At first, chronicling Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib’s (a.s.) excellence and merits seems like an achievable task. In reality, this is an ocean so vast and deep that it is impossible to define its depths. Indeed, to describe Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib’s (a.s.) amazing merits is beyond any mortal. The more one tries to enumerate them, the more one struggles in this mountainous endeavour.
When Khalil bin Ahmad was asked about Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib’s (a.s.) virtues, he responded, “How can I describe the merits of the one whose merits were concealed by his enemies out of envy and by his friends for fear of their lives. Despite this, the east and the west bear testimony to his virtues.” 
What is conveyed in this article provides a very brief insight into Imam Ali’s (a.s.) character. We have sourced all traditions from the books of the Ahle Sunnah because that praise is most sincere which emanates from the rivals.
Only Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) know Ali (a.s.)
How can one not be perplexed about the personality whose very mortality is debated? Some considered him to be God and worthy of worship, while at another extreme, some wondered whether he was as pious and God-fearing as projected. The latter were shocked to learn that Imam Ali (a.s.) was martyred in Masjid-e-Kufa while engaged in prayers. They exclaimed, “Did Ali ever offer prayers at all?”
Indeed only Allah and His Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) can claim to truly know Imam Ali (a.s.).
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) informed Imam Ali (a.s.):
“O Ali, none other than me and you have truly recognized Allah and none has truly recognized you other than Allah and me.”
In another instance, he (s.a.w.a.s.) says:
“O Ali, none has recognized Allah, the Almighty except me and you, and none has recognized me except Allah and you, and none has recognized you except Allah and I.”
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) with his true recognition of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) said:
“Ali’s merits cannot be counted.”
Ibne Abbas narrates from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.):
“If all the trees and gardens turn into pens and the oceans into ink and the jinn into accountants and men into scribes, they will be unable to enumerate the merits of Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).”
In yet another instance, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) revealed:
“Allah has granted innumerable merits to my brother Ali. If someone confesses to even one of these merits and narrates it (accordingly), Allah will forgive all his sins of the past and the future.”
“If someone writes even one of Imam Ali’s (a.s.) merits, the angels will seek forgiveness on his behalf till the time his writing remains. And if someone listens to even one of his merits, Allah will erase all the sins that he has committed with his ears. And if someone glances at even one of his merits, Allah will erase all the sins that he has committed with his eyes.”
Ali (a.s.) – Confluence of excellence
Not only does Imam Ali’s (a.s.) persona embody every virtue associated with the people of the world, he also possesses the merits of prophets, especially the select band of the Ulul Azm Apostles (a.s.). It is not surprising therefore that none except the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) have surpassed him in virtue. The illustrious Sunni scholar, Baihaaqi, in his compilation has recorded the prophetic tradition:
“One who wants to see Adam’s knowledge, Nuh’s piety, Ibrahim’s forbearance, and Moosa’s worship, then let him look at Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).”
This tradition appears twice in Manaqib as follows:
“One who wants to see Adam’s knowledge, Nuh’s intelligence, Yahya bin Zakariyya’s abstinence, and Moosa bin Imran’s power, then let him look at Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).”
Imam Ali (a.s.) and the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.)
To admire perfection and the one who embodies it is part of human nature. That is why the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.), the beloved of Allah, is loved by all. On the same lines, Imam Ali (a.s.) is also the beloved of Allah because in the Verse of Malediction (Ayate Mubaahila) he is declared as the ‘self’ of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.). As we know, man loves his ‘self’.
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) in several traditions has underlined the relation between Imam Ali (a.s.) and himself:
“One who loves Ali, then certainly he has loved me.”
“One who loves you (Imam Ali (a.s.)) loves me and one who hates you hates me.”
A person asked the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.):
“O Prophet of Allah, do you love Ali?” He (s.a.w.a.s.) replied, “Don’t you know that Ali is from me and I am from him.”
The Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.s.) love for Imam Ali (a.s.) is obvious; doesn’t everyone love his own self?
There is a tradition recorded in Manaaqib along with a chain of narrators:
“Allah, the Almighty, has ordered me to love four of my companions and has informed me that He loves them.” The companions said, “O Prophet of Allah! Who are they? Even we would like to be included amongst them.” The Prophet of Allah said, “Ali is one of them.” Then he fell silent. He repeated, “Ali is one of them.” Then he fell silent.
Ayesha narrates: When the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) in the final moments of his life he requested from his companions, “Bring me my beloved.”
I (Ayesha) set out to look for Abu Bakr in response to the Prophet’s request. Seeing Abu Bakr, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) turned his face away from him. For the second time, he said, “Bring me by beloved.” Then Hafsa brought Omar and the Prophet turned his face away from him the same way he turned his face from Abu Bakr. I said that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) is referring only to Ali and nobody else. The people summoned Imam Ali (a.s.). When the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) saw Imam Ali (a.s.) he embraced him and whispered a thousand traditions in his ear. From each tradition, another thousand traditions were elaborated for Imam Ali (a.s.).
Ibne Abbas narrates that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) said:
“Ali is to me as my head is to my body.”
It is clear that the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.s.) love for Imam Ali (a.s.) had nothing to do with family relations; rather it was based on the latter’s excellence and merits. Mentioned below are some of these virtues:
Imam Ali’s (a.s.) knowledge
Imam Ali (a.s.) did not acquire his knowledge from any mortal; rather his knowledge was a divine bestowal. Hence his knowledge is deemed superior to his peers. Not surprisingly, in the books of the Ahle Sunnah, he is remembered as the ‘most learned of men’. Some traditions have been quoted in this regard:
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) said:
“The most knowledgeable one in my nation after me is Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).”
Abdullah ibn Masood narrates from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.):
“Wisdom has been distributed (among the people) in ten parts. Of this, Ali has been granted nine parts and the rest of the people have been granted only one part.”
All the progress in this world can be attributed to the part of wisdom granted to the people. Imam Ali’s (a.s.) wisdom is nine times the wisdom of the people. This is because the source of his wisdom is the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.), who informed the people:
“I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate. Then one who wants to acquire knowledge must enter through its gate.”
Ayesha narrates regarding Imam Ali (a.s.):
“He is the most knowledgeable of the people with regards to the Sunnah.”
How we wish that Ayesha herself had acted on this tradition. If she had done so, the Battle of Jamal could have been averted, sparing the lives of many innocent Muslims.
When the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) married his beloved daughter Janabe Fatemah Zahra (S.A.) to Imam Ali (a.s.), he declared:
“(O Fatemah), I have married you to the best one from my family. He is the most knowledgeable of them in knowledge and the most superior among them in virtue and the foremost among them in Islam.”
Imam Ali’s (a.s.) worship
Imam Ali’s (a.s.) legendary worship ranks in the same league as his knowledge, which as we have seen, was without parallel (excluding the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.)). His prayers, his whispered supplications and wailings in the middle of the night out of Allah’s fear, and his prolonged glorifications were such that Allah, Himself, boasted to His angels about his worship.
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) narrates: One morning, Jibraeel-e-Ameen brought some glad tidings. I asked him, “O my friend, what makes you so happy?” He replied, “O Muhammad why shouldn’t I be happy. Today, Allah, the Almighty has granted your brother and your vicegerent with an honour that has pleased me.” I asked him, “What has Allah granted my brother and the Imam of my nation?”
He said, “Last night Allah boasted about Ali’s worship to the angels. He told the angels, ‘O my angels, My Proof on the nation after the Prophet is subjecting himself humbly to My Greatness. I bear witness to you that he is the Imam of My Creation and the Guardian of My Creatures.’”
Incidents of Imam Ali’s (a.s.) amazing acts of worship are worthy of a detailed account that can fill a voluminous compilation. By way of illustration, we relate one tradition:
Ziraar b. Zamrah recounts Imam Ali’s (a.s.)virtues to Muawiyah: “I take Allah as a witness that I have seen Ali several times in the darkness of the night, standing in the niche (of the mosque), clutching his beard, trembling violently as if bitten by a snake, and wailing uncontrollably like a bereaved person. His cries are ringing in my ears even now:
‘Alas, the journey is lengthy, but the provisions are few. The paths are terrifying and the destination is lofty.’”
Hearing this, Muawiyah was moved to tears. He wiped his tears with his sleeves. Even the audience wept on hearing the account. Muawiyah confessed, “Truly Abul Hasan was as you say.”
Imam Ali’s (a.s.) Imamat
Imam Ali’s (a.s.) unparalleled knowledge and worship are adequate proof that Imamat and Caliphate were his by right. Apart from this, there are several traditions in the books of the Ahle Sunnah that categorically state this fact. Among these, the most noteworthy are Hadis-e-Saqalain, Hadis-e-Manzelat, Hadis-e-Yaumud Daar (Zul Asheerah) and Hadis-e-Ghadeer, which are transmitted successively (Mutawatir). Several books have established Imam Ali’s (a.s.) Imamat based on such traditions. In addition to these traditions, there are several other traditions that unambiguously establish Imam Ali’s (a.s.) Imamat. Some of them have been mentioned below:
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) ordered Hazrat Ali (a.s.): “Wear the ring in the right hand so that you are included among the proximate ones.”
Imam Ali (a.s.): “O Prophet of Allah! Which ring should I wear?”
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.): “Red agate (Aqeeq), which is the mountain that confessed to Allah’s Oneness, my Prophethood, and your Mastership.”
Even the mountains are aware of the fact that Mastership belongs to Imam Ali (a.s.) and nobody else.
Ibne Buraidah narrates that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) said:
“Every Prophet has a successor and heir and Ali is my successor and heir.”
In the tradition narrated earlier with regards to Imam Ali’s (a.s.)worship, Allah says:
“(O My Angels) I hold you as witness that he (Imam Ali (a.s.)) is the Imam of My Creation and the Guardian of My Creatures.”
Amr b. Maimoon narrates from Ibne Abbas that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) informed Imam Ali(a.s.):
“You are the guardian of all believers after me.”
The word بعدي (Ba’dee) categorically points out to the immediate succession of Imam Ali (a.s.) after the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) . To misinterpret ولي (Wali) as beloved is unwarranted. Being the beloved of the believers has no meaning. Wasn’t Imam Ali (a.s.) the beloved of the believers in the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.s.) lifetime?
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) left no stone unturned in announcing the succession of Imam Ali (a.s.). On several occasions, he established Imam Ali (a.s.) as the Caliph and Imam of the Muslims. Once we find him raising Imam Ali (a.s.) in front of the Muslims to proclaim, “Ali is the leader and Imam of the Muslims.”
On another occasion he asserted:
“Ali is with the Quran and the Quran is with Ali. The two shall never separate.”
At times he (s.a.w.a.s.) established Imam Ali (a.s.) as the standard and the axle of truth:
“Ali is with the truth and the truth is with Ali. The two shall not separate until they meet me at the Pool (Howz) on the Day of Resurrection.”
In another tradition he forecasts:
“Soon there shall arise sedition and when that happens hold on to Ali ibn Abi Talib, for surely he is the distinguisher between the truth and falsehood.”
He (s.a.w.a.s.) also said: “One who distances himself from Ali has distanced himself from me, and one who distances himself from me has distanced himself from Allah.”
Imam Ali (a.s.)and the Quran
Many scholars of the Ahle Sunnah and their exegetes (interpreters of Quran) have adjudged several Quranic verses as being associated with Imam Ali (a.s.). They have advanced these verses in support of many traditions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.). Some of these renowned scholars include – Ibne Hajar-e-Makki, Khateeb Baghdadi, Ganji Shafei, Ibne Asakir, Shaikh Sulaiman Qundoozi Hanafi.
Ibne Abbas declared:
“Three hundred verses have been declared regarding Ali (a.s.).”
Ibne Abbas narrated the following tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.):
“All verses of the Quran that proclaim یا ایہا الذین آمنوا (yaa ayyohal lazeena aamanu), ‘O you who believe’ have Ali (a.s.) as their foundation and exemplar.”
In other words, whenever the believers have been addressed (‘O you who believe’), Imam Ali (a.s.) is the foremost addressee.
Submitting to Ali (a.s.)
Imam Ali (a.s.) is the leader and guide of the people, the beloved of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) , the possessor of divine knowledge, the foremost in the worship and obedience of Allah, the perfect distinguisher between truth and falsehood, a peer of the Quran and an exemplar for the friends of Allah.
In the post-Prophet era, it is the responsibility of the people to submit only to him (to the exclusion of all others) and observe his proclamations and announcements. Obeying him is not optional; rather it is a compulsory obligation on all people in general and on the Muslims in particular. The traditions that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) has narrated in this regard are extraordinary. We have narrated a few over here.
Janab Salman (r.a.) narrates this tradition on the authority of Janab Fatima Zahra (s.a.):
“It is obligatory upon you to obey Ali ibn Abi Talib for surely he is your Master. So love him. He is your superior, so adhere to him. He is the scholar amongst you, so consider him noble. He is your leader towards Paradise, so respect him. When he invites you, accept his invitation. When he commands you, obey him. Love him like you love me. Consider him noble like you consider me noble. Whatever I have told you concerning Ali is what My Lord has ordered me, magnified is His Honour.”
This tradition is too manifest to require an explanation. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) in no uncertain terms has asserted that whatever he has conveyed regarding Imam Ali (a.s.) is not his personal recommendation; rather it was a divine recommendation. If the Muslims had paid heed to just this one tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.), they would have been secure from the present state of affairs that is rife with sedition, deviation and confusion.
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) informed his reliable companion – Ammar-e-Yaasir (r.a.):
“O Ammar, if you see Ali treading on one path and the people treading on another path, then follow Ali and abandon the people because Ali will never misguide you as he is always on the right path.”
Unfortunately, the Muslims ignored the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.s.) recommendation. They abandoned Imam Ali (a.s.) and instead followed others and in this way became a source of degradation for Islam. However, every era witnessed Muslims, albeit few in number, who adhered to the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.s.) recommendation and submitted to Imam Ali (a.s.)and his infallible children (a.s.).
Love for Imam Ali (a.s.)
Love is an important factor to evoke obedience and submission. In fact, unyielding adherence is not possible without love. Love makes easy the rigours of obedience and adherence. Imam Ali (a.s.) is an individual who has carved a niche for himself in the heart of every believer and in fact is the most beloved person in their eyes. Traditions abound with the merits of loving Imam Ali (a.s.) so much that many books running into several volumes would be needed to enumerate all these traditions. We take this opportunity to list a few of them:
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) stated:
“The theme of the believer’s Book of Deeds is his love for Ali. The one who wants to lead a life like mine and wants to die like me and wants to reside in that Paradise whose trees have been planted by My Lord then he should love Ali and his lovers. After me (and Ali) obey his children who are the Imams. They are from my progeny. They are my sons and have been created from my clay. Allah has granted them sustenance and knowledge. Hell is the abode of the one who denies their greatness and excellence. I have no affiliation with such people, and on the Day of Judgment Allah will deprive them of my intercession.”
Janab Jabir ibn Abdullah Ansari (r.a.) narrated from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.):
“Once Jibraeel brought me a green paper with white text on it:
‘I have made the love of Ali ibn Abi Talib an obligation to all My Creatures, so convey this to everyone from Me.’”
Abu Barza relates: We were seated with the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) when he informed us:
“On the Day of Judgment, no one will be able to proceed even a step until he replies to four questions – a) How he spent his life. b) How he used his body. c) How he earned his wealth and how he expended it. c) Whether he loved us, the Ahle Bayt.”
At that stage Umar asked: “How can a person love you after you have gone?”
In response, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) placed his hand on Imam Ali’s (a.s.) head and drawing him closer to himself declared:
“Surely to love Ali is to love me after I have gone.”
Manaqib relates this tradition with its own chain of narrators that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) warned:
“O Ali, if a person worships Allah for as long as Nuh remained in his nation (i.e. 950 years) and spends gold equal to the mountain of Uhud in the way of Allah and his life is extended so much that he performs a thousand Hajj by foot and is killed unjustly between Safa and Marwa but does not have your love and authority in his heart, then even the fragrance of Paradise will elude him. He will never enter Paradise.”
After the multitude of traditions on love for Imam Ali (a.s.), of which we have narrated just a few, how is it possible for someone to bear enmity and hostility towards him? Only those can bear enmity towards Imam Ali (a.s.) about whom the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) has said:
“O Ali, verily, no one from the Arabs will have enmity towards you except those who are born illegitimately. No one from the Ansaar (Helpers) will have enmity towards you except those who are Jews. No one from the rest of mankind will have enmity towards you except those who are forsaken.”
 Rawzatul Muttaqeen, vol. 13, p. 265
 Manaqeb Shahr Ibn Aashob, vol. 3, p. 268
 Rawzah al-Muttaqeen, Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, vol. 13, p. 273
 Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 28, p. 197; vol. 35, p. 8-9
 Amaali-e-Shaikh Toosi (r.a.), p. 416, Majlis 14
 Al-Manaqeb, p. 83, Trad. 70; p. 311, Trad. 309