On Friday, the 13th of Rajab (the seventh month of the Islamic calendar) - which falls on March 31 this year - a momentous event took place.
According to Shia beliefs and as confirmed by some Sunni texts, Fatima binte Asad, wife of Abu Talib, was heavily pregnant and had come to the Holy Kaaba to circumbulate it when she felt labour pains. Suddenly, the wall of the Holy Kaaba cracked open and she entered inside; there she gave birth to a baby boy. To this day, the followers of Ali swear that they can see the crack though it has been filled up since, and they try and touch the wall's surface during Hajj and Umrah.
I, too, have often done the same, despite the objections of the guards posted there, who feel it is biddat (innovation).
It is said that once Fatima Binte Asad had entered the Kaaba, the walls were sealed again and it was only on the third day that the locks on its doors could be opened when Muhammad, the baby’s cousin, came in. Thus, this was the first face the newborn saw, and he was named Ali (exalted).
Ali followed his cousin Muhammad everywhere like a “baby camel” and thus he learnt the lessons of the two worlds. As a young boy, he was the first male to embrace Islam as his religion and Muhammad as the Prophet of God. The first woman was the Prophet’s wife, Khadijah.
To this day, the followers of Ali swear that they can see the crack, though it has been filled up since.
Ali was a medium-built man with piercing eyes. He was unusal as he was not only a man of wisdom and scholarship, but also one of the bravest warriors known to the world and a just administrator. As Sir Edward Gibbon said, “He united the qualifications of a poet, a soldier, and a saint; his wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings.”
He is the hero of millions of qawwalis: The most famous being the saying of the Prophet (pbuh)
We have grown up on stories about Ali’s legendary wisdom and bravery. As a devotee of Hazrat Ali, I would like to share a few of them with you.
His sayings and letters have been preserved in a compilation called Nahjul Balagha or Peak of Eloquence. Whenever I have shared his wise thoughts on social media, it has been met with an enthusiastic response.
In fact, I often use his words to respond to my trolls. Some of my favourites are:
For someone who lived his life by The Prophet’s teachings, Ali was not afraid to adapt to changing circumstances. There is a tradition set by the Holy Prophet that "with the help of hair dye, turn old age into youth so that you do not resemble the Jews".
When Imam Ali was asked to comment upon this, he said that in the early stage of Islam, there were very few Muslims. The Holy Prophet had advised them to look young and energetic, and to not adopt the fashion of the Jews (priests), who had long, white flowing beards.
But Muslims were not in a minority then, theirs was a strong and powerful state, and hence they could choose any style they liked.
When Ali became the fourth Caliph of Islam, he appointed Malik Ashtar as the governor of Egypt. His instructions to him are a statement of good governance and kept in the United Nations as an example. I am reproducing some portions here (translated by Rasheed Turabi):
“Be it known to you, O, Malik, that I am sending you as Governor to a country which in the past has experienced both just and unjust rule. Men will scrutinise your actions with a searching eye, even as you used to scrutinise the actions of those before you, and speak of you even as you did speak of them...
Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in religion or your brethren in kind. They are subject to infirmities and liable to commit mistakes. Some indeed do commit mistakes. But forgive them even as you would like God to forgive you.
Do not say: “I am your overlord and dictator, and that you should, therefore, bow to my commands”, as that will corrupt your heart, weaken your faith in religion and create disorder in the state.
Maintain justice in administration and impose it on your own self and seek the consent of the people, for, the discontent of the masses sterilises the contentment of the privileged few and the discontent of the few loses itself in the contentment of the many. Remember the privileged few will not rally round you in moments of difficulty: they will try to side-track justice, they will ask for more than what they deserve and will show no gratitude for favours done to them...
Unloose the tangle of mutual hatred between the public and the administration and remove all those causes which may give rise to strained relations between them... "
He then went on to give wise advice on how to keep the army happy, how to choose a chief justice, how to redress the woes of cultivators for even if there is a temporary loss of revenue by reduction of taxes it could be made up "in the hour of greater prosperity of the land and enable you to improve the condition of your towns and to raise the prestige of your state".
He advocated meeting the poor and the oppressed periodically in an open conference without armed guards to hear their grievances.
Today, he is mostly remembered for his legendary bravery, and justifiably so.
In the battle of the Trench, the famous Quraish warrior Amr bin Abd e Wud challenged someone from the army of Muhammad to face a duel, which was the custom of war:
“I am Amr bin Abd e Wud, the greatest warrior in Arabia. Is there anyone among you who has the courage to meet me in personal combat?”
No one responded to the giant’s call. When Ali rose, he was stopped by the Prophet, who said, “This is Amr bin Abd e Wud.”
Twice the Prophet stopped Ali, but the third time Ali simply said, “I am Ali ibn Abu Talib.”
Ali’s agility and his quickness with his feet helped him parry the giant’s blows. Ali also had the famous double-edged sword Zulfiqar in his hand. The Zulfiqar was to become one of the deadliest swords in myth.
Soon, Ali had Amr flat on his back, on the ground. When Amr could not break Ali’s hold and rise, he spat on his face.
Ali, who had been lowering his dagger on Amr’s throat, rose, took a step backwards and sheathed his weapons. When Amr then jumped up (to retaliate), Ali swung the Zulfiqar at him and killed him.
He then went back to The Prophet. Muhammad asked, “O Ali! Why did you step back when you were just about to kill Amr?”
“O Messenger of God, just as I was about to run my dagger on his throat he spat at me and abused me. If I had killed him, then it would have been a personal revenge as I was furious. I had to overcome my rage and so stepped away. I wanted to kill him only for the sake of and in obedience to Allah’s commands.”
Cries of triumph could be heard from the victorious army:
La Fatah Ila AliLa Saif Ila Zulfiqar (Truly there is no victor like Ali/ And no sword like the Zulfiqar).
Note: There are many dates given for Ali’s birth, but as it is recorded that he was born on a Friday, it has been narrowed down to 16 BH - the year 13 Rajab fell on Friday. This date has been fixed as July 17, 607 CE, according to Kitab Maqtal Ali by Abu Mikhnaf, originally published 156 AH/773 AD; from which Ali Ibn Abi Talib's birthdate was replicated by IMAM (Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya) Cultural Publication; Volume 2, Issue 5.