Imam Ali and the Caliphs – Part 2

Imam Ali and the Caliphs: Their Relationship and Interaction – Part 2 of 2

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By Abd al-Karim Bi-Azar Shirazi | Translated by D.D. Sodagar

Al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Saduq both narrate accounts of Umar’s dissatisfaction with anyone who would in any way speak ill of Imam AlI. In one such instance, someone denigrated Ali in the presence of Umar. Pointing at the grave of the Prophet, Umar said, “Do you know who is buried here? Do you not know that his name is Muhammad ibn ‘Abdillah ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib and his[1] is Ali ibn Abi Talib ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib? Woe to you! You should not speak of AlI but good, for if you slight him, you have hurt whom is buried here.”[2] In his Muhadarat al-Udaba, the eminent Sunni scholar, al-Raghib al- IsfihanI, narrates the following account. One day while walking with Ibn ‘Abbas, Umar recited a Qur’Ánic verse, in which there was an allusion to ‘AlI ibn Abi Talib, and continued, “By God, AliI is more fit to rule than I and Abu Bakr.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “O Master of the Faithful, why do you say this when you and your friend have subverted him?” Umar replied, “By God, we did not embark on this out of enmity. Rather, we were afraid that due to his youth, the Arabs and the Quraysh may refrain from submitting to his rule.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “The Prophet of God never doubted him for his youth; why did you doubt him?” Umar responded, “This is not true. By God, we do not make a decision without him or perform an action but with his permission.”[3]

The Second Caliph’s Consultation with Imam Ali on Administrative Matters

Here is an excerpt from a lengthy hadith from the Master of the Faithful narrated by al-Shaykh al-Saduq: “Verily he who succeeded his friend[4] would consult with me on matters of governance and would thereafter execute them in accordance with my directions; he would request my opinion on the difficult matters of administration and would deal with them according to my opinion.”[5] Sunni historians and scholars, such as Dr. Hasan Ibrahim Hasan, are agreed that the first two caliphs would consult with Imam Ali on important administrative matters as they acknowledged his superior intelligence, insight, and piety.[6]

Dr. Muhammad Abd al-Rahim Muhammad (Al-Madkhal ila Fiqh al-Imam ‘Ali) assigns an entire chapter to describing Imam Ali’s outstanding knowledge and jurisprudence. He writes, “Historians and scholars are unanimous that Ali was of the luminaries in Islamic law during the Period of the Companions. As such, experts in classifying the scholars of each age class him as one of the most distinguished jurists among the companions.”[7] The Noble Prophet (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him and his household) sent Imam Ali to Yemen to judge and teach; the Prophet said, “The most just judge in my community is Ali.”[8] Thus, when Umar would convene a council of the companions of the Prophet, he would address Ali and say, “Speak, as you are the most knowledgeable and the most meritorious of them all.”[9]

Ahmad ibn Hanbal narrates that the Prophet once asked Fatimah, his daughter, “Are you not happy that I have wed you to the first Muslim among my community, the most knowledgeable, and the most patient?”[10]

The caliphs, the companions, and the jurists of Sham and Iraq would seek advice from Imam Ali on difficult problems that they could not resolve on their own. When Imam Ali disagreed with their judgments, they generally deferred to him.[11]

The Second Caliph’s Consultation with Imam Ali on Economical Matters

After conquering Iran, Umar convened a council comprising ten of the eminent companions and including Imam Ali to decide on the fate of the conquered land. Some of the companions proposed that the land be divided among the army of Islam. Imam Ali, however, objected to this proposal. Instead, he advised that the wealth of Iran remain in the treasury of the Islamic state for the benefit of all Muslims, including future generations. Umar accepted Imam Ali’s advice, thereby establishing the tribute tax.[12]

In the year 15 A.H., a time when successive victories brought the wealth of Persia’s Sassanid dynasty to the treasury of the Islamic state, Umar consulted with Ali on how to spend the immense wealth. Ali said, “Once every year, distribute the riches among all people and leave none remaining in the treasury”.[13] For implementing Imam Ali’s counsel, Umar inquired from a Persian officer regarding the Sassanid Empire’s budgetary system. Based on the Persian model, he arranged the treasury of the Islamic state so that all revenues and expenditures were recorded and that every Muslim was allotted a portion of the wealth.[14]

In the year 16 A.H., Umar was deciding on establishing a distinctive Islamic calendar. Initially, he was regarding the year of the Prophet’s birth as the starting point, but then he considered the beginning of the Prophet’s ministry. Imam Ali, however, suggested that the calendar begin with the Hijrah (the migration of Meccan Muslims to Medina); Umar consented.[15]

Regarding the jewellery stored in the Ka‘bah, some suggested to Umar that they should be used in reinforcing the army of Islam, for, as they assumed, that was a more urgent purpose. Umar was convinced, but he also asked Imam Ali for his opinion. Imam Ali answered,

 When the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet, God defined four types of wealth: first, personal property, which the Prophet respected by determining that it should be passed on to the deceased’s heir in accordance with laws of inheritance; second, booty, which was apportioned to those whom deserved it; third, khums,[16] which was established according to God’s command; fourth, alms, which God established for their particular use. The jewellery in the Ka‘bah were there at that time as well, but God left them as they were, and that was not out of inattention. You, too, leave them as God and the Prophet left them. And Umar acquiesced.[17]

On his trip to Palestine, Umar asked the most respected companions of the Prophet to accompany him so as to aid him on administrative matters following the conquest. He, however, appointed Imam Ali to govern while he was gone.[18]

 Imam Ali’s Counsel to the Second Caliph on Matters of War

 In the war with the Persian Empire, Umar intended to accompany the army of Islam. He consulted Imam Ali, who thus answered him:

 The status of the ruler is like the string, which brings the beads together and makes them cohere. If the string brakes, the beads disperse and disappear, such that they can never again be restored. Arabs today, though few in number, are significant due to Islam and strong through unity. Thus, you should remain still as the column and make the Arabs encircle you as the millstone [rotates round its column]: by them ignite the flames of war. Should you leave this land, Arabs, from the corners and fringes of the Arab world, will annul [their pledges of allegiance to you], so that the dangers behind you would be of greater concern to you than that which would lie ahead of you. Indeed, if the Persians behold you tomorrow, they will say, “He is the root of the Arabs: Cut him down so that you may be relieved.” Thus [your presence there] would only intensify their eagerness to [destroy] you.[19]

Thereafter Umar said, “Indeed, this is the right decision, and I wish to follow it.”[20]


Imam Ali’s Relation with the Third Caliph

The Third Caliph came to power by the decision of the council arranged by the Second Caliph. Despite knowing that the council had conspired against him, Imam Ali continued his peaceful ways so as to maintain Islamic solidarity. In a speech he made when pledging allegiance to Uthman, Ali said, “You well knew that I was the most qualified for receiving the caliphate. But by God I swear that so long as the welfare of the Muslims is secure and it is only me whom is being oppressed, I will remain silent. I do this in the hope of reaping [spiritual] benefits and so that I may shun the worldly pleasures, which you are so fond of.”[21]

One of the most momentous projects executed during the caliphate of Uthman was the compilation of the Qur’an and the establishment of a single standard Qur’anic text. A number of the companions, such as Ibn Mas‘ud, opposed this endeavour. Imam Ali, however, oversaw the project and gave his final approval to it. In his response to the opponents of the project, and in defence of Uthman, he said, “Do not make mention of Uthman other than in a good way, because I swear to God that the work that Uthman did with regards to the manuscripts of the Qur’an was in our presence.” The Imam then added, “Had I been the ruler, I would have dealt with the scriptures as Uthman did.”[22] Owing to Imam Ali’s firm support, Sunnis and Shias alike accepted Uthman’s compilation.

There are other instances of Imam Ali’s courteous relation with the Third Caliph. As Muslims grew dissatisfied with Uthman’s rule, they voiced their grievances to Imam Ali. To moderate the situation, Imam Ali advised Uthman with these words:

The people have lined up behind me and have requested that I be their spokesman to you. But by God I know not what to tell you? There is nothing that you are ignorant of. You know that which we know. We have not outdone you in anything of which we may inform you and have not gained exclusive access to any matter of which we may apprise you. You have seen that which we have seen and have heard that which we have heard; you accompanied the Prophet as we did. Ibn Ibi Quhafah[23] and Ibn al-Khattab[24] [both ruled better than you, though] they were no more predisposed to righteousness than you. And you are closer in kinship to the Prophet than they were: you are the Prophet’s son-inlaw, whereas they were not. By God! By God! I warn you concerning yourself. By God, there is no blindness in you from which you need be cured or ignorance in you concerning which you need be instructed. Verily, the ways are clear and the signposts of religion erect. So then beware that the most meritorious servant of God before Him is a just ruler, whom has been guided and who guides, who upholds an orthodox tradition and destroys an unorthodox innovation.[25]

In the final days of Uthman’s caliphate, outraged crowds besieged his residence. Instead of utilizing this opportunity to his own advantage, Imam Ali, in the interests of the Muslim community, strove to pacify the conflict. Thus, he gave orders to Hasan and Husayn, his sons, to stand guard and protect Uthman. Imam Ali later expressed, “By God, I defended him to the extent that I feared I may be a transgressor[26].”[27]

Praying with the Caliphs

Al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-‘Àmili narrates the following two hadiths regarding the Ahlulbayt’s praying with Sunni rulers: “Verily the Prophet intermarried with them[28] and Ali prayed behind them;”[29] “Hasan and Husayn would pray behind Marwan.”[30]

‘Allamah al-Sayyid ‘Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din provides the following explanation on this topic:

[Imam Ali] performed his prayer behind [the Caliphs] sincerely for God. Thus we submit to him and seek proximity to God by praying in congregation behind Sunni imams. This is approved by the school of the Ahlulbayt: worshippers are rewarded for praying in congregation behind Sunni imams just as they are rewarded for praying behind Shia imams. Those aware of our school know that in relation to Shia imams, we consider ‘idalah (righteousness) a condition and as such regard praying behind a Shia imam who is fasiq (unrighteous) or unknown impermissible. We, however, allow praying behind any Sunni imam.[31]


 Thus Imam Ali and his virtuous successors retained differences within reasonable limits so that the unity of the Muslim community would be preserved unharmed, as disunity would have been advantageous only to the enemies of Islam. It was in reference to this service of the Ahlulbayt that Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet and Imam Ali’s wife, said, “Our imamate is a security against dissension.”[32]

As time passed, however, the interests of tyrants required that they foment conflict and provoke Muslims against one another so as to hinder progress. And today, though caliphate is not a political reality any longer, imperialist powers, assailing the Muslim world from every corner, try to rekindle the historical differences by inciting ignorant figures on both sides. And Muslims instead of standing up against imperialist powers, who are the real enemy, have preoccupied themselves with factional quarrel. Let me end with this poem:

O Muslims, what wonderful days we enjoyed.

Truly we possessed delightful authority and prestige.

As the rose and the nightingale, we were one another’s confidant

In the orchard of loyalty, whose lush vegetation and fruit we cherished.

All the way to the Great Wall of China did we display the banner of Islam

As we had a firm and iron resolution.

Thus was our state so long as we were honest to one another

And lie and deception we abhorred.

The hand of hypocrisy found its way into our midst

And so the winds of disintegration consumed whatever authority and prestige we had.

وَإِذَا جَاءَكَ الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِآيَاتِنَا فَقُلْ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ

When those who have faith in Our signs come to you, say, “Peace to You” [6:54].

[1] That is, Imam Ali. [Tr.]

[2] See al-Shaykh al-Tusi, Al-Amali (Qum: Dar al-Thiqafah, 1414 A.H.), p. 431; al-Shaykh al-Saddq, Al- Amali (Qum: Mu’assesah al-Bi’thah, 1417 A.H.), pp. 472-73; Ibn Shahr Àshub, Manaqib Àl Abi Talib (India), vol. 2, p. 154.

[3] See al-Raghib al-Isfihani, Muhadarat al-Udaba (1961), vol. 4, p. 478 and Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah, Ma‘a Batalah al-Karbala (1412 A.H.), p. 57.

[4] That is, Umar.

[5] Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-Khisal (Qum: Manshurat Jama’ah al-Mudarissin, 1403 A.H.), p. 374. Al-Shaykh al- Ansari and al-Imam al-Khumayni cite this hadith in, respectively, al-Makasib (Qum: Mu’asseseh al-Hadi, 1417 A.H.), vol. 2, p. 244, and al-Bay‘ (Tehran: Mu’asseseh Tanzim wa Nashr Athar Imam Khumeini, 1421), v0l. 3, p. 96.

[6] See Hasan Ibrahim Hasan, Tarikh Siasi Islam (Intisharat Jawidan).

[7] For more on this, see Tabaqat al-Shirazi, pp. 41-43.

[8] See Nur al-Absar, p. 79; Masabih al-Nabawi, vol. 2:277.

[9] Tabaqat al-Shirazi, p. 42.

[10] Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol. 5, p. 26.

[11] Ibn al-Qayyim, A‘lam al-Muwaffaqin, vol. 8, pp. 12-15.

[12] See al-Shaykh al-Tusi, Al-Khilaf, vol. 2, p. 334; al-Ya’qubi, Tarikh, vol. 2, pp. 173-74; al-Tabari, Tarikh, vol. 1, pp.

2417-18; al-Mawirdi, Al-Ahkam al-SultÁniyyah, p. 196; Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, p. 36.

[13] al-Mawirdi, Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, p. 199.

[14] See al-Tabari, Tarikh, vol. 1. pp. 411 and 2595; al-Bahadhuri, Futhul al-Buldan, p. 453; Ibn Tataqi, Al-Tarikh al-

Fakhri, pp. 112 and 114; Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Thaqafi, Al-Gharat, p. 48.

[15] Al-Ya‘qubi, Tarikh, vol. 2, p. 29; Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, vol. 1, p. 11; al-Tabari, Tarikh, vol. 2, p. 253.

[16] An annual tax, equal to one-fifth of one’s surplus wealth. [Tr.]

[17] Al-Amini, Al-Ghadir.

[18] Sayyid Husein Ja’fari, Tashayyu’ dar Masir Tarikh (Tehran: Daftar Nashr, 1351 A.H. (solar)), p. 58.

[19] Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermons: 146.

[20] Al-Shaykh al-Mufid, Al-Irshad, vol. 1, pp. 198-201.

[21] Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermons: 74.

[22] See al-Suyuti, Al-Itqan, vol. 1, pp. 103-4; al-Zarkishi, Al-Burhan, vol. 1, p. 240; al-Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan, vol. 1, p. 21.

[23] The First Caliph

[24] The Second Caliph

[25] Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermons: 164

[26]That is, transgressing God’s Will. [Tr.]

[27] Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermons: 240.

[28] That is, with ‘Umar and Abu Bakr.

[29] Wasa’il al-Shi‘ah, vol. 5, p. 383.

[30] Ibid

[31] Ajwabah Masa’il Jar Allah (Qum: Majma’ Jahani Ahl Bayt, 1416 A.H.), p. 66.

[32] Man la Yahdaruhu al-faqih, vol. 3, p. 568

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