The Holy Prophet (peace be on him and his household) has stated that if all the trees of all the gardens were to be turned into pens and all the seas into ink and the jinn were accounting and human beings writing, they would not be able to count the virtues of Ali (peace be on him).
In the book al-Kashkul (al-Bahrani) it has been narrated that a large number of people had surrounded Imam Ali (peace be on him). A man entered the mosque and at an opportune time he asked: O Ali! I have a question. Is knowledge better or wealth?
Imam Ali (peace be on him) replied: knowledge is better because knowledge is the inheritance of the prophets while wealth is the inheritance of Qarun, the Pharaoh, Haman, and Shaddad (and the likes of them).
The man who had received the reply remained silent. At this time, another man entered the mosque and while still standing, he immediately asked: O Abal Hasan! I have a question. May I ask it? In reply, the Imam said: Ask! The man, who was standing at the back of the crowd asked, is knowledge better or wealth?
Imam Ali (peace be on him) replied: knowledge is better because knowledge will protect you while you are forced to protect wealth. The second person who had become satisfied from the reply sat where he was standing. In the meantime, a third person entered. He too repeated this same question.
In response, the Imam replied: knowledge is better because a knowledgeable person has many friends while a wealthy person has many enemies.
The Imam had not yet finished speaking when a fourth person entered the mosque. While he was sitting down besides his friends, he put his walking stick forward and asked: O Ali! Is knowledge better or wealth?
Imam Ali (peace be on him) replied to him: knowledge is better because if wealth is given away it becomes less; however, if you give away knowledge and teach it to others, it increases.
It was the fifth person’s turn. He had entered the mosque a short while before and had been waiting beside the pillar of the mosque. When the Imam finished speaking, he repeated the same question.
In reply, the Imam said: knowledge is better because people consider a wealthy person to be stingy; however, they remember a knowledgeable person and scholar with greatness.
When the sixth person entered, all heads turned back. People looked at him with surprise. One person among the crowd said: certainly he too wants to know if knowledge is better or wealth! Those who had heard his voice smirked. The man sat beside his friends at the back of the crowd and started speaking in a loud voice: O Ali! Is knowledge better or wealth?
The Imam looked at the crowd and said: knowledge is better because it is possible for a thief to steal wealth; however, there is no fear of knowledge being stolen.
The man was silent. A commotion started within the crowd. What is happening today?! Why is everyone asking the same question? The people’s surprised looks were glued sometimes on Imam Ali (peace be on him) and sometimes on the newcomers. At this time, the seventh person who had entered the mosque shortly before the Imam finished speaking and was sitting among the crowd, asked: O Abal Hasan! Is knowledge better or wealth?
The Imam replied: knowledge is better because wealth becomes old over time; however, knowledge will not rot as time goes by.
At the same time, an eighth person entered and asked the question his friends had. In reply, the Imam said: knowledge is better because wealth will only stay with a person till his death; however, knowledge accompanies a person in this world and also after his death.
Silence reigned over the crowd; no one was speaking. They were all amazed at the Imam’s replies when a ninth person also entered the mosque and amidst the astonishment and bewilderment of the people asked: O Ali! Is knowledge better or wealth?
The Imam said: knowledge is better because wealth makes a person hardhearted; however, knowledge causes a person’s heart to be illuminated.
The people’s astonished and wandering gazes were fixed on the door as though they were waiting for a tenth person. At that time, a man who was holding the hands of a child entered the mosque. He sat at the back of the crowd and placed a handful of dates on the child’s lap and fixed his gaze to the front. The people, who didn’t think anyone else would ask anything else, turned back their heads. Then the man asked: O Abal Hasan! Is knowledge better or wealth?
The astonished gazes of the crowd turned back. They came back to their senses upon hearing the voice of Ali (peace be on him). (He said) knowledge is better because the wealthy are arrogant to the extent that they sometimes claim to be gods; however, the knowledgeable are always humble and modest.
Shouts of tumult, joy, and admiration had filled the gathering. The questioners quietly and silently rose from the crowd. When they had left the mosque, they heard the voice of the Imam who said: if all the people of the world had asked this same question from me, I would have given each a different reply.
al-Kashkul (al-Bahrani), vol. 1, p. 27