After twenty five years of being silent for the sake of the newly planted tree of Islam, Imam ʿAli (ʿa) was finally offered the chance to take the seat of Islamic power as the caliph. In this position, he established the divine limits ordained by Allah, he fought against the various deviations which had appeared, and he aided the weak and needy. He would take back the rights of the oppressed and he would strive towards the just division of the public treasury among all Muslims. Some of the supposed Muslims could not bear the justice which was enacted by Imam ʿAli (ʿa) and they eventually assassinated him so they could reach their own worldly gains.
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned a few points in regards to the life of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) and the lessons which we can learn from them. These points are as follows:
The Issue of Martyrdom from the Viewpoint of Imam ʿAli (ʿa)
Martyrdom from the viewpoint of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) is is an all-encompassing, all inclusive concept which is of great importance. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi further explained the viewpoint of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) in this regard in the following statement: ‘Imam ʿAli (ʿa) wrote to Mālik Ashtar, saying- “And I hope that Allah, in his vast mercy and great power, gives an ending to our lives imbued with felicity and martyrdom” ’. There are many verses in the Quran and many traditions which show the high rank of those who are martyred.
From another perspective, the religion of Islam has expanded the actual meaning of martyrdom. The primary meaning of this term is associated with those who give their lives in the cause of Allah on the battlefield. There are specific jurisprudential rulings related to these individuals which do not apply to someone who dies outside of the battlefield, even though they are still considered to be martyrs. At the same time, the term martyr (Shahīd) also possesses other meanings as well, through which it finds a much wider depth of meaning.
Amongst its other meanings is one which refers to anyone who dies while performing their divine duties and such an individual is considered to be a martyr. For example, whoever is killed while defending their wealth is considered to be a martyr. Similarly, the teachings of Islam indicate that whoever is killed in defense of their family, while they believe in their Lord, the Prophet (ṣ), and the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) is considered to be a martyr. Moreover, whoever dies while they hold the love of the family of the Prophet (ṣ) in their hearts dies as a martyr. This is because such an individual has died while performing their divine duties (one which is the love of the Prophet (ṣ) and his family (ʿa). As such, the actual meaning of martyrdom has become much deeper than the simple lexical meaning. It is through this understanding that we see how comprehensive martyrdom can actually be.
With regard to this issue, Imam ʿAli (ʿa) is narrated to have said: ‘The one who is martyred in the cause of Allah and is drenched in his own blood is not higher than one who is able to sin but he abstains from it for the sake of Allah.’ This shows that a person is able to gain the rewards of a martyr every single day (or even many times in a single day). When we examine this issue, it is clear why such people have the ranks of martyrs. The greater Jihād in Islam is not that fought on the battlefield but rather, it is the struggle realized against one’s own whims and desires. Therefore, the one who is active in the field of the greater Jihād is like one who is active in the field of the lesser Jihād.
In reality, the one who is actually active in the greater Jihād is superior to the one who is active in the field of the lesser Jihād. Now it goes without saying that the path of Allah and gaining in proximity towards him (the rank of the righteous, the pious, and the martyrs) is a clear path to tread on but it is not an easy one; one must entrust our fate to Allah. This is particularly essential since we live in a time period where the means of sinning are many and the availability of such things are greater than in other time periods (perhaps greater than in all of history). Therefore, we must strive to protect ourselves, our families, and our societies from these dangers.
The Martyrdom of Imam ʿAli (ʿa): A Great Loss for the Muslim Community
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in his commentary on the 147th sermon of the Nahj al-Balāghah has delved in to the losses which the Muslim community sustained after the martyrdom of Imam ʿAli (ʿa). When Imam ʿAli (ʿa), that beacon of justice, was martyred, his place was taken by others. When he was martyred, the oppressive Umayyads (who recognized nothing from the religion of Islam) came and they took hold of the caliphate; it was not long before they spilled great amounts of innocent blood and it was only then that the Muslims understood who they had lost and what great losses they had sustained as a result.
The Light of Truth Extinguished: A Common Meaning in Ashq al-Awwalīn (the first Most wretched individual) and Ashq al-Ākhirīn (the last Most wretched individual)
Obviously, Imam ʿAli’s (ʿa) martyrdom at the hand of one of the most wretched individuals occurred for a variety of reasons. Yet, one of the most important motives of the enemies of the Quran and the Ahl-al-Bayt have always been extinguishing the light of truth, and this was one of the major reasons for murdering Imam Ali (a) as well.. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has delved in to the reasons behind why the enemies of the Imam (ʿa) ended up killing the Imam (a). It has been narrated from both Shia and Sunni scholars (such as Thaʿlabī, Wāḥidī, Ibn Mardawīyah, Khaṭīb Baghdādī, Ṭabarī, Mūṣalī, Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, as well as others) who in turn narrated from ʿAmmār Yāsir, Jābir ibn Samrah, and ʿUthmān ibn Ṣahīb who narrated from the Prophet (ṣ) that he said to Imam ʿAli (ʿa): ‘Oh ʿAli, the most wretched individual amongst the first people was the one who killed the camel of Ṣāliḥ, while the most wretched individual amongst the last people will be the one who kills you.’ In another tradition it has been narrated that the Prophet (ṣ) mentioned that the Imam’s (ʿa) killer will be one who will color ‘this’ with ‘that’ (a reference to the blood which will color the Imam’s beard).
The reality is that there were certain commonalities between the killers of Prophet Ṣāliḥ’s (ʿa) camel (Qaddār ibn Sālif) and the killer of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) (ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muljam). Neither of these killers had any personal grudges against their targets and they only wished to extinguish the light of truth and remove the signs of Allah and his miracles on this earth. Similarly, just as the divine punishment descended upon the people of Ṣāliḥ after the killing of the camel, so too were the Muslims punished after the martyrdom of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) by being placed under the oppressive rule of the Umayyads.
A Contemplative Look at the Imam’s (ʿa) Cry of ‘By the Lord of the Kaaba, I Have been Victorious’
We can look at the Imam’s (ʿa) cry of ‘By the Lord of the Kaaba, I Have been Victorious’ as the greatest of all messages and one of the most important windows in to the meaning of martyrdom according to Imam ʿAli (ʿa). Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has delved in to the meaning of this important line and he has stated: ‘The meaning of the word Fawz (victory) is usually found in the Quran alongside the word ‘great’ (a great victory). It is also found alongside words such as Mubīn (clear) or Kabīr (great). According to Rāghib (a lexicologist), the term Fawz refers to victory, as well as attaining blessings alongside with health. This is the case only when there is victory and salvation in the hereafter. Therefore, it is possible to lose in the worldly sense and still be victorious in line with the meaning of Fawz.’
According to a number of well known traditions, when Imam ʿAli (ʿa) was struck on the head by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muljam, he cried out: ‘By the Lord of the Kaaba, I have been victorious’. Sometimes the tests of Allah are so difficult that they shake the very foundations of someone’s soul but the true believers are those who have been blessed with an unshakeable sense of peace and calm and are the truly victorious ones both in this world and the next.
The Connection of Imam ʿAli’s (ʿa) Soul with Other Realms of Existence
According to Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, one of the most important indications of the Imam’s (ʿa) cry is that is shows us the connection which he had with his Lord and with the other realms of existence. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has stated in this regard: When we examine the line of «مرصد للتّلاقي», which means one who is ready for the meeting, we find that it can be in reference to the meeting with the Angel of Death or with Allah. In any case, this shows us that the pure soul of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) was not connected at all with this passing and material world. It was rather connected with the other realms of existence, including the world of angels and with the Lord Himself.
When the sword of Ibn Muljam struck the Imam (ʿa), this was in reality a prerequisite for this great victory and for the Imam’s (ʿa) meeting with the ‘Lord of the Kaaba’. So the line of ‘By the Lord of the Kaaba, I have been victorious’ was simply an indication of this heartfelt reality. Even though the Imam (ʿa) was imprisoned for a period of time by the material world, and he lived alongside the people of this world in their day to day lives, he was finally freed and allowed to fly towards his Lord.
It must also be said that the words and last testament of the Imam (ʿa) while he was on his deathbed, hold some very important lessons for us. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has delved in to several important points derived from these last words of the Imam (ʿa). Some of these points are as follows:
Refraining from Taking Vengeance--- a Key Lesson from the Life of Imam ʿAli (ʿa)
Refraining from taking vengeance and strengthening the spirit of forgiveness in the Islamic society were among the most important employed by Imam Ali (ʿa) in the face of various incidents and problems of the Muslim society. The way Imam Ali (a) utilized this strategy, even towards the wretched person who assassinated him, is rather unique, as no other ruler has ever had such a compassionate conduct. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has stated in regards to this issue: Imam ʿAli (ʿa) has taught us that we should leave aside vengeance and we should pursue patience and forgiveness. The Imam (ʿa) has stated : When should I quiet the flames of wrath? Should it be when I am unable to take revenge and the people tell me: If you remain patient (until you are capable of revenge) it is better for you, or when I am able to take revenge but it is said to me: If you forgive, then it is better for you.
This is a reality that when someone is faced with oppression, they usually have two pathways available to them. The first pathway is that they wish to seek revenge for what has been done to them but they are not able to, for whatever reason. They may initially yell at their oppressor or even threaten them but when they realize that they can’t do anything, they have no choice but to pull back. In such a situation, everyone will tell that individual that it is best if they wait and gradually gain the power to actually take revenge; if you attempt to do anything now you will only be disgraced. You should not go towards your enemy while you are in such a state. In such a situation, the people will advise the individual to show patience.
The second pathway involves someone who is actually able to take revenge. In such a situation, when the people see that he is about to take revenge, they will instead tell him: It is more worthy of you to forgive the person and forgiveness is the ‘tax’ which is due upon one who has power. This tradition indicates that taking revenge is never a worthy or logical step for anyone. Through this explanation, the Imam (ʿa) wishes to guide the people towards moving away from taking vengeance. Oftentimes, vengeance is the root of long drawn out wars where many people are killed and much property is destroyed. From this perspective, it is best to leave this issue aside and forgive the person.
Similarly, when we look at what the Imam (ʿa) said in regards to ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muljam Murādī, we see these same lessons being played out once again. The Imam (ʿa) told his sons to bring the prisoner (at that time Ibn Muljam had been captured and was being held prisoner) food and water, and to give him the things which he needed. The Imam (ʿa) said to them: “If I remain alive, I know how I will behave with him and [in case I do not] if you also forgive him, then it is best. Yet, if you find it necessary (because it is expedient for the society as a whole) to e x e c u t e him then strike him only once just as he struck me with one blow”. Imam ʿAli (ʿa) had learned this valuable lesson from his own teacher, the Prophet of Allah (ṣ). An example of this in the life of the Prophet (ṣ) can be found when, after the Conquest of Mecca, he granted amnesty to all the pagans of Mecca in spite of the animosity and the harsh treatment he had received from the people of the city.
Pursuing Justice Even When Faced with One’s Own Killer
The level of the justice practiced by Imam ʿAli (ʿa) was so intense that it is worthy to look at how he treated his own killer. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explored this issue and he has said: ‘Imam ʿAli (ʿa) practiced a lofty level of justice even in regards to his own killer. He is narrated to have said in his last testament- Oh children of ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, be careful that you do not become immersed in the blood of the Muslims after my martyrdom, saying that Amīr al-Muʾminīn has been killed, using it as an excuse for shedding innocent blood. Be aware that only my killer (ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muljam Murādī) should be killed [if you decide to take revenge].’
These are deep lessons about the true reality of justice as seen in the life of Imam ʿAli (ʿa). The Imam (ʿa) also told his family and his relatives the following: “when I die from this blow which my killer has struck upon me, then only suffice with one blow when you wish to kill him and do not mutilate his body after you have killed him”.
The Importance of the House of Allah as Reflected in Imam Ali’s Last Words
Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned that the House of Allah, the Ka’bah, holds such an important position that Imam ʿAli (ʿa), even while he was on his deathbed, has mentioned: ‘Keep Allah in mind in regards to His House, the Ka’bah. Do not leave it empty for as long as you are alive, for if it is left empty, you will not be given respite (and the divine punishment will be sent down upon you).’
Protecting and Maintaining the Sunnah--- an Important Last Testament from the Imam (ʿa) while on His Deathbed
From the viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, safeguarding the prophetic way of life (the Sunnah) and acting upon the teachings of the Quran are among the most important lessons which we can learn from the last testament of Imam ʿAli (ʿa). Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained this issue in the following words: ‘Protecting the way of life (the Sunnah) of the Prophet (ṣ) is something which is not only done through words, but also through actions. It is most unfortunate that a group has sufficed with only the outward name of Islam and they have forgotten the prophetic way of life entirely. Another group has used their own opinions and interpretations in order to impose their own will on the Sunnah.
They have in reality replaced the Sunnah with their lower desires and it is for this reason that Imam ʿAli (ʿa) mentioned the following in his last testament while he was in his deathbed- “May it not be that those who have fallen away from the Quran [i.e. non-Muslims] begin to act based upon it, while you, who have been trained and educated by it, will come to forget it! May it not be that others show trustworthiness and truthfulness, while you show treachery and speak untruths. May it not be that others become united amongst themselves in regards to their worldly goals, while you remain divided in regards to your religion. I fear that a day may come when ‘nothing will remain from Islam except for its name and nothing will remain from the Quran except for its p r i n ted words’.’
The Kindness of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) with his Own Killer
There is no question that kindness and compassion are a part and parcel of the teachings of Shia Islam and they cannot be separated from it. The kindness of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) towards his own killer is a shining manifestation of this and it is examples like this which form the body of the teachings of Shia Islam. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has delved in to this key teaching from the perspective of the Imam (ʿa) and he has said: ‘When the Imam (ʿa) was dealing with ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muljam, who had in essence struck him a fatal blow, he was extremely kind and merciful towards him and this was, in fact, in light of the teachings of the Quran and the religion.. Even the worst of the Imam’s (ʿa) enemies were not bereft from his kindness and mercy.
From the moment ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muljam was captured, the Imam (ʿa) showed kindness to him all the way until he was at the verge of death. Imam ʿAli (ʿa) is narrated to have said: ‘Oh my children, my killer is Ibn Muljam alone; be careful that a group of self interested and opportunistic individuals do not unsheathe their swords after my death and attack various innocent people, shedding their blood on the pretext that these cooperated with the killer of ʿAli. Such people would only use such a holy slogan in achieving their own personal vendettas.
Oh my dear ones! Give from this same food which you have prepared for me to my killer. Oh the light of my eyes, if I remain alive, then I will know what to do with my killer and if I go to meet my Lord, then you have the right to kill him but if you do, then strike him with one blow as he struck me with one blow. Oh Children of the Prophet of Allah (ṣ)! Do not mutilate his body after his death!’
These were all instructions which Imam ʿAli (ʿa) gave while he was on his deathbed in regards to his own killer. In light of this reality, can this Islam, which was left to us by the successors of the Prophet (ṣ), be considered a religion of severity and violence? It is clear that Islam is but the religion of peace, love, and compassion towards all of humanity.’
Torture is Forbidden!
Torture is forbidden in Islam in any form or shape. This issue is so important in Islam that Imam ʿAli (ʿa) did not even permit Ibn Muljam to be tortured, in spite of the tradition from the Prophet (ṣ) mentioning that he was the most wretched of the last people. In reality, this individual was more wretched than Shimr and Yazīd but not one was given permission to torture him. The Imam (ʿa) instructed his children that if they decided to kill him, they were allowed to strike him with only one blow and no more. In spite of this, we see that certain governments who boast about their great concern for human rights are busy torturing people left and right. They then have the audacity to continue to call upon other countries to abide by ‘human rights’! This is hypocrisy at its finest.
Imam ʿAli’s (ʿa) Promotion of Lenity Even in regards to a Hardened Criminal
We live in an era where the superpowers are busy propagating how much they abide by various human rights and they have repeated such lines so many times that they have in reality deafened the veritable ‘ears of the world’. Contrary to these oft repeated lies by the superpowers, the best model for us to follow in regards to this issue is the one found in the lives of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa). This is particularly the case in regards to how they treated the prisoners which they had to deal with. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has explained this issue as found in the life of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) and his instructions in regards to lenity towards his own killer. This was an individual who was named in the prophetic traditions as being the most wretched of the last people. Imam ʿAli (ʿa) is narrated to have said in this regard: ‘Human principles necessitate that we act humanely towards prisoners, even the most sinful amongst them.’
Although the modern era is one where nations pride themselves on inventing the issue of human rights, particularly those in relation to prisoners, the fact of the matter is that when we examine the history of Islam, we find that from the very first days of the Prophet’s (ṣ) rule, the issue of human rights and prisoners of war was of the paramount importance. These same teachings can be found in the words and traditions of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) regarding, Ibn Muljam, who had struck him a fatal blow. The Imam (ʿa) instructed that Ibn Muljam be treated with lenity and compassion, and he would even send him from his own food (which was milk) so that he could eat the same food which the Imam (ʿa) was eating.
It has been narrated that when the Imam (ʿa) had been struck on the head by Ibn Muljam and he was lying on his bed, he would come in and out of consciousness. At one point, Imam Ḥasan (ʿa) brought him a bowl of milk and he handed the bowl to him. The Imam (ʿa) drank a bit of the milk and then he said to Imam Ḥasan (ʿa): Take the rest of it and give it to Ibn Muljam (who was his prisoner). Similarly, the Imam (ʿa) instructed his sons in regards to the killing of Ibn Muljam that he should not be struck with a sword more than once since he had struck the Imam (ʿa) with one blow only!
The Martyrdom of Imam ʿAli (ʿa)—An Important Sign of Being Centered upon the Hereafter Rather than the Material World
It is worth mentioning that the martyrdom of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) and his cry of ‘By the Lord of the Kaaba, I have been victorious’ is considered by Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi to be one of the most important signs of the reality of Imam ʿAli’s (ʿa) orientation towards the hereafter rather than the material world. Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned in this regard that: ‘Some people see death as a type of complete and absolute annihilation and they flee from death with the entirety of their efforts, since they see it as the end of everything. Another viewpoint sees death as a type of rebirth and a step towards a new and vast world which is bright and everlasting. For them, death is an opening of the heavens and something which they have long been waiting for.’
Naturally, the adherents of this latter viewpoint are not afraid of death and martyrdom in the cause of Allah. Such people take inspiration from the words of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) when he said: ‘I swear by Allah that the son of Abī Ṭālib has more fondness towards death than a suckling child has towards his mother’s breasts.’ These are the kinds of people who welcome death in such a path. It is for this reason that when Imam ʿAli (ʿa) was struck by the blade of Ibn Muljam, he said: ‘By the Lord of the Kaaba, I have been victorious’!
Prayer as a Pillar of the Religion
According to Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, prayer awakens the spirit of sincerity because it is an aggregate of pure intentions, pure speech, and pure action. When this aggregate is repeated every day and every night, it plants the seed of other good deeds in the human soul and it strengthens the spirit of sincerity. In relation to this concept, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned that: ‘Imam ʿAli (ʿa) in his last testament after he was struck by Ibn Muljam said- By Allah, byAllah , the prayer! For the prayer is a pillar of your religion’.
When we consider these words of Imam ʿAli (ʿa), we realize that if a pillar of a large tent falls, then irregardless of any other securing points, the tent will collapse and nothing can save it. Similarly, when the connection of an individual is cut from Allah due to not praying, then their other actions will also have no effect and the individual will be at a complete loss. We have many widely transmitted narrations which show that the Prophet (ṣ) continued to engage in prayers even at the very last moments of his life. Similarly, Imam ʿAli (ʿa) was martyred while engaged in prayer and the same can be seen in the lives of the other Imams (ʿa) as well.
A Final Word--- The Last Message of Imam ʿAli (ʿa) to his Shias (followers)
In a commentary on the words of Imam ʿAli (ʿa), Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has mentioned: ‘In the second part of the 149th sermon of the Nahj al-Balāghah, Imam ʿAli (ʿa) is narrated to have said a very short but meaningful set of words. In these words, the Imam (ʿa) has made himself a lesson for his companions and he has said to them: “Yesterday, I was your companion and confidant while today (on my deathbed), I am a lesson for you. Tomorrow I shall separate from you (and bid this world goodbye).” ’
Here, Imam ʿAli (ʿa) is telling his companions that while I was the conqueror of Khaybar, Aḥzāb, and Badr, and I was a powerful individual amongst you, today, with just the passing of one day, things have changed and I am sitting on my deathbed. The Imam (ʿa) is giving im-portant lesson to his companions and indeed, to all those who have heard his words. The world is quickly passing and we all will give away to the vicissitudes of time. When we read these words of the Imam (ʿa), we realize just how valueless the material world is, and this is the most powerful lesson in living a virtuous and Godly life.