Many things have been said about the Commander of the Faithful (peace and greetings be upon him). However, not everything has been touched upon. What has been said and written about the characteristics of the Commander of the Faithful (God’s greetings be upon him) does not constitute all his characteristics. It is only part of his characteristics. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) has been quoted as saying, “My brother, Ali, has characteristics which are countless”. That is to say, people cannot count his characteristics because they are beyond the understanding of ordinary people. This is the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh).
Well, we need a role model and a leader. Therefore, we should adopt such an outlook towards the Commander of the Faithful (greetings be upon him). In my humble opinion, everyone – whether those who are interested in writing and research or we who want to study and think about his characteristics – should study the Commander of the Faithful’s (peace and greetings be upon him) life in a number of chapters. In my opinion, there are four chapters which are at the top of the list. I will briefly refer to these four chapters.
One chapter is the spiritual positions of the Commander of the Faithful including his monotheistic understanding, his act of worship, his closeness to God and his purity. These are things whose depth and truth are really beyond our reach. All outstanding scholars – including Shia and Sunni scholars and even non-Muslim scholars – have said that they are not able to understand this part of the Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) personality. This part of his life catches everyone’s eyes with its loftiness and enlightenment. They cannot understand the different dimensions of his life. This is one part of his life.
When Ibn Abi al-Hadid, a Sunni and Mu’tazili scholar, narrates one of the sermons of the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh) – which is about monotheism – in his commentary on Nahjul Balaghah, he says, “Ibrahim al-Khalil al-Rahman should be proud of having such a son”. Many prophets emerged from Ibrahim’s descendants. However, he says this only about the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh). He says, “Ibrahim al-Khalil al-Rahman should say to this son of his, “You made certain statements in your monotheism sermon about the Arabs’ follies. I could not make such statements about Nabts’ [a Bani Israel tribe] follies and I could not illustrate the same truths as you did'”. Notice that the narrator is a Sunni and Mu’tazili scholar. This is one part and one chapter of the Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) life and it has many unknown dimensions. This part of his life is really a deep ocean.
Another part is the Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) jihads (endeavors for the sake of God). These jihadi and self-sacrificing acts are the peak of sacrifice. The sacrifices that the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh) made for Islam, for religion, for saving the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) life, for preserving his religion and for the honor and greatness of the Islamic Ummah are jihadi acts and they are really beyond the capability of humanity.
During his childhood, from the moment that he began to know the Holy Prophet as his teacher, during the time he was raised by him, when he accepted Islam during his childhood, during the difficult thirteen-year era of his life in Mecca, during the difficult event of migration to Medina, during the ten-year era of the Holy Prophet’s auspicious life in Medina and during all the wars, sacrifices and difficulties, this individual stood on the peak of sacrifice.
He made the same sacrifices after the Holy Prophet’s demise. The patience of the Commander of the Faithful was a sacrifice. His measures were a sacrifice. His cooperation was a sacrifice. His acceptance of caliphate was a sacrifice. The measures that he adopted during his short era of caliphate were sacrifices one after the other. The book of the sacrifices that the Commander of the Faithful (peace and greetings be upon him) made is a long and voluminous book for any reader and it really astonishes one.
It is astonishing to see that an individual can offer – with firm determination – his life, his reputation, his capability and his whole existence in the way of God. Understanding this is beyond me and people like me. This is another chapter of the Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) life which forms many long books.
The third chapter is the Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) behavior during his caliphate, whether his personal, social or governmental behavior. The personal behavior of Imam Ali (pbuh) was his modest life during his government. A vast and large country was at the disposal of the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh), extending from the east to Egypt and Africa. This large region constituted an Islamic government and it was under the command of the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh).
The personal life and behavior of this great and powerful ruler with a vast and rich country at his disposal was like a poor person. He had only one set of clothes. His food was dry barley bread. He avoided all material pleasures in a way that he himself said to his companions, colleagues, and the politicians of his time, “I know that to adopt such a hard way of life is beyond you” [Nahjul Balaghah, Letter 45].
He said to them that they cannot live such a life and he was right. No one can do this. It is really astonishing that the Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) life during his government was like this. His house was modest. His lifestyle was like a poor and needy person. This was while he engaged in all these great tasks. The same is true of his social behavior, his administration of justice and his resistance for the sake of observing divine obligations. Any mind is really astonished in the face of such greatness and such power. What kind of person was he?
This is different from his spiritual positions. This is his political behavior. How did politicians and rulers throughout the world live? How did the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh) live? This is another important chapter which has been unique until today and which will be unique forever. The Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) piety, his personal behavior and his act of worship when he was powerful are unique.
Imam Sajjad (peace and greetings be upon him) was asked, “Oh Son of God’s Messenger, why do you endure such hardships? Why do you pressure yourself? Why do you worship, fast and endure hunger like this?” Imam Sajjad began to cry and said, “What I am doing is nothing compared to what my grandfather, the Commander of the Faithful, used to do. How can what I do be compared to what he used to do?” Imam Sajjad considered his pious behavior to be inferior to that of the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh). This is very important. This is the third chapter.
The fourth chapter is the goal that the Commander of the Faithful had for people during his government. This is a very important and fundamental point. I want to put emphasis on this point. The Commander of the Faithful said, “If you obey me, I will help you achieve paradise”. These are the exact words that the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh) used in one of his sermons in Nahjul Balaghah: “If you follow me, I shall certainly carry you, if Allah so wills, on the path of Paradise”. If you listen to and act on what I say, I will – by Allah’s favor – help you achieve paradise: “Even though it may be full of severe hardships and of bitter taste” [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 155].
This move is not a small and easy move. This was the Commander of the Faithful’s (pbuh) goal. Helping people to achieve paradise plays a significant role in intellectual and spiritual areas and in people’s social lives.
Statements made in in a meeting with people from Ilam province on the occasion of the birthday anniversary of the Commander of the Faithful (pbuh), May 14, 2014