Imam Ali [a] Describing the Caliphate

In the famous sermon of Shiqshiqiyah, Imam Ali (as) describes the difficult situation he was in with regards to the caliphate. In one of the statement,s he makes use of a metaphor of an unruly camel. This is a translation from the book Lessons from Nahj ul-Balagha by Ayatullah Montazeri [a sharh he did on Nahj ul-Balagha] where he explains this statement.

 فَصَيَّرَهَا في حَوْزَة خَشْنَاءَ

Then Abu Bakr, rendered the Caliphate in a tough enclosure (this is referring to Umar).

Abu Bakr behaved with a little bit of leniency, however Umar showed aggression and behaved with roughness with everyone.

Source: Volume 2, Page 40

I translated the above line first because the portion after it had to do with the term حَوْزَة خَشْنَاءَ

فَصَاحِبُهَا كَرَاكِبِ الصَّعْبَةِ، إِنْ أَشْنَقَ لَهَا خَرَمَ، وَإِنْ أَسْلَسَ لَهَا تَقَحَّمَ

The companion of this tough enclosure, is like the rider of an unruly (or untamed) camel. If its rein is pulled, its nostril would be slit, but if its rein is let loose the camel will attack and the rider will be thrown off.

صَّعْبَةis a skittish camel, as opposed to ذلول, which is a docile or a gentle camel. أَشْنَقَ is a 3rd person past tense meaning “he pulled its rein”; خَرَمَ is a 3rd person past tense meaning “it pierced” or “it made a hole” – implying that the nose will be slit. This is a metaphor and there are 3 possibilities, where the first 2 are strong, however the 3rd one is weak.

Possibility 1: Perhaps the Imam was saying that Umar, who attained the Caliphate, was like a rider who sits on an untamed camel. A subjected and tamed caliphate is for someone who is learned, aware and intelligent, and behaves with good morals. Therefore, the tamed caliphate is for Ali (as), as he possesses all the qualities, but not for Umar as he is not learned. He is rough, acts with others with aggression, and doesn’t possess the other necessary qualities. Thus in this metaphor, the caliphate has been compared to an unruly camel. Based on this possibility, the translation of the Imam’s words will have this meaning: The companion of this tough enclosure (Umar), is like the rider of a camel that has not been tamed.

Possibility 2: What is meant by صَاحِبُ are the companions, advisers and friends of Umar. Meaning, as Umar had a hoarse nature, his companions, advisers and friends did not know how to deal with him, as he behaved aggressively with all of them. If they become an obstacle in his way, he would punish them and would displace them (from their positions). If they would avoid him, Umar would lead them to their death and destruction. Based on this possibility, the صَاحِبُ is not the caliph himself, but his companions and friends. فَصَاحِبُهَا meaning, the companions and friends of this aggressive nature (translated as tough enclosure for حَوْزَة خَشْنَاءَ) who is Umar.

Possibility 3: What is meant by صَاحِبُ is Imam Ali (as). Meaning, I who have become a contemporary of this harsh nature (Umar) – he displayed aggression against Imam Ali (as) and Fatima (sa) and the companions of Imam Ali (as) – if I wish to react to this aggression and become an obstacle for it, he (Umar) will unsettle everything (for me). If I decide to react softly and not say a word, it will throw the Islamic community towards its destruction.

Source: Volume 2, Page 48 – 49

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