Dimensions of government and justice in Nahj al- Balaghah (2), people’s rights

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The needs of a human being are not summarized in the phrase food, clothing, and housing, it may be possible to keep an animal happy by satisfying all its bodily needs, but in the case of man, spiritual and psychological factors are as important as the physical ones. Different governments following a similar course in providing for the material welfare of the public might achieve differing results, because one of them fulfils the psychological needs of society while the other doesn’t.

One of the pivotal factors which contribute to the securing of the goodwill of the masses is the way of government views them, if it regard them as its slaves or as its masters and guardians, if it considers the people as possessing legitimate right and itself only as their trustee agent, and representative. In the first case, whatever service a government may perform for the people is not more than a kind of the master’s case of his beast. In the second case, every service performed is equivalent to discharging of duty by a right trustee. A state’s acknowledgement of the authentic right of the people and avoidance of any kind of action that implies negation of their right of sovereignty, are the primary conditions for securing their confidence and good will.

At the dawn of the modern age there was a movement against religions in Europe, which also affected more or less other regions outside the Christendom. This movement was inclined toward materialism. When we examine the causes and roots of this movement, we discover that one of them was the inadequacy of the teachings of the Church from the viewpoint of political rights. The Church authorities, and some European philosophers, developed an artificial relationship and association between belief in God on the hand and stripping the people of their political rights by despotic regimes on the other. Naturally, this led is to the assumption of some necessary relation between democracy on the one hand and atheism on the other. It came to be believed that either we should choose the belief in God and accept the right of sovereignty bestowed by him upon certain individuals who have otherwise no superiority over others. Or deny the existence of God so as to establish right as maters of our own political destinies.

From the point of view of religious psychology, one of the cause of the decline of the influence of religion was the contradiction between religion and a natural social need, contrived by religious authorities, especially at a time when that need expressed itself strongly at the level of public consciousness. Right at a time when despotism and repression had reached their peak in European political life and the people were thirstily cherishing the ides of liberty and people’s sovereignty, the Church and its supporters made an assertion that the people had only duties and responsibilities towards the state and had no rights, this was sufficient to turn the loves of liberty and democracy against religion and God in general and the Church in particular.

The right of sovereignty from viewpoint of western thinkers
This mode of thought, in the west as well as in the East, was deeply rooted from ancient times.
Jean- Jacques Rousseau, in the social contract, writes:

We are told by Philo, the Emperor Caligula argued, concluding, reasonably enough on this same analogy, that kings were gods or alternately that the people were animals.

During the Middle Ages, this outlook was revived again, since it assumed the status of religious faith, it induced a revolt against religion itself. Rousseau, in the same book, writes:

Grotius denies that all human government is established for the benefit of the governed, and he cites the examples of slavery. His characteristic method of reasoning is always to offer fact as a proof of right. It is possible to imagine a more logical method, but not one more favourable to tyrants.

According to Grotius, therefore, it is doubtful whether humanity belongs to a hundred men, or whether these hundred men, belongs to humanity, though he throughout his book to lean to the first of these views, which is also that of Hobbes. Theses authors show us the human race divided into herds of cattle, each with a master who preserves it only on order to devour its members.

Rousseau, who calls such a right “the right of might “ ( right= force), replies to this logic in this fashion:

Obey those in power. If this means” yield to force the precept is sound, but superfluous, it has never I suggest, been violated. All power comes from God, I agree, but so does every disease, and no one forbids us to summon a physician. If I am help up by a robber at the edge of a wood, force compels me to hand over my purse, but if I could somehow contrive to keep the pure from him, would I still be obliged in conscience to surrender it? After all the pistol in the robber’s hand is undoubtedly a power.

Hobbes, whose views have been referred to above, although he does not incline to God in his totalitarian logic, the basis of his philosophic position regarding political rights is that the sovereign represents and personifies the will of the people and he actually translates the will of the people itself into his actions however, when we closely examine his reasoning, we find that he has been influenced by the ideas of the Church Hobbes claims that individual liberty is not contrary to unlimited power of the sovereign. He writes:

Nevertheless we are not to understand that by such liberty the sovereign power of life and death is either abolished or limited. For it has been already shown that noting the sovereign representative can do to subject, on what pretence soever, can properly be called injustice or injury, because every subject is the author of every act the sovereign does, so that he never wants right to anything otherwise than as he himself is the subject of God and bound thereby to observe the laws of nature. And therefore it may and does often happen in commonwealths that a subject may be put to death by the command of the sovereign power and yet neither do the other wrong –as when Jephtha caused his daughter to be sacrificed, in which, and the like case, he that so dies, had liberty to do the action for which he is nevertheless without injury put to death and the same hold also in a sovereign prince that puts to death an innocent subject. For though the action be against the law of nature as being contrary to equity, as was the killing of Uriah by David, yet it was not an injury to Uriah but to God.

Criticizing the view of western thinkers about the right of sovereignty
As can be noticed, in this philosophy the responsibility to God is assumed to negate the responsibility toward the people. Acknowledgement of duty to God is considered sufficient in order that the people may have no rights. Justice, here, is what the sovereign does and oppression and injustice have no meaning. In other words, duty to God is assumed to annul the duty to man, and the right of God to override the rights of men, indubitably, Hobbes, though apparently a free thinker independent of the ideology of the Church had ecclesiastical ideas not penetrated into mind, would not have developed such a theory. Precisely that which is totally absent from such philosophies is the idea that faith and belief in God should be considered conducive to establishment of justice and realization of human rights the truth is that, firstly, the belief in God is the foundation of the idea of justice and inalienable human right, it is only through acceptance of the existence of God that it is possible to affirm innate human rights and uphold true justice as two realities independent of any premise and convention, secondly, it is the best guarantee for their execution in practice.

The approach of the Nagh al-Balaghah on right, rights and their performance
The approach of the Nahj al balalghah to justice and human right rests on the above – mentioned foundations,
In sermon 216, from which we have quoted before, Ali (a) says:

Allah has, by encharging me with your affairs, given me a right over you and awarded you a similar right over me. The issue of rights, as a subject of discourse, is inexhaustible, but is the most restricted of things when it comes to practice. A right does not accrue in favour of any person unless it accrues against him also, and it does not accrue against him unless that it also accrues in his favour.

As can be noticed from the above passage, God is central to ‘Ali’s statement about justice, rights, and duties. But ‘Ali’s stand is opposed to the aforementioned view according to which God has bestowed right on only a handful of indivuals solely responsible to him, and has deprived the rest of people of these rights, making them responsible not to him but also to those who have been granted by him the unlimited privilege to rule others, As a result the ideas of justice and injustice in regard to the relationship between the ruler and ruled become meaningless. In the same sermon Ali (a) says:

No individual, however eminent and high his station in religion, is not above needing cooperation of the people in discharging his obligations and the responsibilities placed upon him by God. Again, no man, however humble and insignificant in the eyes of others, is not too law to be ignored for the purpose of the cooperation and providing assistance.

In the same sermon, Ali(a) asks the people not to address him in the way despots are addressed:

Do not address me in the manner despots are addressed [ i. e. Do not address me by titles that are used to flatter despots and tyrants] in your attitude towards me do not enterain the kind of considerations that are adopted in the presence of unpredictable tyrants. Do not treat me with affected and obsequious manners. Do not imagine that your candour would displease me or that I expect you to treat me with veneration. One who finds it disagreeable to face truth and just criticism, would find it more detestable to act upon them therefore, do not deny me a word of truth or a just advice.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-Balaghan- pages: 139 to 147


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