The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) was asked by Ibn Abbas about the verse of the Holy Qur'an, "And the Foremost Ones are the foremost ones: they are the ones brought near to Allah" (56:10-11), to which he replied, 'This refers to Ali and his Shia – they will be the foremost to enter Paradise, the ones brought near to Allah through His Magnanimity over them." (Amali al-Tusi)
What Does it Mean to Be a Shia of Ali?
God has made the love of Imam Ali an incumbent article of faith. Only a believer would love Imam Ali, and only a hypocrite could ever hate him. Imam Ali is the friend of the believer through a natural human inclination towards perfection and lofty morals – attributes possessed by Imam Ali. However, history has recorded many individuals who claim love the Commander of the Faithful while displaying tendencies antagonistic to such love. According to the Prophet, the guardianship of Imam Ali is an obligation all humans will be accountable for on the Day of Judgment: "I swear by the Magnificence and Glory of my Lord that Ali is the door to God that leads to Him. Ali is Allah's 'Straight Path', and it is the guardianship of Ali that Allah will ask about on the Day of Judgment." ( Amali al-Saduq)
Narrations such as these may give some of us a sense of comfort, because we are led to believe that we are safe both in this life and the hereafter through our love of Imam Ali. However, the conscious believer should recognize that many of us have yet to realize what it truly means to love Imam Ali with both our hearts and our tongues. What does it mean to be a Shia of Ali today, in a world filled with corruption and the promotion of the greatest of sins?
The Shia of Ali Are Humble and Aware
Imam al-Baqir (peace be upon him) explains the need for humility and God-consciousness in anyone claiming to be a Shia of Ali ibn Abi-Talib: "Our Shia are none other than those who are consciously wary of their duty to Allah and obey Him. They are known solely for their humbleness, their humility, their returning promptly whatever is entrusted in their care, and their abundant remembrance of Allah." (Tuhaf al-Uqool) It is not possible to merely claim one is a Shia while remaining oblivious of one's duties towards God, the Holy Prophet, and the Purified Household. This awareness of our duties in Islam establishes both humility and a firm foundation of faith and practice.
The Shia of Ali Are Able to Control their Speech
Wonder of wonders! How can it be that the same tongue that invokes blessings of Allah on Ali backbites about a fellow believer? Imam al-Sadiq has warned us to be cognizant of the dangers of the tongue and its hindrance on our faith: "O Shia community, be an adornment for us [among people], and not a disgrace to us. Say good words to people, guard your tongues, and restrain yourselves from mindless chatter and offensive speech." (Amali al-Saduq)
The Shia of Ali are Pious and Noble
It is not enough to claim one is a Shia through speech and not actions! In fact, the title Shia is not a characterization we are born with, but rather one that is earned by those who are steadfast in their duties to God. Imam al-Baqir advises on our true identity as Shias and those loyal to Imam Ali, "Do you think that it suffices for one to say that he likes Imam Ali and he is his follower, but does not do anything to support his claim? Or he says that he likes the Prophet, who is even better than Imam Ali, but does not take his example and follow his deeds and act according to the Prophet's tradition? Just having love for the Prophet is of no use for him. Therefore, be conscious of God, and act in such a way as to attain what is near God, since there is no relation of kin between God and anyone. The one most loved by God is the one who is the most God-conscious, and the noblest one is the one who fears God and obeys Him. I swear by God that it is not possible to get close to God unless by His obedience, and we do not hold the key to relief from the Fire of Hell, and no one has any authority over God. Whoever is obedient to God is our friend, and whoever disobeys God is our enemy. No one can attain our friendship unless through God-consciousness and good deeds." (Tuhaf al-Uqool)
The Shia of Ali Are Careful about Prayers
In his last will and testament, Imam Ali stresses the importance of prayers to his Shia, "Fear Allah in relation to your prayers. It is the pillar of your religion." Imam al-Sadiq on his deathbed also mentions prayer and states, "Verily our intercession will not avail one who takes his prayer lightly." (Wasail al-Shia) He has also said, "Test our followers at three occasions: during the prayer times [to see] how much importance they give it; and by our secrets to see how they protect our secrets from our enemies; and with their wealth to see how they help their brothers in faith with it." (Bihar al-Anwar)
We cannot claim to be a Shia simply because we were born into the sect, or because we claim love Imam Ali. Indeed, the status of the Shia of Imam Ali is great and exalted, and therefore, so are the duties and responsibility in our faith and actions. By claiming to love Imam Ali, we must also love his great qualities and strive to implement them in our daily lives and actions. In many traditions, our Imams state their Shias are those who hold themselves accountable everyday for their actions and are those who improve their conduct every day. We ask God to grant us the honor of being among the followers of the Commander of the Faithful in this life and the next.