Scholarly Marja'iyyat of Imam 'Ali (A.S.)
Dr. 'Abd al-Karim Bi-Azar Shirazi
Translated by: Sayyid 'Ali Shahbaz
Anas bin Malik narrates, that Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) addressing Imam 'Ali (A.S.) said: "anta tabyinun li-ummati ma ikhtalafu fihi ba'di (you are the elucidator for my ummah in what they differ after me)."
One of the important duties of imamah (leadership) and Qur'an and the scholarly heritage of the Prophet and their proper transmission to the 'ulama' and scholars as well as elucidating the differences that are likely to crop up among the ummah. The importance of this duty becomes clearer when we see that many a conqueror has emerged victorious on the battlefield against big countries only to be vanquished by the culture of the conquered people and compelled to propagate their beliefs and customs. An evident example in this regard is the military victories of the Mongols over the Muslims. Soon these fierce conquerors were conquered by Islam and the Holy Qur'an, and became devout Muslims and propagators of faith.
The revolution brought about by Islam was transformation of faith and culture which, more than military encounters, required scholarly and cultural battles. Imam 'Ali (A.S.) was aware of this vital factor, and after the passing away of his cousin the Prophet, he decided to compile the Holy Qur'an and vowed that until he had not written down the heavenly scripture he would not put the cloak around his shoulders to leave the house, except for the performance of the prayers. Accordingly, on the basis of all that had been taught to him by the Prophet concerning nasikh wa mansukh (abrogator and abrogated), muhhkam wa mutashabih (clear and allegorical) and zahir wa batin (esoteric and exoteric) of the Holy Qur'an, he expounded and elaborated to his sons, Imam Hasan (A.S.) and Imam Husayn (A.S.), and to such peerless disciples as 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas, 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud and several other companions of the Prophet. Imam 'Ali (A.S.) thus groomed a generation that would not only counter the cultural attacks and reply to the ideological controversies by scholars of the conquered nations, but would also cater to the jurisprudential and judicial needs of jurists and explain in the most rational manner the principles of belief and various other issues of the Islamic culture to the newly - converted Muslims.
Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and Science of Tafsir (Exegesis)
A glance at the exegesis of the Holy Qur'an proves beyond doubt that Imam 'Ali (A.S.) is the doyen of all exegetes. The eminent Egyptian scholar Jalal al-Din Suyuti (d. 911 AH) says that among the caliphs, most of the narrations are from Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.). Ibn 'Abbas, from whom much of the hadith concerning the exegesis of the Holy Qur'an has been narrated, was the cousin and student of Imam 'Ali (A.S.). As mentioned by the 6th century AH Mu'tazalite scholar, Ibn Abi al-Hadid, when Ibn 'Abbas was asked about his knowledge compared to that of his cousin (the Imam), he replied: "It is like a drop of rain in front of a vast ocean."
The students of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) in the science of exegesis later flowered into founders of schools of Qur'anic exegesis in Makkah, Madinah and Kufa.
Imam 'Ali (A.S.), Inventor of Arabic Grammar
In order to safeguard the beauty of language of the Holy Qur'an and to prevent distortion in its style and its unmatched eloquence, Imam 'Ali (A.S.) trained and assigned Abu al-Aswad Duali to formulate Arabic grammar under his supervision. Later, Abu al-Aswad, by benefiting from what he had learned of the science of grammar from the Imam, regulated the syntax of the Holy Qur'an by fixing vowels and diacritical points (i'rab).
Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and the Science of Qira'ah
The pioneers in the science of qira'ah or proper recitation of the Holy Qur'an, such as Abu 'Umar and 'Asim bin 'Abd al-Rahman Salmi Farisi, say that they learned this art from Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.).
Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and the Science of Theology
Ibn Abi al-Hadid says in the introduction to his renowned commentary on the Nahj al-Balaghah: "The science of theology (kalam) and doctrinal beliefs (i'tiqadat), which are superior branch of knowledge, have been extracted from the wording and expressions of Imam 'Ali (A.S.)." Irbili writes in Kashf al-Ghummah fi Ma'rifah al-A'immah that the leaders of the theological schools such as the Ash'arites, Mu'tazalites, Shi'ites and even the Kharijites, trace their theological roots to Imam 'Ali (A.S.).
Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and the Science of Fiqh
In addition to the Imami jurisprudents, whose principles of fiqh are directly from Imam 'Ali (A.S.), all other founders of juristic schools trace their science to the Imam. For instance, Ahmad bin Hanbal learned fiqh from Shafi'i who was a student of Malik bin Anas and Muhammad bin Hasan and the latter was taught by Abu Hanifah, who along with Malik bin Ansa, had acquired the principles of this science from Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (A.S.), the direct successor of the knowledge of Imam 'Ali (A.S.).
Imam Ali (A.S.) and the Science of Eloquence
As is evident from the Nahj al-Balaghah, Imam 'Ali (A.S.) is the leader in the field of eloquence and beauty of language. This book which is a treasure trove of wisdom, among other things, contains the rules of administration and Islamic polity. The sermons, letters and aphorisms of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) are considered as a living miracle for all those wishing to quench their intellectual thirst.
Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and esoteric Knowledge
Dr. Abu al-Wafa' Ghunaymi al-Taftazani of Cairo University who is a sufi elder, writes in his introduction to the 11 century AH scholar Shaykh Hurr al-'Amili's celebrated work, Wasai'l al-Shi'ah:
Sufi leaders and elders such as Rifa'i, Badawi, Ibrahim al-Dasuqi and 'Abd al-Qadir Gilani, who are considered among the prominent Sunni 'ulama', attribute their schools (tariqah) to the teachings of some of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt and through them to Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). The Prophet's saying: Ana madinah al-'ilm wa 'Aliyyun babuha (I am the city of knowledge and 'Ali is its gateway) has special significance for Gnostics and their emphasis on esoteric or spiritual sciences which they consider as real knowledge and maintain that except for
Imam 'Ali (A.S.) no one possess this characteristic.
In most Sunni books there are ample proofs that Imam 'Ali (A.S.) was the repository of esoteric knowledge. For example, when 'Umar ibn al-Khattab while touching the Hajar al-Aswad at the Holy Ka'bah, said: "I know that you are a mere stone without any benefit or harm. If I had not seen the prophet kissing you, I would never have kissed you." Imam 'Ali (A.S.) immediately said: "It does benefit and cause harm. God has deposited the covenant with the world of creation in this stone, and this stone will bear witness on the Day of Resurrection in the favour of those who adhered to their covenant." On hearing this 'Umar ibn al-Khattab said: "O Aba al-Hasan! May God make me not live in the land where you are not present."
This account proves that the marjai'yyat and imamate of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) was recognised and accepted without the least doubt by even the caliphs.
Source of Knowledge of the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.)
The following are the sources of knowledge of the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.).
1. The Holy Qur'an: On the basis of numerous hadith, the Ahl al-Bayt are the Ahl al-Dhikr (16:43), well versed in the knowledge of the Holy Qur'an and are its authoritative exegetes.
2. Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), whose famous hadith reads: "I am the City of Knowledge and 'Ali is its Gateway."
3. The Predecessor Imam.
4. Awareness and Personal Experience.
Marja'iyyat of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) For the Prophet's Companions
The Holy Qur'an says: "So ask the People of the Reminder (Ahl al-Dhikr) if you do not know." (16:43)
Abu Ja'far Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari writes in his exegesis Jami' al-Bayan on his chain of authority that when this ayah was revealed, Imam 'Ali (A.S.) said: "We are the Ahl al-Dhikr."
Ibn Qayyim writes that the prominent companions of the Prophet used to refer to Imam as the Ahl al-Dhikr and the expert on the Holy Qur'an, and would seek clarifications for their doubts.
Ibn 'Asim quotes the first caliph Abu Bakr as saying: "O Muslims, this 'Ali (A.S.) is the legatee of the Prophet's knowledge; whoever doubts his righteousness is a hypocrite."
The second caliph 'Umar would give preference to the views of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) over that of all other companions of the Prophet. He issued standing orders that as long as Imam 'Ali (A.S.) was in the mosque no one had the right to express any fatwa (legal opinion). During the meetings of the council 'Umar would turn to Imam 'Ali (A.S.) for the final opinion and used to say: "Speak, for you are the most knowledgeable and most meritorious of the Prophet's companions."
Whenever the caliphs and the Prophet's companions as well as the jurisprudents of Syria and Iraq found themselves in ideological dead end they would refer to Imam 'Ali (A.S.). There are numerous instances when the caliphs and the companions, after issuing their fatwa would retract it when they found it in contradiction to the opinion of Imam 'Ali (A.S.), and would immediately endorse the Imam's views.
Ibn Qudamah Maqdisi in his work al-Mughni, quotes 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas as saying: "idha thabata lana 'an 'Ali (A.S.) qawlun lam na'uduhu ila ghayrih (whenever a saying of [Imam] 'Ali (A.S.) was ascertained for us we would never turn towards others)."
Marja'iyyat of the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) Among Jurisprudential Schools
The accounts from Imam 'Ali (A.S.) has been related in the five following ways:
1. Through the Infallible Imams.
2. Through Sunni muhaddithin (traditionists).
3. Through Imami Shi'ite accounts such as kutub al-arba'ah (the four authoritative books of hadith).
4. Through Zaydi sources (al-Majmu' al -Fiqhi, Musnad of Zayd bin Imam Zayn al -'Abidin (A.S.), Amali and Bahr al-Zakhkhar).
5. Through Isma'ili narratives (e.g. Kitab Da'a'im al-Islam of Qazi Nu'man al-Misri).
The references and documents of the leaders and jurisprudents of the various sects of the Ahl al-Sunnah are so exhaustive in this field that recently Dr. Muhammad Rawwas Qal'ahji of Syria has collected the accounts cited as authoritative by jurisprudents of the four Sunni sects (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali) as well as others, in an encyclopaedia under the tite of Mawsu'ah Fiqh al-Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.). For his part, Ayatullah Wa'iz -Zadeh Khurasani of Iran has extracted from 250 authoritative Sunni works 10,000 hadith on the merits of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.).
The famous bibliographer Ibn al-Nadim (4th century AH) writes:
Once a person, on getting a reply to his query from the jurisprudent Shafi'i, retorted that the answer seemed in opposition to the saying of Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.). Shafi'i said: "If you could prove it that Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.) said as you claim, I am ready to put my face on the soil, admit my mistake, retract my statement and revert to his saying."
Fahr al-Din Razi, in volume one of his exegesis Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on legal issues as inferred from Surah al-Fatihah, cites the fifth evidence concerning the recitation of Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim during prayer in a raised voice:
It has been ascertained on the chain of frequency (tawatur), Imam 'Ali (A.S.) used to recite Bismillah in a raised voice. Whoever follows Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.) in his religion is thus truly guided and the proof in this regard is the saying of the Prophet:
"Allahumma adri al-haqqa ma'a 'ali, haythu dar (O Allah! Turn truth with 'Ali, wherever he turns).
Fakhr al-Din Razi then cites the versions of Anas bin Malik and Ibn Mufazzal against recitation of Bismi Allah... during prayer, and after comparing and contrasting these statements with that of Imam 'Ali (A.S.), says:
Even if we were to express doubt in other matters, we can never doubt this issue, since it is preferable to act upon the statement of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) in view of his position and proximity to the Prophet compared to Anas and Ibn Mufazzal.
Many of the prominent jurisprudents of Kurdistan in their chain of authorization (iazah) of hadith through Qutb al-Din al-Razi, Qutb al-Din Shirazi, Katib Qazwini, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Muhammad al-Ghazzali, Abu Talib al-Makki and Ma'ruf al-Karkhi, trace their sources to the Prophet's 8th infallible successor Imam 'Ali bin Musa al-Reza (A.S.), and thence directly to the Gateway of the Prophet's knowledge, Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.). From Imam Riza (A.S.) upwards there is remarkable unanimity in all these Sunni chains of transmission, and with slight variation of words they read as follows:
From al-Murtaza al-Imam 'Ali al-Reza (A.S.), from his illustrious father Imam Musa al-Kazim (A.S.) - from his father and his ancestors before him - from the Chief of the Pathways of the Confiuence of the Two Seas (majma' al-bahrayn), Imam al-Mujtaba Sayyiduna al-Imam al-Hasan (A.S.), the his father, the Source of Authority (manba' al-wilayah), the Argument of God (Hujjat Allah) Sayyiduna al-Imam 'Ali al-Haydar, peace and salutations upon him, and he is karram Allah wajhah (God has glorified his face), who imbibed sciences and knowledge from the Sea of Knowledge, the Master of all who preceded him and will come after him (Sayyid al-awwalin wa al-akhirin), the source of sincerity and purity, Sayyiduna Abi al-Qasim, Muhammad al-Mustafa (S.A.W.).
The Hanafis and Imam 'Ali (A.S.)
The Hanafis, in reply to the objections of the Malikis and Hanbalis who claim that contrary to the Iraq-based Abu Hanifah their schools grew in the Prophet's city (Madinah), say that the charge against them of taking shape far from the Prophet's tradition, holds no water since Kufa was the capital of the Gateway of the Prophet's Knowledge,Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S.).
Interestingly, Hanafi jurists maintain that in case of contradiction between the opinions of Abu Hanifah and his two disciples Abu Yusuf and Muhammad bin al-Hasan Shaybani, the opinion of the teacher takes precedence unless the opinion expressed by the disciples is based on the authority of narration from Imam 'Ali (A.S.), since in such a case, the opinion on the virtue of Imam 'Ali's (A.S.) account, should enjoy absolute precedence.
Likewise, several legal opinions (fatawi) of the Hanafis are based on the accounts of Imam 'Ali (A.S.). For instance, the recitation of Surah al-Hamd on the authority of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) during the first two rak'ah of the daily prayer is considered obligatory.
The Malikis, in accordance with the School of the Ahl al-Bayt, do not fold their hands and keep them stretched sideways forbids the folding of hands during prayer as the other schools do, he replied: "I have seen the leaders of the Ahl al-Bayt (Imam Muhammad al-Baqir ['a] and Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq ['a] pray with hands open and stretched sideways."
Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his book Musnad has a section on the merits of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and has related nearly 3000 hadith from him.
The historian Ibn 'Asakir, writing on the life of Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (A.S.), quotes Abi Hazim as saying:
I have not seen a Hashimite more meritorious and more aware of jurisprudential issues than (Imam) 'Ali bin al-Husayn (A.S.).
Shafi'i, the founder of a school of jurisprudence of the same name, says:
'Ali bin al-Husayn (A.S.) was the most knowledgeable in jurisprudential matters among the people of Madinah and was an authority on hadith.
'Abdullah bin 'Ata' narrates:
I have not seen scholars so humble before anyone except in the presence of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (A.S.). I saw (in his presence) Hakam bin 'Utbah, who despite his scholarly awe among his people, appear like a small pupil in from of his teacher."
Abu Hanifah says that he did not meet anyone better versed in jurisprudence than Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (A.S.).
Malik ibn Anas says:
For long I used to visit (Imam) Ja'far bin Muhammad (A.S.) and I always found him in one of the three states; he was performing the prayer, was fasting, or reciting the Qur'an. No eye has seen, no ear has ever heard and no heart has ever felt a person more knowledgeable, more devout and more pious than Ja'far bin Muhammad (A.S.).