A person studying Islamic history at the exclusion of the study of the Noble Qur'an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (saww) is bound to face a number of dilemmas. He may be asking himself 'Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was successful in politics?' Prior to answering this question, we will have to define what is meant by 'success' and what is meant by 'politics'. 'Success' is defined as; achievement in what one is trying to do. It is also defined as fulfillment in reaching one's goal or aim or purpose or objective. 'Politics' is defined as, ruling by the consent of the governed. It is also defined as, a means of finding solutions to administrative, social and economic problems.
The term 'politics' nowadays, is associated with deception, cunningness, double-crossing and lying on oath, in order to reach one's purpose. In Islam, if the objective is reached through deceptive approach, it is not considered a success; rather, it is considered a bad failure. The effect of such politics would soon manifest itself through negative repercussions. However, as 'politics' is akin to obtaining power and administering various aspects of material life, it has been abused throughout history. If viewed in the context of solving civil problems, no state or government could function without politics. At this stage, we have to consider another element which dictates the approach adopted in 'politics' and the ensuing success or failure.
The essence of Islamic Law is structured in such a way that it totally prohibits certain means to reach a defined end. Politics cannot be exempted from the dictates of Law. If there are politicians who are accustomed to abusing their occupation, it is not the fault of 'politics' as such. If certain builders use substandard material in their building work, it does not mean that their occupation is to be despised. If certain doctors are negligent towards their patients, it does not mean that medical profession is bad. If lazy and lethargic students do not achieve success, this does not mean that hardworking students should give up advanced studies.
In any occupation and profession there are users and there are abusers. In politics, the abusers have brought disrepute to the approach adopted by the honest politicians. Imagine what the world would be like, if the conscientious and responsible politicians had abandoned the field in favor of the abusers, who would go at any length to grab power for material gains. The latter types of politicians are prone to hold monopolistic attitude and preach that religion should be kept aloof from politics. If religion, religious law and religious morals are segregated from politics, then the greedy, selfish and opportunist politicians could easily achieve their objective of serving their own interest at the detriment of the society. But if religious morals are allowed to dictate politics, then the prospects of usurping the rights of others in the name of national interest would be doomed at the inception.
In Islam, if it was permitted to segregate religion from politics, then Prophet Muhammad (saww) himself would not have established the first Islamic State in Madina after his migration (Hijrah) from Makkah. He ruled over the State for ten years and administered its affairs. He organized the army and laid down rules for restraints to be exercised in warfare. He guarded the social, economic and judicial affairs of the State in accordance to the Divine Law. He reached the zenith of success by governing the new State with justice and truth. Discipline was created by strict enforcement of the Law. Islam spread because of effectiveness of politics, without any need for lying or adopting deceptive and cunning tactics or repressive measures. Later on, when Muslim empires embraced these vile practices, it was the beginning of the end. Thereafter, Muslim empires began to disintegrate and decline. Muslim community became demoralized because it failed to choose honest, righteous and God-fearing leadership.
We have the best of examples in the life of Prophet Muhammad (saww). Therefore, the criteria for success must also be sought in the system of government founded by Prophet Muhammad (saww). Who could have understood this system in its entirety and acted upon it other than the disciple and dedicated follower of Prophet Muhammad (saww), whom Prophet Muhammad (saww) had groomed for this responsibility. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was brought from his father's house in early childhood and was raised by Prophet Muhammad (saww) and by Mother of the Believers, Khadijah (sa), under their loving care. Prophet Muhammad (saww) himself was raised by Imam Ali's (as) father, Hazrat Abu Talib from the age of eight, when his grandfather Hazrat Abd al-Muttalib died. Hazrat Abu Talib remained the guardian of Prophet Muhammad (saww) and his staunch supporter and protector in the face of the fierce enmity of Quraish. Hazrat Abu Talib passed on his dedication and love for Prophet Muhammad (saww) to his son Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), who remained a selfless champion of Faith until he breathed his last. Imam Ali (as) derived the depth of his knowledge and wisdom directly from Prophet Muhammad (saww). Prophet Muhammad (saww) trained him, and he trained his gifted children with diligence, to implement the Rule of Law, according to the Divine Revelations.
There is not a single Muslim soul who believes that the Islamic State established by Prophet Muhammad (saww) did not achieve its intended goal. We are not talking about the belief of a few misfits who entertain satanic mischief in their heads for the sake of fame and money. According to a widely narrated tradition, Prophet Muhammad (saww) said, "the best judge among you is Ali." This explains that Prophet Muhammad (saww) had absolute confidence that Imam Ali (as) would follow his way in promoting justice in society, by virtue of his complete knowledge in the Qur'anic injunctions and the Sunnah (traditions) of the Messenger of Allah. Whenever the Muslim community got into trouble after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (saww), it was Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) who was consulted to save the day through his wise rulings and counsel.
Nevertheless, some historians allege that when Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) assumed the reigns of the Caliphate, he proved to be a failure in politics. The reasons given by them speak of the extent of their knowledge into the realities of issues involved. It is alleged that Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was not successful because his Caliphate was filled with strives and battles. Wasn't the time of Prophet Muhammad (saww) too filled with strives and battles? Did this reason make Prophet Muhammad (saww) less successful? They also give another reason that there were conspiracies to kill Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), implying that many people did not like him. Weren't there conspiracies to kill Prophet Muhammad (saww) also, to the extent that he disclosed the names of those who conspired to kill him to his trusted friend, Hudhayfah ibn al-Yamani?
In any society, the presence of hypocrites cannot be ruled out. In Muslim society, their presence is a stark reality. The Noble Qur'an issues adequate warning against them in Surah Al-Munafiqun (The Hypocrites) and in Surah Al-Tawbah (Repentance). In the times of Prophet Muhammad (saww), Islam had spread in the whole of Arabian Peninsula. By the time of the Caliphate of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), Islam had already conquered Byzantium, Roman and Persian empires. In the time of Prophet Muhammad (saww), the mischief of the hypocrites was restricted. By the time of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), their mischief expanded, as if they were competing with the size of the empire! But Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was elected unanimously by Muhajirin (the immigrants) and Ansaar (the helpers). All the companions of Prophet Muhammad (saww) swore allegiance to him. This is another matter that later on some of them broke their pledges, which is considered a major sin in Islam. The breach of solemn pledges and covenants was in direct violation to the rulings of the Noble Qur'an, and this paved way for civil warfare.
When the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan, was under siege, it was Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) who risked the lives of his own sons to protect him. Madina was full of the companions (Sahabah) of the holy Prophet Muhammad (saww). Why did they not show any interest to defend Caliph Uthman ibn Affan, when the siege had continued for several days? Yet, revenge for the blood of Caliph Uthman ibn Affan became a deceptive slogan used to promote selfish political goals of the opponents of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as). The governor of Syria, Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan, took this opportunity to vent the ancient vendetta of tribal hatred of Banu Umayyah against Banu Hashim. Writes the famous Egyptian author Abbas Mahmud Al-Aqqad: "The blazing hatred within this rotten mind was only the hatred found in the characters of deformed and distorted men which could make him imagine that it was a hatred borne out of a desire to avenge the death of Caliph Uthman ibn Affan or against revolt by the people against the kingdom of Yazid." This is how the seeds of discord and enmity were sown in the heart of Muslim Ummah (Community or Nation). "The hatred was aimed against Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) and his descendants and supporters. Many of them became victims of that cruelty and greed in the Hijaz, in Yemen or in Iraq, where Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), his descendants and supporters were violently repressed." (Sulayman Kattani, 'Imam Ali A Beacon of Courage', translated by I.K.A. Howard, Islamic Education Center.)
Immediately after the death of Prophet Muhammad (saww), the tribes began deserting Islam to go back to their old ways of paganism. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) decided to bury the differences and insisted that all the resources of the State must be mobilized to face the new challenge threatening the very foundation of Islam. As he was the wasi (executor) of Prophet Muhammad (saww) and trustee of his knowledge and wisdom, he lived and died up to the expectation of Prophet Muhammad (saww). Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) later on took the reigns of the government to re-establish the golden era which existed in the days of Prophet Muhammad (saww), without hierarchal discrimination and without giving superiority to a Muslim over another. Amidst the treachery of trouble mongers, he invited the believers towards the legislation of the Noble Qur'an and the Sunnah. Allah (SWT) had sent His Final Message as a distinguishing criterion between truth and falsehood. The Message built on the foundation of justice for all, was not to become a tool of plots at the hands of those who had amassed wealth from the booty of the conquests, and who were now raising private armies against the Islamic State. History of Islam is indebted to Imam Ali bin Abi Talib's (as) success. Wherever and whenever, there was to be an attempt to mix truth with falsehood and to subdue justice at the hands of injustice, it was the blood of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) and his children and his descendants that acted as a forceful deterrent against the plots of the conspirators.
The policies of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) express the purity of intention, the purity of faith and the sincerity of implementation of the Rule of Allah (SWT) on earth. Whoever did not and does not rule by that Rule, is condemned by the Noble Qur'an as unbeliever, unjust and mischievous. One of the principles of Islam was to break the distinction between Arabs and non-Arabs, and to bind the believers in the bond of fraternity. The reign of the Umayyads was based on discrimination against non-Arabs. They started Arab Nationalism which acted as cancerous cells in the veins of Muslim community. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib's (as) contribution to Islamic Justice was to liquidate the hierarchy and to give the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed, the honor and respect that they deserved in society. He did not care the least that the influential overlords, self appointed to speak in the name of Islam, would resort to all the terror and pretences that they could muster. He did not care that later on, the mercenaries who would distort historical facts would write that he was a failure in administering the affairs of the State.
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) envisaged the character assassination that was to follow against him. But he left a masterpiece of chronicles identifying the principles of just government and human rights. He says in one of the sermon in Nahjul Balaghah, "I swear by Allah (SWT) that I saw my own brother Aqeel suffering from extreme poverty and need. He requested me to spare him (cost of 3.5 seers) of wheat out of public treasury. Starvation had turned his children into living skeletons and had changed their color to blue. Aqeel was persistent in his desire to acquire, in addition to his share, something from the public treasury. He tried to coax me and to appeal to my brotherly love. I wanted to help him out of my personal property, but his desire to get something (additional) from the public property was hateful to me. It was against all the canons of honesty and integrity and against the teachings of Islam." These were the marvelous principles of a ruler who did not misuse his position in favoritism or nepotism.
It is one of the extreme injustices of history that a straight forward man of upright faith and principles, who lived and died by his word, should at all be compared with a rebel. Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan, treated public treasury as his ancestral inheritance, and misused it to buy favors and to sell governmental posts. Muslims have had the misfortune of getting stuck with the latter type of leadership because they came to accept that deceit and treachery is part of politics. As a result, they lost the vision of distinguishing a friend from an enemy. But the Divine Law is not left without its protectors. The trusteeship of the eternal Message of Allah is very much alive. Peace and Justice is the ultimate object, and the promise of Allah (SWT) that His sincere and obedient servants will inhabit His earth will be fulfilled, whether the unbelievers and the hypocrites like it or not?
The essential function of a government is to save human life and human rights. But do the present governments abide by this obligation? Whether the system of government is based on liberal democracy or autocracy or tyrannical communism or dictatorship, human rights are trampled upon without the least hesitation.
Islamic system of government is not dependent on self interest or party political allegiance. The objectives are clearly defined and the goals are geared towards serving these objectives. In the process, detailed guidance is laid down, taking into account the interest of everybody living in the Islamic State. Justice is available for all and not only for the privileged, who afford to pay the price. In Islam, government policies are not a collection of jargons that need expensive interpreters and lawyers. The concept of justice and human rights in Islam is not a means to fill one's coffers, as is the tendency in the modern world. When the Executive and Judiciary become corrupted, people lose confidence in the government. The decline in Muslim morale is not because of adherence to the Islamic system of government, but because of non-adherence to the Islamic system of government.
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) lays down the foundation of just government, which must recognize the fact that it is a trustee over the Divine Law. It is not the duty of the government to legislate but to abide by the revealed legislation. Fear of the Almighty Lord of the universe, and dealing with His creatures with justice and compassion, must take precedence. The pleasure of common men, the have-nots and the depressed people should over balance the approval of important and influential people. The latter, instead of contributing to the public purse, may prove to be making more than proportionate demands on the treasury. But the resources of the State must not be distributed on the basis of nepotism, favoritism or personal likes and dislikes. Abdullah bin al-Kawwa was a well known enemy of the Caliph among the residents of Kufa, which was the capital of the State at that time. He used to abuse Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) openly, of which the Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) was aware. Yet, he used to send him his share of resources from Baitul Maal (the treasury) to his house without fail and without penalizing him.
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib's (as) officials were ordered to appreciate the fact that everywhere people have weaknesses and failings; and it was the duty of the government to overlook minor shortcomings and to guide its subjects. The governors were advised to deal fairly, impartially and justly with all, individually and collectively, without any discrimination. The governors were to take due care not to trust and not to accept as advisors certain category of people, especially, the backbiters, scandalmongers, misers and cowards. They were to avoid greedy and covetous persons as counselors because they would be prone to exploiting others and usurping their wealth.
In the government of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), ministerial positions were not distributed on the basis of wealth, relationship, tribalism or influence in society. They were distributed on the basis of merit. Ministers were expected to be God-fearing and men of principles. There was no scope for the double faced hypocrites to be placed at the helm of governmental responsibilities. The best ministers were classed as wise and learned men with no sinful or criminal mentality. When accepted as advisors, they would speak the bitter truth unreservedly and without fear of the status of government officials. Therefore, through this type of counselors, Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) sought to keep his own men of authority in check. Such measures of control were meant to isolate the officials if they could not command the confidence and trust of the wise men of the State.
Under the government of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), there was a distribution of work and duties among various branches of Administration, and there was cooperation and coordination among government departments. Rules were laid down for controlling the civil servants and fighting corruption and oppression among officers of the State. In commercial activities, profiteering, hoarding and black marketing were prohibited. Importance was attached to equitable distribution of wealth, upbringing of orphans and maintenance of handicapped. Army was the vital organ of the State. Role of the army was defined and qualification of those entitled to join and those not entitled to join were specified. Rights of rulers over the ruled and rights of ruled over the rulers were pronounced.
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib's (as) governors were guided to forget and forgive the shortcomings of their subjects. They were not to hurry over punishments. They were to refrain from being pleased and proud over their power to punish. They were advised not to get angry or lose temper over the mistakes and failures of their subjects. They were to be patient and sympathetic towards them. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) writes his instructions: "If you feel any pride or vanity on account of your sway and rule over your subjects, then think of the supreme sway of the Lord over the universe, the extent of His creations, the Supremacy of His Might and Glory, His Power to do things which you cannot ever dream of doing and His control over you, which is more dominating than that which you can ever achieve over anything around you." This is the message that the proud and arrogant politicians of today have to understand before they end up in a ditch and drag others with them. Another message that the unscrupulous politicians have to understand is that it is absolutely futile to flex their muscles in front of the suppressed people, who themselves are sick and tired of their despotic rulers.
Even today, history echoes the voice of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as), the pioneer of human rights, who advises his governor in the following words: "Let me remind you once again that you are made responsible to guard the rights of poor people and to look after their welfare. Take care that the conceit of your position and vanity of wealth may not deceive you to lose sight of such a grave and important responsibility. Yours is such an important post that you cannot claim immunity from the responsibility of even minor errors of commission and omission with an excuse that you were engrossed with the major problems of the State which you have carried out diligently. Therefore, be very careful of the welfare of poor people. Do not be arrogant and vain against them. Remember that you have to take particular care of those who cannot reach you, whose poverty stricken and disease ridden sight may be hateful to you, and whom society treats with disgust, detestation and contempt. You should be source of comfort, love and respect to them... You should pay more attention to young orphans and old cripples. They neither have any support nor can they conveniently come out begging. They cannot reach you, therefore, you must reach them." "Man is either your brother in religion or your brother in humanity." These are the words of the just ruler who, fourteen centuries ago, was laying the foundation of human rights. Following saying of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (as) taken by United Nations, shows that he (as) was very successful in politics.