Ali bin Abi Talib: The Fourth Caliph in Islam –Part One
Hasan Yahya, Ph.ds
Arab American Encyclopedia- Historical Personalities
Ali ibn Abi Talib ( كرم الله وجهه- علي بن أبي طالب) (c. 600 – 661) was the fourth Caliph or successor of Muhammad. He was born at Mecca where his father, Abu Talib, was an uncle of the Prophet. Ali himself was adopted by Muhammad and educated under his care, and he was the first male to embrace Islam though he was only nine years old.
Ali proved himself to be a wise, knowledgable, brave and faithful. Throughout his life, the Prophet never appointed anyone as commander over the head of Ali; it was always he who was the standard bearer and commander. By contrast, Abu Bakr and Umar were to be simple soldiers in the army of Usamah, and the Prophet personally ordered them to serve under him when he appointed him commander at the battle of Mu’ta. Historians are unanimously agreed on this point. Likewise, at the Battle of Dhat al-Salasil, when the army was commanded by Ibn al-‘As, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar again served as simple soldiers. This contrasts with the case of Ali b. Abi Talib, whom the Prophet, from the beginning of his mission until his death, never made him subordinate to anyone.
Upon Muhammed’s death, a hastily collected group of prominent Muslim leaders elected Muhammed’s father in law, Abu Bakr, to be the secular head of Islam. However, ‘Ali, Muhammed’s son-in-law and cousin, was not part of this committee nor were other members of Muhammed’s immediate family, and many believed that Muhammed had designated ‘Ali as a successor, for the Traditions had Muhammed naming him as both his brother and his successor. ‘Ali had been raised with Muhammed and was the second person (after Muhammed’s wife Khadija) to recognize Muhammed’s role as a prophet; he was the first of Muhammed’s tribe to declare himself an apostle (rasul ). But the Meccan and Medinan leaders, with no members of Muhammed’s house present, gave their allegiance to Abu Bakr as Caliph and attempted through force of arms to coerce ‘Ali into acknowledging Abu Bakr as well. However, during the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and his successor, ‘Umar, not only did ‘Ali not advance any claims to the Caliphate, he even participated in the government of ‘Umar. It was not until the Caliphate passed to ‘Uthman, who ruled somewhat degenerately and was a member of the Umayya family, which had fiercely fought against Muhammed during his lifetime, that ‘Ali was provoked into accepting the Caliphate. ‘Uthman placed members of his family in charge of various provinces and they ruled disgracefully; various rebel factions, seeing their grievances unredressed, attacked ‘Uthman’s house and assassinated him. The prominent families of Medina and other areas persuaded ‘Ali to become Caliph, which he did in 656; ‘Ali had become the fourth Caliph of Islam and the last of the Patriarchal caliphs.
The Umayyads in charge of the various governments would not accept this arrangement and rose up in rebellion and named Mu’awiyya caliph. Eventually, ‘Ali would be forced to flee Medina and settle in Kufa in Iraq. ‘Ali would eventually have to contend with dissension in his own army while fighting the Umayyads; after defeating these dissenters in battle, he would be assassinated a few years later by one of them in revenge for this defeat.
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