Imam Ali and Political Leadership

“I swear by God that I will kill Mu`āwiya and his companions.”
He then said with a low voice:
إن شاء الله!“If God wills!”
The narrator said, “I asked: O Commander of the Faithful! You swore and then made an exception. Why is that?” Imām replied:
الحَربُ خُدعَةٌ.“War is craftiness.”1
Imām employed the same tactic when confronting `Amr ibn `Abda Wud and managed to kill him with the opportunity he got by means of this tactic.
Therefore, the Imām’s use of craftiness is in line with the human values and dignities, and on the other hand is an efficient and accurate tactic in warfare.

5. Ethics of War

In the school of Imām Ali (a.s.), resorting to war is only to defend the entity of faith and for the purpose of destroying tyranny, eliminating oppression and removing hindrances of rulership. Ali (a.s.) who always used the sword to safeguard the Truth, never neglected moral principles and human dispositions, even amid the direst moments of war. Observing such warfare characteristics and moral codes in a battleground in Imām Ali’s (a.s.) code of conduct, would be most instructive and enlightening. Some topics in this respect are as follows:

A. Refraining from Initiating a War

Imām never initiated a war. He would never draw his sword before his opponent and he ordered his companions not to ever initiate a

1.. See ۹/۵, h. ۵۱۰

Imam Ali and Political Leadership

Describing the evil outcome of running away from the battlefield in this world and the next was another method that Imam `Ali (a.s.) used in order to strengthen the spirit and morale of his soldiers.
Furthermore, Imām also insisted that the army generals should never disclose the reality of the current situation that could leave a bad impact on the morale of the combatants. In the heat of the battle of Siffin and amid the direst states of war, the Imām outlined to one of his generals the perspective and outcome of the battle and explained how serious and destructive the upcoming confrontation would be serious for the forces. At the same time he (a.s.) stressed that this information should be kept as a secret and the troops should not be informed about it.

4. Employing Deceitful Tactics in Battles

In order to achieve victory, the Imām would try all kinds of rational tactics. As previously stated, he (a.s.) never appealed to ‘deceit and fraud’ in his statesmanship diplomacy and never practiced this in his managerial approaches. He used and emphasized it in his battles, saying:
كُن فِي الحَربِ بِحيلَتِكَ أوثَقَ مِنك بِشِدَّتِكَ.“Rely on your tactics and crafts in the battle more than on your strength.”1
This is one of the differences between the policies of Imām Ali (a.s.) and those of the Umayyads.
Imām’s teachings and the practical examples indicate that ‘craftiness’ in warfare policies is a rational option to achieve victory and to avoid resorting to irrational actions as much as possible. `Adi ibn Hātam is quoted as saying that, amid the clashes of the battle of Siffin, Imām Ali (a.s.) said with a loud voice for his companions to hear:
وَاللهِ لاَقتُلَنَّ مُعاوِيَةَ و أصحابَهُ.

1.. See ۹/۵, h. ۵۰۹

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    Imam Ali and Political Leadership
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