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Virtues of Imam Ali (a)

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Virtues of Imam Ali (a) and his distinctive characteristics are reported in the Quran, Hadith, and historical sources. The Prophet (s) is reported to have said that the virtues of Ali (a) are innumerable. According to another hadith, retelling, writing, and listening to the virtues of Imam Ali (a) brings about forgiveness of sins.

Imam Ali's virtues are of two types: exclusive virtues and virtues shared by the other members of Ahl al-Bayt (a). The Verses Wilaya, Sale, and Almsgiving, the hadiths of Ghadir, Tayr, Manzila, his birth inside the Ka'ba, and his giving charity while he was in the ruku' of his prayer are among his exclusive virtues.

During the Umayyad rule, retelling the virtues of Imam Ali (a) was banned, and those who related them were persecuted. Moreover, Mu'awiya would encourage people to fabricate virtues for other Companions of the Prophet (s) parallel to those of Imam Ali (a).

Nevertheless, numerous virtues have been recorded in Shiite and Sunni hadith collections for Imam Ali (a). Many Shiite and Sunni scholars also composed monographs on the virtues of the Imam (a), such as Fada'il Amir al-Mu'minin (The Virtues of the Commander of the Faithful) by Ibn Hanbal, Khasa'is Amir al-Mu'minin (Exclusive Virtues of the Commander of the Faithful) by al-Nasa'i, and Umdat uyun sihah al-akhbar fi manaqib Imam al-Abrar (The Major Springs of Authentic Reports on the Virtues of the Leader of the Righteous) by Ibn Bitriq.


The virtues of Imam Ali (a) are reflected in a set of Quranic verses and hadiths and historical sources. By virtues we mean attributes and characteristics that make one superior to other people. In Shiite theological works, the virtues of Imam Ali (a) are used to demonstrate that he was the rightful successor of the Prophet (s).

The Prophet (s) is reported to have said that the virtues of Ali (a) are innumerable. Ahmad b. Hanbal also reportedly stated that the amount of virtues that have been narrated for Ali (a) have not been narrated for any other Companion.

Imam Ali's virtues are of two types:

  • Exclusive virtues, such as sleeping where the Prophet (s) used to sleep when the latter's life was in danger, about which the Sale Verse (Quran 2:207) was revealed.
  • Shared virtues, which are the virtues of Imam Ali (a) and other members of Ahl al-Bayt (a), such as Hadith al-Thaqalayn and Hadith al-Kisa'.

According to a hadith narrated by Ibn Shadhan al-Qummi, the Prophet (s) said that he who writes a virtue of Ali (a), angels ask God to forgive him as long as a trace of that writing remains; he who listens to a virtue of Ali (a), the sins that he committed with his ears will be forgiven; and he who looks at a [sign of a] virtue of Ali (a), the sins that he committed with his eyes will be forgiven.

In the Quran

A number of Quranic verses are revealed about Imam Ali (a) and his virtues. Ibn Abbas is reported to have said that the amount of Quranic verses that were revealed about Ali (a) is more than those revealed about any other Companion. Ibn Abbas also reported that the Prophet (s) said, "God revealed no verse beginning with the expression 'O you who believe' but Ali is the head and commander of those believers." Some scholars have counted more than 300 verses praising Imam Ali (a). Among the Imam's virtues in the Quran are the following:

  • The Wilaya Verse (Quran 5:55), which speaks of the wilaya of God, the Prophet (s), and those believers who establish prayer and pay zakat while in ruku'. According to Shiite and Sunni commentators, this verse was revealed when Imam Ali (a) gave his ring, while he was in the ruku' of his prayer, to a poor man. (see: Giving Ring as Charity)
  • The Sale Verse (Quran 2:207) praises those who are ready to sacrifice their lives seeking God's pleasure. According to the Mu'tazilite scholar Ibn Abi l-Hadid, all commentators believe that this verse was revealed on the occasion of Laylat al-Mabit, when the polytheists planned to invade the Prophet's house and murder him. On that night, in order to preserve the Prophet's life, Imam Ali (a) slept where the Prophet (s) used to sleep.
  • The Proclamation Verse (Quran 5:67), in which God instructs the Prophet (s) to deliver a message to people and declares that if he does not deliver the message, he has failed to accomplish his mission. Shiite and Sunni commentators have reported that this verse was revealed when the Prophet (s) was returning from his last pilgrimage and on the occasion of Ghadir.
  • The Perfection Verse (Quran 5:3) speaks of the perfection of Islam on a specific day. Based on historical reports and hadiths, Shiite commentators have argued that this day was the day of Ghadir when the Prophet (s) proclaimed that Ali (a) would be the leader of the Muslim community after him and thus Islam was perfected by the imamate of Ali (a).
  • Quran 9:119 commands the believers to "be with the honest." In Shiite traditions it is stated that "the honest" is a reference to Ahl al-Bayt (a), including Imam Ali (a).
  • Quran 98:7 states that those who believe and do righteous deeds are the best of creation. According to Shiite and Sunni hadiths, these are Imam Ali (a) and his followers.
  • Quran 66:4 states that God, Gabriel and other angels, and "the righteous among the faithful" support the Prophet (s). According to a number of Shiite and Sunni hadiths, Imam Ali (a) is meant by the expression "the righteous among the faithful."
  • Quran 2:274 speaks of "those who give their wealth by night and day, secretly and openly," and states that such people "shall have their reward near their Lord." According to commentators, this verse was revealed about Ali (a), who had four dirhams and gave one of them for the sake of God at night, one during the day, one secretly, and one openly.
  • Quran 58:12 commanded the believers to give charity when they wanted to talk secretly to the Prophet (s). Al-Tabrisi reports that according to most Shiite and Sunni commentators Ali (a) was the only person who obeyed this command.
  • Quran 19:96 proclaims that God will endear "those who have faith and do righteous deeds" to others. According to some hadiths, the Prophet (s) told Imam Ali (a) to say, "O God put my love in the hearts of believers!" and then this verse was revealed.
  • Quran 3:61 points to the story of mubahala and the Christian delegation from Najran that came to Medina. In this verse, the Prophet (s) is commanded to say to the Christian delegation, "Come! Let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, our souls and your souls, then let us pray earnestly and call down Allah's curse upon the liars." According to the commentators, the expression "our souls" (or "ourselves") refers to Imam Ali (a), which is understood to indicate the closeness between the Prophet (a) and Imam Ali (a).
  • The Purification Verse (Quran 33:33) proclaims God's will to purify the "household" of the Prophet (s) from all impurities. Shiite commentators maintain that the expression "ahl al-bayt" (household) in the verse refers to the People of the Cloak, including Imam Ali (a), and indicates their infallibility.
  • Quran 4:59 commands believers to obey God, the Prophet (s), and "ulu l-amr" (those vested with authority). Shiite commentators maintain that this verse indicates the infallibility of ulu l-amr, who in turn are said in hadiths to be the Twelve Imams.
  • Quran 76:7-9, according to the commentators, relates the story of the sacrifice made by Imam Ali (a) and Fatima (a) when they fasted, together with Fidda, for the healing of al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a). At the sunset, when they were about to break their fasts and eat, a homeless man came to their house and asked for food, so they all gave him their food even though they needed it. The same thing happened on the second day of their fast when an orphan asked them for food at the time of iftar, and also on the third day when a captive came to their door and asked for food.

In Hadiths

Among the hadiths that mention virtues of Imam Ali (a) are the following:

  • Hadith al-Ghadir: On the Prophet's (s) return from his last pilgrimage in a place called Ghadir Khumm, the Prophet (s) stopped and in a sermon introduced Ali (a) as the mawla of all Muslims. There is no disagreement among Muslims regarding the authenticity of this report, but they disagree as to the meaning of the word mawla. Shiite scholars have argued that it is clear from the context that mawla means "master" or "guardian," and thus the Prophet (s) meant to appoint Ali (a) as his successor and the leader of the Muslim community after himself.
  • Hadith Madinat al-'Ilm: in a famous hadith, which is considered authentic by at least twenty-one Sunni hadith scholars, the Prophet (s) stated that he (s) is the city of knowledge and Ali (a) was its gate.
  • Hadith Yawm al-Dar: According to this hadith, which is recorded in Shiite and Sunni sources, when the Prophet (s) invited his relatives to accept Islam, he declared that Ali (a) would be his legatee and successor. Shiite theologians have referred to this hadith as evidence for the imamate and caliphate of Imam Ali (a).
  • Hadith al-Wisaya: According to this hadith, the Prophet (s) introduced Ali (a) as his legatee. This hadith also has been regarded as indicating the imamate of Ali (a).
  • Hadith al-Wilaya: In this hadith, the Prophet (s) says, "Ali is the wali of every believer after me." Shiite scholars argue that the word "wali" in this hadith cannot have meanings such as friend or helper, because Ali (a) was a helper and friend of believers during the Prophet's lifetime as well and there is no point in restricting this characteristic of Ali (a) to the time after the Prophet (s). Therefore, wali in this hadith means "guardian" which indicates the imamate of Ali (a).
  • Hadith al-Tayr: According to this hadith, the Prophet (s) once wanted to eat a roasted bird, so he asked God to send the best of His creation to eat the bird with him, and then Ali (a) appeared and joined the Prophet (s) in eating the bird. This hadith is recorded in both Sunni and Shiite sources.
  • Hadith al-Raya: According to this famous hadith, narrated by Shiites and Sunnis, in the Battle of Khaybar, the Prophet (s) said, "Tomorrow I will give the flag to a man who will open the gate of Kharybar. He loves God and His apostle, and God and His apostle love him," and then on the next day he gave the flag to Ali (a).
  • Hadith al-Thaqalayn: In this well-known hadith, which is recorded in both Sunni and Shiite sources, the Prophet (s) proclaims, "I leave behind among you two precious things; as long as you hold on to them, you will never go astray: the book of God and my progeny, my household [ahl bayti]." According to the Hadith al-Kisa' (see below) and other hadiths, the Prophet (s) would refer to Ali (a), Fatima (a), al-Hasan (a), and al-Husayn (a) as his "household" (Ahl al-Bayt).
  • Hadith al-Kisa': This well-known hadith, recorded in both Shiite and Sunni hadith collections, reports that the Prophet (s) covered Ali (a), Fatima (a), al-Hasan (a), and al-Husayn (a) with a woolen cloak and prayed, "O God, these are my ahl al-bayt [household]. Repel all impurity from them and purify them." This prayer was followed by the revelation of Qur'an 33:33, which declared the fulfillment of the Prophet's prayer and thus the purity of Ahl al-Bayt (a) from all impurity.
  • Hadith al-Safina: In this hadith, narrated by both Shiite and Sunnis, the Prophet (s) likens his Ahl al-Bayt (a) to the Ark of Noah, which those who embarked were saved and those who left were drowned.
  • Hadith al-Shajara: The Prophet (s) is reported to have said, "Ali and I are of the same tree, and other people are of other trees." Some scholars have interpreted the hadith as indicating the equality between Imam Ali (a) and the Prophet in that people are obliged to obey and love them.
  • Hadith al-Lawh: Among the hadiths narrated from the Prophet (s) is the hadith in which he names the Twelve Imams, starting from Imam Ali (a), as his successors.
  • Hadith al-Haqq: In a well-known hadith, the Prophet (s) speaks of Imam Ali (a) as the criterion of truth: "Ali is with truth and truth is with Ali; they never part until they come to me at the Pond of Kawthar."
  • Hadith al-Tashbih: In another hadith, the Prophet (s) mentions the similarity between Ali (a) and the past prophets.
  • La Fata Illa Ali: in a well-known hadith, it is announced that "there is no valorous man except Ali," indicating his utmost bravery. It is reported that it was Gabriel who made this announcement during the Battle of Uhud because of the valorous deeds of Imam Ali (a) in the battle.
  • Hadith Qasim al-Janna wa l-Nar: the Prophet (s) is reported to have said that Ali (a) is the one who divides people on the Day of Judgment and determines who will go to Paradise and who will be doomed in hell. This hadith is recorded in Shiite and Sunni sources with different wordings.

There are many other hadiths that mention virtues of Imam Ali (a), such as "the strike of Ali in the Battle of Khandaq is better than all the acts of worship performed by human beings and jinns", "he who curses Ali has indeed cursed me", "he who hurts Ali has indeed hurt me", "love for Ali is a sign with which believers are recognized from hypocrites", "Ali is from me and I am from Ali"; "remembering Ali is an act of worship"; and "looking at Ali is an act of worship."

The titles al-Siddiq al-Akbar "the Greatest Truthful" and al-Faruq al-A'zam "the Greatest Distinguisher" are also applied in hadiths to him to reflect his virtues. Amir al-Mu'minin (the Commander of the Faithful) was another title of Imam Ali (a), which according to the Shiite view, was given to him by the Prophet (s). On the basis of 220 hadiths from Sunni sources, al-Sayyid Ibn Tawus argues that this title was the exclusive title of Imam Ali (a).

Other Virtues

Imam Ali (a) had other honorable characteristics such as

  • Being the husband of Fatima (a): It is reported that this marriage was done by the command of God and that if Ali (s) did not exist, there would be no one to deserve being Fatima's husband.
  • Birth inside teh Ka'ba: Another honorable characteristic of Imam Ali (a) was the fact that he was born inside the Ka'ba. No one before or after him has had this honor.
  • Sadd al-Abwab: Another honor of Imam Ali (a) was the fact that the Prophet (s) ordered that those doors that opened to his mosque from the houses which were connected to the mosque had to be permanently closed except the door of the house of Ali (a).
  • The first Muslim: Shiites and some Sunni scholars maintain that Ali (a) was the first man who embraced Islam.
  • Declaration of Bara'a verses: In addition, according to Tafsir Nimuna, almost all the commentators and historians agree that when the first verses of Sura al-Tawba (Quran 9) was revealed, which declared the nullification of all the pacts between the Muslims and the Polytheists, the Prophet (s) first charged Abu Bakr with the task of going to hajj and declaring this nullification to all people. However, he annulled Abu Bakr's mission and entrusted Ali (a) with the task.


During the Umayyad period, Mu'awiya prohibited relating and transmitting the virtues of Imam Ali (a). According to al-Mada'ini, a historian of the third/ninth century, Mu'awiya wrote to his governors that the life and properties of anyone who narrated anything regarding the virtues of Ali (a) and his family would no longer be protected. Likewise, narrating hadiths from Imam Ali (a), saying good things about him, and naming one's children Ali were banned. Mu'awiya used to curse Imam Ali (a) and would say, "I won't stop doing this until no one mentions any virtues for him." He also commanded that Ali (a) be cursed on the pulpits—a custom that continued for about sixty years until the time of Umar b. Abd al-Aziz.

The Umayyads persecuted those who related virtues of Imam Ali (a) or transmitted hadiths from him. They also executed disciples of Imam Ali (a) such as Maytham al-Tammar, Amr b. al-Hamiq al-Khuza'i, Rushayd al-Hajari, Hujr b. Adi, and Kumayl b. Ziyad.

According to the Sunni scholar Muhammad Abu Zahra, the Umayyad dynasty has an effective role in concealing Imam Ali's hadiths, and this is why there are few hadiths from the Imam (a) in Sunni sources. Most Shiite scholars maintain that one of the reasons for banning the transmission of hadith after the demise of the Prophet (s) was preventing the transmission of the hadiths about Imam Ali's virtues.

Forging Virtues for Others

Ibn Abi l-Hadid has reported that Mu'awiya charged a group of hadith transmitters to forge some hadiths that attribute negative deeds or characteristics to Ali (a). In a letter to one of his governors, Mu'awiya ordered him to find the proponents of Uthman, promote them, and record what they relate about the virtues of Uthman. According to al-Mada'ini, some people began to forge hadiths in praise of Uthman in order to gain wealth and high positions. Then, Mu'awiya wrote another letter to his governors to call people to relate virtues for the Companions, and especially the first three caliphs, so that for every virtue of Imam Ali (a) there be a parallel virtue for the first three caliphs or other Companions.

Written Works

Imam Ali's virtues are recorded in Shiite and Sunni sources, including the Authentic Six, which are the most important Sunni hadith collections. Also, in the works on the virtues of Ahl al-Bayt (a), there is a section devoted to the virtues of Imam Ali (a). Moreover, there are monographs on the Imam's virtues composed by Shiite and Sunni scholars.

Sunni Monographs

  • Fada'il Amir al-Mu'minin (The virtues of the Commander of the Faithful) by Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855) the founder of Hanbali branch. In this book, 369 hadiths on the virtues of Imam Ali (a) are collected. Among the events reported by Ibn Hanbal in this book is the congratulation of Umar to Imam Ali (a) on the day of Ghadir.
  • Manaqib al-Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (The virtues of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib) by Ibn al-Maghazili (d. 483/1046), which reports such virtues as being born in Ka'ba, being the first to embrace Islam, and the verses that were revealed about Ali (a).
  • Al-Mi'yar wa l-muwazana (The Criterion and balance, on the virtues of the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali b. Abi Talib) by Muhammad b. Abd Allah al-Iskafi (fl. 7th/13th century).

Shiite Monographs

  • Al-Maratib fi fada'il Amir al-Mu'minin (The stages on the Virtues of the Commander of the Faithful) by the Zaydi scholar Abu l-Qasim al-Busti (fl. 4th/10th century). In this work, 450 virtues of Imam Ali (a) has been mentioned.
  • Al-Risala al-'Alawiyya fi fadl Amir al-Mu'minin (The Alid treatise on the superiority of the Commander of the Faithful to all creation except our master the Apostle of God). This work was written by Abu l-Fath al-Karajuki (d. 449/1057) and contains discussions on the superiority of Imam Ali (a) based on Quranic verses, the Imam's characteristics, and responses to questions about him.