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Ali ibn Abi Talib

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Ali ibn Abi Talib (Template:Lang-ar) (c. 21st March 598661) was the fourth caliph or successor of Muhammad. He was also the Prophet's cousin, and, after marrying Fatima, his son-in-law as well. He is revered by Shi'a Muslims as the rightful first caliph and the first imam, and by the majority Sunni Muslims as one of the Khulafa-e-Rashidun, the exemplary first four rightly guided caliphs.

Contents

Early life

Ali was born at Mecca where his father, Abu Talib, was an uncle of the Prophet. Ali himself was adopted by Muhammad and educated under his care.

In 622, the year of Muhammad's flight to Medina, Ali risked his life by sleeping in the Prophet's bed to impersonate him and thwart an assassination plot, so that the Prophet could flee in safety. In addition, Ali delayed his own departure from Medina to carry out Muhammad's instructions to restore all the goods and properties that had been entrusted to him as a merchant to their owners in Mecca.

From 622 to Muhammad's death in 632, Ali was one of Muhammad's trusted warriors, active in military campaigns to protect and extend the Muslim community.

Accession of the first caliph

According to Shi'a scholars, before Muhammad died he had received a divine command to appoint Ali as his successor. He publicly announced Ali's succession at the resting-place of Ghadir Khum, between Mecca and Medina, to a large number of Muslims who had accompanied him on what was to be his last pilgrimage to Mecca.

Sunni scholars dispute this claim. They say that it is highly unlikely that the electors of the first caliph would have disregarded such a public endorsement, had it actually taken place as the Shi'as describe. They further point to the Prophet's injunction to the faithful to settle their matters through shura, or consultation. This, they say, established and legitimized the elective office of the caliphate, as exemplified by the first four caliphs, (The "Rightly Guided"). These caliphs were elected by the elders of the Muslim community, some of the closest companions of the Prophet.

That there was some contention as to how the community should be governed after Muhammad's death seems clear; the exact details are greatly disputed, because of the gradually developing schism between Sunni Muslims (the majority) and Shi'a Muslims (see Etymological note below). All the surviving historical accounts were written long after the event, when the divisions between Sunni and Shi'a were already well-developed. They agree in saying that Muhammad's death greatly agitated the Muslims of Medinah, that there was some confusion as to the proper way to proceed, that Ali was not at first prepared to recognize Abu Bakr as leader, and that he eventually did so.

Whoever should have been the first caliph, the first ruler to actually hold power was Abu Bakr, Muhammad's old friend and father-in-law. While Ali was slow to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr, once having pledged he gave the new caliph his full support -- as he did with Umar and Uthman, the caliphs who succeeded Abu Bakr.

From the Sunni point of view, Ali's acquiescence in the rule of the first three caliphs is explicable only by Ali's acceptance of shura as the proper procedure for the choosing of a leader. From the Shi'a point of view, this shows only that Ali put the interests of the community above his own. For further discussion, see the article on the succession to Muhammad.

Succession to the caliphate

As caliph, Abu Bakr was followed by Umar ibn al-Khattab and Uthman ibn Affan. It was not until 656, after the murder of Uthman by an angry crowd, that Ali was proclaimed caliph by the mutineers who had dispatched the previous ruler. Opponents at the time claimed that he had connived at the murder of Uthman, but current opinion absolves him of any blame. A contemporary scholar, Wilferd Madelung, uses traditional materials to argue that Ali had done his best to mediate between Uthman and the rebels, and had given up in despair when Uthman reneged on promises he had made.

For a fuller discussion of this and succeeding events, see Fitna.

Caliphate

Almost the first act of his caliphate was the diffusing of a rebellion led by Talha and al-Zubayr (two eminent companions of Muhammad), who were urged on by Aisha, Muhammad's widow. In the view of Shi'as, she was a bitter enemy of Ali, and one of the chief hindrances to his advancement to the caliphate. The rebel army was defeated at the Battle of Basra (also known as the Battle of the Camel); the two generals were killed, and Aisha was captured and escorted with all respect to Medina, where she was given a pension.

Soon thereafter Ali dismissed several provincial governors, some of whom were relatives of Uthman, and replaced them with companions of the Prophet (such as Salman the Persian) or trusted aides (such as Malik al-Ashtar). Ali then transfered his capital from Medina to Kufa, the Muslim garrison city in what is now Iraq. The capital of the province of Syria, Damascus, was held by Mu'awiyah, the governor of Syria and a kinsman of Ali's slain predecessor.

Mu'awiyah raised an army and marched against Ali, demanding vengeance for the death of Uthman. A prolonged battle took place in July 657 in the plain of Siffin (Suffein), near the Euphrates; the battle seemed to be turning in favor of Ali, when a number of the opposing army, fixing copies of the Qur'an to the points of their spears, exclaimed that "the matter ought to be settled by reference to this book, which forbids Muslims to shed each other's blood."

At this point, the soldiers of Ali refused to fight any longer, and demanded that the issue be referred to arbitration. Abu Musa Asha'ri was appointed advocate for Ali, and `Amr-ibn-al-As, a veteran diplomat, was for Mu'awiyah. It is claimed that `Amr persuaded Abu Musa that it would be for the advantage of Islam that neither candidate should reign, and asked him to give his decision first. Abu Musa having proclaimed that he deposed both Ali and Mu'awiyah, `Amr declared that he also deposed Ali, but invested Mu'awiyah with the caliphate. This decision greatly injured the cause of Ali, which was still further weakened by the loss of Egypt.

Death

Missing image
Meshed_ali_usnavy.jpg
Imam_Ali_Mosque Ali is believed by many to be buried here in Najaf, Iraq.

According to tradition, three Muslim zealots (purists later termed Kharijites) had agreed to assassinate Ali, Mu'awiyah and `Amr, as the authors of disastrous feuds among the faithful. The assassins sent against Mu'awiyan and `Amr failed; the only assassin who succeeded was the one who attacked Ali.

Ali was stabbed on the head by a poisoned sword while he was performing morning prayers. Before he died, he is said to have ordered that his assassin, Abdur Rahman bin Muljam al Sarimi, be killed quickly and humanely, rather than tortured. Ali died in Kufa in 661.

A splendid mosque called Mashad Ali was afterwards erected near the city at Najaf, the place of his burial (although some believe he is buried at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan).

Descendants

Main article: Descendents of Ali ibn Abi Talib

Ali had eight wives after Fatima's death, and in all, it is said, thirty-three children, one of whom, Hassan, a son of Fatima, is said to have refrained from publicly claiming the caliphate, so as to prevent further bloodshed among Muslims. Muawiyah I thus became caliph and established the Umayyad dynasty of caliphs. Hassan is, however, revered by all Shi'a as the second imam; his brother Hussein is usually reckoned as the third.

Ali's descendants by Fatima are known as sharifs, sayyeds, or sayyids. These are honorific titles in Arabic, sharif meaning 'noble' and sayyed/sayyid meaning 'lord' or 'sir'. As Muhammad's only descendents, they are respected by both Sunni and Shi'a, though the Shi'a place much more emphasis and value on the distinction.

Many Muslim notables are descendents of Muhammad. The Hashemite royal families of Jordan and Iraq, the Alaouite royal family of Morocco, and the Aga Khans of the Ismaili community claim direct descent from the prophet through Ali and Fatima. There are also many humbler "sayyeds" whose only distinction may be the title in front of their name, or the right to wear a black turban (a sign of Alid descent in some communities).

Legacy

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ImamAli.jpg
Imaginary portrait of Ali ibn Abi Talib, by Iranian artist. Many Shi'as traditionally keep such portraits in shops, houses, and other readily visible places to constantly remind them of Ali's legacy.

Ali is greatly respected by most Muslims (the Ibadi might be the only dissenters). The Shi'a in particular venerate him as second only to the prophet. They also celebrate the anniversaries of his martyrdom and birth; the Shia version of the confession of faith also includes an explicit reference to Ali. Ali is described as a bold, noble and generous man, "the last and worthiest of the first generation Muslims, who imbibed his religious enthusiasm from companionship with the prophet himself, and who followed to the last the simplicity of his example."

British historian and orientalist Thomas Carlyle calls him "noble-minded...full of affection and fiery daring. Something chivalrous in him; brave as a lion; yet with a grace, a truth and affection worthy of Christian knighthood" in his book On Heroes And Hero Worship And The Heroic In History.

In the eyes of the later Muslims he was remarkable for learning and wisdom, and there are extant collections of proverbs and verses which bear his name: the Sentences of Ali. The most famous collection of Ali's speeches and letters is the Nahj al Balagha meaning "The peak of eloquence". A few famous quotes from his works:

  • Inability is a disaster; patience is bravery; abstinence is a treasure, self-restraint is a shield; and the best companion is submission to Divine Will.
  • Socialize with people in such a manner that when you die, they should weep for you and as long as you live, they should long for your company.
  • Greed is a permanent slavery.
  • Submission to God's will is the cure of the misery of the heart.
Source: Nahjul Balagah (The Peak of Eloquence) [1] (http://www.imamalinet.net/en/nahj/nahj.htm)

Etymological note: Shi'a, in Arabic, means "party of, or partisans of." Shi'a is actually an abbreviation of Shi'at Ali, meaning "the partisans of Ali [and his descendants]."


Preceded by:
Uthman
Caliph
656661
Succeeded by:
Mu'awiyah I
Preceded by:
Shia Imam
632–661
Succeeded by:
Hasan

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See also

External links

de:Ali ibn Abi Talib et:Ali ibn Abi Talib fr:Ali ibn Abi Talib it:Al (Islam) he:עלי אבן מוטלב nl:Imam Ali nn:Ali ibn Abi Talib ja:アリー・イブン=アビー=ターリブ pl:Ali ibn Abi Talib pt:Ali ibn Abi Talib fi:Ali ibn Abi Talib sv:Ali ibn Abi Talib uk:Алі ібн Абі Таліб

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