120. Who was Ali and why was he killed?

Shi’a Islâm is based on the Qur’an and the message of the Islâmic prophet Muhammad attested in hadith recorded by the Shia, and certain books deemed sacred to the Shia (Nahj al-Balagha). Shia consider Ali to have been divinely appointed as the successor to Muhammad, and as the first Imam. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of the Islâmic prophet Muhammad, and a member of the Ahl al-Bayt. Ali is regarded as the first Imam who is considered the only legitimate religious and political leaders of the Muslim community. Ali was not regarded as the successor of the Prophet, it was 25 years before he was recognised with the title of Caliph. Like the rest of his household, Ali is considered infallible and sinless and is one of The Fourteen Infallibles of the household of Muhammed.

Tradition states that Ali was born inside the Kaaba in Mecca, and was a member of the Quraysh tribe. Ali’s father and Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, was given custody of Ali for the first six years of his life. His father was custodian of the Kaaba and a sheikh of the Banu Hashim as was his mother, Fatimah bint Asad. In Arab culture it was a great honour for Ali that both of his parents belonged to the Banu Hashim. Ali was also one of descendants of Ishmael the son of Abraham.

At the age of six and as a result of famine in and around Mecca, Muhammad asked his uncle, Abu Talib, to allow Ali to come and live in the house of his cousin. Four years later Muhammad announced his Prophethood. When the divine command came for Muhammad to begin to preach, Ali, only a child of ten years, was the first male to publicly announce his support for his cousin. In the coming years, Ali was one of those who stood firmly in his support of Muhammad during the persecution of Muslims by the Meccans.

Ali migrated to Medina shortly after Muhammad. There Muhammad told Ali that he had been ordered by God to give his daughter, Fatimah, to Ali in marriage. For the ten years that Muhammad led the community in Medina, Ali was extremely active in his service, leading parties of warriors on raids, and carrying messages and orders. Ali took part in all the battles, except the Battle of Tabouk, and fought for the expansion of Islâm during this time.

Tragically, while Ali was praying to Allâh in the Great Mosque of Kufa, Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite assassin, struck him with a poison-coated sword. Ali died on the 21st of Ramadan in the city of Kufa in 661 CE. Ali is highly regarded for his knowledge, belief, honesty, devotion to Islâm, loyalty to Muhammad, his equal treatment of all Muslims, and his generosity in forgiving his defeated enemies. In addition, he is respected as the rightful successor of Muhammad.

Ali’s assassination, according to come accounts was planned by three Kharjis who met in Kufa to hatch a conspiracy. Each of them volunteered to kill each of the three leading political figures of the Dar-ul-Islâm – Ali, Muawiya and Amr bin Aas. By killing them, they hoped to put an end to civil wars in Islâm, and to restore peace to the Muslim umma. Ali was regarded as the Apostle of Peace in Islâm.

One of the three conspirators was a certain Abdur Rahman bin Muljam. He stayed in Kufa to kill Ali, and the other two went to Syria and Egypt to kill Muawiya and Amr bin Aas. The Kharjis had been defeated at Nehrwan, and most of them had perished in the battle but a few had escaped. Abdur Rahman bin Muljam was one of those who had escaped. He was consumed with the desire to kill Ali. By a coincidence, he met a Kharji woman, one Qattama, whose father and brothers had also been killed in Nehrwan, and she too had nursed an undying hatred of Ali.

Abdur Rahman fell in love with Qattama, and proposed marriage to her. She told him that the price of her hand was the head of Ali ibn Abi Talib. This strengthened Abdur Rahman in his resolution to kill Ali. He promised his Qattama the moon if she asked for it, but she said that nothing interested her except the head of Ali ibn Abi Talib!

Abdur Rahman bin Muljam carefully worked out his plans to kill Ali. A few other trusted Kharjis also volunteered their services to him, and together they rehearsed the assassination. Abdur Rahman bin Muljam took one extra precaution – he put his sword in deadly poison, and let it soak in it for three days.

On the 19th of Ramadan of the year 40 A.H., Ali came into the Great Mosque of Kufa, and called Adhan. Standing in the front row, with other worshippers, were Abdur Rahman bin Muljam and his confederates. They were watching Ali’s movements. In the folds of their cloaks, they were carrying swords soaked in poison.

Just when Ali touched the ground with his forehead for sajda, Abdur Rahman bin Muljam stepped out of his row, and just when Ali lifted his head from the ground, ibn Muljam struck the fatal blow at his forehead with such deadly force that it split open. Blood squirted from Ali’s forehead, and he exclaimed: ‘By the Lord of the Kaaba, I am successful!’

The congregation realised what had happened, and as soon as they concluded the prayer, and they surrounded him. His sons, Hasan and Husain, carried him to his house. A physician came, and tried to dress the ghastly wound but could not stop the bleeding. The blow of the sword was fatal anyway, but the poison from its blade was also spreading rapidly in his body.

Before Ali’s assassination Ali spent his time in prayer and devotions; in dictating his will; in giving instructions to his sons, ministers and generals regarding the conduct of the government; and in urging them all never to forget the old, the sick, the poor, the widows and the orphans at any time. Ali declared that his elder son, Hasan, would succeed him as the head of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, and as the sovereign of all Muslims.

Ali retains his stature as the foremost authority on the Tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), Fiqh (Islâmic jurisprudence) and religious thought. The City of Qum in Northwest Iran, South West of Tehran, is regarded as the foremost centre for the study of these disciplines according to the traditions of Ali in the Islâmic world today.