While Muslims universally acknowledge ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib as one of the most prominent figures in Islamic history, a number of Malay customs and rituals give him a special status. These customs and rituals point to the historical influence of Sufism, Shi‘ism, or a combination of the two during the process of identity formation among Muslims in the Malay Archipelago. This article will explore the special position given to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib in traditional Malay martial arts as well as marriage customs, and will show how ideas generated in other parts of the Islamic world – such as the futuwwah tradition – evolved into uniquely Malay forms of religious and cultural expression which transcend sectarian bounds.