Imam Ali’s Letter to Malik al-Ashtar: The Richest Treasure

Maalik al-Ashtar was a famous companion of Imam Ali (a). He was the head of the Bani Nakha'i clan. He was a faithful disciple of Imam Ali (a). He was a brave warrior and had acted as a Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Imam Ali (a). His valour had earned him the title of "Fearless Tiger". Imam Ali (a) had specially taught him the principles of administration and jurisprudence. He venerated and loved Imam Ali (a) sincerely and earned Mu'awiya's enmity on that account. Mu'awiya had conspired against him and got him killed by his gang of hirelings. His untimely death deeply grieved Imam Ali (a) who, expressing his grief said: "He was to me what I was to the Holy Prophet (s)". The following instructions in the form of a letter were written to him by Imam Ali (a) who appointed him as the Governor of Egypt in place of Muhammad bin Abi Bakr:

This letter is a précis of the principles of administration and justice as dictated by Islam. It deals with the duties and obligations of rulers, their chief responsibilities, the question of priorities of rights and obligations, dispensation of justice, control over secretaries and subordinate staff; distribution of work and duties amongst the various branches of administration, their co-ordination with each other and their co-operation with the centre. In it Imam Ali (a) advises Maalik to combat corruption and oppression amongst the officers, to control markets and imports and exports, to curb evils of profiteering, hoarding, black-marketing. In it he has also explained stages of various classes in a society, the duties of the government towards the lowest class, how they are to be looked after and how their conditions are to be improved, the principle of equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities, orphans and their up-bringing, maintenance of the handicapped, crippled and disabled persons and substitutes in lieu of homes for the aged and the disabled.

Then he (a) discusses the army, of whom it should consist of and how the ignorant, ruthless and corrupt mercenaries should not be allowed to join the army as their profession. He lays great stress upon the honour and the nobility of volunteers who in time of need, offer their voluntary services to defend the Islamic State. Finally, he comments upon the rights of rulers over the ruled and of the ruled over the rulers.

There is a main central idea running all through these instructions, like one single thread out of which the cloth is woven, it is that of Allah . The regime is of Allah, the governors and the governed are both creatures of Allah, and their respective duties are laid down by Allah.

He expects each one of them to fulfil his obligations and to do his duties. The orphans and the depressed are the trust of Allah, the army is the army of Allah, whose soldiers should not behave like haughty and arrogant mercenaries but like honourable and noble knights, everyone is expected to do his duty to the best of his ability. He will be rewarded in Paradise according.

In short this letter is on one hand the Gospel of the principles of administration as taught by the Holy Qur'an, a code to establish a kind and benevolent rule, throwing light on various aspects of justice, benevolence and mercy, an order based on the ethics of Divine rulership where justice and mercy are shown to human beings irrespective of class, creed and colour, where poverty is neither a stigma nor a disqualification and where justice is not tainted with nepotism, favouritism, provincialism or religious fanaticism; and, on the other hand, it is a thesis on the higher values of morality.

The famous Arab Christian, jurist, poet and philosopher Abdul Masih Antaaki who died sometime in the beginning of the 20th Century while discussing this letter writes that it is a far superior and better code than the one handed down by Moses and Hamurabi, it explains what a human administration should be like, how it is to be carried out and it justifies the claims of Muslims that Islam wants to introduce a Divine administration of the people for the people and by the people and it wants a ruler to rule not to please himself but to bring happiness to the ruled and no religion before Islam tried to achieve this end, Ali (a) should be congratulated for having introduced these principles during his rule and for have written them down for the posterity. 

Click here to read Letter 53 in full details