Enmity with Imam Ali (as) 1

Enmity with Imam Ali (as) 1

Causes of Enmity with Imam Ali (as) in the Light of Nahjul Balaghah

Much has been said and written about the virtues of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (as). Throughout history, scholars, researchers, poets and others have focused through different angles in their efforts to fathom the multi-sided personality of the cousin, son-in-law and vicegerent of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.).

The different aspects presented by different writers speaks of the dynamic characteristics of the man who continues to shine like the resplendent sun despite the elaborate efforts made by his enemies, both in his lifetime and after his martyrdom, to belittle his merits and even to slander him.

In this article an attempt has been made to probe the current of enmity with Imam 'Ali (as) and the different causes and motives behind it, by referring to the words of the Imam himself in the book Nahjul Balaghah. The article will try to answer the questions as to what were the causes and the motivation for the opposition to and enmity with Imam 'Ali (as) especially during his caliphate.

The writer states that he has approached the subject without any religious or sectarian bias to the best of his ability as readers might judge, in order to have a clear and impartial picture of the reasons of enmity with Imam 'Ali (as).

Although from the viewpoint of religious belief it could be summed up in one sentence that the reason for enmity with Imam 'Ali (as) was because of the divine authority entrusted to him by the Prophet which some refused to acknowledge, this answer would discourage certain questions from being raised and might leave some people unsatisfied. Therefore, in order to probe the various causes behind the current of enmity, we intend to broadly focus on the following two points:

The motives for enmity with Imam 'Ali (as): Here we will discuss what motivated certain people to become the enemies of Imam 'Ali (as).

The various kinds of enmity with him: Here the types and degrees of enmity with Imam 'Ali (as) and the methods used by the enemies will be scrutinized.

The Motives for Enmity with Imam 'Ali (as)

Enmity towards Imam 'Ali (as) started with the advent of Islam itself and lasted throughout his life. This sorrowful trend did not end with his martyrdom and continued even after that. By focusing on the events of the early period of Islam, we will see what elements played the role in this enmity, especially during the brief caliphate of the Imam.

Tribal and Ethnic Motives

Although enmity based on tribal and ethnic motives might appear natural to some extent, it should be admitted that this trend neither camouflages the evilness of those who harbor rancor nor does it diminish in any way the greatness of Imam 'Ali (as).

Imam 'Ali (as) was a scion of the Bani Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe. The Qurayshites were considered noble and enjoyed a special esteem and privileged status among the Arab tribes. The day the Ishmaelite leader Qusayy bin Kilab, the 5th ancestor of Imam 'Ali (as), became custodian of the holy Ka'bah and took charge of the administration of Mecca, his family came to enjoy a central and eminent position among not only the Quraysh but other Arab tribes as well.

The nobility of the Quraysh was now concentrated in the House of Qusayy and the Bani Qusayy became a privileged group. Their prestige was further enhanced among the Arabs because of the custodianship of Abraham's ancient edifice of monotheism, the Ka 'bah.

The sanctity of the Ka'bah, which since the beginning exercised a profound influence on public minds, gradually bestowed a halo on its custodians who came to be considered holy themselves. The wisdom and valour of Qusayy further increased the position of the custodian. Among the Arabs, blood and genealogy counted as marks of distinction and carried social prestige since members of each tribe felt proud of their descent from one chieftain and stood beside each other.

Thus any member who in addition to a perfect pedigree and impeccable blood bond could boast of personal traits of nobility was undoubtedly regarded as the chieftain, whose authority was binding on the whole tribe. Any disobedience to his commands or instructions was tantamount to insubordination and challenge to the tribal system, and swiftly brought down the displeasure on the rebel who was excommunicated and expelled by the whole clan.

With the death of Qusayy, his elder son 'Abd-Manaf succeeded to his post and was followed by his own son 'Amr or Hashim as the next custodian of the holy Ka 'bah and the chief administrator of Mecca. It was during this time that a certain Umayyah(1) claiming to be a son of Hashim's younger brother 'Abd Shams, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize the custodianship of the Ka'bah. This vain bid by Umayyah split the clan into two broad segments, the Bani Hashim and the Bani Umayyah.(2)

The custodianship then passed on to Hashim's son 'Abd al- Mutallib and after him to his son Abi Talib the father of Imam 'Ali (as). It was during the time of Abi Talib that the Hashimites were faced with an internal crisis. Abi Talib lacked wealth which chieftains normally possess,(3) and this made two of his brothers, 'Abbas and Abi Lahab, challenge his leadership. The descendants of Umayyah who nursed a deep hatred towards the House of Hashim, saw it as their chance to renew a bid for leadership, especially since they regarded themselves as the military class of Mecca.

The emergence of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) from the Hashimite clan made other Meccans jealous and they thought prophethood to be a trick by the Bani Hashim to exalt them and continue their leadership. The following words of Abi Jahl to Akhnas bin Shurayq speaks of the inability of the infidel mind to understand God's revelations:

We and the sons of 'Abd Manaf vied with each other in nobility and greatness. Whatever they did we also did, so as to be their equals. Now suddenly they are saying that from us is a Prophet who receives revelation from heaven. (4)

Decades later in 61 AH when after the tragedy of Karbala the severed head of the Prophet's grandson Imam Husayn (as) was placed before the Umayyad scion Yazid who now ruled as caliph of Muslims, he recited the following couplet which are identical to Abi Jahl's words to Akhnas in the days of Jahiliyyah:

La 'ibat Hashim bi al-mulk fala; Khabar ja'a wa la wahy nazal.(5)

(The Hashimites played the game of kingdom; Neither any message came from heaven nor revelation.)

This is how retarded minds viewed the divine mission of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). For them the growth and spread of Islam was the victory of the Bani Hashim over the other Arab tribes and clans. Although these short-sighted people may not have said this explicitly and with frequency - for the obvious fact they now called themselves Muslims and ruled over Muslims - deep down in their hearts and minds they harboured these thoughts which would at times come to their lips as is clear from Yazid's recitation of the above couplet. (6)

In view of these facts, when the question of Imam 'Ali's (as) caliphate was raised after the passing away of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), some pretending to be religious and claiming to be near to the Prophet, said: "Prophethood and caliphate cannot be combined in one family."(7)

These words are indicative of the mindset of most Qurayshites who were jealous of the Bani Hashim.

This is the first open indication of enmity towards Imam 'Ali (as), who was a Hashimite, and for this reason those who had paled into insignificance against the glory of the Bani Hashim and harbored rancor against them out of an inherent inferiority complex, were not ready to see him as their leader and ruler. Thus enmity towards Imam 'Ali (as) was clear and deep rooted even at this stage and continued in the subsequent periods.(8)

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1. Umayyah is said to have been a slave of 'Abd Shams rather than his son. 'Allamah Majlisi has related in Bihar al-Anwar (vol. 8, 383) from Imad al-Din Tabari's Kamil Baha'i that Umayyah was a Byzantine slave of 'Abd Shams and when the latter found him intelligent he freed him and treated him as an adopted child. As was the custom among the pre-Islamic Arabs Umayyah became known as the son of 'Abd Shams similar to the case of Zayd bin Muhammad (S.A.W.), until God revealed the ayah that the Prophet was not the father of any male Arab (33:40).

2. Tarikh-i Ya'qubi, vol. 2, p. 13.

3. Sunan al-Nasa 'i, vol. 4, p. 3.

4. Al-Siyar -wa al-Maghaz'i, p. 210.

5. 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Musawi al-Muqarram. Maqtal al-Husayn, p. 357, Dar al-Kitab al-Islami, Bayrut; Tadhkirah al-Khawass, Sibt ibn Jawzi, p. 235, Mu'assasah Ahl al-Bayt, Bayrut.

6. Jami ' al-Bayan, vol. 4, p. 240.

7. Ibn Abi al-Hadid, Sharh Nahjul Balaghah, Vol. 3, p. 107.

8. Tashayyu ' dar Masir-i Tarikh, part I.