The Qazi’s court in Medina was packed to its capacity. The Qazi had summoned Hazrat Ali, the Caliph of Islam, to appear in a case filed against him by a Jew who had claimed the Caliph’s armour. The Caliph arrived at the court and stood by the side of the plaintiff without caring about his own exalted position. The claimant produced several witnesses in support of his claim. The learned Qazi, then asked Hazrat Ali if he had to say anything in his defence. Ali replied in the negative. Thereupon the Qazi decided the case in favour of the Jew and awarded the armour to the Jew, which, Ali had actually purchased from him. The Jew was taken aback by the impartial judgement of the Qazi and returned the armour to the Caliph saying that the illustrious Caliph had actually purchased the armour from him. He had filed the suit in order to test the impartiality of the Caliph and his courts which had magnifi. cently withstood the test.
Hazrat Ali, the Fourth Caliph of Islam, was a versatile genius. Few persons have ever been endowed with the unsurpassable traits of chivalry and learning, piety and clarity of thought and imagination that distinguished the illustrious son-in-law of the Prophet of Islam who had brought him up under his own fostering care and ideal guardianship. Hazrat Ali has universally been acclaimed as one of the best products of Islam. His bravery had won him the title of “Lion of God,” says a well-known orientalist; “his learning, that of the ‘gate of knowledge,’ chivalarous, humane and forbearing as a ruler, he came before his time. Most of the grand undertakings, initiated by Umar for the welfare of the people, were due to his counsel. Ever ready to succour the weak and redress the wrongs of the injured, the accounts of his valorous deeds are still recited with enthusiasm from the bazaars of Cairo to those of Delhi.”
Ali ibn Abu Talib, whose kunniyat was Abul Hasan, was born in the 13th year of the Year of Elephant. He was a cousin of the Prophet and his clan Banu Hashim having been entrusted with the high function of the custody of the sacred Kaaba, was held in high esteem, throughout Arabia. Abu Talib, who had a large family entrusted his son Ali to the care of the Prophet of Islam. Ali was brought up by the Prophet himself from his very childhood-a fact which greatly contributed to cultivating extraordinary virtues in him. According to reliable historical sources, Khadija was the first woman, Abu Bakr, the first man and Ali, the first child to embrace Islam. Hazrat Ali played a conspicuous role at the time of the Prophet’s migration from Makkah. While Hazrat Abu Bakr accompanied the Prophet, constantly harassed and hunted by the Quraish of Makkah, on his perilous journey to Medina, Hazrat Ali was kept behind to return to the owners the valuables they had entrusted to the custody of the Prophet. It speaks volumes for the integrity of the Prophet that even his sworn enemies reposed full trust in his honesty and deposited their valuables with him. Hazrat Ali slept soundly in the house of the Prophet besieged by his enemies. The next morning he cleared the accounts and departed for Medina.
The Prophet selected the young talented Ali, as the life partner for his favourite daughter Fatima az-Zahra, the beautiful. The nuptial ceremony was performed with utmost simplicity which will serve as an example for all times to come. The dowry given to the beloved daughter of the Prophet consisted of a sheet of cloth, a few earthen utensils and a grinding stone. Three sons, Hazrat Imam Hasan, Husain and Mohsin and two daughters Zainab and Umme Kulsum were born. The lineage of the Prophet continued through Imam Hasan and Hussain, hence their descendants are called Syed (Master).
Hazrat Ali lived a humble and simple life; he earned his living through manual labour. He could not add anything to the property of the house and his beloved wife performed all household duties with her own hands. Faced with extreme poverty, the humanitarianism and the spirit of charity and self-sacrifice and self-denial of this ideal couple of Islam have hardly any parallel in the annals of mankind. They invariably preferred to go without their humble rneals rather than refuse a beggar knocking at their door.
Hazrat Ali was chosen by the Prophet to carry the message of Islam to the people of Yemen, where earlier Muslim missionaries had failed. There he mnet with great success and the tribe of Hamdan embraced Islam the same day. His mellifluent eloquence, high intellectual and persuasive power were greatly i instrumental in popularising Islam in those hostile regions.
It was in the realm of chivalry that Hazrat Ali has left ineffaceable marks in the history of early Islam. He was gifted with extraordinary daring and courage which he devoted to the service of Islam, performing wonderful deeds of heroism. In fact, he proved to be the strongest bulwark in the defence of the votaries of the new faith against the repeated hostilities of alien powers. During the lifetime of the Prophet, he took a leading part in all defensive campaigns except Tabuk; when reluctantly he had to stay back in Medina under the orders of the Prophet who said, “You stand to me in the same relation in which Aaron stood to Moses, except that there is to be no Prophet after me.”
Hazrat Ali displayed his unique valour for the first time in the battle of Badr, when he overpowered Waleed and Sheba, the renowned warriors of Arabia in single combats. In the battle of Ohad, when the standard bearer of Islam fell fighting, he took hold of the standard and killed the enemy standard bearer. This exceptional heroism made people declare, ‘La Fata Nla Ali’ (There is no youth like Ali). Two years after, he met Amr ibn Abad Wudd, the greatest known warrior of Arabia in a duel and killed him. Of all his martial exploits, the most outstanding was the capture of the citadel of Khaibar which was regarded impregnable. It was strongly fortified by the Jews and withstood repeated attacks by Muslims under the command of Hazrat Abu Bakr and Umar. Thereupon the Prophet said, “Tomorrow the standard of Islam will be entrusted to a person who would capture it and who loves God and His Messenger and whom God and His Messenger also love.” The next morning Ali was summoned in the presence of the Prophet. Incidentally, he was suffering from a bad eyesore. The Prophet applied his saliva to his eyes, and placed the standard in his hands. Ali made a dash and captured the fort by tearing asunder the huge gate which could not be moved by dozens of men.
Mercy on the defeated and overpowered foe is a part of chivalry. Hazrat Ali who had drunk enough of the milk of human kindness, pitied and pardoned the vanquished on several occasions. Once during a campaign, when his opponent fell on the ground and became naked, he left him aside. According to Ibn Saad, when his assailant Ibn Muljem was brought before him, he asked his men to treat him gently and make him comfortable.
During the reign of the first two Caliphs, Hazrat Ali as the principal adviser of the State. He solved all knotty problems and no important decision was taken by the Caliphs without his advice. His advice was sought on all matters, especially legal and religious on which he was considered an authority. His sound judgements were highly respected by friends and foes alike. After the death of the Prophet, he mostly devoted his energies to the development of the moral and intellectual life of the adherents of the new faith and seldom took part in warfare. Most of the great administrative works during the reign of Hazrat Umar were undertaken at his instance.
Hazrat Ali was elected Caliph after the martyrdom of Hazrat Usman, at a time when the world of Islam was in great turmoil and Medina, the Metropolis, was besieged by insurgents. The inhabitants of Medina and neighbouring provinces vied with one another in taking the oath of allegiance to him, as he was the most deserving person for the high post among the faithful. But Muayiya, who had gathered great power around himself, clamoured for avenging the blood of Hazrat Usman. Muawiya, being a clever person, realized that he had hardly any chance for the exalted position in the presence of Hazrat Ali, hence he devised this means of winning popular support. The insurgents were two powerful to be dealt with and a hasty step would have culminated in the disintegration of the Empire. This restrained Ali’s hands. He wanted to deal firmly with the disruptionists at an opportune moment. To Talha and Zubair who insisted on the assassins of Usman being punished immediately, Hazrat Ali replied, “I am myself no less anxious about it, but I simply cannot help it. It is a critical time. If there is any disturbance of peace, the Beduins and foreigners will rise in revolt and Arabia will once more relapse into the days of ignorance. These men are yet beyond our control. Wait and see till Allah shows me some way out of the difficulty.” The situation had become so critical and the political atmosphere was so much explosive, that any drastic action taken against the insurgents would have endangered the security of the new state. Ali’s opponents had, however, resolved to exploit the situation to their advantage. Almost all great Muslim historians have expressed doubts about the motive behind the opposition of Muawiya. They maintain that sincerity of purpose behind the opposition of Hazrat Aisha, Talha and Zubair was lacking in the case of Muawiya.
His demand for avenging Usman’s blood was not inspired by high motive. Ali explored all possibilities of amicable settlement before declaring war against Muawiya in the interest of national solidarity. Hazrat Aisha, too, was deeply stirred by the martyrdom of Usman. Accompanied by Talha and Zubair, she marched upon Basra which surrendered in October 656 A.C. Hazrat Ali when apprised of the situation hurriedly reached there. On 12th Rajab 36 A.H. Kufa accorded a royal welcome to the Caliph and made elaborate arrangements for his entertainment in the local palace. But being a saintly person, Ali shunned all pageantries and preferred to camp in an open field. The two forces lay facing each other, as Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Aisha wanted to avoid a clash and negotiate for a settlement. Obviously it would have gone against the interests of the Sabaites who formed a component part of Hazrat Ali’s forces and who were all out to fan the fire of enmity between the contending parties with the ulterior purpose of undermining Islam. Hence, one night, when settlement was almost in sight, they secretly fell upon the opposing forces and started fighting. Both the parties suspected that the fighting was started by the other side. Hazrat Ali tried his best to pacify the feelings of the fighters and reminded Zubair of a prophecy of the Prophet. This induced Zubair to withdraw at once from the battle-field, while he was praying on his way back to Makkah, a Sabaite slew him. When the ruffians brought the head of Zubair to Ali for a reward, he said wrathfully, “Give the assassin of Zubair the tidings of hell”. At last the forces led by Hazrat Aisha were defeated and the Caliph himself called on the reverend lady for enquiring about her health. She was respectfully sent back to Medina escorted by noble ladies and the Caliph in person saw her off for a considerable distance.
Caliph Ali now diverted his attention to Muawiya, the rebel Governor of Syria, who was threatening the solidarity of the young state. Being humane by nature, Hazrat Ali tried his level best to bring about a peaceful settlement and avoid shedding of Muslim blood. But Muawiya advanced impossible conditions. Ali offered to end the quarrel by personal combat, but the Umayyad declined the challenge. At last the fateful hour arrived and the two forces fought a bloody battle. “The rebels were defeated in three successive battles,” says a well-known historian, “and Muawiya was ready to fly from the field, when a trick of his accomplice Amr, son of Aas, saved them from destruction. He made his mercenaries tie copies of the Quran to their lances and flags, and shout for quarter. The soldiers of the Caliph at once desisted from pursuit, and called on him to refer the dispute to arbitration.”
The arbitration ended in a chaos in which Hazrat Abu Musa Ashari, the representative of Ali was duped by the clever Amr bin al-Aas, the representative of Amir Muawiya.
These internal dissensions within the house of Islam gave birth to a new fanatical horde called Kharijis, which proved to be a great menace for the administration of Hazrat Ali. They spread disorders throughout the domains of the Caliph, killing innocent people and converting them to their fanatical creed by force. The Caliph, who faced the turmoils and turbulence around him with extraordinary courage and patience dealt with the Khariji fanatics with a strong hand and exterminated them after a bloody battle.
The people of Kerman and Persia revolted against the authority of the Caliph. Ziad bin Abiha was despatched who soon suppressed the disorder and restored peace in that region. Instead of punishing the rebels, Hazrat Ali treated them with such kindness that the Persians recalled the rule of Nausherwan, the Just.
The Khariji insurrection to which he ultimately fell a victim, too, was handled by him firmly. Three Kharijis (fanatics) had planned to kill the three persons namely, Hazrat Ali, Muawiya and Amr bin al-Aas at an appointed time. Ibn M’aljem, who was assigned the task of killing the Caliph, struck the deadly blow at him when he was going to offer his prayer. The just and kind-hearted Caliph instructed his men to treat the assassin with all kindness. Thus died at the age of 63, one of the greatest sons of Islam. His rule lasted 4 years and 9 months and he was destined to steer the ship of Islam through the most stormy seas of internecine dissensions. He took pride in simplicity, piety, humility and kindheartedness. Being humane by nature, he loved to help the needy and forgave even his deadliest enemies. His kindness, at times, verged on the side of weakness. Worldly power and splendour had no fascination for him. “Thus died”, says a celebrated writer “in the prime of his life, the best hearted Moslem, to use Colonel Osborn’s words, ‘that ever lived’. Mild, beneficent and humane, ready to help the weak and the distressed, his life had been devoted to the cause of Islam. Had he possessed the sternness of Umar’s character he would have been more successful in governing an unruly race like the Arabs”?
Hazrat Ali was elected as a Caliph in the most stormy period of Islamic history. Endowed with extraordinary daring and sound judgement, he battled against the surging waves of disruption which wanted to knock the new State off its foundation. In chivalry, he had hardly any match in the annals of early Islam. Known as the ‘Lion of God’, his bravery has become proverbial, and stories connected with it are still related throughout the world of Islam.
Hazrat Ali was a versatile genius. Being brought up by the Prophet himself and having had the chance of spending about 30 years in his company, Ali occupies the unique position of being the greatest intellectual among the Companions of the Prophet. Like Aristotle he is known as the father of Islamic learning. Writing in ‘Izalat-ul-Khifa’, Shah Waliullah attributes the high intellectualism of Hazrat Ali to the ideal training of the Prophet. He reports on the authority of Imam Hanbal that Hazrat Ali possessed the highest intellectual attributes among the Companions. This is further corroborated by the declaration of the Prophet: “I am the store-house of knowledge while Ali is its gate.” He was a ‘Hafiz’ of the Quran and a commentator of high standing. Along with Hazrat Ibn Abbas he is considered as the greatest authority on the Quran of which he arranged the chapters in order of their revelation during the first six months of the Caliphate of Hazrat Abu Bakr.
Ibn Nadim in his celebrated work ‘Al Fihrist’, has given this order of arrangement. Hazrat Ali exercised utmost circumspection in sifting reports about the traditions, so much so that the traditions reported and collected by him are universally taken to be authentic. He was the greatest Mujtahid and jurist of his time and one of the greatest of all times. He solved all vexing and complicated problems which defied solution. As already stated he was the principal adviser on religious and legal matters during the reign of the first three Caliphs. All knotty problems were referred to him and his verdict was considered final. Even such high personalities as Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Aisha referred their difficulties to him. All schools of religious thought regard him as the father of Islamic mysticism. The celebrated mystic, Junaid Baghdadi acknowledges Ali as the highest authority on the subject and according to Shah Waliullah, who says in ‘Izalat-ul-Khifa’ that Ali devoted much time to mysticism before his being elected as Caliph. He was one of the two greatest orators of early Islam-the other being Hazrat Abu Bakr. According to Ibn Nadim, Hazrat Ali is known as the founder of Arabian grammar.
Hazrat Ali was undoubtedly the greatest jurist of early Islam. Once two women who were quarrelling over an infant child-each claiming it, were produced before him. On hearing the statements of both the claimants, Hazrat Ali ordered the child to be cut to pieces. The real mother was overwhelmed with grief and weepingly pleaded to the Caliph to spare the child. Hazrat Ali awarded the child to its real mother and punished the other woman. Hazrat Umar used to say about him: “God forbid, we may be confronted with any controversial issue, which Ali might not be able to solve”. According to Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood, Ali possessed the best power of judgement in Medina. The Prophet himself relied on the judgements of Ali and had appointed him the Qazi of Yemen. He had instructed him not to deliver his judgement without hearing both the contending parties. Even his opponents like Amir Muawiya referred their knotty problems to him and accepted his judgement. The early Islamic history is full of learned judgements delivered by him.
Hazrat Ali led a very simple and poverty-stricken life. His whole life was characterised by abstemiousness. He was the very incarnation of simplicity, piety and tender-heartedness. Wordly splendour had no attraction for him. The treasures of the conquered Roman and Persian Empires lay at his feet, but he never cared to cast an eye at them. Once he distributed the entire wealth kept in Baitul Mal among the poor. When he was accorded a royal welcome in Kufa, he preferred to stay in the open field instead of the local palace in which arrangements for his boarding had been made. He could not add to the prosperity of his house during the lifetime of Hazrat Fatima. He had only one blanket, which was barely enough to cover his head and feet when he slept. Even, during the days of his Caliphate, he did not give up his simplicity and wore tattered clothes and ate coarse food. He loathed to engage a servant for performing household chores, which were handled by his beloved wife Fatima who was the favourite daughter of the Prophet. She was accustomed to grinding the corn with her own hands.
Writing in Izalat-ul-Khifa, Shah Waliullah says that Hazrat Ali once received baskets of oranges from some country. Hazrat Imam Hasan and Husain picked up one orange each which Hazrat Ali snatched from the hands of his sons and distributed all the oranges among the common people. As Islam forbids accumulation of wealth, Hazrat Ali, always lived up to his convictions; neither he ever amassed wealth, nor he believed in hoarding wealth in the Public Treasury.
During his Caliphate, he had to offer even his favourite sword for sale in order to purchase a piece of cloth. In spite of being extremely poor, he never turned away in disappointment anyone who knocked at his door. One night he watered a garden of Medina and received grain as his wage. The next morning when he returned home he got a portion of grain boiled. But he gave the whole of it to a beggar who knocked at his door. This was repeated on three successive days with the result that he himself had to go without food for three days.
Unlike Muawiya who recklessly distributed the wealth of Baitul Mal among his own men, with ulterior motives, Hazrat Ali scrupulously followed the principles laid down by the Second Caliph and equally distributed the public money among the people. This impartial justice of the Caliph antagonised his supporters, who began to side with Muawiya. Despite surmounting difficulties Hazrat Ali faced them with courage and conviction and kept up the high traditions of the Prophet.
His Administration steered clear of partisanship, favouritism or nepotism. He was particularly severe on his Governors and kept a regular watch on their actions, Once his own cousin Ibn Abbas, the Governor of Basra, drew some money from the Baitul Mal for his personal expenses. Hazrat Ali questioned his action and Hazrat Ibn Abbas was so much frightened that he left Basra for Makkah. It becomes abundantly clear from this that Ali did not spare even his dear once who strayed from the path chalked out by the Prophet.
“Ali’s Administration”, says Ameer Ali, “was too disturbed by civil war to remedy the evils of the previous Administration; but he removed most of the corrupt Governors and restored the policy of Umar where he had the power; established a state archive for the safe custody and preservation of the records of the Caliphate; created the office of Hajib or Chamberlain, and of the Sahibush-Shurta or Captain of the Guard; and reorganised the Police and regulated their duties.”
Notwithstanding the internecine warfare, the Muslims extended their frontiers during Ali’s regime. After the suppression of revolts in Kabul and Sistan, the Arabs made a naval attack on Konkan (Bombay Coast). Being highly experienced in warfare, the Caliph established army establishments on the Syrian frontiers. He strengthened his frontiers and raised impregnable fortifications on the northern frontiers of Persia.
Contemporary and later historians have paid high tributes to Hazrat Ali’s qualities of head and heart. The celebrated historian Masudi says : “If the glorious name of being the first Muslim, a comrade of the Prophet in exile, his faithful companion in the struggle for the faith, his intimate in life, and his kinsman; if a true knowledge of the spirit of his teachings and of the Book; if self-abnegation and practice of justice; if honesty, purity and love of truth; if a knowledge of law and science, constitute a claim to pre-eminence, then all must regard Ali as one of the foremost Muslims.” The celebrated traditionist Shah Waliullah has discussed at length the high qualities of Hazrat Ali in his wellknown work, ‘Izalat-ul-Khifa’. He concludes that, chivalry and strength of character, humanity and sincerity which are attributes of great men, were possessed in abundance by Hazrat Ali.
With the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali, ended the glorious regime of the pious Caliphs. “Thus vanished”, says a philosophical writer, “the popular regime, which’ had for its basis a patriarchal simplicity, never again to appear among any Mussalman nation; only the jurisprudence and rules which depended on Koran survived the fall of the elective Government.”
Another historian says: “The example of simplicity presented by the Prophet and his four successors stands unrivaled in the annals of kingship. Monarchies of vast empires, they led the lives of hermits and never cast a glance at the worldly riches which were laid in heap at their feet. Kingly palaces and robes came in their way, but the four kings, temporal as well as spiritual, ever took pride in their cottages they lived in and in the rough clothes they wore while they labored for their daily bread. Their lives were simpler than those of the common people and like them they would go to the mosque for the five daily prayers unaccompanied by a bodyguard. For their person they had no police or guard. But for the welfare of the State they were so watchful that the smallest incident on a most distant frontier would forthwith engage their attention. Their hearts were devoted to the love of God and their bodies to the service of man.”