Small becomes Significant
It was an hour before sunset. The caravan was in the middle of a desolate wilderness. The Holy Prophet (s) urged everyone to collect sticks to light a fire. The people murmured apologetically that there was no sign of any tree, bush or shrub in sight. It seemed impossible to find any dried twigs. However, he (s) insisted, ‘Everyone should get as many as he can find.’
The companions moved in different directions, searching for twigs. Even if they spied the smallest twig, they picked it up. Soon, they all returned with whatever they could find and deposited it in a pile. To everyone’s amazement, they had gathered a pile of sticks sufficient to light a fire that would last them the whole night.
The Holy Prophet (s) looked at the pile and said. ‘Our small and insignificant sins are, just like these little twigs, barely noticeable, when scattered over a lifetime, but, just as you gathered them to make this huge pile, there is someone keeping an account of your little sins, too. One day you will be shown your sins piled together, and realize, too late, that what seemed insignificantly small to you then, had actually become increasingly burdensome.’
Rule with Policies, not Politics
After the third caliph of the Islamic state was murdered, the people flocked towards Ali ibn e Abi Talib (‘a) in groups with different backgrounds and viewpointts. However, they all pledged allegiance to Ali (‘a) voluntarily, of their own free will.
The next day, Imam Ali (‘a) addressed the people from the pulpit. It was his inaugural address. He began by praising and glorifying the Almighty (SWT) and sending blessings on the Holy Prophet (s). He then said:
“O People! After the death of the Holy Prophet (s) the people of that time selected Abu Bakr as their caliph. He nominated Umar as his successor. Umar made a committee that would select the next caliph. It selected Usman. You were unhappy with his performance and, finally he was besieged in his own house and killed. After that, you turned towards me and willingly offered your allegiance without being asked to do so.
I am one of you and a human being like you. What is for you, is for me, too. Our responsibilities are also similar. God has opened this door between you and all the Muslims. Discord is threatening us like the darkness of night. Only that person can shoulder the responsibility of governing a state that is strong and steadfast, insightful and wise. I intend to take you back to the conduct and practice of the Holy Prophet (s). I promise to fulfill my pledge with you, on the condition that you also remain firm and steadfast on yours. We will certainly need to pray to Allah for His help and support regarding this capacity to fulfill our pledges. I want to remind you that I am exactly the same today as I was in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (s).
Lead your life according to the principles and rules by ensuring obedience and submission to them. If you observe something strange and unacceptable in my behaviour, do not defy or rebel against it without prior thought. I never do anything beyond my responsibility, for which I have no rational proof to offer in the presence of God. He is watching each one of us, encompassing all our actions. I am not interested in the position of caliph because I heard the Holy Prophet say, ‘Whoever takes control of governing the Ummah after me, will be stopped, on the day of Judgment, on the Bridge of Righteousness.
His Document of deeds will be presented to him. If his actions bespeak of justice and fair play, God will grant him salvation because of His justice. If his actions bespeak injustice and tyranny, the bridge will quake and drop him into the fire beneath.’
You have unanimously elected me for this position and I do not have a credible reason or excuse to reject your request. I, therefore, accept this responsibility. Now, hear me carefully!
I, hereby, proclaim to obstruct the path of those individuals that have abused public funds and the state treasury to make large estates, dig many streams flowing with water; that own the best breed of horses, purchase concubines, and have adopted a lifestyle of worldly pleasures. This accountability will begin tomorrow. Whatever is their legal right will remain with them, everything beyond that will return to the state treasury. They might complain tomorrow that they were not forewarned, that Ali ibn e Abi Talib had kept them in the dark.
I, therefore, proclaim in plain terms that I shall end all special privileges enjoyed heretofore. This includes all those individuals who were getting V.I.P. treatment just because they enjoyed the society of the Holy Prophet (s), or served the cause of Islam in the past. Those blessed with the companionship of the Holy Prophet (s) and those who served Islam in the past, will get their reward from their Creator. They will not receive special treatment because of their past life and performance. We shall not distinguish them from the present citizens of the state. Any individual who supports our call for truth and pursues our direction, he will enjoy the same privileges enjoyed today by those who accepted the call of the Holy Prophet (s).
All of you are the slaves of God and since all property belongs to Allah, its equal distribution amongst you is obligatory. No one among you has an edge over another. Tomorrow, all the money in the State treasury will be divided equally among you.”
The next day, all the people gathered in the courtyard of the mosque. Imam Ali (‘a) divided the money equally among the people. Each individual received 3 dinars. One person remarked, ‘Ya Ali, you gave me 3 dinars and 3 dinars to one, who, until yesterday, was my slave.’
Ali (‘a) replied, ‘I have just done what is right.’
Talha and Zubayr, Abdullah ibn e Umar, S’aeed ibn e ‘Aas, Marwan ibn e Hakam and their compatriots who had been enjoying special privileges and enhanced allowances from the state treasury, were extremely annoyed in being equated with everyone. They refused the equal share and left the mosque. The next day, the people gathered in the mosque. This group also came, but sat in a separate corner, to maintain their distance from the others. They started sharing their views about the situation, and after a brief discussion sent Walid ibn e ‘Uqba as their spokesperson to Ali (‘a). Walid came to Imam Ali (‘a) and presented his case thus;
‘Ya Abul Hasan! You are well aware that, due to the wars fought between Islam and polytheism, we are not happy with you. You killed at least one or more of our dear ones. In the battle of Badr, you killed my own father. However, we are willing to forget the past and pledge allegiance to you, but under two conditions.
First: Repeal your proclamation of yesterday. Do not delve into the affairs of the past, nor question the means by which people amassed wealth during the reign of the previous two caliphs. Your duty is only to ensure that nobody amasses wealth by unfair means during your caliphate.
Second: Capture the assassins of Usman and hand them over to us, so that we can avenge his murder. If we are not assured peace and security by you, we will be forced to go to Syria and join Muawiya.’
Imam Ali (‘a) replied, ‘You cannot place the blame on my shoulders for the blood of those killed by my sword in the battles fought between Islam and polytheism. They were not personal feuds, but wars fought between Truth and Falsehood. Present any demands that you have, in this case, on behalf of Falsehood against Truth, not against me.
As for the rights that were trampled upon in the past caliphates, let me make it clear to you; it is my principled duty to return all stolen rights to their owners, and it is not possible for me to neglect my duty.
Lastly, if I had found the murderers of Usman, I would have avenged his murder by now and not allowed his murderers reprieve for a single day.’
Hearing the Imam’s (‘a) reply, Walid got up and returned to his group and related the entire conversation to them. It didn’t take them long to realize that Ali (‘a) believed in implementing accountable and just policies, not paddling in power- politics- without- principles. They began to create discord immediately for their personal ends.
Some well-wishers of Imam Ali (‘a) came to him and said, ‘Ya Ali, These people are going to use Usman’s murder merely as an excuse to create discord. Actually, they are annoyed by your declaration of equal rights as citizens for the past and present generation, for Arab and non-Arab alike. If you retain their past status and compromise your decision, the discord will end.’
Imam Ali (‘a) realized that most supporters would question his principled stand on equal rights, so next day he dressed himself in the two pieces of cloth, worn as ahram by Hajjis, slung his sword in his neck, and went to the mosque. Resting his hand on his bow, he addressed the people thus:
‘We thank our Lord for granting us uncountable visible and concealed blessings. These blessings are a result of His Grace and Mercy. He did not withhold these blessings considering we did not deserve them, but bestowed them to see whether we are grateful or thankless.
In the eyes of the Lord, only he is better than others who obeys Him, follows in the footsteps of His Messenger (s), and safeguards and recites His Holy Book. For us, an individual’s worth depends on how much he obeys the commands of Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (s). For us no individual is better than others, unless he also obeys God (SWT) and His Messenger (s) more than the others. The Holy Quran is among you, and you are well acquainted with the practice of the Holy Prophet (s).’
He, then recited the famous verse of the Holy Quran:
O mankind, We created you from a single man and woman, and then divided you into tribes and nations, so that you could be identified. He is the best in Allah’s sight, who is the most pious among you.
After this sermon, friend and foe realized that Ali (‘a) was determined to implement his decision. Each man knew where he stood. He who wished to be loyal, remained loyal; he who disagreed with his decision alienated himself, like Abdullah ibn e Umar; he who decided to rebel, like Talha, Zubayr and Marwan, prepared to take up arms against him.
During his caliphate, Imam Ali (‘a) happened to lose his coat of mail in Kufa. After a few days, he saw it in the possession of a Christian. He accosted him and told him the coat of mail was his. The Christian denied it, so Imam Ali (‘a) took him to court and filed a suit against him, saying he had not sold it, nor gifted it.
The judge called them and addressing the Christian, said, ‘The Caliph has filed a suit against you concerning this coat of mail. Have you anything to say in your defense?’
The Christian said, ‘This coat of mail is my personal property. I do not mean to say that the Caliph is lying. I feel he is mistaken in identifying it.’
The judge then addressed Ali (‘a) and said, ‘You are the complainant and this man denies your charge. It therefore rests on you to produce a witness to testify on your behalf.
Imam Ali (‘a) smiled and said, ‘You are right. I need evidence to prove my right. Unfortunately, I do not have a witness to testify on my behalf.’
The judge gave his verdict in favour of the Christian due to the absence of any witness. Hearing the verdict, the Christian walked away with the coat of mail. He knew it belonged to Ali (‘a), the reigning Caliph. He was overwhelmed with the independence of judiciary under his rule, and returned to the judge and admitted that the coat of mail was not his.
‘This administering of justice is not the usual customary form prevalent in all other states. It reminds one of justice meted out during the reigns of the Divine Prophets (‘a),’ he averred.
After a few days, people saw him convert to Islam. He actively participated in the Battle of Nehrawan under the banner of the caliph he so admired, Ali ibn e Abi Talib (‘a).
The plaintiff registered his complaint against Ali ibn e Abi Talib (‘a) in the court of the ruling Caliph Umar ibn e Khattab. As per rules, both parties had to be present for the proceedings to take place. Umar sat in the caliph’s chair and called both parties inside. According to Islamic routine, both parties sat next to each other, so that there be no sign of discriminatory behavior on the part of the court.
Umar called the plaintiff by name and told him to stand before the judge. After that he looked at Imam Ali (‘a) and said, ‘Abul Hassan, please stand beside the plaintiff’.
Ali (‘a) looked upset and annoyed when addressed thus. Noticing the obvious change in Ali’s (‘a) countenance, Umar remarked, ‘Ali, do you find standing beside the plaintiff annoying?’
‘No! The cause of my displeasure was the fact that you did not comply with the Islamic code of behaviour in court. You called me with great respect by my Kuniya, ( title of respect), whereas you addressed the plaintiff curtly, by name. This is unfair and discriminatory, thus, annoying,’ replied Ali (‘a).
Sense of Responsibility
Ameer ul Momineen, Ali ibn e Abi Talib (‘a) was the ruling Caliph of the Islamic State. His headquarters were in Kufa. His brother, Aqeel, came to visit him. Hazrat Ali (‘a) gestured to his eldest son, Hassan (‘a), to present a suit of clothes to his uncle. Imam Hassan (‘a) offered him his own cape with the suit.
Night fell. As it was the summer season, they sat talking on the rooftop of the Dar ul Ammara, the head quarter’s office building. Soon it was dinnertime. Aqeel thought that he would enjoy delicacies of all kinds, considering it the Caliph’s feast. To his utter disappointment, the food served was not different from that of an ordinary citizen of the state.
‘Is that all?’ he asked.
‘Why, is it not food? I thank the Lord for His countless blessings all the time.’
‘I think it would be best if I got my need fulfilled and left as soon as possible. I am in great debt and want you to order its immediate payment through the Bait ul Maal (State Treasury). Besides that, you can help me, as a brother, to relieve me of my financial burden, so that I can return home in peace.’
‘What is the amount of your debt?’
‘One hundred thousand dirhams.’
‘One hundred thousand dirhams! That is a large sum, brother. You will have to wait for the end of the month. As soon as I get my pay, I shall give my portion to you as a brother’s right over me. Since I need to provide for my family, I cannot give you the entire amount.’
‘What do you mean by waiting for your salary? Why are you talking like this? The whole wealth of the nation is in your hands and you talk about waiting for your salary? What is the amount of your salary, of which you will give me a portion? Even if you give me your entire salary, my need will not be satisfied.’
‘I am surprised by your suggestion. What does the money in the treasury have to do with you or me? We are all citizens of the state with equal rights. You are justified in asking me to help you as your brother, but that help must be provided from my private, personal means, not the state treasury.’
The argument continued, because Aqeel insisted on getting his debts paid through the Bait ul Maal. Ali (‘a) tried explaining to him but just could not convince him. So, he said,
‘Look down there. Can you see the marketplace? All the small traders have left their cash boxes on the counters. I can offer a suggestion that will pay your debts and leave you with money to spare.’
‘What is that suggestion?’
‘There is no one in the marketplace. Go down there, break open all the cash boxes of the tradesmen and take as much money as you need. It is the hard-earned money of the small businessmen. They have left their earnings in those cash boxes and gone home.’
‘What a strange suggestion! You want me to break open the cash boxes of the poor, hardworking people who have left their lawful earnings in the protection of Allah and gone home, and abscond with their money?’
‘Why then are you insisting that I should open the Bait ul Maal and give you the money that you need? To whom does the Bait ul Maal belong? It belongs to all the Muslims who have entrusted me with it and are sleeping soundly in their homes. You know very well that it is not my personal property. Just as criminal, as you found breaking peoples cash boxes, is opening the door of the treasury.
O.K. I have another suggestion. Pick up your sword. I’ll take mine as well. Let us go to Heerah, the city that is home to rich traders and businessmen. In the darkness of the night we will break into the house of a rich man and abscond with his wealth.’
‘Dear Ali, I didn’t come to be advised to rob and steal the wealth of others as you are suggesting. I came to request you to pay my debts out of the state treasury which is in your control.’
‘Is stealing from one man a smaller crime or stealing from all the Muslims? I fail to understand how robbing a man by using the sword is considered theft, yet taking away from the state treasury of all the Muslims is not? You are surprised and annoyed by my suggestion of robbing and stealing, but, sadly, do not realize that you expect me to commit the worst of all kinds of theft.’
Duty of a Caliph
A woman, bearing a water bag on her back, was trudging home gasping under the load.
A stranger, catching sight of her, came, relieved her of the burden, and followed her home. At the door, he saw some small children eagerly waiting for their mother. One glance told him that she lived alone with her children.
The stranger placed the bag on the ground and said, ‘It is obvious that there is no man in the house. What is the reason for your helpless condition?
‘My husband was a brave soldier. Ali ibn e Abi Talib sent him to fight in a battle and he was martyred. I have no one to support me and my children anymore.’
The stranger went away without saying anything. However, the condition of the widow and the orphans bothered him, and he couldn’t sleep all night. Early next morning, he got up, filled a bag with flour, another with meat, and a third with dates. He carried it to the widow’s house and knocked at the door.
‘Who’s there?’ asked the voice of the woman.
‘The stranger who helped you yesterday,’ he replied, ‘I have brought some food and water for your children.’
‘O man of God, may He reward you. He Alone will judge between us and Ali ibn e Abi Talib.’
She opened the door and the stranger placed the bags on the ground. He said, ‘I want to perform some good deeds, so if you permit me I will prepare the dough and make the bread or look after the children while you do it?’
‘I’ll prepare the bread. You look after the children.’
The woman got busy, so the stranger took out the meat and dates and started feeding the children with his own hands. While feeding the children, he kept on repeating, ‘Dear children, forgive Ali ibn e Abi Talib for not attending to your needs as he should have.’
The woman called out, ‘O man of God, light the oven so that I can bake the bread.’
He immediately lit the oven and it started blazing. He put his face near the fire and spoke to himself, ‘Feel the heat of the flames. For he, who neglects widows and orphans, will be made to taste the fire.’
He was still meditating when a neighbor walked in. She recognized the stranger and cried, ‘Do you know who you are asking to do your chores? It is Ameer ul Momineen, Ali ibn e Abi Talib (‘a).’
‘Forgive me,’ the widow cried, ‘I am really sorry for complaining, as I did.’
‘No,’ he (‘a) replied, ‘I should beg forgiveness for not performing my duty as I should have.’
Imam Ali (‘a) was hosting a guest for the past many days. The guest had an ulterior motive which he did not reveal until the time was ripe for it. He was actually waiting for the other party to appear so that he could talk about it then. Finding it difficult to restrain himself, one day, he informed Imam Ali (‘a) about the dispute he was engaged in, and that he (‘a) would judge between them.
Imam Ali (‘a) asked him, ‘Are you a member of one of the registered disputing parties?’
‘Then I’m extremely sorry. I cannot keep you as a guest in my house from this moment onwards, because the Holy Prophet (s) said:
“If a judge is presented with a case, he has no right to play host to one party while the other party is not there. Both parties should be treated with the same hospitality, without showing the slightest inclination towards any one of them.”’