There are narrations – that I feel are fabricated by Nasibis – which say that Imam Ali, Ibn Abi-Talib (peace be upon them), was fat and bald. Some claim that he is also short. Is there any truth to such claims?
What are the true characteristics of Allah’s Lion, the Commander of the Faithful, Ali Ibn Abi-Talib (peace be upon them), which you believe to be the most correct?
In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful.
May Allah bless Muhammad and his Family and damn their enemies.
It is true that our Master, the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him), has been described as being “Anza'” and “Bateen” (often wrongly misunderstood to mean “bald with a fat belly”). However, these characteristics were not given to him to condemn his looks; they were used to praise him and clarify his virtues. Similar to how he was given the nickname “Abi-Turab” (literally The Father of Sand), which was the nickname he (peace be upon him) was proud of. In fact, the heads of the Nawasib of the clan of Bani-Umayyah and those who walked their deviant path (may Allah curse them) twisted the meaning of these nicknames to portray him in a negative light.
What becomes evident through historical research is that the origin of these characteristics date back to when our Master, the Great Messenger of Allah (blessings be upon him and his pure family), said:
O Ali…Allah (Exalted is He) has forgiven you, and your family, and your Shi’a, and the lovers of your Shi’a, and the lovers of those who love your Shi’a. So be glad, for you are the ‘Anza’ (one who has something removed from himself) and the ‘Bateen’ (someone whose interior is full); the one who is utterly free of polyethism, and the one who is full of knowledge.
Uyun Akhbar al-RIza, by Al-Sadouq, vol. 1, p. 52
and is narrated by other great scholars as well.
Hence, “Anza'” and “Bateen” are metaphors used to describe Imam Ali’s (peace be upon him) profound faith and capacious knowledge.
The meaning of these two phrases is further supported by what other people have said, especially when used in their poetry throughout Islamic history, to highlight the merits and virtues of our Master, the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him). If the intention was to besmirch his name, Allah forbid, then things would have been very different, as we would not have found historical records proving that those phrases were used to praise him.
Mirza al-Nouri narrates, in Mustadrak al-Wasa’el, a well-known and marvellous story about a black man who was caught for theft and punished by the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) who cut off his hand. When Ibn al-Kou asked him (the man) who cut off his hand, he replied: ‘’My hand was cut off by the ‘Anza’ and the ‘Bateen,’ and the Door of Certainty (of faith in Allah), and the Firm Rope of Allah, and the Intercessor on the Day of Judgment, and the One who used to pray the 51 daily units of prayer.” And he mentioned many virtues. As soon as the man finished praising him and went his way, Abdullah Ibn al-Kou went to see the Imam, and he said to him: “Peace be upon you, O’ Commander of the Faithful.” The Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) said to him: “Peace be upon he who follows the right path, and he who fears annihilation (in hell).’’ Then he said to him: “O’ Abal-Hassanain, you cut off the right hand of a black man, and I heard him praise you with such beautiful words.
So pay attention here to how the man used the phrases ‘Anza’ and ‘Bateen’ in a context of praise and commendation and whom the narrator regarded as being virtues. Additionally, Ibn al-Kou regarded this as a beautiful way to praise the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him).
In another miraculous story, we see that a palm tree uttered this virtuous word. Al-Tabari al-Imami narrates the following in Nawadir-ul-Mu’jizat on behalf of Muhammad Ibn Sa’eed Ibn Tha’laba, who ascribed this narration directly to Jabir Ibn Abdullah al-Ansari, who said:
I had a son who was suffering from a serious defect, so I asked the Messenger of Allah (Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him and his pure family) to pray for him. So he said: ‘’Ask Ali, for he is from me and I am from him.’’ I felt some doubt, but I went to (see) him while he was praying. As soon as he finished his prayer, I saluted him and told him about what the Messenger of Allah (Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him and his pure family) had said. Then he said to me: “Yes.” Then he stood up and approached a palm tree nearby and said: “O palm tree. Who am I?” Then I heard it groan like a pregnant woman in labour. I heard it say: “O ‘Anza’ and ‘Bateen’, You are the Commander of the Faithful, and the successor of the Messenger of the Lord of all the worlds. You are the Mightiest Miracle, and you are the Greatest Argument.” Then it became silent. He (peace be upon him) turned to me and said: “O Jabir, the doubt has now vanished from your heart, and your mind has become clear. Conceal what you just heard and saw, except its people (those who are worthy).
Also, if we examine the following poem, we see that the terms are used in the same context.
Mohammad al-Iskafi said:
He is a scholar who is knowledgeable about all that exists, And people turn to him for (his) knowledge of the Message. He was the Chosen One by Ahmad to learn the secrets of his knowledge, And he is the One who is full of knowledge (‘Bateen’), and he is the ‘Anza.
Be certain than none shall benefit you tomorrow, Except the Hashemite ‘Bateen’, the ‘Anza.
– Manaqib Aal-Abi-Talib, by Ibn Shahr-Ashoub.
Even if we assume that the phrases are literal, not metaphorical, they still are not demeaning to the Imam (peace be upon him). The term ‘Anza’’ is used to describe someone whose forehead appears as if it starts from the centre of his head because that is where his hair seems to stop growing. It does not necessarily refer to a bald person. As a matter of fact, this characteristic was a sign of optimism and a good omen to the Arabs. Ibn Mandhour said in Lisan al-Arab: ‘’Arabs love ‘Naz’, and they see an ‘Anza’ as a good omen. They condemn ‘Ghamam’ and see an ‘Agham’ as a bad omen. They claim that a person whose forehead and back of the head is ‘Agham’ is a wicked person. Hence, the following saying by Hudba Ibn Khashram:
Do not marry (O my woman), if time separates us, A person whose face and back of the head is ‘Agham’ and not ‘Anza.
– Lisan al-Arab, vol., 8, p. 352.
- An “Agham” is a characteristic opposite of “Anza,’’ meaning that he is someone whose hair reaches his eyebrows and grows to such a degree that it covers his forehead.
As for ‘’Bateen,’’ it means a person whose stomach is wide, and it doesn’t refer to a person whose stomach is swollen, as ignorant people believe. The latter (i.e. having a swollen stomach) is called a “Mabtoun,” which was the characteristic of Mu’awiya Ibn Abi-Sufyan (may Allah curse them). A wide stomach is a sign of bodily strength. Our Commander (may our souls be sacrificed for his sake) was a man of war, bravery, and courage. It is natural for him to be an “Anza’’and a “Bateen” because these are the normal characteristics of hardened men whose bodies are fit and in a healthy state.
Also, the claim that he (peace and blessings be upon him) was short was denied by him. The following has been narrated in Al-Khisal, by Al-Sadouq:
The Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) said: ‘Allah (Glorious and Exalted is He) did not create me as a tall or a short person; He created me with a normal height so that I may hit (with a sword) a short person and cut him vertically into two pieces, and hit the tall person and cut him horizontally into two pieces.
As per the narration above, the Commander of the Faithful (Allah’s blessings be upon him and his family) denies being short and describes his height as normal, or what we may refer to as ‘average.’ In the same narration, the Imam (peace be upon him) describes that his height was perfected for war. How can he not be so when Allah (Glorious and Exalted is He) has created him in the best image?
Several narrations mention the phrases in question, and we understand all of them to have the same meaning we have clarified in the answer above.
The Nawasib do not abstain from defiling the sanctity of the Greatest Ally of Allah, Ali (Allah’s blessings be upon him), so they are expected to twist the meanings of phrases used to describe his lofty position simply to demean and insult him. Such acts are intolerable to any sensible Muslim, and they may only harm those who commit them. The Nawasib only reveal their filthy nature whenever they insult the Infallibles (peace be upon them) and their loyal followers.
The light of Abil-Hassan Ali Bin Abi-Talib (Allah’s blessings be upon him) shall always remain shining against his enemies’ will.
The Office of Sheikh al-Habib