The name of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) is synonymous with Islam; no episode of early Islam can be mentioned without his presence or participation in one way or another. He was brought up by Prophet Muhammad (saw) himself and was fully immersed in all moral and spiritual aspects of his teachings. It is quite apparent that Allah (SWT) had a plan in providing a gift to His last Prophet Muhammad (saw) on earth, in the magnificent form of Ali ibn Abu Talib (as). The unique qualities of head and heart and physique enabled Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) to lend support in implementing Prophet Muhammad's (saw) Divine Mission. It is note worthy that the first Revelation did not come and Prophet Muhammad (saw) did not receive the Divine order to proclaim himself as Allah's Messenger until Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) had matured and was physically able to support the great Mission. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) followed Prophet Muhammad (saw) like a shadow and protected him from the mischief of the Makkans. The brave son of Hazrat Abu Talib inspired fear among the Makkans and they dared not raise an eye before Prophet Muhammad (saw) when Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was around.
Following are some of the selected quotations describing the character of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) by famous people:
George Gordan was a famous Christian historian, linguist, philosopher and poet of the modern Egypt. What he says about Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) is as follows:
None can praise to the extent that he [Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as)] deserves. So many instances of his piety and fear of God are cited that one starts loving and venerating him. He was a true, strict and scrupulous follower of Islam. His words and deeds bore stamps of nobility, sagacity and courage of conviction. He was a great man having his own independent views about life and its problems. He never deceived, misled, or betrayed anybody. In various phases and periods of his life he exhibited marvelous strength of body and mind which were due to his true faith in religion and in his sincere belief in truth and justice. He never had servant and never allowed his slaves to work hard. Often he would carry his household goods himself and if anybody offered to relieve him of the weight he would refuse.
The famous Egyptian philosopher and Professor of Islamic of al-Azhar University, Allama Mohammad Mostafa Beck Najeeb in his equally famous book say the following about Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as):
What can be said about this Imam? It is very difficult to fully explain his attributes and qualities. It is enough to realize that Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) had named him the gateway of knowledge and wisdom. He was the most learned person, the bravest man and the most eloquent speaker and orator. His piety, his love of God, his sincerity and fortitude in following religion were of such high order that none 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 God. On account of his sagacity and through knowledge of human mind he always arrived at correct conclusion and never changed his opinions. His was the best judgement, and had he no fear of God 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 attributes and such transcending and peerless qualities that many learned men got perplexed about him and imagined him to be an incarnation of God. Several men amongst Jews and Christians love him and such philosophers who came to know of his teachings bow 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.
Allama ibne Abil Hadeed, the Motazili commentator of Nahjul Balagha, says the following about Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as):
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) had a personality in which opposite characteristics had so gathered that it was difficult to believe 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 blood shed. On the contrary Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was kind, sympathetic, responsive and warm hearted person, qualities quite contradictory to the other phase of his character and more suited to pious and God fearing persons.
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was very pious and God fearing person and often pious and religious persons avoid society and do not care to mix with men of sins and men of wrath, similarly warriors, kings and dictators are usually arrogant and haughty, they consider it below themselves to mix with poor, lowly and humble persons. But Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was different. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was friend to all. As a matter of fact he had a tender spot in his heart for poor and humble, and for orphans and cripple. To them he always was a kind friend, a sympathetic guide and a fellow sufferer; he was meek unto them but haughty and arrogant against famous 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 then the way to God. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) 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 knowledge.
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was a scion of a very illustrious, rich and noble clan, as well as son-in-law and great favourite of Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw), at the same time he was the greatest warrior and marshal of his time. Yet in spite of his riches he ate, dressed and lived like a poor person. 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 Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) as they had found him to be during the previous regimes.
Once in the society of Abdullah, son of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the leader of the Hanbali sect, a discussion took place about Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) and his caliphate, Abdullah brought the discussion to an end saying that the caliphate did not bring any honour or glory to Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), but it was itself honoured and glorified by Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) and it received the status actually due to it.
World cannot quote an example other than that of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) 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-defense. For Islam he was the first line of defense, the second line of defense and the last line of defense. Who was with him in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaybar and Hunain? This is one aspect of his life. While the other phase of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) character is portrayed by his sermons, orders, letters and sayings. What high values of morality they teach, what ethics they preach, what intricate problems of Unitarianism they elucidate, how rich they are in philosophy; how they imbibe the spirit of righteousness and teach rulers to become kind, good, benevolent and God fearing rulers, and subjects to be faithful, sincere and law abiding; how they persuade us to be warriors who can fight only for God, truth and justice, and not mercenaries murdering and plundering for wealth and riches; and how they instruct us to be teachers who can teach nothing injurious and harmful to mankind. These are but undisputable proofs of his greatness and spiritual superiority. Has history ever produced a more splendid personality incorporating such variegated characteristics of mind and heart?
Taha Husayn, the contemporary Egyptian writer of renown, in his book 'Ali wa banuh' (Ali and His Sons), recounts the story of a man during the Battle of Jamal (Battle of Camel). The man is in doubt as to which of the two sides is in the right. He says to himself, "How is it possible that such personalities as Talha and Zubair should be at fault?" He informs Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) about his dilemma and asks him whether it is possible that such great personalities and men of established repute should be in error. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) answers him:
You are seriously mistaken and reversed the measure! Truth and false hood are not measured by the worth of persons. Firstly find out what is truth and which is falsehood, then you will see who stands by truth and who with falsehood.
What Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) means to say is that you have reversed the measure. Truth and falsity are not measured by the nobility or baseness of persons. Instead of regarding truth and falsehood as the measure of nobility and meanness, you prejudge persons by your own pre-conceived notions of nobility and meanness. Reverse your approach. First of all find out the truth itself, and then you will be able to recognize who are truthful. Find out what is falsehood, and then you will identify those who are wrong. It is not significant which person stands by truth and which sides with falsehood.
After quoting Imam Ali bin Abi Talib's (as) above mentioned reply, Taha Husayn says:
After the Revelation and the Word of God, I have never seen a more glorious and admirably expressed view than this reply of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as).
Michael Na'imah, a contemporary Lebanese Christian writer, in the introduction to the book "Sautu'l Adalati'l Insaniyah" (The voice of Human Justice) by George Jordac, also a Lebanese Christian, writes:
Championship of Ali was not confined to the battle field. He was also matchless in the matter of faith, piety, purity, eloquence, magnanimity, help for the deprived and the oppressed and support for the truth. So much so that even after the passage of more than fourteen hundred years his wonderful achievements are a beacon light for us and extremely useful for making our lives sublime.
We conclude with a quotation from Masoodi, the venerable Muslim historian: "If the glorious name of being the First Muslim, a comrade of Holy Prophet in exile, his faithful companion in the struggle for the faith, his intimate associate in life and member of his family reflect a true knowledge of the spirit of his teachings and of the Book and demonstrate self-abnegation and the practice of justice, and if honesty, purity, love of truth, and knowledge of law and science constitute a claim to preeminence, then all must regard Ali as the foremost Muslim. We shall search in vain to find, either among his predecessors [save Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw)] or among his successors, the level of those virtues with which God endowed him."