Imam Ali (A), the first Imam, was the cousin of the Holy Prophet. He was born on Friday, the 13th Rajab in the Holy Ka'aba. He was brought up under the tutelage of the Holy Prophet.
As Imam Ali (A) says: "The Holy Prophet brought me up in his own arms and fed me with his own morsel. I followed him where ever he went like a baby camel following its mother. Each day a new aspect of his character would beam out of his noble person and I would accept it and follow it as a command."
This is why Imam Ali (A) was the treasure of the prophetic knowledge.
Ten years in the company of the Holy Prophet had kept him so close and inseparable that he was one with him in character, knowledge, self-sacrifice, forbearance, bravery, generosity, oratory and eloquence. From his very infancy, he prostrated before God along with the Holy Prophet. As he said himself: "I was the first to pray to God along with the Holy Prophet."
"Imam Ali (A) was brought up in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet," says a famous historian Allama Masoodi, "all along his childhood." God created him pure and holy and kept him steadfast on the right path.
Though Imam Ali (A) is indisputably the first to embrace Islam when the Holy Prophet called upon his listeners to do so, yet by the very fact that since his infancy he was brought up by the Holy Prophet and followed him in every action and deed including prostration before God, he can be said to be born a Muslim.
Imam Ali (A), at all times, accompanied the Holy Prophet to help and protect him from his enemies. He used to write down the verses of the Holy Quran and discuss them with the Prophet as soon as they were revealed by the holy messenger, the Angel Gabriel.
He was so closely associated with the Holy Prophet that as soon as a verse was revealed to him during the day or night, Imam Ali (A) was the first to hear it.
The Holy Prophet has said to Imam Ali (A):
a) "O Ali ! you are my brother in this world as well as the Hereafter."
b) "I am the city of knowledge and Ali is the gate."
The character and caliber of Imam Ali (A) as judged by Allama Masoodi is, "If the glorious name of being the first Muslim, a comrade of the Prophet in exile, his faithful companion in the struggle for faith, his intimate associate in life, and his kinsman; if a true knowledge of the spirit of his teachings and of the Book; if self-abnegation and practice of justice; if honesty, purity, and love of truth ; if the knowledge of law and science, constitute a claim to pre-eminence, then all must regard Ali as the foremost Muslim. We shall search in vain to find, either among his predecessors or among his successors, those attributes."
In the last year of his life, the Holy Prophet had gone to Mecca to perform pilgrimage. On his return journey when he reached Ghadir al-Khum, this verse was revealed to him. "O Messenger, convey to the people what has been sent down to you from your Lord; for if you do not do that, you will not be doing justice to His Message. Allah will protect you from the mischievous deeds of the people."
The Holy Prophet stopped there and ordered other Muslims also to stop. Some 70,000 people assembled around him. He ordered a pulpit to be raised. After the pulpit was ready he ascended it and lifted Ali (A) on his hands so that the people may see him. Then he said: "Whoever considers me to be his master and patron; he should consider Ali also to be his master and patron. O Allah! Be the friend of him who is friend of Ali and be enemy of him who is enemy of Ali."
Gibbon says, "The birth, the alliance, the character of Ali which exalted him above the rest of his countrymen, might justify his claim to the vacant throne of Arabia. The son of Abu Talib was in his own right the chief of Bani Hashim and the hereditary prince or guardian of the city and temple of Mecca."
Imam Ali (A) had the qualifications of a poet, a soldier and a saint; his wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings; and every antagonist, in the combats of the tongue or of the sword, was subdued by his eloquence and valor.
From the first hour of his mission to the last rites of his funeral, the Holy Prophet was never forsaken a generous friend. whom he delighted to name his brother, his vicegerent, and the faithful Aaron of a second Moses.
In the 40th year of Hijra, in the small hours of the morning of 19th Ramazan, Imam Ali (A) was struck with a poisoned sword by a Kharejite while offering his prayers in the Mosque of Kufa. He died on the 21st day of Ramazan, and was buried in Najaf al-Ashraf.
He was born in the House of God, the Holy Ka'aba and martyred in the House of God, the Mosque of Kufa. The Lion of God, the most brave- hearted and gentle Muslim that ever lived, began his glorious life with devotion to Allah and His Apostle and ended it in the service of Islam.
"And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead; nay, they are alive but you do not perceive." (Quran)
The following sources are used to prepare the above article.
1. Group of Scholars, Rationality of Islam (1978), under the auspice of Ayatullah Sayyid Abu'l Qasim al-Khu'I, Publisher: Islamic Seminary Publications, Pakistan.