Yet the Islamic world retains still a glorious and somewhat benevolent past that is most often forgotten or ignored by Western, Eastern, or heck, even by some Middle-Eastern scholars. This is a past that would seem starkly different in attitude and composure than the present attitude of governance and view of ‘outsiders’ as seen from today’s Islamic world.
Ali Ibn e Abi Talib the fourth Caliph of Islam , 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 Murooj-uz-Zahab Masudi recognised 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 Ali’s own life time. ʿAli’s words speak for themselves. They preach equity, love, kindness, moderation, freedom to criticize the rulers and forgiveness. He prohibits the ruler from oppression, from authoritative pride, from excessive punishment and rejoicing it and from people’s fear to speak up openly to the authority and many other principles In particular, his epistle to Malik Ashtar, Governor of Egypt, has been regarded as an administrative classic. However in actuality it will display a brilliance of the early Islamic mind and practical political outlook, philosophy, and attitude towards how to run a benevolent and efficient administration . The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a formidable precedent in the form of Ali’s letter written almost 1400 years ago, which is based on the translation by Rasheed Turabi.
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 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.
People will now watch your dealings as you used to watch the dealings of the rulers before you, and they (people) will criticise you as you criticised them (rulers). So, control your passions and check your heart from doing what is not lawful for you, because checking the heart means detaining it just half way between what it likes and dislikes.
Amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people ;
Those who have the same religion as you have; they are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than that of yours, they are human beings like you
Habituate your heart to mercy for the subjects and to affection and kindness for them. Do not stand over them like greedy beasts who feel it is enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your brother in religion or one like you in creation. They will commit slips and encounter mistakes. They may act wrongly, wilfully or by neglect. So, extend to them your forgiveness and pardon, in the same way as you would like Allah to extend His forgiveness and pardon to you, because you are over them and your responsible Commander is over you while Allah is over him who has appointed you.
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, 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 Zimmis and among them of merchants and craftsmen, the unemployed and the indigent.
Do not repent of forgiving or be merciful in punishing. Do not act hastily during anger if you can find way out of it. Do justice towards the people, as against yourself, your near ones and those of your subjects for whom you have a liking because if you do not do so you will be oppressive. Associate yourself with God-fearing and truthful people, then educate them, so that they should not praise you or please you by reason of an action you did not perform, because an excess of praise produces pride and drives you near haughtiness. The virtuous and the vicious should not be in equal position before you because this means dissuasion of the virtuous from virtue and persuasion of the vicious to vice. Keep everyone in the position which is his. You should know that the most conducive thing for the good impression of the ruler on his subjects is that he should extend good behaviour towards them, lighten their hardships, and avoid putting them to unbearable troubles.
Army is the fortress of the subjects, the ornament of the ruler, the strength of the religion and the means of peace. The subjects cannot exist without them while the army can be maintained only by the funds fixed by Allah in the revenues, through which they acquire the strength to fight the enemies, on which they depend for their prosperity, and with which they meet their needs. These two classes cannot exist without the third class namely the judges, the executives and the secretaries who pass judgements about contracts, collect revenues and are depended upon in special and general matters.
Select for your chief judge one from the people 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 to often, one who does not turn back from a right path once he finds it, one who is not self-centered or avaricious, one who will not decide before knowing full facts, one who will weigh wit 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 who flattery cannot mislead or one who does not exult over his position. But it is not easy to find such men.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.
And these classes cannot exist except with the traders and men of industry, who provide necessities for them, establish markets and make it possible for others not to do all this with their own hands. Adopt useful schemes placed before those engaged in trade and industry and help them with wise counsels. Trade and Industry are sources of profit to the State. 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 disorder. Visit every part of the country and establish personal contact with this class, and inquire into their condition.
Take care of the orphans and the aged who have no means (for livelihood) nor are they ready for begging. Fix for them a share from the public funds and a share from the crops of lands taken over as booty for Islam in every area, because in it the remote ones have the same shares as the near ones. All these people are those whose rights have been placed in your charge. Therefore, a luxurious life should not keep you away from them .You cannot be excused for ignoring small matters because you were deciding big problems. Do not keep yourself secluded from the people for a long time, because the seclusion of those in authority from the subjects is a kind of narrow-sightedness and causes ignorance about their affairs.
You should avoid self-admiration, having reliance in what appears good in yourself and love of exaggerated praise because this is one of the most reliable opportunities for Satan to obliterate the good deeds of the virtuous.
If your enemy invites you to a peace treaty never refuse to accept such an offer, because peace will bring rest and comfort to your armies, will relieve you of anxieties and worries, and will bring prosperity and affluence to your people. Be very careful never to break your promise with your enemy; never forsake the protection or support that you have offered to him, never go back upon your word and never violate the terms of the treaty.
My blog was first published in The Nation