Another 13 Rajab is upon us and yet again we commemorate the birthday of Imam Ali (peace be upon him). Although we say we love the imam, why do we commemorate his birthday?
Remembering the birthday of anyone, whether it be of a prophet, imam, or saintly person is a means by which we dedicate time to reflection on the qualities of that individual. While the celebration of birthdays and deaths is a simple tool of reflection, it has great ramifications for those who properly attach themselves to its practice.
This Rajab, we attach ourselves to numerous infallibles, not just Imam Ali, to see how they are, measure ourselves against them, and try to live up to the lofty standards of excellance they called for. We are not celebrating these days for the sake of getting off of work or to have some good cake, but to appreciate what they are.
We recognize that especially in this day and age, concepts not personalities are what endure. That is exactly why we celebrate the example of the Prophet and his family–they are Allah's manifestation of human dignity, patience, bravery, justice, and intelligence, par exellence.
It is reported both in Sunni and Shia sources that the Prophet Muhammed said that Imam Ali is to him as Harun (Aaron) was to Musa (Moses), only there will be no prophets after him. When one looks in the Quran and sees that Aaron's position was vizier and representative (caliph) to Moses as well as a prophet, we understand what was Ali's importance in the absence of the Prophet Muhammed. There are numerous other example
Some people ask how it is that so many from the community surrounding the prophet could turn away from acommand to follow Ali. But why not? That's what happened with Aaron when Moses went on the mountain.
Now more than ever, there is a need to attach ourselves to Ali. So many people have their theories about what is or is not Islam, but they go on endlessly because they don't have a firm criterion. Some might say "just follow the Quran and Sunnah (way of the Prophet)," but just as in following Imam Ali, one must attach oneself to people with links that eventually end at the Prophet's doorstep. Allah designated Imam Ali to show us how to follow the prophet afterwards so that the community would be guarded from error. That does not diminish the Prophet's status as the last prophet and the best person who was ever created.
Recognizing Imam Ali is to recognize what Islam is all about. Yet how many of us have spoken to our non-Shia neighbors, whether Muslim or otherwise about the importane of Ahlul-Bait? It is hard enough when we don't want to talk about such things and even harder when our day-to-day manners show lack of appreciation for the message of Islam.
In our community, we have heard the stories of Imam Ali’s stand for justice, his patience, his knowledge and more, many times. But we still have not appreciated him. How sad it is when what passes for love for him is often at the end of the day simply rage and sadness. That is a part of what it means to be a lover of Ahlul-Bait, but not the whole story. We do our imam a disservice to wallow in self-pity and not recognize our faith as dynamic ideology that not only has room for all of us, but practical answers for all of us as well.