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Imam Ali Era: Malik Al-Ashtar as Model
Dr. Saleem Kati'
Imam Shirazi Center for Studies and Researches

The life of Imam Ali Bin Abi Taib (Peace be upon him) was characterized with intellectual and cultural production, either in the form of speeches, letters, commandments, pledges or events that covered great spheres in thoughts, ethics, knowledge, rights and literature.

His messages to his governors and officials represented the clear-cut face of the Islamic policies in administering the state and the people, because these polices embrace the Islamic overall policy in all its dimensions and affairs, thus it showed and represented the keenness of Imam Ali to build a successful political and administrative system.

Within this framework, Imam Ali's Covenant to his official Malik al-Ashtar when sending him as a governor on Egypt (38 H.-658 A.D.) has special importance for the personality for this esteemed follower Malik Al-Ashtar, who proved to be the most trusted, experienced and conscious person. Imam Ali described him as (He was to me as I had been to Prophet Mohammed), thus he was one of the rare persons who has unique merits that deserve to be studied and scrutinized, because the Covenant contained the visions, thoughts and remedies for the existent reality. It was made to establish a speech, not only contemporary or connected with its presence, but a general plan with open thoughts suitable for implementation in any future era to be faced by the decision-makers in the political, social and thought's realities.

The Covenant is regarded one of the most important documents in history due to its richness in its political, economic, social and administrative dimensions, because it was issued by the highest authority in the Arab Islamic State in its first eras.

This represents an important stage of political, economic, social and administrative thoughts for the Muslims, due to its instructions, advice, policies, administrative procedures, selection of governors, observation and a follow up of the governors and their relations with the society in all its political, economic and social components.

In addition, it contained the just and good governance that will gauge the righteousness of the political systems in everywhere and every time.

On the other hand, it was time precedence for the rights which were adopted in the International Human Rights Declaration of 1948 and the Rights of the Disabled People of 2008 that reached to 14 centuries, which was manifested in Imam Ali's words to Malik Al-Ashtar: "By God… by God Malik! Take care of the low people who have no power … the needy, miserable and disabled people that were denied from work".

The Covenant laid down the basic pillars of Imam Ali, which should be adopted by governors in every age, based on Islamic humanitarian principles that aim at accurate organization of the political, social and economic life, as well as building the internal relationships in the Islamic society, on the bases of justice, freedom and equality.

The most important principles are:

Firstly: The Freedom

The principle of freedom got greater interest in the Holy Quran and the Honorable Sunna, as well as the original Islamic political biography. Islam does not look at the human beings as tools without will to be organized by others as they like. It is believed that the freedom is not only one of the private privileges of the Man, but one of his clearest characteristics.

Here Imam Ali refers by saying: "Do not be a slave for others, while God made you free".

So, depriving the freedom of the Man is one of the main injustices that belittle the value and dignity of the Man himself.

This state of affairs made Imam Ali work to consolidate this principle in different locations, where he talked to the people, during his life time, with the free logic, because the conscious and free choice from all pressures, fabricated circumstance and blind imitation is the base for every action.

In other words, Man is responsible for deciding his destiny, so he has to think in his mind, which was bestowed upon him by God, and then decide and select. It means that the choice should be made on the right diagnosis, which was stressed by Imam Ali. It was his political method in the rule of the state since the first days till the end, though this method was rejected by the seekers of leadership and power, because their goal was different; namely to sit on Caliphate chair.

Within this context, we find Imam Ali stresses, in his speeches and vows, either as a citizen or a governor, the question of the political freedom, which the freedom of expression and opinion is part and rejected all forms of tyranny, injustice and power arrogance. He called to eliminate all forms of tension and intolerance among different groups on the bases of justice, equality and disseminating rhythm and affection among the members of the nation. He called for not attacking others' rights and selves, saying to Malik Al-Ashtar : " Beware shedding blood without right".

In addition, Imam Ali made his advice to Al-Ashtar in his Covenant on the way to deal with others, by saying: "Make your heart feel with mercy and love for the subjects, Do not be like the lion against them trying to devour them. They are of two types, either a brother in religion or similar in creation".

Then Imam Ali gives another advice to Malik al-Ashtar to be lovable for the subjects, respecting their feelings, whatever category they are of, and to forgive the people who harmed him or his followers, by saying: "Give them your forgiveness as you love that God will grant you His forgiveness".

No doubt, the confirmation of Imam Ali to accept one another and treat him as a brother, either in religion or creation, is not limited on the outside behavior, but to be one stemming from the inner self to become innate behavior based on loving the people irrespective of their diversifications, as well as negating the previous outlook that was characterized with injustice and discrimination. He called for good behavior with others, without any form of arrogance. The freedom of the Man should start from within the family as a method to educate the sons, which is an important hint, particularly at this era of our history, when he said: "Do not oblige your children on your ethics because they are born for a time not yours".

Out of this orientation, Imam Ali opened the doors of freedom wide for the freedom of expression, as well as criticism and accountancy before the masses. He called to provide protection to the rightful militants and made accepting others' opinions a call to self-revision for the governor to rectify his mistakes and changing the methods of action towards rightfulness and justice.

On the other hand, Imam Ali called to glorify those who call for rightfulness, in actions and words, and treat them with respect because they are the mirror that will reflect the weakness in the political process, so he advises Al-Ashtar as saying: "You should respect those who utter the bitterness of the Right and not your inclinations".

No doubt, the call of Imam Ali to respect the freedom of opinion and the word did not obscure his outlook to diagnose some of the negative aspects that may negatively utilize this freedom against the individual and the society, so Imam Ali put some limitations on the freedom of opinion and expression to overcome the negative aspects through:

1. Necessity to maintain the rights of others and their non-infringement, because the freedom of action and words is standing on a line that cannot be crossed, unless he was unjust. This is the material and moral entity of the Man, when he said: "The Muslim is the one who avoided hurting other Muslims from his hand and tongue, only within the Right".

2. Knowledge: In its meaning of realizing and deeply acquainting with the matter or the person before making the judgments and views, so Imam Ali said: "Do not say what you do not know, and do not say all what you know".

3. Justice in making viewpoints and adopting stands. Imam Ali said: "Rarely the tongue is fair in disseminating the ugly and good deeds".

4. The style: The expression of opinion is not enough to build and develop a certain society, but should be presented in a suitable style, which it is a precondition to employ the freedom for the benefit of the society.

Secondly: Justice

Justice, in the Imam's perspective, is the originality that can preserve the balance of the society and provides peace, security, tranquility and stability.

So, in his opinion, justice is a divine office where the ruler, who knows the principles of Islam, should not stand as spectator, leaving the people to tyranny, injustice, discrimination and oppression. Thus, he objected to the rules of the politicians of finding followers and closing mouths with gifts and funds, in a belief that these methods are most appropriate for politics and administration.

Imam Ali was the arch enemy of these methods, thus he was subject to conspiracies by interests' lords since the first day of assumption to Caliphate, where they rushed to incite sabotage, disturbances, disobedience and mutinies.

The political dimension of justice, to Imam Ali, is clarified in his ruling power to expose the effects and affecting cases between the nation and the governor on the levels of just equality.

Imam Ali said: "The beauty of politics is Justice".

He made justice one of the duties of the government, where he said to his governor Malik Al-Ashtar: "The duty is to remember the past of the predecessors of just government, decent doctrine, the principles of our Prophet and the duty in the book".

Imam Ali rejected tyranny, injustice and stressed equality and justice, in addition to moral and social dimensions, because they have politically material perspectives that will achieve stability.

He said: "The steadfastness of the state is establishing justice rules", or "By justice, the people can be rectified".

Imam Ali called Malik Al-Ashtar to make and implement justice on both the friend and the enemy, because it is the goal to disseminate justice and equality among the people.

He stressed the necessity to select the people to administer the state's affairs with special good merits.

Here, Imam Ali stressed the importance of resorting to courts as a necessity and important right of human rights. He shouldered the legitimate ruler the responsibility of maintaining and preserving this right with all its subsidiaries, material and moral pre-requisites to achieve the principle of justice and equality among the members of the society, because the just jurisdiction, to him, is the best tool to prevent injustice and achieving justice. He said: "treat tyranny with justice".

He stressed the importance of selecting the people who have knowledge, justice, integrity and neutrality to hold the jurisdiction posts, so he said to his governor Malik Al-Ashtar: " Select for the rule the best of your close subjects, who will be patient in events, not governed by adversaries and not keeping up with mistakes… he should be the most patient to expose matters and the sternest in verdicts, who will not be tempted by complements or temptations, though there are few people like that".

Thirdly: Political partnership and right to opposition

Imam Ali is one of the pioneers in granting the nation its right to political partnership.

He admitted that the power is the right of the people, saying: "No one has the right in your affairs except the one you selected to rule". This means that the intellectual approach and the political action should stem from the nation itself, not to be the monopoly of one person or special strata. He added that the right of the nation is to select its governor and commanders.

Imam Ali pointed that the legitimacy of the governor or the ruler depends on the satisfaction of the people, which was resembled in allegiance principle as method to express the people's will, taking into consideration guaranteeing the freedom for the allegiance process.

The thoughts of Imam Ali were open when he granted the woman a basic role by stressing its participation in political opposition and military and media efforts, as manifested in his wars. He granted her the right of expression through the voting principle adopted nowadays, as well as the necessity to politically enlightening the woman.

No doubt that the belief of Imam Ali of the woman's right in the political participation is shown in the model exhibited by his daughter, Lady Zainab Bint Ali Ibn Abi Talib. She was able to defend the philosophy of the revolution of Imam Hussein after his martyrdom, then making an intellectual assault against his killers that led to ripen the spirit of revolution within the Islamic Nation, either theoretically or practically.

Added to that, Iman Ali tried to consolidate the legitimacy of opposition, in an initiative not reached by the societies and thinkers till our present time, through his deep understanding to the importance of the opposition and its vital role in the political process as an evaluation, rectifying and changing tool to topple the ruling power.

It Imam Ali raised the banner of peaceful political opposition, as an integral right of the opposition, but we have to admit that the Imam put some controls on using this legitimate right which depended on the principle of (promotion of virtue and prevention of vice).

The most important ones are:

1. Infringement of the Islamic Sharia.

2. The tyranny and injustice of the ruler.

3. Political and administrative weakness

4. Stealing Muslims' funds and disseminating poverty among the people.

Fourthly: The Ethical Politics

The ethical principles are the bases to Imam Ali, either for the personality of the governor or the dignity of the people in times of peace or war.

In his Covenant to Malik Al-Ashtar : "You have to know the vices of the people, far or near, because the people have vices the governor has the right to cover them up, so do not expose what you did not know", till he said :"Do not rush in believing a messenger, because he is deceitful though with the attire of advisors".

In the light of the previous statements, we understand that the governor should adhere and comply by a group of necessities for the well-being of the society and its stability. These are:

1. Prevention of obscenity, negated by Holy Quran, through covering and hiding vices as much as possible in manner that will not lead to evil actions.

2. The governor should combat eavesdropping and collection of news that will encourage the people to adopt this vice.

3. The governor should not quickly believe what claimed by others, because the bad people are many and not all the sayings have good intentions, even if they were in advisory context. He should deal with the others, even his adversaries, in an investigative manner, after hearing the witnesses, to preserve and maintain the Right and refutes Falsehood.

Fifthly: Social strata and encouraging reconstruction

The division of Imam Ali the society into social classes does not mean that he wanted a state of class differentiations in the society, because the main merit is Islam is Piety, which it is the highest ideal in the human life.

Islam recognized, as did Imam Ali, the political classes based on economic and vocational principles, or both of them, because their existence is a fundamental necessity, so he told Malik Al-Ashtar: "You should know that the people are classes that cannot be fitted unless are together and they are inseparable".

This means that the classes' division, mentioned by Imam Ali, depends, first of all, on the social duty each strata is accomplishing, with no evaluation of one on the top and the other in the lower part of the social ladder.

In addition, Imam Ali called for providing work as part of the human rights, because the human being should find a work opportunity suitable to his qualifications and covers his material and psychological needs through reconstruction projects and economic advancement, either of the level of the person or the state.

Thus, he made the reconstruction as the base function of the state and one of the main merits of the good governor.

In his Covenant to Malik Al-Ashtar: " This is what ordained by the Slave of God, Emir of the Believers, to Malik Bin Al-Harith Al-Ashtar for ruling Egypt: Taxes from income, struggle against its enemy, rehabilitation of its people and reconstruction of its territories".

The views of imam Ali in the reconstruction of the land means that this will not be done by a group or the efforts to be by one person to get its gains, but by the efforts of the people, either Muslims or otherwise, where the outcome of the land will be for all of the people.

Here Imam Ali explains the governmental plan in his Covenant to Malik Al-Ashtar, by saying: "Let your views in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the land wiser than getting the taxes, because that cannot be achieved without reconstruction and rehabilitation. Anyone asks for taxes without reconstruction and rehabilitation will lead to the destruction of the country and killing the people and his rule will not last for long".

Imam Ali warned against the dangers of the spread of poverty and need in the society on the stability of the nation as a whole and its economic flourishment, by saying: "There is no disgrace in alienation, but the disgrace in the land of poverty".

No doubt that the emphasis of Imam Ali on the importance of the taxes as the first income for the state, when he pointed that the economic income does not depend on the collection only, but on providing the basic prerequisites for the continuation of these financial resources; mainly the reclamation of the land, assisting its workers in overcoming natural obstacles, like draught and floods, because the protection of the sources of the resources is more important than getting them.

Out of the foregoing, the Covenant of Imam Ali to his Egypt governor Malik Al-Ashtar was regarded as a constitution that organized the relation of the ruler with the subjects, where he clarified the rights of both of them.

This Covenant was built on a main idea that Islam is a system where the religion is not separated from the state, the worldly affairs from the heavenly life, and worshipping from the daily transactions.

No doubt that many people believed that this Covenant is far away from reality and cannot be abided by it or implement it, but the West clearly understood it and made it as their doctrine.

The best manifestation is the call of the United Nations in its annual Development Report of 2001 for the developing countries to study the Covenant of Imam Ali to his Egypt governor Malik Al-Ashtar as a real and practical program that will help achieving development on all political, economic, educational, administrative spheres.

In conclusion, Imam Ali has more than one stand and a word in all stages and eras he lived in, as well as having messages and covenants that could be models for implementation in similar stands and stages.

Each moment and each crisis and turnabout all over the ages necessitated special kind of dealings and decision making.

This was incarnated by Imam Ali in his life, policies, words and actions, which necessitated that we should benefit from them in hard times of our Islamic Nation, which is surrounded with calamities and sufferings.

We should benefit from Imam Ali's political ideas in all spheres of our lives.

So, we need to stick to the principles of Prophet Mohammed's descendants to have the real vision and judge our historical reality through pure Islamic perspectives out of our past, which it is the pillar of the present time and the hope of the future.

This should not be neglected or cancelled, as well as not copying it without exposing its beneficial lessons, because the nation, like the tree without roots, that cannot understand its history will die tomorrow, if not today.