Letter 45 To Uthman bin Hunayf, the Governor of Basra
Ibn Hunayf! I have received information that a person of Basra invited you to a dinner and you immediately accepted the invitation. I have also heard that very sumptuous meals were served there! Finest varieties of viands were placed before you in large plates and you enjoyed them. I am sorry to hear the news. I never expected that you would accept the invitation of a person who invites big officers and rich people and from whose doors poor persons and hungry paupers are turned away rudely.
Look carefully into the things which you eat. If there is even a shade of their being obtained unlawfully then throw them away, only eat those things about which you are perfectly certain that they are obtained by honest means. You must know Ibn Hunayf, that for everyone who follows a religion there is a leader and a guide from whom the follower learns the canons of that religion and the ways of leading a pious life. Now look to your Imam (Imam Ali (a) meant himself). In this world he has satisfied himself with two old, torn and coarse garments and two pieces of bread (one in the morning and one in the evening). I know that to adopt such a hard way of life is beyond you but at least try to be pious. Try to follow me and be my companion in virtue, piety and simple living. I swear by Allah that from this world I have neither amassed gold nor have I gathered wealth and possessions nor have I changed these coarse and old garments of mine with even an ordinary raiment from your treasury.
Verily, under the sky we had only Fadak as our personal property but we were deprived of it, it tempted them, they took it by force and we had to bear the wrench patiently and cheerfully, the best judge is the Lord Almighty. What was I going to do with Fadak or with any other worldly possession? I never wanted them for myself. I know that tomorrow my lodging will be my grave. Its darkness will cover my traces and will not allow my condition to reach this world. A grave after all is a pit, and even if it is made very big and broad, time will gradually reduce its size and will fill it with earth and stones. My attention is concentrated on one thing, that is, with the help of the fear of Allah and piety I keep my desires under control so that in this world I may not commit sins and errors and on the Day of Judgement when fear will be the lot of everybody I may feel safe and satisfied.
If I had so wanted I could have very easily found ways and means to provide for myself the purest honey, the best variety of wheat and the finest silk clothes that could be woven. But it is not possible for inordinate cravings to overcome me and it is not possible that greediness persuades me to acquire the best provisions when in Hijaz and Yemen there may be people who have no hope of obtaining a piece of bread and who have never satisfied their hunger fully. It is not possible for me to satiate myself when there are around me people whom hunger and thirst keeps restless and agonized. Do you want me to be like that person about whom somebody has very aptly said, "Is this disease not enough for you that you keep on sleeping with your stomach full, and around you there are such starving mouths that will greedily eat even dried goat-skin"?
Shall I be satisfied simply because people call me "Amir al-Mu'minin" (Leader of the faithful Muslims)? Shall I not sympathise with the faithful Muslims in their calamities? Shall I not be their partner in their adversities? Shall I not be their fellow-sufferer? Shall I not set an example for them to patiently, courageously and virtuously bear privation?
Am I created simply to keep on thinking about my food? Am I like that animal which is tied down to a post and which thinks of nothing but its fodder or like that uncontrolled beast which roams about and does nothing but eats its fill and does not know the purpose of life for which it is created? Have I no religion, no conscience and no fear of Allah? Am I left absolutely free without any check or control to do as I like? Am I at liberty to go astray, to wander away from the true path of religion and to roam about in the wilderness of greed and avarice? I am sure some of you would say that if the son of Abu Taalib eats so little and lives on starvation, then surely he must have gone weak and exhausted and must be unfit to face his enemies in battlefields. But you must remember that hardy trees which grow on the border of deserts have very strong timber; and trees which are found in marshy lands have thin bark and soft wood, similarly when the former are lit up they burn longer and with a very strong glow and give out more heat than the latter.
My relationship with the Holy Prophet (s) is like a branch shooting from the same stem or like the relation of the wrist to the arm. I swear by Allah that even if all the Arabs unite together against me I shall not run away from the battlefield and when the occasion arrives I shall do my best to subdue them, at the same time I shall try to clean the earth of the existence and vicious influence of that untimely evil genius and warped mind (Mu'awiya) so that the land may be free of his wicked and sinful sway.
O vicious world! Do not try to snare me, you cannot entrap me, I am beyond your temptations and pitfalls and I have taken good care not to slip into such pitfalls. Where are those people whom you had tempted with pleasures and enjoyments? Where are those groups whom you had allured with pomp and glory? They are imprisoned in their graves pressed down by tons of earth upon them. O vicious world! Had you been a person or a being with life and limbs I would have punished you under the laws of the Lord because you have tempted with impossible hopes millions of individuals from the true path of humanity, you have brought about destruction, decline and falls of nations after nations alluring them with power and pleasure, you have thrown crowned heads into dust, you have lowered them to such depths that there is no refuge for any of them at that place and no one can come out from there.
Woe be to the man who with misplaced confidence, steps on the slippery ground presented by you as a firm foothold, he will certainly slip; woe be to the man who thinks of riding the waves of false hopes and expectations raised by you, he will surely sink.
Whoever tries not to be entrapped by your temptations and snared by your allurements will find the straight path to safety and salvation. Whoever tries to spurn you does not care for the consequences of his action though he may find himself in adverse circumstances and difficulties. To him this world, its pleasures and the life surrounded by the pleasures or by woes and afflictions, is like a day which will soon pass away.
Be gone from me. I can neither be caught unawares by you that you may plunge me into disgrace and humiliations nor will I lose control of myself that you may drag me wherever you like.
I swear by Allah that barring His Destiny over which I have no control and which may mould my life as He wishes, I shall control myself that I shall be contented and happy if I get one piece of bread with a pinch of salt and that my mind will be dead to the desires of pleasures, fame, power and glory.
Ibn Hunayf! You have seen sheep and goats, after eating and drinking their fill they retire to their den. Do you want Ali to be like them - to eat, drink and enjoy? May I get blind if after having passed so many years of my life I now turn into an animal in human form!
Happy is the person who did his duty with Allah and man, who bore adversities patiently and when sleep overpowered him he used his hand as a pillow and lay on mere earth along with those whom fear of the Day of Judgement has often kept awake, who do not find much time to sleep, whose lips keep on moving glorifying Allah, and whose sins have been absolved on account of the penance they impose upon themselves. They are noble persons and they certainly will secure salvation. O Ibn Hunayf! fear Allah and be content with the bread that you get with lawful means, so that you may be exempted and free from the fire of Hell.
Uthman bin Hunayf was the Governor of Basra. He was one of those persons who were held in respect by Imam Ali (a). During his governorship Ibn Hunayf once attended a feast given by a rich man of Basra. It was a very sumptuous dinner. When Imam Ali (a) heard of this he wrote the following letter to him. It shows that the more Imam Ali (a) liked a person the more severely he judged his activities.