By Sadia Dehlvi
Jun 22, 2011
This June corresponds with Rajab, the seventh month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Rajab is one of the “four sacred months”, mentioned in the Quran. It is associated with many events in Islamic history, including the Shab-e-Miraj, the Ascension of Prophet Mohammad to heaven and the birth of Imam Ali.
Ali, the son of Abu Talib ibn Abd al Muttalib, was the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet. Ali’s mother was going around the Kaaba in Mecca, when she felt the pangs of childbirth and delivered the baby inside its precincts. Prophet Mohammad, the first person to embrace the child, named him Ali meaning “the exalted one”.
Imam Ali has a pivotal role in Sufi philosophy for the Prophet had proclaimed, “Man kunto Maula va Ali un Maula”, (I am the Master of those of whom Ali is the Master). These words of the Prophet are known as Qaul and inscribed on the walls of numerous dargahs. Sama mehfils, Sufi musical assemblies, traditionally begin with a rendition of the prophetic saying. Rumi pays a tribute to the Master of all Masters:
For this reason did the Prophet With religious authority
Place upon himself and Ali
The title of Master
Saying, whoever takes me as master and friend
Takes my cousin Ali as a Master too.
Who is the Master? That one who frees you
Breaking the shackles of slavery from your feet.
Entrusting the mystic heritage to Imam Ali, the Prophet declared him Imam ul Auliya (leader of the friends of Allah) till eternity. Imam Ali is the important link in connecting Sufi lineages all the way back to the Prophet. On the Prophetic saying, “I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is its gate” Rumi continues:
You are like the gate of that City of knowledge You are a ray of that sum of forbearance O gate, remain open for those who seek you, So that those husk-like people reach the kernel through you Be open forever, O gate of mercy Upon the court of that one who has no equal.
Sufis have a treasure of stories relating to methods used in replacing unworthy attributes by praiseworthy qualities. An often-told story about Imam Ali is once in a battle, the invincible warrior overpowered his enemy. When Ali pointed his dagger at the opponent’s throat, he spat in Ali’s face, who said, “Go away, taking your life is now unlawful for me”. The bewildered enemy enquired why he was being released. Ali said, “When you spat in my face, my ego was hurt and I would be killing you for myself and not for the sake of fighting oppression for the Truth. Taking your life now will make me a murderer”. Moved by Ali’s integrity, the enemy warrior embraced Islam.
After the death of the Prophet, Ali became the fourth and last of the Khulafa e Rashideen, (the rightly guided caliphs of the Muslim Caliphate). He defined spirituality as “Knowing Allah through the Light of Allah”. He was a great scholar of the Arabic language and the beginnings of Islamic calligraphy with the Kufic script are attributed to him. Numerous short sayings of Ali have become part of general Islamic culture and are quoted as aphorisms and proverbs. Acclaimed for his eloquence, good governance and spirituality, Ali became the principal authority on the Quran and Islamic jurisprudence.
Ali was martyred, while leading the morning prayers, by a poison-coated sword on the 21st of Ramadan in the city of Kufa. His beautiful mausoleum in the city of Najaf in Iraq remains an important pilgrimage site.
Ali’s sons, Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain, survived him, and it is through them that the lineage of Prophet Mohammad continues. Veneration and love of the Ahl e Bait, (family of the Prophet) is a major theme in most Muslim communities across the world.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi