It was on the 26th of Rajab, 3 years before Hijra that a very significant and noble personality in Islam departed this life. He was the Chief of Quraysh, the very uncle of the Holy Prophet (s), and the esteemed father of Imam Ali (as) – none other than Abu Talib!
Abu Talib became an integral part of Islam after his father Abdul Muttalib, then the guardian of Prophet Muhammad (s), departed this world. Out of all his siblings, Abu Talib volunteered to become the official guardian of Muhammad (s), a young boy of 8 years old. He chose to take on this responsibility although he had many children of his own and was not well off financially. Nonetheless, Abu Talib saw the light emanating from this child and recognized it from day one, the light manifested in the soon-to-be seal of prophets and messengers, Muhammad (s). Abu Talib treated Muhammad (s) with great kindness and care alongside his wife Fatima bint Asad who acted as a mother figure to him. They favored and preferred Muhammad (s) over all their sons. Abu Talib’s love for his nephew increased day by day as he witnessed his immaculate manners and conduct as well as many other incidents where he saw a promising future for the young Muhammad (s).
Abu Talib was leader of Mecca and the son of its chief. He was the inheritor of the Holy Kaaba after its foundation. He used to be a supporter of those who were unjustly persecuted, and he formed what was known as Hilf al-Fudul (Alliance of Fudul), of which the Prophet (s) was a member. It was Abu Talib who had the honor of marrying the Prophet (s) to Sayyida Khadija, a blessed marriage in the history of mankind which gave birth to a purified and immaculate tree. Prophet Muhammad (s) loved Abu Talib and revered him greatly and he never forgot his favor upon him in becoming his guardian, protecting him from the non-believers of Quraysh, being his backbone of support, and acting as a father figure to him. When the people of Quraysh offered Abu Talib to trade Muhammad (s) and give him another son instead, Abu Talib angrily rejected and ridiculed their offer. It is no wonder that later when Ali ibn Abu Talib was born, Muhammad (s) went to Abu Talib and offered to “adopt” Ali. One can see it as a beautiful recompense for the favor which Abu Talib did to him!
Unfortunately, a great misconception and lie has spread among many Muslims. Namely that Abu Talib died as a non-believer and that he never embraced Islam. This accusation amounts to hurting the Prophet (s) by insulting his noble uncle, guardian, and protector of Islam, who was attached to him until the end of his life. Hurting the Prophet (s) is a major sin as the Prophet (s) said, “Whoever hurts a hair from me has hurt me, and whoever hurts me has hurt Allah (swt).” (Al-Sawaa’eq Al-Muhriqa by Ibn Hajar). Furthermore Allah (swt) says in the Holy Quran, “And those who hurt the Messenger of Allah (swt) will be in a painful punishment.” [Al-Tawba: Verse 61]
Supporting this point, Imam Hasan al-Askari (as) narrates that Allah (swt) has revealed on His Messenger (s) that I have supported you with two types of followers; those who support you secretly and those who support you openly. The best and master of your secret supporters is Abu Talib, while the best and master of your open supporters is his son, Ali Ibn Abi Taib (as). Then Imam Askari (as) remarked: Surely, Abu Talib was like the “Believer of Aal Fir’oon”, who was keeping his faith a secret. (Al-Hujja, Abu Talib by Al-Khunaizi).
The audacious attempts to sully the reputation of Abu Talib stems those who opposed of Imam Ali (as). It was the habit of the Arabs at that time, and unfortunately this still exists today, that when a person seeks to offend someone to the highest degree, they do so by attacking the person’s father or mother. The opposite was also true; if one wants to express love and appreciation to a person, they will commend their parent by saying statements like, “May my life be sacrificed for your mother and father.” How can one accuse Abu Talib of being a “Kafir” when he was the one who took custody of the Prophet (s) who was an orphan. Have we not recognized from the Holy Quran and from hadith that whoever sponsors an orphan will beget great rewards?! Consider the rewards if that orphan is the best of creation in Allah’s (swt) eyes!
Abu Talib was one of the first to believe in Muhammad (s) and his actions are certainly the strongest evidence to prove that. His unwavering support in protecting the mission of Muhammad (s), against the enemies of Islam, for example during the economic and social ban on Bani Hashim, is sufficient evidence of someone who believes wholeheartedly, not only in the mission, but also in the messenger of that divine message. Otherwise, if Abu Talib did not believe in Muhammad (s) or Islam, he would not have put everything on the line, and it’s likely his story would be like the story of another uncle, Abu Lahab, who was condemned in the Holy Quran.
The significance and importance of support versus opposition to the Seal of Prophets is such in Allah’s (swt) eyes that when the uncle of the Prophet (s), Abu Lahab, disapproved and went against Muhammad (s), Allah (swt) cursed him in Surat Al-Masad (Chapter 111) until the end of time, regardless of blood relations. Now consider rationally what Allah’s (swt) position would be towards someone who wholeheartedly supported, approved, and endorsed the Prophet (s) not only by his words, but by his actions! That support is what enabled Islam to stand on its feet and the Prophet (s) to carry on his mission to the rest of the world. The reality is that without Abu Talib’s moral and practical support, the Prophet’s (s) mission would’ve been much more difficult to accomplish, if not impossible.
Abu Talib exemplified the true meaning of Wilayah to the Prophet (s). We as followers of the school of AhlulBayt (as) believe in the concepts of Tawalla (we love and become friends with those who are friends and love the Prophet (s) and his AhlulBayt) and Tabarra (we take enemy and dissociate ourselves from those who carry hatred or harm the Prophet (s) and his Ahlulbayt). By the same token, we can measure Abu Talib against these principles which constitute a part of the Branches of Religion (Furoo’ Al-Deen) and conclude that he has indeed exercised and fulfilled these two important obligations in Islam, by giving everything he could to prove his commitment to Prophet Muhammad (s) and to protect him from his enemies.
We learn more about the grand status of Abu Talib when we recite his Ziyarah as passed on to us in authentic traditions: “Peace be upon you Oh The guardian of the Messenger of Allah. Peace be upon you Oh protector of the religion of Allah (swt). Peace be upon you Oh the father of the guiding leaders, sufficient for you is the nobility and lineage which Allah (swt) has rendered you and enough for you is the honour and esteem that He has granted you! Peace be upon you Oh Wali (protector) of the worshipped one. Peace be upon you who was granted a son who is the best of the newborns!”
Aside from his great support to the best of creation, Abu Talib enjoys another great honor which makes him most unique; he is the father of Imam Ali (as), the 2nd greatest person after the Prophet (s) in Allah’s eyes. Life father like son indeed! Imam Ali (as) was the protector and guardian of Islam just as Abu Talib was the guardian and protector of Muhammad (s)! Today when we utter the name of our first Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, let us remember that Abu Talib – his father – is the one who served Islam at its early ages even if he didn’t announce himself as a Muslim publicly.
Even in his deathbed, Abu Talib’s heart and mind were focused on Muhammad (s) as he feared that after his death, Quraysh would kill his nephew. In his last moments before he breathed his last, the Prophet kissed Abu Talibs’ forehead and murmured sadly: “Uncle, may Allah (swt) have mercy on you. You educated me when I was small, looked after me when I became an orphan, and supported me when I became a grown-up. So, may Allah (swt) reward you greatly!” (Hadhrat Abu Talib b. Abdul Muttalib by Kamal al-Syed) The Prophet (s) was deeply grieved and named the year which Abu Talib and his wife Sayyida Khadija passed away as The Year of Grief (Aam al-Huzn).
Peace be upon you Oh’ Abu Talib, the guardian and protector of Muhammad (s), the father of Imam Ali (as), the 2nd best after the Holy Prophet (s), and the greatest uncle that a person could have!