Letter of Imam 'Ali (a) to Malik al-Ashtar
Letter of Imam ʿAli (a) to Mālik al-Ashtar (Arabic: عهد الإمام علی (ع) لمالک الأشتر) was a letter from Imam Ali (a) to Malik al-Ashtar when Imam (a) had appointed him as the ruler of Egypt. The letter concerns the ways a ruler should treat people. The letter is usually called a "covenant", which is one of the most important and detailed statements of Imam Ali (a). It has been translated into different languages and many commentaries have been written on it. Some parts of the letter have been the focus of attention because of their altruistic contents.
Imam Ali (a) wrote the letter to Malik al-Ashtar when he had appointed him as the ruler of Egypt and its surrounding areas. It is mostly concerned with how the government should treat Muslim and non-Muslim citizens and its duties concerning the development of the society.
Here are some subject-matters Imam Ali (a) wrote about to Malik al-Ashtar as the ruler of Egypt:
- Justice and fairness
- Satisfaction of people
- Not peering into, instead covering, people's weaknesses
- Having a good opinion of people
- Taking intellectuals—men of intelligence and foresight—as counsellors for issues concerning the administration of cities
- Considering different classes of jobs and occupations in the community, and observing the rights of each class
- Attributes of a judge
- Attributes of officials and governmental agents
- Giving priority to the development of farms and lands, instead of taxes
- Conditions of scribes
- Good treatment of businessmen and artisans
- Being careful about the poor
- Causing no discomfort for people when leading in congregational prayers
- Giving no advantages to close friends and relatives from the Bayt al-mal (treasury)
- Removing people's suspicions about any possible cases of injustice
- Peace and compromise with the enemy (on their request and in accordance with divine satisfaction)
- Keeping promises.
Its Sequential Number in Different Copies of Nahj al-Balagha
Here are the different sequential numbers of the letter in various versions of Nahj al-balagha:
|The names of the versions||Number of the letter|
|Al-Mu'jam al-Mufahras, Subhi Salih, Fayd al-Islam, Mulla Salih, Ibn Abi l-Hadid, 'Abduh||53|
|Ibn Maytham, Khu'i,Fi Zilal||52|
|Mulla Fath Allah||56|
- A'in-i jahandari (Codes of governance) which is a translation of Imam Ali (a)'s order to Malik al-Ashtar and some other letters in Nahj al-balagha by Muhammad Ali Ansari in 1385 S.H./2006.
- Tuhfat al-muluk, a translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant.
- Tuhfat al-wali, a translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant into Farsi by Muhammad Husayn b. Ahmad b. Muhamamd b. Sami' al-Yazdi, written in 1227/1812 in Mashhad. The author of al-Dhari'a has seen a copy of this book in a library in Karbala.
- A translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant into Farsi by an anonymous author (10th/16th and 11th/17th centuries).
- A translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant into Farsi by Sayyid Sadiq al-Husayni (13th/19th century).
- A translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant into Farsi by Sadiq b. Ali al-Husayni, in the period of Nasir al-Din Shah of Qajar; it may be the same as the previous one.
- A translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant by Mirza Aqa Khan 'Abd al-Husayn b. 'Abd al-Rahim al-Bardsiri al-Kirmani, who was killed in 1314/1896. The book was published in Tehran.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by 'Abd al-Wasi' al-Tufi (12th/18th century). The manuscript is available in the Library of Majlis.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by Ali Rida (11th/17th century); it may be Ali Rida Tajalli.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by Muhammad Ibrahim Nawwab Badayi'nigar (d. 1299 /1881). The translation was written in 1273/1856 and was published in 1286/1869.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by Muhammad Ibrahim Nawwab. In the catalogue of the Central Library of Tehran University, two translations of Badayi'nigar are mentioned; it is said that one is available in the Library of Astan Quds Radawi and other in the Library of Majlis.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by Muhammad Baqir b. Isma'il al-Khatunabadi. It was done around 1115/1703. The manuscript with this date is available in the National Library of Iran.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by Muhammad Sadiq Marwzi Waqayi'nigar (13th/19th century). The manuscript is available in Malik Library.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by Muhammad b. Mahdi al-Bihishti (13th/19th century). Its original manuscript is available in the National Library of Iran.
- A translation of the covenant into Farsi by an anonymous translator. A manuscript with the date of 1310/1892 is available in the National Library of Iran.
- Dastur-i hukumat (The order of government) with the subtitle: Imam Ali Amir al-Mu'minin (a)'s order to Malik al-Ashtar: a translation of the covenant in four languages: Arabic, Farsi (by Muhammad Husayn Furughi), French (by Sadiqiyan), English by Baqiri, and poems by Waqar Shirazi.
- Mathnwai, a translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant by Waqar Shirazi (d. 1298/1880). It may be the same as Rumuz al-'imara.
- A translation of the covenant into Turkish by Jalal al-Din Muhammad. It was published in Turkey in 1304/1886.
- Adab al-muluk, a translation and a commentary of Imam Ali (a)'s order to Malik al-Ashtar, by Muhammad Rafi' al-Husayni al-Tabataba'i known as Nizam al-'Ulama' al-Tabrizi (b. 1250/1834 - d.1326/1908). It was published together with a summary of Ibn Maytham al-Bahrani's and 'Allama Muhammad Taqi Ja'fari's commentaries on Nahj al-balagha , edited and compiled by Ibrahim Safari.
- An investigation of economic issues in Malik al-Ashtar's covenant (in Farsi) by Rida Akbariyan.
- Bay'at al-anam, a translation and a commentary of Malik's covenant in Farsi by Ali b. Mirza Ahmad (13th/19th century). It was authored in 1235/1819. Its manuscript is 414 sheets.
- Tuhfa Sulaymaniyya, a translation of and a commentary on Malik al-Ashtar's covenant into Farsi by Sayyid Majidin Muhammad Husayn Bahrani (11th century/17th century). It was published in 1301/1883 in a small size in 304 pages.
- Tuhfa 'Alawiyya Sulaymaniyya, a translation of and a commentary on Malik al-Ashtar's covenant into Farsi. It was written in 1101/1689 and it is different from the previous book. Its manuscript is available in the Library of Faydiyya School in Qom.
- The order of Amir al-Mu'minin Ali b. Abi Talib (a) to Malik al-Ashtar al-Nakha'i, translation into Farsi with a commentary by Muhammad Husayn Dhuka' al-Mulk, known as Furughi.
- The order of wisdom, the order of government, a translation of and a commentary on Malik al-Ashtar's covenant into Farsi by Ahmad b. Hafiz al-'Aqil al-Kirmani known as Adib (d. 1329/1911). It was publisjed in 1321/1903 with a preface by Dhuka' al-Mulk Furughi.
- The order of government, a translation of and a commentary on Malik al-Ashtar's covenant in Farsi by Shaykh Muhammad Ali Wa'iz Himmatabadi.
- Al-ra'i wa l-ra'iyya (The governor and the governed), a commentary on Imam Ali (a)'s letter to Malik al-Ashtar when he appointed him as the governor of Egypt, by Tawfiq al-Fakiki.
- Rumuz al-Imara, a translation of and a commentary on the covenant in Farsi by Waqar Shirazi (d. 1298/1880). It was published in 1274/1857 and 1331/1912. And the book Sukhansurayan-i Fars reports that it was published in four languages by the efforts of Colonel Sadiqiyan.
- A translation of and a commentary on Malik al-Ashtar's covenant by al-'Allama al-Majlisi (d. 1111/1699) under different titles such as Suluk al-wulat (method of rulers), Suluk wulat al-'adl (method of just rulers) and so on.
- Al-Siyasa al-'Alawiyya fi sharh 'ahd Malik al-Ashtar, an Arabic commentary on the covenant by Shaykh 'Abd al-Wahid b. Ahmad Al Muzaffar (b. 1310/1892).
- Siyasatnama (a political letter), a translation and delineation of the covenant in Farsi verses by Mirza Jahangir Khan Husayni Marandi, known as Nazim al-Mulk Diya'i (d. 1352/1933) written in 1327/1909 and published in Turkey and Tabriz.
- A commentary on Malik al-Ashtar's covenant in Farsi by Mulla Muhammad Salih Rowghani, written in 1049/1639. A manuscript of the book is available in the Library of Sayyid Nasr Allah Taqawi in Tehran.
- A commentary on the covenant in Farsi by Mulla Muhammad Kazim Mahdi, a teacher and a servant of the Holy Shrine of Imam al-Rida (a) in the 11th/17th century. Its manuscript is available in the Library of Astan Quds Radawi.
- A commentary in Farsi: its partial manuscript is available in the public library of Ayatollah Gulpayigani in Qom.
- 'Ahd al-Ashtar in Arabic by Sayyid Hibat al-Din al-Shahristani, the author of Ma huwa Nahj al-balagha (what is Nahj al-balagha).
- A translation of Malik al-Ashtar's covenant by Sayyid Ali Akbar b. Sultan al-'Ulama Sayyid Muhammad Naqawi Lakhnavi (d. 1324/1906).
- Imam Ali (a)'s orders to Imam al-Hasan (a) (the 31st letter) and to Malik al-Ashtar in Farsi by Muhammad Muqimi, published in 1354/1935.
- The blessed order of Ali b. Abi Talib (a) to Malik al-Ashtar, edited, compiled and translated by Jawad Fadil, with the efforts of Hamid Rida Ruhani and with the handwriting of Mir Ali Asghar Hashimi.
- Al-Qanun al-akbar fi sharh 'ahd al-Imam li l-Ashtar, a commentary in Arabic by Sayyid Mahdi Suwayj.
- Qanun al-wulat fi siyasat al-ru'at, a commentary in Arabic by Sayyid Muhammad Hasan b. Sayyid Ali al-Musawi al-Qazwini al-Najafi (d. 1358/1939). The book is the second volume of the book, Tarikh misr qadima (The ancient history of Egypt). Its manuscript is kept by the author's brother, Sayyid Diya' al-Din b. Sayyid Ali.
- Ma'a al-Imam Ali (a) fi 'ahdi-hi Malik al-Ashtar, a commentary in Arabic by Shaykh Muhammad Baqir Nasiri. It was published in 1393/1973 in Beirut.
- Muqtabas al-siyasa, a commentary in Arabic by Shaykh Muhammad 'Abduh or Ahmad Muhammad, the scribe of the al-Azhar library. It was published in 1317/1899 in Egypt.
- Nasayih al-muluk wa adab al-suluk, a Farsi commentary by Abu l-Hasan al-Sharif al-'Amili al-Futuni (d. 1138/1725).
- Hidayat al-hisam fi 'ajayib al-hidayat li l-hukkam, a commentary in Farsi by Muhammad Husayn b. Ali Naqi al-Hamadani. It was published by the efforts of Ali Rida Hazar.
Kindness to People
"Develop in your heart the feeling of love for your people and let it be the source of kindliness and blessing to them. Do not behave with them like preys, and do not appropriate to yourself that which belongs to them. Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in religion or your brethren in kind. They are subject to infirmities and liable to commit mistakes. Some indeed do commit mistakes. But forgive them even as you would like God to forgive you. … God has given you the position of a Governor in order that you may look after those under you and to be sufficient unto them. And you will be judged by what you do for them. Do not set yourself against God, for neither do you possess the strength to shield yourself against His displeasure, nor can you place yourself outside the pale of His mercy and forgiveness. Do not feel sorry over any act of forgiveness, nor rejoice over any punishment that you may mete out to anyone. Do not rouse yourself to anger, for no good will come out of it."
Keeping away the Flatterers
"Keep close to you the upright, and the God fearing, and make clear to them that they are never to flatter you and never to give you credit for any good that you may not have done: for, the tolerance of flattery and unhealthy praise stimulates pride in man and makes him arrogant."
Abstaining from Shedding Bloods Unjustly
"Beware! Abstain from shedding blood without a valid reason. There is nothing more harmful than this which brings about one’s ruin. The blood that is wilfully shed shortens the life of a state. On the Day of Judgement it is this crime for which one will have to answer first. So, beware! Do not wish to build the strength of your state on blood for, it is this blood which ultimately weakens the state and passes it into other hands. Before me and my God no excuse for wilful killing can be entertained.
Murder is a crime which is punishable by death. If on any account the corporal punishment dealt by the state for any lesser crime results in the death of the guilty, let not the prestige of the state stand in any way of the deceased relations claiming compensation."
"Abstain from self-applause and being sure of what you like about yourself. And abstain from loving to be praised. This is the best occasion on which the Devil comes annulling the best acts of the righteous people."
Following Early Traditions
"It is imperative on you to study carefully the principles which have inspired just and good rulers who have gone before you. Give close thought to the example of our Prophet (s), his traditions, and the commandments of the Holy Qur'an and whatever you might have assimilated from my own way of dealing with things. Endeavour to the best of your ability to carry out the instructions which I have given you here and which you have solemnly undertaken to follow. By means of this order, I enjoin on you not to succumb to the prompting of your own heart or to turn away from the discharge of duties entrusted to you."
|For the full text, see text:Letter of Imam 'Ali (a) to Malik al-Ashtar.|
- The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from فرمان مالک اشتر in Farsi wikishia.
- The English translation of this letter can be found here: https://www.al-islam.org