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Ali's (a.s.) literary achievements

"Ali deserves a distinguished place in literary history," Devenport remarks, "in as much as he had cultivated his mind with an ease and assiduity unusual in his age and country. He left many collections of sentences, proverbs and poetical pieces. Gobblin and Lette published fragments of these sentences, the former at Leyden in 1629 and the latter in 1746. Vather published Gobblin's fragments in French in 1660. Ockley, in the third edition of his 'History of Saracens', has given an English translation of 169 of Ali's sentences. A treatise also by Ali upon the magical science is said to be still preserved in the Imperial Library at Constantinople. Such a man was Ali. May he for ever repose on the bosom of the Eternal Beatitude." Arabic literature reached its climax by means of his precious sayings and sermons a few of which have been collected by Syed Shareef al-Razi in the form of a book, known as "Nahjul Balagha."

Students of the Arabic language will observe with interest the assistance that Ali gave to Abut Aswad-adDuwali in the task of systematizing Arabic, grammar. Abul Aswad was one of the most eminent of the Tabis, an inhabitant of Busra, and a partisan of Ali under whom he fought in the battle of Siffin. In intelligence he was one of the most perfect of men, and in reason he was one of the most sagacious. He was the originator of Arabic grammar. It is said that Ali laid down for him the principle : the three parts of speech are, the Noun, the Verb, and the Particle, telling him to prepare a complete treatise based upon it.

Hassan al-Basari called him "the Scholar of God in this community."

 

There is a tradition to the effect that Ali had great skill in writing the Kufic characters. He was able to make the elongated Kat*, which is characteristic of that script, with such uniform exactness that it was scarcely possible, even with a compass, to distinguish any difference between the Kafs that he had written.

 

There are traditions that affirm that Ali had a copy of the Quran of his own, a special copy which he had annotated according to the conversations he had with the Holy Prophet. This additional writing on the margin of his own Quran is apparently in the nature of commentary from the Prophet that others did not know. it has a bearing on the existence of a mysterious book that is called the 'Jafr'. Al-Kulaini remarks that, "when the Apostle taught anything to Ali, Ali evolved from it a thousand other things. He declares that the Sahifa in Ali's handwriting was seventy cubits in length, as measured by the arm of the Apostle, and that it contained everything permitted and forbidden", and everything necessary for man kind. And in the Jafr, or secret book, he assures us that there was to be found, "the knowledge of prophets, and of the scholars of the Bani Israel". Masudi shows how the later Imams were accustomed to refer at times to these secret books that Ali left in their keeping. Belief in the existence of these sacred and secret books with the Imams was firm.

In one of the popular books that Muhammad Bakir Majlisi wrote in the seventeenth century, the "HayatulKulub", or Life of Hearts, it is related that at the time when Muhammad appealed to the Nassara (Christians) in Najraan in Yemen to accept him as a Prophet whose coming had been foretold by Jesus, a great book called the "Jama" was referred to in the course of the debate. 1t was a collection of writings of 1,24,000 Prophets. The first part was the book of Adam, "which related to the kingdom of the Most High, what He had created and He has decreed in heaven and earth respecting things temporal and eternal. This .book, which contains all sciences, was transmitted by the father of mankind to Prophet Shays. Shays added his contributions to the great work and handed it to Prophet Idris, and likewise there were the writings of the Prophets Abraham and Moses and Jesus until at last the time came for the great and final work of Ahmad (or Muhammad).

 

A Persian manual on the lives of the Imams, which is a compilation from the voluminous works of Majlisi, was written in Persian and lithographed in Teheran in 1912. It is called "Tazkeratul-A'imma," and here it stated that the 'Jafr wa Jaameaa' is a book that the scholars agree that Ali had in his possession, and that the part that now exists consists of twenty-eight portions, and that each portion has twenty-eight pages, and each page twenty eight divisions "and no one besides God, the Prophet and the Imams know the character in which it is written, unless the sinless Imams would have taught it to one." The same modern manual mentions also "the Book of Ali" (the Sahifa), "which the Prophet dictated and Ali wrote. It is seventy metres long and the width of a sheepskin. It is also called the 'lama', and it shows what things are permitted and what things are forbidden". Two other minor works of the same sort are the "Jafr Abyad" (the white Jafer), which has fourteen portions, and each portion has fourteen divisions, and the writing of Fatima, with many traditions, to show that God taught Adam twenty-five of the Divine names, Noah knew eight, Abraham had six, Moses had four, Jesus had two, and Assif ibn Barkhia had one, whereas the Apostle of God knew seventy-two of these names, which he taught to Ali.

Collections have been made of maxims and aphorisms that have originated from Ali. A hundred of these were collected by the Persian poet Rashid al-Din and they have been translated into German. There are one hundred and sixty nine of these moral sayings given in Ockley's History of the Saracens (p. 339).

 

It was said to Ali, "What is generosity?" He replied, "that from which the initiative proceedeth, for what cometh after a request is liberality and munificence."

On another occasion he remarked, "He who seeketh to do justice unto men, let him desire for them what he desireth for himself." According to historian Masudi (Murooj-uz-Zahab Masudi Vol. II, page 33, Egypt), Hazrat Ali is credited with not less than 480 treatise, lectures and epistles on a variety of subjects dealing with philosophy, religion, law and politics, as collected by Zaid Ibn Wahab in the Imam's . So highly valued are these contributions own lifetime both for contents and their intrinsic literary worth that some of his master-pieces have formed throughout the course of Islamic history, subjects of study in centres of Muslim learning. Indeed, his reputation seems to have travelled to Europe at the time of the Renaissance. Edward Powcock, (1604-1691), a professor at the University of Oxford, published the first English translation of his 'Rhetoric'.

Khawja Hasan Nizam has quoted a list of the following Muslim Scholars who have collected the teachings of Hazrat Ali in their respective books.

 

1. Seerat-e-Ali by Hafiz Hamadan Ibrahim who died in 181 A.H.

 

2. Musnad-e-Ali by Ahmed bin Ibrahim who died in 226 A.H.

 

3. Musnad-e-Ali by Mohammad bin Abdullah who died in 258 A.H.

 

4. Akbar-wo-Seyar-e-Ali by yaqoob bin Shaiba who died 262 A.H. 5.Musnad-e-Ali by Qazi Ismail who died in 283 A.H.

 

6. Musnad-e-Ali by Abubakr Ahmad bin Ali who died in 292 A.H.

 

7. Musnad-c-Ali by Ahmad bin Shoaib Nisayee who died in 303 A.H.

 

The historian John J. Pool (author of the life of H. M. Queen Victoria) in his book 'Studies in Mohammedanism' says : "Ali was the first Caliph to protect and encourage national literature. The 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."

In Summing up Hazrat Ali's worth, Maswoodi says, "If the glorious name of being the first Muslim, a comrade of the Holy 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; if a knowledge of law and science, constitute a claim to pre-eminence. then all must regard Hazrat Ali as the foremost Muslim. We Shall search in vain to find, either among his predecessors (save one) or among his successors, those virtues with which God had endowed him."

Adapted from: "Ali, the Magnificent" by: "Yousuf N. Lalljee"

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