‘Ali ibn Abi Talib
(... -40 AH / 598-661 CE)

'Ali ibn Abi Talib was a member of the House of Hashem, the first cousin of the Prophet, and the fourth Caliph. He was renowned as a warrior often leading his army into battle, and he was one of the first converts to Islam. ‘Ali married the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, and it is from their two sons Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein that the Sharifs (nobles) and Sayyids (lords) descend respectively. ‘Ali’s relationship to the Prophet was special, demonstrated by the fact that the Prophet referred to him as ‘my brother’ and ‘my heir’ on a number of occasions.

His death brought to an end the era of Rashidun, the four ‘patriarchal’ or ‘rightly-guided’ caliphs of Islamic tradition. This era had witnessed many great achievements including the destruction of a vast Empire that had ruled the land. It is testimony to the Muslim armies that rule was not imposed by brute force alone; the armies were fairly small and in areas like Egypt and the Persian plateau the number of Muslim settlers was tiny in relation to the local population. ‘Ali is remembered for his generosity and nobility. Besides being courageous, he was always charitable and forgiving to his enemies.

The sayings and sermons of ‘Ali are collected in a book called Nahj al-Balaghah ("The Way of Eloquence") which has served as a model for the use of Arabic, similar to what the speeches of Cicero once did for Latin. It was ‘Ali who first laid down the rules of formal Arabic grammar, describing language as made up of nouns, verbs and particles.