By Farhan Bokhari
July 31, 2013
“The poverty of the people is the actual cause of the devastation and ruination of a country, and the main cause of the poverty of the people is the desire of its ruler and officers to amass wealth and possessions whether by fair or foul means. They are afraid of losing their posts or positions and sway or rule, and want to make the most during the shortest time at their disposal. They never learn any lesson from the history of nations and never pay any attention to the commands of Allah”.
The above is an excerpt from the letter of Hazrat Ali Ibne Abi Talib to Maalik bin Ashtar, upon the latter’s appointment as the governor of Egypt during Hazrat Ali’s rule as the fourth Caliph of Islam. This document has been widely acknowledged as a shining example of the ideals of governance.
Hazrat Ali Ibne Abi Talib’s martyrdom on the 21st of Ramazan (which falls today) approximately 14 centuries ago, after he was attacked and brutally injured during Fajr prayers two days earlier in the main mosque of ‘Kufa’ in southern Iraq, offers an unending opportunity to reflect upon the ideals of governance laid down by the Imam.
From the time of his birth inside the Kaaba, the Hazrat Ali lived in close company of the Prophet (pbuh) and became centrally associated with the defining moments of the birth and evolution of Islam.
The oft-repeated example of Hazrat Ali Ibne Abi Talib’s cherished principles of governance can be found in the letter written by the Imam to Maalik bin Ashtar.
Since it found a place in Nahjul Balagha – a comprehensive book compromising some of Hazrat Ali’s eloquent sermons, letters and commandments – the letter has repeatedly provided inspiration to generations of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
One key aspect of this intellectually powerful document has been the reference to the close link between poverty and the fragmentation of state and society. Hazrat Ali’s message stands in sync with repeatedly proven trends that have caused destabilisation across many countries.
“Remember, Maalik! If a country is prosperous and if its people are well to do then it will happily and willingly bear any burden”, wrote Hazrat Ali in a telling reminder of circumstances that surround the lowest-income echelons of society and the overall stability of a country.
In keeping with historical tradition, this year’s anniversary of Hazrat Ali’s martyrdom has once again emerged as an opportunity for Muslims to draw valuable inspiration. For instance, across Egypt – a country that has only recently witnessed much turmoil – Hazrat Ali’s message is very relevant.
The upheaval witnessed this year may have been avoidable had Egypt’s democratic rulers moved swiftly and decisively towards reforms. As many mourn the quick demise of a rare and short-lived period of democracy in the country, there were contradictions within the ruling structure that paved the way for this chaos.
In Pakistan too, despite the election of a new government in May this year, meeting the challenge that lies ahead depends on successfully tackling deprivation. In a country where well over one-third of the population – and by some accounts even half the population – lives below the poverty line, the nation’s destiny will be decided not by the continuation of democratic representation but by the way in which democracy will shape the lives of its people.
Hazrat Ali’s words of wisdom in the letter to Maalik bin Ashtar went on to dwell upon the criteria for successful leadership:
“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 you should keep in mind and act upon”.
It is not surprising that in Pakistan – as in many other countries that face poverty and deprivation – those in leadership positions are the target of popular scorn. The failure of a succession of leaders, including those elected this year, to come up to popular expectations is not so much about the oft-cited conspiracies to destabilise regimes. Instead, it is their failure to act decisively in favour of the most neglected segments of society that has fuelled instability all around.
Pakistan appears set to continue on its path to instability – driven mainly by the failure of its ruling class to undertake decisive reforms. This is the tragic outcome of the failure to learn from the vital lessons outlined by Hazrat Ali in one of the best documents on the principles of governance and statecraft.
Farhan Bokhari is an Islamabad-based commentator.