Sher e Khuda, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) always ate such kind of food and dressed in such a way that even the poorest can afford better than that. It was not because he was poor but it was because he wanted to lead the life of the poorest person and spend all that could thus be spared on poor.
Imam Ahmad bin Hambal in his “Masnad” cited Soweda bin Ghafla saying:
One day I went to see Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) in the Government House (Darul Imarah). It was the time of breakfast and before him there was a cup of milk and some barley bread. The bread was dry, stale, hard and did not contain any butter, or oil. It could not be easily broken into pieces. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) was exerting himself to break it and to soften it. I turned towards his slave, Bibi Fizza and said: Fizza! Have you no pity upon your old master and why cannot you give him softer bread and add some butter or oil to it? Bibi Fizza replied: “Why should I pity him when he never pities himself. He has given strict orders that nothing is to be added to his bread and even chaff and husks are not to be separated from the flour. We, ourselves, eat much better food than this, though we are his slaves.” Hearing this I told him O Master, have pity on yourself, look at your age, your responsibilities, your hard work and your food. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) replied “O Soweda, you have no idea what Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) used to eat. Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) never ate full stomach for three consecutive days.”
Allama Kamaloddeen Mohammad bin Talha Shaafi in his book Matalibos-Soaal quotes Abdullah bin Zorara saying:
I went to see Sher e Khuda, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) on an Eid (Festival) day. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) asked me to join in his breakfast and I agreed. A very poor kind of food was served before us. I told him, O Master, you are such a rich man, a Caliph and a King. I was expecting that game would be served before us but what do I see? Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) replied, “Abdullah bin Zorara, you have heard of mighty kings who have lead life of luxury. Let me be a ruler leading the life of a poor and humble person a humble labourer.
Imam Ahmad bin Hambal in his “Masnad” quote the famous Tabayi bin Abi-Rafay, who says:
I went to see Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) on an Eid (Festival) day and while I was sitting there a bag was brought before Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as), I thought that it might contain jewels. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) opened the bag, it contained dried pieces of bread, which he softened with water. I asked him as to the reason of sealing such a kind of food which even a beggar would not care to steal. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) smiled and said: “I keep it sealed because my children try to substitute softer bread, containing oil or butter in it.” I said “Has Allah (SWT) prohibited you to eat better kind of food?” Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) replied: “No, but I want to eat the kind of food which the poorest of this realm can afford at least once a day. I shall improve it after I have improved their standards of life. I want to live, feel and suffer like them.”
Abu Sa’id Mansur bin Husayn Abi (422 AH) writes thus in his book entitled ‘Nathrud Durar’:
Ahnaf bin Qays says, one day I went to see Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan. He had laid a wonderful dinner carpet. He brought all sorts of hot, cold, sweet and sour foods for me. I was wonderstruck. Later, as ordered by him, another dish of a different kind of food was brought in. I tried my best to find out what it was but did not succeed. I, therefore, enquired about it from Muawiyah. He replied that it consisted of the intestines of a duck which had been filled with the marrow of the sheep and had then been fried in pistachio oil and finally sugar had been sprinkled on it.
Imam Ali (as) on an Eid (Festival) dayI began to weep. Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan asked me: Why are you weeping? I replied, I have been reminded of the life of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as). I remember that one day I was with him. When the time for dinner and breaking the fast drew near he asked me to remain with him. A sealed leather case was brought to him. I asked him what it contained and he told me that there was barley flour in it. I asked him, why have you sealed it? Are you afraid that others may take some of it or do you not wish that anyone else should eat it? Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) replied, who else? As a matter of fact I am afraid that my sons Hasan and Hussain may not taint it with butter or olive oil. I said, “O Commander of the Faithful! Is it prohibited?” He replied, “No. It is not prohibited. However, it is necessary for the true administrators and rulers to consider themselves to be the most deprived persons so that poverty and distress may not press and squeeze the indigent.”
When I had said this, Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan interrupted and said, “You have mentioned a man whose excellence cannot be denied by anyone.”
Once, after a day’s hard work, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) was sitting under a tree and eating his barley bread and salt. A passing beggar asked him for food. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) readily offered to share what he was eating and gave the beggar a piece of bread. The old beggar found it difficult to chew and complained that the bread was too hard. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) informed the beggar that he would get good hot food if he cared to go to Imam Hasan’s house.
When the beggar arrived at the given address, he found that a banquet was spread out and people were eating. Imam Hasan (as) invited the beggar to join them. He started eating and after a while he would eat one mouthful and put one mouthful in his bowl. Seeing this, Imam Hasan (as) said, “Why are you putting food in your bowl? Have your fill and then you can take some more with you.”
The beggar replied, “I am collecting some good food for a man, who is eating dry barley bread and salt.” Imam Hasan (as) smiled and said, “That man is Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) and this house is his house.”
An incident is related from the life of the great Faqih Wahid Behbahani, may Allah be pleased with him. One day he observed one of his daughters-in-law wearing a garment made of a fabric usually worn by women of rich families of those days. He reproached his son (the late Aqa Muhammad Isma’il, the lady’s husband) in that regard. The son recited this verse of the Noble Qur’an in reply to his father’s remarks:
Say: Who has forbidden the ornament of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants, and the good things of His providing? (7:32)
The father said: “I don’t say that putting on good dress, eating good food, and making use of Allah’s bounties is forbidden, not at all. Such restrictions do not exist in Islam. However, there is one thing to be remembered. We are a family charged with the duty of the religious leadership of Muslims and have special responsibilities. When the people of poor families see the rich live luxuriously, their frustration is aggravated. Their only consolation is that at least the Aqa’s family lives like they do. Now if we too adopt the life-styles of the rich, that will deprive them of their only consolation. However, we cannot practically change the present social condition, but let us not grudge at least this much of sympathy.”