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Tuesday, 21 November 2017 1 Rabi Al Awwal 1439

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Imam Ali (A): A leader whom the World is crying for

In the present world which is full of injustice, political tension, clash between cultures and religions, and exploitation of assets – the World’s population is crying for strong, merciful and just leadership. A fundamental philosophical question to ask is:

Can a man yearn for something which according to some is impossible to attain – i.e. is it impossible to hope for a leader with perfect qualities?

To answer this question we must ask ourselves if history ever has seen leadership with perfect qualities?

The following examples from history demonstrates qualities of the ultimate leader – Amir al-Mumineen Ali ibn Abu Talib (A):

A Leader for ALL Humans

In his famous letter to Malik al-Ashtar upon him taking governance over Egypt, Imam Ali (A) writes:

“Remember, Malik, that amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people: those who have the same religion as you have; they are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than that of yours, they are human beings like you.  Men of either category suffer from the same weaknesses and disabilities that human beings are inclined to, they commit sins, indulge in vices either intentionally or foolishly and unintentionally without realizing the enormity of their deeds.  Let your mercy and compassion come to their rescue and help in the same way and to the same extent that you expect Allah to show mercy and forgiveness to you. You must always appreciate and adopt a policy which is neither too severe nor too lenient; a policy which is based upon equity will be largely appreciated”

If all Leaders would try to show the same mercy and recognise weaknesses of humans like Imam ALI (A) the world would be a better place to live in.


A Leader who chooses the BEST TEAM

When appointing people who would represent the Islamic Government, Imam Ali (A) was always uncompromising to his just ideals. He would also cascade the same examples to his representatives to follow, which can be read in another part of the Imam (A)’s letter to Malik al-Ashtar:

“Your worst ministers will be the men who had been ministers to the despotic rulers before you and who had been a party to atrocities committed by them.  Such persons should not be taken into your confidence and should not be trusted because they have aided sinners and have assisted tyrants and cruel rulers.  In their stead you can comfortably find persons who are equally wise and learned but who have not developed sinful and criminal mentalities, who have neither helped the tyrants in their tyrannies nor have they assisted them to carry on their sinful deeds.

Such persons will prove the least troublesome to you.  They will be the most helpful.  They will sincerely sympathise with you.  If you take them in your confidence they will sever their connections with your opponents.  Keep such people with you as your companions in your informal company as well as in official gatherings in audience…”

If Leaders would set-up governance and partners in the fashion Imam Ali AS recommended, and indeed implemented, corruption in leadership would quickly diminish.


A Leader with the greatest socio-political & socio-economical insight

In an era (7th Century!) more than 1000 years before the arrival of the renaissance and even before the primitive Feudalistic system had been established in Europe and ASIA, Imam Ali (A) describes the structures of how a society works to Malik al-Ashtar:

“You must know, Malik, that the people over whom you rule are divided into classes and grades and the prosperity and welfare of each class of the society individually and collectively are so interdependent upon the well-being of the other classes that the whole set-up represents a closely woven net and reciprocal aspect.  One class cannot exist peacefully, cannot live happily and cannot work without the support and good wishes of the other”

Many of the leaders and governments in this day and age depend on hoarding and storing commodities and monies, with the strategy of making gains for oneself or for a limited part of society, however Imam Ali (A) never agreed to this conduct.
Qambar one said:  “Once and only once, he (Imam Ali (A) 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.

 

A Leader not driven by revenge but only fear of God

If someone has committed a great injustice towards you, you have either the choice to reciprocate with the same spite, OR, choose the better path. There are numerous examples of Imam Ali (A) choosing the latter; the choice which Allah SWT likes:
 
In the Battle of Siffin, Muawiyah reached the river Euphrates before the army of Imam Ali (A) and took position of the river.  When Imam Ali’s army reached there, he was informed that they would not be allowed a drop of water from the river.  Imam Ali (A) sent a messenger to Muawiyah, saying that this action was against the canons of humanity and orders of Islam.  Muawiyah’s reply was that, “A war is a war, hence one cannot accept principles of humanity and doctrines of Islam.  My sole aim is to kill Ali (A) and to demoralize his army and this stoppage of water will bring about these results quickly and easily”.  Imam Ali (A) ordered his son, Imam Husain (A), to resume the attack and get back the river.  The attack took place and the river was captured.  It was then Muawiyah’s turn to beseech permission to get water from the river.  His messengers arrived and Imam Ali (A) told them to take as much water as they liked and as often as they required.  When Imam’s officers told him that those were the very people who had refused water to them, should they be allowed a free run of the river?  He replied, “They are human beings and though have acted inhumanely, yet I cannot follow their example and cannot refuse a man food and drink just because he happens to be my sworn enemy!”
 
Needless to say that Imam Ali (A) taught his children to follow the same example as above (Imam Hussein (A) in Kerbala)


A leader not favoring family and kin over other subjects

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.  (Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 221)


A Leader living and feeling the difficulties of the poor

Abdullah ibn Zurarah says: "I went to see Imam Ali (A) on an Eid (festival) day. He asked me to join in his breakfast. I consented. A very simple kind of food was served before us. I told him, "O master! You are such a rich man and a caliph. I was expecting that a game would be served before us but what do I see?" The great Imam replied, "Ibn Zurarah, you have heard of mighty kings who have led life of luxury. Let me be a ruler leading the life of a poor and humble person -- a humble labourer."

Also Ibn Abi Rafe', the famous Tabe'i, says: He went to Imam Ali (A) on an Eid day and while he was sitting there, a bag was brought before the Imam, he thought it might contain jewels. The Imam opened the bag, it contained dried pieces of bread, which he softened with water. Ibn Abi Rafe' asked him as to the reason of sealing such a kind of food which even a beggar would not care to steal. The Imam (A) smiled and said: "I keep it sealed because my children try to substitute softer bread, containing oil or butter in it." Ibn Abi Rafe' said, "Has Allah prohibited you to eat a better kind of food?" He replied: "No, but I want to eat the kind of food which the poorest of this region can afford at least once a day. I shall improve it after I have improved their standard of life. I want to live, feel and suffer like them"


A Leader with a perfect temperament and humility

Many at times when we watch the news we are presented with various leaders who’s true views and inner thoughts are revealed by accident, e.g. by a microphone capturing their remarks uttered only meant for a private audience. When reading about Imam Ali (A)’s life and incidents, it is very remarkable that various witnesses who had the opportunity to be with the Imam (A) in private, are always portraying the Imam (A) with the best Akhlaq:

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’. 

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”.


A Leader not compromising justice between humans

The principle of keeping judiciary independent of and over and above the executive, administrative and military functions of the State was the main factor of the reforms introduced by him. He was very particular about this. So much so that historians narrate that once Imam Ali (A) appeared before Qazi Shurayh, his Chief Justice as a complainant and the Chief Justice wanted to give him a place of honour in the court and to treat him like a king or caliph. He reproached the judge for such a behaviour, saying that he was there as a plaintiff, and not as a king or caliph, and then he, cheerfully accepted the decision of the court against him. The effect of upholding the prestige of the Court of Justice, and his adherence to the principles of equality and equity were so impressive that the person, against whom he had filed the case, and had lost it, ran after him, kissed the hem of his garment, and said, "My master! Teach me Islam, I am a Christian and I want to be converted".

"Why?" enquired Imam Ali, "Did anybody force you to do that?"

"No, my master", he replied, "but your behaviour of treating even a non-Muslim subject as your equal, the prestige you have granted to justice and fair play, and your abstinence from use of power and authority made me feel that Islam is a great religion. You are a ruler and a caliph, you could have easily ordered me to be killed and my property looted, and nobody would have dared to ask reasons of your actions, but you took the case against me to the court, and cheerfully accepted the decision against you; I have never heard of such a ruler before you. Secondly, the thing that you claimed as yours is actually yours and not mine, but I know the persons who could provide proof of this are out of Kufa, therefore, I boldly said that it was mine, and not yours. That was a lie, and now I am ashamed to feel that I have lied against such an honourable person. You have heard me. Will you not allow me to enter the fold of Islam?"

The great Imam enquired, "Are you of your free-will entering our fold?"

"Yes", he replied, "Under your regime, I have nothing to lose by remaining in my religion and no worldly benefit to gain by embracing Islam and by confessing my guilt and sin."

The numerous examples from history truly shows that Imam Ali (A) was the perfect leader, and thus his title Amir al Mumeneen = Leader of the Believers. It remains to ask ourselves if we are the best Mumineen (believers) and if we can soon earn the opportunity of being led by Imam Ali (A)’s grandson?

Imam Khoemeni (RA) said in one of his speeches: “What can I say about Imam Ali (A)’s character?  Who can possibly say about him? The various dimensions that this phenomenal character possesses is beyond description and human comprehension. Someone who acquires the level of human perfection must possess about 1000 dimensions and speaking about even one of them is beyond our level of comprehension. This character who is totally free of counter qualities, can not be spoken about by anyone therefore it is better that i too keep silent.”

References:
A Biographical Profile of  Imam Ali  (Syed Muhammad Askari Jafari)
Nahjul Balagha
Al Zahra Video productions
Man and Universe (Martyr Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari)

Article contribution by : Mohamedhassan Merali and Arifali Hirji