THE RIGHTLY-GUIDED CALIPHS Ali (r.a) 656-661

Hadrat Ali (r.a) has the privilege of being born in the precincts of the Ka`ba.[1] His family was very crowded, so from the age of five he was raised in the compound of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), benefiting from his companionship even before his prophethood was announced.  In this way Ali (r.a) was safeguarded from the habits of the Age of Ignorance, and became the first among children to accept Prophet Muhammad’s message.

After receiving revelation, the Prophet used to visit the fairs around Makka where people gathered for pilgrimage to the Ka`ba, with the purpose of inviting people to the way of Islam. He would take either Hadrat Ali (r.a) or Hadrat Abu Bakr (r.a) with him. When the Prophet did not take Hadrat Ali (r.a) with him, Ali (r.a) would go to the Ka`ba and deface the idols there.

Hadrat Ali (r.a), played a great role during the Hijra, the Emigration of the Prophet. When Muhammad (pbuh) secretly left Makka for Madina, Ali (r.a) slept in his bed, thereby diverting the attention of the idol-worshippers who had planned to murder Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and were lying in wait outside his house.

When the Prophet left Makka, it was to Hadrat Ali (r.a) that he entrusted the valuables given to him for safekeeping, so that Ali (r.a) could return them to their owners. Hadrat Ali (r.a), after fulfilling this mission, left for Madina as well. It was a difficult journey. He walked at night and rested by day, and his legs grew swollen. However, he was united with the Prophet in Madina safe and sound.

In the second year of the Hijra Ali (r.a) married Fatima (r.ha), the Prophet’s daughter, and became the Prophet’s son-in-law. With Hadrat Fatima (r.ha), Ali (r.a) lived a life of devotion and commitment. From the two of them sprang a lineage of eleven distinguished descendants of the Prophet. This lineage was called Ahl al-Bayt, the People of the House. All of them were significant figures in tasawwuf, sufism.

Master of the Bountiful

Raised in the bosom of the Prophet, Hadrat Ali (r.a) never inclined to worldly affairs. Consequently his life was an example of Islamic solidarity and altruism.

The Prophet once said, “When Allah blesses His servant, He opens the way for that servant to serve humanity.” (Suyuti, II, 4/3924)

Reflecting on this great divine favor, Hadrat Ali (r.a) replied, “There are two blessings, and I cannot say which one makes me happier. The first is when someone comes to me for help with the hope that I will provide him with what he wants from me. The second is when Allah helps that person through me. I prefer helping a Muslim to a world made of gold or silver.”[2]

One day Hadrat Ali (r.a) said to his noble wife Fatima (r.ha), “I’m starving. Have we got anything to eat?” Hadrat Fatima (r.ha) answered that they had nothing to eat, but there were six dinars in the house. Hadrat Ali (r.a) took that money and went to the bazaar. On the way to the bazaar he heard one man scolding another. The first man was demanding that the second man pay what he owed; he was threatening to take him to court. The borrower asked more time from the lender, but the lender rejected his plea.

Hadrat Ali (r.a) interrupted and asked, “How much money are you fighting about?” The two responded that it was six dinars. Hadrat Ali (r.a) paid the lender the whole amount, and headed home with nothing. On the way back he wondered what he would tell Hadrat Fatima (r.ha). In the end he decided, “She won’t be angry with me. She is the chief of women, and the daughter of the Prophet! She’ll be tolerant of what I’ve done.”

When he told Hadrat Fatima (r.ha) what had happened, she said, “That is a noble act. May Allah be praised! You saved a Muslim from imprisonment. Allah is enough for us.” She was upset, though: both their sons were crying out of hunger. Hadrat Ali (r.a) sensed her state, and was upset himself. He went to visit the Prophet, thinking that he would forget what had happened once he entered that spiritual presence.

On the way to the Prophet’s house, he saw a man approaching, accompanied by a camel. The man said, “I’m selling this camel. Would you like to buy it?” Hadrat Ali (r.a) told him that he had no money. The man kept pressing him, however, and finally Hadrat Ali (r.a) bought the camel for a hundred dinars, on credit. Then he moved on.

 As he continued, another man approached him and offered to buy the camel. He offered Hadrat Ali (r.a) three hundred dinars, and the deal was done. With part of the money from the sale of the camel, Ali (r.a) bought some food and went home. He told Hadrat Fatima (r.ha) what had happened; they ate, fed the children, and thanked Allah.

Afterwards Hadrat Ali (r.a) went on to see the Prophet. The Prophet asked him, “O Ali (r.a)! Do you know from whom you bought the camel and to whom you sold it?”

Ali (r.a) replied, “Allah and His messenger know the best.”

The Prophet said, “The seller was the Angel Gabriel, and the buyer was the Angel Israfil, who will blow the trumpet of summons on the last day of the world. That camel came from Paradise. You helped a Muslim in distress, and Allah gave you many times your investment in return. No one knows what He will give you in the Hereafter.”[3]

`Ata (May Allah have mercy with him) narrates from Ibn `Abbas (r.a):

“Hadrat Ali (r.a) agreed to irrigate a date orchard in return for a certain amount of barley when the work was done. In the morning he got what was owed him and came home. With a third of the barley the family cooked a meal called hazira.  Just as the food was ready, a poor person came to the door, asking for something to eat. Ali and Fatima (r.huma) gave their meal to that poor person. They cooked another meal with another third of the barley. Just as the food was ready, an orphan came to the door, asking for something to eat. They gave that meal to the orphan. Then they cooked another meal with the last third of the barley. Just as the food was ready, a prisoner of war came to the door, asking for something to eat. They gave that meal to the captive, and spent the day hungry.

Another narrative of Hadrat Ali and Fatima (r.huma) relates that during one Ramadan, for three days in succession the couple gave their fast-break food to a poor person, an orphan, and a captive, and themselves broke their fast with water alone. It is in relation to this noble act that the following verses are said to have been revealed:

And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive. We only feed you for Allah’s sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks. Surely we fear from our Lord a stern, distressful day. Therefore Allah will guard them from the evil of that day and cause them to meet with ease and happiness (Insan/76: 8-11).[4]

Because of this noble morality, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave Hadrat Ali (r.a) the title Master of the Bountiful.

Victorious Lion of Allah

Hadrat Ali (r.a) was distinguished not only by generosity and deep knowledge, but also by outstanding courage. He took part in all but one of the armed struggles for the survival of Islam, and became renowned as a heroic figure in every battle he entered. He missed just one campaign, the battle of Tabuk. The Prophet asked him not to come out for Tabuk, but to watch over the community and the members of the Prophet’s family at Madina. This upset Hadrat Ali (r.a). He complained, “O Prophet! Are you leaving me behind to take care of women and children?”

The Prophet answered with these consoling words: “You are in the same position to me as Aaron was to Moses, except that there will be no prophet after me.[5]

It was the custom of the Arabs to call their most famous warriors to step forward for single combat as a prelude to the general engagement of both sides in battle. The Prophet usually asked Hadrat Ali (r.a) to undertake such single combats. With Allah’s will, he bested every opponent. He was, therefore, widely known by the title Victorious Lion of Allah.

The heroic performance of Hadrat Ali (r.a) was no doubt rooted in the spiritual inspiration of the Prophet. For Muhammad (pbuh) once said, “The real hero is not the person who prevails over his rival in combat. The real hero is the person who controls himself in times of anger.”[6] Hadrat Ali (r.a) was a good example of the sort of real warrior pointed out by this saying of the Prophet. He lived a life in which he triumphed over his ego all the time.

In one battle, Ali (r.a) was about to kill a soldier from the army of the idol-worshippers. On the verge of death, that soldier spat in his face. Hadrat Ali (r.a) stopped, put down his sword, and told the man to get up and go. The soldier was astounded. He asked Hadrat Ali (r.a) why, when he held all the power and had been insulted, he was giving his opponent another chance. Hadrat Ali (r.a) answered, “We fight two kinds of battles. The first is against idol-worshippers like you; the second is against our lower selves. That battle requires us to control our passions. I had been fighting against you only for the sake of Allah. When you spat in my face, it made me angry. If
I had killed you in that moment, it would have been to satisfy my own rage, and my lower self would have triumphed over me. That is why I set you free. I have won the great battle, the battle with my own lower self. To be a slave in the hands of the lower self is greater danger for Muslims than the attacks of idol-worshippers.”[7]

With this answer, Hadrat Ali (r.a) raised the veil from the heart of the enemy soldier. The man was enlightened with faith, and became a Muslim. Later this new Muslim took part in many battles at the side of Hadrat Ali (r.a). He followed Hadrat Ali’s teaching, differentiating carefully between anger for the sake of Allah and anger for the sake of one’s own passions. He gave the battle against his lower self priority over fighting any other enemy.

Hadrat Ali (r.a) was a heroic warrior, yet never ceased living a life of spiritual commitment and deep devotion. During one battle, he was shot through the leg with an arrow. His supporters attempted to remove it from his leg, but Ali (r.a) couldn’t bear the operation because the pain was so severe. Finally he told them, “Let me stand in prayer. When I am in the midst of prayer, pull the arrow.”

They followed his instruction, and took out the arrow easily. When Ali (r.a) finished his prayer, he asked them whether they had been successful! Prayer removed him from the possibility of pain. He used to pray as if he had already departed from the world.

From the Ka`ba to the Mosque of Kufa

Hadrat Ali (r.a), did his best to help the caliphs who governed the community after the death of the Prophet. He joined their councils and helped them make well-directed decisions.

He himself was appointed caliph by the Companions of the Prophet after the assassination of the third deputy, `Uthman (r.a). One of his early administrative acts was to transfer the capital from Madina to Kufa, because he did not want the city of Madina, the Illuminated City of the Prophet, to witness political conflict. His decision was correct, for his caliphate had to bear witness to civil war (often called al-Fitna, “The Trial”) and there was political struggle in Kufa to the end of his life.

Once his supporters appealed to him, “Commander of the Faithful! Let us be your guard!”

He answered, “There is no guard better than death.” Eventually, he was tragically assassinated by a former supporter, a political extremist.

Ali (r.a) lost his appetite a few days before his death. When asked why he did not eat, he answered: “I want to die hungry.” Shortly afterwards, he was stabbed to death with a poisoned sword while leading morning prayers. He was 63 years old, the age of the Prophet at his own passing.

As Ali (r.a) lay dying, Jundab ibn `Abdullah said to him,  “O Commander of the Faithful! May Allah save you for us. But if you leave us, we will offer an oath of allegiance to your son Hasan.”

With great insight, Hadrat Ali (r.a) took the position taken by Abu Bakr (r.a) before him: “I will not tell you whether or not to offer homage to Hasan. You know your own affairs better than I do.”

He next advised his sons, Hasan and Husayn.“I want you to devote yourself to the way of Allah,” he said.  “Do not mourn over the past. Tell the truth all the time. Follow the guidance displayed in the Book of Allah. Be an enemy to oppressors, and a friend to the oppressed. Do not allow yourselves to be offended by words of condemnation concerning the rules of religion.”[8]

After leaving this spiritual testament, he uttered the Profession of Faith, and passed away. He closed his eyes forever in a prayer-hall that he himself had first opened by the Ka`ba, in whose precincts he had been born.

Mu`awiya, who had challenged Hadrat Ali (r.a) during his government and brought on the civil war, became the fifth caliph, and ruled as a king. The community of Islam entered a different phase. Later Mu`awiya repented what had happened. He publicly spoke of his regret: “I wish I had lived as an ordinary man of Quraysh in the valley of Dhi-Tuwa, and had never gotten involved in politics.”[9]

Junayd al-Baghdadi, the great mystic of Islam, remarked, “If Ali (r.a) had not been forced to spend time on battles he would have taught us more of the Qur’anic sciences. He is the master of scholars. He gave voice to insights that so far have not been attainable by anyone else.”[10]

Here are some words of wisdom from Hadrat Ali (r.a), inviting us to follow his principles of life.

Words of Wisdom from Hadrat Ali (r.a)

“Rest your soul with words of wisdom, for souls get tired and weaken, as bodies do.”

“There is no goodness in praying without standing in awe of Allah, in fasting without refraining from idle talk, in reading the Qur’an without contemplation, in learning without acting accordingly, in wealth without charity, in fellowship without offering help in need, in blessings without gratitude, and in invocation without sincerity.”

“People are opposed to what they do not know.”

“Paradise is for the generous, while Hell is for the ignorant.”

“The ignorant will not be questioned about why they did not learn until after the learned are questioned about why they did not teach.”

“Whoever yearns for Paradise pursues good works. Whoever fears the Fire refrains from passions. Whoever takes death seriously dispenses with the desires of his ego. Whoever is aware of how the world works knows what the obstacles are.”

“Chastity is the charity due for beauty.”

“Decency and generosity in religion are fruits of common sense.”

“More intellect means less speech.”

“Whoever grasps that he will be questioned for his words as for his acts will speak less, and not at all about things that do not concern him.”

“Not speaking until asked is better than speaking until silenced.”

“Do not bother responding to a base accusation, because the one who made the accusation is likely to answer back with worse.”

“Do not make jokes with fools, for they may break your heart with their poisonous tongues.”

“Speak to people in a language they can understand.”

“A curved object will have a curved shadow.”

“Think well of the servants of Allah. If you do so, you will rid yourself of many burdens.”

“Whoever does not follow the way of Allah, His Prophet, and the friends of Allah is destined to have no capital. The way of Allah is to keep the secret. The way of the Prophet is to manage relationships with good behavior. The way of the friends of Allah is to put up with problems that come from people.”

“If you want to become good friends with someone, first spend some time with him. If he still sympathizes with you when you have spent time together, then establish a relationship with him.”

“A person whose heart is occupied with hatred cannot do good works, because no heart is spacious enough to contain two opposite concerns.”

“A Muslim should smile even if his heart is sad.”

“Eternal blessing is only possible when one dies surrendered.”

“How can the son of Adam grow arrogant? His beginning is a drop of fluid, and his end is a corpse. He can neither create his own conditions nor escape extinction.”

“Life is made up of only two days. One day is for you; the other day is against you. Do not spoil yourself when the day is for you, and do not wail when it is against you.”

“Today is the day to do good works. Tomorrow is the day to account for your works. There will be no chance of further action then.”

“Every breath is a step towards death.”

“Both the world and religion will be preserved as long as the following four things are preserved: as long as rich people are not miserly with their wealth; as long as learned people act according to what they know to be true; as long as ignorant people do not pride themselves on what they do not know; and as long as poor people do not prefer the life of this world to the life of the next.”

“How lovely when the rich humble themselves to the poor, hoping for the reward of Allah! But the poor do an even better job by resigning themselves to Allah, which makes them independent of the rich.”

“Being deprived of something is better than being indebted to somebody.”

“Virtue is the adornment of poverty; gratitude is the adornment of wealth.”

 “Meanness gathers up in itself all kinds of bad characteristics.”

 “When you grow poor, make a business deal with Allah by giving alms. When you grow rich, thank Him. Try to retain Allah’s blessings by thanking Him all the time.”

“The gift of Islam is better than any worldly wealth. Commitment to religion is better than any worldly concern. Advice from death is better than any worldly advice.”

“Knowledge is the best of inheritances. Decency is the best of arts. Prayer is the best of investments. Good works are the best of mentors. Good character is the best of friends. Gentleness is the best of assistants. Frugality is the best of possessions. Contemplation of death is the best of protectors.”

“There is no better trade than doing good deeds; no better benefit than divine guidance; no better dignity than humility: no better honor than knowledge; no better chastity than abstaining from what is sinful; no better character than coming closer to Allah; no better prayer than performing obligatory religious acts; no better intellect than foresight; no better virtue than solidarity.”

“Here are the most difficult deeds, done at the most difficult times: to forgive while angry; to be generous while in need; to exercise self-control while no one watches; to speak truth to people one fears or needs.”

“If someone exaggerates small nuisances, Allah will expose him to bigger ones.”

“Possessions are the raw material for passions. Passions unlock troubles. Jealousy rides people to pointless exhaustion.”

“Worldly cravings and expectations blind even foresighted people.”

“Your worth is equal to what you desire.”

“One who becomes a slave of his ego’s endless desires is bound to do bad deeds.”

“The foreordained goes to those who do not expect it.”

“There is no better place for your soul than Paradise. So trade your soul only for Paradise.”

“The friends of Allah are those who can see the inwardness of life while looking at its outwardness.”

“A servant’s faith cannot ripen unless he trusts in Allah more than he trusts whatever he has.”

May Allah help us to take in these words of wisdom and to act in accordance with them. May He grant us the love of the four caliphs, the closest friends of the Prophet, and unite us with them on the Day of Judgment!

Indeed, union with our companions of the Hereafter starts already in this world. If we make friends with the noblest souls of this world, we will no doubt be close to them in the Next. May our Lord help us to take on the morality of the four caliphs, and let them intercede for us on the Day of Judgment!

Amîn…

[1]       al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, III, 549.

[2]       Ali al-Muttaqi, al-Kanz al-`Ummal, VI, 598/17049.

[3]       Ramazanoğlu Mahmud Sami, Hz. Aliyyu’l-Murtaza, 119-122.

[4]       al-Wahidi, al-Asbab al-Nuzul, 470; al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf, VI, 191-192; al-Razi, XXX, 244.

[5]       Ramazanoğlu Mahmud Sami, Hz. Aliyyu’l-Murtaza, 54.

[6]       Muslim, al-Birr, 107.

[7]       Ramazanoğlu Mahmud Sami, Hz. Aliyyu’l-Murtaza, 117.

[8]       Ramazanoğlu Mahmud Sami, Hz. Aliyyu’l-Murtaza, 74.

[9]       Ibn Athir, al-Bidaya, VIII, 135.

[10]      Ramazanoğlu Mahmud Sami, Hz. Aliyyu’l-Murtaza, 113.