The messenger of Allah ﷺ said about Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه:
“I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its gate”. (Tirmidhi)
The fourth of the ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’, Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه the son of Abu Talib and Fatimah bint Asad, the husband of Fatimah al-Zahra, and the father of Hasan, Husayn and Zaynab, nephew of the Holy Prophet ﷺ, product of Muhammad’s teachings, received the burden of the caliphate when there was a lot of chaos, rifts within tribes, clashes, rivalry, and conspiracies designed by Jews to topple the caliphate and instigate the Muslims to shed blood in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. As Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه grew up next to Muhammad ﷺ and was always around him, even before the Holy Prophet started preaching, so his personality bore resemblance with Muhammad’s ﷺ. Ali رضي الله عنه also held the responsibility of a scribe for Muhammad for writing down the text of the Holy Qur’an as it was revealed. The Holy Prophet ﷺ also assigned the responsibility of mediation, conflict resolution between rival tribes, and also for dawah e.g., his expedition to Yemen.
A Balanced Personality
We have seen the previous caliphs as being either mostly on the humble or pious side or the fierce, outspoken side, but Ali رضي الله عنه was the kind of person who had a balanced personality, a combination of introversion and extroversion. This shows his true resemblance with our beloved Prophet, his uncle, with whom he spent his life since he was a child. History reveals that, in order to ease the burden of Muhammad’s ﷺ uncle Abu Talib, Ali (5years old) came to live with Muhammad ﷺ and was fortunate enough, by Allah’s will, to become the shadow of Allah’s messenger. As Muhammad ﷺ held Ali, a newborn, the Holy Prophet named him Ali, while the parents had named him Asad. Absorbing the kindness, humility, generosity, selflessness of Muhammad ﷺ alongside developing a growing desire to fearlessly sacrifice one’s life and belongings for the sake of Allah at all times, shows the deep love of the Almighty in his heart. Ali ibn Abi Talib is known for the generosity shown by him towards his enemies as he forgave them, and treated all Muslims equally.
Ali رضي الله عنه was a man of supreme acumen, intellect and knowledge, had interest in prose and poetry alongside writing letters and formulating Arabic grammar. His intelligence is evident from the countless sayings we come across, blessing us with guidance in all walks of life; hence Muhammad’s words about Ali being the ‘gateway of knowledge’.
Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه, the nephew of the Holy Prophet, son of Abu Talib, was married to Muhammad’s ﷺ dearly beloved daughter Caliph Fatimah al-Zahra رضي الله عنه. Of course this shows the admiration and affection of Allah’s messenger for Ali ibn Abi Talib as the Prophet blessed Ali by marrying off Fatimah رضي الله عنه to him. They were blessed with three offspring; Hasan, Husayn and Zaynab.
The Holy Prophet ﷺ once mentioned Ali as being his brother in this life and the next. Also, the Prophet mentioned to Fatimah رضی اللہ عنہا that “I have married you to the dearest of my family to me.” The immense love and adornment of the Prophet for Fatimah, Ali, Hasan and Husayn can be found in many Ahaadith. Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه loved his wife dearly, and although polygamy was common in the Arabs in those days, Ali didn’t marry another woman until the demise of Fatimah al-Zahra.
One time Muhammad ﷺ went to visit his daughter, only to find that Ali رضي الله عنه wasn’t home and left after Fatimah and Ali had an argument. The Holy Prophet told people to look around for him, and Ali was found sleeping in the masjid. Allah’s messenger ﷺ saw Ali covered with dust and hence gave him the title Abu Turab (father of dust), telling him to wake up.
Managerial Role for Caliphate
On account of his credibility, the three caliphs before him consulted him in religious, political, judicial, people-related matters, and even gave Ali managerial responsibility whenever a caliph had to leave the city. For instance, Umar رضي الله عنه entrusted Ali twice with caretaking duty when he had to leave for Conquest of Jerusalem, and also for Hajj.
Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه although didn’t take much part politically in the caliphate rules before him, took care of the state whenever needed. He had the command and wisdom to distribute authority and manage the areas conquered in Muslim wars led by the caliphs. Caliph Umar رضي الله عنه even praised Ali at times, saying that if it wasn’t for Ali, he wouldn’t have survived managing the additional Muslim empire being won over after the battles. Thus, it would have been disastrous, if the rapid expansion wasn’t consolidated, and managed. Ali رضي الله عنه maintained the discipline and smooth flow of the government by creating various departments, managerial roles and positions.
During his own caliphate, he made sure that there was no looting or booty collection by the Muslim soldiers after the expeditions were victorious. Rather, distributed the taxes as salaries among them.
The Feast of Youm ad-Dar (The Day of Warning)
Often times Ali رضي الله عنه would arrange favors for the Holy Prophet ﷺ, for instance, Muhammad ﷺ. asked Caliph Ali رضي الله عنهo 13 or 14 years old) to arrange feast for forty members of Banu Abdul Muttalib so an invitation of Islam can be delivered to them. This step was taken after Allah asked Muhammad ﷺ to start inviting his close relatives towards Islam;
“And warn, [O Muhammad], your closest kindred.” (Surah Ash-Shu’ara, verse 214, 26:214)
The meal was consumed and as Muhammad mentioned about the dawah the tribals laughed it off and didn’t take it seriously. Only, Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه broke the silence and announced:
‘Though I am still in my teens and not strong enough as yet, I shall be your Deputy [Khalifa], Trustee [Wasi], and Chief Administrator [vizier]’.
Similar scene transpired the second time and the third time the feast was offered to them, and afterwards as Muhammad started telling people of Banu Abdul Muttalib about the message of Allah, they all got quiet and no one accepted the invite to Islam, only Ali رضي الله عنه rose up and declared his support for Muhammad ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ hugged and blessed Ali رضي الله عنه and holding up Ali’s hand declared: “Oh people, this Ali رضي الله عنه here is my successor, [wasi], my caliph, and my vizier both in this world and the next.” The Prophet ﷺ then prayed: “O Lord, love him who loves Ali, hold as your enemy whosoever shows enmity towards Ali, help those who help Ali, and abandon those who abandon Ali.”
An Early Convert
Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه embraced Islam at a very young age of 9 or 10, as at that point the Holy Prophet ﷺ had started to share the message of Allah, and by Allah’s will Ali felt an inclination towards believing in The One Supreme Creator. Although there is confusion regarding whether he was the second person to accept Islam after Caliph Khadija رضي الله عنه or the third considering Caliph Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه as the second convert. But Ali رضي الله عنه is a very early convert and can be considered amongst the first male believers.
Migration to Madinah (Laylat–al–Mabit)
Almost 22 years old Ali رضي الله عنه was made to sleep in Muhammad’s bed when the Holy Prophet ﷺ migrated with Caliph Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه after Quraysh formed an evil plan of killing the Holy Prophet ﷺ. Such a great height of love for Muhammad that even though Ali knew about the intentions of the Kuffar of Makkah, Ali disregarded his own safety and laid down on the bed, posing as Allah’s messenger. A brave, courageous, iron-clad soul, who immensely loved and adored Muhammad ﷺ with no fear of anyone except Allah. On this occasion, Allah says about Ali رضي الله عنه in Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 207
“And of the people is he who sells himself, seeking means to the approval of Allah. And Allah is Kind to [His] servants.” (2:207)
Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه wasn’t harmed by the angry mob with drawn daggers that night, and Muhammad ﷺ along with Caliph Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه reached Madinah in a few days. As the Holy Prophet left in a state of hurry, there were goods and properties that people had entrusted him on account of Muhammad’s honesty for safeguarding, and so Ali رضي الله عنه was transferred this responsibility along with additional task of protecting members of Muhammad’s ﷺ family members. As Ali handed over the amaanah of the people, he emigrated to Madinah (first migrants) along with his mother Fatimah bint Asad, Fatimah bint Muhammad (Muhammad’s daughter), and two other women.
A fierce, brave, powerful, fearless soul, whose strength knew no limits. Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه took part in all expeditions in the life of the Prophet, except Tabouk (was on guard duty). At times he was a flag bearer, also a commander (Fadak, Yemen), but he proved his spectacular strength and bravery in the preceding battles. In Badr he defeated almost one third of the enemy on his own, fearlessly defended the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in battles of Hunayn and Uhud (when most of the Muslim soldiers fled from battlefield). The iron heavy gate of Khyber was used as his shield in the Battle of Khyber, writing down Ali’s رضي الله عنه tale of bravery and strength in golden words, bravo!
His greatness in battle can be depicted by the narration of Angel Jibreel علیہ السلام who stated about Ali and his sword zulfiqar: “There is no sword but the Zulfiqar, and there is no Hero but Ali.”
In the Battle of Trench, Ali commanded the army on Muhammad’s ﷺ orders, as Allah’s messenger said: “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.” And Ali ibn Abi Talib returned victorious after defeating the great Arab leader, Amr ibn al-Wud. As a reward, Muhammad ﷺ named Ali as 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.”
Allah o Akbar! Such greatness, epic strength, and bravery at its peak in Caliph Ali’s expeditions for the sake of Allah. But after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, till the assassination of Caliph Usman (3rd caliph), for around 24 years, Ali رضي الله عنه took no part in any battle or expedition. Sadly, his assassination in Kufa is a tale that deserves thorough research and understanding of the conspiracies plotted against him, and although Ali رضي الله عنه knew about his end, he didn’t keep any guards for his safety, neither did he banish his attacker beforehand. Muslim blood was sacred for him and protecting the lives and property of his Muslim brothers was his mission.
As a Role Model
Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه was indeed a very pious, humble, generous, brave, courageous, fearless and an intelligent person who loved the Holy Prophet ﷺ dearly and sacrificed everything dear to him merely for the sake of Allah, the Almighty. His achievements and accomplishments for spreading Islam are written in the books of history with golden words, and he helped expand the realms of Islamic empire. His words of wisdom are a beacon of light for generations to come, his sacrifices in history for prevention of bloodshed in the holy cities can never be forgotten. A brother to Muhammad in this life and the next, and a gateway of knowledge; surely signs for us all to deepen our knowledge of the four caliphs, and to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah in order to adapt a productive life and a fruitful afterlife.