URS Sayyidina Ali (RA) 21 Ramadhan
Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, was the first cousin of the Holy Prophet (SWS). His father, Abu Talib, and the father of the Holy Prophet, Abdullah, were the sons of Abdul Muttalib (RA) from the same mother, Fatima. The name of Imam Ali’s (RA) mother was also Fatima, the daughter of Asad, the son of the famous Hashim. Thus his parents were cousins.
Imam Ali (RA) was born on the 13th Rajab, (30 Amul Fil), about 610 A.D., i.e. 23 years before the Hegira (Migration). Historians say that he was born in the precincts of the Holy Ka’bah.
At the time of his birth, his father and his cousin, Muhammad, the Holy Prophet (SWS), were out of Mecca, his mother gave him the names of Asad and Haider. His father called him Zaid. But when the Holy Prophet (SWS) returned to the city, he took his young cousin in his charge and gave him the name of Ali, saying that it was the name decreed for him by Allah.
Among his various Kunniya (patriotic appellations), the most famous were Abul Hasan, Abus Sibtain and Abu Turab.
His titles were Murtaza (the chosen one), Ameerul Momineen (the Commander of the Faithful), Imamul Muttaqin (the leader of the pious and God-fearing).
The famous historian and biographer Allama Ali ibn Muhammad says, Imam Ali(RA) was a man of middle height with black, big and piercing eyes, very handsome and fair complexion, broad shoulders, a long muscular neck, a broad forehead and a little hair on the top of his head.
He used to walk with very light gait and he was very agile in his movements. He had a smiling face, pleasing manners, a jovial temperament, kind disposition and a courteous behaviour. He would never lose his temper.
He was born three years before the marriage of the Holy Prophet (SWS) with Lady Khadija (RA) . Soon after his birth, the Prophet (SWS) took him under his care and Ali (RA) was like a son to him. He used to live with the Holy Prophet (SWS) and used to sleep with him. He was fed by him, washed and dressed by him, and even carried by him on a sling whenever he would go out.
When the Holy Prophet (SWS) married Khadija, she adopted this child as her son. Imam Ali (RA) himself, has described his childhood saying that:
“I was still a new born baby, when the Holy Prophet (SWS) took me from my parents. I used to cling to him and he used to feed me, and (when I grew a little older), he never found me uttering a lie or feigning a deceit. To me he was like a guiding star and I used to follow his actions and deeds carefully. I was attached to him like a foal of camel attached to its mother. He used to place before me high values of morality, and used to advise me to follow them; every year, he would spend some days at the grotto of the Mt. Hira and I used to be with him, I was his only companion then and none else could meet him at Hira, there I used to see the light of revelation, and used to smell the fragrance of Prophethood. Once the Holy Prophet (SWS) told me: “Ali! You have attained a very eminent place. You see what I see and you hear what I hear.” (See also Nahjul Balagha, Sermon a190)
Once the Holy Prophet (SWS) told Imam Ali, “O Ali! Allah has ordered me to keep you near me. You are to me like an ear that retains everything, because yours are the retaining ears that the Holy Book (Quran) has praised”.
Ibn Abil Hadid, the commentator of Nahjul Balagha cites Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA) saying, “Once I asked my father, ‘Sir, my cousin Muhammad had many sons, all of whom died in infancy, which of them he loved the most?” He replied, “Ali ibn Abi Talib”. I said, “Sir, I was inquiring about his sons.” He replied: “The Holy Prophet (SWS) loved Ali more than all of his sons. When Ali was a child, I never saw him separated from Holy Prophet Muhammad (SWS) for half an hour, unless Holy Prophet Muhammad (SWS) went out of the house for some work. I never saw a father love his son so much as the Holy Prophet (SWS) loved Ali (RA) and I never saw a son so obedient, so attached and so loving to his father as Ali was to Muhammad.”
Jubayr ibn Mut’im (RA), the companion of the Holy Prophet (SWS) said: “Once his father addressed him and some young men of his family, Have you noticed the child (Ali) loving, venerating and obeying that young man (Muhammad) instead of his own father, what an intensity of love and veneration! I swear by our gods, the Lat and the Uzza, that instead of having so many offspring of Nawfal around me, I had a son like Ali.”
Once the Holy Prophet (SWS) said: “O Ali! I wish to achieve every such thing for you that I desire to acquire myself and I want to keep you away from all those things which I abhor.”
Whenever the Holy Prophet (SWS) was in anger, nobody dared to address him except Ali (RA).
Abbas (RA), the uncle of the Holy Prophet (SWS) used to say that they (the Holy Prophet and Ali) loved each other intensely. The Prophet (SWS) was so fond of Ali (RA) that once when Ali (RA) was a child, he sent him out on some errand. He took a long time to return. He started getting worried and anxious and in the end he prayed to Allah, “O Lord don’t let me die unless I behold Ali once again.”
Ali (RA) started acting as the bodyguard of the Holy Prophet (SWS) even when he was about fourteen. The young men of Quraish, under instigation of their parents, used to pelt the Holy Prophet (SWS) with stones. Ali (RA) took up the work of acting as his defender, he fell upon those young men, broke the nose of one, knocked down the teeth of the other, pulled the ears of the third and threw down the fourth. He often fought against those who were older than him. He was often himself hurt, but he never forsook the self-imposed duty. After some days, he got the nickname of Qazim (the breaker or thrower) and nobody dared throw anything at the Holy Prophet (SWS) when Ali (RA) was with him and he would not allow the Holy Prophet (SWS) to go out of the house alone.
Offering his sacrifice at the night of Hijrah and his subsequent behaviour in all the battles are enough proofs of the intense love of Imam Ali (RA) for the Holy Prophet (SWS).
Allama Muhammad Mustafa Beck Najib, the famous Egyptian philosopher and Professor of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University,in his equally famous book “Himayatul Islam”, says:
“What can be said about this Imam? It is very difficult to fully explain his attributes and qualities. It is enough to realize that the Holy Prophet (SWS) had named him the gateway of knowledge and wisdom. He was the most learned person, the most brave man and the most eloquent speaker and orator. His piety, his love of Allah, his sincerity and fortitude in following religion were of such high standard that no one could aspire to reach him. He was the greatest politician because he hated diplomacy and loved truth and justice, his was the policy as taught by Allah. On account of hi sagacity and thorough knowledge of human nature, he always arrived at correct conclusions and never changed his decision. His was the best judgement, and had he no fear of Allah, he would have been the greatest diplomat amongst the Arabs. He is loved by all, and everyone has a place for him in his heart. He was a man of such surpassing and pre-eminent characteristics and such transcending and peerless qualities that many learned men got perplexed about him and imagined him to be an embodiment of Allah. Many amongst the Jews and Christians loved him, and such philosophers who had come to know of his teachings bowed down before his incomparable vast knowledge. Roman kings would have his pictures in their palaces and great warriors would engrave his name on their swords!”
Another philosopher and historian of Egypt, Ustad (Professor) Muhammad Kamil Hatha, pays his tributes to Imam Ali (RA) in the following words:
“His life is an agglomeration of pleasing incidents, bloody encounters and sad episodes. His personality is very prominent on account of his transcending and high qualities. Each aspect of his life is so lofty and glorious that a study of one phase makes you feel that it was the best phase of his character and the most beautiful picture of his personality, while contemplation of any other phase will enchant you more and you will come to conclude that no human being can attain that height, and a third aspect will fascinate you equally and you will realize that before you is a personality of such sublime eminence that you cannot fully appreciate its greatness and you will feel that Ali (RA) was an Imam (leader) in the battlefield, was an Imam in politics, was an Imam in religion, was an Imam in ethics, in philosophy, in literature, in learning and in wisdom. It is not difficult for Allah to create such a person!”
John J. Pool, the historian (author of the life of H.M. Queen Victoria) in his book, “Studies in Muhammadanism” says:
“This prince (Imam Ali) was a man of mild and forbearing character, wise in counsel and bold in war. Muhammad had given him the title of the “Lion of God”. Ali and his sons, Hasan and Husain were truly noblemen — men of righteousness, men of brave, humble and forgiving spirit. Their lives deserve to be commemorated; for there was a peculiar pathos about them (their lives) which were not spent selfishly or in vain. as Mathew Arnold in Essay in Criticism says: “The sufferers of Karbala had aloft to the eyes of millions — the lesson so loved by the sufferer of Cavalry (Representation of Crucification): “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and Ye shall find rest unto your souls”. He further says that Ali was the First Caliph to protect and encourage national literature. This prince was a scholar himself and many of his wise sayings and proverbs are published in a book. It is a remarkable work and deserves to be more widely read in the West”.
Sayyidina Ali (RA) Personality
Ibn Abil Hadid says:
“Imam Ali (RA) had a personality in which opposite characteristics had so gathered that it was difficult to believe that a human mind could manifest such a combination. He was the bravest man that history could cite and such brave persons are always hard-hearted, cruel, and eager for bloodshed. On the contrary, Ali was kind, sympathetic, responsive and warm-hearted person, qualities quite contradictory to the other phase of his character and more suited to pious persons. He was very pious but more often pious and religious persons avoid society and do not care to mix with corrupt and sinful persons. Similarly warriors, kings and dictators are usually arrogant and haughty. They consider it below their dignity to mix with poor, lowly and humble persons. But Ali was different. He was a friend to all. As a matter of fact he had a soft corner in his heart for poor and humble and for orphans and crippled. To them he always was a kind friend, a sympathetic guide and a fellow sufferer; he was meek towards them but haughty and arrogant against notorious warriors and generals, so many of whom he had killed in hand to hand combats. He was always kind but strict with wayward persons, sympathetically teaching them the ways of Allah. He always smiled and passed happy and witty rejoinders. It was difficult to overcome him in debates or repartees, his rejoinders and retorts always bore high mark of culture, education and wisdom.
He was a scion of a very illustrious, rich and noble clan, as well as son-in-law and great favourite of the Holy Prophet (SWS), at the same time, the greatest warrior and marshal of his time. Yet, in spite of his riches, he ate, dressed and lived like a poor man. To him wealth was for the use of other needy persons, not for himself and his family. Change of times and change of circumstances did not bring any change in his bearing, mien or character. Even when he ascended the throne of Arabia, and was acclaimed as the caliph, he was the same Ali as the people had found him during the previous regimes.”
Once when in the presence of Abdullah ibn Imam Malik ibn Hanbal, a discussion took place about Imam Ali (RA) and his Caliphate, Abdullah brought the discussion to an end by saying: ” The Caliphate did not bring any honour or glory to Ali, but it was the Caliphate, honoured and glorified by Ali, and it received the status actually due to it.”
The world cannot quote an example other than that of Imam Ali (RA) of a first class warrior, and a marshal who is also a philosopher, a moralist and a great teacher of religious principles and theology. A study of his life shows that his sword was the only help that Islam received during its early days of struggle and its wars of self-defence. For Islam, he was the first line of defence, the second line of defence and the last line of defence! Who was with him in the Battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaybar and Hunayn? This is one aspect of his life.
While the other phase of his character is portrayed by his sermons, orders, letters and sayings. What values of morality they teach, what ethics they preach, what intricate problems of monotheism they elucidate, how rich they are in philosophy, how they train us to be good, kind, benevolent and pious rulers, and faithful, sincere and loyal subjects; how they persuade us to be warriors who can fight only for Allah, truth and justice, and not mercenaries, murdering and plundering for riches and wealth; and how they instruct us to be teachers who can teach nothing injurious and harmful to mankind. Was there any such combination before and will there ever be?? (See also “Imam Ali’s wonderful character — contradictory virtues and qualities”)
To Oelsner, (the famous French Orientalist and author of Les Effects de La Religion de Mohammed), Ali was an embodiment of chivalry; and personification of gallantry and generosity. He says:
“Pure, gentle and learned without fear, and without reproach, he presented to the world the noblest examples of Chivalrous grandeur of character. His spirit was a pure reflection of that of Muhammad, it overshadowed the Islamic world and formed the animating genius of succeeding ages”.
Osborne, in “Islam under the Arabs” says:
“Ali had been advised by several of his counsellors to defer the dismissal of the corrupt governors previously appointed until he himself was sure against all enemies. The pillar of Islam, the hero without fear and without reproach, refused to be guilty of any duplicity or compromise with injustice. This uncompromisingly noble attitude costed him his State and his life; but such was Ali, he never valued anything above justice and truth”.
Gibbon (in “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. V) says:
“The zeal and virtues of Ali were never outstripped by any recent proselyte. He united 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 tongue or of sword was subdued by his eloquence and valour. From the first hour of mission to the last rites of his funeral, the Prophet (Muhammad) was never forsaken by this generous friend (Ali) whom he delighted to name his brother, his vicegerent and the faithful Aaron of second Moses”.
Mas’udi, the famous historian of Islam says:
“If the glorious name of being the first Muslim, a comrade of the Prophet in exile, his faithful companion in the struggle for the 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 and if 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 except the Holy Prophet, or among his successors, those virtues with which Allah had endowed him”.
Imam Ali’s (RA) Faith
As has been declared by all historians of Islam, Imam Ali (a) from his infancy was adopted and looked after by the Holy Prophet (s). Therefore, naturally his religious tendencies from his very childhood were those of the Holy Prophet (s). The question as to when he embraced Islam is out of consideration. He was a Muslim from the very beginning! His religion was the religion of the Prophet Muhammad (s). At the age of 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 14th year, he was following the religion which the Holy Prophet (s) had at his 35th, 37th, 40th, 42nd and 44th year of his life! (this being the difference between the respective ages of the Holy Prophet (s) and Ali, about 30 years). If the Holy Prophet (s) at any period of his life was a non-Muslim, then Ali at that period was also a non-Muslim. This is the logic of facts! Ali was like a son to the Holy Prophet (s) therefore his religion from the very beginning was the religion followed by the Holy Prophet (s).
Mas’udi further says: “The general consensus of opinion amongst the Muslim historians and theologians is that Ali was never a non-Muslim and never did he worship idols, therefore, the question of his embracing Islam does not and cannot arise”.
Marriage to Hazrat Fatima (RA)
“Imam Ali (RA) was married to Lady Fatima (RA), the only daughter of the Holy Prophet (SWS) from Lady Khadija. He had been betrothed to her several days before the expedition to Badr. But the marriage was solemnized three months later, Imam Ali (RA) being in his 21st year and Lady Fatima (RA) in the 15th year of her life”.
It was the happy marriage. The inherent distinctiveness of their respective characters blended so well with each other that they never quarreled and complained of each other and they led a happy and contented life. Each one of them was rich in his own rights. All that they owned went to the poor, the crippled and the orphans and they themselves often starved. Their only luxury in life was prayers and the company of each other and their children. They willingly shared the sorrows and sufferings of the poor. They were given a slave girl, Fizza; and the Holy Prophet (s) had made arrangement that every alternate day was the off day of Fizza and her mistress would do all the household work. Even when Lady Fatima (s) was ill on Fizza’s off day, Fizza would not be allowed to attend to her duties, but Imam Ali (a) would work; and the hero of the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaybar and Hunayn was seen grinding oats, igniting the oven, baking the bread and looking after the children.
Salman al-Farsi says: “What a household, the only daughter of the Holy Prophet (s) and wife of vicegerent leading the life of a poor labourer. If they had spent one-tenth of what they were distributing daily, they would have led a life of ease and comfort”.
From Imam Ali (a), the Lady of Light (Fatima) had four children and the fifth (Mohsin) was a still birth. The causes of this mishap and also that of her death are very sad and tragic incidents of their lives. The names of their children were Hasan, Husain, Zainab (wife of Abdullah ibn Ja’far) and Umme Kulthum (wife of Ubaydullah ibn Ja’far).
During the lifetime of Lady Fatima, Imam Ali (a) did not marry another woman. After her death he married Yamamah and at her death another lady, having the name of Hanafia, from whom he had a son, Muhammad Hanafia, and after her death, he married again, thus he had many children some of whom had unparalleled places in the history of mankind, e.g. Hasan, Husain (the hero of Karbala), Zainab (the defender of Islam in Kufa and Damascus), Abbas (the commander of Husain’s army) and Muhammad Hanafia, (the hero of the Battle of Naharwan).
Battles of Sayyidina Ali (RA)
Battle of Uhud
Talha ibn Abi Talha was not only a bitter enemy of Islam, but was also hostile towards the Holy Prophet (SWS) and Imam Ali (a). His exertions to harm these two and their mission is a historical fact. In the Battle of Uhud, he was the standard-bearer of the army of Quraish. Ali (RA) faced him and in a hand to hand encounter, dealt him such a severe blow that he reeled and fell down.
Imam Ali (RA) left him like that and walked away from him. Many Muslim warriors ran up to Ali and advised him to finish Talha, saying that he was Ali’s (RA) worst enemy. Ali (RA) replied: “Enemy or no enemy, he can’t defend himself now, and I cannot strike a man who is not in a position to defend himself. If he survives he is welcome to live as long as his life lasts”
Battle of Jamal
In the Battle of Jamal, in the thick of the encounter his slave Qambar brought some soft drink saying, “My master! The sun is very hot and you have been constantly fighting, have a glass of this cold drink to refresh yourself”. He looked around himself and replied: “Shall I refresh myself when hundreds of people around me are lying wounded and dying of thirst and wounds? Instead of brining soft drink for me take a few men with you and give each of these wounded persons a soft drink”. Qambar replied: “My master! They are all our enemies!” He said: “They may be, but their are human beings, go and attend to them.”
Battle of Siffin
In the Battle of Siffin, Muawiyah reached the river Euphrates before the army of Imam Ali (RA) and took position of the river. When Imam Ali’s (RA) army reached there, he was informed that they would not be allowed a drop of water from the river. Imam Ali (RA) sent a messenger to Muawiyah(RA), saying that this action was against the canons of humanity and orders of Islam. Muawiyah’s reply was that, “A war is a war, hence one cannot accept principles of humanity and doctrines of Islam. My sole aim is to kill Ali (RA) and to demoralize his army and this stoppage of water will bring about these results quickly and easily”. Imam Ali (RA) ordered his son, Husain (RA), to resume the attack and get back the river.
The attack took place and the river was captured. It was then Muawiyah’s (RA) turn to beseech permission to get water from the river. His messengers arrived and Imam Ali (RA) told them to take as much water as they liked and as often as they required. When Imam’s officers told him that those were the very people who had refused water to them, should they be allowed a free run of the river? He replied, “They are human beings and though have acted inhumanly, yet I cannot follow their example and cannot refuse a man food and drink just because he happens to be my sworn enemy!”
Battle of Naharwan
In the Battle of Naharwan, Imam Ali (RA) himself was fighting like any other ordinary soldier. During this battle, a man came to face him and in the encounter lost his sword. He realized his hopeless plight of standing before Ali (RA) without any weapon in hand. Ali’s (RA) hand was raised for a blow when he saw the opponent trembling with fear, he lowered his hand slowly and said: “Run away, friend, you are not in a position to defend yourself”. This attitude made the man bold and he said: ” Ali! Why don’t you kill me, it would have made one enemy less for you”. Ali (RA) replied, “I cannot strike a man, who cannot defend himself. You were begging for your life and it was spared”.
The opponent got bolder, and said, ” I am told that you have never refused a beggar. Now I beg you of your sword, will you grant it to me?” Ali (RA) handed him over the sword! Taking possession of the sword he said: “Now Ali! Who is going to defend you against me and save you from my killing-blow?” He replied: “Of course Allah will defend me if He so wills! He has appointed my death to be my guarding angel, no one can harm me before it is due and no one can save me when it arrives”. Nobility of thought and action affected the foe and he kissed the bridle of Ali’s (RA) horse and said: “O master! You are a great man indeed! You cannot only forsake the life of your enemy in a battlefield but also you can grant him your sword. May I have the honour to act as your body guard and to fight for you? Imam Ali (RA) replied: “Friend! Fight for truth and justice and don’t fight for individuals!”
During 39 and 40 A.H., Muawiyah, organized bands of murderers and brigands to enter the border-towns and to carry on loot, plunder, arson and rape. Kumail was at that time the Governor of Hiyat. He asked Imam’s permission to organize similar bands and carry plunder in the province of Qirqisya, which was under the control of Muawiyah. Imam Ali (RA) replied to him: “I never expected such a suggestion from a man like you. It is more noble and more moral to guard your people and province then to plunder others. They might be our enemies but they are human beings. They consist of civilian population comprising of women and children, how can one kill, loot and plunder them?? No, never! Don’t even dream of such a venture!” (See Nahjul Balagha, Letter 61)
Attack on Ali (RA) in Masjid Kufa
It was the month of Ramazan, the month of fasting. It was the time of the morning prayers. Masjid Kufa was overcrowded. Imam Ali (RA) was kneeling down before Allah and when he raised his head, a terrible blow fell upon it making a very deep cut. There was a great disturbance and commotion in the masjid. The assassin ran for his escape. The Muslims chased him and brought him before Imam Ali (RA) who was on the prayer carpet that was soaked in blood and he was reclining upon his sons. He knew the blow was fatal and that he would not survive it but when the assassin was brought before him, he saw that the rope which had bound him was so tightly tied that it was piercing in to his flesh. Imam Ali (RA) turned towards the Muslims and said: “You should not be so cruel with your fellow-beings, slacken his ropes, don’t you see that they are cutting his flesh and he is in agony?” Such was Ali! History is replete with incidents of his chivalrous and kind treatment towards his enemies. (See also “The cursed assassin and the noble martyr”)
Behaviour of Sayyidina Ali (RA) with friends, relatives and Sahabas (RA)
Ibn Hunaif, was his trusted disciple, and a faithful follower. He was governor of a province and was once invited to a function which was followed by a sumptuous dinner. When Imam Ali (a) heard of this, he sent him a very strong letter, criticizing his action. He wrote: “You went to a dinner where only rich people were invited and the poor were scornfully excluded”. (Nahjul Balagha, Letter 45)
Imam Ali (RA) had two slaves, Qambar and Sa’id. After his demise, Qambar related that very seldom he had the occasion to serve his master. The noble Imam used to do his work by himself, used to wash his own clothing, used even to stitch patches on them whenever needed. He would give them good food and descent dresses and would himself eat and dress like a simple man. Let alone whipping or beating, he never even got angry with them. He never used a can, even on his horse, camel or mule. These animals apparently understood his mood and desire and would trot and walk as he wished them to do. His regular phrase with them was, ‘Go easy, child’.
Continuing, Qambar said: “One and only once, he got annoyed with me. It was the occasion when I showed him the money that I had hoarded. It was from my share of income given to me like others from the Public Treasury and the gift I had received from the members of his family. I had no immediate use of it and thus had saved the amount. It was not much, being barely 100 dirhams. When I showed him the amount, he looked and annoyed and what pained me more, he looked very sad. I inquired as to why he was so sad. He said: “Qambar, if you had no use of this money, were there not people around you who were in need of it, some of them might have been starving and some might have been ill, could you not have helped them? I never thought that you could be so heartless and cruel, and could love wealth for the sake of wealth. Qamber, I am afraid you are not trying to acquire much from Islam, try more seriously and sincerely. Take these coins from here”. Qambar went out and distributed the money amongst the poor in Masjid Kufa.
The Russians in 1905 found an order of Imam Ali (RA) in his own hand-writing which was in Kufi script. This was found in a monastery of Ardabail, chief town of Azar Baijan. This letter was an amnesty deed to the monastery and the Christians of Ardabail. Translation of this deeds appeared in the Russian newspapers and thence it was translated in the Turkish papers and in the Arabic Magazines of Cairo and Beirut, and several commentating articles on the spirit of toleration and the treatment of conquered countries by Islam were written by the Russians and Arab Christians. Apparently from the magazine “Hablul Matin”, it was translated by the magazine “Al-Hakam”. (Vol. II, No. 47, 1906)
There is a letter of Imam Ali (RA), which is actually a system of rules and regulations for the administration of a just government and a code for higher values of morality. It is included in Nahjul Balagha (Letter 53) and is referred so often by historians of Europe, philosophers of Arabia and even by Justice Kayani in his presidential address at the Karachi Bar on April 16, 1960. Thus it needs no introduction. In this letter there are instructions which show that he wanted his officers to remember that the people over whom they rule are the trust entrusted to them by Allah, and they should be treated as such.
Imam Ali (RA) had a very soft corner in his heart for the old, the weak, the disabled and the poor and children were always his favourites.
Slave girl & fruit Seller
It was the hottest day of the season, he had finished his noon-prayers in the masjid and was passing through the bazaar. He saw a young slave-girl piteously weeping. He asked her the reason. She said that her master had given her some money to get dates from the bazaar. The dates which she brought were not liked by her master, he wanted them to be returned and get back the money. The fruit-seller refused to take them back, her master was beating her for the money and the fruit-seller had also punished her for going to him over and over again. She did not know what to do and whom to approach for help.
Imam Ali (RA) accompanied her to the fruit-seller to advise him to take the dates back. He was a new-comer to Kufa and did not recognize the Imam and was rude to him. Some passers-by intervened and introduced the Imam to him. He jumped from his shop and begged of Imam Ali (RA) to excuse him and said that he would give back the money immediately to her. The Imam replied that it was really mean of him to treat honest suggestion disdainfully and haughtily and to cow down before power and might so abjectly. The owner of the slave-girl had also heard the news of this incident and ran to meet the Imam to apologize for the trouble caused to the slave-girl. Imam Ali (RA) told him, “You have no mercy for a person who is under your power and you do not forgive her mistake, have you a right to expect mercy and forgiveness from the Lord? You people have acquired nothing from Islam but its name.”
Old Lady & heavy Load of Wood
One day he saw an old woman carrying a heavy load of fire-wood which she could hardly lift, she was tottering under the weight. Imam Ali (RA) relieved her of her weight, carried it to her house. When Imam Ali (RA) told her about who he was, only then she realized that the one who had served her like an obedient servant was none but Imam Ali, the Caliph and the Commander of the Faithful.
Shelter for a Leper
It was after his death only that people came to know that Imam Ali (RA) had provided a shelter to a leper in an advanced stage of the disease. The shelter was outside the town, he used to go there daily, dress his wounds, feed him with his own hands (because the leper had lost his hands), wash him, put his bed in order and carry him out of the shelter for a little while so that he may get fresh air. Incidentally, when the relatives and friends of Imam Ali (RA) came across this shelter and found a leper in it, they told him the Imam was assassinated as they had just then buried him. The news so affected the man that he died on the spot.
Sayyidina Ali (RA) Day to Day Living
Imam Ali (RA) always ate and dressed in such a simple way that even the poorest could afford better. It was not because he was poor, but it was because he wanted to lead the life of the poorest person and spend all that could thus be spared on the poor. I have noted below certain cases quoted by the historians. These incidents are of the time when he was the ruler of the entire Muslim Empire, except Syria.
Suwayda bin Ghafla says: “One day I went to see Imam Ali (RA) in the Government House (Darul Imarah). It was the time of breakfast and before him there was a cup of milk and some barley bread. The bread was dry, stale, hard and did not contain any butter or oil. It could not be easily broken into pieces. Imam Ali (a) was exerting himself to break it and to soften it. I turned towards the maid-servant, Fizza and said, ‘Fizza! Have you no pity upon your old master, and why can’t you give him softer bread and add some butter or oil to it?’ She replied, “Why should I pity him when he never pities himself. He has given strict orders that nothing is to be added to his bread and even chaff and husks are not to be separated from the flour. We, ourselves eat much better food than this, although we are his servants.” Hearing this, I told him, “O master! Have pity on yourself, look at your age, your responsibilities, your hard work and your food.” He replied, “O Suwayda! You have no idea what the Holy Prophet (s) used to eat. He never ate his fill for three consecutive days.”
Abdullah ibn Zurarah says: “I went to see Imam Ali (a) on an Eid (festival) day. He asked me to join in his breakfast. I consented. A very simple kind of food was served before us. I told him, “O master! You are such a rich man and a caliph. I was expecting that a game would be served before us but what do I see?” The great Imam replied, “Ibn Zurarah, you have heard of mighty kings who have led life of luxury. Let me be a ruler leading the life of a poor and humble person — a humble labourer.” 
Ibn Abi Rafe’, the famous Tabe’i, says: He went to Imam Ali (a) on an Eid day and while he was sitting there, a bag was brought before the Imam, he thought it might contain jewels. The Imam opened the bag, it contained dried pieces of bread, which he softened with water. Ibn Abi Rafe’ asked him as to the reason of sealing such a kind of food which even a beggar would not care to steal. The Imam (a) smiled and said: “I keep it sealed because my children try to substitute softer bread, containing oil or butter in it.” Ibn Abi Rafe’ said, “Has Allah prohibited you to eat a better kind of food?” He replied: “No, but I want to eat the kind of food which the poorest of this region can afford at least once a day. I shall improve it after I have improved their standard of life. I want to live, feel and suffer like them”. 
Harun ibn Anza said that he accompanied his father (Anza) to meet Imam Ali (a), in winter days and the winter was very severe. He found the Imam in a very thin cotton garment, and the cold wind was making him shiver. Anza asked him, “O Commander of the Faithful! Allah has reserved a share for you and your family from Public Treasury why do you not make use of it?” He replied: “O Anza! I don’t want anything from your treasury, this is the dress I have brought with me from Medina.” 
Zayd ibn Wahab said that once Imam Ali (a) came out of his house and there were patches sewn to his dress. Ibn Nu’aja, who was once a Kharijite and an enemy and yet he was allowed to lead a peaceful and comfortable life by Imam at Kufa, once taunted Imam Ali (a) on the very poor and coarse kind of dress put on by him. He replied: “Let go, what have you to find objection in my dress, it is the kind which our masses can afford, why can’t you think of their lives and dresses! I shall improve my standard after I have succeeded in improving theirs. I shall continue to live like them. Such a kind of dress makes one feel humble and meek and give up vanity, haughtiness and arrogance.” 
Amr ibn A’iz narrated that once he asked Imam Ali as to the reason of his having patches in his dress, he replied: “O Amr, such type of dress makes you soft-hearted, vanishes vanity from your mind and it is the kind which poor Muslims can conveniently afford.” . (See alsoNahjul Balagha, Saying 103)
Hasan bin Jurmuz narrates that his father once saw Imam Ali coming out of Kufa Mosque in a shirt made of jute cloth and around him were people so well-dressed that compared to him they looked like princes, he was advising them as how to understand religion. 
Abu Nuziya, the draper of Kufa narrates that Imam Ali purchased two shirts from his shop, one was of superior quality, which he handed over to his slave Qambar to put on and the other which was cheap and coarse, reserved it for himself. (See more about Imam Ali’s dress and food in Nahjul Balagha, Letter45 and Sermon207)
Sayyidina Ali (RA) Contribution to Islam
The first occasion on which Imam Ali (RA) offered his services to the cause of Islam was when the Holy Prophet (SWS) was first ordered by Allah to preach Islam publicly.
For three years, the Holy Prophet (SWS) was preaching Islam under absolute secrecy, at the end of the third year of his mission, he received orders to preach his near relations and to admonish them. “The Holy Prophet directed Ali to prepare an entertainment and to invite the sons and grandsons of Abdul Muttalib. This was done and about forty of them came, but Abu Lahab, made the company break up before Muhammad had an opportunity to speak.
Next day, a second invitation was issued and when they came and the frugal meal was served the Holy Prophet rose and declared his sacred character, offered the treasures of time and of eternity to whomsoever should become his disciples, and concluded by demanding, who among you will aid me to bear this burden, who will be my Lieutenant, and Vazir, as Aaron was unto Moses? The assembly remained mute with astonishment, not one venturing to accept the offered perilous office, until Ali, Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (SWS) cousin, stood up and exclaimed, “O Prophet! I will, though I am indeed the youngest of those present, the most rheum of them as to the eyes, and the slenderest of them as to the legs. O Prophet, I will be your Vazir over them. On this, locking his arms around the generous and courageous youth, and pressing him to his bosom, Muhammad declared: “Behold my brother and my Vazir and obey him.”
Night of Hijrah
The second great occasion was when the Holy Prophet (s) was forced to leave Mecca, making somebody stay in his place in such a way that his enemies would believe that he was still in his house and thus he might safely go away in the darkness of the night. This departure to Medina is called Hegira, and the Muslim era is named after this event. It took place during the month of September in 662 A.D. on Thursday, the 26th Safar of the 13th year of the Prophetic Mission.
People of Medina were favourably inclined towards Islam and some who had embraced this religion had promised every kind of support to the Holy Prophet (SWS). Many Muslims who had left for Medina were warmly welcomed by the people (Ansar) of Medina. Quraish, realizing that Islam was gaining a good support with a firm hold on Medina and those who had fled Mecca were being happily settled there, decided to strike at the very root. Their hatred of the Holy Prophet (SWS) was so intense that nothing would satisfy them but his death. They gathered at Nadva and decided that a few people from each clan of Quraish would jointly attack the Prophet (SWS) and strike him with their swords at one and the same time. Thus no individual of any single clan would be responsible for his death and Bani Hashim would not be able to kill any person or fight against any single clan and as they were not strong enough to fight against any one of Quraish, they would be forced to be content with blood-money (Diyat). They further decided to besiege the house of the Prophet (s) during the night in order to kill him next morning.
Thus forty men got ready and encircled his house. Allah revealed to His Prophet (SWS) of the intrigue planned against him and ordered him to leave Mecca the very same night. It was a serious and dangerous occasion. He was ordered by Allah to leave Mecca in such a way that none of his enemies might suspect his departure and if possible, none of his friends might know of it.
The walls of his house were barely seven feet high and anyone placing a stone and standing upon it could easily peep into the house. He knew the house was surrounded. Whom could he ask to sleep in his bed covering himself with his coverlet, such a person should not expose his identity till dawn? At this same moment, Allah Almighty asked Angels Gabriel (AS) and Mikail (AS) if they would go as a human to take Holy Prophet’s (SWS) place but they were hesitant and they refused out of fear they would be killed.
The Holy Prophet (SWS) asked Imam Ali (RA) as he was the staunch and loyal supporter of Islam and he knew he could depend on Ali (RA) at this most perilous moment. He informed Ali (RA) of the whole plan, and of the positive danger of taking his place, saying no harm would come to him as he would see them in Medina. This was peace of heart for Imam Ali (RA) as he then knew nothing would happen to him. Imam Ali (RA) asked, “If I take your place, and leave you alone to go through the enemies, will your life be safe?” “Yes”, replied the Holy Prophet, “Allah has promised me a safe passage through them.”
Ali (RA) bowed down his head before Allah as a sign of thanksgiving. He lied down on the bed of the Holy Prophet (SWS) and covered himself with the Prophet’s mantle. During the night many stones and arrows were aimed at him. Stones hit him in the back, and on the head and arrows embedded in his legs, but he did not turn in his bed. In the morning he was found out by the enemy only when one of them pulled the mantle. When they wanted to attack him knowing that he was Ali and not Muhammad (SWS), only then the enemy unsheathed his sword.