Written for (Malik) al-Ashtar an-Nakhari
Written for (Malik) al-Ashtar an-Nakhari,
when the position of Muhammad ibn
Abi Bakr had become precarious, and
Amir al-mu'mitftn had appointed
al-Ashtar as the Governor of Egypt and
the surrounding areas; it is the longest
document and contains the greatest
number of beautiful sayings.
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
This is what Allah's servant 'Ali, Amir almu'minin, has ordered
Malik ibn al-Harith alAshtar in his instrument (of appointment) for him when he
made him Governor of Egypt for the collection of its revenues, fighting against
its enemies, seeking the good of its people and making its cities prosperous.
He has ordered him to fear Allah, to prefer obedience to Him,
and to follow what He has commanded in His Book (the Qur'an) out of His
obligatory and elective commands, without following which one cannot achieve
virtue, nor (can one) be evil save by opposing them and ignoring them, and to
help Allah the Glorified, with his heart, hand and tongue, because Allah whose
name is Sublime takes the responsibility for helping him who helps Him, and for
protecting him who gives Him support.
He also orders him to break his heart off from passions, and to
restrain it at the time of their increase, because the heart leads towards evil
unless Allah has mercy.
The qualifications of a governor
and his responsibilities
Then, know O' Malik that I have sent you to an area where there
have been governments before you, both just as well as oppressive. People will
now watch your dealings as you used to watch the dealings of the rulers before
you, and they (people) will criticise you as you criticised them (rulers).
Surely, the virtuous are known by the reputation that Allah circulates for them
through the tongues of His creatures. Therefore, the best collection with you
should be the collection of good deeds. So, control your passions and check your
heart from doing what is not lawful for you, because checking the heart means
detaining it just half way between what it likes and dislikes.
Habituate your heart to mercy for the subjects and to affection
and kindness for them. Do not stand over them like greedy beasts who feel it is
enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your brother in
religion or one like you in creation. They will commit slips and encounter
mistakes. They may act wrongly, wilfully or by neglect. So, extend to them your
forgiveness and pardon, in the same way as you would like Allah to extend His
forgiveness and pardon to you, because you are over them and your responsible
Commander (Imam) is over you while Allah is over him who has appointed you. He
(Allah) has sought you to manage their affairs and has tried you through them.
Do not set yourself to fight Allah because you have no power
before His power and you cannot do without His pardon and mercy. Do not repent
of forgiving or be merciful in punishing. Do not act hastily during anger if you
can find way out of it. Do not say: "I have been given authority, I should
be obeyed when I order," because it engenders confusion in the heart,
weakens the religion and takes one near ruin. If the authority in which you are
placed produces pride or vanity in you then look at the greatness of the realm
of Allah over you and His might the like of which might you do not even possess
over yourself. This will curb your haughtiness, cure youself of your high temper
and bring back to youself your wisdom which had gone away from you.
Beware of comparing yourself to Allah in His greatness or
likening yourself to Him in His power, for Allah humiliates every claimant of
power and disgraces every one who is haughty.
Do justice for Allah and do justice towards the people, as
against yourself, your near ones and those of your subjects for whom you have a
liking, because if you do not do so you will be oppressive, and when a person
oppresses the creatures of Allah then, instead of His creatures, Allah becomes
his opponent, and when Allah is the opponent of a person He tramples his plea;
and we will remain in the position of being at war with Allah until he gives it
up and repents. Nothing is more inducive of the reversal of Allah's bounty or
for the hastening of His retribution than continuance in oppression, because
Allah hears the prayer of the oppressed and is on the lookout
for the oppressors.
Ruling should be in favour of
the people as a whole
The way most coveted by you should be that which is the most
equitable for the right, the most universal by way of justice, and the most
comprehensive with regard to the agreement among those under you, because the
disagreement among the common people sweeps away the arguments of the chiefs and
can be disregarded when compared with the agreement of the common people. No one
among those under you is more burdensome to the ruler in the comfort of life,
less helpful in distress, more disliking of equitable treatment, more tricky in
asking favours, less thankful at the time of giving, less appreciative of
reasons at the time of refusal and weaker in endurance at the time of the
discomforts of life than the chiefs. It is the common people of the community
who are the pillars of the religion, the power of the Muslims and the defence
against the enemies. Your leanings should therefore be towards them and your
inclination with them.
The one among the people under you who is furthest from you and
the worst of them in your view should be he who is the most inquisitive of the
shortcomings of the people, because people do have shortcomings and the ruler is
the most appropriate person to cover them. Do not disclose whatever of it is
hidden from you because your obligation is to correct what is manifest to you,
while Allah will deal with whatever is hidden from you. Therefore, cover
shortcomings so far as you can; Allah would cover those of your shortcomings
which you would like to remain under cover from your subjects. Unfasten every
knot of hatred in the people and cut away from yourself the cause of every
enmity. Feign ignorance of what is not clear to you. Do not hasten to second a
backbiter, because a backbiter is a cheat although he looks like those who wish
Do not include among those you consult a miser who would keep
you back from being generous and caution you against destitution, nor a coward
who would make you feel too weak for your affairs, nor a greedy person who would
make beautiful to you the collection of wealth by evil ways. This is because
although miserliness, cowardice and greed are different qualities, yet they are
common in having an incorrect idea about Allah.
The worst minister for you is he who has been a minister for
mischievous persons before you, and who joined them in sins. Therefore, he
should not be your chief man, because they are abettors of sinners and brothers
of the oppressors. You can find good substitutes for them who will be like them
in their views and influence, while not being like them in sins and vices. They
have never assisted an oppressor in his oppression or a sinner in his sin. They
you the least trouble and the best support. They will be most
considerate towards you and the least inclined towards others. Therefore, make
them your chief companions in privacy as well as in public.
Then, more preferable among them for you should be those who
openly speak better truths before you and who support you least in those of your
actions which Allah does not approve in His friends, even though they may be
according to your wishes. Associate yourself with God-fearing and truthful
people; then educate them, so that they should not praise you or please you by
reason of an action you did not perform, because and excess of praise produces
pride an drives you near haughtiness.
The virtuous and the vicious should not be in equal positions
before you because this means dissuasion of the virtuous from virtue and
persuasion of the vicious to vice. Keep everyone in the position which is his.
You should know that the most conducive thing for the good impression of the
ruler on his subjects is that he should extend good behaviour towards them,
lighten their hardships, and avoid putting them to unbearable troubles. You
should therefore, in this way follow a course by which you will leave a good
impression with your subjects, because such good ideas will relieve you of great
worries. Certainly, the most appropriate for a good impression of you is he to
whom your behaviour has not been good.
Do not discontinue the good lives in which the earlier people of
this community had been acting, by virtue of which there was general unity and
through which the subjects prospered. Do not innovate any line of action which
injures these earlier ways because (in that case) the reward for those who had
established those ways will continue but the burden for discontinuing them will
be on you. Keep on increasing your conversations with the scholars and
discussions with the wise to stabilise the prosperity of the areas under you,
and to continue with that in which the earlier people had remained steadfast.
The different classes of people
Know that the people consist of classes who prosper only with
the help of one another, and they are not independent of one another. Among them
are the army of Allah, then the secretarial workers of the common people and the
chiefs, then the dispensers of justice, then those engaged in law and order,
then the payers of head tax (jizyah) and land tax (kharaj) from the protected
unbelievers and the common Muslims, then there are the traders and the men of
industry and then the lowest class of the needy and the destitute. Allah has
fixed the share of every one of them and laid down His precepts about the limits
of each in His Book (the Qur'an) and the sunnah of His Prophet by way of a
settlement which is preserved with us.
Now the army is, by the will of Allah, the fortress of the
subjects, the ornament of the ruler, the strength of the religion and the means
of peace. The subjects cannot exist without them while the army
can be maintained only by the funds fixed by Allah in the
revenues, through which they acquire the strength to fight the enemies, on which
they depend for their prosperity, and with which they meet their needs. These
two classes cannot exist without the third class namely the judges, the
executives and the secretaries who pass judgements about contracts, collect
revenues and are depended upon in special and general matters.
And these classes cannot exist except with the traders and men
of industry, who provide necessities for them, establish markets and make it
possible for others not to do all this with their own hands. Then is the lowest
class of the needy and the destitute support of and help for whom is an
obligation, and everyone of them has (a share in) livelihood in the name of
Allah. Everyone of them has a right on the ruler according to what is needed for
his prosperity. The ruler cannot acquit himself of the obligations laid on him
by Allah in this matter except by striving and seeking help from Allah and by
training himself to adhere to the right and by enduring on that account all that
is light or hard.
1. The Army
Put in command of your forces the man who in your view is the
best well-wisher of Allah, His Prophet and your Imam. The chastest of them in
heart and the highest of them in endurance is he who is slow in getting enraged,
accepts excuses, is kind to the weak and is strict with the strong; violence
should not raise his temper and weakness should not keep him sitting.
Also associate with considerate people from high families,
virtuous houses and decent traditions, then people of courage, velour,
generosity and benevolence, because they are repositories of honour and springs
of virtues. Strive for their matters as the parents strive for their child. Do
not regard anything that you do to strengthen them as big nor consider anything
that you have agreed to do for them as little (so as to give it up), even though
it may be small, because this will make them your well-wishers and create a good
impression of you. Do not neglect to attend to their small matters, confining
yourself to their important matters, because your small favours will also be of
benefit to them while the important ones are such that they cannot ignore them.
That commander of the army should have such a position before
you that he renders help to them equitably and spends from his money on them and
on those of their families who remain behind so that all their worries converge
on the one worry for fighting the enemy. Your kindness to them will turn their
hearts to you. The most pleasant thing for the rulers is the establishment of
justice in their areas and the manifestation of the love of their subjects, but
the subjects' love manifests itself only when their hearts are clean. Their good
wishes prove correct only when they surround their commanders (to protect them).
Do not regard their positions to be a burden over
them and do not keep watching for the end of their tenure.
Therefore, be broad-minded in regard to their desires, continue praising them
and recounting the good deeds of those who have shown such deeds, because the
mention of good actions shakes the brave and rouses the weak, if Allah so wills.
Appreciate the performance of every one of them, do not
attribute the performance of one to the other, and do not minimise the reward
below the level of the performance. The high position of a man should not lead
you to regard his small deeds as big, nor should the low position of a man make
you regard his big deeds as small.
Refer to Allah and His Prophet the affairs which worry you and
matters which appear confusing to you, because, addressing the people whom Allah
the Sublime, wishes to guide, He said:
O' you who believe! Obey Alldh and obey the Prophet and those
vested with authority from among you; and then if
you quarrel about anything refer at to
Allah and the Prophet if you believe in
Alldh and in the Last Day (of Judgement)
... (Qur'an, 4:59)
Referring to Allah means to act according to what is clear in
His Book and referring to the Prophet means to follow his unanimously agreed
sunnah in regard to which there are no differences.
2. The Chief Judge
For the settlement of disputes among people select him who is
the most distinguished of your subjects in your view. The cases (coming before
him) should not vex him, disputation should not enrage him, he should not insist
on any wrong point, and should not grudge accepting the truth when he perceives
it; he should not lean towards greed and should not content himself with a
cursory understanding (of a matter) without going thoroughly into it. He should
be most ready to stop (to ponder) on doubtful points, most regardful of
arguments, least disgusted at the quarrel of litigants, most patient at probing
into matters and most fearless at the time of passing judgement. Praise should
not make him vain and elation should not make him lean (to any side). Such
people are very few.
Then, very often check his decisions and allow him so much.
money (as remuneration) that he has no excuse worth hearing (for not being
honest) and there remains no occasion for him to go to others for his needs.
Give him that rank in your audience for which no one else among your chiefs
aspires, so that he remains safe from the harm of those around you. You should
have a piercing eye in this matter because this religion has formerly been a
prisoner in the hands of vicious persons when action was taken according to
passion, and worldly wealth was sought.
3. Executive Officers
Thereafter, look into the affairs of your executives. Give them
appointment after tests and do not appoint them according to partiality or
favouritism, because these two things constitute sources of injustice and
unfairness. Select among them those who are people of experience and modesty,
hailing from virtuous houses, having been previously in Islam, because such
persons possess high manners and untarnished honour. They are the least inclined
towards greed and always have their eyes on the ends of matters.
Give them an abundant livelihood (by way of salary) because this
gives them the strength to maintain themselves in order and not to have an eye
upon the funds in their custody, and it would be an argument against them if
they disobeyed your orders or misappropriated your trust. You should also check
their activities and have people who report on them who should be truthful and
faithful, because your watching their actions secretly will urge them to
preserve trust with and to be kind to the people. Be careful of assistants. If
any one of them extends his hands towards misappropriation and the reports of
your reporters reaching you confirm it, that should be regarded enough evidence.
You should then inflict corporal punishment on him and recover what he has
misappropriated. You should put him in a place of disgrace, blacklist him with
(the charge of) misappropriation and make him wear the necklace of shame for his
4. The Administration of Revenues
Look after the revenue (kharaj or land tax) affairs in such a
way that those engaged in it remain prosperous because in their prosperity lies
the prosperity of all others. The others cannot prosper without them, because
all people are dependent on revenue and its payers. You should also keep an eye
on the cultivation of the land more than on the collection of revenue because
revenue cannot be had without cultivation and whoever asks for revenue without
cultivation, ruins the area and brings death to the people. His rule will not
last only a moment.
If they complain of the heaviness (of the revenue) or of
diseases, or dearth of water, or excess of water or of a change in the condition
of the land either due to flood or to drought, you should remit the revenue to
the extent that you hope will improve their position. The remission granted by
you for the removal of distress from them should not be grudged by you, because
it is an investment which they will return to you in the shape of the prosperity
of your country and the progress of your domain in addition to earning their
praise and happiness for meeting out justice to them. You can depend upon their
strength because of the investment made by you in them through catering to their
convenience, and can have confidence in them because of the justice extended to
them by being kind to them. After that, circumstances may so
turn that you may have ask for their assistance, when they will
bear it happily, for prosperity is capable of bearing whatever you load on it.
The ruin of the land is caused by the poverty of the cultivators, while the
cultivators become poor when the officers concentrate on the collection (of
money), having little hope for continuance (in their posts) and deriving no
benefit from objects of warning.
5. The Clerical Establishment
Then you should take care of your secretarial workers. Put the
best of them in charge of your affairs. Entrust those of your letters which
contain your policies and secrets to him who possesses the best character, who
is not elated by honours, lest he dares speak against you in common audiences.
He should also not be negligent in presenting the communications of your
officers before you and issuing correct replies to them on your behalf and in
matters of your receipts and payments. He should not make any damaging agreement
on your behalf and should not fail in repudiating an agreement against you. He
should not be ignorant of the extent of his own position in matters because he
who is ignorant of his own position is (even) more ignorant of the position of
Your selection of these people should not be on the basis of
your understanding (of them), confidence and your good impression, because
people catch the ideas of the officers through affectation and personal service
and there is nothing in it which is like well-wishing or trustfulness. You
should rather test them by what they did under the virtuous people before you.
Take a decision in favour of one who has a good name among the common people and
is the most renowned in trustworthiness, because this will be a proof of your
regard for Allah and for him on whose behalf you have been appointed to this
position (namely your Imam). Establish one chief for every department of work.
He should not be incapable of big matters, and a rush of work should not perplex
him. Whenever there is a defect in your secretaries which you overlook, then you
will be held responsible for it.
6. Traders and Industrialists
Now take some advice about traders and industrialists. Give them
good counsel whether they be settled (shop-keepers) or traders or physical
labourers because they are sources of profit and the means of the provision of
useful articles. They bring them from distant and far-flung areas throughout the
land and sea, plains or mountains, from where people cannot come and to where
they do not dare to go, for they are peaceful and there is no fear of revolt
from them, and they are quite without fear of treason.
Look after their affairs before yourself or wherever they may be
in your area. Know, along with this, that most of them are very narrow-minded,
and awfully avaricious. They hoard goods for profiteering and fix high prices
for goods. This is a source of harm
to the people and a blot on the officers in charge. Stop people
from hoarding, because the Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h.a.h.p.) has prohibited
it. The sale should be smooth, with correct weights and prices, not harmful to
either party, the seller or the purchaser, whoever commits hoarding after you
prohibit it, give him exemplary but not excessive punishment.
7. The Lowest Class
(Fear) Allah and keep Allah in view in respect of the lowest
class, consisting of those who have few means: the poor, the destitute, the
penniless and the disabled, because in this class are both the discontented and
those who beg. Take care for the sake of Allah of His obligations towards them
for which He has made you responsible. Fix for them a share from the public
funds and a share from the crops of lands taken over as booty for Islam in every
area, because in it the remote ones have the same shares as the near ones. All
these people are those whose rights have been placed in your charge. Therefore,
a luxurious life should not keep you away from them. You cannot be excused for
ignoring small matters because you were deciding big problems. Consequently, do
not be unmindful of them, nor turn your face from them out of vanity.
Take care of the affairs of those of them who do not approach
you because they are of unsightly appearance or those whom people regard as low.
Appoint for them some trusted people who are Godfearing and humble. They should
inform you of these people's conditions. Then deal with them with a sense of
responsibility to Allah on the day you will meet Him, because of all the
subjects these people are the most deserving of equitable treatment, while for
others also you should fulfil their rights so as to render account to Allah.
Take care of the orphans and the aged who have no means (for
livelihood) nor are they ready for begging. This is heavy on the officers; in
fact, every right is heavy. Allah lightens it for those who seek the next world
and so they endure (hardships) upon themselves and trust on the truthfulness of
Allah's promise to them. And fix a time for complainants wherein you make
yourself free for them, and sit for them in common audience and feel humble
therein for the sake of Allah who created you. (On that occasion) you should
keep away your army and your assistants such as the guards and the police so
that anyone who likes to speak may speak to you without fear, because I have
heard the Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h.a.h.p.) say in more than one place,
"The people among whom the right of the weak is not secured from the strong
without fear will never achieve purity." Tolerate their awkwardness and
inability to speak. Keep away from you narrowness and haughtiness; Allah would,
on this account, spread over you the skirts of His mercy and assign the reward
of His obedience for you. Whatever you give, give it joyfully, but when you
refuse, do it handsomely and with excuses.
Then there are certain matters which you cannot avoid performing
yourself. For example, replying to your officers when your secretaries are
unable to do so, or disposing of the complaints of the people when your
assistants shirk them. Finish every day the work meant for it, because every day
has its own work. Keep for yourself the better and greater portion of these
periods for the worship of Allah, although all these items are for Allah
provided the intention is pure and the subjects prosper thereby.