ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT AIMS OF ISLAM was to restrain the strong from oppressing the weak, and to put an end to exploitation in all its forms. When Ali took charge of the caliphate, he dismissed the governors who had been appointed by Uthman. He was told that it would not be expedient to do so, and that he ought to consolidate his own position before dismissing them. But his reply to these suggestions was:
"O Muslims! Do you wish that I should make an alliance with cruelty, tyranny, treachery and perfidy? Do you wish that I should become an accomplice in the exploitation of the ummat of Muhammad? By God, I shall never do so as long as the heavenly orbs are pulling each other. I shall wrest from the hands of the usurper the rights of the weak, and will restore it to them."
The fundamental criterion for comparing social, economic and political systems ought to be, not the criterion of hegemony and imperialism but the humanistic criterion, namely, the measure in which each system is really capable of reducing, restraining, and eliminating, as far as possible, the various forms of exploitation of man.
Ali was the most implacable enemy of exploitation in all its forms, and he eradicated it from his dominions during his caliphate.
Social organization, he believed, existed only for the service of man and for the protection of his dignity.
Muhammad Mustafa, the Messenger of God, had knocked down all man-made distinctions between human beings but after his death, they all came back. Ali declared that he was going to demolish those distinctions again. Abu Ishaq Madaini, the historian, writes as follows, in this connection:
"Some companions of the Prophet told Ali that when distributing the revenues of the public treasury to the Muslims, he ought to give a larger share to the Arab nobles than to the Arab commoners; and he ought to give a larger share to the Arabs than to the non-Arabs. They hinted that doing so would be in his own interest, and they drew his attention to the example of Muawiya who had won the friendship of many rich and powerful figures through his ‘generosity. ’ Ali said to them: ‘are you asking me to be unfair and unjust to the poor and the weak of the Arabs and the non-Arabs?
Doing so may be good politics but is not good ethics. If I were to act upon your advice, I would, in effect, be imitating the pagans. Is that what you want me to do? What is important for me is the pleasure of God, and not the pleasure of the Arab nobles. If I were distributing my personal wealth to the Muslims, I could not discriminate against the non-Arabs and the clients.
But the wealth that I am distributing to them now, is not mine; it’s their own. How can I show discrimination? How can I deprive a man of his share only because he is a non-Arab, and give it to someone else only because he is an Arab? This I shall never do."
Not only the Quraysh and the Arab aristocracy did not receive any preferential treatment from Ali over the non-Quraysh and the non-Arab in the distribution of public funds, but the members of his own family received less than anyone else in his dominions. One of them was his own elder brother, Aqeel.
He considered his stipend to be so small that he could not live on it, and he left Kufa and went to Syria where he lived in style and luxury at the court of Muawiya.
Ali repeatedly warned Muslims of the dangers of moral compromise and of subverting their worth to materialism.
When Ali ascended the throne of khilafat, he committed himself to putting an end to the economic caste-system of the Arabs, and their unIslamic capitalist system. Within four years of his incumbency, he had fulfilled his commitment. The caste-system of the Muslims and their new capitalist system both had vanished from his dominions.
All the ‘high priests’ of the economic caste-system of the Arabs, and their neo-capitalists found sanctuary in Damascus. If Muslims are equal, then their equality ought to be an obvious thing but it was not. Ali made it obvious. And if Islam prides itself on its attachment to justice, then it (justice) ought to be a visible thing but it was not. Ali made it visible. He made equality obvious and justice visible.
From his own officials, Ali demanded and exacted personal and fiscal integrity of the highest order. He served notice to everyone that even the most powerful office in the government cannot be used as a sanctuary for miscreants nor its legitimate privileges employed to withhold evidence of wrong-doing.
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