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Ali b. Abi Talib: Reflection of a Prophet: N/A

Ali b. Abi Talib: Reflection of a Prophet: N/A

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Ali b. Abi Talib: Reflection of a Prophet: N/A

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Mar 31, 2017

Mar 31, 2017

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Ali b. Abi Talib - M. K. Zeineddine



Special thanks to my family, particularly my dear brothers

for their support and insightful discussions about Imam

Ali and the People of the House.

I am hugely indebted to my wife for her boundless sacrifice

and patience. Butterfly kisses to my beloved daughters and

son, whose presence around me has been a constant

reminder of the other world that exists beyond

the one of writing.

I must never forget to thank God the Almighty for His inspiration, love and guidance that brought this book to your hands, my precious reader.

M. K. Zeineddine


This book is written to defend the truth. With the escalating campaigns of terrorism, unjustly committed in the name of Islam, it has become increasingly necessary to defend this faith and assert the claim that it is not a religion of hate and bloodshed, but one of love, peace and tolerance. To achieve this, I have drawn, from the Islamic history itself, the excellent merits and virtues of a man who lived the true meaning of humanity and advocated for its values to the last moment of his life.

Named as Prophet Muhammad’s¹ brother and vicegerent, this distinguished personality was gifted with a range of extraordinary qualities that naturally fitted him to undertake the exalted role as the Prophet’s successor and inheritor. This book sets the scene for a compelling story of an Imam who earned the Prophet’s complete trust and exclusive attention from an early age. His passion for humanity vigorously spoke, and still speaks to this day, much louder than the shallow wrangling of the rejectionists, hypocrites and profiteers who sought to undermine his leadership and suppress the supreme ideals that he died for. This man is the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali b. Abi Talib.

Who Ali is and how we can come to understand him are subjects too vast to be covered exhaustively in a book such as this one. No matter how much is written about Ali, there is still much more about his persona and ethos that can be researched and carefully examined. How can we cover the privileges (khasais) of a man who used to knock at his chest and say: ‘Ask me before you lose me’²? How can we fully explore this sage who is considered the gate to Prophet Muhammad’s city of wisdom and knowledge? Who dares to question his devotion and piety after he was branded as the Imam of the Pious? Eloquent in speech, gallant in battle and wise in counsel—that is Ali, the highly praised by the Quran and the Prophet. That is Ali, the exceedingly admired by Eastern and Western thinkers such as the celebrated essayist Thomas Carlyle who wrote: ‘As for this young Ali, one cannot but like him. A noble-minded creature as he shows himself, now and always afterwards; full of affection, of fiery daring. Something chivalrous in him: brave as a lion; yet with a grace, a truth and affection worthy of Christian knighthood.’³

Touching on one of the gravest issues of our time—terrorism—this book can prove extremely useful to readers of all faiths, particularly young Muslims, who should understand from Ali himself the true meaning of jihad as a way to defend peace and develop societies, and not as an excuse to promote fear, ignorance and destruction. To observe the struggle against the base elements of our soul (greater jihad) is far more superior in Ali’s eyes than embarking on armed or lesser jihad. After all, not everyone who takes up arms against others is claimed to be a true jihadist in Islam. In a world tainted with cruelty, hate and corruption, Ali’s ideals are revived now and can well serve as a minaret for guidance, for they address serious concerns challenging our humanity, if not our entire existence.

Many have written about Ali b. Abi Talib, yet there is little available in the English literature that presents his unique qualities through the lens of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s words (hadith). In the classical tapestry of this book, we will also introduce Ali’s views on matters of love, remembrance, justice, freedom and knowledge, which truly reflect the prophetic character of this grand figure. To lend weight to the various topics presented here, the intention is to paint an evocative portrait of Ali as one of history’s most charismatic personalities. Each chapter is replete with drama, history and words of wisdom from Ali, extracted from his sermons and letters in the famous book Peak of Eloquence or Nahj al-Balagha. You will also find that the majority of hadiths have been carefully selected from the mainstream scholars such as Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ibn Kathir, Tabari, Nasai, Tirmidhi, Ibn al-Sabbagh and others who did not necessarily share Ali’s faith, yet appreciated his sincerity and love for humanity.

M. K. Zeineddine

1 In Islamic literature, out of reverence and enormous respect, it is customary to add peace be upon him and his family or the acronym – pbuh – whenever Prophet Muhammad’s name is cited. The same practice applies to his family or the People of the House (ahl al-bayt). For the purpose of avoiding repetition, we have deleted this acronym, with the emphasis, however, that every time their names are mentioned, the reader is encouraged to send peace greeting (salah) to them. The Quran says: ‘God and His Angels send their salah on the Prophet. O you who believe, send your salah on him and give him the greeting of peace.’ Quran, 33: 56. When asked how the faithful should invoke their salah on him, the Prophet instructed to say: ‘O God, send Your salah on Muhammad and the family of Muhammad as You sent Your salah on Abraham and the family of Abraham, You are the Most Praiseworthy, the Most Glorious. And, bless Muhammad and the family of Muhammad as You blessed Abraham and the family of Abraham. You are the Most Praiseworthy, the Most Glorious.’ Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, vol. 2, p. 178, no. 1396.

2 Ali b. Abi Talib, Nahj al-Balagha, p. 386. In this work, the author relied on the first edition of Nahj al-Balagha, hereinafter referred to as Nahj, published in Arabic by Dar al-Mahajja al-Baydaa (Beirut, 2006). The translation of the Arabic text to English is produced by the author, aided by the Peak of Eloquence (edited by Yasin T. Al-Jibouri) (seventh edition) published by Tahrike Tarsile Quran, Inc (New York, 2009).

3 T. Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (New York, 1859), p. 70. For further access, the same lecture has been published by A. El-Affendi, in his book, About Muhammad: The Other Western Perspective on the Prophet of Islam (Surrey, 2013).


Rejectionists of Truth

And of the people is he who argues about God without

knowledge, guidance and enlightening book.

Quran, 22: 8

Harsh campaigns and polemics against Islam and its Prophet Muhammad are as old as the faith itself. From its inception, Islam has been the target of intense hostility and propaganda, intentionally carried out to undermine its values and limit its spread. Back in the medieval time, when the Prophet first announced his call to prophethood, Meccan disbelievers did not receive him with civility and wisdom. Nor did they attempt to properly comprehend the message that he came to convey. Rather, they embarked on a disparaging course to crush his mission and destroy its influence, leaving behind to this day countless number of misguided people who could have taken advantage of the moral, spiritual and social benefits that this faith came to offer.

For years before the revelation, Prophet Muhammad led a quiet life among the Meccans without speaking a word of divinity and prophethood. He was highly respected for his inspiring conduct and honourable character. People of Arabia admired his honesty and wisdom, calling him the ‘truthful’ (al-Sadiq) and the ‘trustworthy’ (al-Amin). He lived in their midst, participated in their businesses, and at times, was vigorously sought to solve their disputes and arguments. Exceptionally sincere was the Prophet in what he said, acted and thought. However, as soon as he began propagating the religion of Islam, their admiration rapidly changed to resentment and their respect transformed into bitterness and hate. In the rejectionists’ mind, Prophet Muhammad was an imposter, and his principal crime was his message that ‘There is no deity but God’, which posed a direct threat to their cult of worshiping idols.

With the Prophet’s rejection of polytheism, it was obvious that he vexed the idolaters and profiteers of his time. As he began inviting people to accept Islam as a new way of life, the confrontation gradually escalated from mere irritation to active ridicule. The elders of Mecca such as Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan and the Prophet’s own uncle—Abu Lahab—decided to publicly oppose him in an attempt to smother his inspirational message and bury it in its inception, as it was accustomed to savagely bury young daughters alive. Their verbal attack was not against his person as much as it was directed against his teachings. Trying to prove that Islam is a quackery and incompatible with the Arabian social trends, they began mocking and, at times, accusing the Prophet of being an apostate, heretic and fraud. Some even went farther to branding him epileptic and mad.

But to our rational minds, should we consider a man as mad if his principal aim is to denounce polytheism and moral impurities; purify society from inequities; and replace a primitive community with one that enforces justice, freedom and public welfare? Is it prudent to label a man as fraud if his message is to annihilate discrimination, corruption and oppression? Is it wise to persecute a man who came to propagate peace and love among fellow human beings? Most importantly, is it logical for a man to enjoy such noble qualities for forty years amongst his people then suddenly turn into an imposter? With Islam, the Prophet came to abolish the concept of exploitation and social racism. He was sent to cleanse the minds and hearts from immorality and eradicate life styles that feed on selfishness and earthly desires. In doing so, he defended the rights of the oppressed and organised the relationships among people, based on mutual respect and tolerance. As is the case with previous messengers, Prophet Muhammad was a reformer of a way of life that had been plagued with pagan traditions (Jahiliyah) and primitive cults.

In the middle of his heated debate with the rejectionists, the Prophet stood there, as we can fancy, with a heart sensing the kernel of all matters, and argued that his message was not of his own choosing. Rather, it was granted to him and not created by him. He could have started his movement anytime sooner during all those years that he spent with the disbelievers, but the revelation came now after his forty years of age. To their loss, they rejected his arguments, claiming that the call to Islam was made purely for materialistic reasons. And to test the Prophet, they offered him livestock, gold and high position so that he may abandon his mission. Yet, as expected, he turned their offers down, asserting that if they put the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left, he would not forsake his prophetic call.

With such frivolous claims and malevolent insinuations, they were clearly bent on denying the truth to the detriment of their own development and that of many generations to come. They did not realise that a man may well decide to deny the truth at a given moment in time, yet the damaging effects of that decision can ripple across for centuries.

As the Prophet did not acquiesce, the disbelievers started growing impatient at the increasing number of converts. Startling phenomena! He was gradually winning grounds. His eloquent verses and clear signs were convincing many that his message was truly divine. To prove that he was a messenger of God, he spoke of eschatological matters (ghayb) in order to instil more spiritual strength in his followers and reinforce their conviction in the faith. He used to foretell the battles that they were going to fight and the victories awaiting them should they demonstrate sincere reliance (tawakkul) on the Almighty. These divine revelations, told through the interjections of the Archangel Gabriel, happened as had been foretold and created enormous impact. They reaffirmed the adherents’ belief and scared the disbelievers even further.

This obviously did not please the idolaters and hypocrites of the Prophet’s time, nor did it appeal to the rejectionists of later times. So they decided to intensify their oppressive campaigns against him in every possible way, including defamation. The Quran was quick to undermine their attempts, saying: ‘They wish to put out God’s light with their mouths, and God shall complete His light even though the disbelievers hate it.’⁵ To further challenge the Prophet as a messenger of God, they asked him to perform miracles hoping to embarrass him and dissuade the converts from abandoning their stony gods. But does the truth really need miracles for the heart to acknowledge its existence? Cannot we simply see it through our spirit? The answer to these questions lies in the Quran when it says: ‘It is not the eyes that become blind but the hearts within the chests.’⁶ To that effect, the Quran gives an account of their shallow demands for miracles when it states:

And they said, ‘We will not believe in you [Muhammad] until you make a spring gush out of the ground for us; or you have a garden of dates and vines so you make rivers pour through it abundantly; or you make the sky fall on us as you claimed in pieces; or you bring God and the angels before us face to face; or you have a house made of zukhruf; or ascend to heaven. And we will not believe in your ascension until you send a book down upon us to read.’

The Prophet replied, and his response was real, humble and straightforward, relying on the Quranic verse: ‘Say [Muhammad], Glory be to my Lord, am I anything but a human and messenger.⁸ He made it clear that he was only a messenger with the duty to convey and not to entertain the disbelievers’ wishes. Several prophets were sent before him, with and without miracles, and they faced similar challenges and denial. Yet they kept to their mission and eventually emerged victorious, for they were sincere.

Indeed, any sublime act or movement throughout the human history has managed to leave such an impact on its adherents for the essential element—sincerity. It is the primary foundation and the chief attribute of any genuine message. The Prophet could have beseeched God to perform miracles, yet he did not, for he was sincere in his call. When we examine closely the profundity of the Quranic verses and study the Prophet’s words (hadiths), uttered with such overwhelming sincerity and depth, solely aimed for the benefit of mankind, do not we reach the conclusion that such utterances have been indeed a revelation of a divine source and a miracle? Had he not been sincere in word and action, his mission would have been doomed to failure. Had his movement been initiated for materialistic reasons, it would have vanished throughout the passage of time.

I myself try to understand the true reasons that keep on preventing the rejectionists from examining the Quran and reflecting on the Prophet’s words of wisdom. Why could not they humbly free themselves from denial and study these profound verses which touch the very essence of our human existence? What is it that continues to drive such prejudice and hatred across the centuries against Muhammad and his religion? What is the objective behind such fierce, irrational rejection? We can easily recognise the Prophet’s sincerity. He was real, genuine and above all generous. The rejectionists of Quraysh and those of later times could not grasp that fact. To their own detriment, they launched antagonistic campaigns, burnt the Book and later published satanic verses to make a mockery of such a grand personality and his faith.

If Muhammad were a fraud, as they claimed, the disgrace would be fallen on him, and if truthful, they would benefit from his truth tremendously, in this life and in the hereafter. The rejectionists could have asked themselves this question, and we too, as rational intellectuals, should ask the same question or miserably perish behind thick walls of arrogance and denial. After all, what benefit does rejection of the truth bring other than humiliation and defeat? Is it not utter moral blindness when we stand right before the truth, yet we still cannot see it?

When their allegations failed, the Meccan disbelievers went farther to attack the credibility of the Quran itself. They alleged that the Prophet obtained his knowledge from local sources. Another baseless, stubborn allegation! They failed to realise that they were challenging a man who had no schooling at all in his life; a son of the wilderness was the Prophet, yet he was able to confront them with profound verses of truth that could not have been taught by another human being. A pure heart can easily recognise that. The Quran addresses this when it says:

And We know that they say, ‘It is a human who teaches him [the Prophet]’, but the tongue of the person they allude to is foreign while this revelation is in Arabic. Verily, those who do not believe in God’s revelation, God shall not guide them, and a painful torment awaits them.

The Quran did not stop there. It continues to defend itself, challenging those who doubt it to produce even one chapter (Sura) with such profundity, eloquence and inspiration:

And if you [disbelievers] have doubts over the revelation We sent down upon Our servant [Prophet Muhammad], then produce a single chapter like it and call your witnesses that you have other than God if you are truthful. If you cannot do this, and you never will, beware of the fire, whose fuel is people and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.¹⁰

To those who questioned the divinity of the Quran and the prophethood of Muhammad, we are curious to ask whether they had carefully studied it before they concluded that it was fictitious and apocryphal. Is it possible for an illiterate to know about science without supernatural intervention? Is it conceivable for a shepherd to unlock celestial secrets that demand highly sophisticated equipment unavailable during that medieval time? How could a man from the desert discuss human biology, physics and astrology in such details at a period when the concept of foetus, atoms and planetary science had not crossed the human mind? In their eyes, Muhammad was a madman, seer or poet, yet in the eyes of God, Muhammad was no ordinary man, but a holy messenger sent to remind people of their duty to worship one God. The Quran indeed has spoken of such scientific matters over fourteen hundred years ago with remarkable specificity and settled its divinity when it says: ‘Say [Muhammad], If all mankind and jinn come together to produce something like this Quran, they could not produce anything like it no matter how much they helped each other.¹¹ To challenge mankind with such a powerful verse is indeed a miracle in itself.

Frustrated by the Prophet’s growing power, the medieval rejectionists, to be differentiated from the modern ones, began plotting to assassinate him with the first attempt at night in his house in Mecca. The plot was foiled by a heroic act from his successor (wasi), and he managed to escape to Yathrib, located few hundred miles away from Mecca. Yathrib, now called Medina, served as a safe haven for the Prophet to strengthen his community in the face of impending threats from the surrounding Arabia. This obviously agitated the disbelievers and brought them to form alliances and wage numerous offensive battles against Islam, such as Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khyber and others. All were fought defensively by the Prophet, resulting in utter victory to him.

Despite the conspiracies and battles, openly and covertly waged against Islam, the rejectionists were not able to contain or suppress it. With every attempt they made, this faith was growing stronger and stronger. No matter how hard they tried; be it by amassing huge resources against it, spreading negative propaganda or promoting terrorism in its name, it has been prevailing at all counts. In the aftermath, even with their atrocities and mockery, the Prophet was able to dominate and introduce a new way of life.

Modern Rejectionists

Today, Prophet Muhammad is not present with us for the modern rejectionists to liquidate him physically. Rather, they have resorted, like the medieval rejectionists, to defaming his person, family¹² and companions; acts maliciously devised and frivolously fabricated to undermine his prophethood and mislead the ill-informed. Some turned on questioning his historicity and denying the divinity of his movement. We read, for instance, of Aloys Sprenger, who doubted the existence of the Prophet’s life. In his On the Origin and Progress of Writing down Historical Facts among the Musulmans, Sprenger was sceptical over the reliability of hadith as a historical source.

The same attitude was adopted by William Muir, in his The Life of Mahomet and the History of Islam to the Era of Hegira. Then, there came Ignaz Goldziher, another orientalist of the nineteenth century whose work, Muhammedanische Studien, gained him popularity at the expense of Islam. Goldziher’s scepticism was later espoused by several others such as Leone Caetani who was of the opinion, in Annali dell’ Islam, that almost all hadiths about Prophet Muhammad’s life were fictitious.

Others who doubted the authenticity of the hadith reached the conclusion that much about the Prophet’s life cannot be substantiated. For example, people such as John Wansbrough¹³, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook¹⁴ denounced the Islamic references and literature that have been compiled over the centuries about the Prophet, and they suggested that scientific methods be adopted instead to prove it. Lamentable theories, or can we say, spiritual paralysis that keeps on fuelling their denial. We should not be criticised here if we ask these rejectionists whether, through science, they were able to establish the historicity of past messengers and whether religions were exclusively proven by scientific achievements. Can we prove belief scientifically? It is the gratuitous assumptions, and not genuine analysis, that have always produced the rejectionists’ theories, reflecting again vivid imagination and hateful resentment of the truth.

Guided by sheer ignorance of the Quran, some reduced it to an autobiography about Prophet Muhammad. Incredibly nonsensical! They had neither the will or perhaps the courage to examine the Quran closely to conclude that it is the product of divine intervention and not a biography of a messenger. They hastened to judge a Book without knowledge, guidance or light. Some went even farther to use disparaging language against Islam and mock the Prophet and his family, including his highly distinguished successor, Imam Ali b. Abi Talib. A Belgian Jesuit by the name of Henri Lammens is one of them. Sadly, he spent much of his life advocating for the rejection of the faith and depicting Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali in the most condescending manner. When reading his monograph, Fatima et les Filles de Mahomet¹⁵, I could not lose sight of his racial comments, which astounded me, for being uttered by a Jesuit—an order that should promote tolerance and love.¹⁶ When describing Imam Ali and his Banu Hashem, Lammens wrote as expressively as a modern rejectionist can be:

Ali was far from being a model of male good looks…From a bust that was too short hung ridiculously thin arms above an exceedingly protuberant stomach. In the middle of an enormous head were small, dim, and rheumy eyes and snub nose. This feature distinguished him before the Hashimites¹⁷, whose noses were long enough to drink with before using the lips.¹⁸

When speaking of Fatima al-Zahra, the most excellent and chaste woman in Islam, Lammens described her as a ‘ghost of a wailing woman’¹⁹. He added, ‘If her beauty is rarely mentioned, there is even less praise for her intelligence.’²⁰ Motivated by religious zeal, he sarcastically wrote: ‘In order to obtain a precise image of Fatima’s fleeting personality, we must start by removing the halo which later historians placed on her head.’²¹ Apparently, that ‘halo’ must have irked Lammens so much that he had to dedicate a whole monograph for its removal. He failed, however, to grasp the fact that centuries had passed with numerous rejectionists before him tirelessly trying to remove Fatima’s halo, but their unattainable desire was a regret that tortured them for years.

Usama b. Zayd, another prominent companion, also did not escape Lammens’ derogatory portrayal, for he was described as ‘the offspring of the negress Umm Ayman; Usama, a monster of physical ugliness, potbellied, with a flat nose, and swarthy like his mother.’²² Whether Usama was of coloured skin or white, fat or slim is not something to be addressed sarcastically by any person. After all, we all remain God’s creatures deserving respect irrespective of our colour, race, religion and physical appearance. We should be curious here, in the case of the sceptical Lammens who denied the Prophet’s historicity, how did he manage to obtain such precise description of Usama and his mother to harshly abuse them in such a scandalous fashion? This is hard to comprehend! One cannot claim to be a pious believer, infused with holiness and purity, yet possess a heart submerged with darkness and hate.

Like several orientalists, Lammens’ disdainful affectations have undeniably rendered his research fictional, ever imagined by a vengeful fanatic. No matter how much I have read his monograph, I could not place my finger on a passage that reflects objective analysis. It is merely discordant fragments of imagination, laboriously meshed together with frivolous assumptions. And to pass this type of fictional storytelling as a serious historical work may well shock our conscience. On one hand, he advocated for impartiality and criticised ‘the credulousness of the Muslim opinion and the complicity of the authors of the sira²³, yet he hastened to brand Imam Hassan, the grandson and favourite of the Prophet, as the ‘man of a thousand women.’²⁴ Nervous accusations! He called for tolerance, yet he viewed Islam, and presumably the millions of its adherents, as ‘primitive’²⁵.

In historiography, we are entitled to examine ancient sources to establish the historicity of grand figures. If the adopted method proves empirical, it would be completely wrong to criticise it. However, the credibility of such a method becomes tarnished, if not entirely rejected, when the efforts are purposefully made to portray others in a pejorative manner. It is one thing to claim to be a neutral scholar striving to professionally build a concept, and quite starkly another to be a dogmatic polemicist²⁶, as was the case with Lammens, Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab, Abu Sufyan and other rejectionists of Islam.

Numerous scholars have spent years of their academic life researching Islam with colossal efforts to demolish the reputation of Prophet Muhammad and his People of the House (ahl al-bayt) under the guise of being pious Positivists or orientalists²⁷. Harshly they endeavoured to judge the Prophet’s character through modern standards, dismissing the fact that much of Moses’ ideals, Jesus’ teachings and Virgin Mary’s way of life, for instance, oppose, to a large extent, the life style adopted nowadays in most parts of the world. Does that render Jesus a fraud or the historicity of his holy mother unsubstantiated?

The same argument applies to other prophets and their distinguished families. Our research should be invested in the moral, spiritual and human values that those benefactors of humanity like Prophet Muhammad have brought to mankind rather than attempting to nullify their existence for lack of scientific evidence. If science stands powerless in the face of proving historicity, it should not lead to the conclusion that the entire divine message is worthless. The rejectionists’ shallow arguments and frivolous claims have been lamentable and should stop.

On the other side of this battle, we find several neutral writers and historians disdaining the fanatic approach of the modern rejectionists and offering a more civilised view about Islam and its prophet. For instance, Thomas Carlyle, in his lecture The Hero as Prophet: Mahomet, wrote: ‘Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming imposter, a falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to anyone. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only.’²⁸

Others warned against this pervasive line of bigotry against the Prophet and his ahl al-bayt. In her Muhammad, Prophet for Our Time, Karen Armstrong, an essayist and biographer, realised the need to stop such campaigns of hate when she wrote:

We can no longer afford to indulge this type of bigotry because it is a gift

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