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Forum LockedAli's Letter to the Governor of Egypt

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Preobrazhenskoe View Drop Down
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    Posted: 05-Feb-2007 at 21:40
Hello everybody at allempires, Smile
 
Eric here, with another worthy and riveting thread (posted also at SMQ and CHF) for all to read and admire (with special care to understanding early Islam in the context of modern Islam).

The Islamic world is gaining much of the entire world's attention in recent decades, more often for negative reason than positive (for many justifiable reasons).

Yet the Islamic world retains still a glorious and somewhat benevolent past that is most often forgotten or ignored by Western, Eastern, or heck, even by some Middle-Eastern scholars. This is a past that would seem starkly different in attitude and composure than the present attitude of governance and view of 'outsiders' as seen from today's Islamic world (and several of its extreme groups who promote global terrorism).

Let's dive into a different period of time, when Islam was budding as a new religious force in the wake of bygone Sassanian and Byzantine control over the early-medieval Middle East. Some allempires members might have doubt that the excerpts from this document will have nothing less than hyper-religious dribble in print. However, in actuality it will display a brilliance of the early Islamic mind and practical political outlook, philosophy, and attitude towards how to run a benevolent and efficient administration (without corruption such as nepotism, turning a blind eye towards poverty and civil distress, or promoting hurtful infighting within the governmental establishment that results in the detriment and suffering of all). It will also display the political outlook, philosophy, and attitude in accordance to followers of Islam, subjects of the empire (rich or poor), and how best to treat those who aren't even Muslim, all in accordance on how best to rule and rule with benevolence towards man.

Intro to the Letter:

The Nahj al-Balagha (the Peak of Eloquence) is an enormous collection of speeches (sermons) and letters attributed to the writings of Ali ibn Abi Talib (599 - 661 AD, appointed as Caliph in 656 AD). The work was collected in the 10th century by ash-Sharif ar-Radi (known in Persia as Seyyed Razi), a medieval Muslim scholar of Baghdad. The compilation of this work contains a total of 241 sermons, 79 letters, and 489 sayings of Ali. Essentially, this is not a religious text, but literary accomplishment as one of the greatest classical texts of the Islamic world. The document that I will be relating is the lengthiest of the compiled letters, and is a letter of commands and instructions in the form of suggestions and core offerings of advice by Ali to Malik on how best to handle affairs as Egypt's newly-appointed governor there.

Background of Ali:

Ali was the cousin of the Arabic holy prophet Muhammad and the first male to be converted to the religion of Islam. Ali ibn Abi Talib is recognized by all Sunni Muslims as the fourth of the ruling Rightly Guided Caliphs (Rashidun) following the Prophet Muhammad. Ali is also recognized by all Shia Muslims as the first legitimate caliph to follow Muhammad (Shia Muslims denounce the legitimacy of the reigns of his three predecessor caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, as they had no blood relation to Muhammad and their accession to the seat of caliph controversial to this day amongst Sunni and Shia branches of Islam). Ali was the leader of an Islamic-centered state at Medina that already by the time of his reign was massive. He ruled over an empire that stretched out from Arabia to Mesopotamia, Eastern Anatolia, Persia, Cyprus, Egypt, and North Africa, over millions of subjects that spoke many different languages and worshipped many different religions (two of them, Judaism and Christianity, sharing the same Abrahamic-monotheistic roots as Islam). Hence, Ali put into consideration all the variables of ruling such a diverse empire, and wanted the various governors to be on the same page so that the empire would run smoothly and efficiently, and as benevolently as possible. Unfortunately for Ali, he was assassinated during Ramadan of 661 AD, and was succeeded by his powerful and cunning clan rival Muawiya I of the Ummayad Dynasty (661 - 750 AD).

Letter #53 - Ali's Letter to Malik al-Ashtar:
(Skipping ash-Sharif ar-Radi's introduction in Part I, these are my own selected excperts taken from "Ali's Instructions to Malik al-Ashtar" Shi'ite Anthology. Trans. William C. Chittick. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981. 68 - 89.) (Any writing placed in bold print is of my own selection and doing to what I thought needed to be emphasized and pondered over most.)

Part II: Commands and Instructions Concerning Righteous Action in the Affairs of the State

Know, O Malik, that I am sending you to a land where governments, just and unjust, have existed before you. People will look upon your affairs in the same way that you were wont to look upon the affairs of the rulers before you. They will speak about you as you were wont to speak about those rulers. And the righteous are only known by that which God causes to pass concerning them on the tongues of His servants. So let the dearest of your treasuries be the treasury of righteous action. Control your desire and restrain your soul from what is not lawful to you, for restraint of the soul is for it to be equitous in what it likes and dislikes. Infuse your heart with mercy, love, and kindness for your subjects. Be not in face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds: either they are brothers in religion or your equals in creation. Error catches them unaware, deficiencies overcome them, evil deeds are committed by them intentionally and by mistake. So grant them your pardon and your forgiveness, to the same extent that you hope God will grant you His pardon and His forgiveness. For you are above them, and he who appointed you is above you, and God is above Him who appointed you. God has sought from you the fulfillment of their requirements and He is trying you with them.

Set yourself not up to war against God, for you have no power against his vengeance, nor are you able to dispense with His pardon and His mercy. Never be regretful of pardon or rejoice at punishment, and never hasten (to act) upon an impulse if you can find a better course. Never say, "I am invested with authority, I give orders and I am obeyed," for surely that is corruption in the heart, enfeeblement of the religion and an approach to changes (in fortune). If the authority you possess engender in you pride or arrogance, then reflect upon the tremendousness of the dominion of God above you and His power over you in that in which you yourself have no control. This will subdue your recalcitrance, restrain your violence, and restore in you what has left you of the power of your reason. Beware of vying with God in his tremendousness and likening yourself to Him in His exclusive power, for God abases every tyrant and humiliates all who are proud.

See that justice is done towards God and justice is done towards the people by yourself, your own family, and those whom you favor among your own subjects. For if you do not do so, you have worked wrong...

Let the dearest of your affairs be those which are middlemost in rightfulness, most inclusive in justice, and most comprehensive in establishing the content of the subjects. For the discontent of the common people invalidates the content of favorites, and the discontent of favorites is pardoned at (the achievement of) the content of the masses. Moreover, none of the subjects is more burdensome upon the ruler in ease and less of a help to him in trial than his favorites. (None are) more disgusted by equity, more importunate in demands, less grateful upon bestowal, slower to pardon (the ruler upon his) withholding (favor), and more deficient in patience at the misfortune of time than the favorites. Whereas the support of religion, the solidarity of Muslims, and preparedness in the face of the enemy lie only with the common people of the community, so let your inclination and affection be toward them.

...Loose from men the knot of every resentment, sever from yourself the cause of every animosity, and ignore all that which does not become your station. Never hasten to believe the slanderer, for the slanderer is a deciever, even if he seems to be a sincere advisor.

Bring not into your consultation a miser, who might turn you away from liberality and promise you poverty; nor a coward, who might enfeeble you in your affairs; nor a greedy man, who might in his lust deck out oppression to you as something fair. Miserliness, cowardliness, and greed are diverse temperaments which have in common distrust in God.

...Let them not be among your retinue, for they are aides of the sinners and brothers of the wrongdoers. You will find the best of the substitutes for them from among those who possess the like of their ideas and effectiveness but are not encumbranced by the like of their sins and crimes...let the most influential among them be he who speaks most to you with the bitterness of the truth and supports you least in activities which God dislikes in His friends, however this strikes your pleasure. Cling to men of piety and veracity. Then accustom them not to lavish praise upon you nor to (try to) gladden you by (attributing to you) a vanity you did not do, for the lavishing of abundant praise causes arrogance and draws (one) close to pride.

Know that there is nothing more conducive to the ruler's trusting his subjects than that he be kind towards them, lighten their burdens and abandon coercing them in that in which they possess not the ability. So in this respect you should attain a situation in which you can confidently trust your subjects, for trusting them will sever from you lasting strain. And surely he who most deserves your trust is he who has done well when you have tested him, and he who most deserves your mistrust is he who has done badly when you have tested him.

Part III: Concerning the Classes of Men

Know that subjects are of various classes, none of which can be set aright without the others and none of which is independent from the others. Among them are (1.) the soldiers of God, (2.) secretaries for the common people and people of distinction, executors of justice, and administrators of equity and kindness, (3.) payers of jizyah and land tax, namely the people of protective covenants and the Muslims, (4.) merchants and craftsmen and (5.) the lowest class, the needy and wretched. For each of them God has designated a portion, and commensurate with each portion He has established obligatory acts (faridah) in His Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet...

Now soldiers, by the leave of God, are the fortresses of the subjects, the adornment of rulers, the might of religion, and the means to security. The subjects have no support but them, and the soldiers in their turn have no support but the land tax which God has extracted for them, (a tax) by which they are given the power to war against their enemy and upon which they depend for that which puts their situation in order and meets their needs. Then these two classes (soldiers and taxpayers) have no support but the third class, the judges, administrators, and secretaries, for they draw up contracts, gather yields, and are entrusted with private and public affairs. And all of these have no support but the merchants and craftsmen, through the goods which they bring together and the markets which they set up. They provide for the needs (of the first three classes) by acquiring with their own hands those (goods) to which the resources of others do not attain. Then there is the lowest class, the needy and wretched, those who have the right to aid and assistance. With God there is plenty for each (of the classes). Each has a claim upon the ruler to the extent that will set it aright. But the ruler will not truly accomplish what God has enjoined upon him in this respect except by resolutely striving, by recourse to God's help, by reconciling himself to what the truth requires and by being patient in the face of it in what is easy for him or burdensome.

...Then choose to judge (al-hukm) among men him who in your sight is the most excellent of subjects...a man who does not become concieted when praise is lavished upon him and who is not attracted by temptation. But such (men) are rare. Thereupon investigate frequently his execution of the law and grant generously to him that which will eliminate his lacks and through which his need for men will decrease. Bestow upon him that station near to you which none of your other favorites may aspire, that by it he may be secure from (character) assassination before you by men of importance. (In sum) study that (ie. the selection of judges) with thorough consideraiton, for this religion was prisoner in the hands of the wicked, who acted with it out of caprice and used it to seek (the pleasures of) the present world.

Then look into the affairs of your administrators. Employ them (only after) having tested (them) and appoint them not with favoritism or arbitrariness, for these two (attributes) embrace different kinds of oppression and treachery. Among them look for people of experience and modesty from righteous families foremost in Islam, for they are nobler in moral qualities, more genuine in dignity and less concerned with ambitious designs, and they percieve more penetratingly the consequences of affairs. Then bestow provisions upon them liberally, for that will empower them to set themselves aright and to dispense with consuming what is under their authority; and it is an argument against them if they should disobey your command or sully your trust.

...Investigate the situation of the land tax in a manner that will rectify the state of those who pay it, for in the correctness of the land tax and the welfare of the taxpayers is the welfare of others. The welfare of others will not be achieved except through them, all of them, are dependent upon the land tax and those who pay it. Let your care for the prosperity of the earth be deeper than your care for the collecting of land tax, for it will not be gathered except in prosperity. Whoever exacts land tax without prosperity has desolated the land and destroyed the servants (of God). His affairs will remain in order but briefly.

So if your subjects complain of burden, of blight, of the cutting off of irrigation water, of lack of rain, of the transformation of the earth through its being inundated by a flood or ruined by drought, lighten (their burden) to the extent you wish their affairs to be rectified. And let not anything by which you have lightened their burden weigh heavily against you, for it is a store which they will return to you by bringing about prosperity in your land and embellishing your rule. You will gain their fairest praise and pride yourself at the spreading forth of justice among them. You will be able to depend upon the increase of their strength (resulting) from what you stored away with them when you gave them ease; and upon their trust, since you accustomed them to your justice towards them through your kindness to them. Then perhaps matters will arise which afterwards they will undertake gladly if in these you depend upon them, for prosperity will carry that with which burden it. Truly the destruction of the earth only results from the destitution of its inhabitants, and its inhabitants become destitute only when rulers concern themselves with amassing (wealth), when they have misgivings about the endurance (of their own rule) and when they profit little from warning examples.

Part IV: Commands and Prohibitions in Malik al-Ashtar's Best Interests

...Furthermore, prolong not your seclusion (ihtijab) from your subjects, for rulers' seclusion from subjects is a kind of restraint and (results in) a lack of knowledge of affairs. Seclusion from them cuts rulers off from the knowledge of that from which they have been secluded. Then the great appears to them as small and the small as great. The beautiful appears as ugly and the ugly as beautiful. And the truth becomes stained with falsehood. The ruler is only a man. He does not know the affairs which men hide from him. There are no marks upon the truth by which the various kinds of veracity might be distinguished from falsehood.

Again, you are one of only two men: either you give generously in the way of the truth - then why seclude yourself from carrying out a valid obligation or performing a noble deed? Or else you are afflicted by niggardliness - then how quickly will men refrain from petitioning you when they despair of your generosity! Moreover, most requests men present to you are those which impose no burden upon you, such as a complaint against a wrong or the seeking of equity in a transaction.

Then surely the ruler has favorites and intimates, among whom there is a certain arrogation, transgression, and lack of equity in transactions. Remove the substance of these (qualities) by cutting off the means of obtaining these situations. Bestow no fiefs upon any of your entourage or relatives, nor let them covet from you the acquisition of a landed estate which would bring loss to the people bordering upon it in (terms of) a water supply or a common undertaking, the burden of which would be imposed upon them. Its benefit would be for those (who acquired the fiefs) and not for you, and its fault would be upon you in this world and the next.

Never reject a peace to which your enemy calls you and in which is God's pleasure, for in peace there is ease for your soldiers, relaxation from your cares, and security for your land. But be cautious, very cautious, with your enemy after (having made) peace with him, for the enemy may have drawn near in order to take advantage of (your) negligence. Therefore be prudent and have doubts about trusting your enemy in this (matter).

If you bind an agreement between yourself and your enemy or cloth him in a protective covenant (dhimmah), guard your agreement in good faith and tend to your covenant with fidelity. Make of yourself a shield before what you have granted, for men do not unite more firmly in any of the obligations (imposed upon them) in God than in attaching importance to fidelity in agreements, despite the division among their sects and the diversity of their opinions. The idolators (al-mushrikun) had already adhered to that (honoring agreements) amongst themselves before the Muslims, by reason of the evil consequences of treachery that they had seen. So never betray your protective covenant, never break your agreement, and never deceive your enemy, for none is audacious before God but a wretched fool. God has made His agreement and His protective covenant a security which He has spread among the servants by His mercy, and a sanctuary in whose impregnability they may rest and in whose proximity they may spread forth. Within it there is no corruption, treachery, or deceit.

Make not an agreement in which you allow deficiencies and rely not upon ambiguity of language after confirmation and finalization (of the agreement). Let not the straitness of an affair in which an agreement before God is binding upon you invite you to seek its abrogation unjustly. For your patience in the straitness of an affair, hoping for its solution and the blessing of its outcome, is better than an act of treachery. You would fear the act's consequence and (you would fear) that a liability before God will encompass you, a liability from which you will not be exempted in this world or the next.

Beware of blood and spilling it unlawfully, for nothing is more deserving of vengeance (from God), greater in its consequence, or more likely to (bring about) a cessation of blessing and the cutting off of (one's appointed) term than shedding blood unjustly. God - glory be to him - on the Day of Resurrection will begin judgment among His servants over the blood they have spilt. So never strengthen your rule by shedding unlawful blood, for that is among the factors which weaken and enfeeble it, nay, which overthrow and transfer it. You have no excuse before God and before me for intentional killing, for in that there is bodily retaliation. If you are stricken by error, and your whip, your sword, or your hand should exceed their bounds in punishment - for in striking with the fists and all that exceeds it there is killing - never let the arrogance of your authority prevent you from paying the relatives of the killed their rightful due (al-haqq).

...Beware of reproaching (mann) your subjects in your good-doing (for their insufficient acknowledgment of their debt to you), of overstating the deeds you have done and of making promises to them followed by non-observance. For reproach voids good-doing, overstatement takes away the light of the truth, and non-observance results in the hatred of God and men. God - may He be exalted - has said, "Very hateful is it to God, that you say what you do not," (LXI, 3).

Beware of hurrying to (accomplish) affairs before their (proper) time, of neglecting them when they are possible, of stubborn persistence in them when they are impracticable and of weakness in them when they have become clear. So put everything in its place and perform every action at its time.

Control the ardor of your pride, the violence of your strength, the force of your hand, and the edge of your tongue. Be on thy guard against all these by restraining impulses and delaying force until your anger has subsided and you have mastered (your own) power of choice. But you will not gain control over that from your soul until you multiply your concern for remembering the return unto your lord...

 

(Hope you enjoyed that)
Eric Smile



Edited by Preobrazhenskoe - 06-Feb-2007 at 22:34
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Ahmed The Fighter Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Feb-2007 at 16:37
a very good topic Preobrazhenskoe
 
Be not in face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds: either they are brothers in religion or your equals in creation
 
I always express this quote in my daily life,  it is a brief explain  for the best human beings relationships and keep me a way from Racisim.
"May the eyes of cowards never sleep"
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Preobrazhenskoe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Feb-2007 at 22:35
Thanks Ahmed, and I like your signature quote from Imam Ali as well, certainly another quote to live by.
 
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Eric
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote es_bih Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2007 at 00:38
Thank! This is an interesting read, do you have any online links to the rest or other speeches/letters?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Ahmed The Fighter Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2007 at 05:21
"May the eyes of cowards never sleep"
Khalid Bin Walid
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote es_bih Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2007 at 11:42
Thank you

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote malizai_ Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-May-2007 at 17:51
Ali was one of the greatest minds to have ever lived. There is one particular quote that i would like to share. I believe it was inscribed on his sword:
 
"The hawk does not fly away with the sparrow's provisions"


Edited by malizai_ - 26-May-2007 at 16:54
"We didnt land on Israel, Israel landed on us!!"--Palestinian X
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