Administration of Ali
After having come to know that the behaviour of the Commander of the Faithful with the human society was absolutely just and he adopted a very correct policy to establish mutual relations of the human beings on the basis of equity and justice, it appears necessary to repro- duce here the testament which he wrote for Malik Ashtar while appointing him as Governor of Egypt. This testament of his is more detailed than all others and is very important from the point of view of its grandeur and elaborateness.
While writing about the character of the Commander of the Faithful we have made use of many of his letters, orders and testaments, because in almost all of them he has mentioned the rights of the individuals as well as of the society. However, the testament written by him for Malik Ashtar is very comprehensive and embraces all his views and beliefs on the subject of public administration. It reads as follows:
In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful,
Be it known to you, O Malik, that I am sending you as Governor to a country which in the past has experienced both just and unjust rule. Men will scrutinize your actions with a searching eye, even as you used to scrutinize the actions of those before you, and speak of you even as you did speak of them. The fact is that the public speak well of only those who do good. It is they who furnish the proof of your actions. Hence the richest treasure that you may covet should be the treasure of good deeds. Keep your desires under control and deny yourself that which you have been warned against. By such abstinence alone, you will be able to distinguish between good and bad.
Develop in your heart the feeling of love for your people and let it be the source of kindliness and blessing to them. Do not behave with them like a barbarian, and do not appropriate to yourself that which belongs to them. Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brothers in religion or your brothers as human beings. They are subject to infirmities and liable to commit mistakes. Some indeed do commit mistakes, but forgive them as you would like God to forgive you. Bear in mind that you are placed over them, as I am placed over you. And then there is God even above him who has given you the position of a Governor in order that you may look after those under you and to be sufficient for them. Remember! You will be judged by what you do for them.
Do not set yourself against God, for neither do you possess the strength to shield yourself against His displeasure, nor can you place yourself outside the pale of His mercy and forgiveness. Do not feel sorry over any act of forgiveness, nor rejoice over any punishment that you may mete out to anyone. Do not rouse yourself to anger, for no good will come out of it.
Do not say, “I am your overlord and dictator, and that you should therefore, bow to my commands,” as that will corrupt your heart, weaken your faith in religion and create disorder in the state. Should you be elated by power, or let in your mind creep the slightest feeling of pride and arrogance, then look at the power and majesty of the divine governance of the universe over which you have absolutely no control. It will restore the sense of balance to your wayward intelligence and give you the sense of balance to your wayward intelligence and give you the sense of calmness and affability. Beware! Never put yourself against the majesty and grandeur of God and never imitate His Omnipotence, for God has brought low every rebel of His and every tyrant of man.
Let your mind respect through your actions the rights of God and the rights of man, and likewise, persuade your companions and relations to do the same. For, otherwise, you will be doing injustice to yourself and to humanity. Thus, both man and God will become your enemies. There is no hearing anywhere for one who makes himself an enemy of God. He will be regarded as one at war with God until he repents and seeks forgiveness. Nothing deprives man of divine blessings nor excites divine wrath against him more easily than oppression. Hence it is that God listens to the voice of the oppressed and overpowers the oppressor.
Maintain justice in administration and impose it on your own self and seek the consent of the people, for, the discontent of the masses sterilises the contentment of the privileged few and the discontent of the few, loses itself in the contentment of the many. Remember! the privileged few will not rally round you in moments of difficulty. They will try to side-track justice. They will ask for more than what they deserve and will show no gratitude for favours done to them. They will feel restive in the face of trials and will offer no regret for their shortcomings. It is the common man who fights the enemy. So live in close contact with the masses and be mindful of their welfare.
Keep at a distance one who exposes the weakness of others. After all, the masses are not free from weaknesses. It is the duty of the ruler to shield them. Do not bring to light that which is hidden, but try to remove those weak- nesses which have been brought to light. God is watchful of everything that is hidden from you, and He alone will deal with it. Cover up the faults of the public to the best of your ability so that God may cover up your faults which you want to keep hidden from the public eye. Untie every knot of hatred for the people and cut asunder every string of enmity between them. Protect yourself from every such act as may not be quite correct for you. Do not make haste in seeking confirmation of tale-telling, for the tale-teller is a deceitful person, appearing in the garb of a friend.
Never take counsel of a miser, for, he will vitiate your magnanimity and frighten you of poverty. Do not seek advice from a coward too, for, he will weaken your resolutions. Do not take counsel of a greedy person, for, he will instil greed in you and turn you into a tyrant. Miserliness, cowardice and greed deprive man of his trust in God.
The worst counsellor is he who has served as a counsellor to unjust rulers and shared their crimes. So, never let men who have been companions of the tyrants or have shared their crimes, be your counsellors. You can get better men than these, men gifted with intelligence and foresight, but unpolluted by sin, men who have never aided a tyrant in his tyranny or a criminal in his crime. Such men will never be a burden to you. On the other hand, they will be a source of help and strength to you at all times. They will be friends to you and strangers to your enemies. Choose such men alone for companionship both in private and in public. Even among these, show preference to those who have a habitual regard for truth, however trying to you at times their truth may prove to be, and who offer you no encouragement in the display of tendencies which God does not like His friends to develop.
Keep close to you the upright and the god-fearing and make clear to them that they are never to flatter you and never to give you credit for any good that you may not have done, for the tolerance of flattery and unhealthy praise stimulates pride in man and makes him arrogant.
Do not treat the good and the bad alike. That will deter the good, and encourage the bad in their bad pursuits. Recompense everyone according to his deserts. Remember that mutual trust and goodwill between the ruler and the ruled are bred only through benevolence, justice and service. So, cultivate goodwill among the people, for their goodwill alone will save you from troubles. Your benevolence to them will be repaid by their trust in you, and your ill-treatment by their ill-will.
Do not disregard the noble traditions set by our forbearers which have promoted harmony and progress among the people, and do not initiate anything which might minimise their usefulness. The men who had established those noble traditions have had their reward; but responsibility will be yours if they are discarded. Try always to learn something from the experience of the learned and wise, and frequently consult them in state matters so that you might maintain the peace and goodwill which your predecessors had established in the land.
Remember that the people are composed of different classes. The progress of one is dependent on the progress of every other, and none can afford to be independent of the other. We have the army formed of the soldiers of God. We have our civil officers and their establishments, our judiciary, our revenue collectors and our public relation officers. The general public itself consists of Muslims and Zimmi and among them are merchants and craftsmen, the unemployed and the indigent. God has prescribed for them their several rights, duties and obligations. They are all defined and preserved in the Qur'an and in the Hadith of the Prophet.
The army, by the grace of God, is like a fortress to the people and lends dignity to the state. It upholds the prestige of the faith and maintains the peace of the country. Without it, the state cannot stand. In its turn, it cannot stand without the support of the state. Our soldiers have proved strong before the enemy because of the privilege God has given them to fight for Him, but they have their material needs to fulfil and have therefore to depend upon the income provided for them from the state revenue.
The military and the civil population which pays the revenue, needs the co-operation of others - the judiciary, civil officers and their establishment. The judge administers civil and criminal law; the civil officers collect revenue and attend to civil administration with the assistance of their establishment. And then there are the tradesmen and the merchants who add to the revenue of the state. It is they who run the markets and are in a better position than others to discharge social obligations. Then there is the class of the poor and the needy whose maintenance is an obligation on the other classes.
God has given appropriate opportunity of service to one and all; then there are the rights of all these classes over the administration which the administrator has to meet with an eye for the good of the entire population - a duty which he cannot fulfil properly unless he takes personal interest in its execution and seeks help from God. Indeed, it is obligatory on him to impose this duty on himself and to bear with patience the inconveniences and difficulties incidental to his task.
Be particularly mindful of the welfare of those in the army, who in your opinion, are staunchly faithful to their God and the Prophet and loyal to their chief, and who in the hour of passion can restrain themselves and listen coolly to sensible remonstrance, and who can succour the weak and smite the strong, whom violent provocation will not throw into violent temper and who will not falter at any stage.
Keep yourself in close contact with the families of established reputation and integrity and with a glorious past, and draw to yourself men brave and upright in character, generous and benevolent in disposition, for such are the elite of the society.
Care for them with the tenderness with which you care for your children and do not talk before them of any good that you might have done to them nor disregard any expression of affection which they show in return for, such conduct inspires loyalty, devotion and goodwill.
Attend to every little want of theirs, not resting content with what general help that you might have given to them, for sometimes, timely attention to a little want of theirs brings them immense relief. Surely these people will not forget you in your own hour of need.
It behoves you to select for your Commander-in-Chief one who imposes on himself, as a duty, the task of rendering help to his men and who can excel in kindness every other officer who has to attend to the needs of the men under him and look after their families when they are away from their homes; so much so, that the entire army should feel united in their joys and in their sorrows. This unity of purpose will give them added strength against the enemy. Continue to maintain a kindly attitude towards them so that they might feel ever attached to you.
The fact is that the real happiness of the administrators and their most pleasant comfort lies in establishing justice in the state and maintaining affectionate relations with the people. Their sincerity of feeling is expressed in the love and regard they show to you, on which alone depends the safety of the administrators.
Your advice to the army will be of no avail, unless and until you show affection for both men and officers, in order that they might not regard the Government as an oppressive burden or contribute to its downfall. Continue to satisfy their needs and praise them over and over again for what services they have rendered. Such an attitude, God willing, will inspire the brave to braver actions and induce the timid to deeds of bravery.
Try to enter into the feelings of others and do not foist the mistake of one on another and do not grudge dispensing appropriate regards. See to it, you do not show favours to one who has achieved nothing but merely counts on his family position, and do not withhold proper reward from one who has done great deeds simply because he holds a low position in life.
Turn to God and to His Prophet for guidance whenever you feel uncertain regarding your actions. There is the commandment of God delivered to those people whom He wishes to guide aright: “O people of the Faith! Obey God and obey His Prophet and obey those from among you who hold authority over you. And refer to God and His Prophet whenever there is a difference of opinion among you”. To turn to God is in reality to consult the Book of God; and to turn to the Prophet is to follow his universally accepted traditions.
Select as your Chief Justice from the people, one who is by far the best among them - one who is not obsessed with domestic worries, one who cannot be intimidated, one who does not err too often, one who does not turn back from the right path once he finds it, one who is not self-centered or avaricious, one who will not decide before knowing the full facts, one who will weigh with care every attendant doubt and pronounce a clear verdict after taking everything into full consideration, one who will not grow restive over the arguments of advocates and who will examine with patience every new disclosure of fact and who will be strictly impartial in his decision, one whom flattery cannot mislead, one who does not exult over his position. But such people are scarce.
Once you have selected the right man for the office, pay him handsomely enough to let him live in comfort and in keeping with his position, enough to keep him above temptations. Give him a position in your court so high that none can even dream of coveting it and so high that neither back-biting nor intrigue can touch him.
Beware! The utmost carefulness is to be exercised in its selection, for it is this high office which adventurous self-seekers aspire to secure and exploit in their selfish interests. After the selection of your Chief justice, give careful consideration to the selection of other officers. Confirm them in their appointments after approved probation. Never select men for responsible posts either out of any regard for personal connections or under any influence, for that might lead to injustice and corruption.
Of these, select for higher posts, men of experience, men firm in faith and belonging to good families. Such men will not fall an easy prey to temptations and will discharge their duties with an eye on the abiding good of others. Increase their salaries to give them a contented life. A contented living is a help to self-purification. They will not feel the urge to tax the earnings of their subordinates for their own upkeep. They will then have no excuse to go against your instructions or misappropriate state funds. Keep a watch over them without their knowledge. Perchance they may develop true honesty and true concern for the public welfare. But whenever any of them is accused of dishonesty, and the guilt is confirmed by the report of your secret service, then regard this as sufficient to convict him. Let the punishment be corporal and let that be dealt with in public at an appointed place of degradation.
Great care is to be exercised in revenue administration, to ensure the prosperity of those who pay the revenue to the state for, on their prosperity depends the prosperity of others, particularly of the masses. Indeed, the state exists on its revenue. You should regard the proper upkeep of the land in cultivation as of greater importance than the collection of revenue, for revenue cannot be derived except by making the land productive. He who demands revenue without helping the cultivator ruins the state. The rule of such a person does not last long.
If the cultivators ask for reduction of their land cess for having suffered from epidemics or drought or excess of rains or the barrenness of the soil or floods damaging their crops, then reduce the cess accordingly, so that their condition might improve. Do not mind the loss of revenue on that account for that will return to you one day manifold in the hour of greater prosperity of the land and enable you to improve the condition of your towns and raise the prestige of your state. You will be the object of universal praise. The people will believe in your sense of justice. The confidence which they will place in you in consequence will prove your strength, as they will be found ready to share your burdens.
You may settle down on the land any number of people, but discontent will overtake them if the land is not improved. The cause of the cultivators' ruin is the rulers who are bent feverishly on accumulating wealth at all costs, out of the fear that their rule might not last long. Such are the people who do not learn from examples or precedents.
Keep an eye on your establishment and your scribes and select the best among them for your confidential correspondence; such among these, as possess high character and deserve your full confidence - men, who may not exploit their privileged position to go against you, and who may not grow neglectful of their duties, and who in drafting of treaties may not succumb to temptation and harm your interests or fail to render you proper assistance and save you from trouble, and who, in carrying out their duties, can realise their serious responsibilities, for he who does not realise his own responsibilities can hardly appraise the responsibilities of others.
Do not select men for such work merely on the strength of your first impressions of affection or good faith for as a matter of fact, the pretensions of a good many who are really devoid of honesty and good breeding, may cheat even the intelligence of the rulers. Selection should be made after due probation - probation which should be the test of righteousness. In making direct appointments from people and who enjoy the reputation of being honest for such selection is agreeable both to God and the ruler. For every department of administration, let there be a head whom no trying task might cause worry and no pressure of work annoy.
And remember that each and every lapse of scribes, which you may overlook, will be written down against you in your scroll of deeds.
You are advised to treat well businessmen and artisans and direct others to do likewise. Some of them live in towns and some move from place to place with their ware and tools and earn their living by manual labour. They are the real source of profit to the state and provider of consumer goods.
While the general public are not inclined to bear the strain, those engaged in these professions take the trouble to collect commodities from far and near, from land and from across the sea, and from mountains and forests and naturally derive benefits.
It is this class of peace-loving people from whom no disturbance need be feared. They love peace and order. Indeed they are incapable of creating discord; protect them whether they are transacting business at your place or in other towns. But bear in mind that a good many of them are intensely greedy and are immured to bad dealings. They hoard grain and try to sell it at a high price and this is most harmful to the public. It is a blot on the name of the ruler not to fight this evil. Prevent them from hoarding; for the Prophet of God had prohibited it. See to it that trade is carried on with the utmost ease, that the scales are evenly held and that prices are so fixed that neither the seller nor the buyer is put to a loss. And if, in spite of your warning, should anyone go against your commands and commit the crime of hoarding, then inflict upon him a severe punishment.
Beware! Fear God when dealing with the problem of the poor who have none to patronise them, who are forlorn, indigent, helpless and are greatly torn in mind - victims of the vicissitudes of time. Among them there are some who do not question their lot in life and who, notwithstanding their misery, do not go about seeking alms. For God's sake, safeguard their rights for on you rests the responsibility of protecting their interests. Assign for their uplift a portion of the state exchequer (Bayt al Mal), wherever they may be, whether close at hand or far from you. The rights of the two should be equal in your eye.
Do not let any preoccupations slip them from your mind for no excuse whatsoever for the disregard of their rights will be acceptable to God. Do not treat their interests as of less importance than your own and never keep them outside the purview of your important cosiderations and mark the persons who look down upon them and of whose condition they keep you in ignorance.
Select from among your officers such men as are upright and god-fearing and who can keep you properly informed of the condition of the poor.
Make such provision for these poor people as shall not oblige you to offer an excuse before God on the Day of Judgment for, it is this section of the people which, more than any other, deserves benevolent treatment. Seek your reward from God by giving to each of them what is due to him and enjoin on yourself as a sacred duty the task of meeting the needs of such aged among them as have no independent means of livelihood and are averse to seeking alms. It is the discharge of this duty that usually proves very trying to rulers, but is very welcome to societies which are gifted with foresight. It is only such societies or nations that truly carry out with equanimity their covenant with God to discharge their duty to the poor.
Meet the oppressed and the lowly periodically in an open conference and conscious of the Divine presence there. Have a heart-to-heart talk with them and let none from your armed guard or civil officers or members of the Police Department or the Intelligence Department be by your side, so that the representatives of the poor might state their grievances fearlessly and without reserve. For I have heard the Prophet of God say that no nation or society, in which the strong do not discharge their duty to the weak, will occupy a high position.
Bear with composure any strong language which they may use, and do not get annoyed if they cannot state their case lucidly. Even so, God will open for you His door of blessings and rewards. Whatever you can give to them, give it ungrudgingly and whatever you cannot afford to give, make clear to them with the utmost condescension.
There are certain things which call for prompt action. One of them is correspondence regarding the redress of grievances which your heedless staff has been unable to tackle. See to it that petitions or applications submitted for your consideration are brought to your notice without any delay, however much your officers might try to intercept them. Dispose of the day's work that very day for the coming day will entail its own task.
Do not forget to set apart the best of your time for communion with God, although every moment of yours is for Him only, provided it is spent sincerely in the service of your people. The obligation which you directly owe to God, should be included in your over-all duties. Therefore, devote some of your time each day and night to prayer so as to be in communion with God. Let your prayer be as perfect as free from blemish as possible, notwithstanding the physical discomfort it may involve.
And when you lead a congregational prayer, do not bore people by a needlessly long prayer, nor spoil it by unwarranted shortness. When, on receiving an order to proceed to Yemen, I asked the Prophet of God, how I should lead the congregation there, he said, “Perform your prayers even as the weakest among you would offer and set an example of considerateness to the faithful”.
With regard to the observance of all that I have said, bear one thing in mind. Never, for any length of time, keep yourself aloof from the people, for to do so is to keep oneself ignorant of their affairs. It develops in the ruler a wrong perspective and renders him unable to distinguish between what is important and what is unimportant, between right and wrong, and between truth and falsehood. The ruler is after all a human being; and he cannot form a correct view of anything which is out of sight.
There is no distinctive sign attached to truth which may enable one to distinguish between the different varieties of truth and falsehood. The fact is that you must be one of the two things. Either you are just or unjust. If you are just, then you will not keep aloof from the people, but will listen to them and meet their requirements.
But if you are unjust, the people themselves will keep away from you. What virtue is there in your keeping aloof? At all events aloofness is not desirable, especially when it is your duty to attend to the needs of the people. Complaints of oppression by your officers or petitions for justice should not prove irksome to you.
Make this clear to yourself that those immediately about and around you, will like to exploit their position to covet what belongs to others and commit acts of injustice. Suppress such a tendency in them. Make a rule of your conduct never to give even a small piece of land to any of your relations. That will prevent them from causing harm to the interests of others and save you from courting the disapprobation of both God and man.
Deal justice squarely regardless of the fact whether one is a relation or not. If any of your relations or companions violates the law, mete out the punishment prescribed by law, however painful it might be to you personally, for it will be all to the good of the state. If at any time people suspect that you have been unjust to them in any respect, disclose to them and remove their suspicions. In this way, your mind will become attuned to the sense of justice and people will begin to love you. It will also fulfil your wish that you should enjoy their confidence.
Bear in mind that you do not throw away the offer of peace which your enemy may himself make. Accept it, for that will please God. Peace is a source of comfort to the army. It reduces your worries and promotes order in the state. But beware! Be on your guard when the peace is signed for, certain types of enemies propose terms of peace just to lull you into a sense of security only to attack you again when you are off your guard. So you should exercise the utmost vigilance on your part and place no undue faith in their protestations.
But, if under the peace treaty you have accepted any obligations, discharge those obligations scrupulously. It is a trust and must be faithfully upheld and whenever you have promised anything, keep it with all the strength that you command, for whatever difference of opinion might exist on other matters, there is nothing so noble as the fulfilment of a promise. This is recognized even among the non-Muslims, for they know the dire consequences which follow from the breaking of covenants. So never make excuses in discharging your responsibilities and never break a promise, nor cheat your enemy, for breach of promise is an act against God and none except the positively wicked acts against God.
Indeed Divine promises are a blessing spread over all mankind. The promise of God is a refuge sought after, even by the most powerful on earth for there is no risk of being cheated. So, do not make any such promise which you cannot fulfil, nor attack your enemy without ultimatum because none, except a wretched ignorant being, would dare defy God who, in His infinite mercy, has made pacts and treaties as tools of utmost sanctity for His creatures; in fact, peace provides shelter under the lively shade of which all seek asylum and in the vicinity of which all listen for a sojourn. A treaty should, therefore, be free from fraud, duplicity and deception.
Never execute a pact open to interpretations, but once it is executed, don't exploit equivocation, if any; nor repudiate any treaty concluded in the light of Divine injunctions, even in the face of grievous difficulties. As there is reward in life Hereafter, it is better to face difficulties rather than violate the treaty with a traumatic sense of accountability on the Day of Judgment.
Beware! Abstain from shedding blood without a valid cause, as it invites the wrath of Almighty, exposes one to, His severest punishment, deprives one of His blessings and shortens one's span of life. On the Day of Judgment it is this crime for which one will have to answer first. So, beware! Do not wish to build the strength of your state on blood for, it is this blood which ultimately weakens the power and undermines the authority and shakes its very foundations; power then slips to other hands.
A murder is a crime which is punishable by death. If, on any account the corporal punishment dealt by the state for any lesser crime results in the death of the guilty, let not the prestige of the state stand in the way of the deceased's relations claiming blood-money.
Shun self-adoration; do not indulge in self-praise nor encourage others to extol you, because of all the ruses to undo good deeds of pious men, Satan relies most upon praise and flattery.
Neither over-rate nor indulge in tall talks about the favours you have showered on people. Breach of promise annoys God and man alike. God, the Most Exalted, says in the Qur'an: “God is much displeased if you do not act upon what you say”.
Do not make haste to do a thing before its time, nor put it off when the right moment arrives. Do not insist on doing a wrong thing, nor show slackness in rectifying a wrong thing. Perform everything at its proper time and let everything occupy its proper place. When the people as a whole agree upon a thing, do not impose your own view on them and do not neglect to discharge the responsibility that rests on you in consequence, for the eyes of the people will be on you and you are answerable for whatever you do to them.
The slightest dereliction of duty will bring its own retribution. Keep your anger under control and keep your hands and tongue in check. The best way to restrain your rage is to defer punishment till you are calmed and restored to yourself. You cannot achieve it unless you remember that you have ultimately to return to your Sustainer.
It is imperative that you carefully study the precepts which have inspired just and good rulers who have preceded you. Give close thought to the example of our Prophet, his traditions, and the commandments of the Qur'an and whatever you might have assimilated from my own way of dealing with things. Endeavour to the best of your ability to carry out the instructions which I have given here and you have solemnly undertaken to follow. By means of this order, I enjoin on you not to succumb to the promptings of your own heart, nor to turn away from the discharge of duties entrusted to you.
I seek refuge in the Almighty and His unlimited sphere of blessings, and invite you to pray with me that He may give us together the grace to surrender willingly our will to His will, and to enable us to acquit ourselves well before Him and His creation, so that mankind cherishes our memory and our work survives. I beseech God for His blessings and pray that He may grant you and me His grace and the honour of martyrdom in His cause. Verily, we have to return to Him. I invoke His blessings on the Prophet of God and his blessed progeny.