Some researchers and historians note that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu according to them was not a man of the state or a man of politics who had control of affairs. Whilst others assume that he erred when he dismissed the various governors when taking charge of the Khilafah, specifically in dismissing Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu. And yet others assume that he was a warlord who only knew how to resolve issues through the sword, whereas a politician only resorts to the sword after his opinion becomes blunt and he no more has feasible options. Likewise some have criticised him saying that he was weak in front of his comrades, he would submit to their demands and would not control them authoritatively.
However, there is ample evidence which does not leave a shadow of doubt in that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was extremely intelligent, well-aware of the affairs, and a man of sound reasoning. Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhum knew that and thus had taken him as an advisor to themselves. How can an intelligent person with sound reasoning be weak in politics when correct politics require reasoning, and reasoning requires intelligence and wisdom; and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu possessed both at the same time?
As for his experience in politics, there is no stronger evidence in this regard than the fact that Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appointed him to convey the imperatives of the Shari’ah to all the Arabs in the season of Hajj, and to read the opening verses of Surah Bara’ah. Likewise there is no greater evidence to establish that than the fact that Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had sent him as a commander to Yemen where after the entirety of the Hamadan tribe accepted Islam without any remonstration or war. Hence the one who criticises him by averring that he was unaware of politics is actually criticising Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam who delegated him to carry out these great tasks.
Furthermore, Sheikhayn (Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma) would consult with him excessively in political matters. Hence al Tabari has cited that when the Persians gathered in Nahawand in great numbers to fight the Muslims ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu gathered the people and consulted with them regarding whether he should set out himself to combat them. Majority of the people and some members of the council told him to do so. He again consulted with the people for a second time and this time ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu stood up and said:
أما بعد، يا أمير المؤمنين، فإنك إن أشخصت أهل الشام من شامهم سارت الروم إلى ذراريهم، وإنك إن أشخصت أهل اليمن من يمنهم سارت الحبشة إلى ذراريهم، وإنك إن أشخصت من هذه الأرض انتقضت عليك العرب من أطرافها وأقطارها حتى يكون ما تدع وراءك أهم إليك مما بين يديك من العورات والعيالات، أقرر هؤلاء في أمصارهم، واكتب إلى أهل البصرة فليتفرقوا ثلاث فرق: فرقة في حرمهم وذراريهم، وفرقة في أهل عهدهم حتى لا ينتقضوا، ولتسر فرقة إلى إخوانهم بالكوفة مددا لهم. إن الإعاجم إن ينظروا إليه غدا قالوا: هذا أمير العرب وأصلها، فكان ذلك أشد لكلبهم عليك، وإما ما ذكرت من مسير القوم فإن الله هو أكره لمسيرهم منك، وهو أقدر على تغيير ما يكره، وأما عددهم فإنا لم نكن نقاتل فيما مضى بالكثرة ولكن بالنصر. فقال عمر: هذا هو الرأي، كنت أحب أن أتابع عليه.
After praising Allah, O Amir al Mu’minin, if you dispatch the people of Syria from Syria the Romans will target their wives and children. And if you dispatch the people of Yemen from Yemen, the Abyssinians will target their wives and children. And if you dispatch the people of this land, all the Arabs will attack you from all directions and places, whereafter what you leave behind will be more worrisome for you, i.e. the families and children, than what is ahead of you. Keep all of these people in their cities and write to the people of Basrah that they should distribute themselves into three groups: a group should remain with the women and children, a group should see to the people with who there is a truce so that they do not breach, and a group should go to their brothers in Kufah as reinforcements. Thereafter, if the Persians see you tomorrow, they will say “This is the leader of Arabs and the centre of their might” and thus that will cause them to unite against you even more ferociously. As for what you have stated regarding the march of the Persians, Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala dislikes their march more than you and He is more capable of altering that which He dislikes. And as for their numbers, we have never previously fought based on huge numbers, but rather on the basis of the help of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.” ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu said, “This is the opinion. I wanted someone to back me up on it.”
‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was a Mufti who often times ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu would refer to in many difficult Shar’i matters just as he was a very bright consultant in much of the complex political issues. The following is the attestation of ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu in this regard:
أقضانا علي وأقرؤنا أبي
The most well versed in judicial matters is ‘Ali and the most well versed in the Qur’an is Ubayy.
And al Muhibb al Tabari has mentioned in al Riyad al Nadirah from Abu Sa’id al Khudri radiya Llahu ‘anhu that he heard ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu saying to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu after he had asked him regarding something to which he had responded:
أعوذ بالله أن أعيش في قوم لست فيهم يا أبا الحسن
I seek the refuge of Allah from living amidst a people in which you are not present, O Abu al Hassan.
And Yahya ibn ‘Aqil narrates that ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu would say to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu when he would ask him about something and he would help him resolve it:
لا أبقاني الله بعدك يا علي
May Allah not keep me alive after you, O ‘Ali.
Likewise, Ibn Sa’d has narrated in his al Tabaqat the following from Sa’id ibn al Musayyab:
كان عمر بن الخطاب يتعوذ من معضلة ليس لها أبو الحسن
‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu would seek refuge from a contention for which ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not present.
It is also narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma that he would say:
إذا حدثنا ثقة عن علي الفتيا لا نعدوها
If a reliable person tells us of any of the legal verdicts of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, we do not bypass them.
And al Hakim has narrated from ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud radiya Llahu ‘anhu:
أقضى أهل المدينة علي
The most proficient in his legal verdicts in Madinah was ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
Furthermore, the political process of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu is even more evident when considering that he offered Abu Bakrah radiya Llahu ‘anhu the governorship of Basrah after the Battle of Jamal; for Abu Bakrah radiya Llahu ‘anhu was from those Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum who settled in Basrah at a very early time, when it was first founded, and thus was well acquainted with it and what was more suitable for it when compared to other places. Hence, if he took charge of its affairs, he would be more adept at administering it well and running it in a way that was best for it and its people.
And when Abu Bakrah radiya Llahu ‘anhu politely declined ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu asked him for his opinion as to who he should appoint. He undoubtedly made a brilliant choice and suggested a person who would be most capable of administering it well, for he suggested that Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma be appointed. ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu accepted and appointed Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma as the governor of Basrah and he appointed with him Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan to take care of the taxes and the wealth of the national treasury (he was part of those who stayed away from the fight and did not participate).
‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu probably chose Ziyad to be an assistant of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma and appointed him to oversee the taxes and the national treasury in order to reinstate peace in the hearts of the people of Basrah, and in order to pacify the panic of warfare which had just overtaken them. For in such circumstances the conqueror normally appoints men who by force subdue those who he struggled against him, in order to debase them and make them taste the bitter taste of their rebellion and non-compliance.
Hence, the fact that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu chose a person who was completely impartial and who had nothing whatsoever to do with the war, and the fact that he did not side with one of the two contending groups as well, it is clear that he wanted to implement justice and was keen on reinstating stability within the community. His intention was never to seek retribution or to soothe his anguish.
And as much as these stances indicate to the brilliance of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and his outstanding political prowess, they also allude to his appreciation and respect for the right of others to practice their Ijtihad as well, and to his immense respect for the honour of the Muslims even after achieving victory. Hence, he did not kill a wounded person, he did not kill a fleeing person, he did not take any wealth as booty, and nor did he violate the honour of any person. These are all actions which allude to his immaculate assessment of the issue from its various angles.
Likewise, al Baqillani whilst elaborating upon the political experience of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, his good strategizing, his far-reaching opinions, and his brightness and intelligence states:
هذا مع ما ظهر من إعظام كافة الصحابة له وإطباقهم على علمه وفضله وثاقب فهمه ورأيه وفقه نفسه وقول مثل عمر فيه: لولا علي لهلك عمر، وكثرة مطابقتهم له في الإحكام، وسماع قوله في الحلال والحرام، ثم ما ظهر من فقهه وعلمه في قتال أهل القبلة من استدعائهم، ومناظرتهم، وترك مبادأتهم، والنبذ إليهم قبل نصب الحرب معهم وندائه: لا تبدأوهم بالحرب حتى يبدأوكم، ولا يتبع مدبر، ولا يجهز على جريح، ولا يكبس بيت، ولا تهج امرأة، ورده حالات القوم إليهم، وترك اغتنام أموالهم، وكثرة الأمر لابن عباس وغيره بقبول شهادة أهل البصرة وصفين إذا اختلطوا وضعت الحرب أوزارها، والصلاة خلفهم، وقوله لمن سأل عن ذلك: ليس في الصلاة والعدالة اختلفنا، وإنما اختلفنا في إقامة حد من الحدود، فصلوا خلفهم واقبلوا شهادة العدول منهم إلى غير ذلك مما سنه من حرب المسلمين حتى قال جلة أهل العلم: لولا حرب علي لمن خالفه لما عرفت السنة في قتال أهل القبلة. هذا مع ما علم من شجاعته وغنائه وإحاطته علما بتدبير الجيوش وإقامة الحدود والحروب، وقوله أي علي ظاهرا من غير رد أحد حفظ عليه، إن قريشا تقول: إن ابن أبي طالب رجل شجاع، ولكن لا رأي له في الحرب، لله أبوهم، ومن ذا يكون أبصر بها مني وأشد لها مراسا، والله لقد نصضت فيها وما بلغت العشرين، وها أنا اليوم قد ذرفت على الستين، ولكن لا أمرة لمن لا يطاع
Added to this is the reverence all the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum had for him; their unanimous acknowledgement of his knowledge, virtue, far-reaching understanding, sound judgement, and his inherent talent of jurisprudence; and also the statement of ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu in which he said, “Had ‘Ali not been there ‘Umar would have been destroyed.”; likewise their agreement with him in many rulings, and acceptance of his opinion in matters pertaining to Halal and Haram. His deep understanding of how to fight the people of the Qiblah also displayed his brilliance. For he first invited them, debated with them, did not initiate the battles with them, communicated to them his disassociation from them if they did not surrender, and announced that do not start the battle with them unless they start, that no fleeing person should be followed, no wounded person should be killed, no house should not be entered by force, and no woman should be terrified. Similarly, he returned the conveyances of the rebels to them and did not take their belongings as booty. He also time and again ordered Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma and others to accept the testimony of the people of Basrah and Siffin when they interact with one another after the battles were over. He also ordered them to read Salah behind them and when asked responded saying, “We have not disputed regarding Salah and integrity, we have merely disputed regarding the execution of a capital punishment from the capital punishments of Allah. So read Salah behind them and accept the testimony of the upright amongst them.” He had thus laid the precedent for civil strife and warfare amongst Muslims themselves, so much so that great scholars have asserted, “Had ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu not fought those who opposed him, the Sunnah regarding fighting the rebels would never have been known.” All of this is notwithstanding what is known regarding his courageousness, his immense contribution, and his encompassing knowledge of arranging armies and establishing the commands of Allah and warfare. He is reported to have said, “The Quraysh say, ‘Surely Ibn Abi Talib is a courageous man, but he has no knowledge of warfare.’ For Allah be sacrificed their father, who is there who is more knowledgeable regarding it than me and who engaged in it more than me? By Allah, I rose to it when I had barely reached twenty, and here I am today edging on sixty. But there is no leadership for a person who is not obeyed.”
Some researchers are of the opinion that one of the reasons why the Fitnah intensified is that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu dismissed all the governors of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu before the pledges of the people of the various cities reached him despite Mughirah ibn Shu’bah radiya Llahu ‘anhu forewarning him of the repercussions of doing so. This particular criticism is not credible for the following reasons:
Firstly, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was a Mujtahid and thus enjoyed the discretion of dismissing all the governors of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu if he deemed doing so appropriate. Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam who was infallible had appointed Khalid ibn Sa’id ibn al ‘As over San’a’ and ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu over ‘Umman, but Abu Bakr al Siddiq radiya Llahu ‘anhu dismissed both of them; he dismissed Khalid and appointed al Muhajir ibn Abi Umayyah in his place radiya Llahu ‘anhu, likewise he dismissed ‘Amr radiya Llahu ‘anhu and appointed Hudhayfah ibn Mihsan radiya Llahu ‘anhu in his stead. Likewise Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu had appointed the two great commanders Khalid ibn al Walid and al Muthanna ibn Harithah radiya Llahu ‘anhuma and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu dismissed both of them, despite their talents and abilities. Similarly, ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu had appointed ‘Amr ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu over Egypt and Mughirah ibn Shu’bah radiya Llahu ‘anhu over Kufah and ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu dismissed both of them and appointed Ibn Abi Sarh over Egypt and Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas over Kufah.
So, will an intelligent person ever criticise Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhum for dismissing these capable governors? In every time there are conditions and circumstances which occur which compel the successor to do that which his predecessor did not do, for the one who is present sees what the absent cannot.
Secondly, their assertion that he dismissed all the governors of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu is erroneous, for only the dismissal of Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu in Sham, Khalid ibn Sa’id ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu in Makkah, and Abu Musa al Ash’ari radiya Llahu ‘anhu in Kufah had occurred, and then also the last of the three was still kept in his position. As for Basrah, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amir himself left where after ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not appoint anyone over it. And as for Yemen, its governor Ya’la ibn Munyah took all the tax wealth of Yemen and came to Makkah after the murder of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu and joined Talhah and al Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhuma; and participated with them in the Battle of Jamal. Likewise Ibn Abi Sarh, the governor of Egypt, came with a delegation and appointed his cousin as the deputy; and when he returned he found that Ibn Abi Hudhayfah had taken charge of the affairs by force and the latter had thereafter banished him, he thus went to Ramlah, in Palestine, and stayed there till he passed away. It is clear from the above that the governors of Yemen and Basrah had relinquished their positions and that the governor of Egypt was dismissed by the rebel Ibn Abi Hudhayfah. As for the governor of Kufah, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu had maintained him in his position. Thus, in actual fact the dismissal of only two individuals occurred: Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu the governor of Sham, and Khalid ibn Sa’id ibn al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu the governor of Makkah.
Furthermore, it is crucial to emphasise that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not appoint any person who played any role whatsoever in the murder of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu. He instead appointed the choicest of people over the Muslims. Hence, some of the governors who he had appointed upon the various regions are the following:
Sahl ibn Hunayf radiya Llahu ‘anhu whom he appointed over Sham. A great Sahabi who participated in the battles of Badr and Uhud. He was one of those who remained firm on the side of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam when the people had staggered and had pledged allegiance to him upon death and had shot multiple arrows in order to defend Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He also participated in the Battle of Khandaq and all the other campaigns with Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Qais ibn Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah radiya Llahu ‘anhu whom he appointed over Egypt. He was the security guard of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He was also generous and a person of sound reasoning and intelligence.
And ‘Ubaidullah ibn ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib radiya Llahu ‘anhu whom he appointed over Yemen. He was one year younger than his brother ‘Abdullah and was noble, generous and a man with an outstanding reputation.
Thirdly, as for their assertion that he dismissed the governors before the pledge of the people of the various cities reached him, it is important to note that appointing governors to states is not contingent on the reaching of the pledges according to all the Muslims. Hence, once the prominent people, to whom the community resorts when wanting to resolve issues, pledge to any Khalifah, his leadership becomes binding upon all the distant cities in light of the Shari’ah and in light of reason.
If the appointment of governors really was dependent upon the reaching of the pledges of the masses then the appointment of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu should be deemed incomplete, for he dispatched the army of Usamah radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the armies which went out to subdue to renegades and those who had refused to pay the Zakat before the pledges of the people of Makkah, Ta’if and Jawa’i in Bahrayn reached him. Likewise, ‘Umar’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu appointment should also be deemed incomplete because before the pledges of the people of Yemen and the Muslim armies which were in Sham and Iraq reached him, he had already dismissed Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu and appointed Abu ‘Ubaidah radiya Llahu ‘anhu in his stead. ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu had also acted in many matters of the Muslims before the pledges of the people of the cities reached him.
Fourthly, with regards to what these researchers have quoted from the books of history regarding Mughirah ibn Shu’bah radiya Llahu ‘anhu warning ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu of the repercussions of dismissing the governors at a very early stage and thereafter advising him to dismiss them; and with regards to statement of Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, “He advised you in the first instance (when he warned against dismissing) and deceived you in the second (when he advised to dismiss), they are invalid for the following reasons:
Having said that, it is also averred that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu utilised force inappropriately by giving preference to warfare over peaceful negotiation and displaying leniency. With regard to this, it is important to note that in his political strategizing he is only known to have resorted to this in extreme circumstances and at the time of need when engaging in warfare seemed to be the only viable option.
‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, despite being very courageous and an advancing hero in battles, that alone did not compel him to resort to warfare each time. For he would not resort to warfare but when it was impossible for him to extinguish the fire of Fitnah. This was not his practice alone, rather there was a precedent for him in the noble practice of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu fought those Arabs who refused to pay Zakat because he felt that it was not permissible for him to exercise leniency with them due to the statement of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:
أمرت أن أقاتل الناس حتى يقولوا لا إله إلا الله، فمن قالها فقد عصم مني ماله ونفسه إلا بحقه، وحسابه على الله
I have been ordered to fight the people till they confess that there is no deity besides Allah. Whoever confesses it saves himself and his wealth from me unless one of its rights are violated and his reckoning will be to Allah.
He clarified his substantiation from this hadith telling the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum that Zakat is the right of wealth.
Likewise, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu waged war against those who he felt had rebelled against the Khilafah and according to him adopting a soft approach with them was not permissible. He thus said:
عهد إلي- وفي رواية- أمرني رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أن أقاتل الناكثين والقاسطين والمارقين
Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam emphasised upon me, and in another narration, ordered me to fight the violators of their pledge, the transgressors and the rebels.
So, as was mentioned, the known strategy of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was to deploy wisdom and resolve the matter exercising leniency as much as that was possible. But where that was not feasible, he would resort to warfare. This is clearly understood from what he said to the delegation of Kufah in Dhi Qar:
وقد دعوتكم لتشهدوا معنا أخواننا من أهل البصرة، فإن يرجعوا فذاك ما نريد، وان يلجوا داويناهم بالرفق، وبايناهم حتى يبدأونا بظلم
… I have invited you so that you witness with us the encounter with our brothers from the people of Basrah. If they return then that is what we want; if they persist, we will treat them with leniency and we will stay away from them till they initiate the transgression against us.
Likewise, when he halted in Kufah he stood to address the people. He praised Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and then said:
يا أيها الناس املكوا أنفسكم، كفوا أيديكم وألسنتكم عن هؤلاء القوم، فإنهم إخوانكم، واصبروا على ما يأتيكم، وإياكم أن تسبقونا، فإن المخصوم غدا من خصم اليوم
O people, control yourself. Withhold your hands and your tongues from these people, for they are your brothers. Be patient on that which awaits you. And beware of doing anything before us, for the defeated tomorrow will be the one who is defeated today.
Similarly, when he received the news that the army of Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu had not allowed his governor entry into the lands of Syria, he called Talhah and al Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhuma and said to them:
سأمسك الأمر ما استمسك، فإذا لم أجد بدا فآخر الدواء الكي
I will withhold the matter as long as it can. Then if I do not find any option, the last treatment is always branding.
And in Siffin he would say to his companions:
لا تقاتلوا القوم حتى يبدأوكم، فإتنم بحمد الله على حجة، وترككم إياهم حتى يبدأوكم حجة أخرى
Do not fight the people until they initiate the fight, for surely you are upon evidence. And leaving them till they initiate the fight is another evidence in your favour.
Probably the clearest evidence in this regard is his stance regarding the murderers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu. His stance regarding them was based on dealing with them with wisdom and anticipating the appropriate opportunity in order to establish the penalty of Qisas (retribution) on them. Hence, when the people had pledged, he stood up to address them. One of the things he discussed was the sacred things which Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala has sanctified, especially the sanctity of a Muslim, and that a true Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands people are safe, and that it is not permissible to offend a Muslim unless it is due to that which is deemed compulsory.
It is as though in this address he was very subtly alluding to the killing of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu and to the fact that his murderers violated his blood and offended him in an inappropriate manner. To the extent that the killers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu understood the strategy of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu by way of this sermon and thus they wanted to warn him of their might so that he acts with caution regarding their matter. Therefore, after the address one of them stood up and said:
إنا نمر الأمر إمرار الرسن
خذها إليك واحذرن أبا حسن
بمشرقيات كغدران اللبن
صولة أقوام كأسداد السفن
حتى يمرن علي غير عنن
ونطعن الملك بلين كالشطن
Take that O Abu al Hassan, and duly take heed. We control this thing as if with a bridle on the nose.
With the might of men as strong as an endless row of ships, and with swords as shiny as rivulets of milk.
We softly stab at the kingdom, as if with a rope. Causing it to stumble forth without any sense of direction.
He thus replied saying:
سوف أكيس بعدها وأستمر
إني عجزت عجزة لا أعتذر
وأجمع الأمر الشتيت المنتشر
أرفع من ذيلي ما كنت أجر
أو يتركوني والسلاح يبتدر
إن لم يشاغبني العجول المنتصر
I have become incapacitated with an inability after which I will not ask to be excused. I will intelligently act after it and continue on my mission.
I will lift of my lower garment what before I used to drag. And I will gather the matter which is disrupted and scattered.
That is if the hasty desirer of revenge does not interrupt me, or they leave me when the weapon is striking in advance.
It is clear from the very first instance that his stance regarding the murderers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu revolved around calmness, patience, and intelligence; for he understood the depths of the matter very well and thus knew well what he was required to do and what he was required to leave in these trying times.
Hence, the response he gave to those who were seeking the killers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu in order to execute them is suggestive of his intelligence and political shrewdness together with his judicial and jurisprudential excellence. Having experience in politics is a must for a successful ruler, for it is by virtue of it that he is able to assess matters for what they are and place every matter in its appropriate place, especially in these precarious conditions in which ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu took charge of the matter of the Muslims. The Fitnah was at its peak, the matters were unstable, the opinions were diverse, the people were gripped by fear, and the depth of the Fitnah was still to be unravelled, for the Khawarij who were ever alert had not left Madinah after the murder of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu nor did they leave after the appointment of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. So, what did they really intend by staying on?
Due to all of the above, it was the duty of Amir al Mu’minin to tread circumspectly when dealing with these rebels, and to deploy with them the greatest amount of leniency till the suitable time for executing the command of Allah regarding them arrives. But those who were not inspired to understand the depths of this stance and those who had made their emotions the criterion regarding the murderers of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu insisted upon taking retribution from them as soon as possible.
Insistence upon seeking retribution for the blood of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu from the very first day that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was nominated was not politically prudent in any way. Likewise persistence upon the new Khalifah to bring forward the murderers of the previous Khalifah in order to kill them in retribution also was very far from wisdom, due to it placing immense strain on the new Khalifah in a context where it would lead to the Fitnah intensifying, and killing and murdering continuing unabated, which would all lead to disastrous results the extent of which would only be known to Allah.
But ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu exercised precaution in every matter which he assumed would be behind the demand for the retribution of the blood of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu. He thus tried to explain to the demanders, at the head of who were Talhah and al Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, his viewpoint regarding delaying the matter. Hence, he said to them in a peaceful conversation:
يا إخوتاه، إني لست أجهل ما تعلمون، ولكن كيف أصنع بقوم يملكوننا ولا نملكهم؟ ها هم هؤلاء قد ثارت معهم عبدانكم وثابت إليهم أعرابكم، وهم خلالكم يسومونكم ما يشاؤون، فهل ترون مرضعا لقدرة على شيء مما تريدون
O my brothers, I am not unaware of what you know. But how do I deal with a people who have control over us and we have no control over them? Here they are, your slaves have revolted with them and your Bedouins have joined their ranks. They are amidst you and can impose upon you whatever they want. So, do you see any room for any ability to do any of what you intend?
It is only then that their reasoning clicked in and they all said, “No.”
Thereafter, when ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu saw that they were understanding and was now sure that they were beginning to realise the reality of the matter, he clarified in no uncertain terms that he agreed with them in principle and that he was not contending the heinousness of the crime perpetrated by those sinful hands. Hence, he continued his speech saying:
فلا والله لا أرى إلا رأيا ترونه-إن شاء الله- إن هذا الأمر أمر جاهلية، وإن لهؤلاء القوم مادة، وذلك إن الشيطان لم يشرع شريعة قط فيبرح الأرض من أخذ بها أبدا
No, by Allah, I will only see that as ideal what you see as ideal, if Allah wills. This matter is a matter of the pre-Islamic era and these people have substance. That is to say that never was a Shari’ah ever coined and Shaitan did not interfere with those who tried to hold on to it.
He further went on to explain and inform them that people are different and that they do not all hold the same opinion: some will oppose their opinion, some will agree with them in what they want, and some will be neutral. He said:
إن الناس من هذا الأمر إذا حرك على أمور: فرقة ترى ما ترون، وفرقة ترى ما لا ترون، وفرقة لا ترى هذا ولا ذاك
People, regarding this matter when it is stirred, will be upon different views: a group will feel what you feel, a group will not feel what you feel, and a group will not feel this way or the other way.
Thereafter, he disclosed his final stance and said:
حتى يهدأ الناس، وتقع القلوب مواقعها، وتؤخذ الحقوق، فاهدأوا عني، وانظروا ماذا يأتيكم ثم عودوا
(Let the matter rest) till the people calm down and the hearts are restored to their normal states. So be peaceful with me and thereafter see what comes your way and thereafter return (with your case).
But this wise political strategy was not understood by some and was not convincing enough to them, for people when in the state of fury and succumbing to emotions at times fail to asses matters as they stand correctly, as a result, their assessment of the circumstances becomes perverted and they start to think of the impossible as very likely and possible. Hence, they said:
نقضي الذي علينا لا نؤخره، والله إن عليا مستغن برأيه عنا
We will carry out our duty and will not delay in doing so. For by Allah ‘Ali is independent from us because of his personal opinion.
Subsequent to that, when ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was informed of their statement, he actively went on to demonstrate to them that neither was he nor they capable of doing anything in such hostile circumstances. He thus announced:
برئت الذمة من عبد لم يرجع إلى مواليه، فتذامرت السبئية والأعراب وقالوا: لنا غدا مثلها ولا نستطيع نحتج فيهم بشيء
“The covenant of protection is withdrawn from every slave who does not return to his masters.” The Saba’iyyah and the Bedouins started grumbling and they said, “There will be for us tomorrow another opportunity like it and we cannot protest against them with anything.”
It seems as though it occurred to the spear headers of the Fitnah that the Khalifah wants to strip them of their helpers who had their backs and were standing by their side. Hence, they remonstrated and induced the Bedouins to stay on and eventually they obeyed and stayed. On the third day after the pledging of the people, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu came out to the people and said to them:
أخرجوا عنكم الأعراب
Take out the Bedouins from your vicinity.
And he said:
يا معشر الأعراب الحقوا بمياهكم
O Bedouins, return to your waters.
But the Saba’iyyah refused and the Bedouins followed. He thereafter entered his house and Talhah and al Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhuma came to him in a group of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum and he said to them:
Take your revenge.
They said, “They (the rebels) turned a blind eye to that.” So ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:
هم والله بعد اليوم أعشى وأبى
They, by Allah, after today will be blinder and more adamant.
He thereafter said the poetic verse:
أمرتهم أمرا يديخ الأعاديا
لو أن قومي طاوعتني سراتهم
If the leaders of my people obeyed me, I would come to them with a matter which would humiliate the enemy.
Despite the signs of satisfaction appearing from the expressions of Talhah and al Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhuma after ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu had fully dissected the matter for them and had explained to them his stance which he adopted based on what saw, they still disagreed with him. They believed that the most effective way of pouncing upon these Khawarij was to go to Basrah and Kufah and launch a sudden attack upon them from an army from those regions. Hence al Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:
دعني أت الكوفة فلا تفجأوا إلا وأنا في خيل
Let me come to Kufah. And then you will not suddenly be attacked but that I will be in an army.
And Talhah radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:
دعني فلآت البصرة، فلا يفجأوك إلا وأنا في خيل
Allow me to come to Basrah. They will then not surprise you but that I will be in an army.
But we find that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu still exercised patience and said to them:
حتى أنظر في ذلك
(I will not decide anything) till I see into the matter.
‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu most likely feared the outbreak of another Fitnah and the matter turning into civil strife inside Madinah whose consequences would not be favourable. Therefore, he did not accede to the request of Talhah and al Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhuma.
As for the allegation that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was weak when it came to dealing with his companions, the only possible interpretation of that is that he had subjected himself to the principle of Shura (mutual council), a principle which is condoned in the Shari’ah. There are two verses which discuss this principle, one entails an imperative regarding it and the other entails condoning those who practice upon it. Hence in the first verse the Qur’an addresses Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and says:
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ ۖ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللهِۚ إِنَّ اللهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ
So, by the mercy from Allah, O Muhammad, you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude (in speech) and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. Do pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, they rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely upon him.
And the second verse is the word of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala in Surah al Shura:
وَالَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَىٰ بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
And those who have responded to their lord and established prayer and whose affair is (determined by) consultation among themselves, and from what we have provided them, they spend.
As for the Sunnah of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, it is replete with practical examples in which Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam consulted with his Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum. To the extent that Abu Hurairah radiya Llahu ‘anhu would say:
ما رأيت أحدا أكثر مشورة لأصحابه من رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم
I have not seen anyone who would consult so frequently with his companions than Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Likewise, the Rightly Guided Khalifahs also followed the principle of Shura and would often seek the council of the people of intelligence and reason from amongst their companions. They would at times even accept the opinions of their subjects.
Similarly, the companions of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu held a certain opinion, and thus he could not oppose it, not because of weakness and helplessness, but due to going with the opinion of the group. In spite of this, he would not always accept the opinions of his companions, rather he would at times hold onto his opinion when it became clear to him that it was correct and sound, and would thus hold on to the truth. For example, he opposed his companions in the issue of arbitration; those who had detracted themselves from supporting him felt that the war against Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the army of Syria should continue, whereas he felt that the Book of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala should be accepted as the arbiter in the dispute between him and them when they promulgated that. He thus said to the messenger of Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu, “I am more deserving than you to follow the book of Allah,” as appears in an authentic narration of Musnad Ahmed and Sahih al Bukhari.
In reality, the matter is not a matter of weakness, short sightedness of opinion, and failure of political engagement. Instead the situation had changed from what it was previously, and this change had entailed a complete metamorphosis of the groups that surrounded the Khalifah. They were not the companions of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, but were mostly Bedouins and slaves, and the difference between the two is obvious. Interestingly, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was asked, “Why is it that the people disputed against you and ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu and did not dispute against Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma?” He replied saying:
رعية أبي بكر وعمر مثلي ومثل عثمان سعد وعبد الرحمن، إما رعية عثمان ورعيتي أشباهك
The subjects of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma were people like me, ‘Uthman, and Sa’d and ‘Abdur Rahman. As for the subjects of ‘Uthman and my subjects, they are people like yourself.
The crux of this answer is that the people were not faithful to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma because their political decisions were different to the political decisions of ‘Uthman and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, rather it was because most of their subjects were Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum who were reared in the lap of prophethood which had fashioned them, and purified their traits from the ill-influences of the pre-Islamic era. Most of this blessed generation had passed on toward the latter part of the Khilafah of ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu. As for those who succeeded thereafter, they were overwhelmed by the huge presence of slaves and renegade Bedouins whom Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu had returned to the Din through the swords of those noble men.
Ya’qub ibn Sufyan al Fasawi has narrated with his transmission to Abu Salih:
رأيت علي بن أبي طالب أخذ المصحف فوضعه على رأسه حتى إني لأرى ورقه يتقعقع، ثم قال: اللهم قد مللتهم وملوني وأبغضتبهم وأبغضوني، وحملوني علي غير طبيعتي وخلقي وأخلاق لم تكن تعرف لي، اللهم فأبدلني بهم خيرا منهم، وأبدلهم بي شرا مني، اللهم أمت قلوبهم موت الملح في الماء. قال أحد رجال هذا السند: يعني أهل الكوفة
I saw ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu taking the Qur’an and placing it on his head, to the extent that I could see its pages clattering, and saying, “O Allah I am tired of them and they are tired of me, I despise them and they despise me. They compelled me to act according to what is not my temperament and character and to adopt traits which were not previously known to me. O Allah, so grant me in place of them better than them and grant them in place of me someone worse than me. O Allah, cause their hearts to die like how salt dissolves in water.” One of the narrators of this transmission says, “referring to the people of Kufah.”
This change also entailed a shift in the centre of the Khilafah, for it shifted from Hijaz to ‘Iraq. From Hijaz where the pristine Prophetic Sunnah was alive to ‘Iraq where personal interests, leanings and various heretical ideas were deemed decisive. One of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum actually realised this. Hence ‘Abdullah ibn Salam radiya Llahu ‘anhu took hold of the reigns of the horse of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu when he was preparing to leave from Madinah for ‘Iraq and said to him:
يا أمير المؤمنين: لا تخرج منها-أي المدينة- فوالله لئن خرجت منها لا ترجع إليها ولا يعود سلطان المسلمين إليها أبدا
O Amir al Mu’minin, do not leave it (Madinah). By Allah if you leave it you will not return to it, and the kingdom of the Muslims will never return to it ever.
Likewise change had occurred in the financial standing of the people as well. Hence the initial era of the Rightly Guided Khalifahs was an era of difficulty and disinclination from this world, but the era of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was an era of opulence which had engulfed all the people and had become part of their lives. This had brought about immense change in the lives of the people. But ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was still upon his default temperament of disinclination from the world and taking the wealth only where justified by the Shari’ah and spending it in its correct places. Hence, once his brother ‘Aqil complained to him and asked him for a favour.
‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said to him, “Be patient till my stipend comes.”
But he insisted so ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said to him, “Go and take what is in the shops of the people.”
He retorted, “Do you want to make me a thief?”
‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu replied saying, “You as well, you also want to make me thief and give you from the wealth of the people.”
He said, “I will go to Muawiyah then.”
He responded, “That is your choice.”
Added to all of this is the change that one notices which occurred in the ideologies of people and their thoughts because of the Fitnah. Before the Fitnah all the people subscribed to one ideology, but thereafter suddenly they became divided into groups and sects. One person would subscribe to one group or one belief and the other would subscribe to another. It is without a doubt that this division led to the bickering and disunity intensifying, which resulted in the weakening of the centre of Khalifah and his control over matters.
Surprisingly, even though the winds of change had brought about immense differences in the era of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu: changes in the groups that surrounded the Khalifah, in the centre of the Khilafah, in the thoughts and ideologies of the people, and in their financial standing; but the stance of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu still remained firm without being tainted with various leanings and tendencies of that time. He did not go on to accept the new changes, for he preferred failure in everything else over failure in his guidance and justice.
Likewise, if the crux of politics is surrendering to the spirit of the time and its advancements, taking advantage of opportunities, and actualising the personal interests and selfish benefits of the ruler and those who throng around him, then ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not a politician in that sense. And if the crux of politics is a good understanding of the circumstances, knowledge, intelligence, striving to bring about the common interest of the entire Ummah, and giving preference to noble political practices like justice, equality and benevolence, then ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was on a very high pedestal of such politics.
The conclusion is that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was from the best of rulers and politicians if the times continued to be as they were in the initial days. However, now that the spirit of the times was moving in a direction different to the direction it was moving in before, his outlook to politics no more remained effective in those circumstances, which some have interpreted as his inability in politics.
 Al Khudri: Tarikh al Umam al Islamiyyah, 2/51.
 Hassan Ibrahim: Tarikh al Islam al Siyasi, 1/273.
 Taha Hussain: al Fitnah al Kubra (‘Ali wa Banuhu), p. 165.
 Ibn Hisham: al Sirah, 4/203.
 Al Muhibb al Tabari: al Riyad al Nadirah, 3/223.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 3/480; al Tabbani al Maghribi: Ifadah al Akhbar, 2/17.
 Al Bukhari: Sahih al Bukhari: Chapter of Tafsir, 5/149.
 Al Muhibb al Tabari: al Riyad al Nadirah, 3/166.
 Yahya ibn ‘Aqil al Khuza’i al Basri. He narrated from a group of Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, some being: ‘Imran ibn Hussain and Anas ibn Malik. Ibn Ma’in said, “There is no problem with him.” Ibn Hibban has deemed him reliable and al A-Dhahabi said about him, “Truthful.” See: al Bukhari: al Tarikh al Kabir, 4/2/292; Ibn Abi Hatim, al Jarh wa al Ta’dil, 9/176; al Dhahabi: al Kashif, 3/231; Ibn Hajr: al Tahdhib, 11/259.
 Al Muhibb al Tabari: al Riyad al Nadirah, 3/166.
 Ibn Sa’d: al Tabaqat, 2/239.
 Ibn Sa’d: al Tabaqat, 2/238; Ibn ‘Abdul Barr: al Isti’ab, 3/40.
 Al Hakim: al Mustadrak: 3/135.
 Ibn al Athir: al Kamil, 3/256.
 Ibn Sa’d: al Tabaqat, 7/15.
 Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan. The scribe and the orator. He was the scribe of Abu Musa al Ash’ari radiya Llahu ‘anhu when he governed Basrah, and was the deputy of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu upon the region of Persia. He governed Basrah for Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu who later gave him control over Khurasan, Sijistan, Bahrayn and ‘Umman. Aside from being very brutal and harsh he had many outstanding qualities. Qabisah ibn Jabir said about him, “I have not seen anyone with a livelier club nor more honourable companions than Ziyad.” And al Dhahabi said about him, “He was from the prominent people in terms of his discretion, intelligence, earnestness, and shrewdness, and his leadership and nobility was proverbial.” He passed away in the plague in 53 A.H. / 672 A.C. See: Ibn Sa’d: al Tabaqat, 7/99; al Bukhari: al Tarikh al Saghir, 1/115; al Dhahabi: Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ, 3/494.
 Al Baqillani: al Tamhid fi al Radd ‘ala al Mulhidah, p. 228-229.
 Khalifah: al Tarikh, p. 97.
 Ibid. p. 123.
 Ibid. p. 102.
 Ibid. p. 122.
 Ibid. p. 155.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/241.
 Ibid. 4/253, 264.
 Khalifah: al Tarikh, p. 201.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/442.
 Khalifah: al Tarikh, p. 201.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/442.
 Ibid. 4/449.
 Ibid. 4/421.
 Ibid. 4/450.
 Ibid. 4/421.
 Ibid. 4/445.
 Ibid. 4/442.
 Ibn Sa’d: al Tabaqat, 3/471; Ibn Hajr: al Isabah, 2/87.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/442.
 Al Bukhari: al Tarikh al Kabir, 3/2/209; Ibn Hajr: al Isabah, 2/459.
 Khalifah: al Tarikh, p. 201.
 Al Bukhari: al Tarikh al Kabir, 4/1/141; Ibn Hajr: al Isabah, 3/249…
 Khalifah: al Tarikh, p. 200.
 Al Dhahabi: Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ, 3/512; Ibn Hajr: al Isabah, 2/437.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/439.
 Sahih Muslim: chapter of Iman, 2/108.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/430.
 Sahih al Bukhari: chapter of Zakat, 2/110.
 Sahih Muslim: chapter of Iman, 1/203.
 Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq (manuscript), 12/ p. 367-370 (cited with multiple transmissions).
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/487.
 Ibid. 4/496.
 Ibid. 4/446.
 Tarikh al Rusul, 5/10-11.
 Ibid. 4/436.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/437.
 Ibid. 4/437.
 Ibid. 4/438.
 Ibid. 4/438; al Baqillani: al Tamhid fi al Radd ‘ala al Mulhidah, p. 229.
 Tarikh al Rusul, 4/438.
 Surah Al ‘Imran: 159.
 Surah al Shura: 38.
 Sunan al Tirmidhi: Chapter on consulting, 3/129.
 Sahih al Bukhari: chapter of Tafsir, 6/45; Musnad Ahmed (according to the sequence of al Sa’ati), 23/137.
 Al Tabbani al Maghribi: Ifadah al Akhbar, 2/96.
 ‘Abdur Rahman ibn Qais, Abu Salih al Hanafi al Kufi. He narrated from a group of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum. Ibn Sa’d said, “A reliable person with few narrations.” And al ‘Ijli said, “A successor from Kufah who was reliable and from the partisans of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu.” And Ishaq ibn Mansur narrated from Ibn Ma’in, “Reliable.” Ibn Hibban has also deemed him reliable. See: Ibn Sa’d: al Tabaqat, 6/227; Ibn Ma’in: al Tarikh, 2/356; al ‘Ijli: Tarikh al Thiqat, p. 501; Ibn Hajr: al Tahdhib, 6/256.
 Al Fasawi: al Ma’rifah wa al Tarikh, 2/751.
 Al Tabari: Tarikh al Rusul, 4/455.
 Al Dhahabi: Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ, 3/100.Back to top