Ali ibn Abu Talib, also imam Ali or Caliph Ali (Arabic: علي ابن أبي طالب) (Mecca, c. 598 - Kufa, 661) was a cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Mohammed. He was the fourth caliph (656-661) or successor of Muhammad for the Sunnis and also the first imam of the Twelve Imams for Shiites and Alevis. Shiites and Alevis believe that Ali should have been the first caliph according to the will of Muhammad and God. They regard his three predecessors’ asusurpators. Also within Sufism, Ali is seen as the most important of all Mohammed's companions, because he was specially taught by the Prophet. He is also called the father of Sufism in many circles. The Hadith (statement) in which Mohammed says: "I am the city of Knowledge, Ali is the Gate of it!" is considered important in Sufism. He is known in Islam for his courage, heroism, strength, patience, wisdom and knowledge. He was the first young person to enter Islam and then stayed for emigration close to Mohammed. He is considered Mohammed's best student.
According to Islamic (both Sunni and Shiite) sources, Ali was the only person ever born within the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest place in Islam.
His appointment as Caliph, however, came very unfortunate at the time of an unstable situation within the Ummah after the murder of his predecessor Oethman. As a caliph, Ali received fierce resistance and was declared war on him by, among others, Aisha and Mu'awija.
Ali was the last Caliph who belonged to the so-called "Four Right-Guided Caliphs" according to Sunnism and is one of the writers who recorded the revelations for the Quran.
According to Islamic tradition, Ali is one of ten people (according to Sunniism) who were testified that they were destined for Paradise.
According to Shiites and Alevis, Ali was one of the "14 Infallible", consisting of Muhammad, his daughter Fatima Zahra, and the twelve imams, all of whom would be sinless.
Course of life
Within Islam there are views that he is the only person ever born in the Kaäba in Mecca. His father, Abu Talib, was an uncle of Muhammad. His mother first called him "Haydar" (lion) after which his father Abu Talib changed his name to "Ali". He was nicknamed "God's lion" (Asadullah) and "Abu Turab" or "The father of the earth".
Ali was adopted by Mohammed and brought up by him. He married Mohammed's daughter Fatima. He was one of the first followers of Islam after the beginning of the revelations to Muhammad. After the death of Mohammed, Abu Bakr was chosen as the spiritual leader of Islam. However, according to the Shiites, Abu Bakr made this statement when Muhammad's relatives were busy with his funeral. According to them, Mohammed had stated several times during his prophethood that his son-in-law should succeed him as a spiritual leader. This is referred to in the hadith of 'the pen and the paper'.
Abu Bakr was succeeded by Omar and Uthman after his death. Uthman was killed in 656. Oethman was succeeded by Ali who had a direct blood relationship with Mohammed. Ali's appointment, however, was thwarted by General Mu'awiyah, the governor of Damascus who belonged to the Umayyad clan and was a cousin of Uthman. He accused Ali of working with the insurgents who had killed Uthman. A mutual war broke out, the First Fitna.
This war in the Muslim community eventually led to the murder of Ali in 661 in the city of Kufa, while he was praying according to tradition. According to other traditions, Ali had been attacked in front of his house by three men. Some Shiites claim that the killer was bribed by Muawiya I. He hit Ali on the head with a poisoned sword. After this Ali lived another three days, but his injury became fatal. He eventually died in his own house. He was succeeded by his son Hassan, who, however, resigned after a short time.
It has been narrated by Sahl ibn Sad, who heard the Prophet say on the day of Khaybar:
"I will certainly give the banner to a man through whose hands Allah will give the victory." They then stood up to see who would be given it, hoping that he would get it. Then he asked, "Where is Ali?" He was told that he was suffering from an eye condition. He ordered Ali to be brought to him. He then spit into his eyes and he healed immediately, as if nothing was the matter with him. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim tradition)
Most Shia believes Ali is buried in the Iraqi city of Najaf, in the Imam Ali Mosque where Ali has a gold- clad grave. Others believe he is buried in the Blue Mosque of Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.
Sunni and Shiite Islam each have their own interpretation of the life history of Ali.
Sunnis claim that the Shiites / Alevis think Ali is too 'big' and exaggerate in certain areas. However, Shiites claim that they can prove all their claims about Ali even from Sunni sources. One of the best known Sunni-Shia debates is described in the book 'Peshawar Nights', where only sources are used that are accepted by both Sunni and Shia.
Shiite view of Ali ibn Abu Talib
The Shiites and Alevis consider Ali a phenomenon: a great man who was unrivaled intellectually, physically, and spiritually. They believe that of all companions, only Ali has received the true esoteric teaching of Muhammad. Like the Prophet Mohammed, Ali is also seen as a perfect example of a human being. He was also the standard bearer and the leader of the army of Mohammed. He has experienced many of the wars and also fought himself. Ali is also called 'Kuran-i natik', which means 'Talking Quran'. This is because the Prophet Muhammad at Ghadeer Khum would have said "O 'people, Ali is with the Koran, the Koran is with Ali. Ali is with the Truth, the Truth is with Ali".
Ali is seen as one of the five members of the 'Ahl al-Bayt', which can be translated as 'People of the House'. This refers to Mohammed's family. The five members are: Mohammed, Fatima, Ali, Hassan and Hussein. Quran verses 33:33 and 42:23 would be about the Ahl al-Bayt.
The superiority of Ali
Both Alevis and Shiites (and most Sufis) claim that of all Muhammad's companions, Ali was the only one appointed by God through Muhammad as the first Caliph and the number one student of the Islamic prophet. In terms of knowledge, Ali would know everything that Muhammad knew, which Ali (despite the fact that he was not a prophet but a God-appointed imam/caliph) would give a higher rank than the prophets before Muhammad. From the book Peshawar Nights, an old Sunni-Shia debate in which only Sunni sources could be used, it is discussed as follows:
Since our holy prophet was superior to the previous prophets, Ali was also superior to them: In 'Ihya'u'l-Ulum' by Imam Ghazali, 'Sharhe Nahju'l-Balagha' by Ibn Abi'l-Hadid Mu'tazali, the Tafsir by Imam Fakhru'd-Din Razi, and the Tafsirs by Jarullah Zamakhshari, Baidhawi, Nishapuri, etc., you will come across the following hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad: "The scholars of my community are like the prophets of Bani Isra'il (Children of Israel)." In another hadith he says: "The scholars of the Prophet's community are equal to or better than the prophets of Bani Isra'il simply because their source of knowledge was the source of all knowledge/science, the Prophet Muhammad." Reason also Ali bin Abu Talib was certainly superior to the prophets, because the Prophet said, "I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is the gate of it." He also said:
Sa'sa'a asked Ali: "Let me know who is superior, you or Adam." The Holy Imam said: "It is not appropriate for a man to praise himself", but according to the saying: Make known the blessings that Allah has given you, "I must tell you that I am superior to Adam." When asked why this is the case, Ali explained that Adam had all the grace, comfort and blessings in paradise. He was only asked to give up the forbidden fruit. But he could not restrain himself, and ate from the tree. As a result, he was sent away from paradise. Allah had not forbidden Ali to eat wheat (which, according to Muslims, would be the forbidden "tree"). But since Ali had no inclination for this temporary world, he voluntarily distanced himself from eating wheat.
Sa'sa'a asked: "Who is superior, you or Noah?" Ali replied: I am superior. Noah called on his people to worship Allah, but they did not obey. Their shameful abuse was torture for him. He cursed them and called on Allah: "O my Lord! unjust person. After the Prophet's death, despite the fact that people have given me extreme difficulties, I never cursed them. I patiently continued their torture."
Sa'sa'a asked: "Who is superior, you or Abraham?" Ali replied, "I am superior because Abraham said, My Lord, show me how to revive the dead." He said, "Don't you believe?" He said, "Yes, but it is that my heart is comforted" (Quran 2: 260) My own faith is such that I said: "Even if the 'cover' over the unseen would be lifted, it would not increase my faith."
Sa'as'a asked: "Who is superior, you or Moses?" The Holy Imam replied: "I am superior because when Allah Almighty commanded Moses to go to Egypt and invite Pharaoh to the truth", Moses said: "My Lord, I have killed one of them and am therefore afraid they will kill me. And my brother Aaron is more eloquent than me, send him with me to help confirm what I am saying, for I am afraid that they will accuse me of lies." (Quran 28: 33-34) The Holy Prophet commanded me to go to Mecca under the command of Allah and reciting the verses of chapter 'Al-Bara'a' from the top of the Kaaba to the unbelievers of Quraish. I was not afraid, despite the fact that there were few people who had not lost a close relative by my sword. I obeyed his command and performed my task alone. I recited the verses of "Al-Bara'a and returned."
Sa'sa'a asked: "Who is superior, you or Jesus?" Ali said: "I am superior because when Mary became pregnant by the Grace of Allah and approached her birth, a revelation came to her: Leave this holy House because this is a House for prayers, not a place to give birth to children She then left the Holy House and went into the wilderness where she gave birth to Jesus, but when my mother, Fatima Bint-e-Asad, felt labor pains within the grounds of St. Kaaba, she clung to the wall and prayed Allah in the name of that House and the builder of that House, to alleviate her pain. Then a crack appeared in the wall, and my mother heard a mysterious voice telling her, "O Fatima! Enter the House of the Kaaba." She went inside, and I was born within the holy Kaaba."
The 12 Imams
Shiites believe that after Muhammad's death, leadership must remain within the family (Ahlalbayt). This is therefore seen as the biggest difference between Sunnism and Shiaism because the Mohammedan Sunnis believe in the "4 right-guided caliphs" and the Shiites in the Twelve Imams (just like Moses and Jesus would have had their 12 apostles). According to the Sunnis, one could choose their caliph after the Prophet's death and therefore chose Abu Bakr. Shiites believe that this choice is not due to the ignorant humanity, but that just as with the previous prophets, only God determines who becomes the righteous Caliph/successor to the Prophet, and that only Ali is the suitable and God's chosen caliph.
Ali ibn Abu Talib is the first imam of the 12 imams. Each subsequent imam is the son of the previous imam, with the exception of the 3rd imam Hussein ibn Ali, who is the younger brother of the 2nd imam Hasan ibn Ali. The 12 imams are seen as the only righteous successors to Prophet Muhammad and the only sages who can correctly interpret the Qur'an.
The twelve imams are seen as "Al-Insān al-Kāmil" (insan-i kâmil), which would mean perfect person. The Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima and the twelve imams together are also called the 14 Infallible (Ondört Mâsûm-u Pâk). However, the term "14 Mâsûm-u Pâk" is also used to refer to the murdered children of the 12 imams in Alevism. The 12 imams are all from the Ahl al-Bayt bloodline.