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- Last Updated: March 11, 2013
- Originally Published: June 26, 2012
- The Faithology Editorial Staff
Ali ibn Abi TalibIslam, a favorite cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and the last of the , or "rightly guided," caliphs. He is also considered the father of Shi'ism, as all Shi'a accept him as the first and proper successor of Muhammad.(c. 600 – 660 CE) was the first male convert to
Muhammad helped raise 'Ali during much of his childhood, and 'Ali accompanied the Prophet nearly everywhere. Upon Muhammad's claims of revelation in 610 CE, 'Ali, still a young boy, accepted Islam even without the complete support of his father, Muhammad's uncle. 'Ali eventually married Muhammad's daughter Fatimah and played important political, military, and advisory roles in the development of Islam.
'Ali was born to Abu Talib, Muhammad's uncle, and Fatimah bint Asad. Many sources indicate that 'Ali was the only person born in the Kaaba, the sacred shrine of . When his father encountered financial difficulties, 'Ali was taken in by Muhammad, his cousin. 'Ali was still young at the time, and he was largely raised by Muhammad and his wife Khadijah. Muhammad and 'Ali were close throughout the Prophet's life.
'Ali was ten years old when Muhammad first claimed to be receiving revelations from God. Muhammad made no public declaration for three years, but because 'Ali was living in his home it was natural that he should hear the account firsthand. Sources indicate that 'Ali did not hesitate to accept Muhammad's claims, and he became the first male convert to Islam. Although his father did not convert, he gave the boy permission to act in accordance with his own conscience.
Persecution against Muslims was reaching its peak in Mecca just as 'Ali was becoming an adult. Though his father never converted to Islam, he offered Muhammad the protection of his clan. With his death and the death of Muhammad's first wife Khadijah, Muslims encountered new levels of opposition, and 'Ali remained loyal to Muhammad through this difficult time. When the Prophet finally immigrated toto escape the persecution, 'Ali remained behind in his stead, sleeping in his bed as a diversion for those plotting Muhammad's death. He joined Muhammad in Medina soon after.
About this time, 'Ali married Muhammad's daughter Fatimah, whom Muhammad visited daily. The marriage produced four children, all of whom became important figures in the history of Islam. 'Ali was given important responsibilities in Medina, such as reciting portions of the Qur'an to groups of Muslims, recording its words in writing, and spreading the message of Islam through missionary efforts.
In addition to his ecclesiastical responsibilities, 'Ali was also very involved in military affairs, and he gained a reputation as a courageous warrior. He served as Muhammad's protector in several battles and as military commander in others. Many of the stories surrounding his military experiences have become legends in Muslim history.
At the death of Muhammad in 632, 'Ali and Fatimah cared for the body of the Prophet and arranged for his funeral while the Muslim community debated who would succeed him as the leader of Islam. Some Muslims felt that 'Ali, as Muhammad's closest living male relative, should be appointed Abu Bakr. 'Ali accepted the decision of the community and dedicated his time to religious study and teaching., but by the time he entered the debate, the issue was largely settled, the community having agreed to be led by
The issue of succession became an enormous point of dispute among Muslims. Eventually, disagreement over the proper line of succession after Muhammad led to the major schism of Islam, withMuslims insisting that Muhammad had indicated before his death that 'Ali should succeed him and Muslims arguing that the voice of the majority of the community is authoritative.
'Ali eventually did become Islam's fourth caliph in 656, after the assassination of 'Uthman. His caliphate was very troubled, marked by Islam's First Civil War. The divisive factions that had emerged during 'Uthman's reign threatened the stability of Islam, and 'Ali led military campaigns to unite the empire. His first conflict occurred in Basra in 656. Important members of the Islam community, including Muhammad's widow 'Aisha, opposed the appointment of 'Ali to the and raised an army against him. The two forces collided in what was named the Battle of Camel. After intense fighting, 'Ali's forces were victorious.
'Ali was next forced to deal with the opposition of Muawiyah, the governor of Syria and a relative of 'Uthman. Dissatisfied with 'Ali's reluctance to pursue and punish those responsible for the death of 'Uthman, Muawiyah led an army against 'Ali. 'Ali's forces seemed to be on the verge of victory when Muawiyah instructed his soldiers to place pages of the Qur'an on their lances, halting 'Ali's attack. 'Ali agreed to allow an arbiter to settle the dispute, an act which angered many of his own party since they believed that God alone could make judgments of this magnitude. Many of his followers deserted him and formed their own party, the. It was a member of this party that assassinated 'Ali while he was praying in a in Kufa.
Also known by some as the Lion of God and, among Shi'ites, the Prince of the Faithful, 'Ali can be considered one of the most pivotal figures in Islamic history since the division between Sunnis and Shi'a that exists to this day can be traced back to him. Upon Muhammad's death, many Muslims felt that 'Ali was his rightful successor and the proper leader of Islam. According to most historical accounts, 'Ali eventually deferred to Abu Bakr when the latter was selected by the majority of the Muslim community; however, problems of succession would continue to plague young Islam for decades.
'Ali was finally appointed to the caliphate after the death of 'Uthman, but his rule was problematic. Opposed by leading members of theclan as well as Muhammad's widow 'Aisha, 'Ali struggled to unite all Muslims and repair the wounds of the past. His death and the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty forever split Islam into its two major factions. For most Shi'a, 'Ali stands next to Muhammad in terms of significance and holiness, and even among Sunni, he is remembered as a wise, devout, and courageous leader and a loyal defender of Muhammad and Islam.