“There are people for whom constant grant of His (Allah’s) bounties turn them wicked and fit for His punishment, and there are many more who have become vain and self-deceptive because the Merciful Allah has not exposed their weaknesses and vices to the world and the people speak highly of them. All this is an opportunity. No trial of the Lord is more severe than the time He allows (in which either you may repent or get deeper into vices)”.
(Excerpt from a sermon of Hazrat Ali ibne Abi Talib, son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad and fourth Caliph of Islam, as reproduced in Nahjul Balagha.)
Almost fourteen centuries after Hazrat Ali spoke his words of wisdom, the Imam’s eloquent pronouncements remain a source of inspiration for Muslims across the world.This week’s commemoration of Hazrat Ali’s martyrdom is yet another powerful reminder of his influence on Muslims of his time and beyond.
Well documented in Nahjul Balagha – a book of sermons, letters and pronouncements of Hazrat Ali – his words have touched every facet of life, from matters of state, government and governance to personal affairs.
Indeed, history bears testimony to the numerous gatherings in the cities of Medina and Kufa, presided over by Hazrat Ali, where he successfully dealt with one intellectually challenging matter after another. Alongside Hazrat Ali’s unparalleled intellect remains a history of numerous brave encounters, earning him the title Asadullah, or the Lion of God.
Born in Mecca, inside the holy Kaaba, and martyred in the main mosque of Kufa, Iraq, Hazrat Ali rose to unparalleled fame. As a close companion from childhood of Prophet Muhammad, Hazrat Ali’s exposure to Islam dates back to the formative years of the new religion born in the Arabian Desert at a time when the inhabitants of the region had slipped into the worst form of human indignity.
In the midst of a dark era marked by inter-tribal squabbling, a widening gap between the rich and the poor and the usurpers and usurped, the birth of Islam transformed Arab society in ways never seen before. In this era of change, Hazrat Ali’s message critically helped to cement the teachings of Islam. So powerful and eloquent were Hazrat Ali’s words that they continue to carry their original gloss to this day.
This week, the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali on 21st Ramadan at the hands of Abdul Rehman ibne Muljim has been widely remembered and mourned in parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan. But the intense security across Pakistan surrounding processions of mourners on this day said much about the sorry state of affairs in a country where the occasion could have instead been a moment of promotion of unity among Muslims.
The occasion has also been a powerful reminder of the ways in which Pakistan, an Islamic republic, appears to have slipped from its ideals. Judging by the trends surrounding Pakistan in recent years, the deteriorating quality of government and governance has been a far cry from the standards prescribed by Hazrat Ali.
Upon Maalik bin Ashtar’s appointment as governor of Egypt, Hazrat Ali laid down the essential rules of governance in a widely quoted letter to him.
“Try carefully to realise that a ruler can create goodwill in the minds of his subjects and can make them faithful and sincere to him only when he is kind and considerate to them, when he reduces their troubles, when he does not oppress them and when he never asks for things which are beyond their power. These are the principles which you should keep in mind and act upon. Let your attitude be such that they do not lose faith in you because good faith on their part will reduce many troubles of administration and will relieve you of many worries and anxieties.”
In brief, the instructions from Hazrat Ali to Maalik bin Ashtar were a reminder of the powerful significance of the moral authority of a ruler. For Islamic rulers across the world, including Pakistan, there are rich lessons to be drawn from just this communication.
Indeed, as Pakistan’s ruling class continues battling the Supreme Court to protect the president against a resumption of corruption-related investigations in Switzerland, the moral authority of the rulers takes an unprecedented beating.
While the ruling coalition continues to hold the levers of power and authority, the government has already met its fate in the court of the people where its credibility lies in tatters. Across Pakistan, an almost universal disapproval of the ruling structure says much about the gap between the mood across the corridors of power and the reality on the ground.
Elsewhere across the Islamic world, rulers who are detached from mainstream populations will likely find themselves condemned to popular lament and disrespect. It is just one of the many examples where a deviation from Hazrat Ali’s words of wisdom will continue to undermine ruling structures for times to come.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.