Imam Ali: His Spiritual Rank & Station
by Muhammed al-Ahari El
To start a proper discussion of the teaching of Haji Bektash we must explain what is taught in his name.
The Shi’i writer Majlisi records in his Bihâr al-Anwâr (volume 1, p. 97) that the Prophet said, “The
first thing Allah Created was my light.” This Hadith refers to the Nur Muhammadiyyah or to the
Haqiqah al-Muhammadiyyah. From Allah's own light this light was made. The light of Muhammad
was placed into the loins of Adam and was passed down through his descendants to it was manifest
in the loins of the Prophet's father and caused his father to marry the most pure woman of his tribe
(Amina) as a depository for this great light.
A Hadith related by al-Shahrastani (another Shi' writer) details the creation of this light. There we
read that Imam Ali said that he and the Prophet were of one light the only difference is that one
preceded the other in time. According to al-Yamani (an Isma’ili writer) Allah said to the light of
Muhammad, “Be Muhammad” and then he said to it “Be Ali” and the light was two lights. The
divine light of Ali was passed through his descendants till it formed the Companion of Time, Savoir
of Humanity- al-Mahdi.
The Iraqi Shi’i group the Shabâk say that the Prophet also said in Hadith, “I was a Prophet while
Adam was still between the water and the clay.” The Prophet here was the essence from which all
was created and the reason for creation.
A Hadith recorded by al-Kulayni states, “The Almighty Allah has said,`Muhammad, I have created you and Ali, a spirit without body, before I created the heavens, the earth and my Throne, and you never ceased to glorify me. Then I gathered the souls of both of you and made them one soul, and you continued to hallow and magnify me. I divided your soul into two and the two yet another two, and they became four souls: one became Muhammad, one became Ali, one became Husayn, and the last became Hasan. Then Allah created Fatimah from the Light and spirit without body. Then Allah rubbed the Imams with His right hand, and His Light shone through all of the Imams.”
“Khâlaq ul-insân wa ‘alam ul-Bayân.” (Qur’an) Before the physical creation of mankind their was a day where he was initially created on the spirit plane. Once created he was taught from the eternal words of Allah and asked if he would be sincere to Allah, all of humanity said they would be true to Allah on this day called the Day of Promises.
One day Allah told the Angels he was going to create a vicegerent over the newly formed Earth that can be seen from the Heavens. The Angels warned him from that path because they felt all that it would do is create bloodshed and a drift from worship of their Lord. Allah answered and told them that He knew what they did not know.
One day when Adam was still clay Lucifer (before his fall) observed the still lifeless clay that would be Adam. He went up and down, inside and out the yet lifeless form. He discovered all of the weaknesses of this yet lifeless creation and thought of ways to exploit these weaknesses.
On yet another day Allah breathed life into the clay that would be Adam, Father of Humanity. Allah asked the Angels and the Jinn to bow before Adam. Lucifer and a band of his followers refused. They though their creation from smokeless fire superior to clay and water.
Allah demanded a second time and they bowed. He then told Lucifer he would be named Shaitan ir-Rajim as he disobeyed Him and he would never be a permanent resident of Paradise again until after the Final Judgment Day and it's punishments were fulfilled.
At this point Shaitan (formerly Lucifer) said he would mislead and tempt Mankind for his unjust punishment. Allah said again that He knew what he did not know and that he would be a tester to separate the faithful from the unfaithful. Also that he would only be able to mislead who Allah chose.
In the Shabâk book the Buyruk the following story occurs. One Day before he left Paradise Adam was walking, he came upon an arch and upon this arch it was inscribed, “There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, Muhammad is his last Prophet and Messenger, Ali is his vicegerent, and Fâtima uz-Zahrah is the most illustrious among womankind.” Adam walked through the arch and came upon a domed house with twelve windows on top and a light came from those windows that light all of paradise. Allah went into the house and saw a beautiful young woman sitting on a throne. This woman said to Him, “Do you not recognize me O' Father Adam? I am Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The crown on my head is that of my Father and the twelve windows above us are the light of esoteric knowledge that will be preserved by my husband and eleven of our descendants.”
Her exalted descendant Husayn told a questioner that his authority came from the House of David and that if they lack any knowledge or guidance that the Holy Spirit gives it to them. These God guided people were created out of the Light of Muhammad (Nûr Muhammadîyyah). Some Shi’i commentators say that this light was created from the Illiyyûn or substance of the highest heaven. Most trustworthy scholars say this revelation or guidance the followers of Muhammad received was more like Mary, Mother of Jesus, had. The Imams did not receive books or any special knowledge that was not passed down through family collections of Hadith.
Another Shi’i belief is that there is a light that links the Imams with the Heavens. It is like a pillar supporting the heavens. This Shi’i belief can be further expanded to include all those that remember Allah as the angels join such gathering. These gathering are dhikr and teaching not lectures as some misguided modernists believe.
An interesting explanation of the station of Imams in the spiritual hierarchy is found in the writings of Shiekh al-Mufid. The distinction between Messenger (Rasûl), Prophet (Nabî), and Imam is that of degree. A Messenger hears and sees the giver of Wahy, a Prophet only hears and senses them, and an Imam only hears them. The Imams may have books but their books are more like collections of poems and prayers than revelation like the Qur'an. Their revelation is more in the direction of implementing the Qur'an. The Imams are the “Rope of Allah”. (H.Q. 3:102)
The Miraculous birth and life of Imam Ali:
The Imam's Mother, Fâtima bint Asad, gave birth to the Imam in the Ka’bah. The Ka’bah is next to the grave of Hâjar, wife of Ibrahim and Mother of Ismâ’îl, Father of the Arabs. He was born into an illustrious family. He was cousin of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and was raised by him.
Imam Ali was the first to be named as successor to the Prophet by him. He was the first youth to accept Islam. His many adornments are enumerated in many Hadiths.
A Hadith that shows the spiritual unity of Ali and Muhammad is found on pp. 98-99 of Baba Rexheb's Islamic Mysticism and Bektashism. Imam Ali had gone to talk to the Prophet Muhammad and asked what the best and easiest way to reach Allah was. The Prophet replied, “Prophecy has made that road available to all men.” Imam Ali asked, “What is that road?” The Prophet replied, “Invoke the name of Allah in solitude wherever you may be.” Imam Ali asked, “How shall I evoke the name of Allah?” The Prophet, who was standing across from him, told him to shut his eyes and repeat, “There is no God but Almighty Allah.” Ali obeyed the Prophet and all the mysteries of the spiritual world were opened unto him.
Much as the Prophet received the Shari’ah during the mirage and saw the heavens, hell, and the hereafter, Imam Ali was given some of the same secrets by Allah. The secrets were the secrets of tafsîr based on an inspired understanding of the Arabic language and due to private instruction with the Prophet Muhammad. He has no book after the Qur'an nor does he have any part of the Qur'an other than that published by the Caliph 'Uthman.
The succession is the key in Shi’i Islam. This is called Walayat. The question is not only who the successor was but how this succession would occur.
Abû Bakr, then 'Umar, then 'Uthmân, then 'Ali were the successors or Righteous Caliphs by Sunnis. However, the Prophet had named his cousin 'Ali as successor on numerous occasions. In order of acceptance of Islam, he accepted Islam after Prophet Muhammad's first wife Khadîjah and before Zayd ibn Thâbit and Abû Bakr.
In the third year of the Prophet's mission, when 'Ali was twelve, he named 'Ali as his successor for the first time. In Tabari (volume 1, p. 1172-3), there is a tafsîr of the verse “Warn your close relatives.” (H.Q. 26:214) The Prophet had made a meal and invited forty of his closest relatives. The enemy of Islam cursed in the Qur'an (Abû Lahab) forced the meeting to end when he publicly made jest of the Prophet's position in the clan and the Prophet had to reschedule the meeting for the next day.
The words recorded by Tabari are those of Imam 'Ali. “Then the Apostle of Allah spoke to those of his family which he had gathered and said, `O' my clan, by Allah I do not know anything better than what I am prepared to present to you. Almighty Allah has commanded me you to be called unto Him and for me to give to you the best way to live this life and prepare you for the hereafter.' The Apostle of Allah then asked who would be his brother, successor, and trustee from among his clan. 'Ali, the young cousin of the Prophet, then said, `O' Prophet of Allah, I will be your helper.' The Prophet then put his arm around 'Ali's neck and said, `This is my brother, successor, and trustee among you. Listen to him and obey him.' Those in attendance rose and began to may jokes and said to Abu Talib, `He has ordered you to obey and follow your son.’”
On other occasions 'Ali was also placed in a position of importance. 'Ali slept in the Prophet's bed as a diversion at the time the Muslims fled to Yathrib (later Madinah). Having helped the Prophet escape, he settled both of their debts and then escaped to Yathrib with several Muslim women. After 'Ali arrived at Madinah he was chosen by the Prophet as his Brother. Other Muslims chose each other as brothers at that time.
According to Tirmidhi after all had chosen their “"brothers”, 'Ali came to the Prophet in a state of distress. All had chosen their new brethren but no one chose 'Ali. The Prophet told him not to fret and said, “You are my brother in this world and the next.” Many Sunni writers reject this Hadith as meaning anything other than an oath of fraternity. However, this and similar Hadith are found is the Musnad of Ahmad (Vol. 1, pp. 170, 173, 174-5, 179, 182-3, 184, 331; Vol. 3, pp. 32, 338), the Mustadrak of Hakim (Vol. 3, pp. 126-7), the Sunans of Tirmidhi (Vol. 2, p. 301) and Ibn Majah
(Vol. 1, Bab 11, pp. 42-3, No. 115; p. 45, No. 45, No. 121), and in Sahih Muslim. There the Hadith continues and usually adds, "You are like Aaron was unto Moses except there are no Prophet after me."
In Madinah 'Ali acted as: standard bearer at the battles of Badr and Khaybar and as secretary (writing letters and treaties for the Prophet). Eventually married the Prophet's daughter Fatima and sired Hasan, Husayn, Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Khuthûm, and Muhsin. Hasan, Husayn, and Zainab all survived the deaths of both parents. Muhsin died in a tragic miscarriage that so weakened the Prophet's daughter that she died within six months of her father.
At the battle of Khaybar (7 A.H.) he was standard bearer. According to Sahih Muslim, 'Umar relates the following account. “The Apostle of Allah said on the day of Khaybar, `I shall certainly give this banner to a man who loves Allah and His Apostle and through which Allah will give victory.' 'Umar ibn al-Khattab said, `I never wished for leadership except on that day.' And he also said, `And so I leapt up towards the banner hoping to claim it as my right.' The Apostle of Allah then summoned 'Ali and gave it to him and said, `Go! And do not turn aside until Allah gives you victory.’”
The most important event in 'Ali's interactions with the Prophet according to the Shi’i is the episode of Mubahala. During the 9th year of Hijrah, the Prophet met a delegation of Christians from Najran who rejected his claims of being Messenger of Allah. After being challenged, Allah revealed the ayat of mutual cursing to ascertain who was in the right. (H.Q. 3:61) The Prophet called out the people of Madinah and asked then to witnesses the Mubahala. He then took a cloak and called his daughter Fatima, 'Ali her husband, and their children Hasan and Husayn forward and they were then all five rapped in the cloak. The Christian thought he would have called the elders and leaders of his tribe to his side. Perplexed, they questioned him. When the Prophet told them he was only doing what Allah commanded they agreed to pay tribute and go to practice their own religion and leave the Prophet in peace. This episode is also found in Sunni sources.
Another reference to a Sura relating to 'Ali is found in the Musnad Ahmad (Vol. 1 pp. 3, 151). During the 9th year after Hijra, Sura Bara'a was revealed. Abu Bakr was sent to read it to the people of Mecca, but recalled after Gabriel told him to either read it himself or have someone from his family to read it.
Another episode usually rejected by Sunni writers can be found in one of the strongest Sunni sources - Musnad Ahmad. That is the episode of Ghadîr Khumm. After 'Asr prayers, the Prophet asked, "Do you not acknowledge that I have a greater claim on believers than they have on themselves?" After those gathered said yes, the Prophet took 'Ali's hand and said, "Of whomever I am Master, 'Ali is also Master. Be supporters of those that support 'Ali and enemies of those that oppose him." Afterwards 'Umar met 'Ali and congratulated him saying, "Congratulations O' son of Abu Talib! Now morning and evening you are the master of every believing man and woman."
A very widely quoted Hadith is found in Musnad Ahmad (Vol. 3, p. 281, also Vol. 1, pp. 84, 118, 119, 152, 331, and Vol. 4, pp. 367, 370, 372, and Vol. 5, pp. 347, 366, and 419) and tells of the need to follow the Qur'an and Sunnah and to have love for Ahl ul-Bayt. The Prophet said, "I have left among you two weighty matters which if you cling to them you shall not be led into error after me. One of them is greater than the other: The Book of Allah which is a rope stretched from Heaven to Earth and my progeny, the people of my house. These two shall not be parted until they return to the pool [of paradise]."
Here are 13 Hadith giving praise to Imam 'Ali common to Shi’i and Sunni sources:
- "There is no youth braver than 'Ali.";
- "No one but a believer loves 'Ali and no one but a hypocrite hates 'Ali.";
- "I am from 'Ali and 'Ali is from me.";
- "The truth circulates with 'Ali wherever he goes.";
- "I am the City of Knowledge and 'Ali is its Gate.";
- When a roast bird was brought to eat the Prophet made a dua' for the best man to share it with him. Abu Bakr and 'Umar came forward but Gabriel told the Prophet to wait. When 'Ali came he told his servant to allow him to enter to share the feast;
- "The most loved of the women to the Prophet of Allah is Fatima and the most loved of men is 'Ali.";
- One time the Prophet said with 'Ali for a long time whispering to him. When questioned as to what he said, he told that he was telling 'Ali a message from Allah.;
- The Prophet took the hands of Hasan and Husayn and said, "Whoever loves me and loves these two and their mother and father, will be with me in my station on the day of judgment.";
- "No one can execute my affairs but Ali.";
- "As for 'Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn, I am at war with anyone who is at war with them and at peace with anyone who is at peace with them."
- "My family is like Noah's Ark. He who sails on it will be safe, but he who holds back from it will perish." and,
- Hasan and Husayn are chiefs of the youths of paradise.
I do not wish to touch on two issues: that of the Sunni Caliphs and the episode of pen and paper. These episodes are in both Sunni and Shi’i sources. 'Ali reluctantly accepted the Caliph of 'Abu Bakr after the death of Fatima and was active in advising of 'Umar. Also even though he was not in support of 'Uthman, 'Ali fought on his side when rebels sought to overthrow him. Besides, the Bektashi actually do not openly condemn the Sunnis or other Shi’i (a few books against the Nusayri by them being the exception). A saying of Haji Bektash is pertinent here. It is related in many sources that he said, “Do not condemn the seventy three sects.” By this he likely meant not be overly certain you are in the right and only sect that will go to paradise.
Before having brief biographies of the other eleven Imams, I will add a few more comments on two ayat that refer to the Ahl ul-Bayt. The ayat "You are a Warner and to every people there is a guide." (H.Q. 13:17) is held by al-Suyuti to refer to Imam 'Ali. According to al-Razi, after 'Ali gave alms and then joined and in progress prayer, the following ayah' was revealed. "Your guardian can only be Allah, His Apostle and those who say their prayers, pay alms, and bow down before Allah. (H.Q. 5:55)