Thursday, 24 March 2011



A biographer can be considered the alter-ego of the hero, whose biography is written. There is a common bond between the biographer and the hero which transcends the considerations of time and space. In writing this biography of Hadrat Ali, I have had some communion with the soul of Hadrat Ali, and in some mysterious way, I had the necessary guidance in appreciating such events in the life of Hadrat Ali which were otherwise obscure. Just as a lover locks the image of his beloved in his heart, thus the biographer locks the image of his hero in his heart, and he can enter into a dialogue with such image.
There are differences in the approach between a biographer and a historian. A biography is usually an exercise in hero worship and the biographer is prone to paint the picture of his hero in bright colours. On the other hand, the approach of a historian is for the most part objective and constructively critical. Every hero of a biographer may not necessarily be a great men from the viewpoint history. Where the hero is a great man in history, his biography has to be projected in the context of history. Hadrat Ali is indeed a great man in the history of mankind in general and the history of Islam in particular. In undertaking this study in the life of Hadrat Ali, I have had to act not only as a biographer, but as a historian as well. This means that besides narrating the main events in the Hadrat Ali's life, I must examine the impact of such events on history. As such, I must critically examine the main events in Hadrat Ali's life in order to ascertain their causes and effects. Of course such criticism has to be constructive.
Greatness is a phenomenon in which specially gifted persons who are endowed with extraordinary qualities appear on the world stage from time to time. History is the science which studies this phenomenon of greatness. Usually every person who scales the heights of greatness and acquires a place in history is a success from the worldly point of view. Here there is a peculiarity in the greatness of Hadrat Ali. He was great, indeed very great, but he was not a success from the worldly point of view in the conventional sense that the word 'success' is understood. We have thus to undertake a study to probe into the causes that militated against the success of Hadrat Ali from the worldly point of view in spite of his greatness. We will also have to consider how he is great when he did not succeed in the worldly sense.
The life of Hadrat Ali can be divided into three distinct periods. The first period comprises the first 32 years of his life and extends from 600 to 632 CE. I call this period the period of the education and action. It was during this period that he received his education under the loving care of the holy Prophet; imbibed with values of Islam; and acquired all the attributes that contribute to greatness. In the post-Hijri years, he emerged as the greatest warrior of the age. He distinguished himself as a great warrior in the battles of Badr, Uhud and the Ditch. His crowning success was his conquest of the Khyber. In battle he killed more men [through hand-to-hand combat] than any other single man in history. All those who fought in the duels against him were invariably killed. He came to be known as the "Lion of God."
He acted as a Justice, and acquired fame for his wise and well-reasoned judgments. He acted as the Governor of Yemen, and acquired a good deal of experience as administrator. He had the honour of announcing the verses of the Holy Qur'an about the "Declaration of Immunity" to the people on behalf of the Holy Prophet on the location of the Hajj. When the holy Prophet died, Hadrat Ali was in the prime of his youth and he was enlightened, experienced, wise, valiant -- the embodiment of virtue. He had expected that because of his outstanding qualities and his relationship to the holy Prophet, he would be chosen as the Caliph. He was however, passed over, and this state of affairs continued for 24 years when the office of the caliphate was held by Hadrat Abu Bakr, Hadrat Umar and Hadrat Othman.
This period constitutes the second period of the life of Hadrat Ali. During this time, although Hadrat Ali acted as the Counsellor to Caliphs, he generally kept aloof from active politics. I call this period as the period of inaction and contemplation. It was a period of inaction from the political point of view, because he kept aloof from politics. It was the period of contemplation from the spiritual point of view, for this period was spent by Hadrat Ali mostly in prayer, religious exercises and dialogue with God. The further he went from the world, the nearer he got to God.
The third period began when Hadrat Ali was elected as Caliph. This period only lasted for five years. I call this period the period of frustration. Hadrat Ali found the caliphate to be a bed of thorns. During those five years, he fought three battles: (i) the Battle of the Camel, (ii) the Battle of Siffin, and (iii) the Battle of Nahrawan. All three battles were fought against the Muslims and led to considerable bloodshed. It was a matter of the great shock for him, that instead of fighting against non-Muslims, he had to fight against Muslims. During this period, Hadrat Ali had to suffer from frustration because of repeated and continuous betrayals, even by men close to him. At the outset of his caliphate, he was betrayed by Banu Umayya when Muawiyah defied him and accused him of involvement in the murder of Hadrat Othman. He was betrayed by the people of Medina who did not respond to his call to undertake 'jihad' against Muawiyah. He was betrayed by Talha and Zubair, who took the oath of allegiance [from] him and later defected. He was betrayed by Hadrat A'isha his mother-in-law, who took top arms against him. He was betrayed by the people of Basra who had taken the oath of allegiance [from] him but later defected. At Siffin he was betrayed by his own army who would not fight when the victory was in sight. In the matter of arbitration, he was betrayed by his umpire Abu Musa Ashari, who instead of defending his cause, deposed him. He had to face the succession of the Kharijites who had originally fought on his side at the battle of Siffin. He was betrayed by Khurrity b. Raashid who had been his ally, but later revolted against him, and created trouble in Basra. He was betrayed by his own brother Aquil who was not satisfied with the allowance that Hadrat Ali gave him, and joined Muawiyah who rewarded him handsomely. He was betrayed by his cousin Abdullah b. Abbas when he had appointed as the Governor of Basra, and who left his post after misappropriated heavy fines from the Bait-ul-Mal. The final active betrayal came when Hadrat Ali was married, by a fanatic Kharijite.
The usual phenomenon of greatness is that men succeed in life, and because of such success may acquire greatness. The usual law is that greatness is the consequence of success. Nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure. This means that if you succeed, you become great, but if you fail, you are pushed aside and are forgotten. In Hadrat Ali's case we come across an extraordinary exception to this law of success and greatness. Hadrat Ali's greatness was of a different species. His greatness did not flow from success in life. Such greatness was inherent in him. It preceded his encounter with the world and it outlived his death, although he did not succeed in his worldly life as the word 'success' is usually understood. Instead Hadrat Ali became more famous after death than when he was alive.
We will now consider the causes which militated against Hadrat Ali's success in spite of his greatness. His greatness was of such a dimension that he towered extremely high above the people around him. It was a case of Gulliver in the land of dwarfs. He was so high that he could not bend to meet the people, and that people were so low that they could not rise to meet him. As such, a proper equation could not be established between Hadrat Ali and the people around him, and this was the main cause as to why he was frequently betrayed, and why he did not succeed in the worldly affairs like ordinary people. Hadrat Ali [was] very much ahead of his time and the people in that era simply could not keep up with him.
By the time Hadrat Ali came to office, a generation had passed since the death of the holy Prophet. During this period, the Muslims had made large conquests. Th[is] had brought great wealth, and wealth had changed people's lives. A capitalist class sprang up among the Muslims. Hadrat Ali, a great Muslim of the old type, wanted to enforce the austere discipline of the original Islam. He himself lead a very simple life, and aimed to follow in the steps of Hadrat Umar. Hadrat Ali, however, lacked the harshness of Hadrat Umar, and could not enforce the reforms he had in mind. There was a gulf between Hadrat Ali and the capitalist class who wielded considerable influence. Hadrat Ali was very parsimonious in the spending of public funds; while Muawiyah, who himself had lead a luxurious life, was quite liberal in the spending of public funds. The capitalist class among the Muslims preferred Muawiyah to Hadrat Ali as they were given to the worldly way of life. While Hadrat Ali was more concerned with the Hereafter than this world, people around him were more concerned with the world than the Hereafter. This difference in outlook could not be bridged, and that is why there were many betrayals in the camp of Hadrat Ali. These betrayals weakened his position of considerably for he was a man of strong principles and would not compromise with those principles. The people who were opposed to him were masters in propaganda and they didn't hesitate to adopt any means, whether fair or foul, to gain their ends. Hadrat Ali lost the game because he would not abandon his principles at any cost.
The Quraish had played the leading role in the extension of the Muslim dominion. Although Hadrat Ali was a Quraish, he could not win their support. In his book Ali, the Superman, Dr. Mohyuddin observed the following about the Quraish's opposition to Hadrat Ali:
"Hadrat Ali hoped to establish a world-Islamic Empire, a kingdom of God on earth, where peace was to reign supreme and mankind could move steadily towards perfection. That he failed so completely, is one of the and enigmas of Islamic history. The student is perplexed, and indeed despondent, when he discovers that the entire tribe of the Quraish gave wholehearted support to the first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr (who belonged to the tribe of Banu Adi, but not to their two successors, who also belonged to the Quraish tribe). It is baffling indeed that they obeyed Abu Bakr and Umar blindly, but deserted Othman and Ali, whom they bitterly opposed and finally murdered. From the moment that Ali came to power, he was resisted and obstructed by the Quraish in spite of the fact that the aristocratic Quraish knew that Ali had noble blood in his veins, blood which had flowed in the veins of the holy Prophet, and that in addition he had those personal traits of character, which made him unique amongst all the people of his age. Ali's knowledge, piety, bravery, generalship, services for the propagation of Islam, and his achievements on the battlefield for the defence of Islam, made him superior to the first two Caliphs. He was superbly equipped to fill the office of the Caliph, yet the entire race seems to have taken up arms against him. In spite of his qualities of mind and spirit, he seems to have been sacrificed to the prevailing tribal spirit of his countrymen. Perhaps it was his superiority more than anything else which led to his downfall. He knew himself to be superior to his contemporaries and he hated the petty tribal chiefs of the Quraish who were interested only in their self aggrandizement. What is more, he let them know his contempt for them, and frequently acted independently of them in defiance of established custom." 


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