Why is the name of Ali mentioned far more than all the other Infallibles in Shia circles? Perhaps one answer to this question may be found in realizing that Imam Ali is not simply a historical figure in Islam; rather, he has been placed by Allah as the distinguishing factor between Eimaan (faith) and Nifaq (hypocrisy).
“In being brave, you are the Lion of the Lord.
(And) in manly generosity, who knows who you are?” – Rumi
It seems that the praise of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) is never far from the lips of the Shia. From the scholar who consistently narrates his endless virtues to the orator who recites poetry about him at every possible occasion to the mentioning of his name in the Kalimah and the Adhan, how is it that this personality has enraptured the hearts of so many, from the time of his life until the present? Moreover, is it excessive to remember him as often as is done? Why is it that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) – despite undoubtedly having a loftier status than that of Imam Ali – is not remembered as often? Such questions may arise in the minds of some, and the following is an attempt to address them.
The love of perfection is an innate aspect of man’s nature. This is simply a reflection of man’s love for God, since all perfection belongs solely to the Almighty. The more an individual obeys Allah, the more Divine qualities are manifested in him, thereby increasing love for him in the hearts of others.
As Allah says: “Surely (as for) those who believe and do good deeds, for them will Allah bring about love.” (Qur’an 19:96)
Thus, the love of Imam Ali arises from this love of perfection. To quote Martyr Mutahhari: “the basis for the love for Ali is the connection of our souls with the Truth which has been laid in our primordial natures.” (Mutahhari, The Secret of Imam Ali’s Love) But a question still remains: why is the name of Ali mentioned far more than all the other Infallibles in Shia circles?
Perhaps one answer to this question may be found in realizing that Imam Ali is not simply a historical figure in Islam; rather, he has been placed by Allah as the distinguishing factor between Eimaan (faith) and Nifaq (hypocrisy). To prove this, a bit of background information is required. Let us recall the role played by the Holy Prophet in Islam. Without testifying that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, one cannot become a Muslim. Even the simple-minded Muslims who reject the idea of Tawassul (intercession), saying that the Prophet is dead and no longer of any benefit, would accept this. They would not remove the name of the Prophet from the Adhan, for they have recognized that Muhammad is not simply the son of Abdullah, but rather the embodiment of Islam, and therefore a necessity.
Having determined a clear scale by which one can judge who is a Muslim (belief in the Holy Prophet), a problem still remains: the Qur’an indicates that there are many who overtly attest to being Muslim yet are hypocrites (for example, the opening verse of chapter 63). What then is the distinguishing factor between those who are sincere believers, and those who are hypocrites?
To find the answer to this, consider the following saying of Imam Ali: “If I cut a faithful Muslim into pieces to make him hate me, he will not turn into my enemy, and if I give all the wealth of this world to a hypocrite to make him my friend, he will not befriend me. It is so because the Holy Prophet has said: ‘O Ali! No faithful Muslim will ever be your enemy, and no hypocrite will ever be your friend.'” (Nahjul Balagha, short saying #44)
This and many other traditions of similar nature, narrated in both Shia and Sunni sources, indicate that the love of Imam Ali is something deep in the essence of a believer (and deeply lacking in a hypocrite). It is something out of one’s control that cannot be changed, even if Imam Ali were to mutilate his body!
From this we should appreciate that the love of Imam Ali is not a light matter, but is rather the distinguishing factor between Eimaan and Nifaq. Note that Eimaan is a higher level than that of Islam, since the Qur’an tells us that Islam is a prerequisite to attaining Eimaan. It is of little surprise then that the Shia stress the importance of remembering Imam Ali and mentioning his name at all stages. This is indicative of the true sincerity of our belief and is not something that should easily be ridiculed or condemned out of ignorance.