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The Ideal Islamic Government in the Eyes of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)

This text presents the ideal Islamic government in the eyes of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) through his letter to Malik Al Ashtar when he was appointed the Governor of Egypt in 38 AH.

Amir al-mu’minin wrote this instrument for Malik ibn al-Harith al-Ashtar, when he was appointed the Governor of Egypt in 38 AH. Malik al-Ashtar was one of the chief companions of Amir al-mu’minin. He had shown great endurance and steadfastness and perfect confidence and trust in Amir al-mu’minin.

He had attained the utmost nearness and attachment to him by molding his conduct and character after the conduct and character of Amir al-mu’minin. This can be gauged by Arnir al-mu’minins words: “Malik was to me as I was to the Messenger of Allah.” (Ibn Abi’l-Hadid, vol. 15, p. 98; al-A’lam, vol. 6, p. 131).

Malik al-Ashtar too, actuated by selfless feelings of service, took a very active part in military encounters and proved himself to be Amir al-mu’minin’s arm in all battles and encounters. He showed such feats of courage and daring that his bravery was acknowledged throughout Arabia. Along with this bravery be was also conspicuous in endurance and forbearing.

In this connection, Warram ibn Abi Firas an-Nakha’i has written that once Malik was passing through the market of Kufah with the dress and turban made of gunny-cloth when a shopkeeper finding him in this condition and clothing, he threw some rotten leaves upon him, but he did not at all mind this dirty behavior, nor did he even look at him. Rather, he quietly stepped forward.

Then someone said to this shopkeeper, “Do you know to whom you have been so insolent?” He replied that he did not know who he was, whereupon he said that it was Malik al-Ashtar, the companion of Amir al-mu’minin. Hearing this, he lost his senses and at once ran behind him to seek pardon for this insolence and humiliating treatment. While in his search be reached a mosque where Malik was offering prayers.

When he finished the prayers this man went forward and fell on his feet and begged pardon with great pertinacity and weeping. Malik raised the man’s beard up and said, “By Allah, I have come to the mosque to pray to Allah to forgive you. I myself had pardoned you that very moment, and I hope Allah too will pardon you.” (Tanbihu l’khawatir wa nuzhatu ‘n-nawazir, vol. 1, p.2; al-Bihar, vol. 42, p. 157).

This is the forgiveness and tolerance of a warrior at whose name courage trembled, and whose swordsmanship was acknowledged by the brave men of Arabia. And this is the real sign of bravery that a man should exercise self control during bitterness of anger and rage and endure hardships with patience and calmness. In this connection, Amir al-mu’minin’ saying is that, “The bravest of men is he who over-powers his passions.”

However, besides these characteristics and qualities, he had a perfect aptitude for organization and administration. Thus, when the ‘Uthmani (aI-‘Uthmaniyyah) party began to spread the germs of destruction in Egypt and tried to upset the law and order of the country by mischief and revolt then Amir al-mu’minin removed Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr from the governorship and decided to appoint Malik al-Ashtar in his place, although at that time he was posted as the Governor of Nasibin.

However, Amir al-mu’minin sent him word that he should name someone as his deputy and come to Ami al-mu’minin. On receipt of this order Malik al-Ashtar appointed Shabib ibn ‘Amir al-Azid in his place and himself came to Amir al-mu’minin. Amir al-mu’minin gave him a warrant of appointment and sent him off to Egypt, and also sent a written order to Egyptians to obey him.

When Mu’awiyah got the news of Malik al-Ashtar’s appointment through his spies he was perplexed because he had promised ‘Amir ibn al-‘As that he would give him the governorship of Egypt in reward of his services and he had hoped that ‘Amir ibn al-‘As would easily defeat Muharnmad ibn Abi Bakr and wrest the power from him, but could not imagine conquering Egypt by defeating Malik al-Ashtar, He therefore decided to do away with him before he took over the charge.

For this he arranged with a landlord of the city of al-‘Arish (or al-Qulzum) that when Malik passed through al-‘ Arish on his way to Egypt he should kill him by some device or other and in reward for this the revenue of his estate would be written off. So, when Malik al-Ashtar reached al-‘Arish with retinue and force the chief of al-‘Arish gave him a good ovation and insisted on having Malik as his guest.

Malik agreed and stayed at his place. When he finished the meal the host gave him some syrup of honey to drink in which he had mixed poison. Soon after drinking it the poison began to show its effect and before the eyes of everyone this great warrior known for his swordsmanship and for putting the rows of the enemy to flight calmly went into the embrace of death.

When Mu’awiyah got news of his success of this device he was overjoyed and shouted in merriment, “Oh, honey is also an army of Allah”, and then said during a speech:

“Ali ibn Ahi Talib had two right hand men. One was chopped off on the day of Siffin and he was ‘Ammar ibn