by Mansoureh Tajik for the Saker Blog

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim, “In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Shi’a in its singular form means “a group the members of which are unified over one phenomenon.” In plural form, it means “the followers”, “the helpers”, or “those who provide strength and support.” [1]

This essay is dedicated to Martyr Qasem Soleimani, the martyred commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the martyred scientist and teacher in nuclear physics and the head of the special unit in atomic research of Islamic Revolutionary Guard. They were both killed in the hands of the Axis of the Accursed consisting of Nakithin [the Pledge Breakers], Qasitin [the Transgressing Oppressors], and Marighin [the Abandoners], the same axis the older and cruder version of which fought and killed Imam Ali (AS) about thirteen centuries earlier. The two martyrs were authentic Shi’a of Imam Ali (AS) in their words, in their deeds, in their lives, and finally in their deaths. We shall see linkages later in the text.

This article is also the 5th one in a series of essays (See Here, Here, Here, and Here for parts I, II, III, and IV respectively) that explore the system of governance based on Wilayat Faqih in the Islamic Republic of Iran rooted in the concepts of Wilayat and Imamat going back to Imam Ali (AS) after Prophet Muhammad’s (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Allihi Wasallam) passing. To put it more precisely, the system of governance established by Imam Ali (AS) for a short period of time (about 5 years) is in fact the model the Islamic Republic of Iran has envisioned and aspired to emulate, albeit in its rudimentary form and in a rather crude manner. No matter how clumsily we keep on trying and how miserably we keep on failing in our attempts to replicate Imam Ali’s (AS) path in our system today, you can be certain that, by Grace of God and His Will, we shall not give up and continue to live and die trying.

A quote from a Friday prayer lecture delivered about two decades ago by our leader Ayatullah Khamenei frames our efforts in a straight forward manner and puts them in terms that are easily understood:

“Five years of ruling is a very short period of time in the history of Islam. However, that which makes this short time period significant is that Amir-al-Mo’minin [i.e. Imam Ali] showed how justice is implemented in practice. It’s like a handwriting guide on the top of a page and a pupil must repeat it throughout the page. Amir-al-Mo’minin wrote the guide in this manner. His work also demonstrates that for an Islamic ruler to seek justice as such, there would be so many obstacles and so much hardship that could occur. For nearly five years, they did not allow him to think about the administration of the system and solving problems without worries. Three wars, each with its own unique challenges and characteristics, were imposed on him. The wars were such that it would have forced anyone to give up. But he did not give up. What does that mean? It means, in the path of justice, he did not pull back. This became a lesson for us today; for us who profess to be the followers and the Shi’a of Amir-al-Mo’minin. Of course, Ali Ibn Abitalib is not exclusive to Shi’a. The world of Islam considers him its imam of great stature. The difference is that in the position of pairing our words and deeds with those of another, we consider every action or retraction of that great man, due to his infallibility, an ultimate and undeniable proof for ourselves. Therefore, we as the Shi’a must always remember this lesson that justice cannot be sidelined and is not to be traded for anything. Furthermore, no expedience, be it for the sake of an individual, or the ruling elites, or a Islamic state, can be used to trade justice with it. Amir-al-Mominin bore many hardships for justice and never relented and retreated.”[2]

Decidedly, it is imperative for us to take the “handwriting guides” written by Imam Ali (AS) and practice establishing justice on pages of time, time and again. For the Islamic Republic of Iran to have chosen a system of wilayat in order to institute justice according to a practical model scripted by Imam Ali’s (AS) governance is a required practice for Shi’a. Just because we are not writing well and/or we are experiencing hardships and obstacles, it does not mean we can put down the pen and forego of our practice. In the Day of Judgment, Imam Ali (AS) also serves as witness to those who claim to have accepted his wilayat. Having tried to emulate him in establishing justice, albeit awkwardly, and making mistakes in trying are far more honorable and pardonable than to have given up trying.

The Condition of Old and New Muslim Territories under the 3 Khalifahs

Here, we need to take a step back and briefly review the socioeconomic and geopolitical context of the territories and societies that were supposed to be under the Islamic rule by the time Imam Ali (AS) came to rule. This would allow us to better fine tune our comprehension of Imam Ali’s approaches and plan of action during those five years.

In the last essay (See Here), a map of the areas captured by the 3 khalifahs was presented. The areas extended as far east as the Central Asia, as far west as Northwest Africa, and north to the Caucuses. There were territories over which either the Persian or the Roman empires had ruled. That those territories would fall so easily under the control of the Muslim armies was not due to factors such as Muslims to have been such skilled warriors, their swords had such sharp edges, or the commanders to have been such formidable military geniuses and planners. To bill it as such (as some mistakenly do) is to caricaturize the facts of history, especially the history of the peoples, and to distort facts to fit cultural agitprops.

Significant socio-political and economic factors contributed to these rapid captures. These regions were at the peripheries of the two empires. Most people living in those areas were subjected to all sorts of attacks, atrocities, injustices, discrimination, poverty, and disenfranchisement in the hands of a minority of corrupt and ruthless local, regional, and imperial rulers who had put their excessive and wasteful self-indulgences before the wellbeing of the poor and ordinary people. The only times ordinary people would have been given any sort of attention were when annual kharaaj (taxes) needed to be forcefully collected regardless of whether these people could afford paying the taxes or not; or, when they were being recruited as soldiers for inter-imperial warfare; or, when their regions were targets of territorial disputes by the two prominent imperial powers at the time.

To a majority of them (especially the poor and disenfranchised), Islam with its message of brotherhood, justice, and equality before God regardless of status, class, and color of skin and purely based on level of taqwa (mindfulness of God’s boundaries), was a breath of fresh air. It was a heavenly breeze of hope, justice, and salvation that was sweeping across the region. This factor alone makes what I am about to write with respect to what happened after these territorial captures by Muslims under the three khalifahs (and later under the Bani Ummayyah, Abbassid, and Ottoman dynasties) even more tragic and catastrophic.

The people who faced the Muslim armies had three options: 1) Convert to Islam by testifying that there is “no god but One God” and that Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Allihi Wasallam) is His Messenger. In this case, the person would be (or should have been) treated as equal to all other Muslims (regardless of whether they are in the position of khalifah or an ordinary person); 2) Keep the existing religion and pay a form of tax called jazyah. This option would give (or should have given) those who chose it amnesty and protection for their lives, possessions, and properties. It would have also entitled them to public amenities for residing in and under the protection of an Islamic ruling; and 3) Continue to fight to kill or be killed or run away or get captured as prisoner of war. Majority among the populations chose the first option. Some remained as Jews, Christians, and Majoos (other faiths like Zoroastrians).

Was the promise of justice, brotherhood, and equality put into practice? Were both the spirit and the mechanic of the messages of Quran and Its path to salvation of mind, body, and soul implemented, however elementary and incomplete? Were artificial lines that divided people and discriminated against them based on tribal affiliation, race, social status, wealth, and the like dismantled? Do we see any evidence that any of the khalifahs tried to implement policies that addressed injustices and attend to the poor and the dispossessed? How were the ethical conducts of those who were put in charge in different administrative positions? These are examples of critical questions that must be asked if we wish to have a genuine assessment of our history as Muslims and draw correct lessons for this life and the Hereafter.

Among the most consequential and measurable indicators of justice is the distribution of material amenities and economic wealth. That is the distribution of Baytul-Mal, in Islamic terms. I briefly referenced and discussed the term in Part III of the essay series. Baytul-Mal relates to all significant economic revenues, incomes, natural resources, financial matters, public funds, spoils of war, and more among the Muslim Ummah. Within Baytul-Mal, there are different categories the funds are allocated for specific purposes. Not to overwhelm the non-Muslim and/or unfamiliar readers of this essay with a string of technical and specialized terms, I limit the explanation to a few examples in terms of general categories for clarification purposes.

There were shares allocated to the poor, the homebound, the orphans, widowed, single, or divorced women, the elderly, the disabled men, women, and children among Muslims. There were shares allocated to the poor, the homebound, the orphans, widowed, single, or divorced women, and the disabled men, women, and children among non-Muslims. [Note: Since there might have been a propensity for Muslims to prioritize the needs of a Muslim poor, dispossessed, etc. over those of non-Muslims in a Muslim land, I am supposing that this separate and specific allocation might have been meant to prevent negligence due to unjust and discriminatory biases and natural tendencies. I suppose we could think of them as Ex Ante measures, or some sort of affirmative action criterion.]

There were shares allocated to purchasing and freeing of slaves, to learning, understanding, and educating in Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAWAW), and the laws of Islam; shares allocated to learning, teaching, and understanding the world, the nature, the medicine, heavenly bodies, salary for the judges, training of soldiers, making of swords, breeding of horses, and so on. You get the gist. So, these were considered special shares with specific purposes. The general surplus would then be immediately distributed equally among all Muslims regardless of the position, power, tribal affiliation, and length of time they had been Muslim and whether or not they had participated in any wars.

If we park the wrongful move by Abu Bakr to take the position as the successor of the Prophet (SAWAW) away from Imam Ali (AS), the confiscation of Hazrat Zahra’s (SA) rightful inheritance, and the seizure of Ahlul-Bayt’s rights from khoms, and other infringements in a parking lot of contested topics that would not be discussed here, then the evidence shows that during the ruling of the 1st khalifah, Abu Bakr (about 2 years and 3 months) and the early years of the 2nd khalifah, Omar Ibn Khattab, (for about 5 to 6 years), the surplus from Baytul-Mal continued to be distributed equally among Muslims similar to the time of the Prophet (SAWAW). It is midway through the ruling of the 2nd khalifah when the equitable distribution changed to a system of tafzili (privilege-based) distribution and got progressively worse under the 3rd khalifahs, Othman Ibn Affan.

Preferential treatments and payments based on a hierarchical system in which specific individuals and groups like relatives, clan and tribal members, whether they were older converts or newer converts to Islam, whether they had participated in the battles, and other superficial distinctions became a norm. I extracted some information from a text in Volume 3 (pages 614-615) of Tarikh Al-Tabari[3], an important source among Sunni Muslims, to construct the simple chart below. It shows specific amounts allocated to each person or group and the basis for payment right at the beginning when tafzili system of distribution had just been implemented. The chart makes it easier to get a sense of differential allocation of funds.

There are also records of payments in the form of “gifts” and “charity” to specific people (who were not actually poor). I suppose, this is one way wars could be made to look good in the eyes of those who reap its transient benefits (in this world). Another tragic outcome is that the Muslim Ummah was returned to the type of system the Prophet (SAWAW) had worked so carefully to change and it happened in the hands of the very people who professed to be the closest of his companions. Words have always been cheaper than deeds.

The more territories were captured and the more wealth was accumulated, the more disproportionate the distribution of amenities got and the wider the gap between the rich and the poor became.[4] It is important and instructive to note, however, that this model of differential distribution was not invented by the 2nd khalifah. He modeled this method of fund allocation after those of the Divaan_e Mohasibat (Ministry of Calculations) that was the norm in the system of governance under the Persian and the Roman empires.[5]

In one of the speeches delivered during a visit by the military commanders of Division 27 of Muhammad Rasoul-Allah (SAWAW), Ayatullah Khamenei probed and described the historical events of that time in the following way:

 “The time when the justice-seeking elites first stumbled happened about seven to eight years after the passing of the Prophet. I am not going to touch on the issue of khilafat. The issue of khilafat is separate from the dangerous movement that I intend to cover here. The events happened in less than a decade after the passing of the Prophet. At first, those with records and credentials in Islam – whether they were among the companions, allies, and those who had participated in battles with the Prophet—began to garner all sorts of privileges. To have greater share of Baytul-Mal was one of those privileges. It was argued that for them to have equal shares with others is not right and one cannot consider them equal to others! This was the first brick! Movements that deviate from the right path begin like this from a tiny place. Then, with every wrong step taken, the next one gains momentum. The deviation began at this point until it reached the middle of Othman’s period. During the time of the 3rd khalifah, the situation became so critical that some of the most notable companions of the Prophet were considered the richest people with the greatest capitals in Islam! Are you paying attention?! That means, these very elite companions whose names are also very well known –Talhah, Zubair, Sa’ad Ibn Abi Waqqas, and so on – these elites each with a thick book list of credentials in Badr, Hunain, and Uhud, became 1st row rich capitalists in Islam! One of them, when he died, and they were trying to divide his gold among his inheritors, they first turned all of his gold into bars then they used an axe to chop them into pieces. Like you would cut wood into smaller pieces! Normally, you would weigh gold using Methghal [equal to 3-4 grams] weight. Just look at how much gold there was that they were breaking the bars with an axe! These are recorded in history and it is not an issue that they could say, ‘Shi’a has this in their books.’ These are historical facts that everyone has tried diligently to record it for history. The amount of Dirham and Dinar they left behind were of mythical proportions. It was this sort of conditions that precipitated those incidents during Imam Ali’s (AS) time. That is, at that time, since there were now quite a few people for whom status had acquired significance, so they began to fight with Ali.”[6]

Overall assessment to sum up the situation and to censure those who were in power, one can find ample examples in Imam Ali’s (AS) lectures. In one, he describes a bleak scenario:

“Wow! The 1st one while claiming he wished to leave his position while he was alive, he appointed a successor for after his death! How firmly have these two clasped the two breasts of power! So, he diverted his reign to a violent direction. He entrusted it into the hands of someone whose words were coarse and cruel, keeping whose company difficult, his mistakes excessive, and his apologies boundless. To be with him in governance was like riding a wild camel. If one pulled the bridle, the nose got bloodied; if one let it loose, he would have ended up killing the rider and the ride together.”

“Until the 3rd one began to rein who had no plan except to fill his belly and empty it. His paternal clan/tribe [i.e. Bani Ummayyah clan] rose up to assist him. Like young camels devouring fresh sprouts in the spring, they looted and ransacked the Baytul-Mal. As a consequence, that which he had woven came undone. His deeds finished him. His gluttony brought him to ruin.”[7]

Elsewhere in another lecture, Imam Ali (AS) describes the condition of the people and the society of the time as follows:

 “You are living at a time when goodness has turned its back and continues to move in opposite direction from you and corruption runs ever faster toward you. Satan’s wish to corrupt people, too, has amplified. This is the time when Satan’s handicraft has become more robust and its pray has become easily accessible. Take a look at people in every corner! Do you see except the poor that is wrestling with poverty? At the same time, do you see except the rich that is other than wasteful regarding God’s blessings? Or, the ones who are greedy and closed-fisted with their wealth? Or, the ones who believe not spending for God as the reason of their accumulated wealth?! Do you see except a transgressor who does an about-face on justice as if he has turned deaf and cannot hear these warnings? Where are your outstanding people and your good doers and your free people and your honorable and trustworthy men? Where are your honest in trade and ethical in manner and behavior? Is it other than the fact that they all passed away?! They all packed their bags and left this inferior world and severed their connection with everything? And you remained! A handful of contemptible people that one cannot either describe them but in worst ways or to forget that they ever existed! Then, Inna Lillah wa Inna ilayhir-raji’oon [Indeed, We belong to God and to Him is our return].”

“The corruption has become transparent. Neither is there anyone who can disrupt bad deeds nor is there anyone who can prevent the wrongdoing transgressors from their transgressions. Is it with these earnings that you wish to get yourselves to the proximity of God?! And become His dear companions?! Never! One cannot pull a fast one over God! His satisfaction cannot be obtained except through obeying Him. May God curse those who command others to do good deeds yet themselves abstain from doing the same! And May God curse those who warn others against wrongdoing yet themselves are diligent in wrongdoings!”[8]

Five-Year Administration of Imam Ali (AS)

It is our belief that the message of Islam regarding qist and justice would have been lost in the hands of one corrupt khalifah after another, one ruthless dynasty after another, and one egomaniac hypocrite after another all in the name of Islam had it not been for the 5-year ruling of Imam Ali (AS) as Sarmashq-e Edalat_e Alawi [Handwriting Guide for Ali-Style Justice] until his martyrdom. His legacy was carried over and kept alive through resistance by our eleven other Imams that led to eventual martyrdom of 10 in the hands of the Axis of the Accursed, the same axis which at every era has emerged in different corpses. The disappearance of the 12th Imam Mahdi (AS) until the Promised Time was a near miss.

Imam Ali (AS) began his governance after the assassination of the 3rd khalifah, Othman under duress. Many were fed up with widespread corruption, extensive injustices, and ubiquitous immoralities. Imam (AS) describes the scene of Bay’at with him as follows:

“You opened my hand, I closed it. You pulled my hand [for handshake of bay’at], I pulled it away [refused]. Then, like thirsty camels when rushing to water trough they trample over one another, you ran over me so hard that the footwear got torn, the cloak got thrown off, and the weak fell down beneath the crowd’s feet. People, for their bay’at with me were so overjoyed that even the children became jubilant. The old with shaky steps, the ill with hardship, young girls without niqab rushed to the scene.”[9]

Before accepting the position of khilafat, however, Imam Ali (AS) forewarned those who were rushing to do Bay’at with him that he would not rest until everything that had been taken unjustly is returned to its rightful owner and place. Anything from Baytul-Mal that belong to all and were plundered, given as ‘gifts,’ and distributed unjustly would be returned. No special treatment. No preferential practice. No exceptions. In Khutbah 203 he says,

 “By God, I had no inclination to rule. I had no need to rule. You pulled me into it. You put that burden on me. But when the governance came to me, I looked at God’s Book and the rules He had commanded. I looked at what the Prophet (SAWAW) had established in Sunnah and followed it.”

“But you are asking me why in the issue of Baytul-Mal I acted equitably. This is not something I followed based on my personal opinion. I did not act based on my personal wishes. Besides, you and I know very well that this is the very same way the Prophet of God acted. The decree is certain and I did not need to follow your whims on what God has decreed on the division of Baytul-Mal and has signed its order.”

“May God have Mercy on anyone who when witnessing justice, assisted it; when witnessing an injustice, prevented it; and assisted an oppressed until what is justly due to him is returned.”[10]

As soon as Imam Ali (AS) began to govern, all wars in the name of Islam for territorial expansion came to a screeching halt. Amir Al-Mo’minin focused his attention and resources on establishing justice throughout all territories that had now come under the guardianship of Islam. Corrupt local and regional governors were replaced one after another with wise, trustworthy, and pious governors. Usurped lands were returned to their rightful owners and/or Baytul-Mal. Collection of Kharaj [taxes] was canceled from poor people and new territories. Their shares from Baytul-Mal was returned to them.

The command he issued to Malik Ashtar (also known as Malik Ashtar’s Contract) is perhaps one of the most comprehensive documents that highlights Imam Ali’s overall view and approach to governance and how he went about implementing constructive reforms. I was not satisfied with existing English translations of this excellent charter that I reviewed to recommend post it here for English-speaking people who wish to read the whole document. I have translated specific portions of it in this document and, God Willing, I will translate the entire document at a later date.

Regarding the interest of the public verses the elites, he says,

 “[Malik!] Your most favored tasks must consist of the ones that are the most balanced with the truth, the most encompassing in justice, and the most comprehensive in gaining the public’s gratitude. That is because the public’s anger makes the satisfaction of a few elites useless and the anger of a few elites become null and void when countered with the satisfaction of the public. At the time of great abundance and comfort, no one is more wasteful for a governor than the elites. At the time of hardship and challenges, no one is more useless than the elites. At the time of fairness, no one is less pleased than the elites. At the time of asking and wanting, no one is more persistent than the elites. At the time of generosity, no one is more ungrateful than the elites. At the time of refusing to cater, no one is more unforgiving than the elites. At the time of calamities, no one less patient than the elites. So, the pillar of religion, the crowd of Muslims, and the most ready to fight with the enemies are in fact the public. So, your attentions and your desires must be devoted to them.”[11]

When appointing ministers and staff, he stated:

“The worst ministers for you are those who had been ministers to oppressors and criminals. They had participated in their sins and they should not serve as your confidantes for these are the companions of the transgressors and brothers of oppressors. So long as you have the power to do so, replace them with someone better than them who may have their skills and knowledge but not the heavy load of their transgressions and wrongdoings and have not assisted anyone else in transgressions. Their cost to you is less, their collaboration more useful, their manner with you more kind and their inclination towards the enemies is less. Among them, choose as your closest companions in private the minister who tells you the bitter truth the most and his cooperation with you in what displeases God and His Awlia is the least.”[12]

In plans for taxation, he advised:

“In your plans for taxes, attend to them in a manner that the improvement of the conditions of the tax payers are the main focus. The reform and wellness of taxes and tax payers ensures the reform and wellness of all others and for everyone else there is no peace unless the tax payers are at peace since they are in the position of recipients from the tax payers. Your efforts in improving the condition of the land must exceed your efforts in collecting taxes because taxes are not gained unless through the improvement of the land and anyone who tries to collect taxes without improving the conditions ends up ruining the cities, throwing God’s people into oblivion, and shortening his own rule.”

“If the tax payers are objecting to taxes due to how high it is or the pests or the drought in the springs or the lack of rain or the floods or lack of water, then reduce the taxes so much that their conditions improves. Do not begrudge this reduction in taxes because this concession is in fact an investment in improvement of the lands; return of order to the structure of your governance, and people’s good opinion about your work. Most importantly though, you could be pleased that you spread the feast of justice before them while strengthening them with a reduction in taxes and you can trust them since you have acclimated them to justice and kindness. Therefore, you could be assured by them that at the time of hardships, if you entrust them with tasks to solve the problems, they would accept the challenge with pleasure. A land in which the conditions improve, it is resilient and can bear any hardship. The corruption in the land is due to the poverty and wretchedness of its inhabitants and their poverty is due to accumulation of wealth by their rulers and the suspicion of those rulers about the demise of their power, and their failure to learn and heed warnings.”[13]

Regarding the poor and the dispossessed, he ordered:

“By God, By God, about those who are in the low status in the society; those who have no way out, of the feeble and the ailing, and of the needy, and of those who are afflicted with calamities, and of those who are fallen of illnesses. Among these are those who are bold enough to ask for help and among them are some whose dignity and grace do not allow them to ask for help. So, that which God has ordered you to protect of their rights and just dues, do so with diligence. Give them their share from Baytul-Mal and a share from the best grains in the Islamic land. Do this for every region: for the ones further away give the same share as the ones closest. Attending to the rights of every one of them is your duty and do not allow comfort and preoccupations with blessings divert your attention from them. Neglecting the little tasks about their needs cannot be excused by rationalizing that you have much bigger and more important tasks to which you attend.”

“Do not falter in your thoughts aiming to remedy their condition and do not turn your face away from them. In regards to the needy and the poor who do not have access to you and those whom others consider insignificant and denigrate, show searching curiosity and investigate their condition. Assign a trustworthy, humble, and God fearing person to inform you of their condition. Then treat them in a way that when you meet your Maker, the Ultimate in Justice finds your excuse valid for these are the ones who are the most in need of justice and fairness. And with regards to everyone’s due, behave so justly that God accepts your excuses. Attend to the needs of the orphans and the elderly who have no other way before them and are not openly asking and begging from people.”

“What I have asked you is quite heavy. But of course all of Truth and Justice is heavy. Sometimes God makes it easier for a nation that is genuinely seeking a blessed ending, exercises patience, resists, and perseveres and has trusted the truth of what God has promised them.”[14]

Social justice from the perspective of religion is essential because a just society has the greatest potential to provide the best environment for human growth in body and soul, as individuals and as aggregates, and in achieving excellence in this world and in preparation for the Hereafter. Unless somebody is just a saint (which a majority of us is not), for the soul to soar, the body needs to be in its proper balance. As we say in Farsi, “Shekam_e Goshneh Khoda nemishnasad.” [An empty belly does not know God.] At the same time, if the only purpose of social justice were to focus on this material world so that everyone’s greatest preoccupation to be anything that relates to materialims, into perpetuity even if in a fair and equitable manner, then, there could be nothing more wasteful, frivolous, and vain than creation and life itself (with or without justice).

Shi’a believes that our best potential for growth and development both as individuals and as Ummah in preparation for life in this world and in the Hereafter cannot be fully actualized unless and until we have obtained and sustained the Wilayat of God through and Wilayat and Imamat of His infallible servants, our Prophets and Imams according to Quran. One of the most effective and significant ways our Wali and Imam can help us do that is through the establishment of a just society. It is quite simple: we help and support our Imam in guiding us to achieve change in the path of excellence:

“Decidedly, God does not change the conditions of any nations unless/until they themselves change their condition.” (Quran, Chapter 13, Ar-Ra’d; Verse 11)

Our infallible Imams do not need to be our wali. We need them and their Wilayat. I believe understanding the above points is key to understanding Wilayat and Imamat in Shi’a Islam, the rights and responsibilities of Imams of Shi’a Islam and the rights and responsibilities of the Shi’a Ummah as a whole, or Shi’a individuals, people, and nations.

Three Wars against Imam Ali’s (AS) Justice: The Axis of the Accursed

In general, establishment of social justice in any and all human societies is bound to create resistance, hostility, and violent opposition by powerful elements and interests whose very wealth, power, and status are nourished and nursed by injustice. In that regard, Imam Ali’s (AS) goals were no exception. However, there are different essentials in the establishment of social justice within the realm of Wilayat and Imamat that distinguishes and differentiates this form from those which are done in human societies solely based on material and worldly human wisdom and calculations in every age. Understanding those essentials also allows us to better understand and differentiate between strategies and tactics to establish justice within the framework set by Imam Ali (AS) and the nuanced approaches in dealing with different types of opposition and battles that are encountered at different times in terms of when, with whom, and how to fight, to negotiate, to retreat, and to attack.

An Axis of the Accursed [my labeling] was introduced at the beginning of the article. This axis consisted of Nakithin [the Pledge Breakers], Qasitin [the Transgressing Oppressors], and Marighin [the Abandoners]. Each group will be examined separately.

  1. Nakithin, or the Pledge Breakers. These are the first group that broke their bay’at and pledge of support with Imam Ali (AS) and began to organize against him. First and most prominent among them were Talhah and Zubair. At one time, these had been Imam’s old friends and companions and they had been the first to shake hands of bay’at with Imam. If we were to look at modern day examples, we have quite a few number of people here in Iran who had impressive revolutionary credentials and some of the loudest voices for social justice before and at the beginning of the victory of the Revolution but later turned into some of the most corrupt hoarders, plunderers, and land grabbers of our time.

Immediately after Imam Ali (AS) began his governance, Talhah and Zubair went to him and ask to be assigned as governors to Basrah and Kufah. Imam Ali (AS) refused to yield to their demands.[15] While they were still quite inflamed and embittered by failing to achieve what they felt entitled to, they received letters from Muawiah Ibn Abisufian (later became the founder of the Bani-Ummayyah dynasty) promising them the position of khilafat if they sided with him against Imam Ali (AS).[16] Unfortunately, they were deceived and imagined themselves qualified enough to be in the position of khilaft. In coalition with Aisha, one of the widows of the Prophet (SAWAW) and the 1st khalifah’s daughter, they gathered fighters and initiated the Jamal Battle [It was called Jamal, or male camel, since Aisha led the war against Imam Ali (AS) riding on a male camel.] against Imam Ali (AS).

Ayatullah Khamenei in one of his lectures referenced and described the Nakithin as follows:

“The other group was Nakithin [the Pledge Breakers]. They were Amir Al-Mo’minin’s old comrades and companions but they could not tolerate his justice and began to oppose him. They knew Ali and believed in him. Some of them were even involved in getting him to power and had done bay’at with him. But they could not stomach his justice and fought him since they realized he is not going to make special allowances for them for the sake of old friendship and alliances.”[17] 

The 1st attack took place in Basrah where the army of Aisha attacked the Baytul-Mal and killed the guards. I will not enter into the details of that battle. Eventually the battle of Jamal ended with the defeat of Aisha, Talhah, and Zubair army. Imam Ali (AS) did not allow his army to take any spoils of war, returned Aisha to Medina under protective custody, and freed those who had been taken as prisoners after taking pledges from them that they would not pick up arm to oppose him. Some among Imam’s army did not approve of these decisions and began to oppose him.

  1. Qasitin, or the Transgressing Oppressors. These were the group under Muawiah Ibn Abisufian, who gained control of Shaam (current Syria) under the 3rd khalifah, Othman. He later became the founder of the Bani Ummayyah dynasty. Ayatullah Khamenei about the Qasitin explains:

“But the worst among the three for Amir-Al-Mo’minin was Qasitin. These were the very founders of oppressive rules and system of government. They did not even believe and accept the just foundation of Ali and Islam in governance. They did not accept Ali and they did not accept anyone who did bay’at with Ali. They would not budge and they would not yield to him. Absolutely, they did not believe in just approach, justice, qist, and acting according to justice because if they wanted to give justice any platform, if they would even bring up the name of justice, then, they themselves would have been the first to get caught. In order to dismantle Ali’s justice, they used ‘respecting the companions of the Prophet’ and ‘council’ as their first trap. This is very important. Please note. In order to destroy the very foundation of justice and the value of justice which was the core of Amir Al-Mo’minin’s governance, to make it to be forgotten, they came and erected other Islamic values – values which of course were of lesser importance than justice – to oppose Amir Al-Mo’minin. Their true intent was neither to support the opinions of the companions of the Prophet nor to seek their council. Amir Al-Mo’minin conveys this very meaning to Muawiah in a letter and says, ‘You want to judge between Muhajir and Ansar?! You want to teach us?! You neo-muslim want to teach Ali Ibn Abitalib, whose very fabric of existence is intertwined with, woven, and built in Islam, about Islam?!’ It was evident, they did not believe in Ali’s justice.”[17]

Immediately following the Battle of Jamal, the Battle of Siffin under the leadership of Muaviah was imposed on Imam Ali (AS). There were periods of fighting and ceasefire for months. At one point after a week of fierce battle the night before the final battle when it became clear that the next day the victory of Imam Ali’s (AS) army was certain, Muawiah in a plot with one of his ministers, Amr ibn al-‘As, they decided to put Qurans atop spears and raise them in the battle next day. Some among Imam Ali’s army, when they saw the Qurans atop spears, they fell for the trick and refused to fight even when Imam Ali told them it is a trick and they should listen to him who is Quran Natiq, the “Speaking Quran.” The trick worked and the battle ended with an arbitration that had a negative impact on the unity of Imam Ali’s side.

  1. Marighin [the Abandoners]. The third and last group that opposed and fought with Imam Ali (AS) and eventually killed him were Marighin, or the Abandoners. They are described as follows:

“That is the extremist and fanatic crowd in their own assumption with their belief lacking any sort of true and correct understanding of religion. By mistake, some call Marighin ‘holier-than-thou’ but that is not it. There were some among the companions of the Amir Al-Mo’minin who were indeed morally and ethically superior and pious but the problem is when the appearances of a religious belief is not well-rooted in any sort of accurate and deep understanding of the religion or its edicts. They do not have the required cognitive awareness and correct insight so that they could save themselves from falsity and true deviations. In one place their stance is so excessive that when they see the Quran atop the spears raised by the enemy, they say no one should throw arrows. These people were so excessive about their feelings toward the Quran that when the Shaam army was losing the war so they put the Quran over the spears, these people came to Amir Al-Mo’minin and forced him to finish the war because they said, those who are fighting are the believers in Quran; they are brothers in religion and you mustn’t fight with them! Using threats, they forced him to leave the war unfinished! These same people, when they realized they had been tricked, they have been bamboozled, then they went to the other extreme so much so that they said, ‘We have become infidels! Ali, too, has become an infidel! So, he needs to repent!’ These people due to not having a deep understanding of religion and having a very superficial understanding, then very easily they make a hundred eighty degree turn from the right path. If you would like to find a modern day examples of these Mariqin, they are Munafiqin [refers to the People’s Mujahidin, the terrorist organization that is currently at the service of the US, Israel, and the West]. These are the very same people who at the beginning of the Revolution did not even accepted Imam’s way of standing against the US but later they went and hid themselves under the US’s skirt! They got money from the US and sought asylum from Saddam! When there is no deep cognition and intelligence, then false pride rooted in ignorance and one’s misperception and grasping onto an empty shell from religion, then this would be the result: Mariqin![17]

God Willing, we will continue. Peace be upon you.


[1] Terminology of Shi’a and Tashayyo’, Learning Treasures, Hawzah Communication Base. Available online at:

[2] Speeches in the Friday Prayers’ Sermon on 23rd of Aban, 1382 (Nov. 14, 2003). Available online at:

[3] Muhammad Ibn Jarir Tabari (224-301 HQ). “Tariq al-Rusol wa al-Muluk [The History of the Prophet and the Kings].” Vol. 3, Pages 614. School of Fiqahat Online Library. Available online at:

[4] Delshad-Tehrani M and Hami M. “Pathology of the Impact of the Three Khalifahs’ Conduct on Muslims’ Social Ethics.” Al-Nahj Quarterly Journal, No. 49, Pages 7-22, Summer ’95 (HS).


[5] Montazeri Moqadam H (1389). “Approaches to the division of Baytul-Mal at the beginning of Islam.” Journal of Ma’rifat Eqtisadi (Understanding Economy), No. 2, Pages 137-169.

[6] Ali Khamenei. The Speeches during the visit with the commanders of Lashkar 27th of Muhammad Rasoul-Allah (SAWAW). Khordad 20, 1375 [May 21, 1996]. Available online at:

[7] Khutbah #3, Nahjul-Balaqhah. Edit Sayyed Razi. Trans. Hussain Ansarian. Page 9. Darul-Irfan Publishing.

[8] Khutbah #129, Nahjul-Balaqhah, Trans. Sayyed Ja’afar Shahidi, Aalulbayt Global Information Center, Online Page 16/1.

[9] Khutbah #225, Nahjul-Balaqhah. Edit Sayyed Razi. Trans. Hussain Ansarian. Page 235. Darul-Irfan Publishing.

[10] Khutbah #203, Nahjul-Balaqhah. Edit Sayyed Razi. Trans. Hussain Ansarian. Page 215. Darul-Irfan Publishing.

[11] Ahdnameh Malik Ashtar (Letter #53), Nahjul-Balaqhah. Edit Sayyed Razi. Trans. Hussain Ansarian. Page 292. Darul-Irfan Publishing.

[12] Ibid, page 292.

[13] Ibid, page 297.

[14] Ibid, page 299.

[15] Muhammad Ibn Jarir Tabari (224-301 HQ). “Tariq al-Rusol wa al-Muluk [The History of the Prophet and the Kings].” Vol. 4, Pages 429-430. School of Fiqahat Online Library. Available online at:

[16] Moallemi M (1383 HS). “Mo’aviah and the Jamal Battle.” Journal of History of Islam, No. 20, Research Center in Social Sciences and Cultural Studies.

[17] Sayyed Ali Khamenei. Friday Prayers Speech, Azar 23, 1382 [Dec. 14, 2003]. Available online at:


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