A Brief Biography of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as)
Here we briefly look at Imam Ali’s (as) biography and the qualities that distinguished him as an Imam and successor of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
INTRODUCTION & BODY OF TEXT
Bismillāhir Rahmānir Rahīm, As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh. Peace be upon you brothers and sisters.
Welcome back to the Muslim Converts Channel!
Ali ibn Abi Talib, or Ali the son of Abu Talib, was the successor of the Prophet Muhammad (s). As his successor, Imam Ali (as) became the first Imam after the Prophet in a chain of twelve Imams that is to last until the Day of Judgment. An Imam is a divinely appointed leader for humankind. Although not a Prophet in the strict Islamic sense of the term, Ali ibn Abi Talib was the Imam and Qutb of the world.
Qutb literally means “pole.” In the Islamic sense of the term, it meant that like the Prophet Muhammad (s) before him, he was that perfect human being who was to be the cosmic and universal leader of all of God’s saints and the mediator between the divine and human realms.
The presence of the qutb or divine pole as God’s primordial light in the world was necessary for the continued existence of the earth for he was the channel through which God’s providence and mercy unto the world was made possible.
He was the cousin and son in law of the Prophet Muhammad. His wife was Fatima al-Zahrah, the mistress of the women of the universe and the secret door to God’s special and hidden providence to the saints of the world.
Imam Ali’s (as) father was none other than Abū Tālib, the guardian of the Kaʿba and the protector of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (s). Abū Tālib was therefore one of the greatest Muslims to have ever lived in the world.
Imam Ali (as) was born around the year 599 A.D. He was the first and only person ever to be born inside the Kaba. His mother was Fatimah bint Asad. Fatimah not only raised Imam Ali, but also raised the Prophet Muhammad (s) in his childhood.
Fatimah, like her husband Abū Tālib, was one of the first to believe in the Prophet’s message. She emigrated with him to Medina when persecution in Mecca was at its highest. Given the all the care and sacrifices she had shown the Messenger of Allah, the Prophet wrapped her with his own clothes as a sign of devotion and gratefulness to her.
Imam Ali (as) was the first male to believe in the Prophethood of Muhammad (s). The Prophet Muhammad had taken Imam Ali into his household and raised him like a son. There he taught him the inner secrets of spirituality, morality, justice and knowledge of God. Imam Ali was to grow up to be the staunchest of the Prophet’s supporters and defenders.
In one instance, the Prophet’s enemies used to throw rocks at him, yet Imam Ali in his youth would forcefully step forward and offer himself as a shield against the rocks.
Imam Ali (as) was with the Prophet throughout the two-plus decades of his Prophetic mission. During the first 13 years in Mecca, he suffered through all of the persecutions that the Prophet Muhammad himself faced.
Towards the end of his stay in Mecca when assassins went looking for him in order to kill him, he slept under the Prophet’s sheets in his home pretending to be the Prophet in order to lure the assassins to him and distract them while the Prophet escaped. Fortunately, the assassins saw that it was Imam Ali and not the Prophet before striking.
Imam Ali (as) also spent 10 years with the Prophet in Medina. During these years, he participated in almost every war, always risking his life in order to save that of the Prophet (s).
In 632, shortly before the Prophet (s) passed away, he appointed Imam Ali (as) as his successor during the event of Ghadeer. On the details of Ghadeer, please see the detailed lesson of the event in section four of our curriculum.
However, in a turn of events, Imam Ali’s (as) right to political succession to the Prophet (s) was taken from him even though it went against the Prophet’s wishes.
Those groups of people who supported Imam Ali’s claim to the Caliphate, that is, the Prophet’s successorship, were either ostracized, exiled or had war unleashed upon them.
Imam Ali’s (as) house was attacked and in the process, his wife sustained fatal injuries. Imam Ali was put under house arrest until the new powers-that-be had consolidated all their power.
However, the political aspect of Imam Ali’s (as) successorship was only a small part of his role. Although it was his right, it was not a necessary condition for being an Imam. What was necessary was that the institution of the Imam, that is, Imamate, be a form of religious and spiritual guidance for humankind. In this sense, Imam Ali (as) fulfilled his role as the Prophet’s successor.
Imam Ali’s Imamate lasted around 30 years, however, for almost twenty-five years he was prevented from assuming his political right.
After the previous three rulers or Caliphs died, there was no one left that the community could agree upon to be a trustable ruler. Corruption in the previous Caliphate had tired many, and this time people looked for someone they could trust 100%.
The only candidate available was Imam Ali (as) and as such, they insisted that Imam Ali become the new Caliph. Imam Ali (as) only accepted if it was run on his own terms, and those terms were that his rule was to be in accordance with the tradition of the Prophet (s).
Imam Ali (as) turned out to be the best ruler. No one had ever seen the amount of justice and fairness meted out as it was during the time of Imam Ali (as). He improved the infrastructure of the region and turned many of its cities into hubs for people to visit.
A signature reform of his was fixing the water system of the major cities of the Muslim Empire, particularly Medina and Kufa where his reform of the water supply and irrigation systems transformed both their access to clean water and the health of the community by preventing all kinds of diseases.
The poor loved him, and so did non-Muslims who were overwhelmed by his sense of fairness, justice and deference of the poor. Imam Ali (as) set up communal and political organizations to help the education of the young and poor, and set up safety nets for widows and orphans that would give them a second chance at life instead of locking them into abject poverty on a permanent basis.
For Imam Ali (as), poverty was not simply to be addressed through charity. Poverty, for Imam Ali (as), was a structural problem that could only be rectified by ridding society of elite corruption and restructuring a socio-economic system that prioritized the plight and suffering of the marginalized, oppressed and the poor.
The corrupt elite who had been appointed by previous Caliphs had benefited much from political and economic corruption. They had lied, schemed and murdered their way to political power and wealth. Imam Ali (as) was determined to put an end to this structural problem of evil that existed in the Muslim community. Naturally, the corrupt elite were not happy with this.
As a result, they created pretexts - such as the murder of the third Caliph Uthman – to justify their aggression against Imam Ali (as) where they blamed him for Uthman’s assassination. This was, of course, a pure lie.
For five and a half years Imam Ali (as) spent his time defending himself from wars instigated not only by the corrupt rich elite, but also by religious fanatics who believed that anyone who disagreed with their views should be put to death.
Imam Ali (as) won these wars, but they were won at a great cost. Many of his resources, time, energy as well as the lives of many innocent Muslims were sacrificed so that the Islamic realm would not fall into absolute chaos.
In the year 661 A.D, Imam Ali (as) was struck with a poisonous sword whilst praying. While the Imam was dying, he asked how his assassin was being treated in prison. When he learned that he was not being given proper food, he refused to eat his own food until his assassin ate the same as he did. He made sure that he was treated well and did not have his hands tied together too tightly so as to cause him pain.
Imam Ali (as) was succeeded by his son Imam al-Hasan (as). Imam al-Hasan (as) was not only to assume the religious and spiritual position of the Imāmate, but he was also became the political Caliph of the time, even though it was only for a short while. This is because Imam Ali’s enemies did not simply stop at his death, but continued their animosity towards his family until the last one, the 12th Imam, was forced into occultation.
In order to learn more about Imam Ali (as) and his teachings, please see the further reading section of this lesson.
Until Next Time, Thank you for watching. As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh
Divinely appointed leader to guide humankind
Where Imam Ali (as) was declared the successor of the Prophet
Wife of Imam Ali (as) and daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (s)
Literally “pole,” it refers to a perfect human being who is the cosmic and universal leader of all of God’s saints and the mediator between the divine and human realms.
Imam Ali’s father
What is an Imam?
An Imam is a divinely appointed leader to guide humankind. The Prophet Muhammad (s) is the one who first announced who the Imam after him would be.
Who was the first Imam?
Imam Ali (as)
Can you be an Imam without political power?
Yes, the main function of an Imam is religious and spiritual. Political power is not a necessary condition for Imamate even though it is the sole right of an Imam.
Why did people hate Imam Ali (as) so much?
The people who hated him were the rich elite. They hated him because he fought against their corruption.
Aside Imam Ali (as), was anyone else born inside the Kaba?
prophet of islam
messenger of allah
100 Virtues of Imam Ali (as) by Ibn Shazan
The Brother of the Prophet Muhammad: Imam Ali by Muhammad Jawad Chirri
Nahjul Balagha by Murtada Mutahhari
Nahjul Balagha (vol 1 and 2) by Sayyid Husayn ar Radi al-Musawi