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Encyclopedia > Ali ibn Abu Talib
This article forms part of the series
Vocabulary of Islam
Five Pillars
Profession of faith
Prayer Alms Fasting
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Jihad (See Sixth pillar of Islam)
Prophets of Islam
Caliph Shia Imam
Companions of Muhammad
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Ali ibn Abi Talib (علي بن أبي طالب) (c. 600661) was the fourth Caliph or successor of Muhammad. He was born at Mecca where his father, Abu Talib, was an uncle of the Prophet. Ali himself was adopted by Muhammad and educated under his care, and he was the first male to embrace Islam though he was only nine years old.

Ali proved himself to be a wise, knowledgable, brave and faithful. Throughout his life, the Prophet never appointed anyone as commander over the head of Ali; it was always he who was the standard bearer and commander. By contrast, Abu Bakr and Umar were to be simple soldiers in the army of Usamah, and the Prophet personally ordered them to serve under him when he appointed him commander at the battle of Mu'ta. Historians are unanimously agreed on this point. Likewise, at the Battle of Dhat al-Salasil, when the army was commanded by Ibn al-'As, Abu Bakr and 'Umar again served as simple soldiers. This contrasts with the case of Ali b. Abi Talib, whom the Prophet, from the beginning of his mission until his death, never made him subordinate to anyone.

According to Shi'a Islam, before Muhammad died he had appointed him publicly to be his successor as a command from Allah, and this nomination happened at Gadeer Ghum when Muhammad and lots of Muslims had finished the performance of Hajj (Pilgrimage). However, the first caliph was Abu Bakr. Ali became one of Abu Bakr's closest advisors, and Ali even named one of his sons after Abu Bakr (and later after Umar and Uthman).

Abu Bakr was followed by Umar and 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 Husayn and Hassan to defend Uthman, and was angered when they were unable to protect him.

Almost the first act of his reign was the suppression of a rebellion under Talha and Zubair (two eminent companions of Muhammad), who were instigated by Aisha, Muhammad's widow, a bitter enemy of Ali, and one of the chief hindrances to his advancement to the caliphate. The rebel army was defeated at the Battle of Basra (also known as the Battle of the Camel); the two generals were killed, and Aisha was escorted with all respect to Medina and was allocated a pension.

He dismissed several provincial governors, many of whom had amassed small fortunes, and replaced them with companions of the Prophet such as Salman al-Farsi or trusted aides such as Malik al-Ashtar.

Ali soon afterwards made Kufa his capital. His next care was to get rid of the opposition of Mu'awiyah, 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 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 Mu'awiyah. 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 Mu'awiyah, `Amr declared that he also deposed Ali, and announced further that he invested Mu'awiyah 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, Mu'awiyah 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 Mashad Ali was afterwards erected near the city at Najaf, the 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, Hassan, a son of Fatima, is said to have waived his right to the caliphate to prevent further bloodshed among Muslims. Muawiyah I thus became the caliph and established the Umayyad dynasty of caliphs, against Hasan's explicit wishes. Ali's descendants by Fatima are known by the title of Sayyid.

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 Sunni and the Shi'a. The Sunnis believe that the prophet chose Abu Bakr to be the first caliph, while the Shia believe that he chose Ali and announced it in public in Ghadir Khum. 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 Shi'a. The Shi'a in particular venerate him as second only to the prophet. They also celebrate the anniversaries of his martyrdom and birth; 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." (See further Caliphate.)

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".

His sons Hassan and Husayn are also revered by Muslims, especially the Shi'a.



Ali had so many merits attributed to him by his father-in-law, the Prophet, that it can fill an entire section by itself. Some Sunni schoolars and probobly all Shia schoolars have acknowledged that Ali is the person that is attributed with most merits by the Prophet. An incomplete list include:


  • Ali is one of the four persons included in the Hadith Of The Cloak
  • Ali was the one facing, and defeating Amr Ibn Wodd on the Battle of Khandaq (The Moat)
  • Ali was the standard bearer in the battle of Khaybar
  • Ali was the first male Muslim
  • The only Kalif that was accepted to becom a ruler by concensus of the people.
  • Became married with the Prophets favorite daughter, Fatimah.
  • Fatimah was the only child to survive the Prophets demise, so Ali was the only father of the Prophets grandchildren.
  • The Prophet never made him subordinate to anyone, in contrast to Umar and Abu Bakr who where told to be subordinates to the 18 year old Usama.
  • Participiated in all the battles The Prophet participiated in, exept one
  • On the battle he did not participiate, he was made to govern Medina and was compared to Aron.

Titles given by the Prophet:

  • "Amir-ul-mu'mineen" (Leader of the Faithful)
  • "Asadullah" (Lion of God)
  • "Abu Turab" (Dusty, literal: Father of the dust, Alis favorit nickname)


  • "The duel of Ali Ibn Abu Talib against Amr Ibn Abd Wodd at the Battle of the Moat out weighs the good deeds of my whole nation until the Day of Judgment."

-The Prophet (http://www.ezsoftech.com/islamic/khandaq.asp)

  • "If it where not for Ali, Umar whold have perished"

-Umar ibn al-Khatab

  • "ana medianatu ilm wa alion babahu" - "Iam the city of knowledge and `Ali is its gate; whoever intends to enter the city should come to its gate."

-The Prophet (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/scienceofhadith/afor.html)

  • "I would certainly give this standard to a person who loves Allah and his Messenger and Allah and his Messenger love him too."

-The Prophet (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/031.smt.html#031.5915)

  • "La fata illa Ali, la saif illa Zulfikar" - "There is no hero except Ali, there is no sword except his sword Zulfikar"

- The Prophet (http://www.amaana.org/ismaili3.html)

  • "He who wants to see Adam (as) in his knowledge, Noah (as) in his determination, in his clemency, Moses (as) in his intelligence and Jesus (as) in his religious devotion should look at Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as)"

-The Prophet (http://www.answering-ansar.org/answers/fadak/en/chap8.php)

  • "This is my brother, Wasi (agent) and successor among you. Listen to him and obey him".

-The Prophet (http://www.answering-ansar.org/answers/fadak/en/chap8.php)

  • "man kuntu mawlah (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/reference/glossary/term.MAWLA.html) fa Ali mawlah (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/reference/glossary/term.MAWLA.html)" - For whoever I am his mawlah (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/reference/glossary/term.MAWLA.html), 'Ali is his mawlah (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/reference/glossary/term.MAWLA.html).".

-The Prophet (http://www.kr-hcy.com/askimam/17.shtml)


Preceded by:
Uthman ibn Affan
Caliphs Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Shia Imams Succeeded by:

See also

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