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Ali (a.s.); the Ideal Ruler

Hazrat Ali's administration was such that it could serve as a model even to modern governments, not excepting those of the most advanced countries.

It was a rare coincidence, with few parallels in History, that a country, so steeped in superstition and ignorance as Arabia was at the dawn of the seventh century of the Christian era, should have produced an ideal and humanitarian ruler like Hazrat Ali whose government, even to-day , stands as a pattern of wise, simple and incorrupti ble administration.


When Hazrat Ali was called to the helm of the Muslim Commonwealth, his first act on assuming responsibility as a Caliph was to dismiss all corrupt governors and state officers who had fastened upon the provinces like famished leeches, heaping up wealth by means of pitiless extortion. Hazrat Ali had been advised by his friends to defer the dismissal of the corrupt men until he was firmly secured against all enemies. "But the Bayard of Islam," to use Major Osborn's words, "the hero without fear and without reproach", refused to be guilty of any duplicity or compromise with injustice. The fiat went forth removing from their offices all the men who had so grossly betrayed the public trust. This made the bloodsuckers of the poor his bitter enemies and they rebelled against him. But this did not deter Ali from his path of duty. Many a bold and seasoned reformer would have been afraid to tread on this path and would have deemed it expedient to seek out ways and means of convenient compromise. But Hazrat Ali did not believe in dishonest diplomacy. He thought more of the wretched plight of the humble subjects of the state suffering under the yoke of the corrupt governors and he considered it his first duty to eradicate abuse and corruption from public service.

Both by example and precept Hazrat Ali proved himself to be a God-fearing administrator. Although appointed to the highest office of the state, he regarded himself as a trustee of the nation. He lived in oa humble thatched hut. He treated the treasures of the Commonwealth as the property of the nation and apportioned to himself from the public funds a share equal to that of the humblest citizen. He abhorred the whole paraphernalia of pomp and show. During his tenure of office. he introduced simplicity in every branch of life and also in every department of the Government. He insisted upon the Governors and officers of the state followine his example. Ibn-ul-Atheer, a great Muslim historian, records that during his Caliphate, Ali was visited by Harun Ibn Hamza in the palace of Khurnaq. It was a midwinter evening and Harun found Ali shivering from lack of warm clothes.. Harun could not bear the sight and exclaimed : "O Commander of the Faithful, a share has been allotted to you and your children in the public treasury, why are you undergoing such suffering ?" "By Allah," replied Hazrat Ali, "I hate to make use of your public treasury. Behold, this is the same garment which I brought with me from Medina."

It was the day of Id-ul-Fitr and all Muslims clad in their best garments, assembled in the great mosque of Kufa. They were expecting the Caliph to appear with ceremonial pomp to lead the Id prayers. But they were disappointed to see Hazrat Ali appearing in his usual long shirt full of patches. This unceremonial dress displeased Ibn Abbas, who thought that Ali might have donned a more costly garment for the occasion. Ali, realising Ibn Abbas's perturbation, said, "what have you to do with my dress? This garment of mine is far from being a means of display of pride and it is such as can be worn by all Muslims." It was the cardinal principle of Ali's administration that the ruler should adopt a standard of life equal to that of the humblest subject in the realm. He sincerely believed that the real greatness of a ruler did not consist in wearing rich and costly dresses but in relieving the distress of the suffering subjects. The public treasury was meant to meet not the extravagant demands of a ruler's vanity but the needs of the down-trodden people, to feed the starving population and to clothe the naked. He always directed his governors to adopt a simple standard of life and nothing displeased him more than to learn that a governor had indulged in rich feasting. In a memorable letter of censure addressed to Osman Ibn Hanif, the Governor of Busra, Hazrat Ali wrote :-- "O Ibne Hanif, it has come to my knowledge that someone amongst the youths of Busra invited you to a wedding feast and that you attended it cheerfully and were entertained to a variety of rich dishes. I had never expected that you would consent to accept the invitation of people who keep the poor and the needy far away from their dining-tables and invite only the rich. Remember that it is essential for the faithful to have an Imam whose example is always to be followed and from whom all knowledge and guidance is to be derived. Bear in mind that in the worldly domain your Imam (i.e. Hazrat Ali) has cut down his necessities, so much so that in dress he does not require more than two old shirts and in food not more than two (loaves) of bread. It is understandable that you cannot bring yourself down to this level of abstinence, but still, as far as possible, you should assist me by observing piety, chastity and straightforwardness. I swear to Allah that I have not amassed gold and silver out of your worldly wealth nor have I provided myself with any new sheet in order to replace the present one when it becomes worn out. Had I desired to enjoy delicious honey, pure wheat and silk clothings, I could have easily done so, but what a pity it would be if I were to allow the animal in me to get the better of my inner soul, and my avarice to degrade me to the relishing of tasteful dishes. despite the knowledge that there are many in Hejaz and Yemen who have no means of getting a single piece of bread, or of being able to satisfy their hunger. Should I enjoy a restful sleep when all around me there are hung% and afflicted people? Is it fair and appropriate that should satisfy my vanity of being addressed as Commander of the Faithful and on my part I should not share their miseries and sorrows and be not willing to be one of them in their distresses and afflictions?" This was Ali's real conception of the Caliphate, name!) that the Caliph or Ruler should share the miseries and sorrows, the distresses and afflictions of his subjects.

When Ali appointed his trusted disciple and friend Malik-al-Ashtar as the Governor of Egypt, he issued to him a letter of appointment which contained a full code of adminstrative instructions unequalled by any other royal charter even in this age of enlightenment and culture. He impressed upon Malik-al-Ashtar the importance of winning the confidence of the subjects by love and kindness and abjured him from exercising dictatorial powers and from vanity and pride. "Do not say I am your Overlord and Dictator and that you should therefore bow to my command, as that will corrupt your heart, weaken your faith in religion and create disorder in the state." In administering Justice, he impressed upon Malik-alAshtar the absolute necessity of being impartial and of deciding claims in open courts. He wrote, "Meet the oppressed and the lowly periodically in an open conference and, conscious of divine presence there have a heart to heart talk with them. For I have heard the Prophet of Allah saying that no nation or society will occupy a high position in which the strong do not discharge their duty to the weak and the rights of the weak cannot be taken from the strong." The scanty records available of the notable trials adjudicated upon by Hazrat Ali both in the reign of the early Caliphs as well as during his own regime fully endorse the prognostication of the Holy Prophet that Ali was the best Judge amongst his disciples. If the law reports of the Arabian High Court were available, every lawyer today would have acknowledged Hazrat Ali as the greatest Lord Chief Justice of his age. "But for his assassination", to quote a French Historian, "the Muslim world might have witnessed the realisation of the Prophet's teachings, in the actual amalgamation of Reason with Law, and in the impersonation of the first principles of true philosophy in positive action." The non-Muslim subjects, called Zimmis, had a special place of protection in Hazrat Ali's regime. In order to protect them from exploitation, he decreed that no Muslim was allowed to acquire the land of a Zimmi even by purchase. They were equal with Muslims in the eyes of the law and the blood of the Zimmi, said Hazrat Ali, was as sacred as that of a Muslim. "Had Ali been allowed to reign in peace," says Oelsner, "his virtues, his firmness and his ascendancy of character would have perpetuated the old republic and its simple manners.

The dagger of an as sassin destroyed the hope of Islam." "With him," says Major Osborn, "perished the truest-hearted and best Muslim of whom Mohammedan History has preserved remembrance." It has been rightly said that a genius comes before his age. Hazrat Ali was born at a time when a reformer was greatly needed but there were few persons capable of understanding and appreciating the genius of this great administrator. Syed Ameer Ali correctly sums up the position when he says, "Seven centuries before this wonderful man would have been apotheosised; thirteen centuries later his genius and his talents, his virtues and valour, would have extorted the admiration of the civilised world."

Adapted from: "Ali, the Magnificent" by: "Yousuf N. Lalljee"

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