Islamic Archives

Islamic Archives: Imam Ali sent Letter to caliph Malik.

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Mack Khan

Among Ali’s letters collected in the Nahj al-Balagha is his instruction to his governor in Egypt, Malik al-Ashtar, a foundational document in Shia political theory. In that letter Ali wrote:

“Know, O Malik, that I am sending you to a land where governments, just and unjust, have existed before you. People will look upon your affairs in the same way that you were wont to look upon the affairs of the rulers before you…So let the dearest of your treasuries be the treasury of righteous action. Control your desire and restrain your soul from that which is not lawful to you…Infuse your heart with mercy, love and kindness for your subjects.

Be not in the face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds: either they are your brothers in religion or your equals in creation. Error catches them unaware, deficiencies overcome them, and evil deeds are committed by them intentionally and by mistake.

So grant them your pardon and your forgiveness to the same extent that you hope God will grant you His pardon and His
forgiveness. For you are above them, and he who appointed you is above you, and God is above him who appointed you…Never say “I am invested with authority, I give orders, and I am obeyed,” for surely that is corruption in the heart and enfeeblement in religion”.

There was much in Ali’s conception that supports an accountable government, if not a representative one in the full-blown modern sense

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