Christians and Muslims are all humble before the greatness of Ali ibn Abi Talib(as)
The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) belongs to all of humanity. He does not only belong to Shia Muslims and Muslims in general. All of humanity is humble and respectful of the greatness and beautiful aspects of Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) except for those people who do not know him. Therefore, you can see that the panegyrists of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) are not only Muslims. Christians also praise the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.): not only Shia Muslims praise him. Besides Shia Muslims, the community of Sunni Muslims, in all parts of the Islamic world, sometimes speak more enthusiastically about the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) than about other great personalities of the early Islamic era. Why? What is the reason? The reason is the greatness of this Imam; the kind of greatness which some people tried to deny throughout the life of that great personality, during several centuries after his demise: but they failed. The brightness of the sun cannot be denied because it is the sun, and it naturally shines and gives warmth and light. Can this be denied? These are historical facts, and even the enemy of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) has acknowledged them. In a meeting with Muawiyah, somebody said something against the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) in order to flatter him. Muawiyah became angry at this person, and he began a statement in praise of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.). Muawiyah used to ask the companions of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.)--those who confronted Muawiyah after the demise of that great Imam (a.s.)--to speak to him about Ali (a.s.), and they would do this. There is a narration which says, Muawiyah sometimes shed tears. These are the astonishing facts about Ali (a.s.)--This is while the enmity of Muawiyah towards Ali (a.s.) is not a secret: everybody knows it.One of the children or grandchildren of Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr--the Zubayr family were against the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.)--asked his father, "What is the reason for the increasing greatness of the household of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.)? He answered, "Yes, it is like this. Whatever his enemies did to hide his virtues, he showed himself as pure gold amid all these hedges of thorns. Whatever his enemies did to gather virtues for themselves, they found out that their efforts made noses feel nauseous like a corpse would--whose appalling smell fills the space moment by moment." This is the way the enemies of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) have spoken about him. Today too, the books of Muslims--whether Shia or Sunni--are full of the Commander of the Faithful's (a.s.) virtues.
At all stages of life, he is our role model. Teenagers who are ten, twelve, thirteen years old can follow Ali (a.s.). They can make him their role model. Why? Because when he was ten and eleven years old, he was the first person to know and accept Islam and follow the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.). The fact that a child, between the age of ten and eleven years old, discovered the truth, stood up for it, and followed it as much as he could, amid all those hostilities and denials, is significant. Young individuals who are between twenty and twenty-five years can also make the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) their role model. Why? Because when he was twenty- three, during the time when the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) migrated from Mecca to Medina, he undertook the heaviest responsibility during the great migration. The Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) entrusted the dearest members of his household to Ali (a.s.) so that he would bring them from Mecca to Medina. The Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) entrusted him with the duty of giving the people things which were held in trust: to pay his debts, collect money which the people owed the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.), and join him in Medina.It was he [Ali (a.s.)] who agreed to sleep on the Holy Prophet's (s.w.a.) bed and go face to face with danger on a night when the enemies planned to break into the house and mutilate the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) with their swords. See how great that Imam (a.s.) was! His behavior can serve as an example for us. When the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) formed a government in Medina, the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) became his top soldier; he continued to play such a role during the ten-year rule of the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.): that is to say, from twenty-three till thirty-three years old. Whenever the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) had a problem, Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) was the first person to stand beside him and defend him. During different wars, he played a leading role. During different wars, his sword used to solve the difficult and insolvable problems of the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.). Whenever everyone retreated, he forgot about his life and he advanced. And he did not want anything for himself. Whatever he did was in the way of God, for the sake of God and for rendering services to the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.).When the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) passed away, the Commander of the Faithful thought that it was his right to be the caliph. And in order to do this, he took action, delivered speeches, and invited the people to accept his caliphate. But, he withdrew when he saw that it was not possible; and when he saw that if he entered the arena and continued to invite the people, the Muslim community would disintegrate. "Therefore, I exercised patience while there was a thorn in my eye and while sorrow had blocked the path of my throat" [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 3]. For twenty-five years, the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) did not say anything about his right--he regarded it as his absolute right--for the sake of the unity of the Islamic Ummah, the solidarity of the Islamic community and the maintenance of the Islamic government. Are these jokes? Are these things easy to do? These are the things which help an individual conquer the peaks of glory in human history. These are the things which turn an individual into the brightest sun--which never sets--in human history.
After twenty years, when the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was fifty-seven or fifty-eight years old--when he was in older in age--the people came to him and firmly insisted that he should accept the caliphate. They said, "You should come and you should accept it. We will not stop asking you." The Commander of the Faithful did not accept their offer at first, but when he saw that many people from the entire world of Islam--people from Egypt, Iraq, and Medina, including the outstanding personalities, al-Muhajirun and al-Ansar--came and firmly said: "Oh Ali, no one except for you can manage this community and solve these problems," then he said "Alright, I accept the caliphate," and he accepted it. Since the moment that he accepted this responsibility and until the time when his holy head was slit, while he was praying, he did not stop--not even for a single day or hour--safeguarding the right and the truth from which Islam emerged. No considerations, no fear, and no weakness prevented him from carrying out his responsibility.
"That men may stand forth in justice" [The Holy Quran, 57: 25]. The prophets entered the arena for administering justice. They entered the arena for helping the people get close to God and enforcing divine rules among the people. This is the mission of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) as the executor of the Holy Prophet's (s.w.a.) will and as the Islamic caliph. He did not retreat, even for a second, on treading this path. He was not negligent in moving forward. His old friends broke off their relationship with him. Those who had extravagant claims became unhappy and they separated from him. They waged wars against him in order to overthrow him. Those who used to praise him in the past turned into his mortal enemies.
But the criticism of these people did not at all influence the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.). "I am one of the people who is not intimidated by the criticism of faultfinders" [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 192]. He continued the path in a steadfast way until he was martyred. "He died by assassination in the mosque at Kufa, death occasioned by his own generous fairness." This is the character of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.); these are the outward qualities that we can see. See how amazing they are: how delicate, beautiful, and astonishing his virtues are.
Now we call ourselves Alavis and Shias of Ali (a.s.). If we say the name of Ali (a.s.), but we do not follow his path, this is of no value. There were some people during the time of that great Imam (a.s.) who expressed their love for him, but who refused to do what he wanted. The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) treated them without mercy. They were involved in corruption, and he administered divine punishment upon them. They said blasphemous words, and he put them to the sword.
When a number of people saw the greatness of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.)--we are inferior before this greatness--they said that he was a "god." When we see a great individual, we compare him to a "god." We cannot believe that our great and omniscient God can create such a great individual. But we make a mistake by saying such things. During the time of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), some people made this mistake by saying that he was a "god." The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) ordered all of them to be killed; he did not show mercy towards them; he did not stand in a ceremony with them; he did not say that they are his supporters or that they are exaggerating: he did not do any of that. They abandoned the path of monotheism and fighting against polytheism; they became apostates, and they did not repent. The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) ordered that divine punishment is inflicted upon them, and he killed all of them.
The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) is like this. If we imagine that just because we praise the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) in words or just because we love him in our hearts, Allah the Exalted and the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) himself will forget about our wrongdoings and our deviation, we should know that this is not the philosophy of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.). The philosophy of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) is treading on the path of God. A Shia Muslim is a person who follows the path of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.). Now an individual may make a certain mistake or commit a certain sin; this is a different issue. This individual should repent. But the philosophy of the Commander of the Faithful does not at all allow us to pin our hopes on our relationship with the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) and minimize the seriousness of our deviation from the path of God. The significance of what the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) did lies in the fact that he did not forget about people's rights, justice, and preserving the path of God just because of certain considerations.
Imam Khamenei, Jul 28, 2007