Dimensions of government and justice in Nahj al- Balaghah (3), rulers duties

In the last chapter, we said that a dangerous and misleading view became current in the thought of some modern European thinkers interlinking in an unnatural fashion the belief in God on the hand and negation of people’s rights on the other. This correlation played a significant role in inducing a group to incline towards materialism. Duty and responsibility to God was assumed to necessarily negate the duty and responsibility to the people. Divine obligations completely displaced human obligations. The belief and faith in God (who, according to the IsIamic teachings, created the universe on the principles of truth and justice) was considered to conflict with and contradict the belief in innate and natural human rights, instead of being regarded as their basis. Naturally belief in the of people ‘s sovereignty was equated with atheism.

Ruler, as a preserver of people’s right
From IsIamic point of view the case is actually the reverse. In the Nahj al- balaghah, which is the subject of our discussion, the main topics are tawhid and irtan, throughout the talk is about God, whose Name occurs repeatedly every where in the pages. Nevertheless, it not only does not neglect to discuss the right of the people and their privileges vis-a- vis- the ruler, in fact regarding the ruler as the trustee and protector of their rights, but also lays great emphasis on this point. According to the logic of this noble book, the imam and the ruler is the protector and trustee of the rights of the people and responsible to them. If one asked as to which of them exists for the other, it is the ruler who exists for the people and not versa. Sa’di has similar idea in his mind when he says:

It ‘s not the sheep who are to serve the shepherd.
But it is the shepherd who is for their service.

The word ra’iyyah ( lit. herd), despite that it gradually acquired an abominable meaning in the Persian language, has an original meaning which is essentially good and humanitarian. The word ra’t for the ruler and raiyyah for the masses first appears in the speech of the prophet (s) and is literally used thereafter by Ali (a).

This word is derived from the root ra’a, which carries, the sense of “ protection” and “ safeguarding”. the word ra’iyyah is applied to the people for the reason that the ruler is responsible for protecting their lives, property, rights, and liberties.
A tradition related from the holy prophet (s) throws full light on the meaning of this word:

Truly, everyone, of you is a r’a i responsible for his ra’iyyah. The ruler is the r’a i of his people and responsible for them. The woman is the r’a i of her husband ‘s house and responsible for it, the slave is the r’a i of his master ‘s property and responsible for it,, indeed all of you are r’a i and responsible [ for those under your charge].

Some verses about rights of people
In the preceding pages we cited some examples from the Nahj al- balaghah which illustrated Ali’s outlook regarding the rights of the people. Here we shall give sample quotes from other sources, beginning with the following verse of the holy Qu’ran:

God commands you to deliver trusts back to their owners, and that when you judge between the people, judge with justice…( 4: 58).

Al- Tabarsi, in his exegesis Majma’ al – bayan, commenting upon this verse, remarks: There are several opinions regarding the meaning of this verse, firstly, that it is about trusts in general, including the Divine and the non- Divine, the material and the non – material trusts, secondly, that it is addressed to the rulers, and that God, by making the returning of the trusts an obligation, is commanding them to observe the right of the people.

Then he further adds:

This is corroborated by the verse immediately following it:

O believers, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those authority among you…(4:59).

According to this verse the people are bound to obey the command of God, his Messenger and those in authority (wulat al-amr) while the preceding verse mentions the rights of the people, this one reiterates the complementary rights of those in authority. It has been related from the Imams (a) that one of these two verses is ours ( i.e. establishes our rights is relation to you)
And other is your s (i.e. outlines your rights in relation to us) …Al- Imam al- Baqir (a) said that the performance of salat, zakat, sawm, and Hjj are some of the trusts ( mentioned in 4: 58) one of the trusts ( amanat) is that the wulat al- amr have been commanded to justly distribute the Ghana im, sadaqat, and whatever is a part of the right of the people, among them.

In the exegesis al- Mizan, in the part of the commentary upon this verse which deals with tradition the author relates a tradition from al- Durr al – manthur from Ali (a) that he said:

It is incumbent on the imam to rule according to the decrees revealed by God, and to discharge the trusts that he has been charged with. when he does that, it is incumbent upon the people to pay attention to the Divine command (about obeying the wali al- amr), to obey him and respond to his call

Ruler’s duties against people in Imam Ali’s leters
As noticed earlier, the holy Qur’an considers the ruler and the head of the state as a trustee and a guardian, it regards just government as a fulfillment of a trust entrusted to the ruler. The approach of the Imams (a), in particular that of Amir al – Mu’ minin “ Ali(a) corresponds with the view which can be inferred from the holy Qur’an.

Now that we know the Qur’an’s view of this matter, we may go on to examine the statements of the Nahj al- balaghah on this issue. More than anything else we must study Ali’s letters to governors, especially those which were meant to be official circulars. It is in these letters that we would find glimpses of the teachings of IsIam regarding the functions of the ruler and his duties towards the people as well as their rights, Ali (a), in his letter to the to governor of Adharba’ijan, reminds him of his duties towards the people in these words:

Beware lest you consider this assignment as a bait [ for acquiring personal gain] rather, it is a trust lying on your neck. You have been charged with caretaking [ of the people] by your superior, it is not for you to betray your duties with respect to the people ( ra’iyyah).

In another letter written as a circular to tax collectors, after a few words of advice and admonition, Ali (a) says:

Fulfil the demands of justice in your relationship with the people and be patient in matters regarding their needs, because you are treasurers of the people ( ra’iyyah), representatives of the community ( Ummah), and envoys of your imams.

In the famous epistle to Malik al – Ashtar, which contains elaborate instructions about various aspects of government he writes:

Awaken your heart to kindness and mercy for the people (ra’iyyah) and love and tenderness for them. Never, never act with them like a predatory beast which seeks to be satiated by devouring them, for the people fall into two categories, they are either your brethren in faith or your kindred in creation …do not ever say, I have been given authority or My command should be obeyed because it corrupts the heart, consumes one’s faith, and invites calamities.

In another letter sent as a circular to army commanders, he says:

It is obligation that an official should not behave differently with the people (ra’iyyah) on account of a distinction he receives or material advantage that he may achieve. Instead these favours from Allah should bring him nearer to God’s creatures and increase his compassion towards his brethren.

Showing a great respect toward people in Ali’s ( p. b. u. h) speeches
Ali (a) shows an amazing sensitivity to justice and compassion towards the people and a great respect for them and their rights, which as, reflected in his letters, is an exemplary and unique toward this issue.

There is another letter in the Nahj al- balaghah consisting of instructions to the collectors of zakat, and is entitled: لمن یستعمله علی الصد قات to the officials assigned to the job of collecting zahat, the little indicates that it was not addressed to any particular official but sent either as a general instruction in writing or delivered as routine oral instruction. Al – Sayyid al- Radi has included it in the section of kutub, or letters, with the clarification that he is placing this letter here to show to what extent Ali was meticulous in matters pertaining to justice and rights of the people, being attentive not only to main point but also to minute details. Here ere Ali’s instructions:

Set out with the fear of God, who is one and has no partner. Do not intimidate any Muslim. Do not trespass upon his land as to displease him. Do not take from him than Allah ‘s share in his property. When you approach a tribe. Act first come down at their watering place, stay there instead of entering their house. Approach them with calm dignity and salute them when you stand amongst them, grudge not a proper greeting to them. Say to them “O servants of God, the wali and khalifah of God has sent me to you to collect any thing of his share in your property? If there is, return it to his wali.

If some one says: no, then do not repeat the demand. If some one answers in the affirmative, then go with out frightening threatening or compelling him take whatever gold and silver he gives you. If he has cattle or camels, do not approach them save with his permission because the major part belongs to him. When you arrive ( into the cattle enclosure ), do not enter upon in them in a bossy and rude manner…

The passages quoted above are sufficient to throw light on Ali’s attitude as a ruler toward the people under his rule.

Sources :

  1. Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balaghah- pages: 147 to155