Hazrat Ali’s Principles of Good Governance


Naeem Kandwal
Islam is the only religion that introduced the idea of a true welfare state. The establishment of a true welfare state is not possible without a true ruler. A true ruler does not rule others, he rules himself. Hazrat Ali (a) during his reign appointed Uthman ibn Hunayf as the Governor of Basra. During his governorship Ibn Hunayf once attended a feast given by a rich man of Basra. It was a very sumptuous dinner. When Imam Ali (a) heard of this he wrote a letter to him. In this letter the characteristics and responsibilities of a true ruler are explained. This letter is a beacon for today’s Muslim rulers. Some contents of this letter are as follows. ” O Ibn Hunayf, I have come to know that a young man of Basrah invited you to a feast and you leapt towards it. Foods of different colours were being chosen for you and big bowls were being given to you. I never thought that you would accept the feast of a people who turn out the beggars and invite the rich. Look at the morsels you take, leave out that about which you are in doubt and take that about which you are sure that it has been secured lawfully. Remember that every follower has a leader whom he follows and from the effulgence of whose knowledge he takes light. Realize that your Imam has contented himself with two shabby pieces of cloth out of the (comforts of the) world and two loaves for his meal. Certainly, you cannot do so but at least support me in piety, exertion, chastity and uprightness, because, by Allah, I have not treasured any gold out of your world nor amassed plentiful wealth nor collected any clothes other than the two shabby sheets. If I wished I could have taken the way    leading towards (worldly pleasures like) pure honey, fine wheat and silk clothes but it cannot be that my passions lead me and greed take me to choosing good meals while in the Hijaz or in Yamamah there may be people who have no hope of getting bread or who do not have a full meal. Shall I lie with a satiated belly while around me there may be hungry bellies and thirsty livers? Or shall I be as the poet has said: It is enough for you to have a disease that you lie with your belly full while around you people may be badly yearning for dried leather. Shall I be content with being called `Amir al-mu ‘minin’ (The Commander of the Believers), although I do not share with the people the hardships of the world? Or shall I be an example for them in the distresses of life? I have not been created to keep myself busy in eating good foods like the tied animal whose only worry is his fodder or like a loose animal whose activity is to swallow. It fills its belly with its feed and forgets the purpose behind it. Shall I be left uncontrolled to pasture freely, or draw the rope of misguidance or roam aimlessly in the paths of bewilderment? I see as if one of you would say that if this is what the son of Abi Talib eats then weakness must have made him unfit to fight his foes and encounter the brave. Remember that the tree of the forest is the best for timber, while green twigs have soft bark, and the wild bushes are very strong for burning and slow in dying off. My relation with the Messenger of Allah is that of one branch with another, or of the forearm with the upper arm. By Allah, if the Arabs join together to fight me I will not run away from them and if I get the opportunity I will hasten to catch them by their necks. I shall surely strive to relieve the earth of this man of perverse mind and uncouth body, till the bits of earth are removed from the grain. Get away from me, O world. Your rein is on your own shoulders as I have released myself from your claws, removed myself of your snares and avoided walking into your slippery places. Where are those whom you have deceived by your jokes? Where are those communities whom you have enticed with your embellishments? They are all confined to graves and hidden in burial places. By Allah, if you had been a visible personality aud a body capable of feeling, I would have awarded you the penalties fixed by Allah because of the people whom you received through desires and the communities whom you threw into destruction and the rulers whom you consigned to ruin and drove to places of distress after which there is neither going nor returning. Indeed whoever stepped on your slippery place slipped, whoever rode your waves was drowned, and whoever evaded your snares received inward support. He who keeps himself safe from you does not worry even though his affairs may be straitened and the world to him is like a day which is near expiring. Get away from me, for, by Allah, I do not bow before you so that you may humiliate me, nor do I let loose the reins for you so that you may drive me away. I swear by Allah an oath wherein I, except for the will of Allah, shall so train my self that it will feel joyful if it gets one loaf for eating, and be content with only salt to season it. Blessed is he who discharges his obligations towards Allah and endures his hardships, allows himself no sleep in the night but when sleep overpowers him lies down on the  ground using his hand as a pillow, along with those who keep their eyes wakeful in fear of the Day of Judgement, whose bodies are ever awav from beds, whose lips are humming in remembrance of Allah and whose sins have been erased through their prolonged beseechings for forgiveness. Therefore, O, Ibn Hunayf, fear Allah and be content with your own loaves so that you may escape Hell.” Today, unfortunately, Muslim states have become subjugated to non-Muslim states. The biggest reason for this is the distance from Islamic teachings. In this letter written fourteen hundred years ago, Hazrat Ali (a) has shaken the conscience of all Muslim rulers. The establishment of a true welfare state is not possible without a true ruler. By adopting the principles of governance that Hazrat Ali (a) has stated in this letter, today’s Muslim rulers can create a true welfare state.