Chapter Four: Cultural Policies

4.1 Development of Education

145. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.): “It is incumbent upon the leader to teach limits (hudud) of Islam and faith to the people under his rule.”1

146. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.): “Certainly people need good manners more than they need gold and silver.”2

147. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.): “O' people, I have a right over you and you have a right over me. As for your right over me, that is to counsel you, to pay you your dues fully, to teach you that you may not remain ignorant and instruct you in behaviorism that you may act upon.”3

148. Al-Imam al-Baqir (a.s.): “When Ali (a.s.) performed the morning prayers he would go on with after-prayer-invocations (ta’qibat) until sunrise. At sunrise, the poor, the needy and other groups of people would gather around him and he would teach them theology (fiqh) and the Qur’an. At a certain hour, he would end the session and leave.”4

149. Irshad al-Qulub: “It is reported that when Ali (a.s.) found respite from battle, he would proceed to teach people and to judge among them.”5

150. Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra - related by Ilba b. Ahmar: “Ali .b Abi Talib (a.s.) was lecturing for the people when he said, ‘Who would buy knowledge for one dirham?’

Al-Harith al-A’war (who was one-eyed) bought several sheets for one dirham and brought it to Ali (a.s.) and he wrote abundant knowledge for him.

After that, Ali (a.s.) said in his lecture, “O people of Kufa! Half a man became victorious over you.”6

151. Al-Gharat – related by Salim b. Abi Ja’d: “Ali (a.s.) would allocate a couple of thousand (coins) as stipend for the reciters of the Qur’an, and my father was one of those reciters.”7

152. Sharh Nahj al-Balagha: Ghalib b. Sa’sa’a went to Ali (a.s.) together with his son, Farazdaq.8 Ali (a.s.) said to him, “Who are you?”

“Ghalib, the son of Sa’sa’a al-Majashi…,” He replied.

He said, “O Abu Ahzal! Who is this young man with you?”

“He is my son, and he is a poet.” He replied.

He said, “Teach him the Qur’an, which is better for him than poetry.”9

153. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) – from his letter to Qutham b. ‘Abbas, who was his administrator in Makka: “Now, make arrangements for Hajj by the people and remind them of the days (to be devoted to) Allah. Sit for giving them audience morning and evening. Explain the law to the seeker, teach the ignorant and discuss with the learned.”10

154. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) – in response to someone who had asked him a difficult question: “Ask me for understanding but do not ask me for getting confusion [for fault finding], because the ignorant person who tries to learn is like the learned man, but the learned man who tries to create confusion is like the ignorant.”11

155. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) – in response to someone who had asked him to define religion for him: “Come to me tomorrow so that I enlighten you in the presence of all the people, so that if you forget what I say others might retain it, because an utterance is like a fluttering prey which may be grappled with by someone but missed by others.”12

4.2 Prevention from Abolishing Proper Customs

156. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) – from his instructions to Malik al-Ashtar: “Abolish no proper custom (sunna) which has been acted upon by the leaders of this community, through which harmony has been strengthened and because of which the subjects have prospered. Create no new custom which might in any way prejudice the customs of the past, lest their reward belong to him who originated them, and the burden be upon you to the extent that you have abolished them… Incumbent upon you is to recall the just government, the excellent customs, the sunna of our Prophet (S) and the obligations (promulgated) in the Book of Allah, which preceded you among those of earlier times.”13

157. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) – in his instructions to Malik al-Ashtar (as narrated in Tuhaf al-‘Uqul): “Increase the amount of learning from the learned and association with the wise in establishing what your townsmen have been upright in and maintaining what they have been straightened by, since this will establish rightfulness more firmly and abolish falsehood; and this will suffice as guidance and exemplar, since proper customs are the path toward obedience to Allah.”14

4.3 Fighting against Evil Customs

158. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.): “You should know that among the creatures of Allah, the most distinguished person before Allah is the just leader who has been guided (by Allah) and guides others. So, he stands by the recognized ways (of the Prophet's behavior) and destroys unrecognized innovations. The (Prophet's) ways are clear and they have signs, while innovations are also clear and they too have signs.”15

159. Al-Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.): Some non-Arab Muslims came to Amir al-Mu’minin and said, “We have complaint to you against these Arabs. Indeed, the Messenger of Allah would give us portions equal to theirs and married Salman, Bilal and Suhayb off, but these (Arabs) refuse to do so and say, “We won’t do that!”

Amir al-Mu’minin went to them and talked to them about this. The Arabs shouted, “We refuse it O Abu al-Hasan! We refuse it!”

Ali (a.s.) went out while infuriated and his robe being dragged on the ground. He was saying, “O group of the non-Arabs! In truth, they have reduced you to the status of the Jews. They get married to your women but refuse to give you in marriage to theirs. So, engage in commerce and Allah will bless you. Indeed, I heard from the Messenger of Allah that means of living has ten parts; nine in commerce and one in other than that.”16

4.4 Avoiding Reception Ceremony

160. Nahj al-Balagha: Once Amir al-Mu’minin (a.s.) was proceeding towards Syria when the countrymen (farmers) of al-Anbar met him. Seeing him, they began to walk on foot and then ran in front of him.

He enquired, “Why are you doing so.”

They replied, “This is the way we respect our chiefs.”

Then he said: “By Allah, this does not benefit your chiefs. You are belaboring yourselves in this world and earning misery for the next world by it. How harmful is the labor in whose wake there is punishment and how profitable is the case with which there is deliverance from the fire (of Hell)!”17

161. Nahj al-Balagha: It is reported that when Amir al-Mu’minin (a.s.) returned to Kufa from the battle of Siffin he passed by the residences of the Shibamites (who belonged to the tribe of shibam in Yemen) and heard the women weeping over those killed in Siffin. At that time a Shibamite, Harb b. Shurahbil, came to him… Harb began to walk with him while Amir al-Mu’minin was on horseback, so Amir al-Mu’minin (a.s.) said to him, “Get back because the walking of a man like you with one like me is mischief for the ruler and disgrace for the believer.”18

162. Al-Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.): Amir al-Mu’minin set out on horseback with his companions walking behind him. He turned his face back and asked, “Do you want anything?”

“No, O Amir al-Mu’minin! But we would like to walk along with you.” They replied.

Then he told them, “Go back, because walking behind a riding man is mischief for the rider and disgrace for the walker.”

[The narrator says:] He rode on once again and they followed walking behind them. Then he said, “Go back, because the sound of footsteps behind a man is corruptive to the hearts of the unwise.”19

4.5 Criticizing rather than Admiring

163. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) – in his instructions to Malik al-Ashtar, after describing the characteristics of the righteous confidants: “So choose these men as your special companions in privacy and at assemblies. Then 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 Allah 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 lavishing of abundant praise causes arrogance and draws (one) close to pride.”20

164. Al-Imam Ali (a.s.) – one of his companions had told him, “you are our commander and we are your subordinates. Because of you Allah, the great and Almighty took us out of disgrace and freed His servants by granting you glory. You make selections for us and carry them out and command as you wish and enforce it, because you are a speaker whose words are believed and you are a successful ruler and entrusted sovereign. We do not allow disobedience to you in any matter and we do not measure any knowledge with yours, as your status is so lofty to us and your superiority so great.” To which he responded:

“If a man in his mind regards Allah's glory as being high and believes in his heart that Allah's position is sublime, then it is his right that on account of the greatness of these things he should regard all other things small. Among such persons he on whom Allah's bounty is great and Allah's favors are kind has a greater obligation, because Allah's bounty over any person does not increase without an increase in Allah's right over him.”

“In the view of virtuous people, the worst position of rulers is that it may be thought about them that they love glory, and their affairs may be taken to be based on pride. I would really hate that it may occur to your mind that I love high praises or to hear eulogies. By the grace of Allah I am not like this. Even If I had loved to be mentioned like this, I would have given it up in submissiveness before Allah, the Glorified, rather than accept greatness and sublimity to which He is more entitled. Generally, people feel pleased at praise after good performances.”

“Do not mention for me handsome praise for the obligations I have discharged towards Allah and towards you, because of (my) fear about those obligations which I have not discharged and for issuing injunctions which could not be avoided. So, do not address me in the manner despots are addressed. Do not evade me as the people of passion are (to be) evaded; do not meet me with flattery and do not think that I shall take it ill if a true thing is said to me; and do not entitle me with undue greatness. Certainly the person who feels disgusted when truth is said to him or a just matter is placed before him would find it more difficult to act upon them."

“Therefore, do not abstain from saying a truth or pointing out a matter of justice because I do not regard myself above erring.21 I do not escape erring in my actions but that Allah helps me (in avoiding errors) in matters in which He is more powerful than I. Certainly I and you are slaves owned by Allah, other than Whom there is no Lord except Him. He owns in our selves that which we do not own. He took us from where we were towards what means prosperity to us. He altered our straying into guidance and gave us intelligence after blindness.”

4.6 Truth-Orientedness in Getting to Know Men

165. Al-Amali - related by Asbaq b. Nubata: “Harith b. Hamdani along with a group of Shi’ites, including myself, went to Amir al-Mu’minin, Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.). Being sick, Harith walked with a bent back and a walking stick. Amir al-Mu’minin (a.s.) came toward him, for Harith was highly esteemed by him, and said, ‘How are you doing Harith?’

He said, ‘Life has fulfilled its demands on me, O Amir al-Mu’minin, and the conflict of your companions at your doorstep is irritating and infuriating me.’

He asked, ‘What is their conflict about?’

He replied, ‘About you and the previous three caliphs. One group of them are extremists zealots, another group are moderates and followers and the third group are hesitant skeptical who do not know whether to go forth or back.’

Ali (a.s.) said, ‘Enough O brother from Hamadan! You should know that the best of my followers are the middle group who will be returned to by the extremists and will be caught up with by those lagging behind.’

Harith told him, ‘May my father and mother be your ransom! Would that you cleanse our sullied hearts and elucidate our affairs for us!

Ali (a.s.) said, ‘Possibly you are confused in (certain) affairs. The religion of Allah would not be perceived with men but with signs of truthfulness. Know the truth so that you would get to know the followers of truth.’

‘O Harith! The most beautiful words are the words of truth; and the one who declares it is a struggler (in way of Allah).’”22

166. Al-bayan wa al-Tabiin: When Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) was on the minbar, Harith b. Hut al-Laythi stood up and said, “Do you think that we suppose Talha and Zubayr are gone astray?”

He replied, “O Harith! You are confused. Certainly the truth would not be perceived with men; so, know the truth so that you would get to know the followers of truth.”23 See Encyclopedia of Amir al-Mu’minin: V, 147 (Confusion by those lacking insight).

  • 1. Ghurar al-Hikam: 6199, ‘Uyun al-Hikam wa al-Mawa’iz: 328/5637.
  • 2. Ghurar al-Hikam: 3590, ‘Uyun al-Hikam wa al-Mawa’iz: 143/3210.
  • 3. Nahj al-Balagha: Sermon 34, Ansab al-Ashraf: 3/154, Tarikh al-Tabari: 5/91.
  • 4. Sharh Nahj al-Balagha: 4/109, Bihar al-Anwar: 41/132.
  • 5. Irshad al-Ghulub: 218, ‘Uddat al-Da’i: 101, Bihar al-Anwar: 103/16/70.
  • 6. Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra: 6/168, ‘Uddat al-Da’i: 101, Bihar al-Anwar: 103/16/70.
  • 7. Al-Gharat: 1/131, Kanz al-‘Ummal: 2/339/4186.
  • 8. That is Abu Faras Humam b. Ghalib, known as Farazdaq. He was born in 25 AH in Basra and died in 114. The following poem that he wrote in praise of al-Imam al-Sajjad in the presence of Hisham b. ‘Abd al-Malik is a an evidence of his bravery:
    “This is the person whom the land of Batha knows,
    And the Ka’ba and the Haram know him too.”
  • 9. Sharh Nahj al-Balagha: 10/21, Kanz al-‘Ummal: 2/288/4026.
  • 10. Nahj al-Balagha: Letter 67, Bihar al-Anwar: 33/497/702.
  • 11. Nahj al-Balagha: Aphorism 320, ‘Uyun al-Hikam wa al-Mawa’iz: 132/2980.
  • 12. Nahj al-Balagha: Aphorism 266, Bihar al-Anwar: 2/160/8.
  • 13. Nahj al-Balagha: Letter 53, Tuhaf al-’Uqul: 130, Ibid. Also cf. Da’aim al-Islam: 1/365 & 357.
  • 14. Tuhaf al-’Uqul: 131.
  • 15. Nahj al-Balagha: Sermon 146, Al-Jamal: 187, Tarikh al-Tabari: 4/337, Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya: 7/168.
  • 16. Al-Kafi: 5/318/59.
  • 17. Nahj al-Balagha: Aphorism 37, Manaqib Al al-Abi Talib: 2014, Bihar al-Anwar: 41/55/3.
  • 18. Nahj al-Balagha: Aphorism 322, Waq’atu Siffin: 531, Al-Mi’yar al-Muwazina: 193.
  • 19. Al-Mahasin: 2/470/2632, Al-Kafi: 6/540/16, Tuhaf al-’Uqul: 209.
  • 20. Nahj al-Balagha: Letter 53, Tuhaf al-’Uqul: 129, Bihar al-Anwar: 33/602/744.
  • 21. It is evident from what follows in his words that Imam Ali (a.s.) regards his ‘isma (infallibility) as a blessing from Allah, and thus says if Allah does not help him in avoiding errors, he would be misguided. Therefore, this statement does not contradict the Imam’s infallibility.
  • 22. Al-Mufid, Al-Amali: 3/3, Al-Tusi, Al-Amali: 625/1292, Bisharat al-Muhtafa: 4.
  • 23. Al-bayan wa al-Tabiin: 3/211, Tarikh al-Ya’qubi: 2/210.