By Nasir Shamsi
The name of Ali bin Abi Talib (a) is synonymous with Islam; no episode of early Islam can be mentioned without his presence or participation in one way or another. He was brought up by the Prophet himself and was fully immersed in all moral and spiritual aspects of his teachings. It is quite apparent that Allah had a plan in providing a gift to His last Apostle on earth, in the magnificent form of Ali. The unique qualities of head and heart and physique enabled Ali to lend support in implementing the Prophet’s Divine Mission. It is note worthy that the first Revelation did not come and the Prophet did not receive the Divine order to proclaim himself as Allah’s Messenger until Ali had matured and was physically able to support the great Mission. Ali followed the Prophet like a shadow and protected him from the mischief of the Meccans. The brave son of Abu Talib inspired fear among the Meccans and they dared not raise an eye before the Prophet when Ali was around. On the night of ‘ hijra ‘, he happily slept in the Prophet’s bed, to let him quietly slip out of Mecca in order to escape the enemy attack.
Ali was the standard-bearer of Islam and history bears eloquent testimony to his valorous contribution to the success in almost all encounters that took place between the Muslims and their opponents. Allah’s Messenger himself gave Ali the rare title of ‘Asadullah ‘ (the Lion of God). According to the French Orientals, Oelsner, “Ali was the beau ideal of chivalry and the personification of gallantry, bravery, and generosity. Pure, gentle, and learned without fear and reproach, he set the world the noblest example of chivalrous grandeur of character. His spirit was a pure reflection of Muhammad’s; it pervaded the Islamic world and formed the animating genius of succeeding ages.”
Nobody understood, better than Ali, the purpose and intent of the Prophet’s message, the spirit and content of each Revelation. He was often a witness to the ‘wahee’. He had the distinct honor of posting the Proclamation of the Sura al- Tawbah’ ( Repentance ) on the wall of the Ka’aba, which forbade the pagans from entering the sacred precincts of the Ka’aba. This was a major event that at once declared the Supremacy of the Laws of Allah. Abu Bakr was sent to Mecca with the freshly revealed Sura. He was already on his way, however, when the Prophet received special instructions through the Angel Gabriel to replace him with Ali.
In compliance with the Divine Order, the Prophet immediately dispatched Ali to retrieve the Proclamation from Abu Bakr and post it and announce himself in Mecca. The Divine Document contained references to the idol-worship and admonition to repent. It was clearly Allah’s design that only a man of impeccable character and faith, who had never worshiped idols, and who was immaculately-pure and free from sins could deliver the Divine Commandment to the idol-worshipers. The pious and beautiful hand of Ali which delivered the important Divine Decree to sanctify the Bait Allah, was rightfully called by the noble Messenger the yad Allah, i.e., Allah’s hand. This event alone was enough for an unbiased Muslim to perceive who could act in place of the Prophet and who was to lead the nascent Ummah after he was recalled to his eternal abode by his Lord.
The minds of the early Muslims, however, had not yet overcome the habits of the days of jahiliya. Their hearts bore envy and grudge, even vengeance, against Ali since his sword had cut down many of their next of kin. Emotion clouded their vision and they looked the other way. Ali was not even consulted in the matter of the caliphate on the Prophet’s death. The ummah deprived itself of the immeasurable benefit that Ali’s leadership would have provided. This hasty action changed the character as well as the direction of the Muslim ummah. The caliphate was soon to degenerate into monarchy under the Umayyads.
The Muslims had been charged with the function to redeem humanity from oppression and injustice. If the Message had been allowed to continue under the able and worthy guidance of Ali, who on numerous occasions was clearly pointed out as the standard bearer and leader of the ummah, Allah’s Deen would have flourished. The rightful selection of Ali would have ensured an uninterrupted continuation of the Prophetic Mission, leading to establishment of Allah’s Rule on earth. After 25 years of seclusion, when the Medinites asked Ali to take the reigns of government, the spirit inculcated by the Prophet among the people had largely dissipated. The short five years of Ali’s rule were marred by the unfortunate battles with the Muslim rebels. Muawiya, the patriarch of the future Umayyad dynasty, had been appointed governor of Syria in the Year 18 A.H. by the Second Caliph. Muawiya had almost two decades to fortify his position as a ruler in Roman style. His position was further strengthened by appointments of several Umayyads as governors by the Third Caliph. Muawiya arrogantly declined to accept the Caliphate of Ali and asserted his parallel government. This conflict led to the fierce battle of Siffin, which further divided the Muslims. The remaining years were also filled by armed struggles with the rebels, which culminated in Ali’s assassination in 40 A.H.
It is a tragedy that the Muslims did not make use of the great genius of Ali, whose knowledge of Deen and science and other branches of knowledge was so vast that it defied time and space. What he had said then is true today and illumines the minds of many seekers of knowledge. For lack of space, we most humbly attempt to share with the readers a few glimpses into the most extraordinary personality of Ali bin Abi Talib. Ali’s position with regard to the Message was like the axle of a mill because only he, beside the Prophet, fully understood the purpose and intent of the Divine Mission.
The following are quotes from Ali on Islam, Justice, and Governance:
ISLAM: “Have you fully realized what Islam is? “, asks Ali. He then answers his own question:
“It is indeed a religion founded on truth. It is a fountain-head of learning from which many streams of wisdom and knowledge flow. It is a lamp from which many lamps will be lit. It is a lofty beacon of light that illumines the Path of Allah. It is a set of principles and beliefs that will fully satisfy every seeker of truth and reality. May all know all that Allah has made Islam the most sublime path for the attainment of His Supreme Pleasure and the highest standard of His worship and obedience. He has blessed it with noble precepts, exalted principles, doubtless arguments, unchallengeable supremacy, and undeniable wisdom. It is up to you to maintain the eminence and dignity granted to it by the Lord, to follow it sincerely, to do justice to its articles of faith and belief, to obey implicitly its tenets and orders, and to give it the proper place in your lives.”
JUSTICE: He advised Malik Ashtar regarding the selection of judges:
“Select the wisest person in the land for the administration of justice among the people. He should be a person for whom this task is easy so that litigating parties are not able to prevail against his decisions.”
“You must have love, respect, and kindness for your subjects. … Muslims and non-Muslims should be treated alike. Muslims are your brothers and non Muslims are your fellow human beings. … Anger and vindictiveness should have no place in your administration. Do not let favoritism and nepotism come near you. They will make you violate your duties toward God and toward man and drive you toward oppression and tyranny. It is your sacred duty to look after the poor, the disabled, the orphaned, and the widowed. Do not allow anybody to humiliate, ill-treat, or oppress them. Make yourself easily accessible to them whenever they are in need of help.
“Select honest and kind persons for the job of governance. Do not select those who served under the former tyrants and were responsible for unjust acts and atrocities in the name of the State. Pay your officers well so that they can resist corruption and misappropriation. Take your subjects into your confidence; make them feel you are their well-wisher and friend. Protect the interests of your merchants and traders, but never allow them to practice hoarding, profiteering and black marketing. Encourage handicrafts; they reduce poverty and they raise the standard of living. Protect the interests of your farmers, because they are a valuable asset to the country.”
We have quoted selectively only a few excerpts from a much larger and a most comprehensive treatise on administration, which Ali bin Abi Talib sent during his Caliphate to Malik Ushter, the Governor of Egypt. It should form an essential basis for good governance and efficient and honest administration in any country.
We conclude with a quotation from Masoodi, the venerable Muslim historian:
“If the glorious name of being the First Muslim, a comrade of the Prophet in exile, his faithful companion in the struggle for the faith, his intimate associate in life and member of his family reflect a true knowledge of the spirit of his teachings and of the Book and demonstrate self-abnegation and the practice of justice, and if honesty, purity, love of truth, and knowledge of law and science constitute a claim to preeminence, then all must regard Ali as the foremost Muslim. We shall search in vain to find, either among his predecessors (save the Holy Prophet) or among his successors, the level of those virtues with which God endowed him.”