Ali ibn Abi Talib
عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب
Abu Turab
Amir al-Mu'minin
Rashidun Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib - علي بن أبي طالب.svg
Calligraphic representation of Ali's name in Rashidun form
4th Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate
(Sunni View)
PredecessorUthman ibn Affan
SuccessorHasan ibn Ali (5th Caliph)
1st Imam of Shia Islam
SuccessorHasan ibn Ali (2nd Imam)
Born15 September 601 (13 Rajab 21 BH)[1][2][3]
Mecca, Hijaz, Arabia[1][4]
Died29 January 661 (21 Ramadan AH 40)
(aged 59)[2][3][5][6]
Kufa, Mesopotamia, Rashidun Caliphate
Full name
ʿAlīy ibn ʾAbī ṬālibArabic: عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب
TribeQuraysh (Banu Hashim)
FatherAbu Talib ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib
MotherFatimah bint Asad

Ali ibn Abi Talib (Arabic: عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب‎, ʿAlīy ibn ʾAbī Ṭālib; 13 September 601 – 29 January 661)[2][3] was a cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who ruled as the fourth caliph from 656 to 661, but is regarded as the rightful immediate successor to Muhammad as an Imam by Shia Muslims.

Ali was born inside the sacred sanctuary of the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, to Abu Talib[7] and Fatimah bint Asad.[1][8] He was the first male who accepted Islam under Muhammad's watch.[9][10] Ali protected Muhammad from an early age[11] and took part in almost all the battles fought by the nascent Muslim community. After migrating to Medina, he married Muhammad's daughter Fatimah.[1] He was appointed caliph by Muhammad's companions in 656, after Caliph Uthman ibn Affan was assassinated.[12][13] Ali's reign saw civil wars and in 661, he was attacked and assassinated by a Kharijite while praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa.[14][15][16]

Ali is important to both Shias and Sunnis, politically and spiritually.[17] The numerous biographical sources about Ali are often biased according to sectarian lines, but they agree that he was a pious Muslim, devoted to the cause of Islam and a just ruler in accordance with the Qur'an and the Sunnah.[2] While Sunnis consider Ali the fourth Rashidun Caliph, Shia Muslims regard Ali as the first Caliph and Imam after Muhammad. Shia Muslims also believe that Ali and the other Shia Imams, all of whom are from the House of Muhammad's, known as the Ahl al-Bayt, are the rightful successors to Muhammad.

Life in Mecca

'Ali, mounted on a blue mule, is approached by a delegation from the Quraysh tribe.

Early years

Ali's father, Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib, was the custodian of the Ka'bah and a sheikh of Banu Hashim, an important branch of the powerful Quraysh tribe. He was also an uncle of Muhammad, and had raised Muhammad after Abd al-Muttalib, Abu Talib's father and Muhammad's grandfather, died.[18][19] Ali's mother, Fatima bint Asad, also belonged to Banu Hashim, making Ali a descendant of Isma'īl (Ishmael) the son of Ibrahim (Abraham).[20] Many sources, especially Shia ones, attest that Ali was born inside the Ka'bah in the city of Mecca,[1][21] where he stayed with his mother for three days.[1][22] His mother reportedly felt the beginning of her labour pain while visiting the Kaaba and entered it where her son was born. Some Shia sources contain miraculous descriptions of the entrance of Ali's mother into the Kaaba. Ali's birth in the Kaaba is regarded as a unique event proving his "high spiritual station" among Shia, while Sunni scholars consider it a great, if not unique, distinction.[23]

According to a tradition, Muhammad was the first person whom Ali saw as he took the newborn in his hands. Muhammad named him Ali, meaning "the exalted one". Muhammad had a close relationship with Ali's parents. When Muhammad was orphaned and later lost his grandfather Abd al-Muttalib, Ali's father took him into his house.[1] Ali was born two or three years after Muhammad married Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.[24] When Ali was five years old, Muhammad took Ali into his home to raise him. Some historians say that this was because there was a famine in Mecca at the time and that Ali's father had a large family to support; however, others point out that feeding Ali would not have been a burden on his father, as Ali was five years old at the time and, despite the famine, Ali's father, who was financially well-off, was known for giving food to strangers if they were hungry.[25] While it is not disputed that Muhammad raised Ali, it was not due to any financial stress that Ali's father was going through.

Father's Day

Many Shia Muslims also celebrate Imam Ali's birth anniversary (13th day of Rajab) as Father's Day in Iran.[26] The Gregorian date for this changes every year:

Year Gregorian date
2018 31 March[27]
2019 21 March[28]

Acceptance of Islam

Ali had been living with Muhammad and his wife Khadija since he was five years old. When Ali was nine, Muhammad announced himself as the Prophet of Islam, and Ali became the first male to accept Islam in Muhammad's presence, and the second person after Khadija. According to Sayed Ali Asgher Razwy in A Restatement of the History of Islam & Muslims, "Ali and [the] Qur'an 'grew up' together as 'twins' in the house of Muhammad Mustafa and Khadija-tul-Kubra."[29]

The second period of Ali's life began in 610 when he declared Islam at the age of 9, and ended with the Hijra of Muhammad to Medina in 622.[1] When Muhammad reported that he had received a divine revelation, Ali, then only about nine years old, believed him and professed to Islam.[1][2][30][31][32] Ali became the first male to embrace Islam.[33][34][35][36] Shia doctrine asserts that in keeping with Ali's divine mission, he accepted Islam before he took part in any old Meccan traditional religious rites, regarded by Muslims as polytheistic (see shirk) or paganistic. Hence the Shia say of Ali that his face is honoured, as it was never sullied by prostrations before idols.[30] The Sunnis also use the honorific Karam Allahu Wajhahu, which means "God's Favour upon his Face." The reason his acceptance is often not called a conversion is because he was never an idol worshipper like the people of Mecca. He was known to have broken idols in the mould of Abraham and asked people why they worshipped something they made themselves.[37] Ali's grandfather, along with some members of the Bani Hashim clan, were Hanifs, or followers of a monotheistic belief system prior to the emergence of Islam in Mecca.

Feast of Dhul-Asheera

Muhammad invited people to Islam in secret for three years before he started inviting them publicly. In the fourth year of his preaching, when Muhammad was commanded to invite his close relatives to come to Islam,[38] he gathered the Banu Hashim clan in a ceremony. At the banquet, he was about to invite them to Islam when Abu Lahab interrupted him, after which everyone left the banquet. The Prophet ordered Ali to invite the 40 people again. The second time, Muhammad announced Islam to them and invited them to join.[39] He said to them:

I offer thanks to Allah for His mercies. I praise Allah, and I seek His guidance. I believe in Him and I put my trust in Him. I bear witness that there is no god except Allah; He has no partners; and I am His messenger. Allah has commanded me to invite you to His religion by saying: And warn thy nearest kinsfolk. I, therefore, warn you, and call upon you to testify that there is no god but Allah, and that I am His messenger. O ye sons of Abdul Muttalib, no one ever came to you before with anything better than what I have brought to you. By accepting it, your welfare will be assured in this world and in the Hereafter. Who among you will support me in carrying out this momentous duty? Who will share the burden of this work with me? Who will respond to my call? Who will become my vicegerent, my deputy and my wazir?[40]

Ali was the only one to answer Muhammad's call. Muhammad told him to sit down, saying, "Wait! Perhaps someone older than you might respond to my call." Muhammad then asked the members of Banu Hashim a second time. Once again, Ali was the only one to respond, and again, Muhammad told him to wait. Muhammad then asked the members of Banu Hashim a third time; Ali was still the only volunteer. This time, Ali's offer was accepted by Muhammad. Muhammad "drew [Ali] close, pressed him to his heart, and said to the assembly: 'This is my wazir, my successor and my vicegerent. Listen to him and obey his commands.'"[41] In another narration, when Muhammad accepted Ali's eager offer, Muhammad "threw up his arms around the generous youth, and pressed him to his bosom" and said, "Behold my brother, my vizir, my vicegerent...Let all listen to his words, and obey him."[42] Upon hearing this, the sons of Abd al-Muttalib departed from the feast, mocking Muhammad's words, as they scoffed at Abu Talib ibn Abd al-Muttalib, "He has ordered you to listen and obey your son!".[43]:17 In Tarikh ut-Tabari and as-Seerat ul Halabiyya, it has been recorded that Abu Talib asks his son Ali, "What is this belief you are following?" to which Ali replies, "Father, I have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and have given credence to him, kept to him, and followed him."[43]

Sir Richard Burton writes about the banquet in his 1898 book, saying, "It won for [Muhammad] a proselyte worth a thousand sabers in the person of Ali, son of Abu Talib."[44]

During the oppression of Muslims

During the persecution of Muslims and boycott of the Banu Hashim in Mecca, Ali stood firmly in support of Muhammad.[45]

Migration to Medina

In 622, the year of Muhammad's migration to Yathrib (now Medina), Ali risked his life by sleeping in Muhammad's bed to impersonate him, thereby thwarting an assassination attempt and ensuring Muhammad's escape.[1][30][46] This night is called Laylat al-Mabit. According to some ahadith, a verse was revealed about Ali concerning his sacrifice on the night of Hijra which says "And among men is he who sells his nafs (self) in exchange for the pleasure of Allah."[47][48]

Ali survived the plot, but risked his life again by staying in Mecca to carry out Muhammad's instructions: to restore to their owners all the goods and properties that had been entrusted to Muhammad for safekeeping. Ali then went to Medina with Fatimah bint Asad (his mother), Fatimah bint Muhammad (Muhammad's daughter), and two other women.[2][30]