Early life and some scholar s comments

 Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, was the first cousin of the Holy Prophet (s). His father, Abu Talib, and the father of the Holy Prophet, Abdullah, were the sons of Abdul Muttalib from the same mother, Fatima. The name of Imam Ali's mother was also Fatima, the daughter of Asad, the son of the famous Hashim. Thus his parents were cousins.

Imam Ali (a) was born on the 13th Rajab, (30 Amul Fil), about 610 A.D., i.e. 23 years before the Hegira (Migration). Historians say that he was born in the precincts of the Holy Ka'bah.[1]

At the time of his birth, his father and his cousin, Muhammad, the Holy Prophet (s), were out of Mecca, his mother gave him the names of Asad and Haider. His father called him Zaid. But when the Holy Prophet (s) returned to the city, he took his young cousin in his charge and gave him the name of Ali, saying that it was the name decreed for him by Allah. [2]

Among his various Kunniya (patriotic appellations), the most famous were Abul Hasan, Abus Sibtain and Abu Turab.

His titles were Murtaza (the chosen one), Ameerul Momineen (the Commander of the Faithful), Imamul Muttaqin (the leader of the pious and God-fearing).

The famous historian and biographer Allama Ali ibn Muhammad says, Imam Ali was a man of middle height with black, big and piercing eyes, very handsome and fair complexion, broad shoulders, a long muscular neck, a broad forehead and a little hair on the top of his head.

He used to walk with very light gait and he was very agile in his movements. He had a smiling face, pleasing manners, a jovial temperament, kind disposition and a courteous behaviour. He would never lose his temper. [3]

He was born three years before the marriage of the Prophet (s) with Lady Khadija . Soon after his birth, the Prophet (s) took him under his care and Ali was like a son to him. He used to live with the Prophet (s) and used to sleep with him. He was fed by him, washed and dressed by him, and even carried by him on a sling whenever he would go out. [4]

When the Holy Prophet (s) married Khadija, she adopted this child as her son. Imam Ali (a) himself, has described his childhood saying that:

"I was still a new born baby, when the Holy Prophet (s) took me from my parents. I used to cling to him and he used to feed me, and (when I grew a little older), he never found me uttering a lie or feigning a deceit. To me he was like a guiding star and I used to follow his actions and deeds carefully. I was attached to him like a foal of camel attached to its mother. He used to place before me high values of morality, and used to advise me to follow them; every year, he would spend some days at the grotto of the Mt. Hira and I used to be with him, I was his only companion then and none else could meet him at Hira, there I used to see the light of revelation, and used to smell the fragrance of Prophethood. Once the Holy Prophet (s) told me: "Ali! You have attained a very eminent place. You see what I see and you hear what I hear." [5] (See also Nahjul Balagha, Sermon a190)

Once the Holy Prophet (s) told Imam Ali, "O Ali! Allah has ordered me to keep you near me. You are to me like an ear that retains everything, because yours are the retaining ears that the Holy Book (Quran) has praised". [6]

Ibn Abil Hadid, the commentator of Nahjul Balagha cites Abdullah ibn Abbas saying, "Once I asked my father, 'Sir, my cousin Muhammad had many sons, all of whom died in infancy, which of them he loved the most?" He replied, "Ali ibn Abi Talib". I said, "Sir, I was inquiring about his sons." He replied: "The Holy Prophet (s) loved Ali more than all of his sons. When Ali was a child, I never saw him separated from Muhammad for half an hour, unless Muhammad went out of the house for some work. I never saw a father love his son so much as the Holy Prophet loved Ali and I never saw a son so obedient, so attached and so loving to his father as Ali was to Muhammad."

Jubayr ibn Mut'im, the companion of the Prophet said: "Once his father addressed him and some young men of his family, Have you noticed the child (Ali) loving, venerating and obeying that young man (Muhammad) instead of his own father, what an intensity of love and veneration! I swear by our gods, the Lat and the Uzza, that instead of having so many offspring of Nawfal around me, I had a son like Ali."

Once the Holy Prophet (s) said: "O Ali! I wish to achieve every such thing for you that I desire to acquire myself and I want to keep you away from all those things which I abhor." [7]

Whenever the Holy Prophet was in anger, nobody dared to address him except Ali. [8]

Abbas, the uncle of the Holy Prophet (s) used to say that they (the Holy Prophet and Ali) loved each other intensely. The Prophet (s) was so fond of Ali that once when Ali was a child, he sent him out on some errand. He took a long time to return. He started getting worried and anxious and in the end he prayed to Allah, "O Lord don't let me die unless I behold Ali once again." [9]

Ali started acting as the bodyguard of the Holy Prophet (s) even when he was about fourteen. The young men of Quraish, under instigation of their parents, used to pelt the Holy Prophet (s) with stones. Ali took up the work of acting as his defender, he fell upon those young men, broke the nose of one, knocked down the teeth of the other, pulled the ears of the third and threw down the fourth. He often fought against those who were older than him. He was often himself hurt, but he never forsook the self-imposed duty. After some days, he got the nickname of Qazim (the breaker or thrower) and nobody dared throw anything at the Prophet when Ali was with him and he would not allow the Holy Prophet (s) to go out of the house alone.

Offering his sacrifice at the night of Hegira and his subsequent behaviour in all the battles are enough proofs of the intense love of Imam Ali (a) for the Holy Prophet (s).

Jurjy Zaydan (George Jordac) who died recently was a famous Christian historian, linguist, philosopher and poet of modern Egypt. Arabic was his mother tongue, but he was so well-versed in English, French, German, Persian and Latin that he used to contribute his work to historical and philosophical magazines of France, Germany and England. Regarding, Imam Ali (a) he says:

"No one can praise Ali to the extent that he (Ali) deserves. So many instances of his piety and fear of Allah are cited that one starts loving and venerating him. He was a true, staunch and devout follower of Islam. His words and deeds bore stamp of nobility, sagacity and courage of convictions. He was a great man having his own independent views about life and its problems. He never deceived, misled, or betrayed anybody. In various phases and periods of his life, he exhibited marvelous strength of body and mind which were due to his firm belief in religion and his abiding faith in truth and justice. He never had a servant and never did he allow his slaves to work hard. Often he would carry his household goods himself and if anybody offered to relieve him of the load he would refuse."

Allama Muhammad Mustafa Beck Najib, the famous Egyptian philosopher and Professor of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University, in his equally famous book "Himayatul Islam", says:

"What can be said about this Imam? It is very difficult to fully explain his attributes and qualities. It is enough to realize that the Holy Prophet (s) had named him the gateway of knowledge and wisdom. He was the most learned person, the bravest man and the most eloquent speaker and orator. His piety, his love of Allah, his sincerity and fortitude in following religion were of such high standard that no one could aspire to reach him. He was the greatest politician because he hated diplomacy and loved truth and justice, his was the policy as taught by Allah. On account of hi sagacity and thorough knowledge of human nature, he always arrived at correct conclusions and never changed his decision. His was the best judgement, and had he no fear of Allah, he would have been the greatest diplomat amongst the Arabs. He is loved by all, and everyone has a place for him in his heart. He was a man of such surpassing and pre-eminent characteristics and such transcending and peerless qualities that many learned men got perplexed about him and imagined him to be an embodiment of Allah. Many amongst the Jews and Christians loved him, and such philosophers who had come to know of his teachings bowed down before his incomparable vast knowledge. Roman kings would have his pictures in their palaces and great warriors would engrave his name on their swords!"

Another philosopher and historian of Egypt, Ustad (Professor) Muhammad Kamil Hatha, pays his tributes to Imam Ali (a) in the following words:

"His life is an agglomeration of pleasing incidents, bloody encounters and sad episodes. His personality is very prominent on account of his transcending and high qualities. Each aspect of his life is so lofty and glorious that a study of one phase makes you feel that it was the best phase of his character and the most beautiful picture of his personality, while contemplation of any other phase will enchant you more and you will come to conclude that no human being can attain that height, and a third aspect will fascinate you equally and you will realize that before you is a personality of such sublime eminence that you cannot fully appreciate its greatness and you will feel that Ali was an Imam (leader) in the battlefield, was an Imam in politics, was an Imam in religion, was an Imam in ethics, in philosophy, in literature, in learning and in wisdom. It is not difficult for Allah to create such a person!" [10]

John J. Pool, the historian (author of the life of H.M. Queen Victoria) in his book, "Studies in Muhammadanism" says:

"This prince (Imam Ali) was a man of mild and forbearing character, wise in counsel and bold in war. Muhammad had given him the title of the "Lion of God". Ali and his sons, Hasan and Husain were truly noblemen -- men of righteousness, men of brave, humble and forgiving spirit. Their lives deserve to be commemorated; for there was a peculiar pathos about them (their lives) which were not spent selfishly or in vain. Mathew Arnold in Essay in Criticism says: "The sufferers of Karbala had aloft to the eyes of millions -- the lesson so loved by the sufferer of Cavalry (Representation of Crucification): "Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and Ye shall find rest unto your souls". He further says that Ali was the First Caliph to protect and encourage national literature. This prince was a scholar himself and many of his wise sayings and proverbs are published in a book. It is a remarkable work and deserves to be more widely read in the West".

Ibn Abil Hadid says:

"Imam Ali (a) had a personality in which opposite characteristics had so gathered that it was difficult to believe that a human mind could manifest such a combination. He was the bravest man that history could cite and such brave persons are always hard-hearted, cruel, and eager for bloodshed. On the contrary, Ali was kind, sympathetic, responsive and warm-hearted person, qualities quite contradictory to the other phase of his character and more suited to pious persons. He was very pious but more often pious and religious persons avoid society and do not care to mix with corrupt and sinful persons. Similarly warriors, kings and dictators are usually arrogant and haughty. They consider it below their dignity to mix with poor, lowly and humble persons. But Ali was different. He was a friend to all. As a matter of fact he had a soft corner in his heart for poor and humble and for orphans and crippled. To them he always was a kind friend, a sympathetic guide and a fellow sufferer; he was meek towards them but haughty and arrogant against notorious warriors and generals, so many of whom he had killed in hand to hand combats. He was always kind but strict with wayward persons, sympathetically teaching them the ways of Allah. He always smiled and passed happy and witty rejoinders. It was difficult to overcome him in debates or repartees, his rejoinders and retorts always bore high mark of culture, education and wisdom.

He was a scion of a very illustrious, rich and noble clan, as well as son-in-law and great favourite of the Holy Prophet (s), at the same time, the greatest warrior and marshal of his time. Yet, in spite of his riches, he ate, dressed and lived like a poor man. To him wealth was for the use of other needy persons, not for himself and his family. Change of times and change of circumstances did not bring any change in his bearing, mien or character. Even when he ascended the throne of Arabia, and was acclaimed as the caliph, he was the same Ali as the people had found him during the previous regimes."

Once when in the presence of Abdullah ibn Imam Malik ibn Hanbal, a discussion took place about Imam Ali (a) and his Caliphate, Abdullah brought the discussion to an end by saying: " The Caliphate did not bring any honour or glory to Ali, but it was the Caliphate, honoured and glorified by Ali, and it received the status actually due to it."

I want to add one more point to the points discussed by Ibn Abil Hadid. World cannot quote an example other than that of Imam Ali (a) of a first class warrior, and a marshal who is also a philosopher, a moralist and a great teacher of religious principles and theology. A study of his life shows that his sword was the only help that Islam received during its early days of struggle and its wars of self-defence. For Islam, he was the first line of defence, the second line of defence and the last line of defence! Who was with him in the Battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaybar and Hunayn? This is one aspect of his life.

While the other phase of his character is portrayed by his sermons, orders, letters and sayings. What values of morality they teach, what ethics they preach, what intricate problems of monotheism they elucidate, how rich they are in philosophy, how they train us to be good, kind, benevolent and pious rulers, and faithful, sincere and loyal subjects; how they persuade us to be warriors who can fight only for Allah, truth and justice, and not mercenaries, murdering and plundering for riches and wealth; and how they instruct us to be teachers who can teach nothing injurious and harmful to mankind. Was there any such combination before and will there ever be?? (See also "Imam Ali's wonderful character -- contradictory virtues and qualities")

To Oelsner, (the famous French Orientalist and author of Les Effects de La Religion de Mohammed), Ali was an embodiment of chivalry; and personification of gallantry and generosity. He says:

"Pure, gentle and learned without fear, and without reproach, he presented to the world the noblest examples of Chivalrous grandeur of character. His spirit was a pure reflection of that of Muhammad, it overshadowed the Islamic world and formed the animating genius of succeeding ages".

Osborne, in "Islam under the Arabs" says:

"Ali had been advised by several of his counsellors to defer the dismissal of the corrupt governors previously appointed until he himself was sure against all enemies. The pillar of Islam, the hero without fear and without reproach, refused to be guilty of any duplicity or compromise with injustice. This uncompromisingly noble attitude costed him his State and his life; but such was Ali, he never valued anything above justice and truth".

Gibbon (in "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. V) says:

"The zeal and virtues of Ali were never outstripped by any recent proselyte. He united the qualifications of a poet, a soldier and a saint. His wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings; and every antagonist in the combats of tongue or of sword was subdued by his eloquence and valour. From the first hour of mission to the last rites of his funeral, the Prophet (Muhammad) was never forsaken by this generous friend (Ali) whom he delighted to name his brother, his vicegerent and the faithful Aaron of second Moses".

Mas'udi, the famous historian of Islam 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 associate 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 and if knowledge of law and science constitute a claim to pre-eminence, then all must regard Ali as the foremost Muslim. We shall search in vain to find either among his predecessors except the Holy Prophet, or among his successors, those virtues with which Allah had endowed him".

Imam Ali's faith

As has been declared by all historians of Islam, Imam Ali (a) from his infancy was adopted and looked after by the Holy Prophet (s). Therefore, naturally his religious tendencies from his very childhood were those of the Holy Prophet (s). The question as to when he embraced Islam is out of consideration. He was a Muslim from the very beginning! His religion was the religion of the Prophet Muhammad (s). At the age of 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 14th year, he was following the religion which the Holy Prophet (s) had at his 35th, 37th, 40th, 42nd and 44th year of his life! (this being the difference between the respective ages of the Holy Prophet (s) and Ali, about 30 years). If the Holy Prophet (s) at any period of his life was a non-Muslim, then Ali at that period was also a non-Muslim. This is the logic of facts! Ali was like a son to the Holy Prophet (s) therefore his religion from the very beginning was the religion followed by the Holy Prophet (s).

Mas'udi further says: "The general consensus of opinion amongst the Muslim historians and theologians is that Ali was never a non-Muslim and never did he worship idols, therefore, the question of his embracing Islam does not and cannot arise".[11]

Marriage to Hazrat Fatima (s)

"Imam Ali was married to Lady Fatima, the only daughter of the Holy Prophet (s) from Lady Khadija. He had been betrothed to her several days before the expedition to Badr. But the marriage was solemnized three months later, Imam Ali (a) being in his 21st year and Lady Fatima in the 15th year of her life". [12]

It was the happy marriage. The inherent distinctiveness of their respective characters blended so well with each other that they never quarreled and complained of each other and they led a happy and contented life. Each one of them was rich in his own rights. All that they owned went to the poor, the crippled and the orphans and they themselves often starved. Their only luxury in life was prayers and the company of each other and their children. They willingly shared the sorrows and sufferings of the poor. They were given a slave girl, Fizza; and the Holy Prophet (s) had made arrangement that every alternate day was the off day of Fizza and her mistress would do all the household work. Even when Lady Fatima (s) was ill on Fizza's off day, Fizza would not be allowed to attend to her duties, but Imam Ali (a) would work; and the hero of the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaybar and Hunayn was seen grinding oats, igniting the oven, baking the bread and looking after the children.

Salman al-Farsi says: "What a household, the only daughter of the Holy Prophet (s) and wife of vicegerent leading the life of a poor labourer. If they had spent one-tenth of what they were distributing daily, they would have led a life of ease and comfort".

From Imam Ali (a), the Lady of Light (Fatima) had four children and the fifth (Mohsin) was a still birth. The causes of this mishap and also that of her death are very sad and tragic incidents of their lives. The names of their children were Hasan, Husain, Zainab (wife of Abdullah ibn Ja'far) and Umme Kulthum (wife of Ubaydullah ibn Ja'far).

During the lifetime of Lady Fatima, Imam Ali (a) did not marry another woman. After her death he married Yamamah and at her death another lady, having the name of Hanafia, from whom he had a son, Muhammad Hanafia, and after her death, he married again, thus he had many children some of whom had unparalleled places in the history of mankind, e.g. Hasan, Husain (the hero of Karbala), Zainab (the defender of Islam in Kufa and Damascus), Abbas (the commander of Husain's army) and Muhammad Hanafia, (the hero of the Battle of Naharwan).


[1] al-Hakim in al-Mustadrak 'ala al-Sahihin V 3 P 483 
al-Shablnji in Noor al-Absar P 76 
al-Kanji al-Shai'i in Kifayt al-Tlib P 260 
al-Arbily in Kashf al-Ghummah P 19 
al-Dilamy in Irshal al-Qolob V 2 P 5-6 
al-Masoodi in Morooj al-Dhahab V 1 P 2 
Ibn al-Jawzi in Tazkirat Khawas al-Ummah P 7 
Ibn Sabagh al-Maliki in al-Fosool al-Muhimmah P 14 
al-Halabi in al-Surah al-Nabawiyah V 1 P 150 
Ali al-Qari al-Hanafi in Sharh al-Shifa V 1 P 151 
Abi Salim al-Shafi'i in Matalib al-Soal P 11 
Allaul-Ddin al-Saktwary in Muhadarat al-Awaeil P 120 
Izalatul Khifa P 251 
Sharh al-Ainiyah, Allama Alusi

[2] Sharh-e-Bukhari, Imam Nudi; Tazkirah Khawasul A'immah, Sibt ibn Jauzi

[3] Mustadrak Hakim, vol. III; Kamil ibn Athir; Tarikh Khamis; al-Isaba, Ibn Abdul Barr, vol. II, p. 486; Riyazun Nuzrah, vol. II, pp. 202, 208.

[4] Ithbatul Wasiyah, Mas'udi, p. 119

[5] Hulyatul Aliya, vol. I, p. 67; Tafsir Durre Manthur, Suyuti; Ibn Abil Hadid.

[6] Hulyatul Awliya, Hafiz Abu Na'im, vol. I, p. 67; Tafsir Durre Manthur, Suyuti.

[7] Jame' Tirmizi, vol. I, p. 38; Miskhat Sharif, vol. II, p. 8; Musnad ibn Hambal, vol. I, p. 146

[8] Usas, Allama Tabrani; Seerah-e Imam Hakim.

[9] Sharh-e-Nahjul Balagha, Ibn Abil Hadid, vol. III, p. 251.

[10] A review on the character of Ali, p. 40

[11] Seerah al-Halabiya.

[12] The Spirit of Islam.