50. Human civilization requires political leadership
for its organization.
We have mentioned before in more than one place that human social organization is something necessary. It is the thing that is meant by "the civilization" which we have been discussing. (People) in any social organization must have someone who exercises a restraining influence and rules them and to whom recourse may be had. His rule over them is sometimes based upon a divinely revealed religious law. They are obliged to submit to it in view of their belief in reward and punishment in the other world, (things that were indicated) by the person who brought them (their religious law). Sometimes, (his rule is based) upon rational politics. People are obliged to submit to it in view of the reward they expect from the ruler after he has become acquainted with what is good for them.
The first (type of rule) is useful for this world and for the other world, because the lawgiver knows the ultimate interest of the people and is concerned with the salvation of man in the other world. The second (type of rule) is useful only for this world.749
We do not mean here that which is known as "political utopianism" (siyasah madaniyah).750 By that, the philosophers mean the disposition of soul and character which each member of a social organization must have, if, eventually, people are completely to dispense with rulers. They call the social organization that fulfills these requirements the "ideal city." The norms observed in this connection are called "political utopias" (siyasah madaniyah). They do not mean the kind of politics (siyasah) that the members of a social organization are led to adopt through laws for the common interest. That is something different. The "ideal city" (of the philosophers) is something rare and remote. They discuss it as a hypothesis.
Now, the afore-mentioned rational politics may be of two types. The first type of rational politics may concern itself with the (public) interest in general, and with the ruler's interest in connection with the administration of his realm, in particular. This was the politics of the Persians. It is something related to philosophy. God made this type of politics superfluous for us in Islam at the time of the caliphate. The religious laws take its place in connection with both general and special interests, for they also include the maxims (of the philosophers) and the rules of royal authority.
The second type (of rational politics) is the one concerned with the interest of the ruler and how he can maintain his rule through the forceful use of power. The general (public) interest is, here, secondary. This is the type of politics practiced by all rulers, whether they are Muslims or unbelievers. Muslim rulers, however, practice this type of politics in accordance with the requirements of the Muslim religious law, as much as they are able to. Therefore, the political norms here are a mixture of religious laws and ethical rules, norms that are natural in social organization together with a certain necessary concern for strength and group feeling. Examples to be followed in (the practice of) this (kind of politics) are, in the first place, the religious law, and then, the maxims of the philosophers and the way of life of rulers (of the past).
The best and most comprehensive written exposition of this subject is the letter of Tahir b. al-Husayn, al-Ma'mun's general, to his son 'Abdallah b. Tahir when (al-Ma'mun) appointed him governor of ar-Raqqah, Egypt, and the intervening territories. On that occasion, his father Tahir wrote him the famous letter. In it, he exhorted him and gave him his advice concerning all religious and ethical matters. (He discussed) all (important) political problems as handled by the religious law and all problems of power politics that he would have to know in his government and administration. He urged him to strive for virtue and good qualities, in a manner so exemplary that no king or commoner can do without (these exhortations). This is the text of the letter, as copied from at-Tabari's work: 751
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
And now: It is your duty to fear the one and only God, to be afraid of Him, to watch Him, to keep away from His wrath, and to guard your subjects night and day. With the help of the good health with which God has clothed you, apply yourself to thinking of your resurrection and the place where you will be going, as well as to the things that will be your concern and for which you will be held responsible. Also, apply yourself to working in that sense in such a way that on the Day of Resurrection, God will protect you and save you from His retribution and painful punishment.
God has been benevolent to you. He has made it obligatory for you to show kindness to those of His servants whom He has made your subjects. He has made it your duty to be just to them, to see to it that His rights and punishments are observed in connection with them, to defend them and protect their families and women, to prevent bloodshed, to make their roads 752 safe, and to
VII. Tahir's Letter to his Son, 'Abdallaht Text showing corrections From MS. C (Atif Effendi 1936)
enable them to live in peace. God will punish you in connection with the duties He has placed upon you (if you do not take care of them properly). He will make them your concern and hold you responsible for them and reward you for (the good deeds) you have done or (the evil deeds you have) not done.
Keep your mind, brain, and eye free for that. Let nothing draw your attention from it. It is your principal and crucial task. It is the first thing through which God will give you successful guidance. Let the first thing to which you apply yourself and on which you work, be unfailing fulfillment of the duty of the five daily prayers that God has imposed upon you. Let people come to you to pray together with you, and perform (the prayers at the proper times) 753 with all their rites. (That is,) perform the ablutions before the prayers. Begin the prayers with the mention of God. Use the proper chant when you recite the Qur'an. Perform the requisite bows and prostrations and pronounce your profession of the faith properly. Let your intention in prayer be sincere in the presence of your Lord. Urge and instigate those who are with you and under your control to (perform the prayers). Prayer, as God said in the Qur'an, "restrains from sin and evil." 754
Then, let this be followed by adopting the ways of the Messenger of God, by constant application of his qualities, and by imitation of the pious ancient Muslims after him. If you have a task before you, let yourself be helped in doing it by asking God whether you should do it or not, by fearing Him, by applying what God has revealed in His Book with regard to things to be done and things not to be done, the things that are permitted and the things that are forbidden, and by taking as your guide the directions contained in the traditions of the Messenger of God. Act, then, as you owe it to God to act.
Do not be swayed from justice according to your likes and dislikes, either on behalf of a person close to you or on behalf of one remote from you. Favor jurisprudence and the jurists, the religion (Islam) and theologians, the Book of God and those who live by it. For the best ornament of a man is judicial interpretation of the faith, search for it, admonition to others to follow it, and knowledge of how one can get close to God. Religion (Islam) is the leader and guide to everything that is good. It commands the doing of good and prohibits the committing of sins and crimes. Through (religion), man's knowledge of God and respect for Him grows with God's help, and he will attain the highest rank in the other world. In addition, when people notice your (religious attitude) they will have respect for your rule and reverence for your government. They will be friendly to you and trust in your justice.
Be moderate in everything. There is nothing more clearly useful, safer, and in every way better, than (moderation). Planned moderation calls for right guidance. Right guidance leads to success. Success leads to happiness. The preservation of Islam and of the model ways (of the Prophet) is accomplished through moderation. Give preference to it in all your worldly affairs.
Do not fall behind in your pursuit of the other world, 755 of good deeds, of kind behavior, of the right path. One cannot do enough pious deeds, if they are to help one to find God's face and satisfaction and the company of God's saints in His noble abode.
You should know that planned moderation in worldly matters gives strength and protects against sins. You have nothing that is better than (moderation) to guard your person and your rank 756 and to try to improve your affairs. Therefore, use it and be guided by it. Then, your affairs will succeed. Your power will increase. Your private and public affairs will be in order.
Have a good opinion of God, and your subjects will cause you no trouble. In all your affairs, try to get in touch with Him, and you will always enjoy His favor.
Do not suspect anyone who works for you with regard to the work with which you have entrusted him, before you have discovered what is the matter with him. For it is a crime to suspect innocent persons and to have a bad opinion of them. Therefore, make it your duty to have a good opinion of the men around you. Drive away bad opinions of them, and do not harbor any such opinions. That will help you to gain their following and to train them. Do not let Satan, the enemy of God, gain entry to your affairs. Just a little weakness on your part is sufficient for him. He will cause you so much grief through your having a bad opinion of the men around you, that it will disturb the pleasure of your life. You should know that having a good opinion (of others) gives you strength and rest, and you will be competent to handle your affairs to your satisfaction. It will enable you to cause people to love you and to be straightforward in everything.
Do not let your good opinion of the men around you and your kindness to your subjects prevent you from making inquiries, from investigating your affairs, from taking personal charge of the business of (your) officials, from protecting (your) subjects, or from looking 757 after the things that sustain and benefit them. On the contrary, consider it your most important task to take personal charge of the affairs of (your) officials and to protect your subjects by looking after their needs and providing for their requirements. This, more than anything else, helps to preserve the religion (of Islam) and gives life to the Sunnah (of the Prophet).
In all these things, have pure intentions. Pay special attention to improving yourself as a person, one who realizes that he will be held responsible for his deeds, that he will be rewarded for his good deeds, and punished for his evil deeds. For God made the religion a refuge and a power. He lifts up those who follow it and honor it.
Therefore, lead those whom you govern and rule along the path of religion and the way of right guidance.758 Apply the punishments that God has ordained for criminals, according to their station and according to what they deserve. Do not disregard it and do not make light of it. Do not postpone the punishment of those who must be punished. If you fall short in this respect, it will help spoil the good opinion (people have) of you. In this regard, let your actions be guided by the well-known traditions (sunan). Keep away from innovations and doubts. Your religion will then be healthy and your manliness unimpaired.
If you enter into an agreement, fulfill it. If you have promised to do a certain good deed, keep your (promise). Accept favors and repay them. Close your eyes to the defects of those of your subjects who may have them. Refrain from lies and falsehoods. Despise (liars and keep) 759 away calumniators. Your affairs will begin to fail, so far as their effects both in this world and the other world are concerned, as soon as you give access to a liar or boldly use lies yourself. Lying is the beginning of crimes and falsehood, and calumny their end. The calumniator is not safe himself. No friend of a man who listens to (calumny) is safe .760 Nothing works out well for a person who is governed by (calumny).
Love good and righteous people. Be honestly helpful to noble men. Be friendly to the weak. Keep in touch with your blood relatives.761 Desire thus to see the face of God and to strengthen His cause, and wish (thus) for His reward and the other world. Keep away from evil desires and injustice. Pay them no notice and show your subjects that you are free of (them). Be just in governing your subjects. Treat them honestly and with the kindness through which you will reach the path of right guidance.
Control yourself and do not get angry. Prefer dignity and mildness. Beware of sharpness, levity, and deceitfulness in any (enterprise) you engage in.
Beware of saying: "I am in authority. I may do what I want to do." This soon reveals a lack of sense on your part and little certainty of the one and only God. Let your intention with regard to (God) and your certainty of Him be sincere. You should know that royal authority belongs to God. He gives it to whomever He wants to give it and takes it away from whomever He wants to take it away.762
The change from (divine) favor to (divine) vengeance occurs nowhere faster than with men in authority who do not acknowledge 763 (divine) favors, and with people enjoying good positions in the government, who are ungrateful for the favors and benefactions of God and consider themselves superior beings because of the bounty that God has given them.
Do not be greedy. Let the treasures and riches you gather and hoard up be piety, the fear of God, justice, the improvement of your subjects, the cultivation of their country, the supervision of their affairs, the protection of the mass of them,764 and support of the unfortunates. You 765 should know that property, once it is gathered and stored in treasuries, does not bear fruit, but if it is invested in the welfare of the subjects and used for giving them what is due to them and to prevent them from need, then it grows and thrives. The common people prosper. (The proper use of money) is an ornament to high officials, and it means a time of prosperity. It brings strength and protection. Therefore, let it be your way of gathering up treasures to spend money on building up Islam and the Muslims. Distribute to the officials of the Commander of the Faithful who preceded you766 that which is due them. Give your subjects their share. Pay attention to the things that might improve their situation and livelihood. If you do that, the (divine) favor will always be with you. You will make it obligatory for God to increase (His favors to you). In this way, you will also be better able to levy the land tax and to collect the property of your subjects and your provinces. Because everybody experiences justice and kindness from you, everybody will be more amenable 767 to obeying you and more favorably disposed towards everything you want. Therefore, exert yourself in the way that I have outlined to you in this chapter. Be very much concerned 768 in this respect. Of (all) your money, there will remain only what was honestly spent in behalf of God.769
Acknowledge the gratefulness of those who express their thanks, and reward them for it.
Beware of forgetting the terror of the other world on account of this world and its temptations, so that you become neglectful of your duties. Neglect causes shortcomings, and shortcomings cause ruin. Whatever you do, you should do for God and in God, and hope for a reward. God has poured His favors upon you in this world and showed you His bounty. Therefore, take refuge in giving thanks to God. Rely upon Him, and He will give you more good things and benefactions. God gives His reward according to the gratefulness of those who express their thanks, and the way of life of those who do good deeds. He bestows His favors and shows His grace where they are deserved.770
Do not consider (any) sin lightly. Do not support an envious person. Do not pity a sinner. Do not be friendly with an ungrateful person. Do not connive with an enemy. Do not trust a calumniator. Do not rely upon a deceiver. Do not conclude a friendship with an immoral person. Do not follow a seducer. Do not praise a hypocrite. Have contempt for nobody. Do not refuse a poor petitioner. Do not (try to) improve a worthless person. Pay no attention to buffoons. Do not break a promise. Do not fear pride.771 Show no anger. Do not be ostentatious. Do not walk arrogantly. Do not justify a stupidity 772 Do not neglect your search for the other world. Do not waste your days in finding fault. Do not close your eyes to an evildoer, because you are afraid of him or because you have a prejudice (in his favor). Do not seek the reward of the other world in this world.
Consult frequently with jurists. Accustom yourself to being mild and prudent. Learn from men of experience and intelligence who are understanding and wise. Do not permit extravagant 773 or stingy people to give you advice. Do not listen to what they say, because the damage they can cause is greater than their usefulness. Nothing can ruin your projects on behalf of your subjects more quickly than avarice. You should realize that if you are greedy, you take much and give little. If you are this way, you will have little success, for your subjects will be willing to like you only if (you) keep away from their property and do not treat them unjustly. You will keep the sincere friendship of your friends 774 by being generous to them and giving them fine gifts. Shun avarice. You should know that avarice is the first sin that man commits against His Lord and that the sinner is disgraced. Thus, God says in the Qur'an: "Those who are preserved from their own avarice are, indeed, generous." 775 Therefore, be really generous 776 Give all the Muslims shares and portions in the booty you take. Be assured that generosity is one of the best things for a human being to practice. Make generosity one of your character qualities. [Be really generous.] Accept (generosity) as your constant practice.
Supervise the registers and contracts of the soldiers. Augment their salaries. Give them a good livelihood, and God will thus remove their indigence. They will be a strong (support) for you, and their hearts will be readily and gladly willing to obey you and serve you. It is sufficient happiness for a man in authority that his soldiers and subjects find mercy in his justice, protection, fairness, attentiveness, kindness, piety, and largesse. Therefore, avoid the unpleasantness of one of the two alternatives 777 by being conscious of the excellence of the other alternative and by always acting in accordance with it. Then, you will find success, well-being, and prosperity, if God wills.
You should know that the office of judge holds a place with God to which nothing else compares. It is God's scales in which the conditions of men on earth are equalized. Making decisions 778 and dispensing justice in judicial procedure and in all actions brings well-being to the subjects. The roads, then, are safe. The person who was treated unjustly finds justice. Everyone obtains his right. The livelihood of all is safeguarded. Proper obedience is paid. God gives good health and well-being. The religion can endure. The Sunnah and the religious laws function properly. Right and justice are applied in judicial procedure.779
(As a judge) be firm in behalf of God. Abstain from corruption.780 Go and apply the legal punishments. Do not make haste. Stay away from anger and unrest. Be satisfied with an oath. Let your breath be calm and your cheek cool.781 Make use of your experience. Be attentive when you are silent, and precise when you speak. Treat the plaintiff fairly. Hesitate when there is a doubt. Have much evidence produced. Do not show prejudice in favor of any of your subjects. Do not give anyone preferred treatment. Do not expose yourself to censure. Be steadfast and slow. Observe. Look out. Reflect. Think things over. Consider them. Be humble in the presence of your Lord. Be kind to all (your) subjects. Let the truth govern you. Do not shed blood hastily, for God considers the unlawful and violent shedding of blood as something very grave.
Consider the land tax. It maintains the subjects. Through it, God has strengthened and exalted Islam, helped and protected the Muslims, confounded and annoyed the enemies of Islam and the Muslims, and humbled and humiliated the unbelievers who are their subjects.782 Therefore, distribute (the land tax) among those to whom it belongs, and do it justly, fairly, equitably, and generally. Do not make a noble man (sharif) pay less because of his nobility, or a rich man because of his wealth, or one of your secretaries, or one of your intimates and entourage. Do not ask for more than is tolerable. Do not charge anyone too much. Treat all the people justly. This makes it easier to gain their friendship and is more certain to achieve general satisfaction.
You should know that by your appointment, you were made treasurer, guardian, and shepherd. The people under your jurisdiction are called subjects (ra'iyah "flock"), because you are their shepherd and overseer. (Therefore,) accept from them what they give you of their affluence, and use it for the administration of their affairs, for their welfare, and for providing for their needs. Employ for them understanding, skilled, and experienced men, who have theoretical knowledge of, and are able to act with, political wisdom and moderation. Give them good salaries. This is one of the duties incumbent upon you in connection with the task with which you have been entrusted. Let nothing divert your attention or distract you from it. When you give preference to this matter and take charge of it properly, you will cause an increase in the favors your Lord bestows upon you, and favorable comment on your activities. You will also gain through it the love of your subjects and promote the (general) welfare. The (general) well-being of your country will be improved. Cultural activity will expand in your region. The fertility of your districts will be evident. Your income from the land tax will be large. Your property will be extensive. You will have the attachment 783 of your soldiers and be able to satisfy everybody through generous gifts from you. Your political leadership will be praised. Your justice will be approved by the enemy. In all your affairs, you will be just, capable in deed, powerful, and well equipped.784 Therefore, strive for this (goal). Do not give anything else preference over it. Then, the results of your rule will find praise, if God wills.
Appoint a trusted (official) in every district under your jurisdiction, to inform you about your officials and to write you concerning their manner of life and activities. Thus, you will have eventually something like personal contact with every official in his area of jurisdiction and personally observe all his affairs.
If you want to order (your official to do) something, consider what the result of the thing you want done will be. If you see that the result will be healthy and sound, and if you hope for a good return from it and good council 785 and benefit, send (your order) out. If not, refrain from (any immediate action) and consult people of insight and knowledge about (the matter). Then, prepare for action. A man often looks at something he wants to do and finds it to be as he desires. This pleases and deceives him. Failure to consider what the result may be, could be his ruin and destruction.
Whatever you want to do, do it resolutely and address yourself to it forcefully after (having asked) God's help. Always ask your Lord whether you should do a particular thing. Finish the work you have to do today and do not postpone it until tomorrow. Do much of it yourself. For every tomorrow has its own business and events that will keep you from doing the work you should have done today but postponed. You should know that when a day is gone, it is gone with all there was in it. If you postponed the work that you should have done (yesterday), you will have to do two days' work (today). That will be difficult for you and will eventually make you ill. (On the other hand,) if you do each day the work that you should do, you will give rest to your body and soul and discharge your tasks as ruler well.
Consider the free (noble) people who are advanced in age and of whose sincere intentions you can be certain, and whose love for you, whose helpfulness as advisers, whose active interest in your affairs you have observed. Select them for your service and be benevolent toward them.
Have regard for the descendants of great houses who have become needy. Provide for their requirements and improve their condition, so that indigence will no longer be able to touch them.
Devote yourself to looking after the affairs of the poor and indigent, those who are not able to bring before you complaints about injustices they have suffered,786 and other lowly persons who do not know that they may ask for their rights. Inquire about these people in all secrecy, and put good men from among your subjects in charge of them. Command them to report to you their needs and conditions, so that you will be able to look into the measures through which God might improve their affairs.
Have regard also for people who have suffered accidents, and for their widows and orphans. Give them stipends from the treasury, following the example of the Commander of the Faithful - God give him power! - in being kind to them and giving them presents, so that God may thereby improve their livelihood and give you a blessing and increased (favors).
Give the blind stipends from the treasury. Give to those of them who know the Qur'an and know most of it by heart a higher salary than to others.
Set up houses for Muslims who are ill, to shelter them. (Appoint) attendants in these houses who will handle them kindly, and (appoint) physicians who will treat their diseases. Comply with their desires so long as it does not lead to waste in the treasury.
You should know that when people are given their rights and when their dearest wishes are fulfilled, they are still not satisfied and are not quiet, but want to bring their needs to the attention of those in charge of them, because they desire to receive more and to get (additional) kindnesses from them. Often, the person who looks after the affairs of the people is annoyed by the great number of matters referred to him, which occupy his thought and mind, and cause him embarrassment and difficulties.
The person who desires justice, knowing what is good for him in this world and how excellent the reward in the other world will be, is not like the person who advances 787 toward the things that bring him close to God and who seeks (God's) mercy.
Let people frequently come to see you and show them your face. Let not your guards hinder them. Be humble toward them. Show them your smiling countenance. Be lenient with them when (you put) questions and speak to them. Be benevolent to them in your generosity and bounty.
If you give, do it kindly and pleasantly. (Do it) for the sake of doing a good deed and of receiving the reward (for it in the other world). Do it without causing trouble, and do not remind (the person to whom you give something) of your gift (in the expectation of a gift in return). Such a gift will be a profitable transaction, if God wills.
Learn from the affairs of the world that you are able to observe personally, and from the persons in authority and in positions of leadership who lived before your time in past centuries and among nations that disappeared. Then, in all your conditions, seek God's protection and love, act in accordance with His religious law and Sunnah, and establish His religion and Scripture. Keep away from the things that are different from that, or in opposition to it, and that provoke the wrath of God.
Be acquainted with the property that your officials collect and use for their expenditures. Do not take any forbidden property, and do not be a wasteful spender.
Sit down often with scholars and seek their advice and company.
Let it be your desire to follow and establish the Sunnah (of the Prophet) and to prefer noble and lofty character qualities.
Consider those the most honorable of your proteges and intimates who, when they notice a fault (in you), are not deterred by their respect for you from informing you about it in secret or from calling your attention to the shortcoming that lies in that fault. People of that sort are your most sincere friends and helpers.
Look at those of your officials who are present at your residence, and at your secretaries. Appoint for each one of them a time of the day in which he may come to you with his documents and orders and (also present to you) the needs of your officials and the affairs of your districts and subjects with which he is concerned. Lend your ear and your eye, your mind and your intellect, to the things of that sort which he presents to you. Go over it again and think it over. If it is reasonable and appears effective, order it to be done and ask God about it. If not, have it checked and investigated.
Do not remind your subjects or anyone else to whom you show a favor, of it (in the expectation of a gift). Accept from no one anything except faithfulness, straightforwardness, and support for the affairs of the Muslims. Do not do any favors for anyone except under these (conditions).
Understand this letter of mine that I am addressing to you. Study it carefully and always act in accordance with it. Ask God for help in all your affairs. Ask Him whether or not you should do a thing. God is with goodness and with good people. Let your most important activity and greatest desire be what is pleasing to God and means order in his religion, might and steadfastness in His people, and justice and welfare in the Muslim group and the protected religions. I am asking God to give you help and success and right guidance and shelter. Farewell!
The historians report that people liked the letter when it appeared, and it found wide circulation. Al-Ma'mun heard about it. When it had been read to him, he said: "Abu t-Tayyib-that is, Tahir-did not omit any of the matters that concern this world, the religion, administration, (the formation of) opinion, politics, the improvement of the realm and the subjects, the preservation of the government, obedience to the caliphs, and maintenance of the caliphate. He has dealt very well with all these matters, and has given directions (how to handle) them." Al-Ma'mun then ordered the letter to be sent to all officials in the various regions, so that they might use it as a model and act accordingly.
This is the best treatment of this type of politics that I have found. God inspires whomever of His servants He wants to inspire.