Cursing Imam Ali (a) or Sabb ʿAlī (Arabic: سبّ علی) means the cursing of Imam Ali (a), which was established by Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan. Umayyad rulers and followers cursed Imam Ali (a) on official governmental pulpits. The practice was common for about sixty years, and it was finally banned by Umar b. Abd al-Aziz. Notwithstanding this, Imam Ali (a) prohibited his companions from cursing Mu'awiya.
Mu'awiya, Marwan b. al-Hakam, al-Mughira b. Shu'ba, and Hajjaj b. Yusuf al-Thaqafi were among Umayyad rulers who cursed Imam Ali on their pulpits. Moreover, Atiyya b. Sa'd was punished at the command of Hajjaj b. Yusuf because he refused to curse Imam 'Ali.
"Sabb" means to swear or curse. According to some Arabic philologists, "la'n" is sometimes used interchangeably with "sabb". However, the latter means to say bad words, while the former means to deprive someone from divine mercy.
Al-Shahid al-Thani appeals to a hadith according to which Imam al-Sajjad (a) divorced one of his wives because she cursed Imam Ali (a), to show that cursing Ali b. Abi Talib (a) is an instance of Nasibism. Ja'far Subhani maintains that the origin of Nasibism among Muslims was the initiation by Mu'awiya of the practice of cursing Ali b. 'Abi Talib (a).
Reportedly, the cursing of Imam Ali (a) by the Umayyad dynasty began during his lifetime. On historical accounts, one clause in peace treaty of Imam al-Hasan (a) with Mu'awiya was the abolishment of cursing Ali b. Abi Talib on pulpits. There are reports of such cursing by Mu'awiya, Marwan b. al-Hakam, and Mughira b. Shu'ba in historical sources. Other measures taken by Imam Ali's enemies include a general ban on reporting Imam Ali's virtues, ban on the transmission of his hadiths, ban on praising him, and ban on naming children as Ali.
The cursing of Imam Ali (a) was ongoing for about sixty years until the period of the caliphate of Umar b. Abd al-Aziz (99-101/717-8 -720). When he took over the caliphate, he ordered all his representatives and local governors to abandon the practice of cursing. According to Ibn Khaldun, an 8th/14th-century historian, Umayyads persisted on cursing Ali (a) until when Umar b. Abd al-Aziz wrote to all Islamic territories and ordered the cursing to be stopped. According to a hadith transmitted by Umm Salama, one of the Prophet's wives, which is cited in many books of hadiths, the Prophet (s) characterized the cursing of Imam Ali (a) as tantamount to the cursing of himself, and in some versions, to the cursing of God. In his Bihar al-anwar, al-Allama al-Majlisi cited other hadiths to the same effect, in addition to the one attributed to Umm Salama.
Some stories are cited in which Mu'awiya cursed Imam Ali (a). For example, according to al-Tabari, when Mu'awiya appointed Mughira b. Shu'ba as the ruler of Kufa, he asked him to curse Ali b. Abi Talib and praise Uthman. He also recommended Mughira b. Shu'ba to banish Ali's companions out of Kufa.
Marwan b. al-Hakam
According to al-Dhahabi, a Sunni historiographer, Marwan b. al-Hakam became the ruler of Medina in 41/662, and during his six years of rule, he cursed Ali every Friday on his pulpit. He was succeeded by Sa'id b. As who was the ruler of Medina for two years, without cursing Ali b. Abi Talib (a). After him, Marwan became the ruler of Medina again, and began to curse Ali again.
Mughira b. Shu'ba
In his book, al-Baladhuri criticizes Mughira b. Shu'ba, who was appointed by Mu'awiya as a ruler of Kufa for nine years, because he kept cursing Ali b. Abi Talib (a).
Hajjaj b Yusuf
According to Ibn Abi l-Hadid, Hajjaj b. Yusuf cursed Imam Ali (a) and, moreover, he encouraged others to do the same. He was pleased when someone cursed Ali (a). It is reported that a man told Hajjaj that his family were unjust to him by naming him as "Ali" and he asked Hajjaj to change his name and give him some money because he was poor. Hajjaj changed his name and gave him a job.
According to other reports, Hajjaj b. Yusuf considered the cursing of Ali as a praiseworthy virtue. Atiyya b. Sa'd b. Junada was reportedly asked by Hajjaj to curse Ali b. Abi Talib (a), or else, he would be whipped four hundred times. Atiyya rejected the request and was whipped four hundred times, and his hair and beard were shaved.
Imam Ali's Rejection of Cursing Mu'awiya
Mu'awiya issued the command to curse Imam Ali on minbars, whereas in the Battle of Siffin, Ali b. Abi Talib had rejected the cursing of Mu'awiya. When Hujr b. Adi and Amr b. Hamiq al-Khuza'i, members of Imam Ali's army, cursed Mu'awiya and people of Syria, the Imam (a) prohibited them from doing so. They asked him, "Are we not on the right side?" The Imam (a) answered, "Of course, we are! But I do not like it when you curse." He also told them to ask God to protect our blood and theirs, and to make peace between us and save them from misguidance so that people who do not know the right come to know it, and those who persist on the wrong abandon it.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from سب علی in Farsi WikiShia.