The term sacrifice is defined as the "act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy." The sacrifices made by those who embraced Islam are crucial in the rise of our faith and its continuation to this very day. The degrees of sacrifices may vary from one person to another depending on their status, level of faith, and their own abilities. It is no surprise that the people who sacrificed the most for Islam are the Holy Prophet and his Pure Household (peace be upon them all). As their followers, it is mandatory to study the different sacrifices they made if we are to follow in their paths.
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) is one of these role models whose sacrifices are innumerable. It is important to not just restrict our discussion only to "what" sacrifices Imam Ali made, but to also focus on the motive behind the sacrifice and also the tools that ensured the sacrifice was "impactful".
By examining different sacrifices of Imam Ali, we realize some of the common themes that motivated his actions. These include: pleasing God, protecting the religion, protecting God's representative, and improving the Islamic community welfare.
To begin with, the most common form of sacrifice is giving up one's own life. At the early stages of Islam, the disbelievers wanted to destroy the religion. They tortured, killed, and even banished those who followed Islam. Eventually Allah gave the permission for Jihad, and it is at the point that all Muslims had the chance to make their greatest sacrifice. Battle after battle, war after war, the Muslims marched, and Imam Ali was the first in line for battle. He never ran away. He never backed down. Even when the warrior equated to a thousand men, Amr ibn Abduwad during the battle of the Trench, Imam Ali was the only person to respond to his challenge. While many of the companions of the Prophet sat there, Imam Ali risked his life to protect the image of Islam. While the Imam was not martyred in those battles, the fact that he cared less about his own life and was willing to give it up is alone a major sacrifice. How many of us today are willing to stand in the front line of war with the enemy for the sake of Islam?
Protecting Islam goes further than just raising the flag of the religion. Allah sent us His representatives to help keep spread the teaching of the religion. Many of the believers had to migrate from Mecca to Medina at the very beginning of Islam. This alone was a major sacrifice – leaving everything behind. When the Prophet wanted to migrate, Imam Ali made one of the glorious sacrifices in the history of Islam. He slept in the bed of the Prophet knowing that the disbelievers of Quraysh were determined to kill the Prophet. When the Prophet asked the Imam if he was ready to take on that role, the Imam's reply was, "And will you [O' Prophet] be safe?"
The Imam's sacrifices continued and went beyond sacrificing his life, despite it being the highest form of sacrifice. He sacrificed his wealth for the poor. He sacrificed his rest for his people. He gave everything he was able to give in the way of Allah. He did all that to help the Islamic community. Are we following in his footsteps? Are we sacrificing our wealth for a bigger cause? Are we sacrificing our time for a bigger cause?
The Imam did all of that, and he has set the example in how to do it. Allah has engraved this status of Imam Ali in the Qur'an when He revealed on the night of Hijra, "And of the people is he who sells himself seeking means to the approval of Allah." (2:207)
By closely examining the aforementioned sacrifices, there are some common attributes that help make each sacrifice solid and they include: faith, devotion, obedience, strength, patience, and wisdom.
It is through the combination of these attributes that each sacrifice will fulfill its desired impact. Obviously, a true Muslim and follower of Ahlul Bayt will combine these attributes. It is only a matter of reaching the maximum depicted by Ahlul Bayt.
A Final Picture
Having examined some of the sacrifices made by Imam Ali, there remains one major sacrifice that may be considered the hardest of them all. This sacrifice might very well destroy any human being, and it takes someone like Imam Ali to be able to handle it in order for this sacrifice to be complete. This sacrifice is his position after the death of the Prophet.
In his own words: "I found that endurance thereon was wiser. So I adopted patience although there was pricking in the eye and suffocation (of mortification) in the throat. I watched the plundering of my inheritance..." (Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 3)
Furthermore, history narrates the subsequent attack on the house of Imam Ali, and the oppression that came about upon him and his family, especially his wife.
Which human being can handle his rights usurped right before him, his wife beaten, and his house attacked and burnt? Which human being can be left as an outcast in the city he helped build? Only Allah knows what Imam Ali went through. And he did it for the sake of Allah. He did it in obedience the will of the Prophet. He did it to protect the Qur'an. He did it to protect the Adhan. He did it so Islam reaches us today.
So, if we claim we follow him, we have to first and foremost learn from him. Then we should strive to make sacrifices to please Allah and to protect His representatives. Not long ago, the Prophet's legacy was attacked. What sacrifice have we made? Just recently, the Qur;an was threatened. What sacrifice have we made? Our Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance) is coming. What sacrifices are we ready to make for his awaited return?
The sacrifices of Imam Ali have inspired many. He has inspired the likes of Ammar ibn Yasir and Hijr ibn Ady. He has inspired Abul Fadhl al-Abbas, Zainab, Habib ibn Madhahir (peace be upon them), and many others. He has inspired great scholars throughout history. He has inspired the Islamic Revolution. He has inspired those who repelled the Zionists in 2006. He has inspired the millions marching towards the shrine of Imam al-Hussain today. All of these and many more are students of the School of Imam Ali. They have the necessary attributes. They have the necessary motivations. The question that remains: what about us?