Ali ibn Abi Talib (علي بن أبي طالب) (c. 600 – 661) was the fourth Caliph or
Mohammad. He was born at
Mecca where his
Talib, was an uncle of the Prophet. Ali himself was adopted by Mohammad
and educated under his care.
While a boy, he distinguished himself by being the very first
male to declare his adherence to the cause of Mohammad, who some years
afterwards gave him his daughter
Fatima Zahra in marriage. Ali proved himself to be a brave and faithful
soldier, and when Mohammad died without male issue, a few emigrants thought
Ali to have the best claim to succeed Mohammad. However, the first caliph was
Uthman. It was not until 656, after the
murder of Uthman, that Ali assumed the title of caliph. Certain conspirators
later claimed that he took no steps to prevent this murder, and use this story
as perhaps the only blot upon his character. However, some stories also claim
that Ali sent his sons
Hasan to defend Uthman, and was angered when they were unable to protect
Almost the first act of his reign was the suppression of a
rebellion under Talha and Zobair (two eminent companions of Mohammad), who
were instigated by
Aisha, Mohammad's widow, a bitter enemy of Ali, and one of the chief
hindrances to his advancement to the
The rebel army was defeated at the Battle of Basra (also known as the Battle
of the Camel); the two generals were killed, and Ayisha was escorted with all
respect to Al-Madina and was allocated a pension.
Ali soon afterwards made
Kufa his capital.
His next care was to get rid of the opposition of
the governor of
Syria, who had established himself at the head of a renegade army. A
prolonged battle took place in July 657 in the plain of
Siffin (Suffein), near the Euphrates;
the fighting was at first, in favour of Ali, when suddenly a number of the
enemy, fixing copies of the
Quran 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". The
superstitious soldiers of Ali refused to fight any longer, and demanded that
the issue be referred to arbitration. Abu Musa was appointed umpire on the
part of Ali, and `Amr-ibn-al-As, a veteran diplomat, on the part of Muawiyah.
It is said 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 Muawiya, `Amr
declared that he also deposed Ali, and announced further that he invested
Moawiya with the caliphate. This treacherous decision greatly injured the
cause of Ali, which was still further weakened by the loss of Egypt.
It chanced, however — according to a legend, the details of
which are quite uncertain — that three of the sect of the
Kharijites had made an agreement to assassinate Ali, Muawiyah and `Amr, as
the authors of disastrous feuds among the faithful. The only victim of this
plot was Ali, who died at Kufa in 661, of the wound inflicted by a poisoned
weapon. A splendid mosque called
Ali was afterwards erected near the city at
place of his burial (although some believe he is buried at
Mazar-e Sharif in
Afghanistan). He had eight wives after Fatima's death, and in all, it is
said, thirty-three children, one of whom,
Hasan, a son of Fatima, is said by the Sunni tradition to have stepped
aside to prevent furhter bloodshed among Muslims.
who founded the
Umayyad dynasty of caliphs thus became the caliph. Ali's descendants by
Fatima are known as the
The question of Ali's right to succeed to the caliphate is an
article of faith which divided the Muslim world into two great sects, the
The Sunnis believe that the prophet chose
to be the first caliph, while the Shia believe that he chose Ali and announced
it in public in
Khom. Whatever the case, Ali did not challenge Abu Bakr or any of the
later caliphs, rather he served as an advisor to them.
Ali is greatly respected by all Muslims, both Sunni and Shia.
The Shia in
particular venerate him as second only to the prophet, call him among several
titles the "Leader of the Faithful" (Amir-ul-mumineen) and the "Lion of God"
(Sher-i-Khuda), and celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom; the Shia
version of the
adhan also includes an explicit reference to Ali. Ali is described as
a bold, noble and generous man, "the last and worthiest of the primitive
Muslims, who imbibed his religious enthusiasm from companionship with the
prophet himself, and who followed to the last the simplicity of his example."
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".
Husayn are also revered by
especially the Shia.