The ingenious Imam Ali

Apart from his bravery, valor and warfare techniques, what is attributed to him in intellect is equally impressing. Imam Ali’s scientific theories about monotheism, the creation of man, heavens, earth, stars, suns, mountains, clouds, thunder, plants, philosophy of history, phylogeny and even the creation of the peacock and the bat, confirm not only the interpretation of the  glorious Qur’an but also the modern scientific works. He was endowed with a quick, sharp, and incisive mathematical mind. One cannot proceed on this subject without referring to some of the instances.

Once two travellers sat together to have a meal. One had five loaves of bread and the other had three. A third traveler was passing by and at the request of the two joined in the meal. The travelers cut each of the loaf of bread in three equal parts. Each of the travelers ate eight broken pieces of the loaf. At the time of leaving the third traveler took out eight dirhams and gave to the first two men who had offered him the meal, and went away. On receiving the money the two travelers started quarreling as to who should have how much of the money. The five loaf man demanded five dirhams. The three loaf man insisted on dividing the money in two equal parts. The dispute was brought to Imam Ali, the Caliph of the time in Arabia, to be decided. He asked the man with three loafs to accept three dirhams, because five-loaf-man has been more than fair. The three loaf man refused and said that he would take only four dirhams. At this Ali replied, “You can have only one dirham. You had eight loaves between yourselves. Each loaf was broken in three parts. Therefore, you had 24 equal parts. Your three loaves made nine parts out of which you have eaten eight portions, leaving just one to the third traveler. Your friend had five loaves which divided into three made fifteen pieces. He ate eight pieces and gave seven pieces to the guest. As such the guest shared one part from your loaves and seven from those of your friend. So you should get one dirham and your friend should receive seven dirhams.”

At one more occasion he was asked what number would be divided by 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 10 without fraction. He quickly answered to multiply the number of the days of a year by the number of the days of a week to get the result, i.e 360 x 7 = 2520 which is divisible by 1 to 9.

Once again three persons came to him who had to distribute 17 camels among them in the manner that half of them would go to one, a third to the other and a ninth of them to the last one. Imam Ali added to them one of his own camels so that he half of the camels is 9 heads, the third is 6 and the ninth is 2 heads. So 9+6+2=17. He answered their problem and then he took back his own camel. Imam Ali was once interrupted while he was delivering a sermon from the pulpit by someone who asked him how to distribute the inheritance of someone who had died leaving a wife, his parents and two daughters. The Imam instantly answered:

“The wife’s share becomes one ninth.” This answer is in fact the result of a long analysis with a number of steps. Ordinarily, we have to decide on the original share of each of these heirs.

 The wife takes one eighth, in view of the presence of an inheriting child [Holy Quran 4:12].

The deceased’s father and mother take one sixth each [Holy Quran 4:11].

The two daughters take two thirds of the inheritance [Holy Quran 4:11]

So the total will be: 1/8 + 1/6 + 1/6 + 2/3 = 3/24 + 4/24 + 4/24 + 16/24 = 27/24

This means the share becomes less than 1/8 in view of the increase of the total of the shares which are so fixed and prescribed. So the one eighth, the original share due to the wife out of twenty-four total shares, has become three shares out of a total of twenty-seven, which is one ninth. Imam Ali’s mind went through this complex mathematical process in a second!

Another man pointing towards the sun asked him, “What is the distance between me and the sun”. The complexity of this question is worth mentioning here. This man was an Arab and in the Arabic language the numbers or count is limited up to one thousand (1000). The answer to the question dealt in millions (i.e the distance). It was like a challenge to Imam Ali to answer him in a convincing manner without confusing him. So he said, “If an Arab horse starts running from here and continues running for 500 years, then the horse will reach the sun.” The man was convinced and walked away. But it is for us now to ponder on what Imam Ali said. The average speed of an Arab horse is 22 mph (miles per hour). If a horse runs the full day (24 hours) it will cover approximately 520 miles. This gives us the distance the horse will cover in 24 hrs (one day). To calculate the distance covered by the horse in one month we multiply 520 by 29.5, taking an average of the number of months in lunar calendar, assuming that 6 months are of 29 days and 6 months are of 30 days. It gives us something around 15,500. The horse will cover 15,500 miles in one month (30 days). To get the distance that he will travel in one year we multiply it by 12. Since there are 12 months in a year, it gives 1,86000. Then multiply 1,86000 by 500 as the horse should run for 500 years which gives  93,400,000 miles.

Now if one asks an astronomer about the distance of sun from the earth he will tell us that the distance is never constant. The orbit of the earth is oval in shape. Sometimes it comes nearer to the sun and on occasions it distances itself from the sun. When the earth is closest to the sun its distance is 91,000000 miles and the distance when it is farthest from the sun is 94,800000 miles. When we take the average, it comes around 930,000 miles. This is really a scientific masterpiece but the most important thing was his deep knowledge of monotheism, which had given him much importance. Certainly monotheistic knowledge is connected with morality and it is affected by the call of conscience. It consequently brings peace and comfort. It is neither destructive nor ruinous because it is not based on material concerns. Of course Islam provides such liberal education. At first, a person is purified from evilness and then is taught science and wisdom to do good for mankind.

Ali was quite philosophical in his interpretations. When asked about the strongest of things, he was so ready with the answer as if pre-organized to say it.  So he put a hierarchy of 10 strong things in order, namely mountain, metal, fire, water, clouds, air, man, disease, sleep and anxiety, beginning with the mountain which appears very strong but can be cut with a metal. The metal is melted with the fire which can be extinguished with water. The water is carried by clouds which are suspended by air. The air strikes and surrounds the man but the man keeps standing. Man is instead harmed by the disease and the disease is cured by the sleep (rest). The sleep is spoiled by anxiety (apprehensions and worries) which is invincible and hence the strongest. 

Similarly, his understanding of the science of black holes was also mind blowing. While metaphorically referring to black holes, he once said, “Even if a mountain loves me, it will be crushed into bits.” By this he meant that his tidal force, the force of attraction is strong. Tidal force comes into play when an object moves towards or around a very large object. When a satellite rotating around the earth enters into the earth, it breaks into pieces. Tidal force is a gravitational force. The movement of the moon around the earth causes high tides and low tides in the oceans which are comparatively smaller than the moon. As oceans are big these don’t break. Only small objects break into pieces while approaching a very large object like the earth.

A satellite far right in orbit around a planet is slightly deformed by tides. But if it moves closer to the planet, it is deformed even more and finally disintegrates when it passes within what we now call Roche limit, located 2.44 times the planet’s radius from its center. Similarly, anything entering a black hole is shattered into bits because of its immense gravity; and can never come back. One cannot resist having strong tectonic feelings for Imam Ali.

Dr. Qudsia Gani is Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Cluster University Srinagar