Friday September 29, 2023

Justice and governance

November 23, 2020

During our school summer holidays we used to fondly read 'Alif Leyla' (A Thousand and One Nights) by Abu Abdullah ibn Abdul Al-Jah Sherari; 'Tilism Hoshruba' by Muhamad Hussain Jah; 'Fasana-e-Azad' by Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar and 'Sahranavard Ke Khutoot' by Mirza Adeeb.

All these books were very interesting but most of all I liked to read Shaikh Sadi’s 'Gulistan' and 'Bostan' over and over again. These books were not only entertaining to read, but also contained extremely useful information, examples and religious short stories of character building. The following is a free rendering of part of the translation of 'Bostan' by Richard Francis Burton and published by Iran Chamber Society.

"I travelled to many regions of the world and passed the days in the company of many different men. I reaped advantage from every corner and gleaned an ear of corn from every harvest, but I saw none like the pious and devout men of Shiraz – my attachment with whom drew my heart away from Syria and Turkey. I did not want to go to my friends empty-handed but reflected that, though I had not candy to give them, I could give them words – words not to be eaten but to take away with respect.

"The goodness of God surpasses even imagination, so how can the tongue be sufficient in praise? Keep, O God in thy Mercy, this King, Abu Bakr, long upon the throne and make his heart obedient to You because he is the protection of his people. Prolong his youth and adorn his face with mercy. O King, do not wear your royal garments when you come for prayer. Make your supplications like a dervish saying: 'O God! Powerful and strong! I am not a monarch in your court but a simple beggar. Without your sustenance, what can I achieve? Give me virtue so I can benefit my people.' O King! Rule by day and pray fervently by night. The best of your servants serve you; so also you should serve with your head on God’s threshold.

"At the point nearing death, Noushiravan counselled his son, Hormuz: 'Cherish the poor and seek not your own comfort. The shepherd should not sleep while the wolf is among the sheep. Protect the needy, for a king wears his crown for the sake of his subjects. The people are as the root and the king is as the tree; the tree, O son, gains strength from the root! The king should not oppress his people or instil fear in them. Fear those of them who are proud and those who do not fear God.

'A king who deals harshly with merchants who come from afar, closes the door of well-being on all his subjects. The wise will not return to the country about which they hear rumours of ill will. If you desire to have a good name, hold merchants and travellers in high esteem for they carry your reputation throughout the world.

'At the same time, be cautious. They may try to harm you in the guise of being friends. Cultivate old friends, for treachery does not come from those that are cherished. When a servant becomes old, do not forget your obligations towards him. Even if old age binds his hands from offering service, your hands are free to give in generosity.

A certain king habitually wore a coat of coarse material. Someone said to him: 'O king! Make for yourself a coat of Chinese brocade.” “The one I am wearing”, replied the king, “gives me both cover and comfort; anything beyond that is luxury. My people do not pay tribute to me so that I can adorn my person and my throne. If, like a woman, I ornament my body, how, like a man can I then repulse the enemy? The royal treasuries are not for me alone – they are filled for the sake of the army, not for the purchase of ornaments and jewelry.'

Darius, king of Persia, once became separated from his retinue while hunting. A herdsman came running towards him and the king, assuming him to be an enemy, got ready his bow and arrow. Thereupon the herdsman cried: 'I am no enemy. I am the one who tends the king’s horses. That is why I am in this meadow.' The king, regaining his composure, smilingly said: 'Heaven has befriended you otherwise I would have drawn my bow.'

'It shows neither wise administration nor good judgement when the king does not know an enemy from a friend', replied the herdsman. 'Those who are greatest should know those who are least. You have seen me in your presence many times and asked me about the horses grazing in the fields. Now you take me to be an enemy. More skilled am I, O King, because I can distinguish one horse out of a herd of a hundred thousand. Pay attention to your people in the same way as I do to the horses. Sorrow comes to that kingdom where the wisdom of the shepherd exceeds that of the king.'

Abdul Aziz had a pearl of great beauty and value set in a ring. When there was a severe drought, he had the pearl sold and the money distributed to the poor. When someone chided him saying: 'Never again will such a stone come into your hands', the king replied: 'ugly is an ornament upon the person of a king when his people are distressed by want. Better for me is a stoneless ring than a sorrowing people.' Happy is he who sets the ease of others above his own. The virtuous desire not their own pleasure at the expense of others.