Foundation, NJ U. S. A
The Rulers are people's trustees, not their masters !
by Murtadha Mutahhari
In the last chapter, we said that a dangerous and misleading view became current in the thought of some modern European thinkers interlinking in an unnatural fashion the belief in God on the one hand and negation of peoples rights on the other. This correlation played a significant role in inducing a group to incline towards materialism. Duty and responsibility to God was assumed to necessarily negate the duty and responsibility to the people. Divine obligations completely displaced human obligations. The belief and faith in God (Who, according to the Islamic teachings, created the universe on the principles of truth and justice) was considered to conflict with and contradict the belief in innate and natural human rights, instead of being regarded as their basis. Naturally, belief in the right of people's sovereignty was equated with atheism.
From Islamic point of view the case is actually the reverse. In the Nahj al-balaghah, which is the subject of our discussion, the main topics are tawhid and 'irfan; throughout the talk is about God, whose Name occurs repeatedly everywhere in its pages. Nevertheless, it not only does not neglect to discuss the rights of the people and their privileges vis-a-vis the ruler, in fact regarding the ruler as the trustee and protector of their rights, but also lays great emphasis on this point. According to the logic of this noble book, the imam and the ruler is the protector and trustee of the rights of the people and responsible to them. If one is asked as to which of them exists for the other, it is the ruler' who exists for the people and not vice versa. Sa'di has a similar idea in his mind when he says:
It's not the sheep who are to serve the shepherd, But it is the shepherd who is for their service.
The word ra'iyyah (lit. herd), despite that it gradually acquired an abominable meaning in the Persian language, has an original meaning which is essentially good and humanitarian. The word ra'i for the ruler and ra'iyyah for the masses first appears in the speech of the Prophet ('s) and is literally used thereafter by 'Ali ('a).
This word is derived from the root ra'a, which carries the sense of 'protection' and 'safeguarding'. The word ra'iyyah is applied to the people for the reason that the ruler is responsible for protecting their lives, property, rights, and liberties.
A tradition related from the Holy Prophet ('s) throws full light on the meaning of this word:
Truly, everyone of you is a raii responsible for his rai'yyah. The ruler is the ra'i of his people and responsible for them; the woman is the ra'i of her husband's house and responsible for it; the slave is the ra'i of his master's property and responsible for it; indeed all of you are ra'i and responsible [for those under your charge]. 
In the preceding pages we cited some examples from the Nahj al-balaghah which illustrated 'Ali's outlook regarding the rights of the people. Here we shall give sample quotes from other sources, beginning with the following verse of the Holy Quran:
God commands you to deliver trusts back to their owners; and that when you judge between the people, judge with justice ... (4:58)
Al-Tabarsi, in his exegesis Majma' al-bayan, commenting upon this verse, remarks:
There are several opinions regarding the meaning of this verse; firstly, that it is about trusts in general, including the Divine and the non Divine, the material and the non-material trusts; secondly, that it is addressed to the rulers, and that God, by making the returning of the trusts an obligation, is commanding them to observe the rights of the people.
Then he further adds:
This is corroborated by the verse immediately following it: O believers, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you ... (4:59)
According to this verse the people are bound to obey the commands of God, His Messenger and those in authority (wulat al-'amr). While the preceding verse mentions the rights of the people, this one reiterates the complementary rights of those in authority. It has been related from the Imams ('a) that 'one of these two verses is ours (i.e. it establishes our rights in relation to you), and the other is yours (i.e. it outlines your rights in relation to us)' ... Al-Imam al-Baqir ('a) said that the performanee of salat, zakat, sawm, and Hajj are some of the trusts (mentioned in 4:58). One of the trusts (amanat) is that the wulat al-'amr have been commanded to justly distribute the ghana'im, sadaqat, and whatever is a part of the rights of the people, among them.
In the exegesis al-Mizan, in the part of the commentary upon this verse which deals with tradition, the author relates a tradition from al-Durr al-manthur from 'Ali ('a) that he said:
It is incumbent on the imam to rule according to the decrees revealed by God, and to discharge the trusts that he has been charged with. When he does that, it is incumbent upon the people to pay attention to the Divine command (about obeying the wali al-'amr), to obey him and respond to his call.
As noticed earlier, the Holy Quran considers the ruler and the head of the State as a trustee and a guardian; it regards just government as a fulfillment of a trust entrusted to the ruler. The approach of the Imams('a), in particular that of Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali ('a), corresponds with the view which can be inferred from the Holy Quran.
Now that we know the Quran's view of this matter, we may go on to examine the statements of the Nahj al-balaghah on this issue. More than anything else, we must study 'Ali's letters to his governors, especially those which were meant to be official circulars. It is in these letters that we would find glimpses of the teachings of Islam regarding the functions of the ruler and his duties towards the people as well as their rights. Ali ('a), in his letter to the governor of Adharba'ijan, reminds him of his duties towards the people in these words:
Beware lest you consider this assignment as a bait [for acquiring personal gain]; rather, it is a trust lying on your neck. You have been charged with caretaking [of the people] by your superior. It is not for you to betray your duties with respect to the people (ra'iyyah). (Kutub 5)
In another letter written as a circular to tax collectors, after a few words of advice and admonition, 'Ali ('a) says:
Fulfill the demands of justice in your relationship with the people and be patient in matters regarding their needs; because you are treasurers of the people (ra'iyyah), representatives of the community (Ummah), and envoys of your imams. Kutub 51
In the famous epistle to Malik al-'Ashtar, which contains elaborate instructions about various aspects of government, he writes:
Awaken your heart to kindness and mercy for the people (ra'iyyah) and love and tenderness for them. Never, never act with them like a predatory beast which seeks to be satiated by devouring them, for the people fall into two categories: they are either your brethren in faith or your kindred in creation ... Do not ever say, 'I have been given authority' or 'My command should be obeyed.' Because it corrupts the heart, consumes one's faith, and invites calamities.
In another letter sent as a circular to army commanders, he says:
It is an obligation that an official should not behave differently with the people (ra'iyyah) on account of a distinction he receives or material advantage that he may achieve. Instead these favors from Allah should bring him nearer to God's creatures and increase his compassion towards his brethren. Kutub 50
'Ali ('a) shows an amazing sensitivity to justice and compassion towards the people and a great respect for them and their rights, which, as reflected in his letters, is an exemplary and unique attitude towards this issue.
There is another letter in the Nahj al-balaghah consisting of instructions to the collectors of zakat, and is entitled: 'To the officials assigned to the job of collecting zakat'. The title indicates that it was not addressed to any particular official but sent either as a general instruction in writing or delivered as a routine oral instruction. Al-Sayyid al-Radi has included it in the section of kutub, or letters, with the clarification that he is placing this letter here to show to what extent 'Ali was meticulous in matters pertaining to justice and rights of the people, being attentive not only to main points but also to minute details. Here are 'Ali's instructions:
Set out with the fear of God, Who is One and has no partner. Do not intimidate any Muslim. Do not trespass upon his land so as to displease him. Do not take from him more than Allah's share in his property. When you approach a tribe, at first come down at their watering place, stay there instead of entering their houses. Approach them with calm dignity and salute them when you stand amongst them, grudge not a proper greeting to them. Then say to them "O servants of God, the Wali and Khalifah of God has sent me to you to collect from you Allah's share in your property. Is there anything of His share in your property? If there is, return it to His Wali. " If someone says 'No', then do not repeat the demand. If someone answers in the affirmative, then go with him without frightening, threatening, or compelling him. Take whatever gold and silver he gives you. If he has cattle or camels, do not approach them save with his permission, because the major part belongs to him. When you arrive (into the cattle enclosure), do not enter upon them in a bossy and rude manner ... Kutub 25, also see 26, 27 and 46
The passages quoted above are sufficient to throw light on 'Ali's attitude as a ruler toward the people under his rule.
 That is, in the absence of a righteous government, an unjust government, at least preserves law and order in society, which is, of course, better than chaos and rule of jungle.
 Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (trns. by Maurice Granston Penguin Books, 1978, p. 51
 (Ibid p. 53)
 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The Liberal Arts Press, New York, 1958, p. 173
 Bukhari, Kitab al Nikah, vol. VIII
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