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Story 16: Ali (‘A) And Assem

After the end of the Battle of Jamal,1 Ali (‘a) arrived in Basra. During his stay, he went to visit one of his companions named Ala ibn Zaid Haressi. This man owned a grand and luxurious home with every imaginable comfort.

Ali (‘a), after passing his gaze on such a large and magnificent home, said, “What is the use of such a large dwelling in this world while you are in more need of a vast one in the hereafter? If you wish to make use of it as a means to attain a spacious dwelling in the hereafter, you must welcome and entertain guests, be friendly with your relatives, clarify the rights of Muslims, take advantage to vitalize and show the rights of others and neglect your personal greedy monopoly and individuality in its use.”

Ala said, “O Commander of the Faithful, I want to complain to you about my brother Assem.”2

Imam Ali (‘a) said, “What is the complaint?”

Ala replied, “He has started to live the life of a recluse, dressed himself in rags, isolated himself from this world, and deserted everything and everyone.”

Imam Ali (‘a) said, “Bring him to me.”

Assem was brought before the Imam (‘a). Ali (‘a) turned his face towards him and said, “O enemy of your own life! The devil has stolen your senses. Why don't you have sympathy for your wife and children? Do you believe that Allah, who made the pure blessings of life lawful for you, will be displeased with you if you benefit from them? You are smaller than that before Allah.”

Assem replied, “O Commander of the Faithful, you are also like me, imposing hardship on yourself. You do not cover your body with soft clothes, nor eat delicious meals. Therefore, I am doing the same as you, and I am following the same path which you have chosen.”

Ali (‘a) said, “You are mistaken. There is a difference between you and me. I shoulder the responsibility of Leadership and Government, but you do not. The duties of a Leader and Governor is different. Allah has made it incumbent on just leaders to take the weakest social classes of people as an example for their own personal lives and to live in the same manner, as the most needy, so that poverty and indigence does not leave an impression on them. Therefore, I have certain responsibilities and you have your responsibilities.”3

  • 1. The battle of Jamal took place in the vicinity of Basra between Imam Ali (as), the Commander of the Faithful, on one side, and Aishah, Talhah and Zubair on the other. It was named the battle of Jamal because Aishah directed her army while riding a camel (Jamal). After the appointment of Imam Ali (as) to the Caliphate, and upon observing his equitable conduct by not conceding extra privileges to the aristocrats, Aishah, Talhah and Zubair launched a military attack against the Imam (as). The battle resulted in a decisive victory for Imam Ali (as) over them.
  • 2. Narrated by Ibn Abi al-Hadid in his interpretation of Nahj al-Balaghah, v. 3, p. 19.
  • 3. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 208.