‘Ali ibn Abi Talib
(c. 596 - 661)
Cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad.
In 656 he became the last of the "rightly guided" caliphs.
The fourth of the caliphs or successors of Muhammad, was born in Mecca.
His father, Abu Talib, was an uncle of the Prophet, and Ali himself
was adopted by Muhammad and educated under his care.
While a boy, he distinguished himself by being one
of the first to declare his adherence to the cause of Muhammad. Some
years afterwards he married the Prophet's daughter Fatima Zahra. Ali
proved himself to be a brave and faithful soldier, and when Muhammad
died without a male heir, some thought Ali to have the best claim to
succeed Muhammad. Not until 656, after the murder of Uthman, the third
caliph, however, did Ali assume the title of caliph. Certain conspirators
later claimed that he took no steps to prevent this murder, but other
sources claim that Ali sent his sons to defend Uthman, and was angered
when they were unable to protect him.
The question of Ali's right to succeed to the caliphate
is an article of faith which divided the Muslim world into two great sects, the Sunni and the Shia.
The Sunnis believe that the prophet chose Abu
Bakr to be the first caliph, while the Shia believe that he chose
Ali. Ali did not challenge Abu Bakr or any of the later caliphs, however,
but rather served as an advisor to them.
Ali is greatly respected by all Muslims, both Sunni
and Shia. The Shia venerate him as second only to the prophet, and call
him among several titles the "Leader of the Faithful" (Amir-ul-mumineen)
and the "Lion of God" (Sher-i-Khuda), and celebrate the anniversary
of his death. In the eyes of later Muslims he was a remarkable scholar,
and he wrote many collections of proverbs and verses. The most famous
collection of Ali's speeches and letters is the Nahj ul Balagha, "The peak of eloquence".
He is entombed in the grand shrine at Najaf in modern Iraq, although some believe
he is buried at Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan.
His sons Hasan and Husayn are also revered by Muslims, especially the
Sources: Saudi Aramco World, (January-February