Caliph Ali is one of the most famous sages of Islam. His
turbulent era made it difficult for him to pay full attention to the affairs of
State and administration. But his exceptionally discreet and scintillating mind
dwelt on the subject of administration and his thoughts on it are as fresh today
as ever. In particular, his epistle to Malik Ashtar, Governor of Egypt, has been
regarded as an administrative classic. It contains a wealth of administrative
wisdom and Mustafa Bek Najib calls it ‘a basic guide in Islamic administration’.
A perusal of this missive shows how the ethical precepts of Islam can be used by
administrators as guide-posts. The following paragraphs offer a brief summary of
the important points made in the letter.
1. Trust and Goodness: Benevolence, justice, and service
breed trust and goodness between the ruler and the ruled. Your benevolence will
earn you their trust and your ill-treatment, their ill-will.
2. Contact with the People: The source of strength for the
State and religion are common people, so be mindful of their welfare. Give them
personal hearings, without being accompanied by any of your officials so that
they can present their case fearlessly before you.
3. Little Wants: Care for the people as you care for your
children. Besides giving them general help, attend to their small wants, for
timely attention paid to such needs sometimes affords them immense relief.
4. Praise and Reward: Give frequent praise for the
services of the people and reward them adequately when they deserve it.
5. Selection and Probation: Righteous and honest people
should be chosen for administrators and selection should be made (or the
selected ones confirmed) after a probationary period has passed.
6. Department Heads: Those persons should be appointed
heads of departments who have strong nerves and who have a tremendous capacity
for working under any kind of pressure.
In the end, Caliph Ali again stresses the importance of
maintaining a close contact with the people. His words are incisive: ‘The fact
is that you must be either just or unjust. If you are just, then you will not
keep away from the people...On the other hand, if you are unjust, the people
themselves keep away from you.’