Imam Ali (A.S.) as a Witness of Allah

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By: Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali
There are at least two verses (11:17 & 13:43) that clearly indicate that Imam Ali was the witness after the Prophet (s). In what follows, these verses will be examined.
Imam Ali was a witness from the Prophet (‘minhu’)
The Qur’an says:

أَفَمَنْ كَانَ عَلَىٰ بَيِّنَةٍ مِنْ رَبِّهِ وَيَتْلُوهُ شَاهِدٌ مِنْهُ وَمِنْ قَبْلِهِ كِتَابُ مُوسَىٰ إِمَامًا وَرَحْمَةً ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ ۚ وَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِهِ مِنَ الْأَحْزَابِ فَالنَّارُ مَوْعِدُهُ ۚ فَلَا تَكُ فِي مِرْيَةٍ مِنْهُ ۚ إِنَّهُ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّكَ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
Can they be (like) those who accept a Clear (Sign) from their Lord, and whom a witness from Himself doth teach, as did the Book of Moses before it, – a guide and a mercy? They believe therein; but those of the Sects that reject it, – the Fire will be their promised meeting-place. Be not then in doubt thereon: for it is the truth from thy Lord: yet many among men do not believe! (11:17)
The sentence “Can they be (like) those who accept a Clear (Sign) from their Lord” clearly refers to the Prophet since he who possesses a manifest proof from His Lord. The line “…and whom a witness from Himself doth teach” must then refer to someone who is a witness from the Prophet, although he is not the Prophet himself given the word minhu (from himself).1 Indeed, he comes after (yatlu) the Prophet. This person is none other than Imam Ali. The verse of Mubahala and the chapter The Immunity (Bara’a) attest that Imam Ali was he who was from the Prophet (minhu).

The Event of Mubahala
The Event of Mubahala occurred between the Christians of Najran and Prophet Muhammad on the 10th of Hijrah. When the people of Najran deified Jesus, the Prophet called for a Mubahalah – a meeting in which both sides gather their men, women, and children to pray to God and invoke a curse on those who lie:

فَمَنْ حَاجَّكَ فِيهِ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ فَقُلْ تَعَالَوْا نَدْعُ أَبْنَاءَنَا وَأَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَنِسَاءَنَا وَنِسَاءَكُمْ وَأَنْفُسَنَا وَأَنْفُسَكُمْ ثُمَّ نَبْتَهِلْ فَنَجْعَلْ لَعْنَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَى الْكَاذِبِينَ
If any one disputes in this matter with thee, now after (full) knowledge hath come to thee, say: ‘Come! let us gather together, – our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves: Then let us earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of God on those who lie!’ (3:61)
The Prophet took Imam Hasan and Husayn as “our sons,” Lady Fatima as “our women,” and Imam Ali as “ourselves.” Imam Ali clearly does not fit into the category of “our sons” and “our women” which means he must have been from “ourselves.” Furthermore, no one can claim to be closer to the Prophet than Imam Ali, and he was the sole person qualified enough to represent the Prophet. Sunni scholars likewise agree that those whom the Prophet summoned are none other than Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn.2

Declaration of the Chapter Bara’a
The Prophet was ordered to reveal the chapter Bara’a (The Immunity) in condemnation to the unbelievers and polytheists. This involved prohibiting them from entering Masjid ul-Haram3 and asserting that a person cannot enter heaven without being a believer. Additionally, those who entered were no longer permitted to circumambulate the Ka‘ba unclothed as this was one of their previous customs.
The Prophet first asked Abu Bakr to deliver it to the people of Mecca. When Abu Bakr set out, he left for a short time until the Prophet instructed Imam Ali to reach Abu Bakr and ask him to return and to deliver the message himself. The difficulty of being asked to turn back brought Abu Bakr to tears as he supposed that perhaps Allah has revealed something against him personally and thus ordered the Prophet to send him back. The Prophet informed him that there was nothing about him personally, telling him that it was due to a special command of Allah that no one should communicate this to the people except him or a man from him.4
The event of Mubahala and the revelation of the chapter Bara’a verify that the caliphs were not regarded as from the Prophet (minhu) apart from Imam Ali. Thus, when Allah says, “a witness from himself follows him” in verse 11:17, this can only refer to Imam Ali.

Imam Ali was the witness who followed the Prophet and had knowledge of the Book
The following verse also confirms Imam Ali (a) as the witness after Prophet Muhammad:

وَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَسْتَ مُرْسَلًا ۚ قُلْ كَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ شَهِيدًا بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَكُمْ وَمَنْ عِنْدَهُ عِلْمُ الْكِتَابِ
The Unbelievers say: “No messenger art thou” Say: “Enough for a witness between me and you is God, and such as have knowledge of the Book.” (13:43)
This verse clearly indicates that in addition to God, there was a witness between Prophet Muhammad and the unbelievers who is introduced as the one who had knowledge of the Book. This question becomes extremely important if we reflect on the fact that there is a great difference between having knowledge of the Book (‘ilmul-kitab) and some knowledge of the Book (‘ilmun minal-kitab). According to the Qur’an, having some knowledge of the Book enabled Asif ibn Barkhiya to bring the throne of the Queen of Saba’ to Prophet Solomon (a) in a twinkling of an eye:
قَالَ الَّذِي عِنْدَهُ عِلْمٌ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ أَنَا آتِيكَ بِهِ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَرْتَدَّ إِلَيْكَ طَرْفُكَ ۚ فَلَمَّا رَآهُ مُسْتَقِرًّا عِنْدَهُ قَالَ هَٰذَا مِنْ فَضْلِ رَبِّي لِيَبْلُوَنِي أَأَشْكُرُ أَمْ أَكْفُرُ ۖ وَمَنْ شَكَرَ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَنْ كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ رَبِّي غَنِيٌّ كَرِيمٌ
The one who had knowledge of the Book said, ‘I will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye.’ So when he saw it set near him, he said, ‘This is by the grace of my Lord, to test me if I will give thanks or be ungrateful. And whoever gives thanks, gives thanks only for his own sake. (27:40)
If this is what a person who has some knowledge of the Book can do, one can only imagine the ability of a person who has all the knowledge of the Book. Who was the one who had knowledge of the Book other than God and the Prophet and was therefore qualified to be a witness between the Prophet and the people of his time?
Apart from the Prophet, Imam Ali undoubtedly outshined everyone in his wisdom, knowledge, and intelligence. The Prophet said, “The most knowledgeable person in my nation after me is Ali.”5 The Prophet lay emphasis on heeding to Imam Ali given his sophistication and intellect. He said, “I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is its gate. Whoever wants to enter this city must first pass through its gate.”6 Indeed, Imam Ali is a role model for those who possess an ardent desire to live and die like the Prophet, and eventually dwell in Paradise: Whoever becomes glad and happy with a life like my life and with a death like my death and with dwelling in the everlasting paradise of my Lord, loves Ali and considers him as his guardian (wali), loves the lover of Ali, and follows my household after me, because they are my progeny, they have been created from my clay, and they have been given my knowledge and understanding. Grievous is the one from my nation who denies their merits, and cut the relation between me and them. May God not grant them my intercession.7
Given his knowledge and perceptiveness, Imam Ali upholds the mission of protecting the Book. Moreover, his governance is precisely based on the Qur’an, rendering him the sole person to be taken as a standard in understanding Islam and its obligations.
Thus, the one to be taken as a standard in a) understanding Islam, b) understanding what to do, c) upholding the actual task of protecting the Book, and d) judge and rule according to the Book after the Prophet (s) is Imam Ali.

Conclusion
The most outstanding groups of people as said in the Qur’an are the prophets, the truthful, the righteous, and the witnesses. On the Day of Judgment, a witness from each nation who lived with his people and revealed the straight path will testify that the divine message was clearly conveyed to all people, thus eliminating any room for excuses. They verify those who denied the signs of God and attributed lies to Him. They also bear the task of protecting the Divine Book. The Prophet Muhammad (s) was a witness for the people who lived during his time, both for those who believed and rejected his message. Another type of witness is our intellect (‘aql).
Several verses of the Qur’an indicate that after the Prophet’s death, Imam Ali bore the responsibility of being a witness amongst his people. In the chapter Hud, verse 17, the line “…and whom a witness from Himself doth teach” refers to a witness from the Prophet (minhu). The verse of Mubahala, the chapter Bara’a, and the chapter The Ra‘d attest that this witness – who followed the Prophet and had knowledge of the Book – was none other than Imam Ali.
1. The word minhu (from him) has also been used in the Prophet’s hadith regarding Imam Husayn: “Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn.”
2. Sahih Muslim: The Book of Merits in “The Merits of Imam Ali”; Sunan of Tirmidhi no. 3085
3. The Grand Mosque that surrounds the Ka‘ba in Mecca.
4. Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal; Sunan of Tirmidhi; Mustadrak of Saheehayn. Original texts in Arabic are as follows:

إن النبي بعثه ببراءة إلى أهل مكة فسار ثلاثا ثم قال لعلي: ورد علي الحقه أبا بكر وبلغها أنت‏ ،‏ قال :‏ فلما قدم أبو بكر على رسول الله بكى‏ ،‏ وقال :‏ يا رسول الله حدث في شيء‏، قال :‏ ‏ما حدث فيك إلا خير ، ولكن أمرت أن لا يبلغه الا أنا أو رجل مني
Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad (Beirut: Dar Sadir), vol. 1, p. 3. See also Sahih of Tirmidhi, vol. 5, p. 594.
روي أن أبا بكر لما كان ببعض الطريق – أي لتبليغ سورة براءة – هبط جبرائيل (عليه السلام) فقال “يا محمد لا يبلغن رسالتك إلا رجلا منك فأرسل عليا…”
Zamakhshari, Jarullah, Al-Kashshaf (Beirut: 1987, Dar ak-Kitab al-‘Arabi), vol. 2, p. 243.
5. Manaqib al-Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib of Ibn al-Maghazeli al-Shafi’i
6. Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, pgs. 201, 637; al-Mustadrak by al-Hakim, v3, pgs. 126-127, 226; Fada’il al-Sahaba by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, v2, p. 635, tradition # 1081 [as seen in A Shi’ite Encyclopedia]; Mustadrak ul Sahihayn vol. 3 p. 163.
7. Kanzul Ummal, vol. 6, p. 155; Mustadrak by al-Hakim, vol. 3, p. 128; Kanz al-‘Ummal, vol. 6, p. 155; Al-Manaqib by Khawarazmi, p. 34; Yanabi‘ al-Mawaddah, p. 149; Tarikh by Ibn ‘Asakir, vol. 2, p. 95; Hilyat al-Awliya, vol. 1, p. 86; Al-Jami‘ al-Kabir by al Tabrani and Al-Isabah by Ibn Hajar. The original text in Arabic is as follows:
من سره أن يحيا حياتي ويموت مماتي ويسكن جنة عدن غرسها ربي فليوال عليا من بعدي وليوال من وليه , وليقتد بالأئمة من بعدي فإنهم عترتي خلقوا من طينتي رزقوا فهما وعلما , وويل للمكذبين بفضلهم من أمتي للقاطعين فيهم صلتي لا أنالهم الله شفاعتي
It should be noted that unfortunately some Sunni writers have tried to question the authenticity of this hadith. For example, Ibn Hajar in his Al-Isabah questions the chain of narration for this hadith because of weakness of Yahya ibn ‘Ya‘la while both Muslim and Bukhari have trusted him and narrated hadiths from him. People like Dhahabi have also taken his trustworthiness out of question.

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