Dimensions of government and justice in Nahj al- Balaghah (1), the value and position of justice

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One of the frequently discussed issues in the Nahj al- balaghah is that of government and justice to any one who goes through the book, it is evident to what extent Ali (a) is sensitive to the issues related to government and justice. He considers them to be of paramount importance for those who lack an understanding of IsIam but have knowledge of the teachings of other religions. it is astonishing why a religious personage should devote himself to this sort of problems. Don’t such problems relate to the world and worldly life? shouldn’t a sage keep aloof from the matters of the world and society? they wonder.

On the other hand, such a thing is not at all surptising for one acquainted with the teachings of IsIam and the details of Ali’s life that Ali was brought up from childhood by the holy prophet of IsIam ,that the prophet (s) having taken him from his father as a child. had reared him in his home under his own care, that the prophet (s) had trained Ali(a) and instructed him in his own characteristic way. teachings him the secrets of IsIam Ali’s spirit had assimilated within itself the doctrines of IsIam and the code of its laws, There fore. it is not strange that Ali should have been such, rather it would have been astonishing if he wasn’t such as we find him to be. Doesn’t the Qur’an declare:

Indeed, we sent our messengers with the clear signs. and we sent down with them the book and the balance so that men might uphold justice ……(57:25).

In this verse, establishment of justice has been declared as being the objective of the mission of all the prophets. The sanctity of justice is so stressed that it is considered the aim of all prophetic missions. Hence. how were it possible that some one like Ali (a) whose duty was to expound the teachings of the Qur’an and explain the doctrines and laws of IsIam. might have ignored this issue or, least, accorded it a secondary importance?

These who neglect these issues in their teachings, or imagine that these problems are only of marginal significance and that central issues are those of ritual purity and impurity (taharah and najasah). it is essential that they should re-examine their own beliefs and views.

The first thing which much be examined is the significance and value attached to the issue of government and justice by the Nahj al- balaghah. Indeed. what is essentially the importance of these problems in IsIam ? A thorough discussion of this question is obviously outside. The scope of this book, but a passing reference, however, seem inevitable.

The holy Qur’an. in the verse where it commands the prophet(s) to inform the people that Ali (a) would succeed him as the leader of the Muslims and the prophet’s khalifah, declares with extraordinary insistence:

O Messenger. communicate that which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord. for thou does not, thou with not have delivered his Message! ….(5: 67).

Is there any other issue in IsIam to which this much importance was attached ? what other issue is of such significance that if not communicated to the people should amount to the failure of the prophetic mission itself?

During the battle of Uhud, when the Muslims were defeated and the rumour spread that the holy prophet(s) had been killed, a group of the Muslims fled from the battlefield, Referring to this incident. the Qur’an says:

Muhammad is naught but a Messenger, Messengers have passed away before him, why if he should die or is slain. will you turn about on your heels?.....(3:144).

“Allamah Tabataba’i “ in an article entitled wilayat wa- hukumat. derives the following conclusion from the above verse: if the Messenger(s) is killed in battle. it should not in any way stall, even temporarily your struggle, Immediately afterwards, you should place yourselves under the banner of the successor to the prophet(s), and continue your endeavour. In other words, if, supposedly. the prophet(s) is killed or if he dies. the social system and military organization of the Muslims should not disintegrate.

There is a hadith according to which the prophet(s): if (as few as) three persons go on a journey. they must appoint one of themselves as their leader. From this one may infer to what extent the prophet regarded as harmful the disorder and absence of an authority that could resolve social conflicts and serve as a unifying bond among individuals.

The value and necessity of state in view of Ali ( p. b. u. h)
The Nahj al- balaghah deals with numerous problems concerning the state and social justice.

The first problem to be discussed here is that of the necessity and value of state. Ali (a) has repeatedly stressed the need for a powerful government. and in his own time. battled against the views propagated by the khawarij. who in the beginning. denied the need for a state, considering the Qur’an as sufficient. the slogan of the khawarij as is known was “the right of judgement (or authority to rule) is exclusively god” (la hukm illa li Allah) phrase adopted from the holy Qur’an. its Qur’an meaning is that the prerogative of legislation belongs to God or those whom God has permitted to legislate. but the khawarij interpreted it differently. According to Ali (a)they had imparted a false sense to a true statement. The essence of their view was that no human being possesses any right to rule others. Sovereignty belongs exclusively to God Ali’s argument was:

Yes, I also say la hukm illa li-Allah, in the sense that the right of legislation belongs solely to God but their claim that the prerogative to govern and lead also belongs to God is not reasonable. After all, the laws of God need to be implemented by human beings. Men cannot do without a ruler, good or evil. it is under the protection of a state that the believers strive for God’s sake, and the unbelievers derive material benefit from their worldly endeavours, and men attain the fruits of their labours, it is through the authority of state that taxes are collected, aggressors are repelled the security of highway is maintained and the weak reclaim their rights (though courts of law) from the strong (this process continues) until the good citizens are happy and secure from the evils of miscreants.

Power, as a means for establishment of justice
Ali (a). like other godly men and spiritual leaders, despises temporal power and political office for being lowly and degrading when an instrument of gratification of lust for power and political ambition. he looks down upon it with extreme contempt when it is desired as an end –in –itself and aspired as an ideal of life he considers such kind of power to be devoid of any value and considers it to be more detestable than a’ pig’s bone in a leper’s hand, but the some power and leadership if used as a means for the establishment and execution of social justice and service to society is regarded by him as a thing of paramount sanctity, for which he is willing to fight any opportunist and political adventurer seeking to grad power and illegitimate wealth. In its defence. he does not hesitate to draw his sword against plunderers and usurpers.

During the days of Ali’s caliphate, Abd Allah ibn al- Abbas once came to him. He found Ali mending his old shoes with his own hand, Turning to Ibn al- Abbas Ali asked him, “how much do you think is this shoe worth?” “No thing “, replied Ibn al- Abbas Ali said. “but the same shoe is of more worth to me than authority over you if it were not to me means for establishing justice. recovering the right of deprived. and wiping out evil practices.

Reciprocal right of government and people as the highest Divine duties
In the sermon 216, we come across a general discussion about human rights and duties. Here Ali states that every right always involves two parties. Of the various Divine duties the one which God has ordained are duties of people towards people. they are framed in such a way that each right necessitates a duty towards others. each right which benefits an individual or a group. holds the individual or group responsible to fulfil some duty towards others, Every duty becomes binding when the other party also fulfils his duty. He says further regarding this issue:

But the most important of the reciprocal rights that God has mad obligatory is the right of the ruler over the subjects and the rights of the subjects over the ruler. It is a mutual and reciprocal obligation decreed by God for them. He has made it the basis of the strength of their society and their religion. Consequently. the subjects cannot prosper unless the rulers are righteous. The rulers cannot be righteous unless the subjects are firm and steadfast. If the subjects fulfil their duties toward the ruler and the ruler his duty to them. then righteousness prevails amongst them. Only then the objectives of the religion are realized, the pillars of justice become stable and wholesome traditions become established, in this way, better conditions of life and social environment emerge the people become eager to safeguard the integrity of the state. and thus frustrate the plots of its enemies.

Basis of conclusion souree of social thoughts
The first consequence of the sacred teachings of IsIam was the influence exercised on the mind and ideas of its adherents, Not only did IsIam introduce new teachings regarding the world. man, and society ,but also changed the ways of thinking, the importance latter achievement is not less than the former.

Every teacher imparts new knowledge to his pupils and every school of thought furnishes new information to his adherents. But the teachers and schools of thought who furnish their followers with a new logic and revolutionize their ways of thinking altogether, are few.

But how do the ways of thinking change and one logic replaces another? This requires some elucidation.

Man by virtue of being a ration creature thinks rationally on scientific and social issues. His argument. intentionally or unintentionally. are based on certain principles and axioms. All his conclusions are drawn and judgement are based on them. The difference in way of thinking originates precisely in these first principles or axioms, used as the ground of inference and conclusions, here it is crucial what premises and axioms from the foundation for inference, and here lies the cause of all disparity in inferences and conclusions.

In every age there is close similarity between the ways of thinking of those familiar with the intellectual spirit of the age on scientific issues. However. the difference is conspicuous between the intellectual spirit of different ages. but in regard to social problems, such a similarity and consensus is not found even among person who are contemporaries. There is a secret behind this, to expound which would take us outside the scope of the present discussion.

Man, in his confrontation with social and moral problems, is inevitably led to adopt some sort of value – orientation, in his estimations he arrives at a certain hierarchy of values in which he arranges all the issues. This order or hierarchy of values plays significant role in the adoption of kind of basic premises and axioms he utilizes, it makes him think differently from others who have differently evaluated the issues and have arrived at a different hierarchy of values. This is what leads to disparity among ways of thinking. Take for example the question of feminine chastity. which is a matter of social significance. Do all people prescribe a similar system of evaluation with regard to this issue? Certainly not. there is a great amount of disparity between views. for some its significance is near zero and it plays no part in their thinking. For some the matter is of utmost value. Such persons regard life as worthless in an environment where feminine chastity is regarded as unimportant

The high position of justice from the view pint of Imam Ali
When we say that IsIam revolutionized waysof thinking, what is meant is that it drastically altered their system and hierarchy of values, it elevated values like taqwa (God- fearing) m which had no value at all in the past to very high status and attached an unprecedented importance to it. On the other hand, it deflated the value of such factors as blood, race and the like. which in the pre- IsIamic days were of predominant significance, bringing their worth to zero, Justice is one of the values revived by IsIam and given an extraordinary status, it is true that IsIam recommended justice and stressed its implementation, but what significant is that it elevated its value in society. it is better to leave the elaboration of this point to Ali (a) himself, and see what the Nahj al- balaghah says, A man of intelligence and understanding puts the following question to Amir al- Mu’minin Ali(a):

Which is superior, justice, or generosity?

Here the question is about two human qualities, man has always detested oppression and injustice and has also held in high regard acts of kindliness and benevolence performed without the hope of reward or return. Apparently the answer to the above question seems both obvious and easy: generosity is superior to justice, for what is justice except observance of the right of others and avoiding violating them, but a generous man willingly foregoes his own right in favour of another person. The just man does not transgress the right of others or he safeguards their rights from being violated. But the generous man sacrifices his own right for another’s sake therefore, generosity must be superior to justice.

In truth, the above reasoning appears to be quite valid when estimate their worth from the viewpoint of individual morality, and generosity, more than justice, seems to be the sign of human perfection and the nobleness of the human soul.

Reasons for superiority of justice over generosity
But Ali’s reply is contrary to the above answer ,Ali (a) give two reasons for superiority of justice over generosity. firstly he says:

Justice puts things in their proper place and generosity diverts them from their (natural) Direction.

For, the meaning of Justice is that natural deservedness of everybody must be taken into consideration, every one should be given his due according to his work, ability and qualifications. society is comparable to a machine whose every part has proper place and function.

It is true that generosity is a quality of great worth from the point of view that the generous man donates to another what legitimately belongs to himself, but we must note that it is an unnatural occurrence. It may be compared to a body one of whose organs is malfunctioning, and its other healthy organs and members temporarily redirect their activity to the recovery of the suffering organ. From the point of view of society, it would be far more preferable if the society did not possess such sick members at all, so that the healthy organs and members may completely devote their activities and energies to the general growth and perfection of society, instead of being absorbed with helping and assisting of some particular member.

To return to Ali’s reply, the other reason he gives for preferring justice to generosity is this:

Justice is the general caretaker, whereas generosity is a particular reliever.

That is, justice is like a general law which is applicable to the management of all the affairs of society. its benefit is universal and all- embracing. it is the highway which serves all and everyone. But generosity is some thing exceptional and limited, which cannot be always relied upon. Basically if generosity were to become a general rule. it would no longer be regarded as such. Deriving his conclusion. Ali (a) says:

Consequently, justice is the nobler of the two and possesses

justice, as a preserver of balance of society
This way of thinking about man and human problems is one based on specific value system rooted in the idea of the fundamental importance of society. in this system of values, social principles and criteria precede the norms of individual morality. The former is a principle whereas the latter is only a ramification. The former is a trunk, while the is latter is branch of it, The former is the foundation of the structure m whereas the latter is an embellishment.

From Ali’s viewpoint, it is the principle of justice that of crucial significance in preserving the balance of society, and winning good will of the public. Its practice can ensure the health of society and bring peace to its soul. Oppression, in justice and discrimination cannot bring peace and happiness-even to the tyrant or the one in whose interest the injustice is perpetrated. Justice is like a public highway which has room for all and through which every one may pass without impediment. But injustice and oppression constitute a blind alley which does not lead even the oppressor to his desired destination.

As is known, during his caliphate, Uthman ibn Affan put a portion of the public property of the Muslims at the disposal of kinsmen and friends. After the death of Uthman Ali (a) assumed power Ali (a) was advised by some to overlook whatever injustices had occurred in the past and to do nothing about them. Confining his efforts to what would befall from then from on during his own caliphate. But to this reply was: Along standing right does not become invalid!

Then he exclaimed: by God, even if I find that by such misappropriated money women have been married or slave –maids have been bought, I would reclaim it and have it returned to the public treasury, because:

There is a wide scope and room in the dispensation of justice. [justice is vast enough to include and envelop every one]he who [being of a diseased temperament] find restriction and hardship in justice should known that the path of in justice and oppression is harder and ever more restricted.

Justice, according to this conception. is a barrier and limit to be observed, respected, and believed in by every person. All should be content to remain within its limits. But if its limits are broken and violated and the belief in it and respect for it are lost, human greed and lust, being. insatiable by nature. would not stop at any limit, the further man advances on this interminable journey of greed and lust, the greater becomes his dissatisfaction.

Justice and its performance, as the highest social responsibility
Ali(a) regards justice to be a duty and a Divine trust. rather ,to him it is a Divine sanctity. he does not expect a Muslim who is aware and informed about the teachings of IsIam to be an idle spectator at the scenes of injustice and discrimination.

In the sermon called al- shiqshiqiyyah’, after relating the pathetic episodes of the past. Ali(a) proceeds to advance his reasons for accepting the caliphate he mentions how. after the assassination of Uthman. the people thronged around him urging him to accept the leadership of Muslims. But Ali(a) ,after the unfortunate events of the past and being aware of the extent of deterioration in the prevailing situation, was not dispoed to accept that grave responsibility. Nevertheless. he saw that should he reject the caliphate, the face of truth would become still more clouded. and it might be alleged that he was not interested in this matter from the very beginning and that he gave no importance to such affairs. Moreover, in view of the fact that IsIam does not consider it permissible for anyone to remain an idle spectator in a society divided into two classes of the oppressed and the oppressor, one suffering the pangs of hunger and the other well-fed and uneasy with the discomforts of over- eating there was no alternative for Ali (a) but to shoulder this heavy responsibility. He himself explains this in the aforementioned sermon:

(By him who split the grain and created living thing) had it not been for the presence of the pressing crowd, were it not for the establishment of ( God)testimony upon me through the existence of supporters. and had it not been for the pledge of God with the learned. to the effect that they should not connive with the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, I would have cast the reins of [ the came] the caliphate on its own shoulders and would have made the last one drink from the same cup that I made the first one to drink ( i. e. I would have taken the same stance towards the caliphate as at the time of the first caliph) ( the you would have seen that in my view the world of your is not worth more than a goat’s sneeze).

Favouritism. Nepotism, partiality and shutting up of mouths by big morsels. have always been the essential tool of politicians, now a man had assumed power and captained the ship of the caliphate who profoundly detested these thing. In fact his main objective was to struggle and fight against this kind of politics, naturally with the very inception of Ali’s reign, the politicians with their hopes and expectations were disappointed. Their disappointment soon grew into subversive conspiracies against Ali’s government. creating for him many a headache. well-meaning friends, with sincere good will advised Ali(a) to adopt greater flexibility in his policies for the sake of higher interests, their advice was: “Extricate yourself from the ruses of these demagogues, as is said, sewing the dog’s mouth with a big morsel.” these are influential person. some of whom are from the elite of the early days of IsIam. presently. your real enemy is Mu’wiayyah. who is in control of rich and fertile province like Syria, the wisdom lies in setting aside, for the time being, the matter of equality and justice ,what harm there is in it? Ali(a) replied to them:

Do you ask me to seek support through injustice [ to my subjects and to sacrifice justice for the sake of political advantage ]? By God! I will not do it as long as the world lasts one star follows another in the sky [ i.e. I will not do it as long as the order of universe exists] even if it were my own property I would distribute it will justice. and why not when it is the property of God and when I am his trustee.

This is an example of how highly Ali valued justice and what status it held in his opinion.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balagheh- pages: 123 to 139


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