Imam ‘Ali (a.s) is well known for his abiding contribution to spiritual thought. In the Arabic world he’s just as famous for being a great jurist and man of letters.
The historian Masudi (Murooj-uz-Zahab Masudi Vol. II, p. 33. Egypt), recognised Imam ‘Ali as being the source of no less than 480 treaties, lectures and epistles on a variety of subjects dealing with philosophy, religion, law and politics, as collected by Zaid Ibn Wahab in the Imam’s own life time. These contributions are held in such high regard, both for their contents as well as intrinsic literary worth, that some of his masterpieces stimulated into being many subjects of study in Muslim colleges and universities.
Imam ‘Ali’s reputation was such, that it seems to have even reached to Europe by the time of the Renaissance, as we find that Edward Powcock (1604-1691) a professor at the University of Oxford, in 1639 delivered a series of lectures on his “Rhetoric”, and was responsible for publishing the first translation of his “Sayings” into English.
Here we present Imam ‘Ali’s famous letter of advice while Caliph, to the Governor of Egypt, Malik al-Ashtar, which is based on the translation by Rasheed Turabi. The letter, according to Fehrist at-Tusi (p.33) was first copied during the time of Imam ‘Ali himself by Asbagh bin Nabata and then later on reproduced or referred to in their writings by various Muslim scholars, chief of them being Nasr ibn Mazahim (148 A.H.), Jahiz Basari (255 A.H.) Syed Razi (404 A.H.) Ibn Abil Hidaid and Allama Mustafa Bek Najib, the great living scholar of Egypt. The latter scholar, regarded this letter “as a basic guide in Islamic administration”
The Common Man
“Maintain justice in administration and impose it on your own self and seek the consent of the people, for, the discontent of the masses sterilizes the contentment of the privileged few and the discontent of the few loses itself in the contentment of the many. Remember the privileged few will not rally round you in moments of difficulty: they will try to side-track justice, they will ask for more than what they deserve and will show no gratitude for favors done to them.
They will feel restive in the face of trials and will offer no regret for their shortcomings. It is the common man who is the strength of the State and Religion. It is he who fights the enemy. So live in close contact with the masses and be mindful of their welfare.
Keep at a distance one who peers into the weaknesses of others. After all, the masses are not free from weaknesses. It is the duty of the ruler to shield them. Do not bring to light that which is hidden, but try to remove those weaknesses which have been brought to light. God is watchful of everything that is hidden from you, and He alone will deal with it. To the best of your ability cover the weaknesses of the public, and God will cover the weaknesses in you which you are anxious to keep away from their eye.
Unloose the tangle of mutual hatred between the public and the administration and remove all those causes which may give rise to strained relations between them. Protect yourself from every such act as may not be quite correct for you. Do not make haste in seeking confirmation of tale-telling, for the tale-teller is a deceitful person appearing in the garb of a friend.”
Imam ‘Ali’s Letter to Malik al-Ashtar, the Governor of Egypt