Ayatollah Khamenei

6 Acts of Imam Ali (as) that prove politics and ethics can be combined

What I want to discuss is the political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.). During this discussion, I will raise certain points in regards to this topic. We should pay attention, to the fact, that the political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was not separate from his spiritual and moral behavior. The politics of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) interrelated with his spirituality and morality. In fact, his politics originated from his spirituality and morality.

If one's politics originate from morality and feed on spirituality, then it will be beneficial for the people who utilize this strength: to achieve perfection and paradise. But if politics becomes separate from morality and spirituality, then it will be demagoguery. It will be a tool for gaining power at any price, for accumulating wealth, and for furthering one's own interests: this kind of political maneuvering is like a pest. It is bothersome for both the politician and the people who face this brand of politics in their everyday life.

The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) describes his rule, during which, three all-out wars were waged and thousands of soldiers were killed, in a way that displays his contempt.--Take a look at Nahjul Balaghah to understand what he has said in this regards. Once, when addressing Ibn Abbas, he described it [his governance] as something that is even less worthy than his old and patched up shoelaces. In yet another section of Nahjul Balaghah [the book], he said: "Then you would have seen that, in my view, this world of yours is no better than the sneezing of a goat." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 3]

What value does the sneezing of a goat have? It has no value. He says that this power and this rule is even of less worth and less significance than the sneezing of a goat. In the same sermon, he explains why he accepted government: "If people had not come to me and supporters had not exhausted the argument, I would not have accepted caliphate.” He said that he accepted caliphate because the people insisted and pledged their allegiance to him.

He goes on to explain: "If there had been no pledge between Allah and the learned, to the effect that they should not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, I would have cast the rope of caliphate on its own shoulders.” He says that Allah the Exalted has commanded scholars and knowledgeable personalities to avoid endurance of the oppression of oppressors and the hunger of the oppressed. These were the things which drew the Commander of the Faithful towards the caliphate. He showed resistance and even fought against those who plotted against him and who went back on their pledge of allegiance. If it had not been for such things, a caliphate would have been worthless to him.

Policy-making features in the mannerisms of Imam Ali (as):

1. He would never use deception and imposture in politics:

One of the characteristics of his politics is that it was free of any deception and trickery. The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) has narrated: "If it were not for piety, I would be able to use tricks better than all deceitful Arabs." [al-Kafi, Volume 8, page 22] When comparing himself with Muawiyah, he says: "I swear to God that Muawiyah is not cleverer than me." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 200] But what should Ali do, while he is committed to piety and morality when his hands and his tongue are tied?--This is the method of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.).

If one is not pious, his hands and his tongue are free: they can do and say whatever they please. If we are not pious, we allow ourselves to say things which are untrue: we can engage in slander; we can tell lies to the people; we can break our promises; we can become attached to the enemies of the straight path. When piety does not exist, this is the manner in which we behave. The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) said that he chose politics and piety together: this is why there was no deception or dishonesty in the methods that Ali (a.s) adopted.

One of the dangers resulting from the separation of religion and politics is that they become separated from morality and spirituality:--this type of separation has always been promoted by certain individuals among the Islamic world; this has been promoted in our country, as well. Today, some people, unfortunately, chant slogans related to the separation of religion and politics. In secular and non-religious systems morality is destroyed in almost all areas.

--Of course, such systems might carry out an act of moral; this is one exception; however, when politics is separated from religion, it [the political structure] falls into immorality and will be based on materialistic and personal motives. The political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (A.S.) was based on his faith:--it [his political behavior] was not separated from his spiritual behavior.


2. He was patient and tolerant in practising politics:

On the issue of the political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), I should say that he used to tolerate his opponents and even his enemies as much as possible. Although it is true that he experienced three wars during his nearly five-year rule, he fought in these wars after he showed all kinds of tolerance. The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was not a person to draw his sword without showing proper tolerance towards his opponents.

Now, I want you to listen to a number of hadiths narrated by him. At the beginning of his caliphate, a number of people gathered around the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), and they insisted that he deal with some of his opponents: they firmly insisted that he should do this. In response, the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) advised them to be patient.

One of the things that he said was, "One group will think as you do, but another will not think as you think, and there will be still another group who will be neither this way nor that way.” There are some people who have the same opinion as you do, and there are some people who believe something that you do not. There is another group of people who do not take sides at all. These people have a different opinion. "Therefore, you should be patient.” He said that they should be patient so that he can carry out his responsibility with acumen. "Be patient until the people quieten down and hearts settle in their places so that rights can be achieved for people easily.”

He said that they should allow him to establish the rights of the people in a calm and peaceful manner.--"But if I do not find another way, the last treatment, of course, will be to brand with a hot iron." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 168] We should do our best to establish and achieve the rights of the people, in a patient and kind manner: if we realize that there is no other alternative, then we should "brand with a hot iron.”--This is a well-known Arabic saying: it means that the last alternative is to react in a firm manner. We should treat wounds with medicine and ointments as much as possible: we should use remedies to clean the wound. If it is not possible to do this, then the last treatment will be to “brand it with a hot iron” because there is no other alternative.

Before the Battle of Siffin began, a number of people put their foot down and insisted that the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) should launch an attack. In response, he said: "By Allah, I did not put off war even for a day except in the hopes that some group may join me, find guidance through me, and see my light with their weak eyes." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 55] He said, "I am not about waging wars. I am for guidance. Even if I delay fighting for a single day, it is with the hope that some of them listen to the truth and follow the straight path. When we see that no one among the enemies wants to follow the straight path, then we will draw our swords and begin the war.”

During the Battle of Jamal, which was one of the most difficult tests of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) he said: "Certainly, these people are in agreement with disliking my authority.” They have become united, and they have joined hands so that they can express their anger towards the government which the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) has been entrusted with: "And I will show patience.” But, how long would he show patience?--"I will carry on until I perceive that disunity among you.” [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 169]--When the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) sees that the enemies are creating discord between Muslims, and they are pitting brother against brother, he enters the arena and eliminates the fitnah; but he shows patience and offers his advice as long as he can.


3. Even with the enemies, he would speak with logic:

One of the characteristics of the political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was that he spoke with reason to his enemies and opponents. He even used to reason with Muawiyah during his correspondence with him. Although the enmity between Muawiyah and the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was fierce, Muawiyah used to write letters to the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), in which, he would insult him and write things that were not true.


After Talha and Zubair pledged allegiance to the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), they left Medina and went towards Makka with the excuse that they intended to go on a Hajj pilgrimage. The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was vigilant: from the beginning, he used to say that they do not intend to go on a Hajj pilgrimage: they left and hatched certain plots.--Of course, it is a long story why they did this.


Hazrat said: "Both of you frown over small matters and leave aside big ones." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 204] He said that they used insignificant matters as tools for creating discord, that they ignored many positive aspects, and that they intended to show enmity and disobey his commands. Despite these things, the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) spoke in a humble manner to them. He explained that he was not about creating enemies for himself: so, he showed tolerance.


But when tolerance is not sufficient, there is room for Alavi decisiveness. For example, he showed his decisiveness towards the Khawarij in such a firm way that he, himself, said, "I tore out the eye of fitnah." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 92] And no one else could do this except for Ali, as he is reported to have said in the Nahjul Balaghah.


4. In politics, he would never resort to lying:

Another characteristic of the political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was that he did not resort to oppressing people, telling lies, and carrying out oppressive measures. At the beginning of the Commander of the Faithful's (a.s.) caliphate, some people said to him that he should show some consideration for the influential personalities in society and that he should give them a larger share of public funds.

They said, "Do not make them disobey you. Rather, you should attract their hearts.” He replied, "Do you command me to achieve victory through oppression? By Allah, I won't do so, as long as the world goes on and as long as one star leads to another in the sky." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 126] It was not possible for the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) to make friends through a display of oppression and by adopting incorrect and non-Islamic methods.


5. He would refute flattery:

Another characteristic in the political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) was that he genuinely--not insincerely--asked the people to avoid flattering and sweet-talking him. He asked them to avoid behaving in an insincere manner towards him.

In the middle of the Commander of the Faithful’s (a.s.) sermon, which was one of his most articulate and astonishing sermons, someone stood up and began to praise and compliment him. He gave the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) plenty of praise because of his sermon and the things which he said. When this person finished praising, Hazrat (a.s.) turned to him and advised--almost as much as this person spoke--avoid speaking to him, the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), in this manner.--I’ve gathered this information from Nahjul Balaghah and the selected text of Sayyid Radhi.

One of the sentences that he uttered in this sermon was: "Do not speak to me the way you speak to oppressive kings and rulers. Do not evade me as the people of passion are to be evaded.” Some people avoid saying certain things to other people so that they do not make them annoyed and displeased. Imam Ali (a.s.) said that they should not show such considerations for him. "Do not meet me with flattery and do not think that I shall take it ill if a true thing is said to me." [Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 216]

He said that people should not think Ali would be annoyed if they say a true word to him. It was not the case that he found it hard to accept the truth: this is another characteristic of the political behavior of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.).


6. He would not treat all his opponents the same:

Another characteristic of that great Imam (a.s.) was that he did not behave in the same way towards all of his opponents and enemies. He did not use the same method for all of them. He differentiated between different individuals and orientations. Ali (a.s.) stood firm against the faithless Khawarij. Of course, he stood up against their deviation, wrongdoings, and reliance on the outward aspects of religion.

He stood against Muawiyah as well. When they put the Holy Quran on their spears, the Commander of the Faithful said, "By Allah, this is a trick and deception. They do not believe in the Holy Quran.” And when Khawarij confronted him with their reliance on the outward aspects of religion, they recited the Holy Quran in a plaintive and sad tone in front of the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), Hazrat stood up against them.

That is to say, the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) stood up against those who wanted to move forward on the basis of outward aspects of religion; and it did not matter to him whether he was confronting Muawiyah or Khawarij; nonetheless, he did not behave towards them in the same way. He showed resistance, but, in general, his method was to offer advice.

This was the reason he said, "Do not fight Khawarij after me; because one who seeks right but does not find it, is not like one who seeks wrong and finds it.” Those who are after truth, but who make a mistake on this path--such people are seeking the truth, but they make a mistake due to their ignorance and reliance on superficial things--are not like those who are after evil and find it.--Such people are not the same.

This discussion exemplifies the political behavior belonging to the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.). When we delve deeper, we see that the political behavior of that great Imam corresponds, exactly, with his spiritual behavior. In all capacities, the Commander of the Faithful (a.s.) is that same man, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who is peerless throughout the world.


Ayatollah Khamenei, Sep 11, 2009


  • Imam Hussain
  • Islamic government
  • Justice
  • politics


  • 2018-02-27 15:57
    Amazing collection. Praiseworthy. Great translation and editing for english peoples. Nice.
  • 2018-02-27 18:58
    Subhanallah Ya ALI MADAD
  • 2018-02-28 16:52
  • 2018-03-01 02:09
    Worthy of reading