an and the Sunnah and hence not binding. Then he tried to organise a new army, but only the Ansar, the remnants of the Qurra led by Malik Ashtar, and a few of their clansmen remained loyal.[5] This put Ali in a weak position even amongst his own supporters.[112] The arbitration resulted in the dissolution of 'Ali's coalition, and some have opined that this was Muawiyah's intention.[5][115] Still Ali assembled his forces and mobilized them toward Syria to engage in war with Muawia again, however, on reaching to al-Anbar, he realized that he should move toward al-Nahrawan, to handle Kharejits' riot first.[102]

Battle of Nahrawan[edit]

The Nahrawan Canal ran parallel to the east bank of the Tigris.

After the first arbitration, when Ali learned that Muawiya let people to pledge allegiance to him,[116] he tried to gather a new army, and to enlist Kharijites too, by assertion that he is going, as Kharijites wished, to fight against Muawiya. Ali invited the Kharijites to join the war, but they insisted that Ali should first repent of the infidelity which, in their view, he had committed by accepting arbitration. Ali angrily refused.[102][117] According to Poonawala, at this time, only the Ansar, the remnants of the Qura led by Malik al-Ashtar, and a small number of men from their tribes remained loyal to Ali. He left Kufa with his new army to overthrow Muawiyah.[5]

While Ali was on his way to Levant, the Kharijites killed people with whom they disagreed; Therefore, Ali's army,especially Al-Ash'ath ibn Qays, asked him to deal with the Kharijites first, because they felt insecure about their relatives and property. Thus, Ali first went to Nehrawan to interact with the opposition. Ali asked Kharigites to hand over the killers, but they asserted that they killed together; and that it was permissible to shed the blood of Ali's followers(Shias).[118]

The battle of Nahrawan, according to Al-Baladhuri, took place in 9 Safar in 38 AH (approximately 17 July 658 AD) and according to Abu Mikhnaf in Dhuʻl-Hijjah in 37 AH, which coincided with the middle of May in 658 AD. Ali and some of his companions asked the Kharijites to renounce enmity and war, but they refused. Ali then handed over the flag of amnesty to Abu Ayyub al-Ansari and announced that whoever goes to that flag, and whoever leaves Nahrawan, and has not committed a murder, is safe. Thus, hundreds of Kharijites separated from their army, except for 1500 or 1800 out of about 4000. Finally, Ali waited for the Kharijites to start the battle, and then attacked the remnants of the Kharijite army with an army of about fourteen thousand men. Between 7 and 13 members of Ali's army were killed, while almost all Kharijites who drew their swords were killed and wounded. Ali ordered the wounded Kharijites to be handed over to their tribes for treatment.[119]

Madelung writes that the battle with the Kharijites was the most challenging event of Ali's caliphate. Although it was reasonable and necessary to fight the bloodthirsty insurgents who openly threatened to kill others, but they were previously among the companions of Ali, and like Ali, were the most sincere believers in the Quran. They could have been among Ali's most ardent allies in opposing deviations from the Quran. But Ali could not confess his disbelief at their request or consider other Muslims infidels. Or to ignore the murders they committed. However, after this incident, Ali's first priority was to reconcile among the Qura. Although Ali intended to march directly from Nahrawan to Levant, but his soldiers, led by Al-Ash'ath ibn Qays, forced him to move towards Kufa, as they complained about lack of war luggage, and there, they left his army.[120] Poonawala writes that the killing was condemned by many, and that the soldiers' escape from Ali's army forced him to return to Kufa and not to be able to march toward Muawiyah.[5]

The last year of the caliphate[edit]

During the Caliphate of Ali, civil wars broke out between Muslims. Also the Iranian uprising took place in the last year of caliphate of Ali, which was suppressed by the caliph's troops.[10] For example, the rebels in eastern Iran did not pay their taxes to the Kufi and Basri tribes.[121]

After the arbitration, although Ali did not accept the dismissal order and still called himself the caliph of the Muslims, his loyalists decreased every day. When Ali was fighting the Kharijite revolt, Muawiyah took control of Egypt.[10] Encyclopædia Iranica writes that at the end of 39 AH, he defeated Ali's troops in Egypt and made Amr ibn al-As the ruler there. At the same time, Ali lost control of the Hejaz.[5] In 40 AH, Ali did not even have control over the cities of Mecca and Medina. Ali was practically confined to the city of Kufa and was in a defensive position so that he took no action against Muawiyah's campaigns in the heart of Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.[10] Arab public opinion tended to Muawiyah's succession, because he was supported by regular forces. He could maintain power among the Arab elite and control the Islamic caliphate.[121]

In the last year of Ali's caliphate, the mood in Kufa and Basra changed in Ali's favour as the people became disillusioned with Muawiyah's reign and policies. However, the people's attitude toward Ali differed deeply. Just a small minority of them believed that Ali was the best Muslim after Muhammad and the only one entitled to rule them, while the majority supported him due to their distrust and opposition to Muawiyah.[122]


The Great Mosque of Kufa, where Ali was fatally assassinated

A number of Kharijites decided to assassinate Ali, Muawiyah, and Amr ibn al-As at the same time in order to rid Islam of the three men, who, in their view, were responsible for the civil war,[10] They only succeeded in killing Ali, and Muawiyah and Amr ibn al-As survived.[2] In the sources, the day of Ali's beating is reported as 17, 19, and 21 of Ramadan. But Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid considers the day 19 Ramadan AH 40, which would correspond to 26 January 661, to be more correct, and Ibn Abi'l-Hadid also writes that because these three people considered their work as worship, so they placed it on the Qadr Night of the 19th of Ramadan in order to get more rewards. The day of Ali's death has also been reported in sources from 11 to 21 Ramadan.[123]

While praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa, Ali was attacked by the Kharijite Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam. He was wounded by ibn Muljam's poison-coated sword while prostrating in the Fajr prayer.[124] Ibn MUljam wanted to flee but Abu Adma Hamedani threw him to the ground. Ali returned to his house and Ibn Muljam was brought to him. Ibn MUljam told Ali that he had been sharpening his sword for 40 days and had asked God to kill the most evil men with it. Ali replied that Ibn Muljam himself would be killed with the same sword and called him the most evil man.[123] 'Ali ordered his sons not to attack the Kharijites, instead stipulating that if he survived, ibn Muljam would be pardoned whereas if he died, ibn Muljam should be given only one equal hit (regardless of whether or not he died from the hit).[125] 'Ali died two days later on 29 January 661 (21 Ramadan AH 40),[5][124] Al-Hasan fulfilled Qisas and gave equal punishment to ibn Muljam upon Ali's death.[122] at the age of 62 or 63.[10] Abd-al-Rahman did this with the intention of taking revenge on him for the killing of Nahrawan.[10][5] A narration from Al-Mubarrad states that Ali forgave ibn Muljam. According to another narration, Ali ordered that Ibn Muljam be given proper food and rest, and that if Ali dies, Ibn Muljam must join him so that God will judge between him and Ali in the Hereafter.[123]

Ali knew for a long time that he was going to be killed; either Muhammad had told him or he had felt it himself. There are many narrations in which Muhammad or Ali report that Ali's beard would stain with the blood of his forehead. It is mainly emphasized in Shia sources that Ali, despite being aware of his fate, did not appoint anyone else to lead the congregational prayer, and despite the fact that others had warned him about the possibility of his death. Ali had even predicted that Ibn Muljam would be his killer. The relationship between Ali and Ibn Muljam was tense. However, Ali did not take any action against Ibn Muljam as caliph. According to Ibn Sa'd, Ali said, "How can I kill someone who has not killed me yet?" Even when someone from the Murad tribe or someone who had heard the plan of murder from Ibn Muljam himself, warned Ali about this, Ali replied that every human being is guarded by two angels on his shoulders until the moment of death, and that Destiny determines the moment.[123]


Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Iraq where Shia Muslims believe Ali is buried
Hazrat Ali Mazar also called Rawz-e-Sharif, in Mazari Sharif, Afghanistan – where Sunni Muslims believe Ali is buried

According to Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, Ali did not want his grave to be exhumed and profaned by his enemies and consequently asked his friends and family to bury him secretly. This secret gravesite was revealed later during the Abbasid caliphate by Ja'far al-Sadiq, that the grave was some miles from Kufa, where a sanctuary arose later and the city Najaf was built around it.[126][111] Most Shias accept that Ali is buried at the Tomb of Imam Ali in the Imam Ali Mosque at what is now the city of Najaf, which grew around the mosque and shrine called Masjid Ali.[127][128]

Shia pilgrims usually go to the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf for Ziyarat, pray there and read "Ziyarat Amin Allah"[129][130] while Sunni Muslims go to the Hazrat Ali Mazar in Balkh. Under the Safavid Empire, his grave became the focus of much devoted attention, exemplified in the pilgrimage made by Shah Ismail I to Najaf and Karbala.[14]


After Ali's death, Kufi Muslims pledged allegiance to his eldest son Hasan, as Ali on many occasions had declared that just People of the House of Muhammad were entitled to rule the Muslim community.[131] At this time, Muawiyah held both the Levant and Egypt and declared himself caliph and marched his army into Iraq, the seat of Hasan's caliphate. War ensued during which Muawiyah gradually subverted the generals and commanders of Hasan's army until the army rebelled against him. Hasan was forced to give the caliphate to Muawiyah, according to a Hasan–Muawiya treaty.[132] Umayyads placed pressure upon Ali's family and his Shia. Regular public cursing of Ali in the congregational prayers remained a vital institution until Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz abolished the practice, 60 years later.[69] According to Ibn Abi'l-Hadid the Umayyads "prevented people from reporting any narration that might refer to any of Ali's accolades. Finally, they even prevented people from calling their newborns by his name."[30] According to Madelung, "Umayyad highhandedness, misrule and repression were gradually to turn the minority of Ali's admirers into a majority. In the memory of later generations Ali became the ideal Commander of the Faithful."[133]

Wives and children[edit]

Ali had fourteen sons and nineteen daughters from nine wives and several concubines, among them Al-Hasan, Al-Husayn and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah played a historical role, and only five of them left descendants.[111] Ali had four children from Muhammad's youngest daughter, Fatimah: Al-Hasan, Al-Husayn, Zaynab[2] and Umm Kulthum. His other well-known sons were Al-Abbas ibn Ali, born to Umm al-Banin, and Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah,[134][135] from a freed slave girl named Khawlah bint Ja'far.[6]

Fatemeh Zahra, along with her father (Muhammad), wife (Ali) and sons, (Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn), are five members of the Ahl al-Kisa.[136] Ali's descendants of Fatemeh Zahra are known as Sharif or Sayyid. They are revered by Shias and Sunnis as the only surviving generation of Muhammad.[2] Ali had no other wives while Fatima was alive. Hassan is the eldest son of Ali and Fatemeh Zahra, born in 625, was the second Shia Imam. He also assumed the role of caliph for several months after Ali's death. In the year AH 50 he died after being poisoned by a member of his own household who, according to historians, had been motivated by Mu'awiyah.[137] Husayn was the second son of Ali and Fatemeh Zahra, and the third Shia Imam, and according to most narrations, was born in Medina in 626 AD. He rebelled against Muawiah's son, Yazid, in 680 AD and was killed in the battle of Karbala with his companions. In this battle, in addition to Hussein, six other sons of Ali were killed, four of whom were the sons of Fatemeh Kalabieh, known as Umm ul-Banin. Also, al-Hassan's three sons and Hussein's two children were killed in the battle.[138][139]

Ali's dynasty considered the leadership of the Muslims to be limited to the Ahl al-Bayt and carried out several uprisings against rulers at different times. The most important of these uprisings are the battle of Karbala, the uprising of Mukhtar al-Thaqafi by Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah,the uprising of Zayd ibn Ali and the uprising of Yahya ibn Zayd against the Umayyads. Later, Ali's family also revolted against the Abbasids, the most important of which were the uprising of Shahid Fakh and the uprising of Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya. While none of these uprisings were successful, the Idrisians, Fatimids, and Alawites of Tabarestan were finally able to form the first governments of the Ali family.[140]


The works attributed to Ali, first delivered to his followers in the form of sermons and speeches, then were written by his companions. There were also supplications such as Du'a Kumayl which were taught to his companions.[6]

Nahj al-Balagha[edit]

Folio from an old Nahj al-Balagha

In the 10th century AD, a prominent Shia scholar named Sharif Razi compiled a large number of sermons, letters, and short speeches on various topics in a book called Nahj al-Balagha, which became one of the most popular and influential books in the Islamic world. However, this book was almost completely ignored in Western research until the 20th century. Although some Western scholars doubt its authenticity, it has never been questioned by most Muslims. Nahj al-Balaghah continues to be a religious, inspirational and literary source among Shias and Sunnis.[2] This book has a prominent position in Arabic literature. It is also considered an important intellectual, political work in Islam.[2][141][142] According to Gleave, Nahj al-Balagha's third sermon, Shaqshaqiya Sermon, in which Ali reveals his claim to Caliphate and his superiority over Abu bakr, Umar and Uthman, is the most controversial section of the book. Also Letter of Ali ibn Abi Talib to Malik al-Ashtar, in which Ali "outlines his conception of legitimate and righteous rule", is an important part of this book and got much attention.[6] Hossein Modarressi refers to Madarek-e Nahj al-Balagha by Reza Ostadi which contains documents that links the words in Nahj al-Balaghah to Ali.[143]

Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim[edit]

Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim (Exalted aphorisms and Pearls of Speech) which is compiled by Abd al-Wahid Amidi, who according to Gleave, was either a Shafiʽi jurist or a Twelver. This book consists of over ten thousand short sayings of Ali.[144][6] These pietistic and ethical statements, are taken from different works, including Nahj al-Balagha and Mi'a kalima ("100 sayings" of Ali) by al-Jahiz.[6]

Mus'haf of Ali[edit]

A manuscript of the Mushaf of Ali, a Qur'an that is believed to be written by Ali ibn Abi Talib. This page is the first verses of surah al-Buruj, 85:1–3.

It is said to be a copy of the Quran compiled by Ali. Ali was one of the first compilers of the Quran and arranged the chapters of the Quran in the order of the date of revelation. It is also narrated that this Mus'haf also included interpretive materials such as Naskh of verses. Shia sources write that after Muhammad's death, Ali presented his Mus'haf to a government group collecting the Qur'an, but was opposed by the Companions and forced to return the Quran to his home.[145] Groups of Shias throughout history have believed in the major differences between this Quran and the present Quran. But they have been opposed by a large number of Shia clerics and Quran scholars.[146][147] Ali was also one of the main reciters of the Quran, and a recitation of him has survived, which, according to some authors of the Quranic recitation books, is the same as the recitation of Hafs transmitted by Asim.[145]

Book of Ali[edit]

According to many narrations from the second century AH, the Book of Ali is a collection of Muhammad's sayings collected by Ali. It is narrated that in Muhammad's presence, Ali wrote these sayings on a piece of leather as he heard them from him. Another narration says that the jurist of Mecca was aware of this book in the early second century and was sure that it was written by Ali. As for the content of the book, it is said that the book contained everything that people needed; such as halal and haram rulings and even the blood money of scratches. Contents regarding Jafr is also reported.[148]

Other works[edit]

Du'a Kumayl is a supplication by Ali, which been taught to his companion, Kumayl ibn Ziyad. This supplication is still used by Muslims as a supplicatory prayer.[6] See also Supplications (Du'a), translated by William Chittick.[149] Divan-i Ali ibn Abu Talib, is a poetry, attributed to Ali, which allegedly, is written by Ali himself.[6][5] According to Robert M Gleave, some secondary sources, attribute some other works to Ali such as Ṣaḥīfat al-farāʾiḍ (a short piece on inheritance law) and Kitāb al-zakāt (on alms tax) on legal matters as well as a Tafsir. These works are not extant nowadays. Ali's other attributed works are compiled in Kitab al-Kafi by Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni and many works of Al-Shaykh al-Saduq.[6]

The Book of Al-Diyat, which is an instruction on how to calculate the diyat, is given in full in books such as Man La Yahduruhu al-Faqih. Musnad Ali is a collection of hadiths from the Prophet of Islam, the first narrator of which is Ali, and they are mentioned in Sunni narrations such as Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Later, some people collected Ali's hadiths and called it Musnad Ali. In early sources, there are various reports as to whether Ali wrote poetry or not. Numerous authors have attributed a collection of poems to Ali, but many of these poems are composed by others. Ali's method of judgment has also been considered by his companions and has been compiled by them.[148]

Appearance and morality[edit]

In Muslim culture, Ali is respected for his courage, knowledge, belief, honesty, unbending devotion to Islam, deep loyalty to Muhammad, equal treatment of all Muslims and generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies.[150] His appearance is described as being bald, heavy built, short legged, with broad shoulders, a hairy body, a long white beard; and affected by a form of eye inflammation. In manner, it is said, he was rough, brusque, and unsociable.[10] Some writers accused him of lack of political skill and flexibility.[5] According to Wilferd Madelung, his refusal to participate in the new game of political deception and clever opportunism that had taken root during his caliphate in the Islamic State, although depriving him of success in life, but, in the eyes of his admirers, he became an example of the piety of the primary un-corrupted Islam, as well as the chivalry of pre-Islamic Arabia.[151] According to Madelung and Vaglieri, Ali has been a subject of controversy in the writings of later writers; since the conflicts in which he was involved, were perpetuated in polemical sectarian historiography, biographical and history materials, and is often biased.[111][152] Vaglieri names Lammens's writings as an example of hostile judgment towards Ali's behavior, and Caetani's as a milder one, however neither Lammens nor Caetani, Vaglieri says, took into consideration Ali's religiosity; and its impact on his policy. According to Vaglieri, much has been said about Ali's "austerity, his rigorous observance of religious rites, his detachment from worldly goods, his scruples in regard to booty and retaliation; and there is no reason to suppose all these details invented or exaggerated, since all his actions were dominated by this religious spirit. Without attempting to decide whether his devotion to Islam was always wholly unmixed with other motives, this aspect of his personality cannot be disregarded for the understanding that it affords of his psychology."[111] Authors have noted that Ali stood firmly by his principles and would not compromise them for political self-gain.[152]

Vaglieri is quoting Al-Baladhuri's view on Ali's war against "erring" Muslims as a duty "to sustain the Faith and to make the right way (al-huda) triumphant", then mentions Battle of the Camel as an example in which Ali, who had won the war, tried to relieve the defeated by preventing their women and children to be taken captive; in spite of being protested by a group of his partisans. After the battle, he "wept for the dead, and even prayed over his enemies."[111] According to Leone Caetani, the "half-divine aureole which soon encircled the figure of Ali", aside from his closeness to the prophet Muhammad, was a result of his own impression on the people of his time. According to Vaglieri, the quality which caused this impression was a "programme of social and economic reforms"(based on his religious spirit) which Ali supported it by his own authority.[153]

Ali adhered strongly to Islam and was strict about it. If he believed in the legitimacy of something, he would do it without flexibility, even if it was against his interests or politics. His treatment of the aristocracy, the nobility, the common people, the Arabs, and the defeated Muslim nations was the same, and he considered piety as the criterion for the superiority of individuals. He was obsessed with finances and believed that the Bayt al-mal should be divided equally among individuals. Several times his relatives resented him for this issue. Ali was simple and unaffected in his personal life. He walked alone in the streets and markets, and if a seller knew him, he would not buy from him.[154] It is reported from Al-Baladhuri that Ali wished to distribute the Sawad, (like what he did about Bayt al-mal), which is viewed as Ali's only act of extremism, by Laura Veccia Vaglieri.[62]

Names and titles[edit]

18th century mirror writing in Ottoman calligraphy. Depicts the phrase 'Ali is the vicegerent of God' in both directions.

In the Islamic tradition, various names and titles have been attributed to Ali, some of which express his personal characteristics and some of which are taken from certain parts of his life. Some of these titles are: Abu al-Hasan, Abu Turab (Father of the Soil), Murtaza, Asadullah (Lion of God), Haydar (Lion), and especially among the Shias: Amir al-Mu'minin and Mawla al-Mottaqin (Mawla of pious). For example, the title Abu Turab recalls the moment when Muhammad entered a mosque and saw Ali lying asleep where it was full of dirt, and Muhammad told him, "O Abu Turab, get up."[2] According to Vaglieri this title might have been given to him by his enemies, and fictitious narrations have emerged in the following centuries to give this title an honorable appearance.[10] Twelvers consider the title of Amir al-Mu'minin to be unique to Ali.[155]

In Muslim culture[edit]

Except for Muhammad, there is no one in Islamic history about whom as much has been written in Islamic languages as Ali.[2] Ali fulfills a high political, jurisprudential, and spiritual position in Shia and Sunni thought. Only in a period after the Battle of Siffin did the Khawarij have less respect for him.[6] Ali retains his stature as an authority on Quranic exegesis, Islamic jurisprudence and is central to mystical traditions in Islam such as Sufism.[150] A wide range of disciplines from theology and exegesis to calligraphy and numerology, from law and mysticism to Arabic grammar and rhetoric are regarded as having been first adumbrated by Ali.[128] His influence has been important throughout Islamic history.[2]

According to Vaglieri, Ali's position as an orator is not disputed, however, the same cannot be said of his poetic art. Still, Vaglieri, names a Diwan and prose works, attributed to him, which may be authentic.[111] Ali was also considered as a great scholar of Arabic literature and pioneered in the field of Arabic grammar and rhetoric. Numerous short sayings of Ali have become part of general Islamic culture and are quoted as aphorisms and proverbs in daily life. They have also become the basis of literary works or have been integrated into poetic verse in many languages. Already in the 8th century, literary authorities such as 'Abd al-Hamid ibn Yahya al-'Amiri pointed to the unparalleled eloquence of Ali's sermons and sayings, as did al-Jahiz in the following century.[2]

In the Quran[edit]

There are many verses interpreted by Shia scholars as referring to Ali or other Shia Imams. In answering question of why the names of the Imams are not expressly mentioned in the Quran Muhammad al-Baqir responds:[lower-alpha 20] "Allah revealed Salat to his Prophet but never said of three or four Rakats, revealed Zakat but did not mention to its details, revealed Hajj but did not count its Tawaf and the Prophet interpreted their details. Allah revealed this verse and Prophet said this verse is about Ali, Hasan, Husayn and the other twelve Imams."[156][157] According to Ali, one quarter of Qur'anic verses are stating the station of Imams.[clarification needed] Momen has listed many of these verses in his An Introduction to Shi'i Islam.[158][159] However, there are few verses that some Sunni commentators interpret as referring to Ali, among which are The verse of Wilayah (Quran, 5:55) that Sunni and Shia scholars[lower-alpha 21] believe refers to the incident where Ali gave his ring to a beggar who asked for alms while performing ritual prayers in the mosque.[160][161] The verse of Mawadda (Quran, 42:23) is another verse in which Shia scholars, along with Sunni ones like Al-Baydawi and Al-Zamakhshari and Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, believe that the phrase Kinship refers to Ali, Fatimah and their sons, Hasan and Husayn.[162][163][164][165]

The verse of purification (Quran, 33:33) is also among the verses in which both Sunnis and Shia conjoined the name of Ali along with some other names.[lower-alpha 22][158][163][166][167][168][169] The aforementioned verse of Mubahala, and also Quran 2:269, in which Ali is honoured with unique wisdom by both Shia and Sunni commentators, are other verses of this kind.[158][163][170]

Sunni and Shia scholars agree that The Verse of Wilayah was narrated in honour of Ali, but there are differing interpretations of wilayah and the Imamate.[160] The Sunni scholars believe that the Verse is about Ali but does not recognise him as an Imam while, in the Shia Muslim view, Ali had been chosen by God as successor of Muhammad.[171]

In Hadiths[edit]

There are many Hadiths praising Ali's qualities, among which the following are accepted authentic by both Shias and Sunnis:[172] "There is no youth braver than Ali"[lower-alpha 23]; "No-one but a believer loves Ali, and no-one but a hypocrite (Munafiq) hates Ali"[lower-alpha 24]; "I am from Ali, and Ali is from me"[lower-alpha 25]; "The truth circulates with him (Ali) wherever he goes"[lower-alpha 26]; "I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is its Gate (Bab)[lower-alpha 27].[173] It is also narrated that in one occasion when Muhammad was going to eat a poultry, he said: "'O, God send me the man you love most among mankind to eat this bird with me", and Ali came and ate with him.[lower-alpha 28][174] According to another narration, in reply to someone who complained about Ali, Muhammad said: "What do you think of one who love God and his prophet and who in turn is loved by God and his prophet?" Also "The most loved of women to the prophet of God is Fatima and the most loved of men is Ali."[lower-alpha 29] It is also said that in one occasion Muhammad called Ali and started whispering to him, until people said: "He has been a long time whispering to his cousin." Afterwards Muhammad said: "It was not I that was whispering to him but God."[lower-alpha 30][175] According to a narration recorded in both Shia and Sunni collections, when the surah, al-Bara'ah was revealed, Muhammad sent Abu Bakr to read it to the people of Mecca. Then Muhammad sent Ali after him to bring him back. Later on, the surah was given to Ali to read it to people. When was questioned, Muhammad said: "Gabriel came to me and said: Do not let it [the reading of the Sura] be performed by anyone other than yourself or someone from you [i.e. your family] on your behalf."[lower-alpha 31][176]

In Islamic philosophy and mysticism[edit]

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ali is credited with having established Islamic theology, and his quotations contain the first rational proofs among Muslims of the Unity of God.[177] Ibn Abi al-Hadid has quoted

As for theosophy and dealing with matters of divinity, it was not an Arab art. Nothing of the sort had been circulated among their distinguished figures or those of lower ranks. This art was the exclusive preserve of Greece, whose sages were its only expounders. The first one among Arabs to deal with it was Ali.[178]

In later Islamic philosophy, especially in the teachings of Mulla Sadra and his followers, like Allameh Tabatabaei, Ali's sayings and sermons were increasingly regarded as central sources of metaphysical knowledge, or divine philosophy. Members of Sadra's school regard Ali as the supreme metaphysician of Islam.[2] According to Henry Corbin, the Nahj al-Balagha may be regarded as one of the most important sources of doctrines professed by Shia thinkers, especially after 1500. Its influence can be sensed in the logical co-ordination of terms, the deduction of correct conclusions, and the creation of certain technical terms in Arabic which entered the literary and philosophical language independently of the translation into Arabic of Greek texts.[179]

In addition, some hidden or occult sciences such as jafr, Islamic numerology, and the science of the symbolic significance of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, are said to have been established by Ali[2] through his having studied the texts of al-Jafr and al-Jamia.

Sunni view[edit]

The name of Ali with Islamic calligraphy in Hagia Sophia, (present-day Turkey)

According to Gleave, since Ali was one of Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and one of Muhammad's close companions, he has a high position in Sunni thought. However, this was not the case from the beginning. The title Rightly-Guided for Ali, was considered legitimate by the Sunni doctrine, only after Ahmad ibn Hanbal accepted Ali as one of the Rashidun caliphs. Later on Sunni authors regularly reported Ali's legal, theological, and historical views in their works, among them some sought to use Ali's sayings to disprove Shi'i position, or depict him as a supporter of Sunni doctrine.[6]

Among Sunnis, Ali has the same position as the other three caliphs; however, according to Sunni doctrine of sābiqa (according which, greater religious authority is given on the basis of the chronological order of the caliphs), Ali is in a lower position than the other Rashidun Caliphs. The most troubling element of this view, is the apparent elevation of Ali's position in Muhammad's sayings, such as "I am from Ali and Ali is from me", and "Whoever counts me as his patron (mawla), then Ali is also his patron", which accordingly been interpreted so that solve the problem. (see mawla and Event of Ghadir Khumm) Some Sunni writers, on the other hand, acknowledge the preeminence of Ali's knowledge in the Sharia, and his importance in the hadiths of the Prophet, however, do not consider these as a reason to determine Ali's political designation by the Prophet.[6]

Shia view[edit]

Some Shia sources contain miraculous descriptions of the entrance of Ali's mother into the Kaaba. They regard it as a unique event proving his "high spiritual station", while Sunni scholars consider it just a great, if not unique, distinction.[4] In Shia belief, Ali holds a high position, and the belief in his legitimacy in leading the Muslims is the definite belief of the Shias. His statements are a reference for Shia legal system, and most importantly, Shias believe that Ali was superior to the rest of the companions and was appointed by Muhammad as his successor. Ali's piety and morality initiated a kind of mysticism among the Shias that brought them close to the Sunni Sufis.[6] Among the shias Imamate of Ali is one of the principles of the religion, according which, although Ali was not the recipient of a divine revelation, he had a close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the Imam in turn guides the people. His words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow; as a result it is a source of sharia law.[180][181]

Ja'far al-Sadiq narrates in hadith that whatever virtue found in Muhammad was found in Ali, and that turning away from his guidance would be akin to turning away from Allah and his Prophet. Ali himself narrates that he is the gateway and supervisor to reach Allah.[182] According to Shia, Muhammad suggested on various occasions during his lifetime that Ali should be the leader of Muslims after his death. This is supported by numerous hadiths which have been narrated by Shias, including Hadith of the pond of Khumm, Hadith of the two weighty things, Hadith of the pen and paper, Hadith of the Cloak, Hadith of position, Hadith of the invitation of the close families, and Hadith of the Twelve Successors.

Musta'lis consider Ali's position superior to that of the Imam. Both Twelvers and Isma'ilis believe in infallibility, the knowledge of the unseen, and the intercession of Ali.[6] A large volume of Shiite religious literature in various languages such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish is dedicated to Ali.[58]

Prophetic knowledge[edit]

According to a hadith which is narrated by Shia and Sufis, Muhammad said "I'm the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate ..."[128][183][184] According to the Shia, Ali himself gave this testimony:

Not a single verse of the Quran descended upon (was revealed to) the Messenger of God which he did not proceed to dictate to me and make me recite. I would write it with my own hand, and he would instruct me as to its tafsir (the literal explanation) and the ta'wil (the spiritual exegesis), the nasikh (the verse which abrogates) and the mansukh (the abrogated verse), the muhkam and the mutashabih (the fixed and the ambiguous), the particular and the general ...[185]

It has been narrated that when Abbas was a baby, Ali placed him on his lap, kissed his hands and began to weep. He foretold the tragedy of Abbas and the inevitable fate of his hands which caused his wife, Umm ul-Banin, to also weep. However, he goes on to describe Abbas's future position and great status with God, and this relieves her.[30]


Shia extremists, known as Ghulat, believed that Ali had access to God's will; for example, the Nuṣayrīs believed that Ali appears as an incarnation of God, some of them (Khaṭṭābiyya), considered Ali higher than Muhammad. Nowadays, Alawites and Bektashis are viewed with suspicion by Shias and Sunnis. The Ahl al-Haq Kurds also hold a similar views mixed with reincarnation about Ali.[6]

Saba'iyya, the followers of Abdullah ibn Saba', who praised Ali beyond measures, were another Ghulat sect, which, according to Veccia Vaglieri, Ali dissociated himself from them.[62] Also, there is Ali-Illahism, a syncretic religion, which centres on the belief that there have been successive incarnations of their Deity throughout history, and reserves particular reverence for 'Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, who is considered one such incarnation.[186] These groups have, according to traditionalist Muslims, left Islam due to their exaggeration of a human being's praiseworthy traits.[187] Studies carried out by Aryeh Kofsky and Meir M.Bar Asher support the claim that the Alawites do not deify Ali but rather identify him as the unique "wasīī", meaning a "guard of Islam" chosen by God.[188] Ali is recorded in some traditions as having forbidden those who sought to worship him in his own lifetime.[187]


Almost all Sufi orders trace their lineage to Muhammad through Ali, an exception being Naqshbandi, which go through Abu Bakr. Even in this order, there is Ja'far al-Sadiq, the great great grandson of Ali.[2] According to Gleave, even Naqshbandi include him into their spiritual hierarchy by depicting how Muhammad taught him special ritual principle of Ṣūfī practice, through which, believers may reach certain stages on the Sufi path.[6]

Sufis believe that Ali inherited from Muhammad the saintly power, wilayah, that enable Sufis in their spiritual journey to God.[2] Ali's position as a prominent narrator of Muhammad's esoteric knowledge, made him popular among Sufi writers. Ali is therefor, considered as an ascetic follower of Muhammad, by Sufis, as well as Sunnis and Shias. Sufis believe that Muhammad taught Ali the occult science and Jafr.[6][2]


There are many reports about Ali's life in historical texts; as Islamic historians have been devoted the largest volume of material, after Muhammad, to his life.[2] Since the character of Ali is of religious, political, jurisprudential and spiritual importance to Muslims (both Shia and Sunni), his life has been analyzed and interpreted in various ways, and existing historical documents have been influenced by sectarian considerations.[6]

The primary sources for scholarship on the life of Ali are the Qur'an and ahadith, as well as other texts of early Islamic history. The extensive secondary sources include, in addition to works by Sunni and Shia Muslims, writings by Christian Arabs, Hindus, and other non-Muslims from the Middle East and Asia and a few works by modern western scholars. However, many of the early Islamic sources are coloured to some extent by a positive or negative bias towards Ali.[2]

There had been a common tendency among the earlier western scholars to consider narrations and reports gathered in later periods as fabrications, due to their tendency towards later Sunni and Shia partisan positions. This led these scholars to regard certain reported events as inauthentic or irrelevant. For example, Leone Caetani considered the attribution of historical reports to Ibn Abbas and Aisha as mostly fictitious while proffering accounts reported without isnad by the early compilers of history like Ibn Ishaq. Wilferd Madelung has rejected the stance of indiscriminately dismissing everything not included in "early sources" and in this approach tendentiousness alone is no evidence for late origin. According to him, Caetani's approach is inconsistent. Madelung and some later historians do not reject the narrations which have been compiled in later periods and try to judge them in the context of history and on the basis of their compatibility with the events and figures.[189]

Until the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate, few books were written and most of the reports had been oral. The most notable work prior to this period is The Book of Sulaym ibn Qays, written by Sulaym ibn Qays, a companion of Ali who lived before the Abbasids.[190] When paper was introduced to Muslim society, numerous monographs were written between 750 and 950. According to Robinson, at least twenty-one separate monographs have been composed on the Battle of Siffin. Abi Mikhnaf is one of the most renowned writers of this period who tried to gather all of the reports. Ninth- and tenth-century historians collected, selected and arranged the available narrations. However, most of these monographs do not exist any more except for a few which have been used in later works such as History of the Prophets and Kings by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d.923).[191]

Shia of Iraq actively participated in writing monographs but most of those works have been lost. On the other hand, in the 8th and 9th century Ali's descendants such as Muhammad al-Baqir and Jafar al-Sadiq narrated his quotations and reports which have been gathered in Shia hadith books. The later Shia works written after the 10th century are about biographies of The Fourteen Infallibles and Twelve Imams. The earliest surviving work and one of the most important works in this field is Kitab al-Irshad by Shaykh Mufid (d. 1022). The author has dedicated the first part of his book to a detailed account of Ali. There are also some books known as Manāqib which describe Ali's character from a religious viewpoint. Such works also constitute a kind of historiography.[192]

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topics Islam AND Shia Islam : Ali ibn Abi Talib, [[:Muhammad al-Mahdi|Muhammad al-Mahdi Arabic: مُـحَـمَّـد ٱلْـمَـهْـدِي‎]]

Other articles of the topic Islam : [[:Muhammad|Muhammadمُحَمَّد]], Masjid al-Haram, Quran, Masjid-an-Noor, Newfoundland, Mahdi, [[:Muhammad al-Mahdi|Muhammad al-Mahdi Arabic: مُـحَـمَّـد ٱلْـمَـهْـدِي‎]], Fazail-e-Amaal (Ibn Shaheen)

Other articles of the topic Shia Islam : Family tree of Ali, Al-Farooq (title), List of Ayatollahs, Ali ibn Abi Talib, [[:Muhammad al-Mahdi|Muhammad al-Mahdi Arabic: مُـحَـمَّـد ٱلْـمَـهْـدِي‎]], Mozdahir International Institute, Ahrar al-Najran
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  • Outline of Islam
  • Glossary of Islam
  • Index of Islam-related articles
  • Alevism
  • Ali in Muslim culture
  • Al-Farooq (title)
  • Hashemites Royal Family of Jordan
  • Idris I The First King of Morocco Founded 788
  • List of expeditions of Ali during Muhammad's era


  1. English: Commander of the Faithful
  2. English: Gate to the City of Knowledge
  3. English: The One Pleasing (to God)
  4. English: The Great News
  5. English: Leader of the God-Conscious
  6. English: The Executor of Will (of God's Messenger)
  7. English: Lionheart
  8. English: The Truthful
  9. English: Lion of God
  10. English: Piercing Lines/Warrior
  11. English: Dusty Person
  12. English: Father of Hasan
  13. Tabari narrates different narrations, each introduce one of Ali, Abu Bakr, or Zayd ibn Harithah as the first male who accepted Islam. He leave the final decision to the reader.[15] According to W. Montgomery Watt, some sources (Ibn Sa'd, The Book of the Major Classes, History of the Prophets and Kings) consider Abu Bakr as the first male to accept Islam, however they hold the same opinion about Ali.[16] According to Muslim historians like ibn Ishaq[17] and ibn Hazm[18] and scholars like W. Montgomery Watt[19] Ali was the first male to profess to Islam. Seyyed Hossein Nasr[2] and John Esposito[20] consider him the second Muslim, after Khadija, to accept Islam.[2]
  14. He stayed to carry out his instructions and to restore to their owners all the goods and properties that had been entrusted to Muhammad for safekeeping,[22]
  15. It is narrated from Muhammad who said to Fatima: "I have married you to the dearest of my family to me."[23]
  16. Ali's family was frequently praised by Muhammad, as Muhammad mentioned Ali, Fatima and their sons Hasan and Husayn, as his Ahl al-Bayt(People of the Household [of Muhammad]) in events such as Mubahala and Hadith of the Event of the Cloak also the verse of purification.(Quran 33:33)[31]
  17. see also Ibn Al Atheer, in his Biography, vol 2 p 107 "لا فتی الا علي لا سيف الا ذوالفقار"
  18. Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol.4, p. 281; similar Tradition can be found in the same work: Vol. 1 pp. 84, 118, 119, 152, 331; Vol. 4, pp. 367,370, 372; Vol. 5, pp. 347, 366, 419 and in many other works such as Ibn Maja, Sunan, Vol. I, Bab 11, p. 43, No. 116
  19. "If two parties of the Believers fight with one another, make peace between them, but if one rebels against the other, then fight against that one which rebels, until it returns to obedience to God..."
  20. Note that Al-Baqir is also regarded as an Imam by the Isma'ili Shia, who believe in different Imams to the Twelvers
  21. See at-Tabari: at-Tarikh, vol.6, p.186; as-Suyuti: ad-Durru 'lmanthur, vol.2, pp. 293–4; ar-Razi: at-Tafsiru 'l Kabir, vol.12, p.26: az-Zamakhshari: at-Tafsir al-Kashshaf, vol.1, p.469; al-Jassas:Ahkamu 'l-Quran, vol.2, pp. 542–3; al-khazin: at-Tafsir, vol.2, p.68 Imamate: The vicegerency of the Holy Prophet By Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizv p24
  22. see al-Bahrani, Ghayat al-Marum, p. 126:al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, Vol. V, p.199; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al Musnad, Vol. I, p.331; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir, Vol. I, p.783; Ibn Hajar, al-Sawa'iq p.85
  23. see also: Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol.2, p.299
  24. See also: Ibn Maja, Sunan, Vol.1, Bab 11, P. 42, No. 114
  25. See also: Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol.2, p.299; Ibn Maja, Sunan, Vol.1, Bab 11, P. 44, No. 119
  26. see also: Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol.2, p.298
  27. See also: al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. 3, pp. 126-7
  28. See also:Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol.2, p.299
  29. See also:Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol.2, pp.300, 319, 320
  30. See also:Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol.2, p.300
  31. See also: Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol.1 p.151, similar tradition in Vol.1 p.3



  1. "I am the city of knowledge and 'Ali is its gate". Archived from the original on 18 December 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 2.45 2.46 2.47 2.48 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Ali". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2007. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. Rahim, Husein A.; Sheriff, Ali Mohamedjaffer (1993). Guidance From Qur'an. Khoja Shia Ithna-asheri Supreme Council. Retrieved 11 April 2017. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. 4.0 4.1 Faramarz Haj, Manouchehri; Matthew, Melvin-Koushki; Shah-Kazemi, Reza; Bahramian, Ali; Pakatchi, Ahmad; Muhammad Isa, Waley; Daryoush, Mohammad; Tareh, Masoud; Brown, Keven; Jozi, Mohammad Reza; Sajjadi, Sadeq; Gholami, Rahim; Bulookbashi, Ali A.; Negahban, Farzin; Alizadeh, Mahbanoo; Gholami, Yadollah (11 September 2008). "ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib". Encyclopaedia Islamica. Brill. Archived from the original on 30 June 2016. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 5.27 5.28 5.29 5.30 5.31 5.32 5.33 5.34 5.35 5.36 5.37 5.38 5.39 5.40 5.41 5.42 5.43 5.44 5.45 5.46 "Alī ibn Abu Talib". Encyclopædia Iranica. Archived from the original on April 29, 2011. Retrieved December 16, 2010. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 6.23 6.24 6.25 6.26 6.27 6.28 6.29 6.30 6.31 6.32 Gleave 2008
  7. 7.0 7.1 Momen 1985, p. 12
  8. Tabatabaei 1979, p. 40
  9. 9.0 9.1 See:
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 10.14 10.15 10.16 Vaglieri 1960
  11. Madelung 1997, p. 310
  12. Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World. Marshall Cavendish Reference. 2011. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-7614-7929-1. Retrieved 11 April 2017. ali was born in kaaba. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  13. Ashraf 2005, p. 5.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Steigerwald, Diana (2004). "Alī ibn Abu Talib". Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-02-865604-5.
  15. Watt 1961, p. 34
  16. Watt 1986
  17. Watt 1953, p. 86
  18. Esposito 2004, p. 15
  19. Esposito 2004, p. 15
  20. Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn. "Tafsir al-Mizan, Volume 3: Surah Baqarah, Verses 204–207". almizan.org. Archived from the original on 17 June 2009. Retrieved 25 November 2010. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  21. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 Vaglieri 1960, p. 381
  22. Singh 2003, p. 175.
  23. Quran 3:59.
  24. 25.0 25.1 Quran 3:61
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    • Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p654
    • Madelung 1997, pp. 15, 16.
  26. Tabatabaei, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn. "Tafsir al-Mizan, v.6, Al Imran, verses 61–63". almizan.org. Archived from the original on 17 June 2009. Retrieved 25 November 2010. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
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  30. Madelung 1997, pp. 14, 15
  31. Razwy, Sayed Ali Asgher. A Restatement of the History of Islam & Muslims. pp. 136–137. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  32. See:
  33. Gaon 1988, p. 125
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  35. Veccia Vaglieri, Laura (April 24, 2012). "G̲h̲adīr K̲h̲umm". Encyclopædia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online. Archived from the original on March 31, 2013. Retrieved March 28, 2013. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  36. See:
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    • Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaaj as-Sunnah 7/319
    "من كنت مولاه فهذا علي مولاه"
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  39. Dakake 2008, pp. 33–35.
  40. "A Shi'ite Encyclopedia". Al-Islam.org. Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project. 12 November 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  41. al-Razi, Fakhr. Tafsir al-Kabir, Volume 12. pp. 49–50. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  42. Momen 1985, p. 15
  43. Alexander Wain, Mohammad Hashim Kamali, The Architects of Islamic Civilisation (2017), p. 12
  44. Suhufi (2003). Stories from the Qur'an. Islamic Seminary Publications. p. 312. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  45. Vaglieri 1960, pp. 381–382
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  49. Lewinstein 2001, p. 326
  50. Madelung 1986
  51. Newman 1999, pp. 403–405
  52. Miskinzoda, Gurdofarid (2014). Farhad Daftary, ed. The Story of Pen & Paper and its interpretation in Muslim Literary and Historical Tradition. The Study of Shi‘i Islam: History, Theology and Law. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-0-85773-529-4. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  53. Madelung 1997, p. 43
  54. Khetia 2013, p. 32.
  55. Fitzpatrick & Walker 2014, p. 186.
  56. Fitzpatrick & Walker 2014, p. 22.
  57. 58.0 58.1 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2007). "Quran". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Archived from the original on 16 October 2007. Retrieved 4 November 2007. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
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  78. Shaban 1971, p. 72
  79. Momen 1985, p. 63
  80. Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 81
  81. United Nations Development Program, Arab human development report, (2002), p. 107
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  188. Madelung 1997, pp. xi, 19, 20
  189. Lawson 2005, p. 59
  190. Robinson 2003, pp. 28, 34
  191. "A Glance at Historiography in Shiite Culture". Al-Islam.org.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Shia biography


Banu Hashim
Cadet branch of the Quraysh
Born: 15 September 601 Died: 29 January 661
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Uthman ibn Affan
Caliph of Islam
4th Rashidun

Succeeded by
Hasan ibn Ali
Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
as Final prophet
Twelver Imam
Zaidi Imam
Kaysanite Imam
Batini Isma'ili Imam

Succeeded by
Hasan ibn Ali
as Imam
in Musta'li Isma'ilism

Nizari Isma'ili Imam
Succeeded by
Hasan ibn Ali
as Mustawda
Succeeded by
Husayn ibn Ali
as Imam
Political offices
Preceded by
Successor to Muhammad
Election to Caliphate
Preceded by
Uthman ibn Affan
Rashidun Caliph
Succeeded by
Hasan ibn Ali
Tribal titles
Preceded by
Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib
Chief of Banu Hashim
Succeeded by

Template:Ten companions of Muhammad Template:Ali's companions