The following is a famous reply of Imam Ali (a) to the letter of Mu’awiya. It throws ample light on many phases of the history of Islam from the time of its dawn up to the time of Imam Ali (a).
After glorifying Allah and praising the Holy Prophet (s) let it be known to you that I am in receipt of your letter wherein you write to me that Almighty Allah selected Muhammad (s), the Holy Prophet as the Messenger of His revelations and He helped those companions of the Holy Prophet (s) who sincerely exerted themselves to assist him. Is it not an irony of fate that circumstances have favoured you to such a position that you dare remind us of the Favours which Allah bestowed upon us and the Blessings conferred by Him upon His chosen Prophet (s) who was one of us. You have nothing to do with them and you have no share in these Blessings and Favours.
Your condition is like that of a man who carries dates to the date-growing districts or that of a man who tries to teach archery to the master from whom he has learnt the art. You believe that the best of the people amongst the Muslims are so and so and you have started discussing a subject (superiority of Muhajirs over Ansar) which if it is proved correct will not be of any use to you, will not enhance your status and if it is repudiated, this repudiation will not harm you because you are neither a Muhajir nor an Ansar.
What have you to do with their respective status and prestige? What is that for you if one is considered superior to the other? How are you considered in their affairs? You are a freed and liberated slave, and slaves and their sons, though freed and liberated, cannot aspire to the status of Muhajirs and Ansar and they have no right to introduce unholy classification amongst the Muhajirs and Ansar. Do you realize your limitations? You do not belong to either group, you are a liberated slave and son of liberated parents and you want to introduce an unhealthy division between these two groups.
The false status you have tried to grasp is not going to enhance your prestige (before Allah or the people). Can you not think of remaining at the place where you old hostility towards Islam and the Holy Prophet (s) has kept you? How is the lower status or defeat of one class or a person of that class, to whom you do not belong going to harm you and how is the success or higher status of the other going to do you good? You have gone astray from the straight path and from the real teachings of Islam. Listen! I want to give you a short description of the Blessings of Allah upon us.
A party of Muhajirs met martyrdom. They were killed in the cause of Islam and Allah. everyone of them was blessed by Allah with a status and rank. Out of them those who belonged to my family and tribe, Bani Hashim, were granted an excellent status by Allah. Hamza (the uncle of the Holy Prophet (s) and Imam Ali (a)) received the title of Chief of Martyrs (Sayyid al-Shuhada). The Holy Prophet (s) himself called him by this name after his martyrdom and at his funeral ceremony.
The Holy Prophet (s) recited Takbir ('Allahu Akbar') seventy times as a mark of distinction for him, which is not for any other Muslim. Some Muhajirs lost their hands in the battlefield but when one of us (Ja'far, cousin of the Holy Prophet (s) and brother of Imam Ali (a)) lost both of his hands and died in the battlefield, Allah granted him angelic wings and the Holy Prophet (s) informed us that this martyr received the title of Tayyar (one who flies in Paradise). If Allah had not disapproved man's habit of eulogizing and praising himself, I would have given several such instances which speak of the enhancement of my prestige and status before Allah, instances which are accepted and can be testified by faithful Muslims about which the hearers will have no reason to doubt. Do not be like a man whom the Devil has laid astray. Accept the obvious truth when it faces you.
Listen O' Mu’awiya! We (Ahlul Bayt, the progeny of the Holy Prophet (s)) are unique examples of the creation of Allah. For such a status, we are not under obligation to any person or tribe but the Almighty Allah who granted us these blessings. Human beings have received and will receive perfection through us. The perpetual supremacy and inherent superiority do not prevent us from making contact with human beings or with your clan, we have married amongst you and have established family connections with your (as well as with others) clan, though you do not belong to our class. How can you be our equal when the Holy Prophet (s) belongs to us and Abu Jahl, the worst enemy of Islam was from amongst you.
Asadullah (lit. “the Lion of Allah” - a title of Imam Ali (a)) is from amongst us, while Asadul Ahlaaf (lion of the opposing groups, who had sworn to fight against Islam and the Holy Prophet (s)) was from you.
The two foremost leaders of the youth of Paradise (Imam Hasan (a) & Imam Husayn (a)) are from us and the children of Hell are from you. The best woman in the world (title bestowed by Allah upon Fatima (a)) the beloved daughter of the Holy Prophet (s) is from us, and the slanderer and the wood-carrying woman who tried to spend every hour of her life in doing harm to the Holy Prophet of Islam (s), was your aunt. There are so many other things similar to the few mentioned which praise us and speak ill of your clan and which show how far and superior we are to you.
We were faithful followers of the commandments of Allah and you and your clan always opposed Islam and accepted it out of sheer expediency simply to save yourselves from humiliation and disgrace.
Our sincerity in Islam and our services to its cause are the facts of history and history cannot deny your enmity against Islam and the Holy Prophet (s).
The credit which you want to take away from us and the honour which you want to deprive us of is the one which the Holy Qur’an is carefully guarding for us. It says: “Some relatives are superior and have excellence over others, according to the Book of Allah” [ Qur’an, 33:6 ] and in another place in the very same Book, Allah informs mankind that: “The nearest people to Abraham, are those who follow him and those who follow the Holy Prophet (s) and the true believers. Allah is the guardian of the true believers” [ Qur’an, 2:68 ]. Therefore we hold two excellences: That of close relationship to the Holy Prophet (s) and that of loyally accepting his teachings. Do you know on the day of Saqifa, Muhajirs told Ansar that they were superior to them because they in one way or the other, were related to the Holy Prophet (s) and therefore they deserved the caliphate and with the aid of this argument the Muhajirs carried the day.
If success can be achieved with the help of this argument and if it has got a grain of truth in it then according it, we and not you, deserve the caliphate. If not, then the Ansar still hold their claim over the caliphate.
You want to impress the world with the idea that I envied all the previous caliphs and that I was jealous of them. Even if I grant this, I want to know what right and authority have you to ask for an explanation from me? You have no place in religion to talk of such things. You also want to taunt me by saying that when I refused to accept the caliphate of the First Caliph I was dragged like a camel with a rope round my neck and every kind of cruelty and humiliation was leveled against me. I swear by my life that by talking like that you want to bring disgrace to me but you are actually doing the greatest service to me and are disgracing yourself as well as the cause that you pretend to support.
There is no disgrace for a Muslim if he is subjected to tyranny and suppression so long as he is firm in his faith and belief in Allah and religion. This is exactly what I say that every cruelty and tyranny was leveled against me to deprive me of the right which Allah and the Holy Prophet (s) have given me and this is exactly what you do not want to acknowledge and accept. Your taunts against me go a long way to prove that in reality there was no election, it was a coup d'etat followed by brutal force which decided the fate of caliphate by making it neither hereditary nor elective but possessive. I have no desire to go into these details but you brought in the subject and I was forced to explain a few points about it.
Then you have referred to the murder of Uthman, and declaring yourself to be his relative, you claim vengeance and blood (and want me to arrange for it as if I was responsible for the murder). I want to say something about the insinuation and false propaganda carried on by you in this respect.
My reply to you is that first of all you should try and find out who was the arch-enemy of Uthman. Can the arch-enemy be he who offered his help and services to Uthman and Uthman refused to have anything to do with him and told him plainly to go and sit at home as his help was not required and his services were not needed or the worst enemy of Uthman is he whom Uthman asked to come to his succour and who purposely and intentionally delayed the help and allowed the events to take their course till what was to happen. No, these two persons cannot be considered in the same category. I swear by the Omniscient Allah that He very well knows everything as He says in the Holy Book, “Allah certainly knows the people who put obstacles in the path of those who wanted to go to war and also to those who did not stay to face a battle.” [Qur’an, 33:18 ].
I do not want to offer any excuse for having objected to his introducing innovations in religion. If my objections to the introduction of innovation and my advice to him to give it up was considered by him a sin committed by me, then I do not attach any importance to his opinion, because well-wishers are often blamed, and their good advice is misconstrued but they do their duty to man and religion. Allah in the Holy Book repeats the saying of a prophet which appropriately represents my position. He says, “I only intend to reform you as much as I can. My success lies with Allah. I have faith in Him and trust in His help.” [ Qur’an, 11:88 ].
Then you have tried to frighten me by saying that there is nothing with you for me and my companions but your sword. Well, Mu’awiya! You made the people laugh at your words, they were feeling very sad and depressed at the standard of mental depravity exhibited by you.
When did you find the sons of Abdul Muttalib (the grandfather of the Holy Prophet (s) and Imam Ali (a)) timid in facing their enemies or getting afraid of brandishing swords?
Just wait a little, you will in the near future have to face the attack of a brave soldier. He will shortly invite you for the encounter you are desiring for. The thing which you apparently wish for is not as far away as you imagine it to be. I am coming towards you with an army of Muhajirs, Ansar and those companions who have sincere faith in me. Theirs is a powerful congregation. Their movements will raise huge clouds of dust (indicating the strength of the army). They are prepared to die or to kill. They believe that the best that could happen to the is to receive the Blessings of the Lord by their good deeds. Sons of those warriors who routed your clan in the Battle of Badr is with them.
The swords of Bani Hashim are with them. And you have already realized the sharpness of these swords when your brother, your maternal uncle, your grandfather and kinsmen were killed (those people were killed by Imam Ali (a) in the battles of Badr and Uhud). These swords are now nearing the despots who have tyrannized the Muslim world.