Imam Ali (a.s)' View to the Society as Stated in Nahjul-Balaghah

Reformism, principles of political leadership

Written for (Malik) al-Ashtar an-Nakhari

Written for (Malik) al-Ashtar an-Nakhari,

when the position of Muhammad ibn

Abi Bakr had become precarious, and

Amir al-mu'mitftn had appointed

al-Ashtar as the Governor of Egypt and

the surrounding areas; it is the longest

document and contains the greatest

number of beautiful sayings.

In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

This is what Allah's servant 'Ali, Amir almu'minin, has ordered Malik ibn al-Harith alAshtar in his instrument (of appointment) for him when he made him Governor of Egypt for the collection of its revenues, fighting against its enemies, seeking the good of its people and making its cities prosperous.

He has ordered him to fear Allah, to prefer obedience to Him, and to follow what He has commanded in His Book (the Qur'an) out of His obligatory and elective commands, without following which one cannot achieve virtue, nor (can one) be evil save by opposing them and ignoring them, and to help Allah the Glorified, with his heart, hand and tongue, because Allah whose name is Sublime takes the responsibility for helping him who helps Him, and for protecting him who gives Him support.

He also orders him to break his heart off from passions, and to restrain it at the time of their increase, because the heart leads towards evil unless Allah has mercy.

The qualifications of a governor

and his responsibilities

Then, know O' Malik that I have sent you to an area where there have been governments before you, both just as well as oppressive. People will now watch your dealings as you used to watch the dealings of the rulers before you, and they (people) will criticise you as you criticised them (rulers). Surely, the virtuous are known by the reputation that Allah circulates for them through the tongues of His creatures. Therefore, the best collection with you should be the collection of good deeds. So, control your passions and check your heart from doing what is not lawful for you, because checking the heart means detaining it just half way between what it likes and dislikes.

Habituate your heart to mercy for the subjects and to affection and kindness for them. Do not stand over them like greedy beasts who feel it is enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your brother in religion or one like you in creation. They will commit slips and encounter mistakes. They may act wrongly, wilfully or by neglect. So, extend to them your forgiveness and pardon, in the same way as you would like Allah to extend His forgiveness and pardon to you, because you are over them and your responsible Commander (Imam) is over you while Allah is over him who has appointed you. He (Allah) has sought you to manage their affairs and has tried you through them.

Do not set yourself to fight Allah because you have no power before His power and you cannot do without His pardon and mercy. Do not repent of forgiving or be merciful in punishing. Do not act hastily during anger if you can find way out of it. Do not say: "I have been given authority, I should be obeyed when I order," because it engenders confusion in the heart, weakens the religion and takes one near ruin. If the authority in which you are placed produces pride or vanity in you then look at the greatness of the realm of Allah over you and His might the like of which might you do not even possess over yourself. This will curb your haughtiness, cure youself of your high temper and bring back to youself your wisdom which had gone away from you.

Beware of comparing yourself to Allah in His greatness or likening yourself to Him in His power, for Allah humiliates every claimant of power and disgraces every one who is haughty.

Do justice for Allah and do justice towards the people, as against yourself, your near ones and those of your subjects for whom you have a liking, because if you do not do so you will be oppressive, and when a person oppresses the creatures of Allah then, instead of His creatures, Allah becomes his opponent, and when Allah is the opponent of a person He tramples his plea; and we will remain in the position of being at war with Allah until he gives it up and repents. Nothing is more inducive of the reversal of Allah's bounty or for the hastening of His retribution than continuance in oppression, because

Allah hears the prayer of the oppressed and is on the lookout for the oppressors.

Ruling should be in favour of

the people as a whole

The way most coveted by you should be that which is the most equitable for the right, the most universal by way of justice, and the most comprehensive with regard to the agreement among those under you, because the disagreement among the common people sweeps away the arguments of the chiefs and can be disregarded when compared with the agreement of the common people. No one among those under you is more burdensome to the ruler in the comfort of life, less helpful in distress, more disliking of equitable treatment, more tricky in asking favours, less thankful at the time of giving, less appreciative of reasons at the time of refusal and weaker in endurance at the time of the discomforts of life than the chiefs. It is the common people of the community who are the pillars of the religion, the power of the Muslims and the defence against the enemies. Your leanings should therefore be towards them and your inclination with them.

The one among the people under you who is furthest from you and the worst of them in your view should be he who is the most inquisitive of the shortcomings of the people, because people do have shortcomings and the ruler is the most appropriate person to cover them. Do not disclose whatever of it is hidden from you because your obligation is to correct what is manifest to you, while Allah will deal with whatever is hidden from you. Therefore, cover shortcomings so far as you can; Allah would cover those of your shortcomings which you would like to remain under cover from your subjects. Unfasten every knot of hatred in the people and cut away from yourself the cause of every enmity. Feign ignorance of what is not clear to you. Do not hasten to second a backbiter, because a backbiter is a cheat although he looks like those who wish well.

About counsellors

Do not include among those you consult a miser who would keep you back from being generous and caution you against destitution, nor a coward who would make you feel too weak for your affairs, nor a greedy person who would make beautiful to you the collection of wealth by evil ways. This is because although miserliness, cowardice and greed are different qualities, yet they are common in having an incorrect idea about Allah.

The worst minister for you is he who has been a minister for mischievous persons before you, and who joined them in sins. Therefore, he should not be your chief man, because they are abettors of sinners and brothers of the oppressors. You can find good substitutes for them who will be like them in their views and influence, while not being like them in sins and vices. They have never assisted an oppressor in his oppression or a sinner in his sin. They will give

you the least trouble and the best support. They will be most considerate towards you and the least inclined towards others. Therefore, make them your chief companions in privacy as well as in public.

Then, more preferable among them for you should be those who openly speak better truths before you and who support you least in those of your actions which Allah does not approve in His friends, even though they may be according to your wishes. Associate yourself with God-fearing and truthful people; then educate them, so that they should not praise you or please you by reason of an action you did not perform, because and excess of praise produces pride an drives you near haughtiness.

The virtuous and the vicious should not be in equal positions before you because this means dissuasion of the virtuous from virtue and persuasion of the vicious to vice. Keep everyone in the position which is his. You should know that the most conducive thing for the good impression of the ruler on his subjects is that he should extend good behaviour towards them, lighten their hardships, and avoid putting them to unbearable troubles. You should therefore, in this way follow a course by which you will leave a good impression with your subjects, because such good ideas will relieve you of great worries. Certainly, the most appropriate for a good impression of you is he to whom your behaviour has not been good.

Do not discontinue the good lives in which the earlier people of this community had been acting, by virtue of which there was general unity and through which the subjects prospered. Do not innovate any line of action which injures these earlier ways because (in that case) the reward for those who had established those ways will continue but the burden for discontinuing them will be on you. Keep on increasing your conversations with the scholars and discussions with the wise to stabilise the prosperity of the areas under you, and to continue with that in which the earlier people had remained steadfast.

The different classes of people

Know that the people consist of classes who prosper only with the help of one another, and they are not independent of one another. Among them are the army of Allah, then the secretarial workers of the common people and the chiefs, then the dispensers of justice, then those engaged in law and order, then the payers of head tax (jizyah) and land tax (kharaj) from the protected unbelievers and the common Muslims, then there are the traders and the men of industry and then the lowest class of the needy and the destitute. Allah has fixed the share of every one of them and laid down His precepts about the limits of each in His Book (the Qur'an) and the sunnah of His Prophet by way of a settlement which is preserved with us.

Now the army is, by the will of Allah, the fortress of the subjects, the ornament of the ruler, the strength of the religion and the means of peace. The subjects cannot exist without them while the army

can be maintained only by the funds fixed by Allah in the revenues, through which they acquire the strength to fight the enemies, on which they depend for their prosperity, and with which they meet their needs. These two classes cannot exist without the third class namely the judges, the executives and the secretaries who pass judgements about contracts, collect revenues and are depended upon in special and general matters.

And these classes cannot exist except with the traders and men of industry, who provide necessities for them, establish markets and make it possible for others not to do all this with their own hands. Then is the lowest class of the needy and the destitute support of and help for whom is an obligation, and everyone of them has (a share in) livelihood in the name of Allah. Everyone of them has a right on the ruler according to what is needed for his prosperity. The ruler cannot acquit himself of the obligations laid on him by Allah in this matter except by striving and seeking help from Allah and by training himself to adhere to the right and by enduring on that account all that is light or hard.

1. The Army

Put in command of your forces the man who in your view is the best well-wisher of Allah, His Prophet and your Imam. The chastest of them in heart and the highest of them in endurance is he who is slow in getting enraged, accepts excuses, is kind to the weak and is strict with the strong; violence should not raise his temper and weakness should not keep him sitting.

Also associate with considerate people from high families, virtuous houses and decent traditions, then people of courage, velour, generosity and benevolence, because they are repositories of honour and springs of virtues. Strive for their matters as the parents strive for their child. Do not regard anything that you do to strengthen them as big nor consider anything that you have agreed to do for them as little (so as to give it up), even though it may be small, because this will make them your well-wishers and create a good impression of you. Do not neglect to attend to their small matters, confining yourself to their important matters, because your small favours will also be of benefit to them while the important ones are such that they cannot ignore them.

That commander of the army should have such a position before you that he renders help to them equitably and spends from his money on them and on those of their families who remain behind so that all their worries converge on the one worry for fighting the enemy. Your kindness to them will turn their hearts to you. The most pleasant thing for the rulers is the establishment of justice in their areas and the manifestation of the love of their subjects, but the subjects' love manifests itself only when their hearts are clean. Their good wishes prove correct only when they surround their commanders (to protect them). Do not regard their positions to be a burden over

them and do not keep watching for the end of their tenure. Therefore, be broad-minded in regard to their desires, continue praising them and recounting the good deeds of those who have shown such deeds, because the mention of good actions shakes the brave and rouses the weak, if Allah so wills.

Appreciate the performance of every one of them, do not attribute the performance of one to the other, and do not minimise the reward below the level of the performance. The high position of a man should not lead you to regard his small deeds as big, nor should the low position of a man make you regard his big deeds as small.

Refer to Allah and His Prophet the affairs which worry you and matters which appear confusing to you, because, addressing the people whom Allah the Sublime, wishes to guide, He said:

O' you who believe! Obey Alldh and obey the Prophet and those vested with authority from among you; and then if

you quarrel about anything refer at to

Allah and the Prophet if you believe in

Alldh and in the Last Day (of Judgement)

... (Qur'an, 4:59)

Referring to Allah means to act according to what is clear in His Book and referring to the Prophet means to follow his unanimously agreed sunnah in regard to which there are no differences.

2. The Chief Judge

For the settlement of disputes among people select him who is the most distinguished of your subjects in your view. The cases (coming before him) should not vex him, disputation should not enrage him, he should not insist on any wrong point, and should not grudge accepting the truth when he perceives it; he should not lean towards greed and should not content himself with a cursory understanding (of a matter) without going thoroughly into it. He should be most ready to stop (to ponder) on doubtful points, most regardful of arguments, least disgusted at the quarrel of litigants, most patient at probing into matters and most fearless at the time of passing judgement. Praise should not make him vain and elation should not make him lean (to any side). Such people are very few.

Then, very often check his decisions and allow him so much. money (as remuneration) that he has no excuse worth hearing (for not being honest) and there remains no occasion for him to go to others for his needs. Give him that rank in your audience for which no one else among your chiefs aspires, so that he remains safe from the harm of those around you. You should have a piercing eye in this matter because this religion has formerly been a prisoner in the hands of vicious persons when action was taken according to passion, and worldly wealth was sought.

3. Executive Officers

Thereafter, look into the affairs of your executives. Give them appointment after tests and do not appoint them according to partiality or favouritism, because these two things constitute sources of injustice and unfairness. Select among them those who are people of experience and modesty, hailing from virtuous houses, having been previously in Islam, because such persons possess high manners and untarnished honour. They are the least inclined towards greed and always have their eyes on the ends of matters.

Give them an abundant livelihood (by way of salary) because this gives them the strength to maintain themselves in order and not to have an eye upon the funds in their custody, and it would be an argument against them if they disobeyed your orders or misappropriated your trust. You should also check their activities and have people who report on them who should be truthful and faithful, because your watching their actions secretly will urge them to preserve trust with and to be kind to the people. Be careful of assistants. If any one of them extends his hands towards misappropriation and the reports of your reporters reaching you confirm it, that should be regarded enough evidence. You should then inflict corporal punishment on him and recover what he has misappropriated. You should put him in a place of disgrace, blacklist him with (the charge of) misappropriation and make him wear the necklace of shame for his offence.

4. The Administration of Revenues

Look after the revenue (kharaj or land tax) affairs in such a way that those engaged in it remain prosperous because in their prosperity lies the prosperity of all others. The others cannot prosper without them, because all people are dependent on revenue and its payers. You should also keep an eye on the cultivation of the land more than on the collection of revenue because revenue cannot be had without cultivation and whoever asks for revenue without cultivation, ruins the area and brings death to the people. His rule will not last only a moment.

If they complain of the heaviness (of the revenue) or of diseases, or dearth of water, or excess of water or of a change in the condition of the land either due to flood or to drought, you should remit the revenue to the extent that you hope will improve their position. The remission granted by you for the removal of distress from them should not be grudged by you, because it is an investment which they will return to you in the shape of the prosperity of your country and the progress of your domain in addition to earning their praise and happiness for meeting out justice to them. You can depend upon their strength because of the investment made by you in them through catering to their convenience, and can have confidence in them because of the justice extended to them by being kind to them. After that, circumstances may so

turn that you may have ask for their assistance, when they will bear it happily, for prosperity is capable of bearing whatever you load on it. The ruin of the land is caused by the poverty of the cultivators, while the cultivators become poor when the officers concentrate on the collection (of money), having little hope for continuance (in their posts) and deriving no benefit from objects of warning.

5. The Clerical Establishment

Then you should take care of your secretarial workers. Put the best of them in charge of your affairs. Entrust those of your letters which contain your policies and secrets to him who possesses the best character, who is not elated by honours, lest he dares speak against you in common audiences. He should also not be negligent in presenting the communications of your officers before you and issuing correct replies to them on your behalf and in matters of your receipts and payments. He should not make any damaging agreement on your behalf and should not fail in repudiating an agreement against you. He should not be ignorant of the extent of his own position in matters because he who is ignorant of his own position is (even) more ignorant of the position of others.

Your selection of these people should not be on the basis of your understanding (of them), confidence and your good impression, because people catch the ideas of the officers through affectation and personal service and there is nothing in it which is like well-wishing or trustfulness. You should rather test them by what they did under the virtuous people before you. Take a decision in favour of one who has a good name among the common people and is the most renowned in trustworthiness, because this will be a proof of your regard for Allah and for him on whose behalf you have been appointed to this position (namely your Imam). Establish one chief for every department of work. He should not be incapable of big matters, and a rush of work should not perplex him. Whenever there is a defect in your secretaries which you overlook, then you will be held responsible for it.

6. Traders and Industrialists

Now take some advice about traders and industrialists. Give them good counsel whether they be settled (shop-keepers) or traders or physical labourers because they are sources of profit and the means of the provision of useful articles. They bring them from distant and far-flung areas throughout the land and sea, plains or mountains, from where people cannot come and to where they do not dare to go, for they are peaceful and there is no fear of revolt from them, and they are quite without fear of treason.

Look after their affairs before yourself or wherever they may be in your area. Know, along with this, that most of them are very narrow-minded, and awfully avaricious. They hoard goods for profiteering and fix high prices for goods. This is a source of harm

to the people and a blot on the officers in charge. Stop people from hoarding, because the Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h.a.h.p.) has prohibited it. The sale should be smooth, with correct weights and prices, not harmful to either party, the seller or the purchaser, whoever commits hoarding after you prohibit it, give him exemplary but not excessive punishment.

7. The Lowest Class

(Fear) Allah and keep Allah in view in respect of the lowest class, consisting of those who have few means: the poor, the destitute, the penniless and the disabled, because in this class are both the discontented and those who beg. Take care for the sake of Allah of His obligations towards them for which He has made you responsible. Fix for them a share from the public funds and a share from the crops of lands taken over as booty for Islam in every area, because in it the remote ones have the same shares as the near ones. All these people are those whose rights have been placed in your charge. Therefore, a luxurious life should not keep you away from them. You cannot be excused for ignoring small matters because you were deciding big problems. Consequently, do not be unmindful of them, nor turn your face from them out of vanity.

Take care of the affairs of those of them who do not approach you because they are of unsightly appearance or those whom people regard as low. Appoint for them some trusted people who are Godfearing and humble. They should inform you of these people's conditions. Then deal with them with a sense of responsibility to Allah on the day you will meet Him, because of all the subjects these people are the most deserving of equitable treatment, while for others also you should fulfil their rights so as to render account to Allah.

Take care of the orphans and the aged who have no means (for livelihood) nor are they ready for begging. This is heavy on the officers; in fact, every right is heavy. Allah lightens it for those who seek the next world and so they endure (hardships) upon themselves and trust on the truthfulness of Allah's promise to them. And fix a time for complainants wherein you make yourself free for them, and sit for them in common audience and feel humble therein for the sake of Allah who created you. (On that occasion) you should keep away your army and your assistants such as the guards and the police so that anyone who likes to speak may speak to you without fear, because I have heard the Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h.a.h.p.) say in more than one place, "The people among whom the right of the weak is not secured from the strong without fear will never achieve purity." Tolerate their awkwardness and inability to speak. Keep away from you narrowness and haughtiness; Allah would, on this account, spread over you the skirts of His mercy and assign the reward of His obedience for you. Whatever you give, give it joyfully, but when you refuse, do it handsomely and with excuses.

Then there are certain matters which you cannot avoid performing yourself. For example, replying to your officers when your secretaries are unable to do so, or disposing of the complaints of the people when your assistants shirk them. Finish every day the work meant for it, because every day has its own work. Keep for yourself the better and greater portion of these periods for the worship of Allah, although all these items are for Allah provided the intention is pure and the subjects prosper thereby.

Government order

The Nahj al-balaghah on State:

One of the frequently discussed issues in the Nahj al-balaghah is that of government and justice. To anyone who goes through the book, it is evident to what extent 'Ali ('a) is sensitive to the issues related to government and justice. He considers them to be of paramount importance. For those who lack an understanding of Islam but have knowledge of the teachings of other religions, it is astonishing why a religious personage should devote himself to this sort of problems. Don't such problems relate to the world and worldly life'! Shouldn't a sage keep aloof from the matters of the world and society? They wonder.

On the other hand, such a thing is not at all surprising for one acquainted with the teachings of Islam and the details of 'Ali's life; that 'Ali was brought up from childhood by the Holy Prophet of Islam, that the Prophet ('s), having taken him from his father as a child, had reared him in his home under his own care, that the Prophet ('s) had trained 'Ali ('a) and instructed him in his own characteristic way, teaching him the secrets of Islam. 'Ali's spirit had assimilated within itself the doctrines of Islam and the code of its laws. Therefore, it is not strange that 'Ali should have been such; rather it would have been astonishing if he wasn't such as we find him to be. Doesn't the Quran declare:

Indeed, We sent Our messengers with the clear signs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that men might uphold justice ... (57:25)

In this verse, establishment of justice has been declared as being the objective of the mission of all the prophets. The sanctity of justice is so stressed that it is considered the aim of all prophetic missions. Hence, how were it possible that someone like 'Ali ('a), whose duty was to expound the teachings of the Quran and explain the doctrines and laws of Islam, might have ignored this issue or, at least, accorded it a secondary importance?

Those who neglect these issues in their teachings, or imagine that these problems are only of marginal significance and that the central issues are those of ritual purity and impurity (taharah and najasah), it is essential that they should re-examine their own beliefs and views.

The Importance of Politics:

The first thing which must be examined is the significance and value attached to the issue of government and justice by the Nahj al-balaghah. Indeed, what is essentially the importance of these problems in Islam? A thorough discussion of this question is obviously outside the scope of this book, but a passing reference, however, seems inevitable. The Holy Quran, in the verse where it commands the Prophet ('s) to inform the people that 'Ali ('a) would succeed him as the leader of the Muslims and the Prophet's khalifah, declares with extraordinary insistence

O Messenger communicate that which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord; for if thou dost not, thou will not have delivered His Message ! (5:67)

Is there any other issue in Islam to which this much importance was attached? What other issue is of such significance that if not communicated to the people should amount to the failure of the prophetic mission itself?

During the battle of Uhud, when the Muslims were defeated and the rumour spread that the Holy Prophet ('s) had been killed, a group of the Muslims fled from the battlefield. Referring to this incident, the Quran says:

Muhammad is naught but a Messenger; Messengers have passed away before him. Why, if he should die or is slain, will you turn about on your heels? (3:144) '

Allamah Tabataba'i, in an article entitled Wilayat wa-hakumat, derives the following conclusion from the above verse: 'If the Messenger ('s) is killed in battle, it should not in any way stall, even temporarily, your struggle. Immediately afterwards, you should place yourselves under the banner of the successor to the Prophet ('s), and continue your endeavour. In other words, if, supposedly, the Prophet ('s) is killed or if he dies, the social system and military organization of the Muslims should not disintegrate.'

There is a hadith, according to which the Prophet ('s) said: "If (as few as) three persons go on a journey, they must appoint one out of themselves as their leader." From this one may infer to what extent the Prophet regarded as harmful the disorder and absence of an authority that could resolve social conflicts and serve as a unifying bond among individuals.

The Nahj al-balaghah deals with numerous problems concerning the State and social justice, a few of which, God willing, we shall discuss here.

The first problem to be discussed here is that of the necessity and value of a State. 'Ali ('a) has repeatedly stressed the need for a powerful government, and, in his own time, battled against the views propagated by the Khawarij, who, in the beginning, denied the need for a State, considering the Quran as sufficient. The slogan of the Khawarij as is known was "The right of judgement (or authority to rule) is exclusively God's" (la hukm illa li-Allah), a phrase adopted from the holy Quran. Its Quranic meaning is that the prerogative of legislation belongs to God or those whom God has permitted to legislate. But the Khawarij interpreted it differently. According to 'Ali ('a), they had imparted a false sense to a true statement. The essence of their view was that no human being possesses any right to rule others; sovereignty belongs exclusively to God. 'Ali's argument was:

Yes, I also say la hukm illa li-Allah, in the sense that the right of legislation belongs solely to God. But their claim that the prerogative to govern and lead also belongs to God is not reasonable. After all, the laws of God need to be implemented by human beings. Men cannot do without a ruler, good or evil.[1] It is under the protection of a State that the believers strive for God's sake, and the unbelievers derive material benefit from their worldly endeavours, and men attain the fruits of their labours. It is through the authority of State that taxes are collected, aggressors are repelled, the security of highways is maintained, and the weak reclaim their rights (through courts of law) from the strong. (This process continues) until the good citizens are happy and secure from the evils of miscreants. (Nahj al-balaghah, Khutab 40)

'Ali ('a), like other godly men and spiritual leaders, despises temporal power and political office for being lowly and degrading when an instrument of gratification of lust for power and political ambition. He looks down upon it with extreme contempt when it is desired as an end-in-itself and aspired as an ideal of life. He considers such kind of power to be devoid of any value and considers it to be more detestable than 'a pig's bone in a leper's hand.' But the same power and leadership if used as a means for the establishment and execution of social justice and service to society is regarded by him as a thing of paramount sanctity, for which he is willing to fight any opportunist and political adventurer seeking to grab power and illegitimate wealth. In its defence, he does not hesitate to draw his sword against plunderers and usurpers.

During the days of 'Ali's caliphate, 'Abd Allah ibn al-'Abbas once came to him. He found 'Ali mending his old shoes with his own hand. Turning to Ibn al-'Abbas, 'Ali asked him, "How much do you think is this shoe worth?" "Nothing," replied Ibn al-'Abbas. 'Ali said, "But the same shoe is of more worth to me than authority over you if it were not to me a means for establishing justice, recovering the rights of the deprived, and wiping out evil practices." (Khutab 33)

In the sermon 216, we come across a general discussion about human rights and duties. Here, 'Ali states that every right always involves two parties. Of the various Divine duties the ones which God has ordained are duties of people towards people; they are framed in such a way that each right necessitates a duty towards others; each right which benefits an individual or a group, holds the individual or group responsible to fulfil some duty towards others. Every duty becomes binding when the other party also fulfils his duty. He says further regarding this issue:

But the most important of the reciprocal rights that God has made obligatory is the right of the ruler over the subjects and the rights of the subjects over the ruler. It is a mutual and reciprocal obligation decreed by God for them. He has made it the basis of the strength of their society and their religion. Consequently, the subjects cannot prosper unless the rulers are righteous. The rulers cannot be righteous unless the subjects are firm and steadfast. If the subjects fulfil their duties toward the ruler and the ruler his duty to them, then righteousness prevails amongst them. Only then the objectives of the religion are realized, the pillars of justice become stable and wholesome traditions become established. In this way, better conditions of life and social environment emerge. The people become eager to safeguard the integrity of the State, and thus frustrate the plots of its enemies. (Khutab 126)

Justice, a Supreme Value:

The first consequence of the sacred teachings of Islam was the influence exercised on the minds and ideas of its adherents. Not only did Islam introduce new teachings regarding the world, man, and his society, but also changed the ways of thinking. The importance of the latter achievement is not less than the former.

Every teacher imparts new knowledge to his pupils and every school of thought furnishes new information to its adherents. But the teachers and schools of thought who furnish their followers with a new logic and revolutionize their ways of thinking altogether, are few.

But how do the ways of thinking change and one logic replaces another? This requires some elucidation.

Man by virtue of being a rational creature thinks rationally on scientific and social issues. His arguments, intentionally or unintentionally, are based on certain principles and axioms. All his conclusions are drawn and judgements are based on them. The difference in ways of thinking originates precisely in these first principles or axioms, used as the ground of inferences and conclusions. Here it is crucial what premises and axioms form the foundation for inference, and here lies the cause of all disparity in inferences and conclusions. In every age there is a close similarity between the ways of thinking of those familiar with the intellectual spirit of the age on scientific issues. However, the difference is conspicuous between the intellectual spirits of different ages. But in regard to social problems, such a similarity and consensus is not found even among persons who are contemporaries. There is a secret behind this, to expound which would take us outside the scope of the present discussion.

Man, in his confrontation with social and moral problems, is inevitably led to adopt some sort of value-orientation. In his estimations he arrives at a certain hierarchy of values in which he arranges all the issues. This order or hierarchy of values plays a significant role in the adoption of the kind of basic premises and axioms he utilizes. It makes him think differently from others who have differently evaluated the issues and have arrived at a different hierarchy of values. This is what leads to disparity among ways of thinking. Take for example the question of feminine chastity, which is a matter of social significance. Do all people prescribe a similar system of evaluation with regard to this issue? Certainly not. There is a great amount of disparity between views. For some its significance is near zero and it plays no part in their thinking. For some the matter is of utmost value. Such persons regard life as worthless in an environment where feminine chastity is regarded as unimportant.

When we say that Islam revolutionized the ways of thinking, what is meant is that it drastically altered their system and hierarchy of values. It elevated values like taqwa (God-fearing), which had no value at all in the past, to a very high status and attached an unprecedented importance to it. On the other hand, it deflated the value of such factors as blood, race and the like, which in the pre-Islamic days were of predominant significance, bringing their worth to zero. Justice is one of the values revived by Islam and given an extraordinary status. It is true that Islam recommended justice and stressed its implementation, but what is very significant is that it elevated its value in society. It is better to leave the elaboration of this point to 'Ali ('a) himself, and see what the Nahj al-balaghah says. A man of intelligence and understanding puts the following question to Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali ('a):

Which is superior, justice or generosity? (Hikam 437)

Here the question is about two human qualities. Man has always detested oppression and injustice and has also held in high regard acts of kindliness and benevolence performed without the hope of reward or return. Apparently the answer to the above question seems both obvious and easy: generosity is superior to justice, for what is justice except observance of the rights of others and avoiding violating them; but a generous man willingly foregoes his own right in favour of another person. The just man does not transgress the rights of others or he safeguards their rights from being violated. But the generous man sacrifices his own right for another's sake. Therefore, generosity must be superior to justice.

In truth, the above reasoning appears to be quite valid when we estimate their worth from the viewpoint of individual morality, and generosity, more than justice, seems to be the sign of human perfection and the nobleness of the human soul. But 'Ali's reply is contrary to the above answer. 'Ali ('a) gives two reasons for superiority of justice over generosity. Firstly he says:

Justice puts things in their proper place and generosity diverts them from their (natural) direction.

For, the meaning of justice is that the natural deservedness of everybody must be taken into consideration; everyone should be given his due according to his work, ability and qualifications. Society is comparable to a machine whose every part has a proper place and function.

It is true that generosity is a quality of great worth from the point of view that the generous man donates to another what legitimately belongs to himself, but we must note that it is an unnatural occurrence. It may be compared to a body one of whose organs is malfunctioning, and its other healthy organs and members temporarily redirect their activity to the recovery of the suffering organ. From the point of view of society, it would be far more preferable if the society did not possess such sick members at all, so that the healthy organs and members may completely devote their activities and energies to the general growth and perfection of society, instead of being absorbed with helping and assisting of some particular member.

To return to 'Ali's reply, the other reason he gives for preferring justice to generosity is this:

Justice is the general caretaker, whereas generosity is a particular reliever.

That is, justice is like a general law which is applicable to the management of all the affairs of society. Its benefit is universal and all-embracing; it is the highway which serves all and everyone. But generosity is something exceptional and limited, which cannot be always relied upon. Basically, if generosity were to become a general rule, it would no longer be regarded as such. Deriving his conclusion, Ali ('a) says:

Consequently, justice is the nobler of the two and possesses the greater merit. This way of thinking about man and human problems is one based on a specific value system rooted in the idea of the fundamental importance of society. In this system of values, social principles and criteria precede the norms of individual morality. The former is a principle, whereas the latter is only a ramification. The former is a trunk, while the latter is a branch of it. The former is the foundation of the structure, whereas the latter is an embellishment.

From 'Ali's viewpoint, it is the principle of justice that is of crucial significance in preserving the balance of society, and winning goodwill of the public. Its practice can ensure the health of society and bring peace to its soul. Oppression, injustice and discrimination cannot bring peace and happiness-even to the tyrant or the one in whose interest the injustice is perpetrated. Justice is like a public highway which has room for all and through which everyone may pass without impediment. But injustice and oppression constitute a blind alley which does not lead even the oppressor to his desired destination.

As is known, during his caliphate, 'Uthman ibn 'Affan put a portion of the public property of the Muslims at the disposal of his kinsmen and friends. After the death of 'Uthman, 'Ali ('a) assumed power. 'Ali ('a) was advised by some to overlook whatever injustices had occurred in the past and to do nothing about them, confining his efforts to what would befall from then on during his own caliphate. But to this his reply was:

A long standing right does not become invalid!

Then he exclaimed: "By God, even if I find that by such misappropriated money women have been married or slave-maids have been bought, I would reclaim it and have it returned to the public treasury, because:

There is a wide scope and room in the dispensation of justice. [Justice is vast enough to include and envelop everyone;] he who [being of a diseased temperament] finds restriction and hardship in justic should know that the path of injustice and oppression is harder and even more restricted. (Khutab 15)

Justice, according to this conception, is a barrier and limit to be observed, respected, and believed in by every person. All should be content to remain within its limits. But if its limits are broken and violated, and the belief in it and respect for it are lost, human greed and lust, being insatiable by nature, would not stop at any limit; the further man advances on this interminable journey of greed and lust, the greater becomes his dissatisfaction.

Indifference to Injustice

'Ali ('a) regards justice to be a duty and a Divine trust; rather, to him it is a Divine sanctity. He does not expect a Muslim who is aware and informed about the teachings of Islam to be an idle spectator at the scenes of injustice and discrimination.

In the sermon called 'al-Shiqshiqiyyah', after relating the pathetic political episodes of the past, 'Ali ('a) proceeds to advance his reasons for accepting the caliphate. He mentions how, after the assassination of 'Uthman, the people thronged around him urging him to accept the leadership of Muslims. But 'Ali ('a), after the unfortunate events of the past and being aware of the extent of deterioration in the prevailing situation, was not disposed to accept that grave responsibility. Neverthe less, he saw that should he reject the caliphate, the face of truth would become still more clouded, and it might be alleged that he was not interested in this matter from the very beginning, and that he gave no importance to such affairs. Moreover, in view of the fact that Islam does not consider it permissible for anyone to remain an idle spectator in a society divided into two classes of the oppressed and the oppressor, one suffering the pangs of hunger and the other well-fed and uneasy with the discomforts of over-eating, there was no alternative for 'Ali ('a) but to shoulder this heavy responsibility. He himself explains this in the aforementioned sermon:

(By Him who split the grain and created living things,) had it not been for the presence of the pressing crowd, were it not for the establishment of (God's) testimony upon me through the existence of supporters, and had it not been for the pledge of God with the learned, to the effect that they should not connive with the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, I would have cast the reins of [the camel of] the caliphate on its own shoulders and would have made the last one drink from the same cup that I made the first one to drink (i.e. I would have taken the same stance towards the caliphate as at the time of the first caliph). (Then you would have seen that in my view the world of yours is not worth more than a goat's sneeze.) (Khutab 3)

Justice Should not be Compromised:

Favouritism, nepotism, partiality and shutting up of mouths by big morsels, have always been the essential tools of politicians. Now a man had assumed power and captained the ship of the caliphate who profoundly detested these things. In fact his main objective was to struggle and fight against this kind of politics. Naturally, with the very inception of 'Ali's reign, the politicians with their hopes and expectations were disappointed. Their disappointment soon grew into subversive conspiracies against 'Ali's government, creating for him many a headache. Well-meaning friends, with sincere goodwill, advised 'Ali ('a) to adopt greater flexibility in his policies for the sake of higher interests. Their advice was: "Extricate yourself from the ruses of these demagogues, as is said, 'sewing the dog's mouth with a big morsel'. These are influential persons, some of whom are from the elite of the early days of Islam. Presently, your real enemy is Mu'awiyah, who is in control of a rich and fertile province like Syria. The wisdom lies in setting aside, for the time being, the matter of equality and justice. What harm there is in it?"

'Ali ('a) replied to them:

Do you ask me to seek support through injustice [to my subjects and to saerifice justiee for the sake of political advantage]? By God! I will not do it as long as the world lasts and one star follows another in the sky [i.e. I will not do it as long as the order of the universe exists]. Even if it were my own property I would distribute it with justice, and why not when it is the property of God and when I am His trustee? (Khutab 126)

This is an example of how highly 'Ali valued justice and what status it held in his opinion.

The Rights of the People:

The needs of a human being are not summarized in the phrase 'food, clothing, and housing.' It may be possible to keep an animal happy by satisfying all its bodily needs; but in the case of man, spiritual and psychological factors are as important as the physical ones. Different governments following a similar course in providing for the material welfare of the public might achieve differing results, because one of them fulfils the psychological needs of society while the other doesn't.

One of the pivotal factors which contribute to the securing of the goodwill of the masses is the way a government views them, if it regards them as its slaves or as its masters and guardians, if it considers the people as possessing legitimate rights and itself only as their trustee, agent, and representative. In the first case, whatever service a government may perform for the people is not more than a kind of the master's care of his beast. In the second case, every service performed is equivalent to discharging of duty by a right trustee. A State's acknowledgement of the authentic rights of the people and avoidance of any kind of action that implies negation of their right of sovereignty, are the primary conditions for securing their confidence and goodwill.

The Church and the Right of Sovereignty:

At the dawn of the modern age there was a movement against religion in Europe, which also affected more or less other regions outside the Christendom. This movement was inclined towards materialism. When we examine the causes and roots of this movement, we discover that one of them was the inadequacy of the teachings of the Church from the viewpoint of political rights.The Church authorities, and some European philosophers, developed an artificial relationship and association between belief in God on the one hand and stripping the people of their political rights by despotic regimes on the other.

Naturally, this led to the assumption of some necessary relation between democracy on the one hand and atheism on the other. It came to be believed that either we should choose the belief in God and accept the right of sovereignty bestowed by Him upon certain individuals who have otherwise no superiority over others, or deny the existence of God so as to establish our right as masters of our own political destinies. From the point of view of religious psychology, one of the causes of the decline of the influence of religion was the contradiction between religion and a natural social need, contrived by religious authorities, especially at a time when that need expressed itself strongly at the level of public consciousness. Right at a time when despotism and repression had reached their peak in European political life and the people were thirstily cherishing the ideas of liberty and people's sovereignty, the Church and its supporters made an assertion that the people had only duties and responsibilities towards the State and had no rights. This was sufficient to turn the lovers of liberty and democracy against religion and God in general and the Church in particular.

This mode of thought, in the West as well as in the East, was deeply rooted from ancient times. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in The Social Contract, writes:

We are told by Philo, the Emperor Caligula argued, concluding, reasonably enough on this same analogy, that kings were gods or alternately that the people were animals.

During the Middle Ages,this out look was revived again; since it assumed the status of religious faith, it induced a revolt against religion itself. Rousseau, in the same book, writes:

Grotius denies that all human government is established for the benefit of the governed, and he cites the example of slavery. His characteristic method of reasoning is always to offer fact as a proof of right. It is possible to imagine a more logical method, but not one more favourable to tyrants. According to Grotius, therefore, it is doubtful whether humanity belongs to a hundred men, or whether these hundred men belong to humanity, though he seems throughout his book to lean to the first of these views, which is also that of Hobbes. These authors show us the human race divided into herds of cattle, each with a master who presents it only in order to devour its members. [2]

Rousseau, who calls such a right 'the right of might' (right=force), replies to this logic in this fashion:

'Obey those in power.' If this means 'yield to force' the precept is sound, but superfluous; it has never, I suggest, been violated. All power comes from God, I agree; but so does every disease, and no one forbids us to summon a physician. If I am held up by a robber at the edge of a wood, force compels me to hand over my purse. But if I could somehow contrive to keep the purse from him, would I still be obliged in conscience to surrender it? After all, the pistol in the robber's hand is undoubtedly a power. [3]

Hobbes, whose views have been referred to above, although he does not incline to God in his totalitarian logic, the basis of his philosophic position regarding political rights is that the sovereign represents and personifies the will of the people and he actually translates the will of the people itself into his actions. However, when we closely examine his reasoning, we find that he has been influenced by the ideas of the Church. Hobbes claims that individual liberty is not contrary to unlimited power of the sovereign. He writes:

Nevertheless we are not to understand that by such liberty the sovereign power of life and death is either abolished or limited. For it has been already shown that nothing the sovereign representative can do to a subject, on what pretence soever, can properly be called injustice or injury, because every subject is the author of every act the sovereign does, so that he never wants right to anything otherwise than as he himself is the subject of God and bound thereby to obscene the laws of nature. And therefore it may and does often happen in commonwealths that a subject may be put to death by the command of the sovereign power and yet neither do the other wrong-as when Jephtha caused his daughter to be sacrificed; in which, and the like cases, he that so dies, had the liberty to do the action for which he is nevertheless without injury put to death. And the same hold also in a sovereign prince that puts to death an innocent subject. For though the action be against the law of nature as being contrary to equity, as was the killing of Uriah by David, yet it was not an injury to Uriah but to God. [4]

As can be noticed, in this philosophy the responsibility to God is assumed to negate the responsibility toward the people. Acknowledgement of duty to God is considered sufficient in order that the people may have no rights. Justice, here, is what the sovereign does and oppression and injustice have no meaning. In other words, duty to (God is assumed to annul the duty to man, and the right of God to override the rights of men. Indubitably, Hobbes, though apparently a free thinker independent of the ideology of the Church, had ecclesiastical ideas not penetrated into his mind, would not have developed such a theory. Precisely that which is totally absent from such philosophies is the idea that faith and belief in God should be considered conducive to establishment of justice and realization of human rights. The truth is that, firstly, the belief in God is the foundation of the idea of justice and inalienable human rights; it is only through acceptance of the existence of God that it is possible to affirm innate human rights and uphold true justice as two realities independent of any premise and convention; secondly, it is the best guarantee for their execution in practice.

The approach of the Nahj al-balaghah:

The approach of the Nahj al-balaghah to justice and human rights rests on the above-mentioned foundations. In sermon 216, from which we have quoted before, 'Ali ('a) says:

Allah has, by encharging me with your affairs, given me a right over you and awarded you a similar right over me. The issue of rights, as a subject of discourse, is inexhaustible, but is the most restricted of things when it comes to practice. A right does not accrue in favour of any person unless it accrues against him also, and it does not accrue against him unless that it also accrues in his favour.

As can be noticed from the above passage, God is central to 'Ali's statement about justice, rights, and duties. But 'Ali's stand is opposed to the aforementioned view according to which God has bestowed rights on only a handful of individuals solely responsible to Him, and has deprived the rest of people of these rights, making them responsible not only to Him but also to those who have been granted by Him the unlimited privilege to rule others. As a result, the ideas of justice and injustice in regard to the relationship between the ruler and the ruled become meaningless.

In the same sermon 'Ali ('a) says:

No individual, however eminent and high his station in religion, is not above needing cooperation of the people in discharging his obligations and the responsibilities placed upon him by God. Again, no man, however humble and insignificant in the eyes of others, is not too low to be ignored for the purpose of his cooperation and providing assistance.

In the same sermon, 'Ali ('a) asks the people not to address him in the way despots are addressed:

Do not address me in the manner despots are addressed [i.e. Do not address me by titles that are used to flatter despots and tyrants]. In your attitude towards me do not entertain the kind of considerations that are adopted in the presence of unpredictable tyrants. Do not treat me with affected and obsequious manners. Do not imagine that your candour would displease me or that I expect you to treat me with veneration. One who finds it disagreeable to face truth and just criticism, would find it more detestable to act upon them. Therefore, do not deny me a word of truth or a just advice.

The Rulers are the People's Trustees Not Their Lords:

In the last chapter, we said that a dangerous and misleading view became current in the thought of some modern European thinkers interlinking in an unnatural fashion the belief in God on the one hand and negation of peoples rights on the other. This correlation played a significant role in inducing a group to incline towards materialism. Duty and responsibility to God was assumed to necessarily negate the duty and responsibility to the people. Divine obligations completely displaced human obligations. The belief and faith in God (Who, according to the Islamic teachings, created the universe on the principles of truth and justice) was considered to conflict with and contradict the belief in innate and natural human rights, instead of being regarded as their basis. Naturally, belief in the right of people's sovereignty was equated with atheism.

From Islamic point of view the case is actually the reverse. In the Nahj al-balaghah, which is the subject of our discussion, the main topics are tawhid and 'irfan; throughout the talk is about God, whose Name occurs repeatedly everywhere in its pages. Nevertheless, it not only does not neglect to discuss the rights of the people and their privileges vis-a-vis the ruler, in fact regarding the ruler as the trustee and protector of their rights, but also lays great emphasis on this point. According to the logic of this noble book, the imam and the ruler is the protector and trustee of the rights of the people and responsible to them. If one is asked as to which of them exists for the other, it is the ruler' who exists for the people and not vice versa. Sa'di has a similar idea in his mind when he says:

It's not the sheep who are to serve the shepherd, But it is the shepherd who is for their service.

The word ra'iyyah (lit. herd), despite that it gradually acquired an abominable meaning in the Persian language, has an original meaning which is essentially good and humanitarian. The word ra'i for the ruler and ra'iyyah for the masses first appears in the speech of the Prophet ('s) and is literally used thereafter by 'Ali ('a).

This word is derived from the root ra'a, which carries the sense of 'protection' and 'safeguarding'. The word ra'iyyah is applied to the people for the reason that the ruler is responsible for protecting their lives, property, rights, and liberties.

A tradition related from the Holy Prophet ('s) throws full light on the meaning of this word:

Truly, everyone of you is a raii responsible for his rai'yyah. The ruler is the ra'i of his people and responsible for them; the woman is the ra'i of her husband's house and responsible for it; the slave is the ra'i of his master's property and responsible for it; indeed all of you are ra'i and responsible [for those under your charge]. [5]

In the preceding pages we cited some examples from the Nahj al-balaghah which illustrated 'Ali's outlook regarding the rights of the people. Here we shall give sample quotes from other sources, beginning with the following verse of the Holy Quran:

God commands you to deliver trusts back to their owners; and that when you judge between the people, judge with justice ... (4:58)

Al-Tabarsi, in his exegesis Majma' al-bayan, commenting upon this verse, remarks:

There are several opinions regarding the meaning of this verse; firstly, that it is about trusts in general, including the Divine and the non Divine, the material and the non-material trusts; secondly, that it is addressed to the rulers, and that God, by making the returning of the trusts an obligation, is commanding them to observe the rights of the people.

Then he further adds:

This is corroborated by the verse immediately following it: O believers, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you ... (4:59)

According to this verse the people are bound to obey the commands of God, His Messenger and those in authority (wulat al-'amr). While the preceding verse mentions the rights of the people, this one reiterates the complementary rights of those in authority. It has been related from the Imams ('a) that 'one of these two verses is ours (i.e. it establishes our rights in relation to you), and the other is yours (i.e. it outlines your rights in relation to us)' ... Al-Imam al-Baqir ('a) said that the performanee of salat, zakat, sawm, and Hajj are some of the trusts (mentioned in 4:58). One of the trusts (amanat) is that the wulat al-'amr have been commanded to justly distribute the ghana'im, sadaqat, and whatever is a part of the rights of the people, among them.

In the exegesis al-Mizan, in the part of the commentary upon this verse which deals with tradition, the author relates a tradition from al-Durr al-manthur from 'Ali ('a) that he said:

It is incumbent on the imam to rule according to the decrees revealed by God, and to discharge the trusts that he has been charged with. When he does that, it is incumbent upon the people to pay attention to the Divine command (about obeying the wali al-'amr), to obey him and respond to his call.

As noticed earlier, the Holy Quran considers the ruler and the head of the State as a trustee and a guardian; it regards just government as a fulfillment of a trust entrusted to the ruler. The approach of the Imams('a), in particular that of Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali ('a), corresponds with the view which can be inferred from the Holy Quran.

Now that we know the Quran's view of this matter, we may go on to examine the statements of the Nahj al-balaghah on this issue. More than anything else, we must study 'Ali's letters to his governors, especially those which were meant to be official circulars. It is in these letters that we would find glimpses of the teachings of Islam regarding the functions of the ruler and his duties towards the people as well as their rights. Ali ('a), in his letter to the governor of Adharba'ijan, reminds him of his duties towards the people in these words:

Beware lest you consider this assignment as a bait [for acquiring personal gain]; rather, it is a trust lying on your neck. You have been charged with caretaking [of the people] by your superior. It is not for you to betray your duties with respect to the people (ra'iyyah). (Kutub 5)

In another letter written as a circular to tax collectors, after a few words of advice and admonition, 'Ali ('a) says:

Fulfill the demands of justice in your relationship with the people and be patient in matters regarding their needs; because you are treasurers of the people (ra'iyyah), representatives of the community (Ummah), and envoys of your imams. Kutub 51

In the famous epistle to Malik al-'Ashtar, which contains elaborate instructions about various aspects of government, he writes:

Awaken your heart to kindness and mercy for the people (ra'iyyah) and love and tenderness for them. Never, never act with them like a predatory beast which seeks to be satiated by devouring them, for the people fall into two categories: they are either your brethren in faith or your kindred in creation ... Do not ever say, 'I have been given authority' or 'My command should be obeyed.' Because it corrupts the heart, consumes one's faith, and invites calamities.

In another letter sent as a circular to army commanders, he says:

It is an obligation that an official should not behave differently with the people (ra'iyyah) on account of a distinction he receives or material advantage that he may achieve. Instead these favours from Allah should bring him nearer to God's creatures and increase his compassion towards his brethren. Kutub 50

'Ali ('a) shows an amazing sensitivity to justice and compassion towards the people and a great respect for them and their rights, which, as reflected in his letters, is an exemplary and unique attitude towards this issue.

There is another letter in the Nahj al-balaghah consisting of instructions to the collectors of zakat, and is entitled: 'To the officials assigned to the job of collecting zakat'. The title indicates that it was not addressed to any particular official but sent either as a general instruction in writing or delivered as a routine oral instruction. Al-Sayyid al-Radi has included it in the section of kutub, or letters, with the clarification that he is placing this letter here to show to what extent 'Ali was meticulous in matters pertaining to justice and rights of the people, being attentive not only to main points but also to minute details. Here are 'Ali's instructions:

Set out with the fear of God, Who is One and has no partner. Do not intimidate any Muslim. Do not tresspass upon his land so as to displease him. Do not take from him more than Allah's share in his property. When you approach a tribe, at first come down at their watering place, stay there instead of entering their houses. Approach them with calm dignity and salute them when you stand amongst them, grudge not a proper greeting to them. Then say to them "O servants of God, the Wali and Khalifah of God has sent me to you to collect from you Allah's share in your property. Is there anything of His share in your property? If there is, return it to His Wali. " If someone says 'No', then do not repeat the demand. If someone answers in the affirmative, then go with him without frightening, threatening, or compelling him. Take whatever gold and silver he gives you. If he has cattle or camels, do not approach them save with his permission, because the major part belongs to him. When you arrive (into the cattle enclosure), do not enter upon them in a bossy and rude manner ... Kutub 25, also see 26, 27 and 46

The passages quoted above are sufficient to throw light on 'Ali's attitude as a ruler toward the people under his rule.

Islamic unity

The Imams call People to Islamic Unity

it is well known that the Household of the Prophet tried hard to preserve the rites of islam, to call Muslims to restore its glory, to unify their beliefs, and that they also strived to maintain the brotherhood of Islam and to remove malice and enmity from the hearts of the Muslims.
We cannot ignore imam Ali's dealings with his predecessors to the khilafah. He treated them with consideration although he believed that they had taken what was his right. He agreed with them and kept his peace with them, and refrained from expressing his opinion about his own right to the khilafah in public until after he had attained to it. Then he called together the remaining followers of the Prophet (those who were still alive and who had been present on the day of Ghadir when the Prophet had appointed All as his khalifah), so that they could bear witness to his appointment to the khilafah.

He never withheld his opinion about what was helpful or in the interests of Islam and the Muslims, and he often said:

I was afraid lest I should not help Islam and the Muslims, and that they would fail.

He said and did nothing against the position, power and authority of the khulafa', but kept himself to his house and remained silent, despite the fact that he saw what they were doing.

He acted thus for the sake of Islamic interests, up to the point where he was famous for his admirable qualitites. The second khalifah Umar ibn Khattab, said many times: "I would never encounter a difficulty without Abu al-Hasan being there to contribute to its solution."And "If it were not for 'Ali, Umar (himself) would have perished."

History cannot forget the way Imam Hasan (A.S.) dealt with Mu'awiyah. He made peace with him, because he realised that if he continued to fight, the light of the Qur'an and just government would be extinguished, and moreover the name of Islam would vanish for all time, the Divine shari'ah would be lost and the Imams that were to come would be obliterated. So he chose to protect the edifice of Islam and its name. For this reason, he made peace with Mu'awiyah, who was a resolute enemy of the religion and of Muslims, and who hated Imam Hasan and his followers. He knew that Mu'awiyah would deal unjustly with him and his companions, and, although he could have counted on his family and followers to fight for their rights and defend themselves, he believed that the highest interests of Islam were above all these things and more important than them.

It was for the same reason that the third Imam, Husayn, the Holy Martyr, rose up against the Banu Ummayah; for he realised that if they continued in their vicious ways without anyone taking arms against them and proclaiming their wicked intentions, they would eradicate Islam and its glory. Thus he wished to point out their oppression and iniquity for posterity, so as to expose their evil plans against the Prophet's religion. Naturally, events turned out as had been predicted. If it had not been for his holy campaign, Islam would have been recorded as a religion of the past, and it would have been thought a false religion.

In completing his holy campaign, following through and pursuing his sacred aim against iniquity and oppression, the Shi'a revive and remember the tragedy at Karbala every year and in various ways, as the Imams have commanded.
We should obtain a better and clearer understanding of how the Descendents of the Prophet tried hard to preserve the glory of Islam if we study the behaviour of Imam Zayn al-'Abidin towards the Umayyid kings, despite the fact that his family had been killed and that his reputation had been destroyed by them. He was continually despondent and heart-broken over the murder of his father and family by the Umayyids at Karbala, but, in spite of these things, he always prayed that the armies of the Muslims would be victorious, and secretly asked Allah to keep the Muslims in safety and to ensure the increase and glory of Islam. He propagated knowledge of Islam, and by means of prayer alone he taught his followers how they should ask Allah for victory for the Muslims. He said in his famous du'a' for the guardians of the frontiers of Islam:

O Allah! Send down peace upon Muhammad and his Family, increase their numbers, sharpen their swords, protect their homes, preserve their country, cause friendship to spread among them, improve their conduct, provide them with sustenance and the means of livelihood, help them, bestow on them patience, teach them the ways of cleverness...
(and then after calling for the wrath of Allah on the unbelievers)
OAllah! In this way strengthen the people of Islam, protect their lands, increase their property, let the soldiers of Islam be free from fighting that they might worship Thee privately.
Let nothing be worshipped over the whole of the earth but Thee. Let no-one prostrate himself before anyone but Thee.

Thus he continued his du'a' (it is one of his longest), telling of the duties of the Muslims armies, how they must behave and be of good character and have good equipment. It contains teachings on the Holy War (jihad), showing its purpose and its results, warning Muslims to keep clear of their enemies, instructing them how to deal with their attacks and defend themselves. It also contains instructions on their obligations, such as continual remembrance of Allah, avoidance of unlawful things and keeping the jihad pure for Allah.

Likewise, other Imams have dealt with the kings of their times, although they were being tortured and cruelly and severely maltreated by these kings with many kinds of suffering and pain. When they realised that an Islamic government was not going to be re-established, they tried their best to teach the religion to the people, pointing out to them the excellence of Islamic knowledge. No insurrection which happened either through some of their family or through others during these times was ordered by them; on the contrary, these were in opposition to their explicit orders, because they made the utmost effort to protect the government of Islam. No-one, not even the Abbasid khulafa' tried harder than them to protect it.

It is enough just to look at the advice of Imam Musa ibn Ja'far (A.S.) to his followers:

I charge you to obey your king and not to lose your strength through disobedience. If he is just, ask Allah to protect his life; if he is an oppressor, ask Allah to reform him. For your interests are identical with his interests. Verily, a just king is really like a father wish for him what you wish for yourselves, and do not wish for him what you do not wish for yourselves.

This is one of the best sayings on the subject of the protection of a king by his people: "wish for him what you wish for yourselves, and do not wish for him what you do not wish for yourselves.

Compare with this the great offence some writers who are contemporary with us have committed. They have spoken of the Shi'a as a hidden destructive group, as a band of revolutionaries and avengers. Now, it is correct that every Muslim who obeys the teachings of the Household should, from the moral point of view, despise oppression and oppressors, keep clear of them and their evil deeds, feel repugnance and contempt for them and their fellows and helpers and dislike them all. The Shi'a have had these feelings engrained in their souls from generation to generation. However, they are not rebels. Nor do they like to stir up trouble or foment insurrection against a rebellious government which says that it is an Islamic government, neither secretly nor openly.

The teachings of the Imams do not allow them suddenly to take the life of someone who is a Muslim, or to betray him, although his beliefs may differ from theirs. But, according to their teachings, a Muslim who professes tawhid and the nubuwwah of Mubammad (S.A.) is to be respected; his blood, his property and his family is secure. "It is not right to take the property of a Muslim except by his leave." All Muslims are brothers to each other, and to each of them belong the rights of brotherhood.

Muslim Public Treasury

Ali's views on charity

    Ali was always extremely poor, yet he was as renowned for his charity as he was for his piety. Because he never owned any money or goods of his own, he had to be exempted from the Zakat, the obligatory alms tax levied on every male and female Muslim of means, but whenever his share of the "Ghanima" (booty) or "Fay" came into his hands, he immediately distributed it amongst the poor and destitute, giving not a proportion of it but all till nothing remained for himself or his family. His deeds of charity were on the lips of every one. 

'A beggar once received a ring while Ali lay prostrate on his prayer-mat.' There are confirmed traditions that the angel Gabriel appeared to the Holy Prophet at that time and revealed the following verse of the Quran:
"Your friend is only Allah and His Messenger and the Believers who observe prayers and charity. even in prostration when worshipping God alone."

    Another story relates how somebody presented 300 gold coins to the Holy Prophet who made a present of them to Ali. Ali immediately decided to give them away in three instalments of 100 pieces. On his way home, after finishing his night prayers, he saw a harlot, to whom he gave the first one hundred coins. Early next morning the whole town was gossiping about All's misplaced charity and how he had squandered money on a woman of ill repute. Returning home the next night, after prayers he met a man. who was to all intents and purposes a thief, yet he gave him the money. Again the people started to gossip. saying that this time All had given the money to a worthless and good-for-nothing person. On the third night he met a rich man to whom he gave the remainder of the money. At this the people again murmured against All saying that lie had wasted the money on a worthless miser. Now no money was left and All repaired to the Holy Prophet, to whom he related what had transpired. The Holy Prophet told Ali that the angel Gabriel had visited him and informed him that God had accepted Ali's charity on all the three occasions. The harlot after getting the money had given up prostitution and had resolved to lead a chaste life; the thief after getting the money had resolved to give up larceny and had entered into honest business, and the rich man had been so ashamed at receiving alms from someone as poor as Ali that he had decided to cease hoarding wealth and give all he possessed to the poor. 

    That Ali's charity had proved acceptable to the Almighty God was also revealed in the following Quranic Verse:

"Men, whom neither merchandise nor business diverts from the remembrance of Allah and the observance of the prayers and the giving of alms. They fear a day in which hearts and eyes will be agitated."

    On another occasion as related by Tabrani, Wahidi in Tafseer-e-Kashaf page 286 and Suyuti in Dur-e-Mansoor Vol. I page 363, All had Dirhams (about rupees two and fifty paise), with a view to spending it in a manner most agreeable to God, he gave one Dir ham in charity at night in a hidden manner and one Dirham in the night openly and one Dirham in the daytime hiddenly and one Dirham openly. According to the same authority, God praised Ali in verse 274 of Sura Baqar approving all the four manners of his charity.

    Not only did Ali practise charity himself but he preached it to others. A great many of his sermons stress the importance of alms giving. In one of these he said, "Of the various meritorious acts of a Believer, one of the most acceptable is "Zakat". It behoves every one to give charity because from amongst the acts of worship this is the one most pleasing to God." In another sermon he emphasised that God had sent men in this world only to test them. When a man dies his relatives ask how much wealth .he has left, while the angels look to see how much he had given in charity, in the path of God. "O thou people! Send a part of your wealth in the way of God so that it may stand you in good stead in the next world. Do not leave your entire wealth here so as to be a source of annoyance to you (in the world to come)."

    Whenever Ali learned that someone was hungry or thirsty, without clothes or in debt, he would provide food, water, clothes and money for him. He would go to the houses of the sick, nurse them and give them money and medicines. Although Ali's shirts, wearing apparel and shoes were full of patches, yet he felt the greatest pleasure in providing others with clothes. Whenever Au used to visit the bazars of Kufa, he would help the travellers, the aged and the infirm. He was particularly kind to the elderly who could not support themselves and the widows who were left destitute. 

    Once All saw a woman who was carrying on her shoulders a waterskin which was too heavy a load for her feeble body. Ali took the load on to his own shoulder and accompanied her to her house. She had a number of children who awaited her arrival anxiously. In the course of talks, Ali came to know that her husband was a Kharijite who had fallen in a battle fighting against him (Ali). The widow tended the destitute children and earned her living by doing odd jobs and working for others. The next day Ali again repaired to the hut of the widow with a basketful of eatables. On his way towards her house, Ali met a number of people who wanted to carry the basket for him hut the Caliph refused to take any one's help saying, "You will share my burden today but who will be there to share it on the Day of Judgment. Thus carrying the basket on his shoulders the Caliph reached the widow's' house, knocked at her door and put the provisions before her. The poor woman was overjoyed and in great excitement said, "May God bless you. Let the Alimghty decide between me and Ali". At this Ali said, 

    "Either let me bake you some bread with this flour that I have brought you or you bake it and I will play with your children and try to cheer them up." The woman replied, "I will do the baking if you will light the oven for me." Ali, who had been distributing dates to the children immediately apologized for his discourtesy in not having offered to light the fire. When it flamed up and he felt the heat of the oven scorching his face, he said, "Taste the heat of his fire; imagine what punishment awaits one who has neglected the widows and orphans." In the meantime the next door neighborhood had come in and had recognized Ali as the Caliph. "Cursed be thou", she said, reprimanding the widow, "How dare you talk so insolently to the Commander of the Faithful?" The widow in great shame fell prostrate to the ground, begging forgiveness, but Ali said, "It is Ali who must feel ashamed at having neglected you."

Muslims Are Advised To Exhibit Good Behaviour

Towards The Religious Minorities

Muslims are strictly advised to regard and respect their obligations towards the Zemmi. They are advised to exhibit good behaviuor to them:

this is all based on the Quranic verses:

" And argue not with the people of the scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you."(1)

The Prophet of Islam (S.A.W.) has issued orders about having gentle conduct with the Zemmi: "He who overcharges the one who enters into a contract I will reprimand him on the Resurrection Day."(2)

His Holiness adds: "He who persecutes the Zemmi is hated by me, and will be revenged on Doomes Day:'(3)

The Prophet of Islam (S.A.W) used to revere the dead of those who possessed the divine scriptures. Jabir b. Abd Allah said, "Once His Holiness stood up to show his politeness for a Jewish dead man whose corpse was escorted in a funeral. The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "He is a human being just as we are. You must all stand up as soon as you see a funeral rite."(4)

The peaceful behaviour of the Prophet of Islam (S.A.W.) towards the Zemmi has been always served as an outstanding example for the Muslim followers.

His Holiness Ali (A.S.) who is known as the Commander of the Faithful has advised and ordered his representative as follows:

"Be careful not to take their clothes as tributes, though it might be summer at that time, and they may need them not. Put not on sale their provisions and their beasts of burden. I consent not that you whip them for a dirham (silver coin) or make them stand up on their feet!"

The representative said: "What would you say if I return unpaid being indigent as I am now?"

Ali (A.S.) replied "Woe! We are appointed to spread forgiveness and beneficence."(5)

Also, His Eminence Ali (A.S.) once saw an old Christian chap who was begging people to help him. His Holiness (A.S.) said to the people: "Behold! you people have exploited this Christian chap so much in his youth while you have abandoned him now that he is old and feeble." Ali (A.S.) then ordered to give the man a pension and provide his needs from the Muslims'treasury.(6)

The author of Al-Kharaj writes: "The Zemmi must not be beaten because of their shortcoming in paying tribute. They should not be kept in a standing posture in the sunshine. They are to be arrested and imprisoned until they pay the jiziyih, if they are rich enought to pay it "(7)

Most of the Islamic leaders used to display the generous spirit and behaviour based on the exalted teachings of Islam. The following is recorded in history:

Once Umar, the second caliph, saw an old man who was busy begging round the streets. He seemed to be distressed and afflicted. The caliph asked about him and was informed of his poor condition which was due to paying tributes and oldness. Umar took the indigent man to his own house, and gave him enough food and money to suffice for his sustenance. Then the caliph sent the poor man to the treasurer who was ordered to assist that man and the other needy ones. Umar added: "By God! We would not be just and honest if we exploit such people in their youth, and abandon them when they are old and indigent!"(8)

The officials who were on duty to collect the tributes were ordered to be kind to the Zemmi. They were advised to avoid any harshness in case the Zemmi denied to submit the Jiziyih.(9) Thus those who possessed the divine scriptures opened the gates of their towns to the Muslims who were sincerely received by the inhabitants of those towns and cities.

When the Muslim army, under the command of Abu Ubayd-Allah Jirah, reached the territories of Jordan, the Christians who lived there wrote a letter to the Muslims: "Behold you Muslims! you are more popular to us than the Romans.

Although they are our co-religionists you are more loyal, more tender and more beneficent."(10)

Now let us quote the Achbishop of Antioch who took refuge with the Muslims when he was fed up with the oppression of the Romans. He frankly says: "This is no doubt God's vengeance that released us from these ruthless Romans who demolished our churches."(11)

The inhabitants of the city Hams did not open the gate for Heraclius but they sent a message to the Muslim army stating that the Islamic justice was much better than the Romans'aggressions.(12)

Sir T.V. Arnold, the author of Invitation to Islam, writes; "All cities occupied by the Romans received the Muslim conquerors cordially. All this was due to the tenderness and forgiveness the people enjoyed; the new condition created by the Muslim combatants and something they (the people) had not experienced for years on account of some religious prejudice: They were free to practise their religious ceremonies within the framework of some useful regulations determined by Muslim authorities."(13)

Such a fellowship resulted in the creation of a secure and happy life for non-Muslim people who lived in the realm of Islam.

The Christians of Byzantine who were prosecuted by the official churches sought refuge in the Muslim territories. A Nestorian person appreciates the behaviour of the Muslims towards Christianity.(14) Here the Earl of Gobineau who is a celebrated erudite from the West says: "To study religion within its own limits would make it clear that Islam is an easy faith. No bigotry could be found in this divine religion:'(15) Forgiveness is therefore recommended for the Zemmi who are supposed to enjoy the fruits of the exalted teachings of Islam.

The Prophet's (S.A.W.) behaviour and Ali's (A.S.) conduct towards the Zemmi are the best examples that concern the above subject.


(1) Qoran al-Ankabut (29:46)

(2) Baladhri, p.167.

(3) Ruhul Din al_islami, p.250.

(4) See the reference to Sahih Bukhari in Sayyid Qutb's Islam and Peace In the World, p.250

(5) Nahj al-Balaghah, letter section

(6) Wasa'il al-Shia, (Book of Jihad), Ch.19, 1st Hadith.

(7) Abu Yusif, al-Kharaj, p.123.

(8) Islam wa Sulh Jihani, p.151

(9) Abu Ysif, p.143

(10) Tarikh Ibn Asakir

(11) al-Islam al-Alami Wa al-Islam, p. 158.

(12) Baladhri, pp. 146-167

(13) Sir T.V. Arnold, Invitation to Islam, quoted from Islam wa Humazisti masamlamat Amiz, p.168.

(14) Dr. abdul Husayn Zarinkub, Karnamih Islammp.14.

(15) Compte Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, Religions et Philosophies, p.24.