ʿAlī Ibn Abī
ʿALĪ IBN ABĪ ṬĀLIB
ʿALĪ IBN ABĪ ṬĀLIB (c. 599–661 ce) was the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muḥammad through his marriage to Fāṭimah. As father of the prophet's two grandsons, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn, he was forefather of the descendants of the Prophet (known as the shurafā ʾ, sing. sharīf; or sādāt, sing. sayyid) ; fourth of the four "rightly guided" caliphs; and first of the imāms for Shīʿī Muslims—the very term Shīʿa being originally shīʿat ʿAlī, the "partisans of ʿAlī."
ʿAlī is seen within the Islamic tradition as both a heroic warrior and an eloquent saint. Accorded deep veneration by Muslims generally, ʿAlī has also elicited sharply contrasting passions: on the one hand, cursed by official decree in Umayyad mosques for decades after his death; on the other hand, divinized by his extremist followers—the ghulāt —to the present day. The life of this seminal figure of nascent Islam was controversial, and his influence has been, and remains, pervasive.
ʿAlī's life can be viewed in terms of three distinct phases: the first, from his birth (c. 599) to the death of the Prophet (632); the second, from the death of the Prophet to ʿAlī's assumption of the caliphate (656); the third consists of his own brief caliphate (656–661), a period characterized by the first civil wars of Islam.
Life with the Prophet, c. 599–632
Tradition relates that ʿAlī had the unique distinction of being born in the Kaʿbah in Mecca. His mother was Fāṭimah bint Asad; and his father, Abū Ṭālib, son of ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, was a leading member of the clan of the Hashimites. Abū Ṭālib took care of the young orphan, Muḥammad, son of his brother ʿAbd Allāh, and he was later to be Muḥammad's chief protector when the message of Islam was openly being preached in Mecca.
When he was about five years old, ʿAlī was taken into Muḥammad's household in order to relieve Abū Ṭālib during a famine. From this time until the death of the Prophet, ʿAlī was constantly at the Prophet's side, first as a member of the household, later as a leading companion, confidant, son-in-law, and scribe. ʿAlī wrote down not only the verses of the Qurʾanic revelation at the Prophet's dictation, but also several letters and treaties. As a warrior, ʿAlī was at the forefront of nearly all the major battles fought under the Prophet's banner, and he always emerged victorious in the single combat duels with which the battles began. His courage and skill as a warrior became legendary. Frequently fighting as standard-bearer, ʿAlī's most famous military success was in the Battle of Khaybar in 629, where victory against the hitherto impregnable fortresses was achieved through his heroic leadership. The Prophet declared, when the Muslims were unable to penetrate the defenses, that he would give his standard to one who "loves God and His Messenger and is loved by God and His Messenger," and through him victory would be granted. He sent for ʿAlī, who led the Muslims to victory. It was at Khaybar that ʿAlī's strength attained legendary status: he is said to have used as a shield a gate that, after the battle, could only be lifted by eight men.
ʿAlī is regarded as the first male to enter the religion of Islam, though he was but a youth of nine or ten years old. When the Prophet was instructed by the revelation to warn his near kin (Qurʾān 26:214), he invited the leading members of his clan to a feast, and asked who among them would be "my brother, my executor, and my successor." ʿAlī, then still only about thirteen years old, was the only one who replied, and the Prophet affirmed him in all three respects, adding "Hearken to him and obey him" (Ibn Iṣḥāq, 1968, pp. 117–118).
When in 622 the Prophet migrated from Mecca to Medina, ʿAlī offered to take the place of the Prophet, sleeping in his bed on the night the Prophet departed, thus risking his life in order to thwart an assassination attempt by the Prophet's enemies. ʿAlī then joined the Prophet and the Muslims in Medina, after having distributed to their owners in Mecca all the property held in trust by Muḥammad. In Medina, the Prophet instituted a pact of brotherhood between the emigrants from Mecca and the "helpers," the Muslims of Medina; he himself adopted ʿAlī as his brother (Ibn Iṣḥāq, 1968, p. 234),
The Prophet gave ʿAlī the honor of marrying his daughter, Fāṭimah—considered, with her mother, Muḥammad's first wife, Khadījah, as the paradigm of saintly womanhood in Islam. The Prophet's ahl al-bayt (people of the House), the members of which the Qurʾān refers to in 33:33 as being purified of all defilement, was indicated by the Prophet as consisting of himself, ʿAlī, Fāṭimah, and their two sons, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn. (Shīʿī sources add to this group the imām s, and attribute to all members of this category the status of inerrancy [ʿiṣmah ], while certain Sunnī sources deem the Prophet's wives to be the referents of Qurʾān 33:33.) It was in his capacity as leading member of the Prophet's ahl al-bayt that ʿAlī was instructed to recite the Sūrah al-Barāʾa (The immunity, IX) to the pilgrims at Mecca in 631, even though Abū Bakr was leading the pilgrimage. It was ʿAlī who the Prophet instructed to destroy the idols in the Kaʿbah when Mecca was conquered in 629. When the Prophet died in 632, ʿAlī washed his body and led the funeral rites.
ʿAlī according to the Prophet
Numerous sayings attributed to the Prophet affirm ʿAlī's high spiritual rank. Shīʿī and Sunnī sources alike affirm the following sayings: "I am the city of knowledge, and ʿAlī is its gate" (al-Ḥākim, 2002, p. 929); "Looking at ʿAlī is an act of worship" (al-Suyūṭī, 1970, p. 97); "Verily, ʿAlī is from me, and I am from him, and he is the spiritual guardian (walī) of every believer after me." (al-Nasāʾī, 1998, p. 129); and "ʿAlī is with the Qurʾān and the Qurʾān is with ʿAlī" (al-Ḥākim, 2002, p. 927). The Prophet is also recorded as having said to ʿAlī the following: "You have, in relation to me, the rank of Aaron in relation to Moses—except that there is no prophet after me" (al-Nasāʾī, 1998, p. 76). Several verses of the Qurʾān were commented upon by the Prophet with reference to ʿAlī. For example, in connection with 13:7 ("Verily thou art a warner, and for every people there is a guide") the Prophet was reported as saying, "I am the warner…you are the guide, O ʿAlī. After me, the rightly guided shall be guided by you" (al-Suyūṭī, 1896, vol. 4, p. 45).
The most important and oft-debated prophetic saying relating to ʿAlī, however, was expressed during the sermon of Ghadīr Khumm. This was delivered after the Prophet's final pilgrimage to Mecca in 632 ce, at a pool midway between Mecca and Medina, known as Ghadīr Khumm. He assembled all the pilgrims, had a pulpit erected, and delivered an address to the thousands assembled. The address culminated in the statement: "For whomever I am the mawlā [guardian, master, close friend], ʿAlī is his mawlā." For Shīʿah, this is regarded as a clear designation (naṣṣ ) of ʿAlī as successor to the Prophet; for Sunnīs it indicates the special proximity of ʿAlī to the Prophet, but not his nomination as successor in political terms. That the reference to ʿAlī as mawlā (in some versions, as walī ) is of the highest spiritual significance, however, is not seriously disputed. The debate that continues to this day hinges on the implications of ʿAlī's spiritual authority, his walāyah.
The Caliphate of Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and ʿUthmān, 632–656
ʿAlī was not consulted during the political crisis that was precipitated by the death of the Prophet and that resulted in the election of the first caliph, Abū Bakr; his absence at this crucial event set the tone for ʿAlī's role in public affairs until his own assumption of the caliphate twenty-two years later. He refrained from recognition of Abū Bakr for six months, that is, until after the death of Fāṭimah, between whom and Abū Bakr there was a major disagreement. Her claim on the orchard of Fadak as part of her inheritance from the Prophet was rejected by Abū Bakr on the basis of a saying attributed to the Prophet to the effect that the Prophets do not leave any inheritance.
This disagreement was but one overt expression of a fundamental difference of conception in regard to the spiritual and political prerogatives of the ahl al-bayt, a difference later to be elaborated in terms of the Sunnī-Shīʿī divergence. The earliest historical sources indicate that ʿAlī never ceased to believe that, on the basis of his kinship with the Prophet and his unique merits, he was the most appropriate person to succeed the Prophet. The relationship between ʿAlī and his predecessors in the caliphate is one of the most sensitive issues in Islamic history, and it has been subject to tendentious reporting in the sources. Sunnī works tend to overlook or downplay the disagreements between ʿAlī and the first three caliphs in the effort to present as harmonious a picture as possible of what later was to be labeled the period of the four orthodox or "rightly guided" caliphs (al-khulafā ʾ al-rāshidūn ). By contrast, Shīʿī works on the whole accuse the first three caliphs of usurping the authority granted by the Prophet to ʿAlī, and exaggerate the differences of opinion between ʿAlī and his predecessors. However, it is clear that, on the one hand, ʿAlī adopted a policy of passive acceptance of the rule of the first two caliphs, coupled with a withdrawal from public affairs—in marked contrast to his prominent role in all the major events in the Prophet's lifetime; and on the other hand, he voiced his disagreement with his predecessors over certain policies and decisions.
Such disagreement became more intense during the rule of the third caliph, ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān, who was elected by the council or shūrā, which ʿUmar established shortly before his death in 644. This council was charged with the task of selecting ʿUmar's successor from six of the leading companions. At this council, evidence is given of ʿAlī's disagreement with at least certain aspects of the policies of the first two caliphs. Upon being asked by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn ʿAwf, the head of the council—who had the deciding vote in case the six were equally divided—whether he was willing to assume the caliphate on the basis of the Qurʾān, the sunnah (conduct) of the Prophet, and the precedent of Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, ʿAlī replied by saying he would rule solely on the basis of the Qurʾān and the sunnah of the Prophet. When ʿUthmān was asked the same question he replied unconditionally in the affirmative and was duly appointed caliph.
The caliphate of ʿUthmān (r. 644–656) became increasingly compromised, principally by the corruption that characterized the rule of his governors—most of whom were fellow members of the Umayyad clan. ʿAlī, along with several leading companions, such as Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, Talḥa ibn ʿUbayd Allāh, al-Zubayr ibn al-ʿAwwām, and ʿĀʾisha, had severely criticized the policies of ʿUthmān and the actions of his governors. ʿAlī played a leading role as mediator between the rebels and the caliph, indicating to the latter the just nature of many of the grievances being presented. His efforts failed, however, and opposition to ʿUthmān turned into outright revolt; the caliph was besieged in his home, and, despite the efforts of ʿAlī and his sons to protect him, ʿUthmān was killed by the rebels. ʿAlī was then prevailed upon by the rebels and other factions in Medina to assume power, which he did, albeit reluctantly according both to early reports and to his own sermons, as recorded in the Nahj al-balāghah.
The Caliphate of ʿAlī, 656–661
ʿAlī's short caliphate of just over five years was marked in political terms by the eruption of civil wars within the early Muslim polity; it was characterized in ethical terms by ʿAlī's unflinching adherence to strict Islamic principles, frequently at the expense of worldly success. This aspect of his rule became apparent from the very beginning. When advised by his cousin and close confidant, Ibn al-ʿAbbās, to temporarily confirm in power all of ʿUthmān's governors, and then replace them later with his own appointees when his own power was consolidated, ʿAlī adamantly refused to compromise on principles. This attitude ensured that ʿAlī's rule would be challenged by the governors whom he dismissed.
The Battle of al-Jamal
The first challenge to ʿAlī's rule arose from two senior companions of the Prophet, Ṭalḥa ibn ʿUbayd Allāh and al-Zubayr ibn al-ʿAwwām, together with ʿĀʾisha, one of the widows of the Prophet, and some of the governors ousted by ʿAlī. They accused ʿAlī of failing to punish the murderers of ʿUthmān; certain reports indicate that a charge of complicity in the murder was also made by some in this group. They mounted a revolt against him in the name of vengeance for the murdered caliph. ʿAlī reminded Ṭalḥa and al-Zubayr that they had pledged allegiance to him, and were now breaking their oaths, and he insisted that he would bring the murderers to justice as soon as he could find them. The ensuing battle, which took place near Basra on 15 Jumādā I 36 (December 8, 656), was the first civil war of Islam. It was named al-Jamal (the camel) after the camel litter of ʿĀʾisha, which became the focus of the fighting. It resulted in the victory of ʿAlī's army, the death of Ṭalḥa (killed treacherously by his own ally, Marwān ibn al-Ḥakam, who held Ṭalḥa personally responsible for the murder of the caliph), the death of al-Zubayr (killed also by one of his allies, after fleeing from the battlefield), and the surrender of ʿĀʾisha.
Muʿāwiya and the Battle of Ṣiffīn
Having defeated the Baṣran rebels, ʿAlī now turned to face the far more serious threat posed by Muʿāwiya, governor of Syria. Like Ṭalḥa and al-Zubayr, Muʿāwiya used the cry of vengeance for the murdered caliph as the pretext for his opposition to ʿAlī. In their exchange of letters, ʿAlī reminded Muʿāwiya that he was obliged to accept the election of ʿAlī, based as it was on the collective decision of the Anṣār (Medinan companions) and the Muhājirūn (Meccan companions). Muʿāwiya's response was to insist that he, as ʿUthmān's kin, had the right of retaliation prescribed in the Qurʾān (17:33). Meanwhile, in a clear indication of the real motive of his opposition, he enlisted the help of the former governor of Egypt, ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ, who had been deposed by ʿUthmān and then became the chief inciter of the rebels against the besieged caliph. Following minor skirmishes, all-out battle at Ṣiffīn began on 8 Ṣafar 37 (July 26, 657). After some days, and much bloodshed on both sides, ʿAlī's army was on the point of victory. Muʿāwiya, on the advice of ʿAmr, resorted to the strategy of hoisting copies of the Qurʾān on spears and calling for arbitration according to God's word. Though clearly a ruse, many in ʿAlī's army who were lukewarm in their support for his cause laid down their arms; led by Ashʿath ibn Qays, the most powerful tribal chief of Kūfah, they insisted on accepting this call for arbitration. ʿAlī was also compelled by the same elements within his ranks to appoint Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī—whose loyalty to ʿAlī was in question—as his representative in the arbitration. Muʿāwiya appointed ʿAmr as his representative.
Arbitration and the "seceders"
The text of the arbitration agreement was drawn up on 15 Ṣafar 37 (August 2, 657). It called merely for the arbitrators to arrive at a decision binding on all, doing so on the basis of the Qurʾān, and to resort to the prophetic sunnah (conduct) if they were unable to find the necessary ruling in the Qurʾān. They were to seek peace, but apart from that, no other matter for arbitration was specifically mentioned. The arbitrators met at Dūmat al-Jandal for about three weeks in the spring of 658. This meeting was held against the background of increasing discontent in the ranks of ʿAlī's army. Many of those who had initially supported the arbitration now felt that it was not only an error to have resorted to arbitration, but a sin; it was tantamount to leaving to men a right that pertained only to God, whence their cry: "No judgment but that of God" (Lā ḥukm illā li-Llāh ). Although ʿAlī succeeded in bringing most of the malcontents back into the fold at this stage, the seeds of a wider rebellion were sowed.
The arbitration process was almost immediately undermined by the proposal of ʿAmr that the issue of ʿUthmān's innocence of deviant innovations be decided before anything else. This effectively changed the focus of the arbitration, for once it was decided that ʿUthmān had been wrongfully killed, the legitimacy of Muʿāwiya's claim for revenge was upheld; it was thus implicit that ʿAlī was wrong in preventing this right of lex talionis from being exercised, and thus forfeited his right to rule. ʿAlī's representative, Abū Mūsā, failed to see through this strategy and, though the decision on ʿUthmān's innocence was supposed to be kept secret, it became widely known, resulting in the dismissal of the whole arbitration process by ʿAlī. When ʿAlī then proceeded to call his men to arms, he was confronted by the growing ranks of the "seceders" (al-Khawārij ). Despite ʿAlī's insistence that the arbitration was now effectively abandoned, the seceders demanded that he repent of the "sin" of having accepted it in the first place. Through dialogue a large number of the seceders were reconciled, but the hard core resisted and resolved to fight to the finish.
Given the murderous tactics used by this group against ʿAlī's supporters, and their declaration that all those who opposed them were kāfirs (unbelievers), whose blood was licit, ʿAlī had no choice but to fight them, despite his great reluctance to engage so many of the apparently pious "Qurʾān-readers" (al-qurrā ʾ) in their ranks. After further dialogue, which reduced their ranks considerably, the Khawārij numbered no more than 1,500 men, led by ʿAbd Allāh ibn Wahb. The resulting battle at Nahrawān (probably in Dhū al-Ḥijjah 37/May 658, but reports are contradictory; see Madelung, 1997, pp. 254–255) is said to have resulted in their all but total annihilation.
The final stage of the arbitration was held at Adhruḥ in Shaʿbān 38 (January 659). Largely irrelevant, as ʿAlī had already denounced the process and was preparing to resume hostilities, it ended in fiasco. Abū Mūsā and ʿAmr agreed to depose both their candidates and to allow a new consultative body to elect the caliph. The former held to the agreement, deposing ʿAlī, while ʿAmr simply confirmed his candidate, Muʿāwiya, as the new caliph. Although ʿAlī attempted to mount a fresh campaign against Muʿāwiya's forces, there was little enthusiasm in his ranks. Before the morning prayer of 19 Ramaḍān 40 (January 28, 661) at the congregational mosque in Kūfah, ʿAlī was struck by the poisoned sword of Ibn Muljam, one of the surviving Khawārij, who was intent on avenging his slain companions at Nahrawān. ʿAlī died two days later.
ʿAlĪ and Shiism
ʿAlī is considered to be the first imām or spiritual leader of all the various branches of Shīʿī Islam—the majority Ithnāʿasharīs, the Ismāʿīlīs, the Zaydīs, and other smaller sects. Although the theologically elaborated definition of the function of the imamate came much later, this function is seen in Shiism as embodied in the person of ʿAlī. The three principal functions of the Shīʿī imām —spiritual guidance of the believers, interpretation of revelation and law, and political rule—were implicit or explicit in the pronouncements, attitudes, and actions of ʿAlī. Thus the later Shīʿī doctrine of the imamate can be seen as a systematic articulation, in idealized form, of the actual conduct of ʿAlī. His historic refusal to abide by the precedent of the first two caliphs, noted above, was "a cornerstone in the development of Shīʿī legal thought…the idea expressed by ʿAlī in the Shūrā took at least 50 years to become manifest in a distinguishable independent form, and was not fully developed until the imamate of Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq" (Jafri, 1978, pp. 75–76).
There is evidence of the use of the term shīʿat ʿAlī in the lifetime of the Prophet. For example, in his commentary on the Qurʾān, al-Ṭabarī records that the Prophet interpreted the phrase "best of created beings" (khayr al-bariyyah ) in 98:7 as referring to ʿAlī and his "shīʿa " (al-Ṭabarī, 2001, vol. 30, p. 320). Four individuals, in particular, were renowned for their attachment to ʿAlī in the lifetime of the Prophet, and might be referred to as the prototypes of later Shiism: Salmān al-Fārsī, Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, ʿAmmār ibn Yāsir, and Miqdād ibn ʿAmr. These were the foremost members of the group that believed ʿAlī to be the legitimate successor to the Prophet. It was, however, with ʿAlī's assumption of the caliphate that more explicit reference is made to ʿAlī's status as the heir (waṣī ) of the Prophet, and as the inheritor (wārith ) of not only his knowledge, but also that of all the Prophets. The second oath of allegiance made to ʿAlī by his supporters in Kūfah in 658 was worded according to the ḥadīth of Ghadīr (Madelung, 1997, p. 253). And it was during the caliphate of ʿAlī that the term shīʿat ʿAlī arose, largely in contrast to the shīʿat ʿUthmān comprising all those who refused to recognize ʿAlī's rule, claiming instead to be following in the footsteps of the murdered caliph, revenge for whose murder was incumbent upon them. With the victory of Muʿāwiya and the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty, the political orthodoxy of the ruling "ʿUthmānī" position declared that only the caliphate of the first three caliphs was legitimate, not that of ʿAlī. This position prevailed for almost a century, and it was largely through the influence of Ibn Ḥanbal that ʿAlī's caliphate was deemed to be fully legitimate, and the definitive tenet of the four "rightly guided" caliphs gradually became incorporated thereafter within the developing religio-political orthodoxy of Sunnism (Jaʿfariyān, 2001, pp. 209–220).
Extremist Shīʿī sects
ʿAlī was the focus of various cults that attributed to him superhuman, angelic, or divine attributes. Referred to as the ghulāt (sing. ghālī) by both mainstream Shīʿīs and Sunnīs alike, these extremist sects included such groups as the Ghorābiyya, Manṣūriyya, and Rāwandiyya in the early period. In the present, such sects as the Nuṣayrīs/ʿAlawīs in Syria and Turkey and the ʿAlī Allāhīs, or Ahl-i Ḥaqq, in Iran continue to regard ʿAlī as God incarnate. Despite being regarded as heretical by majoritarian Shīʿī groups, some of the characteristic tenets espoused by these sects are also present in more mainstream Shīʿī and Ṣūfī theosophical trends, where they are given more nuanced metaphysical exposition.
Spiritual and Intellectual Legacy
After the Qurʾān and the sayings of the Prophet, no text is more revered by the Shīʿah than the Nahj al-balāghah, attributed to ʿAlī. The text, comprising sermons, letters, and aphorisms, was compiled by al-Sharīf al-Raḍī (d. 1016), a renowned Shīʿī scholar of Abbasid Baghdad. In addition to providing specific ideas that served as seeds for theological elaboration in such crucial issues as the transcendence and oneness of God, the emphasis in the Nahj upon the importance of the intellect and knowledge greatly enhanced the receptivity of Shīʿī Islam to philosophical speculation and theosophical meditation. In terms of Arabic literature, few texts have exerted a greater influence than the Nahj. Important technical terms were introduced by this work into literary and philosophical Arabic, independently of the translation into Arabic of Greek texts (Corbin, 1993, p. 35). Despite doubts raised about the authenticity of the text, recent scholarship indicates that most of the sermons and sayings can in fact be traced to ʿAlī (Djebli, 1992, p. 56).
The main didactic themes of the Nahj include: the unfathomable nature of the divine oneness, expressed through striking paradoxes and flashes of rhetorical genius; the function and meaning of prophecy; the supreme value of the intellect; the necessity of renunciation, this being expressed in powerful imagery conveying the vanity of the life of this world; complementing this theme, the marvels of creation, all of which are so many "signs" pointing to the Creator; the dangers of falling into hypocrisy and superficiality in the performance of religious duties; and the indispensability of justice at all levels. One of the most influential letters of the Nahj was that written to Mālik al-Ashtar, one of ʿAlī's closest companions, appointing him governor of Egypt. It has been the subject of dozens of commentaries through the ages and is still regarded as one of the most important expressions of an ideal Islamic political constitution. A large number of profound aphorisms are also attributed to ʿAlī. Many of these sayings are contained in the eleventh-century compilation, Ghurar al-ḥikam (Exalted aphorisms). Several moving supplications are also attributed to ʿAlī; these have come to play a major role in the devotional life of Shīʿah, the most famous supplication being the Du ʿā ʾ Kumayl, which is recited by devout Shīʿah every Thursday evening. A dīwān of poems is also attributed to ʿAlī.
ʿAlī played a fundamental role in the genesis of Islamic intellectual and spiritual culture. He is deemed to have provided impetus and content for a wide range of disciplines, including Qurʾān exegesis (tafsīr ), theology (kalām ), jurisprudence (fiqh ), rhetoric (balāghah ) and grammar (naḥw ), and calligraphy (khaṭṭ ), not to mention various arcane sciences, such as numerology (jafr ) and alchemy (al-kīmiyā ʾ). Tales of his feats and miracles have been told and adorned by popular storytellers and poets throughout the Muslim world; his persona was thus imbued with magical and mystical elements, as well as with heroic and saintly qualities. ʿAlī was also the role-model for the chivalric orders (futūwwa ) that emerged towards the end of the Abbasid period (twelfth to thirteenth century), being seen as the chivalric knight (fatā ) par excellence. This association between ʿAlī and chivalry was summed up in the formula, attributed to a heavenly voice heard during the Battle of Uḥud: "No chivalric knight but ʿAlī, no sword but dhu'l-faqār " (Lā fatā illā ʿAlī, lā sayf illā dhu'l-faqār— the latter being the name of ʿAlī's sword). It is often as a knightly warrior, paragon of all virtues, that ʿAlī, one of whose honorifics was Ḥaydar ("the lion"), is portrayed in Ṣūfī poetry.
Within the Ṣūfī tradition generally, ʿAlī is almost universally affirmed as the first "Pole" (quṭb ) of Sufism after the Prophet, an embodiment of the "perfect man" (al-insān al-kāmil ), the "friend/saint of God" (walī Allāh ), and as the spiritual forebear of the Ṣūfīs, standing at the head of all the "chains" (salāsil, sing. silsilah ) by which the Ṣūfī orders trace their initiatic genealogy back to the Prophet. ʿAlī is regarded both as the repository of esoteric science (ma ʿrifa/ʿirfān/ʿilm al-bāṭin ), and also a master of the spiritual path leading to the realization of that science, this path centering on the practice of the "remembrance of God" (dhikr ), into which the Prophet initiated ʿAlī. According to Abuʿl-Qāsim al-Junayd of Baghdad (d. 910), one of the greatest authorities of early Sufism, "ʿAlī is our Shaykh as regards the principles and as regards the endurance of affliction." This statement is recorded by ʿAlī Hujwīrī in his highly regarded Ṣūfī manual Kashf al-maḥjūb (Disclosure of the veiled); he sums up the attitude of the Ṣūfīs to ʿAlī in asserting that he was "the leader of the saints and the pure ones. In this Path he holds a place of tremendous honour and elevated degree." (Hujwīrī, 1997, p. 84)
ʿAlī's shrine is in Najaf, near Baghdad; it continues to attract millions of pilgrims worldwide, being regarded, after Mecca and Medina, as one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Muslims—Shīʿah and Sunnī alike—in the Islamic world.
Āmidī, ʿAbd al-Wāḥid. Ghurar al-ḥikam wa durar al-kalim (Exalted aphorisms and pearls of speech). Qom, Iran, 2001. This is an eleventh-century compilation of aphorisms attributed to ʿAlī. It is a compendium of pithy, profound sayings dealing with diverse subjects of an ethical and spiritual order.
Chirri, Mohammad Jawad. The Brother of the Prophet Mohammad (the Imam Ali): A Reconstruction of Islamic History and an Extensive Research of the Shi-ite Islamic School of Thought. 2 vols. Detroit, 1979–1982. This nonpolemical presentation of the life of ʿAlī by a contemporary Shīʿī religious scholar remains the best single biographical source for ʿAlī in English.
Corbin, Henri. The History of Islamic Philosophy. Translated by Liadain Sherrard. London, 1993.
Djebli, Moktar. "Encore à propos de l'authenticité du Nahj al-Balāgha!" Studia Islamica 75 (1992): 33–56. This is an important scholarly affirmation of the authenticity of the attribution of most, if not all, of the material in the Nahj al-balāghah to ʿAlī.
Ḥākim, Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-. Al-Mustadrak ʿalā'l-ṣaḥīḥayn (Supplement to the "two sound collections"). Beirut, 2002. This important collection of ḥadīth s, accepted as authoritative within Sunnī Islam, contains many of the most important sayings of the Prophet relating to ʿAlī, sayings that were not included in the ṣaḥīḥayn, that is, the "two sound collections," meaning those of Bukhārī and Muslim.
Hujwīrī, ʿAlī. Kashf al-Maḥjūb. Tehran, 1997. English translation by R. A. Nicholson. Cambridge, U.K., 1936.
Ibn Iṣḥāq. The Life of Muhammad. Translated by Alfred Guillaume. London, 1968. This fundamental text contains most of the significant historical details pertaining to ʿAlī during the lifetime of the Prophet.
Jaʿfariyān, Rasūl. Ta ʾrīkh wa sīrih-yi siyāsī-yi amīr al-mu ʾminīn ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (The life and political history of the commander of the faithful, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib). Qom, Iran, 2001. This is an excellent political biography of ʿAlī, in Persian, by one of the foremost contemporary authorities on Islamic and especially Shīʿī history in Iran.
Jafri, Seyed Muḥammad Husayn. Origins and Early Development of Shī ʿah Islam. London, 1978. A pioneering study of the establishment of Shiism, dealing with both historical and doctrinal themes of central importance.
Kohlberg, E. "ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb." In Encyclopedia Iranica, edited by Ehsan Yarshater, pt. 2, pp. 843–848. London and Boston, 1982.
Madelung, Wilferd. The Succession to Muḥammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate. Cambridge, UK, 1997. The most comprehensive analytical account in English of ʿAlī's caliphate, drawing on the earliest sources.
Masʿūdī, Abuʾl-Ḥasan al-. Murūj al-dhahab wa ma ʿādin al-jawhar (Meadows of gold and mines of jewelry). Beirut, 1965. Volume two of this important general history deals with the life of ʿAlī.
Muṭahharī, Murtaḍā. Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balāgha. Tehran, 1997. A good introduction and overview of the significance of the Nahj, with a useful and concise analysis of its principal themes.
Nasāʾī, Aḥmad ibn Shuʿayb al-. Khaṣā ʾiṣ Amīr al-mu ʾminīn ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (Distinctive qualities of the commander of the faithful, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib). Tehran, 1998. One of the most important collections of prophetic sayings on ʿAlī, by a highly respected Sunnī authority.
Poonawala, I. K. "ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb." In Encyclopedia Iranica, edited by Ehsan Yarshater, pt. 1, pp. 838–843. Boston and London, 1982.
Raḍī, al-Sharīf al-. Nahjul Balāghah. Translated by Sayed Ali Reza as The Peak of Eloquence. New York, 1996. A complete, but not always satisfactory, translation of this seminal text.
Rashād, ʿAlī-Akbar, ed. Dānish-nāmih-yi Imām ʿAlī. Tehran, 2001. This is a very useful twelve-volume collection of essays in Persian on the life, thought, and influence of ʿAlī from a traditional Shīʿī point of view.
Rayshahrī, Muḥammad, ed. Mawsū ʿat al-Imām ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib. Qom, Iran, 2000. A twelve-volume sourcebook on ʿAlī, consisting of primary Arabic texts pertaining to the life and thought of ʿAlī, arranged thematically, drawn mostly from traditional Shīʿī works.
Sobḥānī, Jaʿfar. Furūgh-i wilāyat: Tārīkh-i taḥlīlī-yi zindigānī-yi Amīr al-muʾminīn ʿAlī (The resplendence of sanctity: An analytical history of the life of the commander of the believers, ʿAlī). Tehran, 1999. The most comprehensive contemporary biography of ʿAlī in the Persian language.
Suyūṭī, Jalāl al-Dīn al-. History of the Caliphs. Translated by H. S. Jarrett. Amsterdam, 1970.
Suyūṭī, Jalāl al-Dīn al-. Al-Durr al-manthūr fiʾl-tafsīr biʾl-ma ʾthūr (Scattered pearls of transmitted exegesis). 6 vols. Beirut, 1896. This important commentary on the Qurʾān, by one of the most eminent Sunnī authorities, records many of the Prophet's sayings relating Qurʾanic verses to ʿAlī.
Ṭabarī, Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-. The History of al-Ṭabarī. See in particular vol. 16, The Community Divided: The Caliphate of ʿAlī I, a.d. 656–657/ a.h. 35–36. Translated by Adrian Brockett. New York, 1997; and vol. 17, The First Civil War: From the Battle of Ṣiffīn to the Death of ʿAlī, a.d. 656–661/ a.h. 36–40. Translated by G. R. Hawting. New York, 1996.
Ṭabarī, Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-. Jāmiʿal-bayān ʿan ta ʾwīl al-Qur ʾān (Explanatory synthesis of Qurʾanic exegesis). Beirut, 2001.
Reza Shah-Kazemi (2005)