Imam Ali to his friends and subjects (AS)

SHAFAQNA - Let us see what history says about his behaviour with his friends and relatives.

Abdullah ibn Ja’far was his nephew, whom he had brought up since the death of his father, Ja’far ibn Abu Talib and to whom he had given his beloved daughter Zainab, in marriage. Once Abdullah came to him requesting for an advance installment of his share from Baitul Mal (Public Treasury). Ali (a) refused and when the young man persisted, he said: “No, my son! Not until all the others get their share.”

Aqeel, Imam Ali’s elder brother, was financially not in sound condition. He asked for something more than his due share before the time. The Imam refused by saying that he could not resort to dishonesty. Aqeel must wait till the time of disbursement and he must bear the sufferings patiently. Imam Ali (a) cited this incident in one of his sermons. (Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 221)

Ibn Hunaif, was his trusted disciple, and a faithful follower. He was governor of a province and was once invited to a function which was followed by a sumptuous dinner. When Imam Ali (a) heard of this, he sent him a very strong letter, criticizing his action. He wrote: “You went to a dinner where only rich people were invited and the poor were scornfully excluded”. (Nahjul Balagha, Letter 45)

Imam Ali (a) had two slaves, Qambar and Sa’id. After his demise, Qambar related that very seldom he had the occasion to serve his master. The noble Imam used to do his work by himself, used to wash his own clothing, used even to stitch patches on them whenever needed. He would give them good food and descent dresses and would himself eat and dress like a simple man. Let alone whipping or beating, he never even got angry with them. He never used a can, even on his horse, camel or mule. These animals apparently understood his mood and desire and would trot and walk as he wished them to do. His regular phrase with them was, ‘Go easy, child’.

Continuing, Qambar said: “One and only once, he got annoyed with me. It was the occasion when I showed him the money that I had hoarded. It was from my share of income given to me like others from the Public Treasury and the gift I had received from the members of his family. I had no immediate use of it and thus had saved the amount. It was not much, being barely 100 dirhams. When I showed him the amount, he looked and annoyed and what pained me more, he looked very sad. I inquired as to why he was so sad. He said: “Qambar, if you had no use of this money, were there not people around you who were in need of it, some of them might have been starving and some might have been ill, could you not have helped them? I never thought that you could be so heartless and cruel, and could love wealth for the sake of wealth. Qamber, I am afraid you are not trying to acquire much from Islam, try more seriously and sincerely. Take these coins from here”. Qambar went out and distributed the money amongst the poor in Masjid Kufa.

Sa’id says, “It was a very hot day. Imam Ali (a) was writing some letters, he wanted to send me to call some of his officers, he called me once, twice and thrice and each time, I purposely kept silent and did not reply. He got up to look for me and found I was not sitting very far away from him. He asked me as to why I did not respond to his call. I replied, ‘Sir, I want to find out when and how you get angry’. He smiled and replied: “You can’t rouse my anger with such childish tricks”.

Once Ubaydullah ibn Abbas, as governor maltreated Bani Tamim clan. They complained to Imam Ali. He wrote to Ibn Abbas,

“You should not behave like a beast with your subjects. They are respectable people and should be treated respectfully. You are representing me and your treatment would be taken as that of mine. Your first consideration should be the welfare of those over whom you rule and then to treat them with due respect”. (Nahjul Balagha, Letter 18)

Once a group of non-Muslim subjects complained to Imam Ali (a) that Abdullah ibn Abbas always treated them with contempt and scorn. They were farmers and laboured hard. It had then become a practice that non-Muslims were usually treated scornfully. Imam wrote to Abdullah:

“The farmers complain about your harsh, contemptuous and cruel treatment. Their complaints require careful consideration. I feel that they deserve better treatment than what was meted out to them, give them a better chance to approach you and treat them kindly and politely. They may be heathens and polytheists but being our subjects, and human beings, they do not deserve to be driven away from us and treated harshly”. (Nahjul Balagha, Letter a19)

Once Imam Ali was passing through Ambaz with his army. The rich men of the province, as was the custom of those days, came out to greet him. They offered the best Persian horses as presents and requested his permission to serve his army. He met them courteously but politely refused to accept the gifts and said, “You have paid your taxes, to receive anything more from you, even when you offer it voluntarily and willingly, is a crime against the State.” But when they persisted and pressed their request, he ordered that the horses could be accepted as their taxes and so far as the feast was concerned, it must be paid out of the war expenses.

The Russians in 1905 found an order of Imam Ali in his own hand-writing which was in Kufi script. This was found in a monastery of Ardabail, chief town of Azar Baijan. This letter was an amnesty deed to the monastery and the Christians of Ardabail. Translation of this deeds appeared in the Russian newspapers and thence it was translated in the Turkish papers and in the Arabic Magazines of Cairo and Beirut, and several commentating articles on the spirit of toleration and the treatment of conquered countries by Islam were written by the Russians and Arab Christians. Apparently from the magazine “Hablul Matin”, it was translated by the magazine “Al-Hakam”. (Vol. II, No. 47, 1906)

In this deed, Imam Ali (a) says that as a caliph and a ruler, he promises safety and security of life, property, honour, social status and religious freedom of Armanian Christians. This order should be obeyed by his officers and by his successors. The Christians should not be maltreated or looked down because they are non-Muslims. So long as they do not try to betray and injure the cause of the State of Islam, they should not be molested but should be allowed to practice their religion and to trade freely and openly. Islam teaches us to carry a message of peace with us and improve the status of society wherever we go and the best way to achieve this is to create amity, friendliness and concord between human beings; therefore, Muslims should try to develop friendship of these people and should never resort to wrong use of power, force and arrogance. They should not be overtaxed, should not be humiliated and should not be forced out of their homes, lands, and trades. Their priests should be treated with due respects, their monasteries should be protected and they should be allowed to carry on their lectures, teachings and preachings as usual and their religious ceremonies should not be banned. If they want to build their places of worship then fallow and unclaimed lands should be allotted to them. One, who disobeys this order is going against the orders of Allah, and the Holy Prophet (s) and will deserve His Wrath.

Once when Harith ibn Suhayl, the Governor of Kufa, was riding through the city, saw Imam Ali (a) also on a ride. He got down from his horse to accompany the Imam on foot. Imam Ali (a) stopped his horse and said, “It does not behove a man to lower himself before anybody but Allah. Please mount back on your horse. Even if you had not been an officer of the State, I would not have allowed you to lower yourself like this, the sight of such humiliation of man before man never pleases me. It is the worst form of tyranny which can be practiced.”

There is a letter of Imam Ali (a), which is actually a system of rules and regulations for the administration of a just government and a code for higher values of morality. It is included in Nahjul Balagha (Letter 53) and is referred so often by historians of Europe, philosophers of Arabia and even by Justice Kayani in his presidential address at the Karachi Bar on April 16, 1960. Thus it needs no introduction. In this letter there are instructions which show that he wanted his officers to remember that the people over whom they rule are the trust entrusted to them by Allah, and they should be treated as such.

Imam Ali (a) had a very soft corner in his heart for the old, the weak, the disabled and the poor and children were always his favourites.

It was the hottest day of the season, he had finished his noon-prayers in the masjid and was passing through the bazaar. He saw a young slave-girl piteously weeping. He asked her the reason. She said that her master had given her some money to get dates from the bazaar. The dates which she brought were not liked by her master, he wanted them to be returned and get back the money. The fruit-seller refused to take them back, her master was beating her for the money and the fruit-seller had also punished her for going to him over and over again. She did not know what to do and whom to approach for help.

Imam Ali (a) accompanied her to the fruit-seller to advise him to take the dates back. He was a new-comer to Kufa and did not recognize the Imam and was rude to him. Some passers-by intervened and introduced the Imam to him. He jumped from his shop and begged of Imam Ali (a) to excuse him and said that he would give back the money immediately to her. The Imam replied that it was really mean of him to treat honest suggestion disdainfully and haughtily and to cow down before power and might so abjectly. The owner of the slave-girl had also heard the news of this incident and ran to meet the Imam to apologize for the trouble caused to the slave-girl. Imam Ali (a) told him, “You have no mercy for a person who is under your power and you do not forgive her mistake, have you a right to expect mercy and forgiveness from the Lord? You people have acquired nothing from Islam but its name.”

One day he saw an old woman carrying a heavy load of fire-wood which she could hardly lift, she was tottering under the weight. Imam Ali (a) relieved her of her weight, carried it to her house. when Imam Ali (a) told her about who he was, only then she realized that the one who had served her like an obedient servant was none but Imam Ali, the Caliph and the Commander of the Faithful.

It was after his death only that people came to know that he had provided a shelter to a leper in an advanced stage of the disease. The shelter was outside the town, he used to go there daily, dress his wounds, feed him with his own hands (because the leper had lost his hands), wash him, put his bed in order and carry him out of the shelter for a little while so that he may get fresh air. Incidentally, when the relatives and friends of Imam Ali (a) came across this shelter and found a leper in it, they told him the Imam was assassinated as they had just then buried him. The news so affected the man that he died on the spot.

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