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Post Islam: Letter 53 of the Nahjul Balagha(Vincent Littrell, Belgium)
Created by John Eipper on 05/11/06 9:54 AM - islam-letter-53-of-the-nahjul-balaghavincent-littrell-belgium

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Islam: Letter 53 of the Nahjul Balagha(Vincent Littrell, Belgium) (John Eipper, USA, 05/11/06 9:54 am)

Vincent Littrell writes: In light of my past brief discussion of the Nahjul Balagha (thanks to Ed Jajko for his correction of my misspelling of the title though of my three different English versions of this collection one is actually titled "Najul Balaagh") which is a collection of letters and sermons of Ali (son-in-law to the Prophet Muhammad/1st Imam of the Shi'a imamate/4th "rightly guided" Caliph of Sunni orthodoxy). These sermons and letters were compiled about 712 A.D. according to sources I've read. I thought I'd present excerpts from one of the more famous letters of the collection, that being Letter 53. I cannot present the whole letter as it would take up too much space for this forum. However, it is worth reading to get a sense of how early Muslims were to rule ideally as presented by Ali. Note the comment about how people of other religions are to be treated.

Letter 53 was written by Ali to one Maalik al-Ashtar who had just been appointed governor of Egypt.
A commentator introduces Letter 53 stating: "This letter is a précis of the principles of administration and justice as dictated by Islam. It deals with the duties and obligations of rulers, their chief responsibilities, the question of priorities of rights and obligations, dispensation of justice, control over secretaries and subordinate staff; distribution of work and duties amongst the various branches of administration, their co-ordination with each other and their co-operation with the centre. In it Imam Ali (a) advises Maalik to combat corruption and oppression amongst the officers, to control markets and imports and exports, to curb evils of profiteering, hoarding, black-marketing. In it he has also explained stages of various classes in a society, the duties of the government towards the lowest class, how they are to be looked after and how their conditions are to be improved, the principle of equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities, orphans and their up-bringing, maintenance of the handicapped, crippled and disabled persons and substitutes in lieu of homes for the aged and the disabled.

Then he (a) discusses the army, of whom it should consist of and how the ignorant, ruthless and corrupt mercenaries should not be allowed to join the army as their profession. He lays great stress upon the honour and the nobility of volunteers who in time of need, offer their voluntary services to defend the Islamic State. Finally, he comments upon the rights of rulers over the ruled and of the ruled over the rulers. There is a main central idea running all through these instructions, like one single thread out of which the cloth is woven, it is that of Allah . The regime is of Allah, the governors and the governed are both creatures of Allah, and their respective duties are laid down by Allah. He expects each one of them to fulfil his obligations and to do his duties. The orphans and the depressed are the trust of Allah, the army is the army of Allah, whose soldiers should not behave like haughty and arrogant mercenaries but like honourable and noble knights, everyone is expected to do his duty to the best of his ability. He will be rewarded in Paradise accordingly. In short this letter is on one hand the Gospel of the principles of administration as taught by the Holy Qur'án, a code to establish a kind and benevolent rule, throwing light on various aspects of justice, benevolence and mercy, an order based on the ethics of Divine rulership where justice and mercy are shown to human beings irrespective of class, creed and colour, where poverty is neither a stigma nor a disqualification and where justice is not tainted with nepotism, favouritism, provincialism or religious fanaticism; and, on the other hand, it is a thesis on the higher values of morality.

The famous Arab Christian, jurist, poet and philosopher Abdul Masih Antaaki, who died sometime in the beginning of the 20th Century,while discussing this letter writes that it is a far superior and better code than the one handed down by Moses and Hamurabi, it explains what a human administration should be like, how it is to be carried out and it justifies the claims of Muslims that Islam wants to introduce a Divine administration of the people for the people and by the people and it wants a ruler to rule not to please himself but to bring happiness to the ruled, and no religion before Islam tried to achieve this end, Ali (a) should be congratulated for having introduced these principles during his rule and for have written them down for the posterity."

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE BENEFICENT, THE MERCIFUL.
These are the orders issued by the creature of Allah, Ali, the son Abu Taalib (a) to Maalik, the son of Ashtar when he appointed Maalik as the Governor of Egypt to collect Zakat there, to combat the enemies of Islam and Egypt, to work for the welfare of its people and to look after its prosperity.I order you, Maalik, always to keep the fear of Allah in your mind, to give priority to His worship and to give preference to obeying His Commands over every other thing in life, to carefully and faithfully follow the commandments and interdictions as are given by the Holy Book and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (s) because the success of a man to attain happiness in this world and in the next depends upon these qualities, and a failure to achieve these attributes brings about total failure in both the worlds.

I order you to use your head, heart, hands and tongue to help the creatures of Allah because the Almighty Allah holds Himself responsible to help those who sincerely try their best to help Him. Allah has further ordered you to keep your desires under control, to keep yourself under restraint when extravagant and inordinate yearnings and cravings try to drive you towards vice and wickedness because usually your 'self' tries to incite and drag you towards infamy and damnation unless the Merciful Lord comes to your help.

Let it be known to you, Maalik, that I am sending you as a governor to a country which has seen many regimes before this. Some of them were benign, sympathetic and good, while others were tyrannical, oppressive and cruel. People will judge your regime as critically as you have studied the activities of other regimes and they will criticize you in the same way as you have censured or approved other rulers.

You must know that a good and virtuous man is known and recognized by the good that is said about him and the praise which Allah has destined him to receive from others. Therefore, make your mind the source and fountain-head of good thoughts, good intentions and good deeds. This can only be attained by keeping a strict control on your desires and yearnings, however much they may try to incite and coerce you. Remember that the best way to do justice to your inner self and to keep it out of harm is to restrain it from vice and from things which the 'self' inordinately and irrationally desires.

Maalik! You must create in your mind kindness, compassion and love for your subjects. Do not behave towards them as if you are a voracious and ravenous beast and as if your success lies in devouring them.

Remember, Maalik, that amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people: those who have the same religion as you have; they are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than that of yours, they are human beings like you. Men of either category suffer from the same weaknesses and disabilities that human beings are inclined to, they commit sins, indulge in vices either intentionally or foolishly and unintentionally without realizing the enormity of their deeds. Let your mercy and compassion come to their rescue and help in the same way and to the same extent that you expect Allah to show mercy and forgiveness to you.

Do not feel ashamed to forgive and forget. Do not hurry over punishments and do not be pleased and do not be proud of your power to punish. Do not get angry and lose your temper quickly over the mistakes and failures of those over whom you rule. On the contrary, be patient and sympathetic with them. Anger and desire of vengeance are not going to be of much help to you in your administration.

Never say to yourself, "I am their Lord, their ruler and all in all over them and that I must be obeyed submissively and humbly" because such a thought will unbalance your mind, will make you vain and arrogant, will weaken your faith in religion and will make you seek support of any power other than that of Allah . If you ever feel any pride or vanity on account of your sway and rule over your subjects then think of the supreme sway and rule of the Lord over the Universe, the extent of His creations, the supremacy of His Might and Glory, His Power to do things which you cannot even dream of doing and His control over you which is more dominating than that which you can ever achieve over anything around you. Such thoughts will cure your mental weakness, will keep you away from vanity and rebellion (against Allah), will reduce your arrogance and haughtiness and will take you back to the sanity which you had foolishly deserted.

So far as your own affairs or those of your relatives and friends are concerned take care that you do not violate the duties laid down upon you by Allah and do not usurp the rights of mankind, be impartial and do justice to them because if you give up equity and justice then you will certainly be a tyrant and an oppressor. And whoever tyrannizes and oppresses the creatures of Allah, will earn enmity of Allah along with the hatred of those whom he has oppressed; and whoever earns the Wrath of Allah loses all chances of salvation and he has no excuse to offer on the Day of Judgement.

Every tyrant and oppressor is an enemy of Allah unless he repents and gives up oppression. Remember, Maalik! that there is nothing in this world more effective to turn His Blessings into His Wrath quicker than to insist upon oppression over His creatures because the Merciful Allah will always hear the prayers of those who have been oppressed and He will give no chance to oppressors.

You must always appreciate and adopt a policy which is neither too severe nor too lenient, a policy which is based upon equity will be largely appreciated. Remember that the displeasure of common men, the have-nots and the depressed persons more overbalances than the approval of important persons, while the displeasure of a few big people will be excused by the Lord if the general public and the masses of your subjects are happy with you.





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