By Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider on 15 June 2017 at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town
The status or maqaam of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) is something beyond our comprehension.
HISTORICAL VIEW OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
Most of the time when we look at the personality of Imam Ali (a.s), we tend to compare him to others by examining historical incidents and concluding that he is better. That is one approach to observe him.
However, honestly speaking, Imam Ali (a.s) is beyond comparison and cannot be compared to any one other than Prophet Muhammad (sawa) who is greater than him. It should be known by default that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is the greatest of Almighty Allah’s creation and there is no dispute about this. Thus when we speak about Imam Ali (a.s) then we referring to him from the perspective of greatness after Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
Thus Imam Ali (a.s) describes his position in relation to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) as being “a servant of the servants of Muhammad”.
So when looking at Imam Ali (a.s) historically you will find a difference of opinion where people will say personality X was better or personality Y was better than Imam Ali (a.s).
That’s how some will say Imam Ali (a.s) was first in line or fourth in line but in reality there is no second, third or fourth for Imam Ali (a.s)!
IMAM AHMAD IBN HANBAL’S VIEW OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
You might recall that we have previously narrated the incident when the son of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (a famous muhaddith, scholar and jurist) asked his father regarding who are the greatest amongst the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to which he responded that the first is Abu Bakr and second was Umar and third was Uthman and then he mentioned various other names.
At that point his son asked him “and what about Ali ibn Abi Talib” to which Imam Hanbal replied that Imam Ali (a.s) is part of Ahlul Bait (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) cannot be compared to any one!
INTRODUCING MUHYUDDIN IBN ARABI
Muhyuddin ibn Arabi is a great Sunni scholar who is considered to be the father of the Sufi or mystical approach to Islam.
Millions of Muslims in the world follow Tasawwuf and they have thousands of Leaders/Sheikhs/Peers etc. However when it comes to Theoretical Irfaan, then all of these somehow are students of this giant, Muhyuddin ibn Arabi.
He wrote many books, among these famous ones being Fususul Hikm and Futuhaatil Makkiyyah.
Thus the whole ideological infrastructure of Sufism is based on his philosophy.
START OF THE MATERIAL WORLD
In Futuhaatil Makkiyyah, Volume 2 Ibn Arabi has basically divided the world into the world of materialism and the world of spiritualism.
Then in relation to the material world he gives the story of how it started and we are familiar with this. Almighty Allah created Prophet Adam (a.s) from clay and then blew His Soul into him and then his spouse Hawwa was created and from these two all of mankind was created.
Thus Prophet Adam (a.s) was the first being created in this material world.
START OF SPIRITUAL WORLD
Ibn Arabi then also discusses how the spiritual world started. In this arena, Prophet Adam (a.s) was not created first.
In his detailed explanation of the verse of Surah Nur which says:
اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالاَرْضِ
“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth” (until the end of the verse)
Here he says in the world of spirituality, the first creation was the Reality or Haqiqat of Muhammad (sawa). This is also know as the Nur of Muhammad or the Perfect Intellect and then from this Nur everything emanates.
It’s interesting to note that such narrations are also present in Shia collections like Al-Kafi eventhough we are not aware of whether ibn Arabi was inspired by Shia views to have had such a view.
IBN ARABI’S VIEW OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
So after explaining how the spiritual world started, he says something MOST PROFOUND when he says “and the closest one to him (i.e. the Haqiqat of Muhammad) is Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s)!!!
And he continues by saying “and then are the Prophets”!!!
What does this mean?
First in status is Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
Second in status is Imam Ali (a.s).
And then comes Secrets of the Prophets like Ibraheem (a.s), or Musa (a.s), or Essa (a.s), etc.
It’s interesting to note that there are 2 or 3 versions of this book called Futuhaatil Makkiyyah and a researcher indicates that in every version this same wording indicating the status of Imam Ali (a.s) is stated.
Thus this view of the status of Imam Ali (a.s) is not limited to being a Shia view but is the view of the father of Tasawwuf.
MANIFESTATION OF SPIRITUAL FACT IN LIFE OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
And this spiritual fact mentioned by ibn Arabi was truly manifested in every aspect in the life of Imam Ali (a.s). This was because Imam Ali (a.s) carried this Reality with him wherever he was.
Thus if Imam Ali (a.s) entered politics, then that Nur manifested itself.
Or if Imam Ali (a.s) was in his mihrab of worship, then that Nur was also present and being manifested.
And if Imam Ali (a.s) was in the Battlefield in Jihad, then again this Nur of the Haqiqat of Muhammad (sawa) flourished.
And the same goes for his personal life or social life, the “Sublime Character” or “Universal Mercy” of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) manifested in him.
GEORGE JORDAC’S VIEW OF IMAM ALI (A.S)
From the aforementioned we see there is no room for competition in this matter about the status of Imam Ali (a.s), nor is it a Sunni/Shia issue….Imam Ali (a.s) is beyond that.
Furthermore, due to this status, Imam Ali (a.s) did not only impress Muslims, but impressed all human beings.
George Jordac who is a Lebanese scholar says he attended a conference when a Shia scholar came to him and gifted him with a book called Nahjul Balagha. He found it strange that someone would give him a book to read that was 1400 years old as he could not imagine what relevance it would have with modern times.
So he took the book home and left it on his library shelf and did not look at it for approximately 6 years. One day while cleaning his library, he picked up Nahjul Balagha and opened it and read portions of the first chapter. This caused his eyes to pop. He could not believe the sublime nature of the text he was reading.
He said Imam Ali (a.s) was speaking about water as the source of life. However, he did not read much further before he had to attend to another matter and once more left the book on his shelf.
This break continued until he one day attended a conference where the point of discussion was the topic of what the most common source of life is in this world. At this conference, someone presented a paper expressing a view that water was the most common source of life.
Suddenly his mind went back to having read this in Nahjul Balagha wherein Imam Ali (a.s) said this based on the Quran. This caused him to go back and start reading Nahjul Balagha properly. And he started reading the sermons, letters and the short sayings of Nahjul Balagha and literally could not put this book down.
And since that day until he has reached old age, he has read Nahjul Balagha 200 times from cover to cover!!
And after reading this book so much, he wrote his own book wherein he expresses his view of Imam Ali (a.s) titled “ALI – THE VOICE OF HUMAN JUSTICE”.
And in this book he considers all the issues referred to earlier about the life of Imam Ali (a.s) and then concludes by saying that he one day addressed Imam Ali (a.s) by saying “Oh Ali, Oh Leader of the Faithful, Oh father of Hassan, I am a Christian. If I say you are above Jesus (a.s), then my religion forbids me to do so. And if I say that you are below Jesus (a.s), then my conscience does not accept it. I don’t know who you are but I am surrendered before you!”
HATRED OF IMAM ALI (A.S) IS UNIMAGINABLE
So while you have such great things being said about Imam Ali (a.s), the hatred displayed towards Imam Ali (a.s) in history is also unimaginable.
Do you know of anyone who was formally cursed in the jumuah khutbah in history for decades?? This is what was done to Imam Ali (a.s). Even the accursed Yazeed was not cursed like that!
There was also a law enacted that if you mention the name of Ali that your punishment was death.
Furthermore, if you named your children Ali, then their punishment was execution.
There was so much hatred shown towards Imam Ali (a.s) such that an Arab poet commented that he does not understand the personality of Imam Ali (a.s) as his friends did not speak about his virtues due to fear, while his enemies did not speak about his virtues due to hatred, yet he observes that from East to West the world glows with the virtues of Imam Ali (a.s).
After 1400 years we still understand very little about Imam Ali (a.s).
While a Christian like George Jordac read Nahjul Balagha 200 times, have we supposed lovers of Imam Ali (a.s) even read Nahjul Balagha once from cover to cover?? This is also an injustice we commit to Imam Ali (a.s). We love to claim to love Imam Ali (a.s) but hardly benefit from him or follow him.
This hatred for Imam Ali (a.s) reached its peak when his killers killed him “in the path of Allah.”