The Virtues of Ameerul Momineen Ali ibn Abi Taalib (a.s.) as Mentioned in Shia and Sunni Exegesis

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Jaarullah Zamakshari in his exegesis (tafseer), ‘Al-Kashshaaf‘, vol. 4, p. 197 narrates from Ibn Abbas that once Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) along with his companions went to visit Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Husain (a.s.) when they (a.s.) were ill. At that time, Ameerul Momineen Ali (a.s.) was present over there. Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) told him,

“O Abal Hasan! Why don’t you make a nazr (avowal) for the quick recovery of your children?” Thus, Ali (a.s.), Janab-e-Zahra (s.a.) and Janab-e- Fizzah took a nazr of fasting for three days if the children recovered from the illness. When they fasted for the first day after the recovery of Hasnain (a.s.), there was nothing in the house that they could have for breaking the fast (iftaar). Imam Ali (a.s.) took a loan of three kg barley from Shamoan – a Jew from Khyber. He (a.s.) gave that barley to Janab-e-Zahra (s.a.) who made a few bread loaves from it. However, when they sat down for iftaar, a beggar called out at their door, “O family of the Prophet! I convey my salaams upon you. I’m poor and needy. Please give me something to eat. Surely, Allah will confer you with the provisions of Paradise.’ On hearing this plea, all of them gave their share of iftaar and opened their fast only with water. The next day they fasted again. A similar thing happened. Once again, at the time of iftaar, an orphan came at that time and pleaded for some help. This time too, all three of them offered their share of iftaar to that orphan. When they fasted on the third day, again at iftaar, a destitute came at their door and implored for food. For the third time, all of them parted with their share of iftaar and gave it to that poor person. The next morning, Imam Ali (a.s.), along with Imam Hasan and Imam Husain (a.s.) went to meet the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), who saw them quivering due to hunger and thirst. He (s.a.w.a.) said. “I’m pained to see you in this condition.” Then Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) got up and went to the house of Janab-e-Zahra (s.a.). He found her sitting in the ‘mehrab‘ and praying. She had become so frail due to hunger that her stomach was touching her back while her eyes had sunk inside the sockets. Seeing his beloved daughter in this condition, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was aggrieved. At that time Janabe Jibraeel-e-Amin (r.a.) descended from the heavens and said to Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), “O Muhammad (s.a.w.a.)! Allah has presented this Surah (a chapter from the Holy Quran) to you and your Ahle Bayt (a.s.) as a greeting and congratulation.” Thus Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) recited the Surah Dahr at that instance.

The beggars were Jibrael, Mikaael and Israafeel: Allamah Shaafei

After narrating this incident in his exegesis, Allamah Nishapuri writes, “According to traditions, the beggar who came to the door on all three nights was none other than Janab-e- Jibraeel (a.s.). He was testing their patience on the orders of Allah.”

Shahabuddin Aaloosi narrates the above mentioned incident of ‘al-Kashshaaf‘ in his exegesis ‘Ruh al-Ma’ani‘, vol. 29 p.158 and comments, “What can one say about Imam Ali (a.s.) and Janab-e-Zahra (s.a.) except that Imam Ali (a.s.) is the Leader of all Believers and the Successor of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) while Janab-e-Fatima is the beloved and joy of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)? Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Husain (a.s.) are like the fragrance of a flower and are the Chiefs of the Youths of Paradise. This belief is not only of the Shia (raafezi). In fact, to believe in anything besides this is absolute misguidance.”

Hence, the entire chapter of Dahr has been revealed to prove the excellence of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.). The point worth noting about this chapter is that although it mentions the bounties of Paradise, yet there is no mention of hoors (fairies) in the chapter. This is as a mark of respect to Janab-e-Fatima Zahra (s.a.).

For more details one can refer to:

(a) Al-Durr-ul-Manthoor of Hafez Jalaaluddeen al-Suyooti, vol. 6, p. 299,

(b) Al-Bahr al-Moheet of Abu Hayyan al-Aandloosi, vol. 8, p. 395

(c) Yanabee’ al-Mawaddah of Hafez Sulaiman Qundoozi, p. 93

Allamah Shaafei in his book Kifaayah al-Taalib on p. 345 writes, “The first beggar was Jibrael, the second was Mikaael and the third, Israafeel.”

Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) and Imam Ali (a.s.) as seen by traditionalists

Allamah Shahaabuddin al-Aaloosi al-Baghdadi writes in his Tafseer (exegesis) ‘Ruh-ul-Ma’ani‘, vol.3, p. 26 the view of a research scholar concerning the question of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) to Allah about how He would make the dead alive. Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) had asked this for the “satisfaction of his heart”. The scholar says that this question of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) in no way makes him less important than Imam Ali (a.s.). We reproduce the argument of that scholar over here and will analysis it later.

Allamah Aaloosi, while mentioning the view of the scholar says, “I’m surprised at the words of the research scholar wherein he defends Hazrat Ibrahim and says, ‘The question of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) was not because of any doubt. Rather he was keen to know that how Allah would enliven the dead so that he (a.s.) could have complete knowledge of this matter. It should be known that the ignorance of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) in this matter is not a sign of his weak faith. The best proof of this is that Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) asked Allah ‘how’ (كيف). This shows that Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) was eager to know the ‘process’ of enlivening of dead.

This apparent unawareness of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) in no way suggests that he (a.s.) was ignorant of the absolute and unlimited power of Allah. The understanding of the “process” of enlivening of the dead is not a condition of belief. Hence, the awareness of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) about the manner in which the dead would be raised by Allah, does not increase the level of his belief. Thus, when Imam Ali (a.s.) says that لَوْ كُشِفَ الْغِطَاءُ مَا ازددتُ يَقِيْنًا (If the curtain is raised, it will not increase my certainty), he is not trying to prove the superiority of his belief as compared to the belief of ‘Khalilullah‘ (the friend of Allah) – as the ignorant Shias are trying to prove. Most of our scholars too are unaware of this view point and put themselves in difficulty in trying to refute the Shia notion that Imam Ali (a.s.) was superior to Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.).

Fakhruddin Raazi in his reply says, “Satisfaction of the heart” means “putting to rest the doubts that have arisen in the heart of the skeptic” ‘Tafseer-e-Kabir‘ vol. 7, p. 40. “The serenity of the heart after a period of restlessness and confusion is called ‘Tamaniyyah‘. This word has been derived from the phrase ‘serenity of the earth’ (اطمئنْت الارض). A ‘serene earth’ is that place on the ground where flowing water stops (like a small depression in the earth). Hence, the request of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) for the ‘satisfaction of the heart’ proves that he (a.s.) desired a “complete and absolute faith” and that all doubts and confusion in his heart should be put to rest.

One important point that needs to be mentioned over here is that whatever we have discussed concerning Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) is not applicable to the Ahlul Bait (a.s.). What if it is assumed that the ‘satisfaction of the heart’ that Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) desired was not regarding the process of enlivening the dead, rather he wanted to be sure whether he is the ‘friend’ of Allah? A tradition from Imam Reza (a.s.) points to this fact. Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Jahm narrates:

Once I was in the court of Mamoon and Imam Reza (a.s.) too was present. Mamoon asked him (a.s.), “O Son of Allah’s Messenger! Don’t you say that all Prophets (a.s.) were infallible?” (He then asked Imam Reza (a.s.) a few questions concerning the past Prophets (a.s.) – especially about Hazrat Adam (a.s.). He then said to Imam (a.s.), “What do you have to say about Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) when he asked his Allah, ‘My Lord show me how you shall raise the dead?’ And Allah asked him, ‘Don’t you believe?’ He (a.s.) replied, ‘Yes but I want to know for the contentment of my heart.”‘

Imam Reza (a.s.) replied:

Allah revealed to Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) that “I desire to make a friend (khaleel) from among My servants and if that servant will ask Me ‘how I will raise the dead?’ then I will reply to his question.” Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) thought that ‘maybe I’m the friend of Allah’. So he asked ‘My Lord! Show me how you shall raise the dead?’ Allah asked him, ‘Do you not believe?’ Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) replied ‘Yes. But I want to be certain (that I’m your friend.”‘

Although this tradition is found in various books like Oyoon-o-Akhbar al-Reza (a.s.), Tafseer al-Burhan and Tafseer Noor al-Saqlain, yet it is not free from doubt. Allahmah Tabatabai (r.a.), in his Tafseer al-Mizan, vol. 1, p.147 writes, “The reply of Ali Ibn Jahm concerning the infallibility of Prophets (that they are infallible right from birth) is not in agreement with the general view of the Shia religion. Thus this tradition is not free from doubt.”

‘Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) among the Shias’

Qurtubbi writes in his exegesis that al-Kalbi and al-Farraa say, “Know that Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) is among the Shias of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.). That is the reason that the pronoun of the word شيعته refers to Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). While according to Ibne Abbas and Mujahid, the pronoun in the word شيعته refers to Hazrat Nuh (a.s.).[1]

Tabari writes that according to some Arabic litterateurs, this verse means that Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) is from the Shia of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).[2]

Fakhruddin Raazi writes in his exegesis that to whom does the pronoun of the word شيعة refer? There are two views in this regard. The first and more evident view is that it refers to Hazrat Nuh (a.s.) and according to Kalbi, it refers to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).[3]

Allamah Tabatabai (r.a.) says that Shia refers to “a group” or to someone who follows the footsteps of someone. In short, if anyone follows and emulates the actions of someone then he becomes the Shia of that person even though the follower and the leader are living in different eras. As Allah says in Surah Saba, verse 54

وَ حِيْلَ بَيْنَهُمْ وَ بَيْنَ مَا يَشْتَهُوْنَ كَمَا فُعِلَ بَاَشْيَاعِهِمْ مِْنْ قَبْلُ …

‘And We shall put a veil between them and what they desired just as We did it for those before them’

Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) mentions regarding this verse that

“It means that Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) is from the Shias of Imam Ali (a.s.).”[4]

Many scholars of the Ahle Sunnah are of the view that this verse has been revealed concerning Imam Ali (a.s.). Fakhruddin Raazi says that quite a few narrations have reached us that mention that this verse is regarding Hazrat Ali (a.s.).

The third narration in this regard says, “This verse specifically refers to Imam Ali (a.s.). On the night when the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) migrated from Makkah and proceeded towards the cave, Imam Ali (a.s.) was lying in his (s.a.w.a.) bed. Janab-e-Jibrael (r.a.) was standing next to his head while Janab-e-Mikaaeel (r.a.) was standing near his feet. All the while Janab-e-Jibrael was calling out, “Marvelous! None is like you, O son of Abu Taalib! Allah is feeling proud among the angels.” At that time this verse was revealed.[5]

Abu Hayyan Aandloosi narrates, “This verse was revealed at the time when Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had entrusted the responsibility of returning back the trusts (amaanaat) of the people to Imam Ali (a.s.) as well as to repay his (s.a.w.a.) debt. This was the time when he was migrating from Makkah and had ordered Imam Ali (a.s.) to sleep in his bed.”[6]

Shahabuddin Aaloosi says “The Shia sect as well as some of us is of the view that this verse was revealed in honour of Imam Ali (a.s.) when he was commanded to sleep on the bed of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in the night of migration.”[7]

Who has the knowledge of the book?

Abdullah Ibn Ataa says, “Once I was in the mosque along with Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.). At that time my eyes fell on the son of Abdullah Ibn Salaam. Looking at him I said, “Isn’t this boy the one who has the knowledge of the book?” At that time Imam (a.s.) said, “It is only with Ali Ibn Abu Taalib.”[8]

Ibn Abbas narrates that the phrase ‘مَنْ عِنْدَهُ عَلْمُ الْكِتَابِ‘ is only applicable to Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and none else because he (a.s.) is aware of the exegesis, interpretation of the verses as well as the abrogated and abrogating verses.

Abu Hayyan Aanduloosi writes, “Qataadah says that this verse refers to Abdullah Ibn Salaam and Tameem Daari, while Mujaahid writes that it refers only to Abdullah Ibn Salaam. However, the views of both these scholars cannot be accepted. This is because all scholars are unanimous that this verse was revealed in Makkah while Abdullah Ibn Salaam was a resident of Madina. Janab Muhammad Ibn Hanafiyyah and Imam Baqir (a.s.) say that this verse refers to Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taalib (a.s.)”.[9]

Aaloosi says that both Janab-e-Muhammad Ibn Hanafiyyah as well as Imam Baqir (a.s.) are of the view, ‘The person referred to in this verse is none other than Hazrat Ali (a.s.).[10]

Mullah Mohsin Faiz Kashani writes in his exegesis ‘al-Saafi‘, ‘A person once asked Imam Ali (a.s.) about his lofty status. In reply, Ali (a.s.) recited the verse and said ‘I’m that person.’[11]

Ali ibn Ibrahim Qummi (r.a.) narrates a tradition from Imam Sadiq (a.s.), “The one who has the complete knowledge of the book is Ameerul Momeneen Ali (a.s.).” People asked him, “Who is superior? Is the one who has the knowledge of the entire Book superior to the one who has some part of the knowledge of the Book?” Imam (a.s.) replied “The comparison of the ‘complete knowledge of the Book’ to ‘some part of the knowledge of the Book’ is like the entire ocean compared to a drop of water from the ocean on the wing of a fly.”[12]

In his exegesis, Ayyashi narrates, “People asked Imam Baqir (a.s.) that Abdullah Ibn Salaam feels that the verse ‘the one who has the knowledge of the book’ refers to his father.'” Imam (a.s.) said, “He is lying. The one who has the complete knowledge of the book is only Hazrat Ali (a.s.).”[13]

Over here we would like to discuss the view of Ayatullah al-Khoie (r.a.) mentioned in his exegesis ‘Al-Bayaan fi Tafseer al-Quran.’. He writes, “The testimony of (the successorship) Imam Ali (a.s.) by the miraculous words of the Holy Quran – notwithstanding the various other eloquent and unambiguous proofs – is in itself an independent proof (of his successorship). The Holy Quran is a divine revelation and its statement is not based on ignorance. Imam Ali (a.s.) is the Master of Eloquence and the ultimate manifestation of all noble attributes. He is the best example and on the highest pedestal of Divine recognition. Both friends and foes testify to his eloquence and superiority. They have not testified to his greatness due to his (a.s.) position and wealth. How could this be possible when Imam Ali (a.s.) was the emblem of piety and had no inclination towards the world. He had rejected the caliphate when it was offered to him with the condition that he should conduct the affairs in a manner similar to Abu Bakr and Umar and he turned his face away from it. It is Imam Ali (a.s.) who did not tolerate the (illegitimate) governorship of Muawiyah even for a few days although he (a.s.) was well aware of the perils in removing Muawiyah from his post. Thus, Imam Ali (a.s.) is the best testimonial to the messengership of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and the miraculous words of the Holy Quran.[14]

Some people are of the view that this verse is concerning those who accepted Islam like Abdullah Ibn Salaam, Tameem Daari and Salman Farsi. But this view is not acceptable since this Surah was revealed in Makkah while the aforementioned people accepted Islam in Madina. Abu Hayyan Aanduloosi says that all scholars are unanimous that this Surah was revealed in Makkah.[15] Tabari writes that Abu Bishr says, “I asked Abu Saeed Khudri ‘Does this verse refer to Abdullah Ibn Salaam?’ He said ‘No. This Surah was revealed in Makkah then how can it refer to Abdullah Ibn Salaam?'”[16]

Qurtubi writes that Ibn Jubair says “This surah was revealed in Makkah while Abdullah Ibn Salaam accepted Islam in Madina. This verse cannot refer to him”.[17]

Shahaabuddin Aaloosi has objected to the above views of the scholars. He says that “no doubt that this Surah was revealed in Makkah but a few of its verses were revealed in Madina too. And this particular verse was revealed in Madina.” But there are no traditions or narrations in support of Aaloosi’s view and thus his claim does not hold water.

Sha’bi too has flatly denied that any verse of the Quran was ever revealed in favour of Abdullah Ibn Salaam.[18] Fakhruddin Raazi writes “Prophethood cannot be established by the words of couple of men who are not free from telling lies.”

[1] Tafseer Jame al-Ahkam-il-Quran, vol. 15, p. 91

[2] Tafseer-e-Tabari, vol. 24, p. 68

[3] Tafseer-e-Kabir, vol. 26, p.126

[4] Tafseer Burhan, vol.4, p. 20

[5] Tafseer al-Kabir, vol. 5, p. 223

[6] Tafseer Bahr al-Moheet

[7] Tafseer Ruh al-Ma’ani, vol. 2, p. 97; Tafseer Jaame’ al-Ahkaam al-Quran, vol. 3, p.21

[8] Yanaabee’ al-Mawaddah, p.102; Qurtubbi in his exegesis ‘Tafseer Jaame’ al-Ahkaam al-Quran, vol. 9, p.336

[9] Tafseer Bahr al-Moheet, vol. 5, p. 401

[10] Tafseer-o-Ruh al-Ma’ani, vol. 13, p.158

[11] Tafseer al-Saafi, vol. 3, p. 77

[12] Tafseer al-Qummi, vol. 1, p. 367

[13] Tafseer Ayyashi, vol. 2, p.220

[14] Al-Bayaan fi Tafseer al-Quran, p.. 91

[15] Tafseer Bahr al-Moheet, vol. 9, p. 401

[16] Jaame’ al-Bayaan, p.104

[17] Jaame’ al-Ahkam al-Quran, vol.9, p. 336

[18] Tafseer-e-Kabir, vol. 19, p.70

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