Combating Islamophobia through Ali ibn Abu Talib

How can we learn from his dealings and traits to combat Islamophobic rhetoric?

How can we learn from his dealings and traits to combat Islamophobic rhetoric?

Islam is considered as a foreign backward ideology to many in the West, which is predominantly Christian. What many fail to realise however, is that Islam and Christianity are very close to one another. Islamophobes in US or Europe constantly attack the personality of Prophet Muhammad portraying him as a vile, wicked individual who massacred, exiled and subdued Christians and Jews in Arabia thus spewing hate and ignorance among Westerners. Contrary to this popular belief, the Holy Prophet, as well as Islam, imposed justice, co-existence and mercy for everyone. In order to know this reality, we should explore the character of Prophet Muhammad through the eyes of the most beloved person to him – Ali ibn Abu Talib. So who is he?

Ali is seen as the 4th caliph among Sunni Muslims and 1st Imam among Shia Muslims. He was brought up by Prophet Muhammad, lived beside him his entire life, witnessed the first revelation of the holy Quran and himself was known as Quran Al-Natiq (the speaking Quran). He was the inheritor of Prophet Muhammad in his knowledge, principles, ethics, spirituality and the exemplary reflection of Prophet’s beliefs and values in his whole life. Thus as a second source to understanding Prophet Muhammad’s conducts with Christians and Jews, his treatment of them should also be studied.

A figure for all faiths

The personality of Ali is not alien to devotees of any religion. He is mentioned by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and by many non-religious people whom I personally encountered while working. Ali t was loved and respected by the Jews and Christians of his time, who were mesmerized by his justice, humanity and kindness towards them all, despite all the challenges he faced. Once instance of him showing his noble principles can be found in his letter to Malik Al-Ashtar, who was appointed as the governor of Egypt in his government. It is no wonder that Kofi Annan, the then secretary general of United Nations referenced the letter and said,

“This letter is the greatest letter of governance ever written by any human being.”

Since Copt Christians used to live in Egypt alongside Muslims, Ali ibn Abu Talib instructed Malik through the letter to “Habituate his heart to mercy for the subjects (Muslims and Christians) and to show affection and kindness for them.” He continued and said, “Do justice towards the people (Muslims and Christians) as against yourself, your near ones and those of your subjects for whom you have a liking because if you do not do so you will be oppressive, and when a person oppresses the creatures of Allah (swt) then, instead of His creatures, Allah becomes his opponent.” He also said a line which resembles Jesus’s teaching of love and provides the magnanimous lesson of humanity, saying, “People are of two kinds: either they are your brothers in faith or your brothers in humanity.” Bishop Shokrallah Nabil Al-Hajj of Jabel Amil, Lebanon said, “I believe these words have great meanings. An equal is one who you are always with and see and whoever you always see must be close to you.”

In his dealings with people

Ali once walked past a church, and one of  his companions said, “I wonder how much polytheism is done by the people in the church.” But Ali, the embodiment of Islamic principles and values replied, “I wonder how much God is being worshipped [in the church].” In another incident, he walking in the street during the time of his Caliphate, and saw a Christian man begging. He said of this man, “when he was young, he had looked after us and now when he became old, we have deserted him.” He didn’t move from his place until he fixed his stipends from the public treasury.

There are many incidents much like these mentioned in our books, but Islamophobes will never tell Western people about such a sublime personality, nor his his justice, kindness and mercy for all.

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In my experiences of places like Jabel Amil of southern Lebanon, though the Christians are a minority, they feel like a majority. Bishop Elias Kfoury in his interview to Ahlulbayt TV says about the region where he was living, “This whole region is Muslim, 100 percent Muslim but we never feel a sense of awkwardness rather all live as one family.” He continues,

“People must learn from Imam Ali: his modesty, generosity, highness and spirituality. There is a common belief between Imam Ali and Jesus Christ which is to defend poor, the weak and stand up for the oppressed.”

Hence, for many Christians, Ali ibn Abu Talib became an exemplar much like Jesus.

The correct rhetoric

This very same man who inherited the traits of Prophet Muhammad (except Prophethood) was the true manifestation of Islam and of its principles, yet is never once quoted by any Islamophobe pseudo-scholar, such as Robert Spencer or Brigitte Gabriel. This is because their purpose is not to educate people about Islam, but to incite terror, fear and ignorance, so much so that people start hating Islam and Muslims which is then transformed into Islamophobia. The Quran says in this regard:

“O mankind! Indeed We have created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes (races) that you may identify yourselves with one another. Indeed the noblest (or most honoured) of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is all-knowing and all-aware.”

by Sayyid Burair Abbas