Caliph Ali’s Letter to Malik Ashtar, the Governor of Egypt

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Imam Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam and the first Imam of the Ahlul Bayt, is well known for his abiding contribution to spiritual thought. In the Arabic world he’s just as famous for being a great jurist and man of letters.

The historian Masudi (Murooj-uz-Zahab Masudi), recognized Imam Ali as being the source of no less than 480 treaties, lectures and epistles on a variety of subjects dealing with philosophy, religion, law and politics, as collected by Zaid Ibn Wahab in the Imam’s own life time. These contributions are held in such high regard, both for their contents as well as intrinsic literary worth, that some of his masterpieces stimulated into being many subjects of study in Muslim colleges and universities.

Imam Ali’s reputation was such that it seems to have even reached to Europe by the time of the Renaissance, as we find that Edward Powcock (1604-91) a professor at the University of Oxford, in 1639, delivered a series of lectures on his “Rhetoric,” and was responsible for publishing the first translation of his “Sayings” into English.

Here we present Imam Ali’s famous letter of advice while Caliph, to the Governor of Egypt, Malik Ashtar, which is based on the translation by Rasheed Turabi. Mustafa Bek Najib, the great living scholar of Egypt, regarded this letter “as a basic guide in Islamic administration.” One can only pray that the new leaders of  Egypt, Tunisia, South Sudan, and soon, Libya and Yemen, heed its example.

Caliph Ali’s Letter To Malik Ashtar

The Richest Treasure
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 scrutinise your actions with a searching eye, even as you used to scrutinise 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 would be the treasure of good deeds. Keep your desires under control and deny yourself that which you have been prohibited from, for, by such abstinence alone, you will be able to distinguish between what is good to them and what is not.

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 brethren in religion or your brethren in kind. They are subject to infirmities and liable to commit mistakes. Some indeed do commit mistakes. But forgive them even as you would like God to forgive you. Bear in mind that you are placed over them, even 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 unto them. And 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 any one. 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, ever feel in your mind the slightest symptoms 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 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 God 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 likewise. For, otherwise, you will be doing injustice to yourself and injustice to humanity. Thus both man and God will turn unto your enemies. There is no hearing anywhere for one who makes an enemy of God himself. He will be regarded as one at war with God until he feels contrition and seeks forgiveness. Nothing deprives man of divine blessings or excites divine wrath against him more easily than cruelty. Hence it is, that God listens to the voice of the oppressed and waylays the oppressor.

The Common Man
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 is the strength of the State and Religion. It is he who fights the enemy. So live in close contact with the masses and be mindful of their welfare.

Keep at a distance one who peers into the weaknesses 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 weaknesses which have been brought to light. God is watchful of everything that is hidden from you, and He alone will deal with it. To the best of your ability cover the weaknesses of the public, and God will cover the weaknesses in you which you are anxious to keep away from their eye. Unloose the tangle of mutual hatred between the public and the administration and remove all those causes which may give rise to strained relations 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.

Ya Haqq!

Note:  The above was edited by and is reposted from the Paul Salahuddin Armstrong website. It is also only the beginning of the long letter. To read the rest of the letter, and you should, wherein Caliph Ali goes on to give sage advice on Choosing Counselors, The Different Classes of People, The Army, The Chief Justice, Subordinate Judiciary, Revenue Administration, Clerical Establishment, Trade and Industry, The Poor, Open Conferences, Communion with God, Peace and Treaties, and Last Instructions, click HERE.

Alhamdulillah! If only the leaders of every country had learned these lessons, especially Arab and Muslim tyrants, how much better would the state of the Ummah be today.

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