A role model must be a perfect one, as others who follow him intend to model themselves after him. The perfection is a vertical climb – it is different from completion, which is a horizontal development. Something which is perfectly perfect has obtained the highest level of vertical climb and is the best model in that respect. We as human beings need a perfect framework or ideology to determine our destination and decide the direction and scope of our actions for complete success in life. But we need not only theoretical guidelines and lofty ideas, but also living role models and real life examples worth emulating. If for a very lofty concept we cannot find a single living implementation, then that idea stays as a mere hypothesis without any practical value.
Islam which is a religion based upon human instincts has not only provided clear and wise guidance for all of mankind, it has also presented true life role models imbibing and implementing those truthful laws into real practical life. The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) is the first and foremost role model for all Muslims, and Imam Ali (peace be upon him) is another example for the same sake.
A role model must be a perfect one, as others who follow him intend to model themselves after him. The perfection is a vertical climb – it is different from completion, which is a horizontal development. Something which is perfectly perfect has obtained the highest level of vertical climb and is the best model in that respect.
Now, we are confronted with questions like: what makes a human being the best role model and most perfect example for others to emulate? What are the different criteria of judging perfection? Why are the Prophet and Imam Ali the best role models?
We will briefly discuss the different concepts or criteria of a perfect human being, and we will conclude with Imam Ali’s example as a role model. We chose Imam Ali as this is the month of his birth.
Different scholars and thinkers have laid emphasis over the different aspects or attributes of life as a suitable criterion. For some, devotion to God is most important. For others, love occupies the central spot. Still some people claim that intellect is a deciding factor. Many have advocated in favor of justice, freedom, service, and valor.
But all of these values or attributes show different aspects and sides of human life. In order to be the perfect man and role model, one needs to have all of these attributes in him developed in a harmonious way. The life of Imam Ali is such a perfect example where all the great attributes of life are combined in a balanced way.
Ayatollah Mutahhari states, “Imam Ali was such a man. In Nahjul Balagha, you meet mostly the eloquent side of him, and in reading this book, you get different pictures of him. Sometimes in reading the sermons, you suppose that Avicenna is there lecturing. At other times, you observe Rumi or Mohyedin Arabi speaking to you. Then you feel the epic of Ferdowsi, or a man of liberty, or an ascetic or a retiring devotee in a state of giving discourses. All human aspects show themselves in Ali’s words, and then you discern how great he is, and how small we are. He is a man in whom all human values have developed harmoniously. At night and during the communion with God, no Gnostic can rival him in his divine ecstasy and his flight towards Him. He is so deep in his devotion that nothing can divert his attention, and this divine love seems to have taken him to another world. This is how he is in the altar of worship at night.
“In daytime, he is a different man. Unlike many ascetics, he is cheerful sitting with his companions and even witty. Amr ibn Aas criticized him and termed him as unsuitable for the Caliphate since he was so cheerful, as if a caliph must always look glum to frighten people. In battle too he was cheerful and smiling, while in the altar he was tearful.”
The compiler of Nahjul Balagha, Sayyid Razi, says: “The amazing thing about this book is that you see Ali in so many different worlds as you read it, that is, in the words of devotion, philosophy, mysticism, military affairs, court of justice, religious jurisprudence, and so on, and he is never absent from any human world.”
Safiyedin Hilli, a poet of the sixth century Hijri, says about Imam Ali that he is a collection of all contraries, he is both a ruler and a sage, docile and brave, poor and generous, gentle and resolute, and a devotee and a man of action. He is a hero in all human spheres, something that we cannot be, but we can at least maintain a certain degree of equilibrium among all values to be called a true Muslim in different walks of life.
In this regard, we conclude with the words of Lord Byron, the acclaimed 19th century British poet:
“None can praise to the level that he (Ali) deserves. He was a true, strict, and scrupulous follower of Islam. His words and deed were stamps of nobility, sagacity and courage of conviction. 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 his sincere belief in truth and justice.”