The food that Hadrat Ali ate and the dress he wore were such as even the poorest could afford. It was not because he was poor but it was his desire to lead the life of the poorest person and spend all that could thus be spared for the poor. Below are given a few incidents at the time when he was the Caliph.
1. Imam Ahmad Ibne Hanbal in his ‘Musnand’ as quoted by Sowaeda-Ibne-Ghafla: “One day I went to see Ali in the Government House (Darul Imrah). It was the time of breakfast and before him there was a cup of milk and some barley bread. The bread was dry, stale and hard, and did not contain any butter or oil. It could not be easily broken into pieces, and Ali had to exert himself to break and soften it. I turned towards his slave Fizza and said, ‘O Fizza, have you no pity on your master, that you allow him to eat this sort of bread? ‘She replied, ‘He has given us strict instructions that nothing is to be added to his bread and even chaff and husk 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 Ali, ‘O Lord, have pity oil yourself, look at your age, your responsibilities, your hard work.’ He replied, ‘O Sowaeda, you have no idea what the Holy Prophet used to eat. He hardly ate anything for three consecutive days.”
2. AlIama Kamal-ud-din Mohamed-lbne-Talha-e-Shafeyee in his book ‘Matalib-ul-Soul’ quotes Abdullah Ibne Zurare as saying, “I went to see Hadrat Ali on a day of eid. He asked me to join him in his breakfast, to which I readily agreed. I was surprised at the poor kind of food that was served to us and said, ‘O Lord, you are a Caliph and a King. I was expecting that game would be served to us.’ Ali replied, ‘O Ibne-Zurare, you have heard of mighty kings who have led lives of luxury. I prefer to be near to God and lead the life of a poor and humble person - a humble laborer.’
3. Milani in his book ‘Seerath’ and Imam Ahmad in his ‘Musnad’ quotes the famous ‘Tabayee’ Ibne Abee Rafay, that he went to Ali on the day of Eid and while he was sitting there a bag was brought before him. He thought that the bag might contain jewels. Ali opened the bag, it contained dry pieces of bread, which he softened with water. Ibne Abee Rafay asked him the reason for sealing such a bag which evens a beggar would not care to steal. Ali smiled and said, ‘I keep it scaled because my children try to substitute softer bread containing oil and butter.’ Ibne Abee Rafay then asked Hadrat Ali, ‘Has God prohibited you from eating better kind of food? ‘No’ Ali replied, ‘but I want to eat the kind of food which the poorest of this realm can afford to eat at least once a day. I shall only improve upon it after I have made them more comfortable. I want to live, feel and suffer like them.’
Imam Ahmad in his book ‘Al-Munaquib’ and Ibne Asir in his history, quotes Haroon Ibne Anzaa as saying that he accompanied his father Anzaa, to the ‘Khorenique’ castle to meet Hadrat Ali. It was a very cold day is winter had set in, and he found Ali in a very thin Cotton garment, and the cold was making him shiver. Anzaa asked him, “O Commander of the Faithful! God has reserved a share for you and for your family from the Baitul Mal (Government Treasury), why do you not make use of it? “He replied, “O Anzaa! I do not want anything from the treasury and this is the dress which I have brought with me from Medina.”