24 March 2019 / 16. Rajab 1440

Posted by assistantwebmaster on April 18, 2014

The Nahjul Balagha is undoubtedly a proverbial treasure trove of not just magnificent and matchless eloquence, but also an encyclopaedia and repository of practical wisdom and guidance on how to establish and organize a peaceful, prosperous and progressive society – a society in which fundamental human rights are respected, and the inherent dignity of human beings is recognized. 

In one of his sermons which deals with the issue of rights, Imam Ali (as) highlights two important points about the nature of human rights in Islam; firstly, that the subject of human rights may appear very wide in scope in as far as its conceptual and theoretical framework is concerned, but in the practical arena, these rights have very well-defined boundaries and extremely narrow definitions.

Secondly, in Islam rights go both ways, and are, therefore, always attached with responsibilities. The Imam thus says: “Indeed the issue of rights, as a subject of discourse, is very vast (and inexhaustible), but it is the most narrow (delicate) and restricted of things when it comes to practice and implementation.

He continues this statement by pointing out that, “a right does not accrue in favour of any person except that it accrues against him also, and it does not accrue against him unless it also accrues in his favour!” (Nahjul Balaagha, sermon 216)

Hence, a Muslim always has to be cognizant of the fact that just as he may have certain God-given rights over his fellow human beings, they too have a claim to similar rights over him.

Human rights encompass numerous sub-categories, but we may divide them into two broad categories, i.e. individual human rights and social or collective human rights.

The only way to guarantee the protection of individual human rights is through instilling and entrenching ‘Taqwa’ or fear of God in the hearts of individuals; this is the only fool-proof solution since Taqwa is the only durable restraint that is powerful enough to keep human behaviour in check and prevent us from violating mutual rights.  As for collective human rights, the only tool to secure them is that of Taqwa combined with a passion for justice, in all its manifestations i.e. political, social, economic and religious. It is, therefore, not surprising to see that emphasis on Taqwa is a recurring and salient feature in the admonitions and exhortations of the Imam (as).

Justice is considered to be the supreme virtue in Islam. The superiority and supremacy of justice in Islamic thought can be deduced from the answer that Imam Ali (as) gave in response to a question that was raised about the position of justice vis-à-vis other praiseworthy qualities and traits.

The question that was put before the Imam (as) was: “Which is better and more superior: justice or generosity?” If it were someone else in his place, he might have answered that generosity is superior to justice, since the former entails sacrificing ones own right in favour of someone else (usually someone less privileged), whereas the latter only requires that everyone be given their due share.

But the Imam answered the question differently: he began by first explaining the differences between the two qualities by asserting that: “Justice puts things in their right place, while generosity diverts them from their natural direction.” He further remarked: “Justice is the general caretaker (which benefits everyone in society), whereas generosity is an occasional occurrence (and as such, it benefits only a limited number of individuals in society). Consequently, justice is the nobler of the two and possesses the greater merit!” (Nahjul Balaagha, maxim 446)

Any act of injustice is anathema to Islam, since it constitutes a violation of a human being’s basic right to be treated with justice.

In Islamic terms, any human rights violation comes under the category of “Dhulm”, and Imam Ali (as) has severely cautioned and warned political leaders and rulers against violating or infringing the rights of their subjects. There are several examples that can be given to demonstrate this, but the Imam’s statement in Sermon no. 176  of Nahjul Balagha is sufficient in this regard; the Imam (as) says:

“Indeed ‘Dhulm’ is of three kinds: the Dhulm that will not be forgiven, the Dhulm that will not go unpunished, and the Dhulm which may be forgiven and not pursued further.

The Dhulm which will not be forgiven is Shirk or the crime of associating partners with Allah (SWT).

The Dhulm which may be forgiven is the Dhulm or injustice that a servant does against his own self (i.e. the small sins that one does).

The Dhulm which will not be left unpunished is the dhulm or injustice that human beings do against each other; the retribution there will be very severe………..!!!” (Nahjul Balaagha, sermon 176)

Therefore, the Imam makes it absolutely clear that Allah (SWT) has a zero-tolerance policy for human rights violations, and any infringements will certainly be punished severely on the day of Judgement.

So that will be the day when those whose rights were violated will be given the upper hand over those who oppressed them. It is for this reason that Imam Ali (as) also used to say: “The day of justice against the oppressor will be tougher and more severe than the day on which the oppressed was made to suffer the injustice (of his oppressor)!” (Nahjul Balaagha, maxim 351)

The Holy Prophet (saww) also informs us in another Hadith: “Between a servant and Jannah there are seven hurdles, the easiest of which is death, and the toughest of which is the moment when people will be made to stand in front of Allah (SWT), and the oppressed will seek out their oppressors (and present them in the Court of Allah)!”

These are just a fraction of the Ahadith that have reached us concerning the pernicious effects and harmful consequences of oppression in this world and the hereafter, and they are sufficient to highlight the gravity of the matter.

One aspect of human rights that has always been ignored and neglected throughout the course of human history is that of economic rights, particularly those of the marginalized, downtrodden and underprivileged sections of society. The rich and powerful have always been able to secure their rights often at the expense of those who are not as resourceful.

In Nahjul Balagha, we see that Imam Ali (as) has attached a tremendous amount of importance with the ideal of economic justice especially with regard to the rights of the weak and poor groups in society.

In fact, he frequently declared that the only reason why he accepted the caliphate was in order to redress the widespread injustice and oppression that was prevailing during his time.

In the third Khutba of Nahjul Balagha, he declared in a very emphatic tone: “I swear by Him Who Splits the seed (during its germination process) and He Who Created the human race, if it had not been for the presence of the pressing crowd, and if it had not been for the fact that the Hujjah (proof) of Allah (SWT) Had been completed upon me by virtue of the existence of supporters, and had it not been for the covenant that Allah Has taken from the Ulama to the effect that they shall not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and will not remain silent at the starvation and deprivation of the oppressed, I would have thrown the reigns of the Caliphate on its own shoulders, and I would have made its last one drink from the same cup from which I made its first one drink (i.e. I would have kept away from it); then you would have seen that this Dunya (world) of yours is more inferior in my sight than the phlegm that comes out in the sneeze of a goat!” (Nahjul Balaagha, sermon 3)

The Imam thus made it clear on this and several other occasions that the only motivation for accepting the Khilafah in his case was his concern for the oppressed people, as he had no worldly goals or political ambitions.

In Khutba 33 of Nahjul Balagha, we are informed of a conversation between Imam Ali (as) and one of his trusted companions:

“Abdullah ibn Abbas reports: I entered in the presence of the Commander of the faithful at Zeeqaar and found him stitching his torn sandals. He turned to me and asked: ‘What is the value of these (torn) sandals?’ I replied: they have no value now. He then said: ‘By Allah, these (torn) sandals are dearer to me than ruling over you but for the fact that I may establish the truth (and reclaim the rights of the oppressed) and repel falsehood (and oppression)!” (Nahjul Balaagha, sermon 33)

And that’s why when it came to the matter of economic rights, Imam Ali (as) was very firm in his commitment to the ideal of economic justice and equity.

When the Imam came to power, he saw that a lot of public money had been misappropriated and large pieces of land had been unlawfully distributed, and thus one the first statements that he issued has been recorded in Khutba 15 of Nahjul Balagha whereby he declared: “By Allah, even if I found that by such (misappropriated wealth) women have been married and slave-maids have been bought, I would reclaim it (and have it returned to its rightful owners or to the public treasury), because there is wide scope in justice , and whosoever (being of diseased temperament) finds justice to be too restrictive and burdensome will find injustice to be even more suffocating and restrictive!” (Nahjul Balaagha, sermon 15)

When people objected to this strict approach and pleaded with him to overlook the injustices that had been made in the past and to focus only on the future, the Imam (as) gave a legal principle that ought to be written in golden letters, for it is a principle that the world is only beginning to understand and appreciate today; he declared: “Nothing can invalidate a long-standing right!”

The message of the Imam was crystal clear: there is no statute of limitations on a right; there is no such thing as an expiry date for a right; a right is a right, and it always remains valid; the validity of a right never expires or diminishes with the passage of time. In fact, the passage of time has no bearing on the validity of a right, since what is once a right always remains a right unless the possessor of the right commits an act that legally causes him to forfeit his/her right. The Imam thus established the eternal validity of human rights through this statement and also showed that human rights are inalienable and supreme.

It is only today that political scientists have begun to tell us that our rights are not what the government gives us; rather our rights are defined as that which no one can take away from us!

There are several similar specimens that can be presented from Nahjul Balagha to show how seriously Imam Ali (as) dealt with the issue of human rights and economic justice.

However, there is one particular sermon in Nahjul Balagha that would be useful to cite in this context, for it captures the spirit and the motivational force behind the scrupulousness and probity that the Imam (as) exhibited, and that is Khutba number 222.

In the opening lines of this sermon, Ameerul Mumineen (as) expresses his distaste and strong dislike for all kinds of oppression particularly financial corruption and economic injustice. He shows us how hateful, abhorrent, despicable and reprehensible injustice is in his eye; he remarks: “By Allah, I would rather spend a night in wakefulness on the thorns of Al-Sa’daan (a plant having sharp prickles) or be driven in chains as a prisoner than meet Allah and His Messenger on the day of judgment having oppressed anyone from among the servants or being a usurper of any of the worldly wealth. And how can I oppress anyone for the sake of a life that is fast moving towards its end and for a body that is going to remain under the earth for a long time?”

He then goes on to relate a personal anecdote of an incident involving his very own brother; he narrates: By Allah, I saw (my brother) Aqeel when he fell in destitution, and he asked me a S’aa (about 3 Kilograms in weight) out of your (i.e. the public’s) share of wheat, and I also saw his children with disheveled hair and a dusty countenance due to starvation, as though their faces had been darkened by indigo. He came to me several times and repeated his request again and again.

I heard him, and he thought I would sell my faith for him and do as he suggested, leaving my path. Then I heated a piece of iron and brought it near his body so that he might take a lesson from it. Upon feeling its heat, he cried like a person suffering from a long illness cries with pain and he was about to get burnt by its with its branding. Then I said to him ‘Wailing women may weep over you, O Aqeel! Do you cry out on account of this piece of iron which has been made by human beings for their fun and play while you are driving me towards the fire of hell which the Almighty and All-Powerful has Prepared out of His Wrath? Should you cry from pain, but I should not cry from the flames?”

This is an incredible incident that demonstrates how firmly opposed Imam Ali (as) was to the idea of nepotism, cronyism and every other form of favouritism!

Such was the level of the Imam’s God-consciousness and other-worldliness, and we need to promote this mode of thinking if we are truly interested in bringing an end to economic injustice in our world today.

After relating this episode, the Imam proceeds in his Khutba to give us another account whereby a man by the name of Al Ash’ath bin Qais brought him a sweet dish in order to curry favour with him. Imam Ali (as) was the Khalifa at that time, and Al Ash’ath hoped to appease the Imam with this gesture so that he would receive extra benefits from him in his capacity as the Head of the Islamic state. The Imam narrates how he reacted to this gesture: “ A stranger incident than this is that a man came to us in the night with a closed flask full of honey paste, but (when I realized the intentions for which he had brought it to me) it appeared to me as though it were the saliva of a snake or its vomit. I asked him whether it was reward or Zakaat or charity, for all these are forbidden for us – the Ahlul Bayt! He said it was neither this nor that but a present. Then I said: ‘Childless women may weep over you! Have you come to deceive me from the religion of Allah, or have you lost your mind, or have you been possessed, or are you speaking without your senses?”

Today is has become common practice for people in positions of power and influence to receive all kinds of gifts from people who seek to gain benefits from these gestures. It is only in the modern age that many countries have tried to deal with this challenge by enacting anti-graft legislation which is aimed at preventing precisely these kinds of crimes, but Imam Ali (as) set a shining and luminous precedent for how such cunning moves should be dealt with close to fourteen hundred years ago.

The Imam concludes the sermon by making the following statement in his characteristically emphatic manner: “I swear by Allah, even if I were to be given the wealth and treasures of all the seven regions, with all that exists under their skies, in order that I may (in exchange) disobey Allah to the extent of snatching a grain of barley from an ant, I would not do so!!!

What will Ali do with a life of comfort that will soon end and pleasures that will not last??? We seek protection of Allah from the slumber of the intellect and from the grave errors, and from Him we seek assistance.” (Nahjul Balaagha, sermon 222)

This is the level of honesty, fairness, probity, scrupulousness and integrity which characterized the rule of Imam Ali (as), and these qualities are abundantly reflected in the statements of Nahjul Balagha.

We can see in light of all this, then, that the Muslim Ummah is the richest nation on this earth in terms of its glorious and brilliant intellectual, moral and philosophical heritage; no other civilization on this earth can boast of such a collection of powerful teachings and words of wisdom. It is the moral duty and responsibility of all Muslim youth to familiarize themselves with these beautiful teachings and then put in efforts to promote and publicise them with a view to educating others about it.


Syed Ali Hur Kamoonpuri




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