‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (599-661) was the first cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad; the fourth of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs (al-khulafa’ al-rashidun) (reigned 656-661); and the first of the Imams deemed by all Shi‘i Muslims to be appointed by divine mandate. The word Shi‘i itself is derived from the term shi‘at’ ‘Ali, which means “partisans of ‘Ali.”
Imam ‘Ali was about five years old when he was taken into the household of Prophet Muhammad and, from this time until the death of the Prophet, was his constant companion. He was one of the first to confirm the mission of the Prophet, and was also one of the scribes of the verses of the continuing revelation of the Qur’an at the time.
Imam ‘Ali’s intellectual legacy is evidenced in the Nahj al-Balagha, a text of sermons, letters, and counsel that was compiled by al-Sharif al-Radi (d.1016), a renowned Shi‘i scholar of the ‘Abbasids (r. 750–1258) who reigned in Baghdad. The Nahj al-Balagha is considered a masterpiece of Arabic prose literature and, over centuries, has been the object of a numerous commentaries, abridgements, translations, and studies.
Research by Nimira Dewji