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Ali, Figures of the First Master in Shī‘ī Spirituality

Based on a detailed analysis of several categories of sources, this book demonstrates that Shi‘ism is the religion of the Imam, of the Master of Wisdom, just like Christianity is that of Christ, and that ‘Alī is the first Master and Imam par excellence. Shi‘ism can therefore be defined, in its most specific religious aspects, as the absolute faith in ‘Alī: the divine Man, the most perfect manifestation of God’s attributes, simultaneously spiritual refuge, model and horizon.

ʿAlī son of Abī Ṭālib is without any doubt one of the most important personalities of nascent Islam. First cousin and son-in-law to Muḥammad, the father of Muhammad’s only male progeny and himself the fourth caliph, he is one of the most respected Companions of the Prophet in the eyes of all Muslims. It is however in Shiʿi Islam, the religion of the mystical cult of the figure of the Guide (imām), that ʿAlī is precisely the first Imam, father of all the others and the ideal man of God, that he acquires paramount importance, to the point that, for many, Shiʿism is the religion of devotion to ʿAlī and the other imams descended from him. As I have written elsewhere, Shiʿism is the religion of the imam just as Christianity is the religion of Christ, and ʿAlī is the imam par excellence.

In recent years hundreds of books and articles and even entire encyclopaedias about ʿAlī have appeared, written by Muslims and, of course, especially by Shiʿis. Nevertheless, apart from these works, admittedly very useful, but written from a confessional point of view, there is no comprehensive study applying critical historical and philological methodologies to the subject. The only such studies in existence confine themselves to the examination of specific aspects of this major figure of the history of Islam. The present short work seeks to at least partly fill that gap and to serve as an introduction to a wider, maybe collective, study.

There are several distinct aspects to the figure of ʿAlī, to which we will return later in this book, but one in particular led me to write it. It is that ʿAlī is the only figure among the ‘Companions of Muḥammad’ who has remained to this day the object of a veritable cult for hundreds of millions of the faithful. Apart from the more than 200 million Twelver, Ismaili or Zaydi Shiʿis for whom ʿAlī is the supreme symbol of the highest sanctity, there are millions of Bektashis and Turkish Alevis, (‘followers of ʿAlī’), Syrian Alawis (a term with the same meaning), and Kurdish Ahl-e Ḥaqq/Yāresān, in addition to the millions of Sunni Sufis, notably in the Muslim East, for whom he represents, amongst other things, the source of their chains of mystical and initiatory transmission, as well as the figure of the perfect divine sage. For a large number of these Muslims, explicitly or occultly, ʿAlī is even superior to Muḥammad. Why? Where does this veritable devotion towards this figure, who therefore constitutes a unique case of its kind, come from? Many other Companions of Muḥammad occupy a central place in Muslim history or spirituality and yet none of them has, like ʿAlī, become the object of such persistent, widespread and fervent devotion. Even such a cardinal figure as ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, a father-in-law of Muhammad, the second caliph after him and celebrated as the artisan of the first Arab conquests and the foundation of the Muslim empire, never enjoyed such popularity. And why precisely ʿAlī? This book
seeks to provide some elements of a reply to that question….

About the Author

Mohammad Ali Amir Moezzi, Ph.D. (1990), is professor of classical Islamic studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Sorbonne). A specialist of Shi‘ism, he is the author of a large number of monographs and articles, including (with Etan Kohlberg) Revelation and Falsification (Brill).

Bibliographic Information

Title: Ali, Figures of the First Master in Shī‘ī Spirituality

Author(s): Mohammad Ali Amir Moezzi

Publisher: BRILL

Length: 400 pages

ISBN: 978-90-04-52243-5

Pub. Date: 07 Nov 2022

Ali, Figures of the First Master in Shī‘ī Spirituality

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