Learn from Haroun Al Rashid

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readMar 8, 2018

Synopsis : The humanity often fails to learn the lessons from the past so this blogs shows how some historical persons taught the world how to govern people in a fair and equitable way to bring justice to all.

Source : Google photo

There was a legendary Khalifa of Baghdad in the olden times called Haroun Al Rashid ( AD 763–803) and was known for his just rule, fair treatment to all his subjects and respect for all scribes whom he honored with gifts and titles. He was stern and impartial toward the justice and meted out strict punishment for the wrong doers resulting in a Caliphate that was peaceful where all citizens benefitted from the benign rule of the Khalifa.

He was known to mingle with the crowd of common people in the market and in other public places in disguise to learn about what their problems were and what difficulties they faced in their daily life so enacted laws and decrees to solve those issues thus making him endearing to his subject. People believed in him and went to his court with petitions about many issues they faced and often were given reprieve with cash and gifts . Haroun Al Rashid was given wise advice by his vizier and others close to him in his court in state matters and helped alleviate the problems his subject faced. It could be related to better health and sanitation or providing clean drinking water in areas where there was a water shortage. He faced numerous problems in his caliphate and tried his best to solve them.

Source : Google photo

The great Mughal emperor Jalal Uddin Mohamed Akbar who ruled India in the 16th century( AD 1542- 1605) was called Akbar which in Arabic means great because he too followed the example of Haroun Al Rashid and often visited the market place in disguise to learn about the problems his subject faced. He once learned that the Hindu pilgrims to holy sites were taxed but the Moslems were not so he ordered a tax relief for all Hindus thus endearing him to them although the Moslems were not pleased. He married Rajput princess Jodha Bai and made her the queen of India thus placating the Rajputs who were against his rule and made Man Singh his army general who was a Rajput and served him well. The love story of JodhaBai and Akbar was told in the movie Jodha Akbar is worth watching

Akbar made a new religion called Deen Ilahi that took the best of Islam and the Hindu religion to make it a more benign and humanistic religion that riled the fundamentalist Moslems to no end but was popular with the masses. Akbar and Haroun Al Rashid both had this quality of caring for the subject and enacting laws that benefitted them but were harsh in the treatment of criminals and bandits. If you go to the city of Fateh Pur Sikri near Agra that Akbar built and made it his capital, you will see a huge stone peg where a massive elephant was tethered. By the order of the emperor, a criminal was crushed to death by the huge elephant that stepped on his chest so justice was instantaneous.

What made me write this blog was the news this morning when the Head of the Veteran’s administration in the United States said that he was unaware of the veterans facing serious problems in the hospitals that included neglect of injured patients, long wait to see the doctors and specialists and get the necessary medical help from them. The dirty beds, rooms that were not cleaned regularly and stank of cockroaches, the indifference of the staff to their sufferings were many such issues but the head was unaware because he was never told by his subordinates so he did nothing. He also never visited the hospital wards to see the conditions himself or talk to the patients.

This is the state of the affairs because people have not learned the lessons that Haroun Al Rashid and Indian Mughal emperor Akbar taught about how to take care of people and solve their problems. If you ask such officials if they had ever heard of Haroun Al Rashid and Akbar, they will most likely answer that they have never heard of them and instead of asking who were they, they may ask what is Haroon and what in the world is Akber? Is ignorance ever a good excuse anywhere?

All over the world the elected and unelected leaders face the same issue of good governance. While some try to improve the living standards of the common people by creating jobs for them and build hospitals to care for the sick, most fall short always blaming others for their shortcomings and never accepting their own responsibility just like the fellow at the Veteran’s Administration. In poorer countries the excuse is always the shortage of funds which may to some extent be true but a poor country like Cuba shines in the world as a country where health care and education is universal and at a minimum cost and where land reform has been successful giving every peasant land to cultivate and grow his own food.

In other countries like Zimbabwe where people fall in kilometer long line just to buy a loaf of bread with their useless currency and where the shelves of stores are empty, the president had his luxurious private bus and got enormously rich yet the country has diamond mines and is very rich in natural resources. Similarly Venezuela is another country where people are suffering daily but the country has the largest reserve of oil in the world so why people suffer? Where does the oil money go?

When the leaders enrich themselves first and think of the people last, such injustice prevails. Just look at North Korea and its lavish spending on arms, rockets and missiles tipped with nuclear bombs while people starve and you will get to understand what the meaning of misrule is but this sort of things happens in autocratic countries where there is no democracy. However, in countries where people are elected to their office, we also see the mis rule like the example given above. People in charge do not seem to care about the people who they are supposed to serve so “no one told me” type of excuse does not cut it anymore.

No one tells the king he has no clothes until a child speaks out. Now the child comes in the form of investigative reporters who take photos of the terrible conditions of the hospitals and the suffering veterans who tell them their problems and then it breaks into major newspapers and TV channels as a scandalous story that then draws attention of the king who finds out that he really is naked. I have heard of this type of stories again and again and wonder if the public servants really believe that they are to serve the public as elected or appointed officials and they are accountable to the public who pay their salaries through the tax they pay.

There is a case of a rich man who donated his mansion in California to the veterans who could stay there for free while recuperating from their war injuries or traumas until they could find a job but the saddest part of this story is the fact that the mansion gates are padlocked and the lawns are full of weeds due to some bureaucratic red tape that deprives the veterans of this wonderful place. The rich man is perhaps turning in his grave at this gross negligence and mismanagement of the affair.

People often criticize the historic rulers saying that there was no democracy in those days but has the democracy today made it better for the average citizen? The quick justice that was meted out by Emperor Akbar was perhaps brutal but is the current justice system where the criminals stay in jails for years at the expense of tax payers and then often escape by bribing the corrupt guards is any better? You shoot someone and pretend that you are mentally sick and deranged so that they can put you in a nicely furnished mental asylum for years.

Then there are corrupt lawyers who know a zillion ways to delay the justice system so that a corrupt official who has plundered the national exchequer never faces the music and is released because the evidence to prosecute him is mysteriously missing or the witnesses are too scared to come forward to testify. There are no modern day Haroun Al Rashids or Akbar. The elected officials or the appointed ones are as far removed from the public as possible because they are always scared that someone may take a pot shot at them for not doing their job well so they are surrounded by the gun toting and mean looking security people who always wear dark glasses and present an intimidating air of menace at all times.

The baby kissing politicians with fake smile are the worst of the lot but they always present an aura of fake grandeur that does not fool anybody. Then there are the boot licking sycophants who surround the officials and always come in between the people and the officials so people are not impressed .The assiduous reporters lay bare their scandalous private life so that people will know and respect them all the less. Such reporters have caught red handed a high ranking public official once near the Potomac river in Washington, D.C. chasing a naked stripper at midnight so he had to resign when the news broke the next day. Looking at their shiny limos and the aura of great importance you will never guess what scums they are until a kid cries Oh look –the king has no clothes.

But there was a time long ago when the rulers took an interest in the welfare of people and did something to improve their lives. If you go to see the Red Fort in Delhi, you will see the Diwane Aam ( court for the general public) where the emperor sat on his high throne and received petitions from the ordinary people who could thus talk directly to the King. Then the guide will show you the Diwane Khas ( the court of the special matters) next where more important state matters were discussed in private.

Now one can’t even get to meet an ordinary official without appointment and a lot of hassle. I was once kept waiting for a long time in an outer room until a flushed secretary came running and said to me that the big boss has just found a five minute time slot to see me so I must hurry. I was ushered into his office where I caught him looking at my biodata but he stood up with a fake smile and asked how was I feeling that day and how I was getting along in my job etc. each time looking at the biodata and asking me questions to which the data sheet had the answers already. Finally my precious five minutes were up so he stood up indicating that he had granted me a special favor for this audience. I was more impressed by the number of sycophants who cow towed to him including the secretary who acted like a fierce Amazonian lady protecting her boss from the rabble.

The kings and Khalifas of the past were respected and admired by the public because they showed that they cared and made laws that were just and benefitted everyone. They did not ride in fancy limousines surrounded by machine gun toting guards and were quite approachable by the ordinary people who posed no threat to their security although the palace guards kept an eye on everyone.

The times have changed now. I only wish the modern day bozos took some lessons from the history book and learn a thing or two from Haroun Al Rashid about how to govern and be just and fair to all but perhaps I am hoping too much. That is my problem. I am always optimistic about such things so perhaps I should learn to lower my expectations.

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Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.