Ali RA was one of the four sons of Abu Talib, the leader of Banu Hashim. He was the youngest (born 10 years before Muhammad PBUH was raised as a Prophet). Pitying his poverty, Muhammad PBUH took him under his guardianship. He was one of the earliest converts to Islam when the Prophet PBUH started his call to Islam. His young age did not an obstacle for him to stay away from Islam and remained steadfast on it until he met his end.
When the pagans entered the Prophet’s house after knowing about his plans of migration to Madina, they found Ali RA sleeping in the Prophet’s bed. He was instructed by the Prophet PBUH to handover all the things which were left in his trust, to their owners, before he too left Makkah. The Quraish roughed him up, because they wanted to bring harm to the Prophet PBUH. They detained him in the Grand Mosque for sometime but released him later. A few days later, Ali RA trekked his way to Madinah, arriving there with swollen feet. This brought tears to the Prophet’s eyes.
His entire life was sacrifice and courage personified. At Badr, the Prophet PBUH let him loose on the three Quraysh fighters who challenged duals. Ali RA, the least experienced in war, took on Waleed ibn ‘Utbah and beheaded him in no time. It will not be out of place here to mention that at that time, Ali RA was just about 20 years.
After the battle of Badr, Ali RA requested the Prophet PBUH for Fatima’s hand. He agreed and a paltry sum of 400 Dirham was decided as the amount of Mahr. Ali RA and Fatima’s life was an example of detachment from the worldly pleasures. Their hut had no furniture and the pair went hungry quite often. When the hardships turned beyond endurance, they would go to the Prophet’s house seeking a slave or a servant. Fatimah complained that the skin of her hand was torn from running the mill-stone and Ali RA complained that he suffered chest pain from working as a bucket puller irrigating Jewish orchards. Rather than giving them what they had asked for, the Prophet PBUH told them, ‘’Sing the praises of your Lord, a hundred times before you go to bed. This is better than what you have asked for’’.
At Uhud 3 H, the pagan flag was held by Talha bin Uthman. Several times the man challenged someone to meet him in duel. Finally, Ali RA fought him and Talha fell down as Ali RA severed his leg. Ali RA then abandoned him .When the war broke, Ali RA fought so hard that he received sixteen injuries. By now Ali RA seemed to have gotten good war skills. The only Prophetic campaign from which Ali RA abstained was when he was placed in charge of Madina, while the Prophet PBUH marched to Tabuk. By placing Ali RA at Madina, and marching out with a force of 10000, to a destination, thousand kilometres away, leaving behind hundreds of hypocrites, the Prophet PBUH left the message to them that if they misbehaved, they will find the person left in charge no easy man to deal with.
Then came the final assignment. In the 10th year after Hijra, Ali RA was sent to Yemen as a Judge and a caller to Faith. The Prophet PBUH was eager to win the Yemenis to Islam without any military confrontation. Success came up smiling and the Prophet was extremely pleased to receive their delegates arriving at Madina to enter into allegiance and receive religious instructions. It is from Yemen that Ali RA arrived at Makkah to perform Hajj with the Prophet PBUH.
Ali RA remained close by during the Prophet’s final illness. He was the one who stepped into the grave while burying the last Messenger of Allah. Bukhari reports that Ali RA’s son Muhammad ibn Hanaffiyah asked Ali RA about who was the best of men after the Prophet PBUH. He answered, ‘’ Abu Bakr’’. He asked, ‘’who after him?’’. He answered,’’ Umar’’. Muhammad added that if he asked ‘’who thereafter’’, Ali RA would have said, ‘’Uthman’’, and so he desisted.
The relationship of Ali RA with Abu Bakr and Umar was that of mutual love and respect. When Ja’far, Ali RA’s brother died, Abu Bakr RA married his widow. Ali RA used to wear a certain apparel quite often in winters. When someone asked the reason, he said, ‘’ Why not? It was gifted to me by my friend Umar.’’ Ali RA gave his daughter Umm Kulthum to Umar in marriage. Ali RA, who said that none were dearer to the Prophet PBUH than Abu Bakr RA and Umar RA, named one of his sons as Abu Bakr RA and another Umar RA.
Usman’s death left Ali RA shatteringly dismayed and devastatingly traumatised. After the death of Uthman, Ali RA was unanimously chosen as the next Caliph, in the Prophet’s Mosque. Restoring law and order in Madina was his first major task. The rebels in thousands were freely roaming the town. Uthman’s murderers were also among them but his wife could not identify them. Since the rebels were outsiders, identifying the killers among them was not easy. Slowly pressure started building on Ali RA to apprehend the killers of Uthman. But it was not an easy task since there was no police or no standing army as in today’s world. To make matters worse for Ali RA, the rebels started playing dirty tricks and claimed themselves as Ali RA’s supporters. Ali RA loathed them and his disapproval of them was spoken out in every public address that he delivered.
The rebels wrongly but deliberately started claiming that Ali RA was shielding the murderers of Usman RA. Slowly a core group of the Sahaba demanded that the murderers of Usman be brought to book. Chaos and confusion was reigning supreme. This gave rise to new problems every day and so didn’t give enough time to Ali RA to focus on running the state and bringing about peace. Mu’awiyyah was still not pledging his allegiance to Ali RA on the grounds that Ali RA was not doing anything about punishing the murderers of Usman.
Ali RA asked Abdullah ibn Umar to become the Governor of Syria, but he refused and fled to Makkah.
Ali RA could not arrest the killers of Usman because they were not identified and in the ensuing chaos it became extremely difficult for him to focus on arresting the culprits. In the meantime, Mu’awiyyah remained with his hold on Syria which he extended to a province between Northern Iraq and Syria. Even Egypt subsequently came under him.
On the other hand, Aisha, on her way back from Hajj received the news of Usman’s murder. She returned to Makkah. Talha and Zubayr met her there and the three decided to launch a movement demanding punishment of Usman’s killers. The three along with some other companions decided to first go to Basra to seek their help and then move on to Kufa. When they reached Basra a huge number of people joined them. In the face of these developments, Ali RA also decided to leave for Kufa. They were about a hundred people when they started from Madinah but after reaching Kufa, 6000-7000 people joined them. Some Basrans also joined them and their number rose to about 12000.
But in the meantime, efforts were made for reconciliation. Their efforts at reconciliation succeeded as Zubayr, Talha and Aisha agreed to join hands with Ali RA to find out the killers of Uthman. This development did not go down well with the hypocrites, rebels and the Saba’ians who tried to create misunderstanding between them and unfortunately succeeded. The Saba’ians, during a secret meeting decided that they should strike each other in the pre dawn hours to start off a war. They had placed their men near Ali RA, Talha and Zubayr. The Saba’ians falsely told them that the other party had betrayed and had struck. In this way, a fight ensued due to misunderstanding. It continued till afternoon when Ali RA, Talha and Zubayr reAli RAsed that there was something wrong. They tried to stop the fight but were not successful. Zubayr was murdered by a Saba’i, Ibn Jurmooz. Talha too received a blow and he was carried to Basra where he died.
Having heard the news of the battle, Aisha came out of Basra. Aisha was on a camel (Ja’mal in Arabic and hence the Ja’mal battle). The Saba’ians targeted her, but her companions stood before her camel like a wall. Finally Ali RA sent her brother Abd al-Rehman ibn Abi Bakr and another man to gore the camel she was riding and escort Aisha safely to one of the tents. With this smart move, Ali RA was able to stop further bloodshed and bring this fight to an end.
Ali RA arranged for Aisha RA to be taken to Madina. Forty ladies of noble families were chosen to escort her right upto Madina. Ali RA followed the caravan out of the town for some distance. She announced that whatever had happened, there was never any bitterness between the two, even before she came out seeking retribution for Uthman’s murder.
Mu’awiyyah remained seeking justice for Usman. Ali RA had written several times to him to submit but he refused. Ultimately, Ali RA decided to prepare a force and invade Syria. Mu’awiyyah also marched out with a force of around sixty thousand to camp at Siffin. The two armies faced one another for more than two months without any full fledged battle, because both wished to avoid violence. Finally the war started between the two sides. The battle lasted full three days. By the fourth day it had become obvious that the victory will be for Ali RA’s forces. But ultimately both the sides stopped fighting. After this battle a group of people broke away from Ali RA who later came to be known as Khawarij. Their number soon swelled to about ten thousand. They had very strange beliefs. They considered those Muslims as unbelievers who did not agree to their thinking.
Most of the area east of Iraq as well as in its north rebelled against Ali RA’s Governors, refusing to send the Kharaj money to him. This weakened his government. Ultimately Ali RA had to give in and sign a truce with Mu’awiyyah in 40H that said that Syria would remain under Mu’awiyyah while Iraq would be for Ali RA. The Khawarij planned to kill Ali RA, Mu’awiyyah and Amr ibn al-Aas, all at the same time. They agreed on attacking the three on a particular day with poisoned swords. A person named Ibn Muljam attacked Ali RA as he emerged from his house for prayers. His sword did not fail and struck a fatal blow to Ali RA. The other two of assassins assigned to murder Mu’awiyyah and Amr ibn al-Aas failed.
Three days later, on 21st Ramadan, 40H, at the age of 63, Ali RA succumbed to the injuries. His burial place is unknown. Several tombs have been identified but to no certainty.