The Ruler and Society (5)

The Ruler and Society (5)

Commands and Prohibitions in Malik al-Ashtar's Best Interest

Set aside for those who have requests (hajat) from you a portion (of your time) in which you yourself are free to (attend) to them. Hold an open audience for them and therein be humble before God who created you. Keep the soldiers and aides who are your bodyguards and police away from them so that their spokesman may address you without stammering (in fear), for I heard the Messenger of God-may God bless him and his household and give them peace-say not (only) on one occasion, "No community shall be sanctified within which the rightfully due of the weak may not be taken from the strong without stammering (by the weak)". Furthermore suffer them to be coarse and faltering of speech and become not annoyed and angry with them. For that God will outspread the wings of His mercy over you and make binding for you the reward of having obeyed Him. Bestow what you bestow in a pleasant manner and refrain (from granting requests when you must) gracefully and while asking pardon.
Then there are certain of your affairs which you must take in hand personally. Among them is giving an ear to your administrators when your secretaries have been unable to find the correct solution, and among them is attending to the requests of men when presented to you because the breasts of your aides have been straitened by them.(1)
Each day perform the work of that day, for to each belongs what is proper to it. Set aside for yourself in what is between you and God the most excellent of these hours and the fullest of these portions, even though all of them belong to God if in them your intention is correct and because of them the subjects remain secure. In making your religion sincerely God's perform especially His obligations (fara'id),(2) which pertain only to Him. So give to God of your body in your night and your day, and complete in a perfect manner, neither defectively nor deficiently, what brings you near to God, no matter what may befall your body (as a result).(3)
When you stand to lead men in the canonical prayers, neither drive (them) away (by praying too lengthily) nor mar (the prayer by performing it too quickly or faultily), for among men there are some who are ill and others who are needy. I asked the Messenger of God-may God bless him and his household and give them peace-when he sent me to the Yemen, "How shall I lead them in prayer ?" He said, "Lead them in prayer as the weakest of them prays, and be merciful to the believers."
Furthermore, prolong not your seclusion (ihtijab) from your subjects, for rulers' seclusion from subjects is a kind of constraint and (results in) a lack of knowledge of affairs. Seclusion from them cuts rulers off from the knowledge of that from which they have been secluded. Then the great appears to them as small and the small as great. The beautiful appears as ugly and the ugly as beautiful. And the truth becomes stained with falsehood. The ruler is only a man. He does not know the affairs which men hide from him. There are no marks upon the truth by which the various kinds of veracity might be distinguished from falsehood.
Again, you are one of only two men: either you give generously in the way of the truth-then why seclude yourself from carrying out a valid obligation or performing a noble deed؟ Or else you are afflicted by niggardliness-then how quickly will men refrain from petitioning you when they despair of your generosity Moreover, most requests men present to you are those which impose no burden upon you, such as a complaint against a wrong or the seeking of equity in a transaction.
Then surely the ruler has favorites and intimates, among whom there is a certain arrogation, transgression and lack of equity in transactions. Remove the substance of these (qualities) by cutting off the means of obtaining these situations. Bestow no fiefs upon any of your entourage or relatives, nor let them covet from you the acquisition of a landed estate(4) which would bring loss to the people bordering upon it in (terms of) a water supply or a common undertaking, the burden of which would be imposed upon them.(5) Its benefit would be for those (who acquired the fiefs) and not for you, and its fault would be upon you in this world and the next.
Impose the right (al-haqq) upon whomsoever it is encumbent, whether he be related to you or not.(6) Be patient in this and look to your (ultimate) account (muhtasib),(7) however this may affect your relatives and favorites. Desire she ultimate end in that of it (imposing the right) which weighs heavily against you, for its outcome will be praiseworthy.
If any of your subjects should suspect you of an injustice, explain to them your justification. By your explanation turn their suspicions away from yourself. Thereby you train your soul (nafs), act kindly to your subjects and justify (yourself) in a manner to attain your need, i.e., setting them in the way of the truth.
Never reject a peace to which your enemy calls you and in which is God's pleasure, for in peace there is ease for your soldiers, relaxation from your cares and security for your land. But be cautious, very cautious, with your enemy after (having made) peace with him, for the enemy may have drawn near in order to take advantage of (your) negligence. Therefore be prudent and have doubts about trusting your enemy in this (matter).
If you bind an agreement between yourself and your enemy or cloth him in a protective covenant (dhimmah), guard your agreement in good faith and tend to your covenant with fidelity. Make of yourself a shield before what you have granted,(8) for men do not unite more firmly in any of the obligations (imposed upon them) by God than in attaching importance to fidelity in agreements,(9) despite the division among their sects and the diversity of their opinions. The idolators (al-mushrikun) had already adhered to that (honoring agreements) among themselves before the Muslims, by reason of the evil consequences of treachery that they had seen. So never betray your protective covenant, never break your agreement and never deceive your enemy, for none is audacious before God but a wretched fool. God has made His agreement and His protective covenant a security which He has spread among the servants by His mercy, and a sanctuary in whose impregnability they may rest and in whose proximity they may spread forth.(10) Within it there is no corruption, treachery or deceit.
Make not an agreement in which you allow deficiencies and rely not upon ambiguity of language(11) after confirmation and finalization (of the agreement). Let not the straitness of an affair in which an agreement before God is binding upon you invite you to seek its abrogation unjustly. For your patience in the straitness of an affair, hoping for its solution and the blessing of its outcome, is better than an act of treachery. You would fear the act's consequence and (you would fear) that a liability before God will encompass you, a liability from which you will not be exempted in this world or the next.
Beware of blood and spilling it unlawfully, for nothing is more deserving of vengeance (from God), greater in its consequence or more likely to (bring about) a cessation of blessing and the cutting off of (one's appointed) term than shedding blood unjustly. God -glory be to Him-on the Day of Resurrection will begin judgment among His servants over the blood they have spilt.(12) So never strengthen your rule by shedding unlawful blood, for that is among the factors which weaken and enfeeble it, nay, which overthrow and transfer it. You have no excuse before God and before me for intentional killing, for in that there is bodily retaliation.(13) If you are stricken by error, and your whip, your sword or your hand should exceed their bounds in punishment- for in striking with the fists and all that exceeds it there is killing -never let the arrogance of your authority prevent you from paying the relatives of the killed their rightfully due (al-haqq).(14)
Beware of being pleased with yourself,(15) of reliance upon that of yourself which pleases you and of the love of lavish praise, for these are among Satan's surest opportunities to efface what there might be of the good-doers' good-doing.
Beware of reproaching (man) your subjects in your good-doing (for their insufficient acknowledgment of their debt to you), of overstating the deeds you have done and of making promises to them followed by non-observance. For reproach voids good- doing,(16) overstatement takes away the light of the truth and non- observance results in the hatred of God and men. God-may He be exalted-has said, "Very hateful is it to God that you say what you do not".(17)
Beware of hurrying to (accomplish) affairs before their (proper) time, of neglecting them when they are possible, of stubborn persistence in them when they are impracticable and of weakness in them when they have become clear. So put everything in its place and perform every action at its time.
Beware of arrogating for yourself that in which men are equal; and of negligence in that which is of concern after it has become manifest to the eyes (of men), for these things will be held against you for (the benefit of) others (18) and (beware of negligence) of the fact that little remains until the coverings of affairs are lifted from you and justice is demanded from you for the wronged.(19)
Control the ardor of your pride, the violence of your strength, the force of your hand and the edge of your tongue. Be on thy guard against all these by restraining impulses and delaying force until your anger has subsided and you have mastered (your own) power of choice. But you will not gain control over that from your soul until you multiply your concern for remembering the return unto your Lord.
Incumbent upon you is to recall the just governments, the excellent customs, the Sunnah of our Prophet-may God bless him and his household and give them peace-and the obligations (promulgated) in the Book of God, which preceded you among those of earlier times. Take as the model for your action what you have observed us to perform of them, and strive to your utmost to follow what I have instructed you in these my instructions. I trust in them to act as my argument against you so that you shall have no cause for your soul's hastening to its caprice.(20)
I ask God by the amplitude of His mercy, and His tremendous power to grant every desire, to bestow upon me and you in that wherein is His pleasure success in presenting Him and His creatures with a clear justification (for our actions). (May He bestow) excellent praise from among His servants, fair influence in the land, completion of blessings and manifold increase in honor. And (I ask) that He seal (the lives of) me and you with felicity (al-sa'adah) and martyrdom (al-shahadah). "Unto Him we are returning".(21) Peace be upon the Messenger of God-may God bless him and his good and pure household and grant them abundant peace.



1. 'The breasts of aides are straitened' by expediting the removal of grievances. They love to postpone attending to them, either in order to seek personal gain or to demonstrate their own authority" (Muhammad 'Abduh, vol. 3, p- 114)

2. i.e. the obligatory acts such as the five daily prayers.

3. The references to the body are due especially to the particularly physical nature of the daily canonical prayers. Ibn Abi-l-Hadid explains the last clause as meaning, "Even if that wearies you and impairs your body and your strength" (vol 17, p. 90).

4. The words "acquisition of a landed estate" (i'tiqad ;uqdah) might be translated literally as the "binding of a contract". The commentators, such as Ibn Abi-l-Hadid (vol. I7, p. 97) Ibn Maytham and Muhammad 'Abduh (vol 3, p. II)explain it as translated (iqtina' day'ah or tamlik day'ah).

5. "His words . . . explain the methods of cutting off the causes referred to: the bestowal of a fief upon one of the entourage or a relative, and his desire to acquire a landed estate which will harm those people bordering upon it in terms of the water supply or a common undertaking-such as a building, etc.-while he imposes the burden of the undertaking on man, are the causes of the above- mentioned situations . . ." (Ibn Maytham).

6. Or "whether near (qarib) to you or far away (ba'id)." I.e., whoever he might be, bring the person who has committed a wrong to justice.

7. I.e., realize that you will be rewarded in the next world.

8. "That is, even if you yourself should perish, act without treachery" (Ibn Abi-l-Hadid, vol. I7, p. I07).

9. The importance of observing covenants and agreements is referred to frequently in the Quran. See for example, XVI, 9I: "Fulfill God's covenant, when you make covenant, and break not the oaths after they have been confirmed . . .". See also VI, I53; XIIL 20; XVII, 34 et al.

10. According to Ibn Abi-l-Hadid (vol. I7) p. I09)) "in whose proximity they may spread forth" means "while dwelling in its proximity they may disperse in search of their needs and desires". 'Abduh explains the verb translated here as "spread forth" (yastafid'un) to mean "swiftly take refuge" (vol. 3, p. II8), but the first interpretation seems more likely.

11. Lahn qawl, "color of words". Ibn Maytham explains this expression as meaning "ambiguity, dissimulation or allusion." Ibn Abi-l-Hadid's explanation is similar: "He forbids him when making an agreement between himself and his enemy to break it by relying upon a hidden interpretation or the tenor of the words, or by saying, 'Surely I meant such and such, I did not have the apparent sense of the words in mind' " (vol. I7, p. I09).

12. Ibn Abi-l-Hadid cites the following hadith of the Prophet: "On the Day of Resurrection the first thing which God will judge upon among the servants is blood which has been spilled" (vol. I7, p. III).

13. "Then he advises him that intentional killing involves retaliation, and he says 'bodily retaliation'. In other words, intentional killing makes the destruction of the physical body necessary, just as you have destroyed the body of the person killed. The Imam's intention is to frighten him with these words, and they are more effective than if he had merely said, 'surely in that there is retaliation' " (Ibn Abi-l-Hadid, vol. I73 p.3).

14. Like retaliation in cases of intentional murder, compensation in cases of unintentional killing are determined by the Shari'ah. Cf. Quran 4:92-3: "It belongs not to a believer to slay a believer, except it be by error. If any slays a believer by error, then let him free a believing slave, and blood wit is to be paid to his family unless they forego it as a freewill offering. If he belong to a people at enmity with you and is a believer, let the slayer set free a believing slave. If he belong to a people joined with you by a compact, then blood wit is to be paid to his family and the slayer shall set free a believing slave . . . And whoso slays a believer willfully, his recompense is Gehenna . . .".

15. Ibn Abi-l-Hadid cites several sayings of the Prophet, including the following: "There are three mortal perils: yielding to niggardliness, following caprice and being pleased with oneself" (vol. I7, p. 114).

16. Cf. Quran II, 264: 4'0 believers, void not your freewill offerings with reproach and injury."

17. (61:3)

18. Ibn Abi-l-Hadid comments: For example, if it is pointed out to the commander that one of his favorites is performing a reprehensible act in secret, and if he then ignores that act, this will be to the benefit of the person doing the act, but not to his own benefit (vol. I75 p. 116).

19. Cf. Quran L, I9-22: "And death's agony comes in truth; that is what thou wast shunning! . . . 'Thou wast heedless of this; therefore We have now removed from thee thy covering, and so thy sight today is piercing'." Ibn Maytham remarks that when the veils of affairs are lifted from man at death, he sees the reality of these affairs and what God has prepared for him of good and evil: "The day every soul shall find what it has done of good brought forward, and what it has done of evil . . ." (Quran III, 30).

20. Cf. Quran LXXIX, 40-I: "But as for him who feared the Station of his Lord and forbade the soul its caprice, surely Paradise shall be the refuge.

21. (2:156)