The treatment of Ahl al-Kitāb (People of the Book) by Alī ibn Abū Tālib, the first Shīʿī Imām, as portrayed in the Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence), shows a remarkable record of protecting minority rights and has been little noted even in Shi'ite works on the subject. In Islamic terminology, the Ahl al-Kitāb, refers to the followers of the scripture-possessing religions that predate the Qur’an, most often Christians and Jews, and according to some Shi’i scholars, Zoroastrians. Their treatment in Islamic societies in general, even under Shīʿī governments, has varied greatly over time and has raised considerable controversy. Numerous works have been composed on the Ahl al-Kitāb and their rights within a Shīʿī government. However, only a few of them have focused on Imām Alī’s approach and manner toward them. Specifically, he is reported to have allowed religious minorities to practice their religion in peace. Nahj al-Balāgha, which is the most famous collection of Imām Alī’s sermons and letters, is one of the sources illustrating his legacy of tolerance towards other religions. Focusing on the Nahj al-Balāgha, this paper analyses Imām ʿAlī’s approach to the Ahl al-Kitāb and examines his conducts, orders, and advice especially to his officers regarding the treatment of the People of the Book living under Islamic governments.
In the Nahj al-Balāgha, there are abundant quotes about human rights that are addressed to all people, regardless of their religion. The statements that directly address the concept of Ahl al-Kitāb can be categorized into six groups; The first group are Imām ʿAlī’s commands to the rulers of Islamic governments about how to treat non-Muslims. The second and third groups are his statements about the importance of kharāj payers and their rights. The fourth group are his commands to kharāj and jizya collectors. The fifth group are his commands to the rulers about keeping the oath and promises in any contracts or agreements made with the enemy, and the sixth group are various statements indicating Imām ʿAlī’s respect to the followers of other religions or the Prophets of the other religions.
Key words: Ahl al-Kitāb, Nahj al-Balāgha, Imām ʿAlī, Kharāj, Jizya