What is the Relationship of Politics and Ethics in Imam Khomeini’s view? (2)


The meaning of politics and the status of power

 Politics is inextricably intertwined with all the dimensions of our life and it is so palpable and conspicuous that its existence and influence cannot be denied. But, what is politics really? Innumerable descriptions of politics have been advanced. But one thing is certain: politics is related to the acquisition of power or the struggle for the acquisition of power. So, at the core of the concept of politics, ruling (over others) and attempts at exerting influence lie latent.

If such is the meaning of politics, then it cannot be evaded and must be accepted. It is because the requisite of social welfare and well-being of the society lies in the existence of power, and attainment of power is tied to politics. “What is politics by the way? It is the relations between the ruler and the nation, relations between the ruler and the other governments and, I should say, it is to prevent the corruption and mischief that exist. All of these constitute politics and it is so.”[1] If politics is such and forbidding corruption is deemed part of it, then Islam also has politics as it pursues the enjoinment of what is good and the preclusion of what is bad. Hence, the Imām describes Islam itself, thus: “Islam is governance along with its affairs and decrees.”[2] Similarly, the Infallibles (‘a) have always been involved in politics in this sense.

On what day was the Most Noble Messenger (s) concerned with political issues? He (‘a) used to establish a government; he (s) used to resist those who were anti-Islam and oppressed the people; he (s) used to wage war against them.[3]

It was not only the Most Noble Messenger (s) who used to engage in politics in this sense; the aspect of politics was there in all the prophets (‘a). Because, politics means ensuring the interests of the people, and the prophets (‘a) used to perform this duty in the best manner.

Politics means guiding the society and showing the way; it means considering all the interests of the society, and taking into account all aspects of man and society and guiding them toward the things that are best for them, for the nation and the individuals. This is exclusive to the prophets (‘a).[4]

Politics in this sense has been the principal axis of movement of all the prophets (‘a) and no religion can be regarded as alien and distant from it.

But, the most essential element of politics is power. However, power is something that is frightening. It misleads man as well as disenchants him, that the nature of power corrupts man. A person who feels powerful rebels, and forgets himself, as well as his being a servant of God, and nourishes an illusion of godhood. The story of Pharaoh is not a mere historical account.

Everybody has a ‘Pharaoh” within himself and awaits a favourable opportunity and situation to beat the drum of divinity for himself. François Mitterrand, the former President of France who spent his life in obtaining, preserving and extending power, says about this phenomenon, “I think that power is always a dreadful thing; the one who possesses power should—if not fear—be at least extraordinarily heedful of the nature and extent of his particular role.”[5]

Power is prone to excesses and does not stop at a certain point. If the instinct of power-seeking is given free rein, its expansion and spread, then, can no longer be prevented. Because of this, many people, the mystics in particular, have greatly feared and evaded power owing to its corruptive quality. The following story about an ascetic with the name of Ki Yuyu shows the depth of this fear and evasion:

One day, an emperor of ancient China said to a certain master of Zen named Ki Yuyu, “You are a very great man. I like to transfer the imperial throne to you after my death. Do you accept?”
Ki Yuyu was extremely annoyed and only said, “These words defiled my ears.”
Then, he left so as to wash his ears in the nearest river. While heading toward the river, he was talking to himself: “Today I have heard impure words.”
His friend, along with a cow, came to the river and asked him, “Why are you washing your ears?”
Ki Yuyu replied, “Today, I am very displeased. An emperor wants me to be his successor. He offered the imperial crown to me, and my ears have been polluted by these words. I have to wash them.”
His friend said, “I was supposed to let my cow drink from this limpid water, but now this water has been contaminated.”[6]

The view of our mystics on power has been usually a negative one. They consider the forestalling of power as the alternative to unbridled power. By reflecting on the spirit of men they have realized that only a few can withstand the enticement of power and not become its captive.

In the words of the Imām, the Hitlerian makeup and his mania for power exist in the mind of everyone. “Hitler was ready to annihilate the whole of humanity and make himself stay in power in Germany. The superior race and that which was in the mind of Hitler are in the minds of all of you. You have made yourselves unwary.”[7] Can it be concluded from this matter that power is evil in itself?

In reality, the claim of those people is that since power has unpleasant repercussions such as excesses, injustice and insolence, it follows then that one must eschew it totally. This view has been propagated by many of the Muslim mystics and it has been one factor in the decadence of the Muslim societies. But if gluttony has dire consequences, it cannot be concluded that food must be absolutely discarded.

If abundant wealth is corruptive, one cannot reject it totally and abandon the same. As in the previous discussion on instincts, the way of approaching the insolence of instincts is not to uproot them, but to guide them. On the issue of power too, the same approach must be adopted. Keeping aloof from the detriments of power by giving it up cannot be realized.

The evils should be identified and their emergence prevented. Mitterrand who himself speaks about the dangers of power, regards the solution to lie in controlling and guiding it, and in his words, in acquiring anti-power. “If the one who is in power… is of sound reasoning, he will search for anti-powers.”[8]

This anti-power can prevent the excesses of power as well as the corruption of the power-holder. It can be within a person, and is called ‘conscience’ according to Mitterrand: “Some of my powers only rely on my conscience.”[9]

But one should not content himself with this anti-power; rather, “the society, likewise, ought to bring into existence anti-powers within the framework of its institutions.”[10]

In other words, power should be controlled through the mechanisms of distribution of power, the partnership of the people, and the supervisory bodies. Nevertheless, between these two types of anti-power, it seems that the internal anti-power has primacy. As, sometimes, the power-holder is in such a position of strength that he can neutralize all the social anti-powers. It is here that “the only brake that exists for his actions is the one within him.”[11]

Therefore, according to Weasel, it can be deduced that “the true power is that power which man exercises on his self.”[12] It is this point that can be regarded as among the axiomatic truths of Islamic ethics and mysticism. It is only through internal edification and dominance over the self that power can be properly handled and its perils avoided.

In the opinion of the Imām, the essence of power is an attribute of perfection and God also possesses this attribute in its absolute sense. “Power is a form of perfection in itself. God, the Sublime and Exalted, is powerful.”[13] As such, one should not shun power. Instead, he should understand it and benefit from it, in an optimal way, and the proper way of benefiting from something, in the view of the Imām, is internal refinement. Thus, he stands on the proposition that in case it is acquired by unrefined individuals, power is dangerous. In case power is obtained by corrupt persons, this same perfection will lead him to corruption.[14]

Yes, all the evils that are found in the world arise from egocentrism. Craving position, desire for power, love of riches, and the like—all of them spring from self-love, and this ‘idol’ is the biggest one, breaking which is also far more difficult than everything else.[15]

Therefore, in the intellectual code of the Imām, power ought not to be feared or evaded. Rather, it should be properly utilized, nourished and embellished; by means of relentless trimming of the extra branches of power, its possible centralization and absolutism can be parried.

 Written by Sayyid Hasan Islami

Translated by Mansoor L. Limba


[1] Ibid., vol. 1, p. 271.

 [2] Al-Bay‘, vol. 2, p. 472.

 [3] Sahīfeh-ye Imām, vol. 15, p. 214.

 [4] Ibid., vol. 13, p. 432.

 [5] Khātirāt bā Dū Sidā: Kuftigū-ye Ely Weasel bā François Mitterrand [Memoirs with Two Voices: Dialogue between Ely Weasel and François Mitterrand], trans. ‘Abbās Āgāhī (Tehran: Daftar-e Nashr-e Farhang-e Islāmī, 1377 AHS), p. 171.

 [6] Del-Ārā Qahremān, Sad Hikāyat-e Zen [Hundred Zen Stories] (Tehran: Nashr-e Mītrā, 1377 AHS), p. 143. See Reginald Huras Blithe, Dars-hāyī az Ustādān-e Zen [Lessons from Zen Masters], trans. Nasrīn Majīdī (Tehran: Hīrmand, 1379 AHS), p. 140.

[7] Sahīfeh-ye Imām, vol. 14, p. 379.

 [8] Khātirāt bā Dū Sidā [Memoirs with Two Voices], p. 171.

 [9] Ibid., p. 177.

 [10] Loc. cit.

 [11] Ibid., p. 183.

 [12] Loc. cit.

 [13] Sahīfeh-ye Imām, vol. 18, p. 206.

 [14] Loc. cit.

 [15] Ibid., vol. 19, p. 250.

What is the Relationship of Politics and Ethics in Imam Khomeini’s view? (1)


In an article entitled, Politics and the Problem of Dirty Hands, Coady endeavors to prove the bitter reality that politics is incompatible with remaining innocent and pure, and anyone who enters the political arena should accept the veneer of infamy, meanness, defilement, and any kind of pollution. It is because political expediency and the human condition are such, and “If they mean dirty hands, then they are the mere offshoot of the human condition”[1] and one cannot escape from them.

The Imām’s approach to this issue is of a different kind: His stand is that politics can, and should, be ethical, for politics is nothing but implementation of ethics in a broader spectrum of the society as well as realization of religious ideals and goals. As such, he believes in the oneness of ethics and politics and in a bid to prove it, he puts forth certain points which are discussed in the content of the following:

  • Universality of Islam;
  • Meaning of politics and the status of power;
  • Politics as indispensable for the realization of Islam; and
  • Oneness of ethics and politics in Islam.

Universality of Islam

It was mentioned earlier that man has numerous existential realms and he should nurture and let all of them grow. Now, keeping in view this fact, all divine religions, especially Islam, have appeared so as to nourish these dimensions. The One who holds the reins of authority over the universe, with the knowledge of all the needs of humanity, has sent a prophet (‘a) to every community in every epoch in order to let man attain his perfection: “Because the human being is a multidimensional creature, with many needs, the prophets came to answer these needs and teach man how to act in order to attain true happiness.”[2]

As such, all religions in their respective times have been universal and all the prophets (‘a) have explained all the things needed by the people. “The prophets (‘a) have spoken of those things which concern the spirit, things which concern the different stages of understanding and which relate to the realms of the unseen.”[3] Thus, every religion has had its own particular time of universality until we reach Islam, which is the culmination and perfection of Abrahamic faiths. In this religion, all the needs of humanity have been anticipated and the ways of meeting them precisely specified.

The traditions and the Holy Qur’an have spoken both of issues which concern individual duties and which play a part in man’s development and maturation, and of political issues as well as economic issues; issues which concern society and have something to do with the regulation and moral teachings of the society.[4]

It is with this perception that we see, “We have such a book in which personal affairs, social affairs, political affairs, state administration, and all things are encompassed.”[5] The least doubt on the universality of Islam, and limiting its scope is tantamount to the negation of its principles.

Those who confine Islam to [merely] eating, sleeping, praying, and fasting while not interfering with the problems of this nation, and of the predicaments of this society are not Muslims, [6]  according to the narration of the Most Noble Messenger (s).[7]

In the opinion of the Imām, Islam is not a religion which is only concerned with the spiritual and personal needs; rather, “Islam is everything for the human being; that is, it has ideas and views on everything from nature to beyond nature to the celestial world; Islam has a thesis; Islam has a program.”[8] This program of Islam takes into account all the facets and dimensions of life: “Islam has rules and decrees for the entire life of man from the day he is born up to the moment he is delivered to his grave.”[9]
Written by Sayyid Hasan Islami

Translated by Mansoor L. Limba



[1] C.A.J. Coady, “Politics and the Problem of Dirty Hands,” in A Companion to Ethics, ed. Peter Singer (Basil: Blackwell, 1991), p. 382.

[2] Sahīfeh-ye Imām, vol. 4, p. 190.

[3] Ibid., vol. 3, p. 237.

[4] Loc. cit.

[5] Ibid., vol. 18, p. 423.

[6] Sahīfeh-ye Imām, vol. 14, pp. 527-528.

[7] It refers to the statement of the Messenger of God (s), “One who spends the night without having concern on the affairs of Muslims is not a Muslim.”

[.ﻤﻦﺍﺼﺑﺢ ﻮ ﻠﻢﻴﻬﺗﻢ ﺑﺎﻤﻮﺮﺍﻠﻤﺴﻠﻤﻴﻦﻔﻠﻴﺲ ﺒﻤﺴﻠﻢ].

[8] Ibid., vol. 4, p. 9.

[9] Ibid., vol. 1, p. 271.



Why Do We Need an Islamic Government? (5)


Reason, the laws of Islam, and the practice of the Prophet (s), and that of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), the purport of various Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions—all indicate the necessity of forming a government. As an example of the traditions of the Imāms, I now quote the following tradition of Imām Ridā1 (‘a):

“If someone asks, ‘Why has God, the All-Wise, appointed the holders of authority and commanded us to obey them?’ then we answer, ‘For numerous reasons. One reason is this: Men are commanded to observe certain limits and not to transgress them in order to avoid the corruption that would result. This cannot be attained or established without there being appointed over them a trustee who will ensure that they remain within the limits of the licit and prevent them from casting themselves into the danger of transgression. Were it not for such a trustee, no one would abandon his own pleasure and benefit because of the corruption it might entail for another.”

“ Another reason is that we find no group or nation of men that ever existed without a ruler and leader, since it is required by both religion and worldly interest. It would not be compatible with divine wisdom to leave mankind to its own devices, for He, the All-Wise, knows that men need a ruler for their survival. It is through the leadership he provides that men make war against their enemies, divide among themselves the spoils of war, and preserve their communal solidarity, preventing the oppression of the oppressed by the oppressor.”

“A further reason is this: were God not to appoint over men a solicitous, trustworthy, protecting, reliable leader, the community would decline, religion would depart, and the norms and ordinances that have been revealed would undergo change. Innovators would increase and deniers would erode religion, inducing doubt in the Muslims. For we see that men are needy and defective, judging by their differences of opinion and inclination and their diversity of state. Were a trustee, then, not appointed to preserve what has been revealed through the Prophet (s), corruption would ensue in the manner we have described. Revealed laws, norms, ordinances, and faith would be altogether changed, and therein would lie the corruption of all mankind.”2

Now I paraphrase hadīth for you.  Imām Ridā says if someone should ask you, “Why has God, the All-Wise, appointed holders of authority and commanded you to obey them?” you should answer him as follows: “He has done so for various causes and reasons. One is that men have been set upon a certain well- defined path, and commanded not to stray from it, nor to transgress against the established limits and norms, for if they were to stray, they would fall prey to corruption.

 Now men would not be able to keep to their ordained path and to enact God’s laws unless a trustworthy and protective individual (or power) were appointed over them with responsibility for this matter, to prevent them from stepping outside the sphere of the licit and transgressing against the rights of others.

If no such restraining individual or power were appointed, nobody would voluntarily abandon any pleasure or interest of his own that might result in harm or corruption to others; everybody would engage in oppressing and harming others for the sake of his own pleasures and interests.

“Another reason and cause is this: we do not see a single group, nation, or religious community that has ever been able to exist without an individual entrusted with the maintenance of its laws and institutions—in short, a head or a leader; for such a person is essential for fulfilling the affairs of religion and the world.

It is not permissible, therefore, according to divine wisdom that God should leave men, His creatures, without a leader and guide, for He knows well that they depend on the existence of such a person for their own survival and perpetuation. It is under his leadership that they fight against their enemies, divide the public income among themselves, perform Friday and other congregational prayers and foreshorten the arms of the transgressors who would encroach on the rights of the oppressed.

“Another proof and cause is this: were God not to appoint an Imām over men to maintain law and order, to serve the people faithfully as a vigilant trustee, religion would fall victim to obsolescence and decay. Its rites and institutions would vanish; the customs and ordinances of Islam would be transformed or even deformed. Heretical innovators would add things to religion and atheists and unbelievers would subtract things from it, presenting it to the Muslims in an inaccurate manner. For we see that men are prey to defects; they are not perfect, and must need to strive for perfection.

Moreover, they disagree with each other, having varying inclinations and discordant states. If God, therefore, had not appointed over men one who would maintain order and law and protect the revelation brought by the Prophet (s), in the manner we have described, men would have fallen prey to corruption; the institutions, laws, customs, and ordinances of Islam would be transformed; and faith and its content would be completely changed, resulting in the corruption of all humanity.”

As you can deduce from the words of the Imām (‘a), there are numerous proofs and causes that necessitate formation of a government, and establishment of an authority. These proofs, causes, and arguments are not temporary in their validity or limited to a particular time, and the necessity for the formation of a government, therefore, is perpetual.

For example, it will always happen that men overstep the limits laid down by Islam and transgress against the rights of others for the sake of their personal pleasure and benefit. It cannot be asserted that such was the case only in the time of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), and that afterwards, men became angels. The wisdom of the Creator has decreed that men should live in accordance with justice and act within the limits set by divine law. This wisdom is eternal and immutable, and constitutes one of the norms of God Almighty.

Today and always, therefore, the existence of a holder of authority, a ruler who acts as trustee and maintains the institutions and laws of Islam, is a necessity—a ruler who prevents cruelty, oppression, and violation of the rights of others; who is a trustworthy and vigilant guardian of God’s creatures; who guides men to the teachings, doctrines, laws, and institutions of Islam; and who prevents the undesirable changes that atheists and the enemies of religion wish to introduce in the laws and institutions of Islam. Did not the caliphate of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) serve this purpose? The same factors of necessity that led him to become the Imām still exist; the only difference is that no single individual has been designated for the task.3The principle of the necessity of government has been made a general one, so that it will always remain in effect.

If the ordinances of Islam are to remain in effect, then, if encroachment by oppressive ruling classes on the rights of the weak is to be prevented, if ruling minorities are not to be permitted to plunder and corrupt the people for the sake of pleasure and material interest, if the Islamic order is to be preserved and all individuals are to pursue the just path of Islam without any deviation, if innovations and the approval of anti-Islamic laws by sham parliaments4 are to be prevented, if the influence of foreign powers in the Islamic lands is to be destroyed—government is necessary.

 None of these aims can be achieved without government and the organs of the state. It is a righteous government, of course, that is needed; one presided over by a ruler who will be a trustworthy and righteous trustee. Those who presently govern us [in most of Islamic countries] are of no use at all for they are tyrannical, corrupt, and highly incompetent.

In the past, we did not act in concert and unanimity in order to establish proper government and overthrow treacherous and corrupt rulers. Some people were apathetic and reluctant even to discuss the theory of Islamic government, and some went so far as to praise oppressive rulers. It is for this reason that we find ourselves in the present state. The influence and sovereignty of Islam in society have declined; the nation of Islam has fallen victim to division and weakness; the laws of Islam have remained in abeyance and been subjected to change and modification; and the imperialists have propagated foreign laws and alien culture among the Muslims through their agents for the sake of their evil purposes, causing people to be infatuated with the West. It was our lack of a leader, a guardian, and our lack of institutions of leadership that made all this possible. We need righteous and proper organs of government; that much is self-evident.

 Source:  Islamic Government, Imām Khomeini


  1. Imām Ridā: eighth of the Twelve Imāms, born in 148/765 and died in 203/817 in Tūs (Mashhad). He was poisoned by the Abbasid caliph Ma’mūn, who had appointed him as his successor at first, but then grew fearful of the wide following he commanded (see p. 137). His shrine in Mashhad is one of the principal centers of pilgrimage and religious learning in Iran. See Bāqir Sharīf al-Qarashi, The Life of Imām ‘Ali bin Mūsā al-Ridā, trans. Jāsim al-Rasheed (Qum: Ansariyan Publications); Muhammad Jawād Fadlallāh, Imam al-Ridā: A Historical and Biographical Research, trans. Yāsīn T. al-Jibouri, http://www.al-islam.org/al-rida/index.html; Muhammad Mahdi Shams ad-Dīn, “Al-Imām ar-Ridā (‘a) and the Heir Apparency,” At-Tawhīd Journal, http://www.al-islam.org/al-tawhid/heir.htm. (Pub.)
  2. The text of this tradition can be found in Shaykh Sadūq, ‘Ilal ash-Sharāi‘  (Qum, 1378/1958), I, sec. 182, hadīth 9, p. 251. (Pub.)
  3. That is, in the absence of the Imām or an individual deputy named by him (as was the case during the Lesser Occultation), the task devolves upon the fuqahā as a class. See argument on pp. 44-112.
  4. Here the allusion may be in particular to the so-called Family Protection Law of 1967, which Imām Khomeini denounced as contrary to Islam in an important ruling. See Imām Khomeini, Tauzih al-Masā’il, n.p., n.d., pp. 462-463, par. 2836, and p. 441.

Why Do We Need an Islamic Government? (4)


 [Unfortunately] the imperialists and the tyrannical self-seeking rulers have divided the Islamic homeland. They have separated the various segments of the Islamic ummah from each other and artificially created separate nations.

There once existed the great Ottoman State, and that, too, the imperialists divided. Russia, Britain, Austria, and other imperialist powers united, and through wars against the Ottomans, each came to occupy or absorb into its sphere of influence, part of the Ottoman realm. It is true that most of the Ottoman rulers were incompetent, that some of them were corrupt, and that they followed the monarchical system.

Nonetheless, the existence of the Ottoman State represented a threat to the imperialists. It was always possible that righteous individuals might rise up among the people and, with their assistance, seize control of the state, thus putting an end to imperialism by mobilizing the unified resources of the nation.

Therefore after numerous prior wars, the imperialists at the end of World War I divided the Ottoman State, creating in its territories about ten or fifteen petty states.1 Then each of these was entrusted to one of their servants or a group of their servants, although certain countries were later able to escape the grasp of the agents of imperialism.

In order to assure the unity of the Islamic ummah, in order to liberate the Islamic homeland from occupation and penetration by the imperialists and their puppet governments, it is imperative that we establish a government. In order to attain the unity and freedom of the Muslim peoples, we must overthrow the oppressive governments installed by the imperialists and bring into existence an Islamic government of justice that will be in the service of the people.

The formation of such a government will serve to preserve the disciplined unity of the Muslims; just as Fātimah az-Zahrā2 (‘a) said in her address: “The Imamate exists for the sake of preserving order among the Muslims and replacing their disunity with unity”.

Through the political agents they have placed in power over the people, the imperialists have imposed on us an unjust economic order, and thereby divided our people into two groups: oppressors and oppressed. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are hungry and deprived of all forms of health care and education, while minorities comprised of the wealthy and powerful live a life of indulgence, licentiousness, and corruption.

 The hungry and deprived have constantly struggled to free themselves from the oppression of their plundering overlords, and their struggle continues to this day. But their way is blocked by the ruling minorities and the oppressive governmental structures they head. It is our duty to save the oppressed and deprived. It is our duty to be a helper to the oppressed, and an enemy to the oppressor. This is nothing other than the duty that the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) entrusted to his two great offspring3 in his celebrated testament: “Be an enemy to the oppressor and a helper to the oppressed.”4

The scholars of Islam have a duty to struggle against all attempts by oppressors to establish a monopoly over the sources of wealth or to make illicit use of them. They must not allow the masses to remain hungry and deprived while plundering oppressors usurp the sources of wealth and live in opulence.

The Commander of the Faithful (‘a) says: “I have accepted the task of government because God, Exalted and Almighty, has exacted from the scholars of Islam a pledge not to sit silent and idle in the face of gluttony and plundering of the oppressors, on the one hand, and the hunger and deprivation of the oppressed, on the other.” Here is the full text of the passage we refer to:

“I swear by Him Who causes the seed to open and creates the souls of all living things that were it not for the presence of those who have come to swear allegiance to me, were it not for the obligation of ruling now imposed upon me by the availability of aid and support, and were it not for the pledge that God has taken from the scholars of Islam not to remain silent in the face of the gluttony and plundering of the oppressors, on the one hand, and the harrowing hunger and deprivation of the oppressed, on the other hand—were it not for all of this, then I would abandon the reins of government and in no way seek it. You would see that this world of yours, with all of its position and rank, is less in my eyes than the moisture that comes from the sneeze of a goat.”5

How can we stay silent and idle today when we see that a band of traitors and usurpers, the agents of foreign powers, have appropriated the wealth and the fruits of labor of hundreds of millions of Muslims—thanks to the support of their masters and through the power of the bayonet—granting the Muslim not the least right to prosperity? It is the duty of Islamic scholars and all Muslims to put an end to this system of oppression and, for the sake of the well-being of hundreds of millions of human beings, to overthrow these oppressive governments and form an Islamic government.

Source:  Islamic Government, Imām Khomeini


  1. It may be apposite to quote here the following passage from a secret report drawn up in January 1916 by Thomas E. Lawrence, the British organizer of the so-called Arab revolt led by Sharīf Husayn of Mecca: “Husayn’s activity seems beneficial to us, because it matches with our immediate aims, the breakup of the Islamic bloc and the defeat and disruption of the Ottoman Empire…. The Arabs are even less stable than the Turks. If properly handled they would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of small jealous principalities incapable of political cohesion.” See Philip Knightley and Colin Simpson, The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia (New York, 1971), p. 55.
  2. Fātimah az-Zahrā: Fātimah, the daughter of the Prophet and wife of Imām ‘Ali. For her biography, see Fātimah the Gracious (Qum: Ansariyan Publications). (Pub.)
  3. I.e., Hasan and Husayn.
  4. Nahj al-Balāghah, Letter 47. See English translation of Nahj al-Balāghah, Peak of Eloquence with commentary and its original Arabic text (Qum: Ansariyan Publications), http://www.al-islam.org/nahjul/index.htm. (Pub.)
  5. Nahj al-Balāghah, Sermon 3 (The famous Shaqshaqiyyah Sermon).See Nahj al-Balāghah, ed. Subhi as-Sālih. (Pub.)

Why Do We Need an Islamic Government? (3)


The ordinances pertaining to preservation of the Islamic system and defense of the territorial integrity and independence of the Islamic ummah1 also demanded the formation of a government. An example is the command: “Prepare against them whatever force you can muster and horses tethered” (Qur’an, 8:60), which enjoins the preparation of as much armed defensive force as possible and orders the Muslims to be always on the alert and at the ready, even in time of peace.

If the Muslims had acted in accordance with this command, and after forming a government, made the necessary extensive preparations to be in a state of full readiness for war, a handful of Jews would never have dared to occupy our lands and to burn and destroy the Masjid al-Aqsā2 without the people’s being capable of making an immediate response. All this has resulted from the failure of the Muslims to fulfill their duty of executing God’s law and setting up a righteous and respectable government.

 If the rulers of the Muslim countries truly represented the believers and enacted God’s ordinances, they would set aside their petty differences, abandon their subversive and divisive activities, and join together like the fingers of one hand. Then a handful of wretched Jews (the agents of America, Britain and other foreign powers) would never have been able to accomplish what they have, no matter how much support they enjoyed from America and Britain. All this has happened because of the incompetence of those who rule over the Muslims.

The verse: “Prepare against them whatever force you can muster” commands you to be as strong and well-prepared as possible, so that your enemies will be unable to oppress you and transgress against you. It is because we have been lacking in unity, strength, and preparedness that we suffer oppression and are at the mercy of foreign aggressors.

There are numerous provisions of the law that cannot be implemented without the establishment of a government apparatus; for example, blood money, which must be exacted and delivered to those deserving it, or the corporeal penalties imposed by the law, which must be carried out under the supervision of the Islamic ruler. All of these laws refer back to the institutions of government for it is the government power alone that is capable of fulfilling this function.

After the death of the Most Noble Messenger (s), the obstinate enemies of the faith, the Umayyad3 (God’s curses be upon them), did not permit the Islamic state to attain stability with the rule of ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib (‘a). They did not allow a form of government to exist that was pleasing to God, Exalted and Almighty, and to His Most Noble Messenger (s).

They transformed the entire basis of government, and their policies were, for the most part, contradictory to Islam. The form of government of the Umayyads and the Abbasids,4 and the political and administrative policies they pursued, were anti-Islamic. The form of government was thoroughly perverted by being transformed into a monarchy, like those of the kings of Iran, the emperors of Rome, and the pharaohs of Egypt. For the most part, this non-Islamic form of government has persisted to the present day, as we can see.

Both law and reason require that we not permit governments to retain this non-Islamic or anti-Islamic character. The proofs are clear. First, the existence of a non-Islamic political order necessarily results in the non-implementation of the Islamic political order. Then, all non-Islamic systems of government are the systems of kufr5 since the ruler in each case is an instance of tāghūt,6 and it is our duty to remove from the life of Muslim society all traces of kufr and destroy them. It is also our duty to create a favorable social environment for the education of believing and virtuous individuals, an environment that is in total contradiction with that produced by the rule of tāghūt and illegitimate power.

The social environment created by tāghūt and shirk7 invariably brings about corruption such as you can observe now in [some Islamic countries], the same corruption termed “corruption on earth.”8 This corruption must be swept away, and its instigators should be punished for their deeds. It is the same corruption that the Pharaoh generated in Egypt with his policies, so that the Qur’an says of him, “Truly, he was among the corruptors” (28:4).

 A believing, pious, just individual cannot possibly exist in a socio-political environment of this nature, and still maintain his faith and righteous conduct. He is faced with two choices: either he commits acts that amount to kufr and contradict righteousness, or in order not to commit such acts and not to submit to the orders and commands of tāghūt, the just individual opposes him and struggles against him in order to destroy the environment of corruption. We have in reality, then, no choice but to destroy those systems of government that are corrupt in themselves and also entail the corruption of others, and to overthrow all treacherous, corrupt, oppressive, and criminal regimes.

This is a duty that all Muslims must fulfill, in every one of the Muslim countries, in order to achieve the triumphant political revolution of Islam.

Source:  Islamic Government, Imām Khomeini


  1. Ummah: the entire Islamic community, without territorial or ethnic distinction.
  2. Masjid al-Aqsā: the site in Jerusalem where the Prophet ascended to heaven in the eleventh year of his mission (Qur’an, 17:1); also the complex of mosques and buildings erected on the site. The chief of these was extensively damaged by arson in 1969, two years after the Zionist usurpation of Jerusalem.
  3. Umayyads: descendants of ‘Umayyah ibn ‘Abdu Shams ibn ‘Abdu Manāf from the Quraysh tribe, and members of the dynasty that ruled at Damascus from 41/632 until 132/750 and transformed the caliphate into a hereditary institution. Mu‘āwiyah, ibn Abū Sufyān frequently mentioned in these pages, was the first of the Umayyad line. This kingdom ended with the murder of Marwān II, the last Umayyad caliph. (Pub.)
  4. Abbasids: offspring of ‘Abbās ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib, uncle of the Holy Prophet (s), and the dynasty that replaced the Umayyads and established a new caliphal capital in Baghdad. This dynastic rule began in 132/750 with the caliphate of ‘Abdullāh as-Saffāh. With the rise of various local rulers, generally of military origin, the power of the Abbasids began to decline from the fourth/tenth century and it was brought to an end by the Mongol conquest in 656/1258. (Pub.)
  5. Kufr: the rejection of divine guidance; the antithesis of Islam.
  6. Tāghūt: one who surpasses all bounds in his despotism and tyranny and claims the prerogatives of divinity for himself, whether explicitly or implicitly. See also p. 78-79.
  7. Shirk: the assignment of partners to God, either by believing in a multiplicity of gods, or by assigning divine attributes and prerogatives to other-than-God.
  8. “Corruption on earth”: a broad term including not only moral corruption, but also subversion of the public good, embezzlement and usurpation of public wealth, conspiring with the enemies of the community against its security, and working in general for the overthrow of the Islamic order. See the commentary on Qur’an, 5:33 in Tabātabā’i’s, al-Mīzān, V, 330-332.

Why Do We Need an Islamic Government? (2)


In order to clarify the matter further, let us pose the following question. From the time of the Lesser Occultation1 down to the present (a period of more than twelve centuries that may continue for hundreds of millennia if it is not appropriate for the Occulted Imām to manifest himself), is it proper that the laws of Islam be cast aside and remain unexecuted, so that everyone acts as he pleases and anarchy prevails? Were the laws that the Prophet of Islam labored so hard for twenty-three years to set forth, promulgate, and execute valid only for a limited period of time? Was everything pertaining to Islam meant to be abandoned after the Lesser Occultation? Anyone who believes so, or voices such a belief, is worse situated than the person who believes and proclaims that Islam has been superseded or abrogated by another supposed revelation.2

No one can say it is no longer necessary to defend the frontiers and the territorial integrity of the Islamic homeland; that taxes such as the jizyah, kharāj, khums, and zakāt3 should no longer be collected; that the penal code of Islam, with its provisions for the payment of blood money and the exacting of requital, should be suspended. Any person who claims that the formation of an Islamic government is not necessary implicitly denies the necessity for the implementation of Islamic law, the universality and comprehensiveness of that law, and the eternal validity of the faith itself.

After the death of the Most Noble Messenger (s), none of the Muslims doubted the necessity for government. No one said: “We no longer need a government”. No one was heard to say anything of the kind. There was unanimous agreement concerning the necessity for government. There was disagreement only as to which person should assume responsibility for government and head the state. Government, therefore, was established after the Prophet (s), both in the time of the caliphs and in that of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a); an apparatus of government came into existence with administrative and executive organs.

The nature and character of Islamic law and the divine ordinances of the sharī‘ah furnish additional proof of the necessity for establishing government, for they indicate that the laws were laid down for the purpose of creating a state and administering the political, economic and cultural affairs of society.

Firstly, the laws of the sharī‘ah embrace a diverse body of laws and regulation, which amounts to a complete social system. In this system of laws, all the needs of man have been met: his dealings with his neighbors, fellow citizens, and clan, as well as children and relatives; the concerns of private and marital life; regulations concerning war and peace and intercourse with other nations; penal and commercial law; and regulations pertaining to trade, industry and agriculture. Islamic law contains provisions relating to the preliminaries of marriage and the form in which it should be contracted, and others relating to the development of the embryo in the womb, and what food the parents should eat at the time of conception.

It further stipulates the duties that are incumbent upon them while the infant is being suckled, and specifies how the child should be reared, and how the husband and the wife should relate to each other and to their children. Islam provides laws and instructions for all of these matters, aiming, as it does, to produce integrated and virtuous human beings who are walking embodiments of the law, or to put it differently, the law’s voluntary and instinctive executors.

 It is obvious, then, how much care Islam devotes to government and the political and economic relations of society, with goal of creating conditions conducive to the production of morally upright and virtuous human beings.

The Glorious Qur’an and the Sunnah contain all the laws and ordinances man needs in order to attain happiness and the perfection of his state. The book alKāfi4 has a chapter entitled, “All the Needs of Men Are Set Out in the Book and the Sunnah,”5 the “Book” meaning the Qur’an, which is, in its own words, “an exposition of all things.”6 According to certain traditions, the Imām7 also swears that the Book and the Sunnah contain without a doubt all that men need.

Second, if we examine closely the nature and character of the provisions of the law, we realize that their execution and implementation depend upon the formation of a government, and that it is impossible to fulfill the duty of executing God’s commands without there being established properly comprehensive administrative and executive organs.

Thus, the taxes Islam levies and the form of budget it has established are not merely for the sake of providing subsistence to the poor or feeding the indigent among the descendants of the Prophet (s); they are also intended to make possible, the establishment of a great government and to assure its essential expenditures.

Source:  Islamic Government, Imām Khomeini



  1. Lesser Occultation: ghaybat-i sughrah, the period of about 70 years (260/872-329/939) when, according to Shī‘i belief, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Twelfth Imām, absented himself from the physical plane but remained in communication with his followers through a succession of four appointed deputies, viz., ‘Uthmān ibn Sa‘īd, Muhammad ibn ‘Uthmān, Husayn ibn Rūh, and ‘Ali ibn Muhammad. At the death of the fourth deputies no successor was named, and the Greater Occultation (ghaybat-i kubrah) began, and continues to this day. See Muhammad Bāqir as-Sadr and Murtadā Mutahhari, Awaited Saviour (Karachi: Islamic Seminary Publications), http://www.islam.org/saviour/index.htm; Muhammad Bāqir as-Sadr, An Inquiry Concerning Al-Mahdi (Qum: Ansariyan Publications); Jassim M. Husain, The Occultation of the Twelfth Imām: A Historical Background (London: Muhammadi Trust, 1982); Ibrāhīm Amīni, Al-Imām Al-Mahdī: The Just Leader of Humanity, trans. ‘Abdul ‘Azīz Sachedina (Qum: Ansariyan Publications), http://www.al-islam.org/mahdi/nontl/index.htm. (Pub.)
  2. The allusion is probably to the Bahā’is, who claim to have received a succession of post-Qur’anic revelations.
  3. Jizyah: a tax levied on non-Muslim citizens of the Muslim state in exchange for the protection they receive and in lieu of the taxes, such as zakāt, that only Muslims pay. Kharaj: a tax levied on certain categories of land. Khums: a tax consisting of one-fifth of agricultural and commercial profits (see p. 24 and Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, Khums, http://www.al-islam.org/beliefs/practices/khums.html). Zakāt: the tax levied on various categories of wealth and spent on the purposes specified in Qur’an, 9:60. (Pub.)
  4. Al-Kāfi: more fully, Al-Kāfi fī ’l Hadīth,one of the most important Shī‘i collections of hadīth, compiled by Shaykh Abū Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Ya‘qūb al-Kulayni (d. 329/941). This treatise consists of 34 books, 326 sections, and over 16,000 ahādīth. Two fascicules of this work have been translated into English by Sayyid Muhammad Hasan Rizvi and published by the Tehran-based World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS), http://www.wofis.com, e-mail: wofis@wofis.com. (Pub.)
  5. Usūl al-Kāfi, Book of “Virtues of Knowledge,” vol. 1, pp. 76-80. (Pub.)
  6. Qur’an, 16:89.
  7. The reference is probably to Imām Ja‘far as-Sādiq, whose sayings on this subject are quoted by ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’i in al-Mīzān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān (Beirut, 1390/1979), XII, 327-328. First eight volumes of ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’i’s Al-Mīzān has been translated into English by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi and published by the WOFIS. (Pub.)

Why Do We Need an Islamic Government? (1)


A body of laws alone is not sufficient for a society to be reformed. In order for law to ensure the reform and happiness of man, there must be an executive power and an executor. For this reason, God Almighty, in addition to revealing a body of law (i.e., the ordinances of the sharī‘ah), has laid down a particular form of government together with executive and administrative institution.

The Most Noble Messenger (s) headed the executive and administrative institutions of Muslim society. In addition to conveying the revelation and expounding and interpreting the articles of faith and the ordinances and institutions of Islam, he undertook the implementation of law and the establishment of the ordinances of Islam, thereby, bringing into being the Islamic state. He did not content himself with the promulgation of law; rather, he implemented it at the same time, cutting off hands and administering lashings, and stoning.

After the Most Noble Messenger (s), his successor had the same duty and function. When the Prophet (s) appointed a successor, it was not only for the purpose of expounding articles of faith and law; it was for the implementation of law and the execution of God’s ordinances. It was this function—the execution of law and the establishment of Islamic institutions—that made the appointment of a successor such an important matter that the Prophet (s) would have failed to fulfill his mission if he had neglected it. For after the Prophet (s), the Muslims still needed someone to execute laws and establish the institution of Islam in society, so that they might attain happiness in this world and the hereafter.

By their nature, in fact, laws and social institutions require the existence of an executor. It has always and everywhere been the case that legislation alone has little benefit: legislation by itself cannot assure the well-being of man.

After the establishment of legislation, an executive power must come into being, a power that implements the laws and the verdicts given by the courts, thus allowing people to benefit from the laws and the just sentences the courts deliver. Islam has therefore established an executive power in the same way that it has brought laws into being. The person who holds this executive power is known as the valī-yi amr.1The Sunnah2 and path of the Prophet (s) constitute a proof of the necessity for establishing government.

First, he himself established a government, as history testifies. He engaged in the implementation of laws, the establishment of the ordinances of Islam, and the administration of society. He sent out governors to different regions; both sat in judgment himself and also appointed judges; dispatched emissaries to foreign states, tribal chieftains, and kings; concluded treaties and pacts; and took command in battle. In short, he fulfilled all the functions of government.

Second, he designated a ruler to succeed him, in accordance with divine command. If God Almighty, through the Prophet (s), designated a man who was to rule over Muslim society after him, this is in itself an indication that government remains a necessity after the departure of the Prophet from this world. Again, since the Most Noble Messenger (s) promulgated the divine command through his act of appointing a successor, he also, implicitly stated the necessity for establishing a government.

It is self-evident that the necessity for enactment of the law, which necessitated the formation of a government by the Prophet (s), was confined or restricted to his time, but continues after his departure from this world.

According to one of the noble verses of the Qur’an, the ordinances of Islam are not limited with respect to time or place; they are permanent and must be enacted until the end of time.3 They were not revealed merely for the time of the Prophet, only to be abandoned thereafter, with retribution and the penal code no longer be enacted, or the taxes prescribed by Islam no longer collected, and the defense of the lands and people of Islam suspended.

 The claim that the laws of Islam may remain in abeyance or are restricted to a particular time or place is contrary to the essential creedal bases of Islam. Since enactment of laws, then, is necessary after the departure of the Prophet from this world, and indeed, will remain so until the end of time, the formation of a government and the establishment of executive and administrative organs are also necessary.

Without the formation of a government and the establishment of such organs to ensure that through enactment of the law, all activities of the individual take place in the framework of a just system, chaos and anarchy will prevail and social, intellectual and moral corruption will arise. The only way to prevent the emergence of anarchy and disorder and to protect society from corruption is to form a government and thus impart order to all the affairs of the country.

Both reason and divine law, then, demonstrate the necessity in our time for what was necessary during the lifetime of the Prophet (s) and the age of the Commander of the Faithful, ‘Ali ibn Abi Tālib (‘a)—namely the formation of a government and the establishment of executive and administrative organs.

Source:  Islamic Government, Imām Khomeini


  1. Valī-yi Amr: “the one who holds authority,” a term derived from Qur’an, 4:59: “O you who believe! Obey God, and obey the Messenger and the holders of authority (ūli ’l-amr) from among you.” For commentary of this verse, see Mīr Ahmad ‘Ali, The Holy Qur’an (NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, 1988), http://www.al-islam.org/quran (Pub.)
  2. Sunnah: the practice of the Prophet, accepted by Muslims as the norm and ideal for all human behavior.
  3. See, for example, Sūrah Ibrāhīm (14:52), Sūrah Yūnus (10:2), Sūrah al-Hājj (22:49), Sūrah  al-Ahzāb (33:40), and Sūrah Yā-Sīn (36:70). (Pub.)

What is the Ideal Islamic Government? (5)

In order to answer this question the best way is to refer to the ideal Islamic government as expounded by the Leader of the Faithful 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:

Communion with Allah

The particular thing by which you should purify your religion for Allah should be the fulfillment of those obligations which are especially for Him. Therefore, devote to Allah some of your physical activity during the night and the day and whatever (worship) you perform for seeking nearness to Allah should be complete, without defect or deficiency, whatsoever physical exertion it may involve.

When you lead the prayers for the people it should be neither (too long as to be) boring nor (too short as to be) wasteful, because among the people there are the sick as well as those who have needs of their own. When the Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h.a.h.p.) sent me to Yemen I enquired how I should offer prayers with them and he replied, “Say the prayers as the weakest of them would say, and be considerate to the believers.”

On the Behavior and Action of a Ruler

Then, do not keep yourself secluded from the people for a long time, because the seclusion of those in authority from the subjects is a kind of narrow-sightedness and causes ignorance about their affairs.

Seclusion from them also prevents them from the knowledge of those things which they do not know and as a result they begin to regard big matters as small and small matters big, good matters as bad and bad matters as good, while the truth becomes confused with falsehood. After all, a governor is a human being and cannot have knowledge of things which people keep hidden from him.

No writ is big on the face of truth to differentiate its various expressions from falsehood. Then you can be one of two kinds of men. Either you may be generous in granting rights; and then why this hiding in spite of (your) discharging the obligations and good acts that you perform?

Or you are a victim of stinginess; in that case people will soon give up asking you since they will lose hope of generous treatment from you. In spite of that there are many needs of the people towards you which do not involve any hardship on you, such as the complaint against oppression or the request for justice in a matter.

Further, a governor has favorites and people of easy access to .him. They misappropriate things, are highhanded and do not observe justice in matter. You should destroy the root of evil in the people by cutting away the causes of these defects. Do not make any land grants to your hangers on or supporters.

They should not expect from you the possession of land which may cause harm to adjoining people over the question of irrigation or common services whose burden the grantees place on others. In this way, the benefit will be rather theirs than yours, and the blame will lie on you in this world and the next.

Allow rights to whomsoever it is due, whether near you or far from you. In this matter, you should be enduring and watchful even though it may involve your relations and favorites, and keep in view the reward of that which appears burdensome on you because its reward is handsome.

If the subjects suspect you of high-handedness, explain to them your position openly and remove their suspicion with your explanation, because this would mean exercise for your soul and consideration to the subjects while this explanation will secure your aim of keeping them firm in truth.

Do not reject peace to which your enemy may call you and wherein there is the pleasure of Allah, because peace brings rest to your army and relief from your worries and safety for your country. But after peace there is great apprehension from the enemy because often the enemy offers peace to benefit by your negligence. Therefore, be cautious and do not act by wishfulness in this matter.

If you conclude an agreement between yourself and your enemy or enter into a pledge with him then fulfill your agreement and discharge your pledge faithfully. Place yourself as a shield against whatever you have pledged because among the obligations of Allah there is nothing on which people are more strongly united despite the difference of their ideas and variation of their views than respect for fulfilling pledges.

Besides Muslims, even unbelievers have abided by agreements because they rea1ized the dangers which would come in the wake of violation (thereof).

Therefore, do not deceive your enemy, because no one can offend Allah save the ignorant and the wicked. Allah made His agreement and pledged the sign of security which He has spread over His creatures through His mercy and an asylum in which they stay in His protection and seek the benefit of nearness to Him. Therefore, there should be no deceit, cunning or duplicity in it.

Do not enter into an agreement which may admit of different interpretations and do not change the interpretation of vague words after the conclusion and confirmation (of the agreement).

If any agreement of Allah involves you in hardship do not seek its repudiation without justification, because the bearing of hardships through which you expect relief and a handsome result is better than a violation whose consequence you fear, and that you fear that you will be called upon by Allah to account for it and you will not be able to seek forgiveness for it in this world or the next.

You should avoid shedding blood without justification, because nothing is more inviting of Divine retribution, greater in (evil) consequence, and more effective in the decline of prosperity and cutting short of life than the shedding of blood without justification. On the Day of Judgment Allah the Glorified, would commence giving His judgment among the people with the cases of bloodshed committed by them.

Therefore, do not strengthen your authority by shedding prohibited blood because this will weaken and lower the authority, moreover destroy it and shift it. You cannot offer any excuse before Allah or before me for willful killing because there must be the question or revenge in it.

If you are involved in it be error and you exceed in the use of your whip or sword, or are hard in inflicting punishment, as sometimes even a blow by the fist or a smaller stroke causes death, then the haughtiness of your authority should not prevent you from paying the blood price to the successors of the killed person.

You should avoid self-admiration, having reliance in what appears good in yourself and love of exaggerated praise because this is one of the most reliable opportunities for Satan to obliterate the good deeds of the virtuous.

Avoid showing (the existence of) obligation on your subjects for having done good to them or praising your own actions or making promises and then breaking them because showing (the existence of) obligation destroys good, self-praise takes away the light of truth, and breaking promises earns the hatred of Allah and of the people. Allah the Glorified says:

“Most hateful is it unto Allah that you say what you (yourselves) do (it) not.” (Qur’an, 61:3)

Avoid haste in matters before their time, slowness at their proper time, insistence on them when the propriety of action is not known or weakens when it becomes clear. Assign every matter its proper place and do every job at the appropriate time.

Do not appropriate to yourself that in which the people have an equal share, nor be regardless of matters which have come to light with the excuse that you are accountable for others. Shortly, the curtains of all matters will be raised from your view and you will be required to render redress to the oppressed.

Have control over (your) sense of prestige, any outburst of anger, the might of your arm and the sharpness of your tongue. Guard against all this by avoiding haste and by delaying severe action till your anger subsides and you regain your self-control. You cannot withhold yourself from this unless you bear in mind that you have to return to Allah.

It is necessary for you to recall how matters went with those who preceded you, be it a government or a great tradition or a precedent of our Prophet (may Allah bless him and his descendants) or the obligatory commands contained in the Book of Allah.

Then you should follow them as you have seen us acting upon them and should exert yourself in following that I have enjoined upon you in this document in which I have exhausted my pleas on you, so that if your heart advances towards its passions you may have no plea in its support.

I ask Allah through the extent of His mercy and the greatness of His power of giving a good inclination that He may prompt me and you to advance a clear plea before Him and His creatures in a manner that may attract His pleasure along with handsome praise among the people, good effect in the country, an increase in prosperity and a heightening of honor; and that He may allow me and you to die a death of virtue and martyrdom.

Surely we have to return to Him. Peace be on the Messenger of Allah – may Allah shower His blessings and plentiful salutation on him and his pure and chaste descendants; and that is an end to the matter.

Source: The letter of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) to Malik Al Ashtar, translated by Allamah Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi

What is the Ideal Islamic Government? (4)

islamic-governmentIn order to answer this question the best way is to refer to the ideal Islamic government as expounded by the Leader of the Faithful 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:

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 bead 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 (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 judgments 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 every one of them has (a share in) livelihood in the name of Allah. Every one 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 chestiest 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, valor, generosity and benevolence, because they are repositories of honor 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 favors 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 kindnesses to them will tum 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 dean. 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 minimize 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 Allah and obey the Prophet and those vested with authority from among you; and then if you quarrel about anything refer it to Allah and the Prophet if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day (of Judgment) -(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.

  1. 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 judgment. 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.

  1. Executive Officers

Thereafter, look into the affairs of your executives. Give them appointment after tests and do not appoint them according to partiality or favoritism, because these two things constitute sources of injustice and unfairness.

Select from 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 honor. They are the least inclined towards greed and always base 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 order 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 offence.

  1. 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 meting out justice to them.

You can depend upon their strength because of the investment made by you in them through catering for 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 to ask for their assistance, when they will hear it happily, for prosperity is capable of bearing what· ever you load on it. The ruin of the land is caused by the poverty of the cultivators, while the cu1tivators 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.

  1. 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 honors, 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 others.

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 favor 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.

  1. Traders and Industrialists

Now take some advice about traders and industrialists. Give them good counsel whether they be settled (shopkeepers) or traders or physical laborers 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

  1. 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 tum 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 God-fearing 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 fulfill 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 beard 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.


Source: The letter of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) to Malik Al Ashtar, translated by Allamah Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi



What is the Ideal Islamic Government? (3)

islamic-governmentIn order to answer this question the best way is to refer to the ideal Islamic government as expounded by the Leader of the Faithful 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:

About Counselors

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 will give 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 an excess of praise produces pride and drives you near haughtiness.

The virtuous and the vicious should not be in equal position 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 behavior 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 good impression of you is he to whom your behavior 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 rewards 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 stabilize the prosperity of the areas under you, and to continue with that in which the earlier people had remained steadfast.


Source: The letter of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) to Malik Al Ashtar, translated by Allamah Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi