Imam Ali and Political Leadership

Imām Ali’s (a.s.) Reforms

In accordance to this approach towards government and understanding of politics, Imām Ali (a.s.), immediately after taking over the reins of power, launched a series of state reforms, calling for ‘social and economic justice’. He declared that his main object in accepting government was to ‘embark on reforms and restore suppressed rights’. Imām Ali (a.s.) believed that the events that occurred after the death of the Messenger of God (s.a.w.) had radically distorted the values that he (s.a.w.) had introduced, and there was as a result a great inconsistency between the rule and example of the Prophet (saw), and what had been done in the name of an ‘Islamic State’. In his formal statement at the beginning of his Caliphate, Imām Ali (a.s.) had asserted that what had previously been done had been inconsistent with the conduct (sirah) and tradition (sunnah) of the Messenger of God (s.a.w.). He believed that the current state of affairs was unacceptable; and there was a strong need to establish new ways and procedures of government, and that this idea can be achieved by the ‘code of conduct and reforming of Imām Ali (a.s.)’ which are in concordance with the ‘Prophetic traditions and reforms’ rather than the ‘tradition of the two Sheikhs’1,
Imām Ali (a.s.) with his deep political insight realized that such a process of radical reforms would not be tolerated by the people who had become accustomed to reversed values over a period of years:
لا تَقومُ لَهُ القُلوبُ ولا تَثبُتُ لَهُ العُقولُ.Neither hearts can bear it nor can intellects stand firm before it.2
However, he was a truth-oriented statesman who regarded honesty in speech and clarity in position as well as adherence to the truth, and nothing less, as being the very essence of politics. Thus, in his

1.. The first two Caliphs.

2.. Nahj al-Balāghah, Sermon ۹۲/۳, h ۷ ۸. [Translations of Nahj al-Balāghah throughout this book are mainly adopted from Sayyid Ali Reda and William Chittick.]

Imam Ali and Political Leadership

المُلكُ سياسَةٌ.Kingdom is politics.1
Thus he (a.s.) never approved of doing anything simply for the purpose of achieving or retaining power. On the contrary, he never considered resorting to illegitimate measures, even if the alternative was the possible loss of rightful power.
According to the teachings of Imām Ali (a.s.), politics involves recognizing and employing of legitimate strategies to administer a society and provide its people with material and spiritual welfare. In other words, in Imām Ali’s (a.s.) teaching, exploiting illegitimate methods and tactics, to achieve ends, is not politics, rather they are deception, fraud and as in Imām al-Sādiq (a.s.)’s words, ‘imposture’, even though they may appear effective.2
Therefore, from the viewpoint of Imām Ali (a.s.), the government is based on mastery over the hearts and the subjugation of the intellects and emotions, not dominating over them by the exploitation and subjugation of their bodies. In such an understanding of government, there is no need to resort to duplicitous and illegitimate political strategies and methods. According to Imām Ali (a.s.), power has no sanctity other than to administer justice, and therefore there is no reason to resort to illegitimate or underhand methods to preserve it. Such mastery over hearts is only possible by using legitimate methods and by treating people in accordance to the principles of justice and truth. Unlawful and false policies may achieve and maintain power for a short while, but they will never last long and they bring nothing to people but harm and loss:
لِلحَقِّ دَولَةٌ ولِلباطِلِ جَولَةٌ.“Truth has a [lasting] sovereignty while falsehood has a [short-lived] turn.”3

1.. al-Amāli by al-Saduq, p. ۱۳۲.

2.. Imām al-Sādiq (a.s.) says about Mu`āwiya’s political cunningness: “It is imposture and devilishness; it looks like intellect but it is not intellect.” (al-Kāfi, vol. ۱, p. ۱۱.)

3.. al-Kāfi, vol. ۲, p. ۴۴۷.

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    Imam Ali and Political Leadership
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