It could be said that "Amr bil Ma'roof and Nahy an il Munkar", were reflected in the most perfect form in the character and personality of Imam Ali (A.S.). He made sure that he followed whatever he enjoined on others and firmly avoided whatever he dissuaded others from doing. He was very critical of such people who did not observe "Amr bil Ma'roof and Nahy an il Munkar" and has said:
"Woe upon those who simply exhort others to `Amr bil Ma'roof' while being oblivious of it in their own lives and woe to those who warn others through `Nahy an il Munkar', while yet ignoring those warnings in their own lives." (Nahjul Balagha).
This great follower of the message of the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him and his household) was the first and firmest in following all great virtues and divine recommendations. Let us now study some aspects from the life of Imam Ali (A.S.) that reflect on the importance of this fundamental Islamic virtue.
a- The Asceticism of Imam Ali (A.S.) and his warnings against undue attachment to worldly matters:
Ali's (A.S.) simplicity and honesty as well as his clean and sincere life-style was the best form of inviting and attracting others to `Amr bil Ma'roof'. Although he was one of the most eloquent speakers of all times, his actions spoke even more outstandingly than his words. In one of his letters to Amr ibn Al-`As, Imam Ali (A.S.) writes:
"The world and getting unduly attached to it keeps one away from other things. This attachment to the world, makes him greedy and the more he gets, the more he wants. Never does he get fully satiated. And yet one day, he will be forced (by death), to leave everything behind." (Nahjul-Balagha)
History has recorded that even after being appointed as Caliph, in spite of having large amounts of wealth, power and property under his direct command, nothing changed whatsoever in the personal life of Imam Ali (A.S.). Regarding the life of Imam Ali (A.S.), a Sunni scholar writes thus:
"He never overate or filled himself with food. His food and clothing were the most modest among all and he could often be seen wearing patched clothes. His shoes were made from the shaft of the date-palm and his clothes were coarse. If ever he found that his sleeve was longer than necessary, he would trim it off. He (A.S.) had divorced the world and in spite of large amounts of wealth reaching him from different parts of the Islamic world (except Sham), he lived in utter simplicity, distributing all the wealth among the needy." (The Exegesis of Nahjul Balagha, Ibn Abil-Hadid, vol. 1, p. 22)
b- Ali's (A.S.) purity of faith (taqwa) and his warnings against lack of taqwa:
Purity of faith and staying away from sinful acts top the list of virtues because the very base or the very root of every virtue is taqwa. Imam Ali (A.S.) enjoined great attention and importance to be given to taqwa and considered it to be the dearest virtue in the eyes of Allah. He said:
"I invite all you worshippers of Allah to taqwa and abstention from evil because these virtues are the best of `Amr bil Ma'roof' that believers can invite each other to, and very dear to Allah." (Nahjul Balagha)
All the sermons and even the official correspondence of Imam Ali (A.S.) exhort towards purity of faith and intention and warn against the evil of succumbing to carnal whims and fancies. He is known to have said thus to Ibn-e Abbas:
"Keep away from carnal whims and fancies and the whisperings of the devil because they will keep you away from the path of Truth. Know well then, that whatever takes you closer to Allah, also keep you away from the fire of hell... . Remember Allah at all times and do not be of the unconscious ones." (The Battle of Jamal, Sheikh Mufid, translated by Mahmud Mahdavi Damghani, p. 251)
Imam Ali's (A.S.) entire life, all his deeds and actions always reflected the highest level of taqwa and anyone who studies his life can only be left astounded at his resistance to all the lure and attractions of worldly-life. Many non-Muslim orientalists and Islamologists have described the unique personality and characteristics of Imam Ali (A.S.) with great admiration - among them is the Lebanese Christian scholar George Gordan, the author of the famous book called, "Imam Ali (A.S.), the Voice of Human Justice."
History has recorded the utter simplicity of the life of this great man and the following incidents highlight his lack of attachment to worldly pleasures and his contentment in frugal living.
"One day, during the month of Ramadan, Imam Ali (A.S.) was invited to his daughter Umm-e Kulthum's house for iftar. For iftar, she had served two loaves of barley bread, a bowl of milk and some salt. As Imam Ali (A.S.) saw the iftar that was served, after finishing his salat, he said to his daughter: `You have served two kinds of dishes for me. Don't you know that I follow my cousin, the Messenger of Allah's (peace be upon him and his household) path? Don't you know that we are all accountable for the halal (permitted) of this world and that there is torment in the haram (forbidden) of this world? I swear by Allah that I shall not break my fast until you take one way.'" (Al-Futuh, Muhammad ibn Ali ibn A'asam Kufi, translated by Muhammad ibn Ahmad Mustowfi, p. 747)
Yet another incident has been narrated by Abul Aswad Doeli regarding the sincerity of Imam Ali (A.S.). He writes:
"Following the victory of the Battle of Jamal, I saw Imam Ali (A.S.) enter the public treasury of Basra. As soon as he saw what was in there, he said: `O the yellow and the white (the gold and silver) go and deceive someone else. Worldly wealth leads towards darkness and I am the leader of the faithful.' I swear by Allah that neither did Ali pay any attention to what was present in the public treasury nor did it attract him even for a single moment. All that wealth and treasure, in the eyes of Ali, was as unworthy as dust." (The Battle of Jamal, Sheikh Mufid, translated by Mahmud Mahdavi Damghani, p 174)
Not only in his personal life, but even in his political life, Imam Ali (A.S.) manifested the highest levels of taqwa. He (A.S.) strictly adhered to the laws of the Shariah in all his political moves, even if it did not appear to be to his immediate benefit. When he heard that some of his enemies had commented that Ali (A.S.) has no political acumen, he said:
"If religion and taqwa were of no significance to me, and if cunningness and scheming were virtuous actions, I would have been the shrewdest of all people." (The Exegesis of Nahjul Balagha, Ibn-e Abil-Hadid, vol. 11, p. 211)
Imam Ali (A.S.) never neglected the enjoining of good and forbidding of evil, even in the most difficult and trying times like war. During his battles, Ali (A.S.) would advise his soldiers: "O creatures of Allah pay great attention to purity of faith and intention." (The Battle of Siffin, Abul Fadhl Nasr ibn-e Muzahim al-Monghari, translated by Karim Zamani, p. 120)
c- Remembering Allah and Staying Aware: According to Imam Ali (A.S.), one of the main pillars for the spread of good or ma'roof in a society is the remembrance of Allah and the spread of munkar in a society is because of neglect of the remembrance of Allah. The "remembrance of Allah" does not mean paying mere lip-service or hollow sermonizing but actually calls for a deep love and obedience to Him and His Prophet (peace be upon him and his household), the most essential key to personal and social success. Regarding this, Imam Ali (A.S.) says:
"The remembrance of Allah has some special supporters who have remained loyal to the remembrance of Allah instead of being tempted by worldly matters. Trade and business do not keep them away from remembering Allah. All through their lives, their closest companion has been the remembrance of Allah and they repel all forbidden (haram) acts, with this remembrance of Allah. They strive tirelessly in spreading the Message of Allah to the ignorant, establish justice and act in a just manner and enjoin good and forbid evil." (Nahjul-Balagha)
Imam Ali (A.S.) considered man's forgetfulness of Allah as the root of all evils. The cause for this is that anyone who becomes forgetful of Allah and His power and mercy, revolves his whole life around the material world. The Imam (A.S.) says:
"The obedience of Allah, in the eyes of such (materialistic) people, is a loss; and the forgetfulness of Allah (to them) appears to be gainful. They deeply fear death and yet they do not use the time that is at their disposal today. They consider the sins of others as great and no matter how big their own sins are, they relate to them as insignificant; and they consider their own worship as great, no matter how insignificant it is. They criticize others but take their own matters very lightly. They think their vain acts around the wealthy is more beneficial than the remembrance and worship of Allah. They fear people, even at the cost of disobeying Allah but they do not fear Allah." (Nahjul Balagha)
According to Imam Ali (A.S.), the world is actually only a place for the remembrance and worship of Allah. He says:
"If one wishes to believe this transient world as the only reality, the world is a deception for him but it is a safe place for the one who understands it. It is a preparatory stage (for the Hereafter), for the one who knows what is needed for his onward journey. The world is the place of prostration for the friends of Allah; the landing ground for the inspiration (wahy) of Allah; the place of worship for the angels; and the friends of Allah attain the mercy of Allah in this very world and enjoy its benefits in Paradise." (Tarikh-e Yaqubi, Ahmad ibn Ishaq Yaqubi, translated by Muhammad Ibrahim Ayah, vol. 2, p. 129)
d- Obeying the Divine Commanders and Avoiding Disobedience: It is not always very simple to know clearly what is considered as `good' or ma'roof by Allah and often one finds himself on confusing crossroads. Thus, it is very necessary to have divine commanders like Prophets (peace be upon them), Imams (A.S.), and their authentic representatives, who can guide mankind on the path of Truth and salvation and to avoid whatever they have forbidden. Imam Ali (A.S.) says:
"Protecting the sanctity of divine commandments and obeying the divine Prophets (peace be upon them), lead to deliverance and salvation. Thus, be very attentive to obeying the divine laws and remember that it is to your own benefit in both this world and the Hereafter to obey the divine commanders." (Al-Futuh, ibn-e A'asam Kufi, p. 411)
On the other hand, the Imam (A.S.) considers standing up against despotic and unjust rulers (like Muawiyah) as part of one's duty to enjoin good and forbid evil. Interestingly, years later when Imam Hussain (A.S.) revolted against the despotic Yazid, he (Imam Hussain), declared his aim to be the bringing of reform in the deviated community of his grandfather [the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household)] and to establish "Amr bil Ma'roof and Nahy an il Munkar" in the community has severe consequences. In the view of Imam Ali (A.S.), the neglect and abandoning of observing "Amr bil Ma'roof" and "Nahy an il Munkar" has severe consequences. In his own words:
"Do not abandon enjoining of good and forbidding of evil, failing which, despotic elements will dominate you. After that, no matter how much you would supplicate, your supplications will go unanswered. (Nahjul Balagha)
Imam Ali (A.S.) also highlights on the importance of leadership in Islam because only under the leadership of worthy leaders does good prevail in the society and evil leave. In Imam Ali's (A.S.) words:
"I am amazed at why people who are in dispute over religious matters, do not refer to the clear ordinances of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household) and his (true) successor. They follow their carnal inclinations and think that they know what is good and define `evil' in their own distorted terms. In difficulties, they rely on their own weak selves (instead of Allah) and insist on depending on their own judgements, even in very important matters. It seems as though each one has become his own leader!" (Nahjul Balagha)
Thus we can see clearly that all of Imam Ali's (A.S.) life revolved around serving Allah and establishing and spreading His message brought to mankind by the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his household). He strictly believed in and followed `Amr bil Ma'roof and nahy an il Munkar' in his personal, social and political life and thus had attracted some very faithful friends and followers. However, he had also attracted many enemies from among the selfish and evil elements of society who plotted to assassinate him since they saw him as a major obstacle to their evil desires for power and wealth.
Ultimately, this great friend and supporter of Allah, Ali (A.S.), who had the most unique blessing of being born in the holy Ka'ba also attained to martyrdom as the guest of Allah - this time in the Mosque, while in prostration for his morning prayer.
On the 19th of Ramadan, Imam Ali (A.S.) came to the mosque in Kufa for his morning prayers. As he was leading the congregational prayer, Ali (A.S.) was dealt with a heavy stroke by the evil venomous dagger of a Kharijite tool of Muawiyah, Abdur Rahman Muljim, who struck Ali (A.S.) on his head, as he crouched in prostration to His Beloved Allah. Ali (A.S.) was crowned with martyrdom two days later, on the 21st Ramadan, 40 A.H. and was buried in Najaf al-Ashraf.
﴾And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead, nay, (they are) alive, but you do not perceive.﴿ (Qur'an, 2:154)
* By: Dr. Sayyid Alauddin Sharokhi.