ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (Arabic: علي بن أبي طالب) is the first Imam of the Shi'a, a companion, cousin, and son-in-law of the Prophet (s). He was the husband of Lady Fatima (a), and the father of the rest of the Imams of the Shi'a. He was also the first convert to Islam and a scribe of the Qur'an.
His father, Abu Talib was a generous and just man who was respected by various Arab tribes. He was the uncle and guardian of the Prophet (s) and was amongst the most noble personalities of the Quraysh. His mother, Fatima bt. Asad, was the eleventh person, and the second woman, to have converted to Islam.
He was the only person to be born inside Ka'ba. As Fatima bt. Asad felt the labor pains for her child 'Ali (a), she went to al-Masjid al-Haram and testified her faith to Allah beside the Ka'ba and prayed for an easy delivery. Suddenly, the walls of the Ka'ba split open in front of her and she entered its premises. Once she entered, the Ka'ba miraculously closed again. She stayed inside for three days and on the fourth day (Rajab 13, thirty years after the Year of the Elephant), the walls opened for her once again and she came out carrying her infant 'Ali (a) in her arms.
When 'Ali (a) was 6 years old, there was a famine in Mecca. Abu Talib had a large family and supporting them was difficult, especially during the famine. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad (s) and his uncle, al-'Abbas, decided to help Abu Talib and his family by taking care of his children. Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad (s) took 'Ali (a). 'Ali (a) would speak of those days fondly:
- "When I was a young child, the Prophet (s) took care of me. He would bring me to his chest and I would sleep in his bed, so close to him that I could even smell his scent. He would chew food for me and then feed me with it. He found no lies in my speech, nor any shortcomings in my actions."
Based on evidence from the Qur'an, hadith, and history, the Shi'a believe that 'Ali (a) was the divinely designated successor of the Prophet (s). According to Shiite and some Sunni sources, roughly three-hundred verses of the Qur'an were revealed with regards to his virtues, including his infallibility and purity. When the Quraysh plotted to assassinate the Prophet (s), it was 'Ali (a) who slept where the Prophet (s) used to sleep, and thus helped the Prophet (s) to secretly leave for Medina. In the pact of brotherhood in Medina, the Prophet (s) chose 'Ali (a) as his brother. Except for the Battle of Tabuk when he stayed in Medina as the deputy of the Prophet (s), 'Ali (a) was with the Prophet (s) in all the battles.
He is considered as the father of many Islamic sciences including Arabic literature, Islamic theology, jurisprudence, and exegesis. Scholars of different sciences have tried to trace back the chain of their knowledge to him. Nahj al-balagha is a selection of his speeches and letters.
He was physically powerful and courageous, and at the same time he was patient, humble, and merciful. He confronted those who would flatterer him harshly, reminding them of the mutual rights between the people and their government. He constantly and actively sought justice. Read more...