Ali was very attached to his older cousin Prophet Muhammad, so much so that as a youngster he followed Muhammad everywhere trying to copy his words and actions.
However when it came to Islam, Ali did not embrace the new religion because he was copying his cousin. He began by finding out all he could about Islam and understanding exactly what it was he was accepting. He was also concerned about the views of his father, Abu Talib. These concerns were important to Ali and they are important for many people, of all ages and eras when they consider embracing Islam.
Ali, born in Mecca around the year 600 CE, was the son of Abu Talib, who was the uncle and constant supporter of Prophet Muhammad, both before and after prophethood. Abu Talib’s family was large and when famine was ravaging the area prophet Muhammad offered to help out by taking Ali into his household.
Thus, Ali was raised by Muhammad and Khadijah as if he were their own child. Ali was in the midst of the family when Muhammad received the first revelations. It is believed that he witnessed Muhammad and Khadijah prostrating in prayer and asked about what he had seen.
This would not be the only time that someone observing a Muslim in prayer would be drawn to the spectacle and feel compelled to find out more.
Throughout Islamic history there are countless stories of people hearing, or seeing the prayer and wondering about the serenity that appears to come with this symbol of submission. Although at this young age, it is believed that Ali was around 10 years old, he had become accustomed to following his cousin Muhammad around and emulating both his words and actions, Ali thought long and hard and asked a lot of questions before accepting the new religion.
Whenever someone nowadays asks about Islam they are encouraged to read and ask questions before taking the leap of faith that is required when a person plunges into a new lifestyle.
Ali was also worried about the reaction of his father, the family patriarch. When a person knows that they want to embrace Islam they often hesitate worried about what their parents, siblings and close relatives will say. Will they lose their love and blessings or will the family members accept the changes occurring? It is often a cause for great concern and the reason for much pondering and soul searching.
Ali felt this way too. His father, Abu Talib, refused to give up his devotion to the polytheism rife in pre-Islamic Arabia. He did however accept Ali’s decision telling him that Muhammad would lead him to righteousness and advising that he keep close his cousin.
If Ali had any concerns about the nature of this new religion, he would have discussed them with Muhammad himself. Thus after a relatively short amount of time Ali testified that there was no god worthy of worship but God alone and that his cousin Muhammad was God’s messenger. With the pronouncement of those words Ali became the first child to accept Islam.
Prophet Muhammad’s teachings were very attractive to the younger generation. He was constantly surrounded by young men and women eager to learn more about the religion of Islam. Many of these young people had never been initiated into the idolatrous rituals that had become prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia and thus had never prostrated to anything other than God.
Ali was one of these young new Muslims. His worship was unadulterated and thus he had nothing to unlearn. Ali was a perfect example of someone whose faith was polished at the hands of Prophet Muhammad himself.
When Prophet Muhammad was instructed by God to deliver the message to his relatives, he invited them for a meal. When they had finished eating Prophet Muhammad asked who of them would join him in the cause of God. There was not a sound.
Ali, still little more than a child broke the silence and offered to help Prophet Muhammad in whatever way he could. The room burst into laughter. Ali reiterated his offer, standing tall in the face of laughter and derision. In the times ahead he continued to stand tall repeatedly demonstrating his courage and love for God and Prophet Muhammad.
It was not long before the message of Islam began to have a significant effect on life in Mecca many of the leaders began a campaign of terror and abuse directly at the new Muslims. Ali supported his cousin Muhammad through all the years of persecution and boycott.
In the year of the migration to Madinah (the Hijrah) Ali was approximately 22 years old. It was then that he bravely risked his own life in order to thwart an assassination attempt on the Prophet’s life. He slept in his cousin’s bed to impersonate him while Muhammad escaped to Madinah. When the assassins entered Muhammad’s house with daggers drawn they were shocked and dismayed to find Ali alone in the house. They did not harm him.
Having lived through the night unscathed, Ali continued on in Mecca putting himself in extreme danger. He stayed to carry out Prophet Muhammad’s instructions and restore to their owners all the goods that had been entrusted to Prophet Muhammad for safekeeping. He also wound up any business and contractual obligations.
It is believed that during the years of social boycott it was Ali who continued to run the family business. He went on journeys as necessary and procured the necessary provision for the fledgling band of Muslims living in extreme poverty outside Mecca.
Ali started life as the cousin of Muhammad; he then became the dear foster child of Muhammad and Khadijah. As Islam grew Ali became Muhammad’s close companion and ally and then son in law. Two years after distinguishing himself in the Battle of Badr, the first open warfare the Muslims engaged in, Ali married Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, thus strengthening the family ties.
Ali was present at the birth of Islam. He knew what it was like to have a family divided over religion. His struggle to commit to the new religion in the face of enmity was real and no doubt he felt the same strong emotions that those who convert to Islam today feel when they have to refuse to participate in long held family traditions.
Ali ibn Abi Talib was known for his humility, austerity, piety, and deep knowledge of the Quran. He was a great scholar of Islam and Arabic literature, and pioneered the field of Arabic grammar. Many of his sermons, letters and sayings have been preserved and his life story is one of a humble and modest man who remained true to God and Prophet Muhammad despite trials and hardships.
____________________ Quran 26:214