Stealing from Property of the Public…!
One night Aqil, the brother of Imam Ali (A.S.), visited the Imam. Imam Ali (A.S.) accepted his guest with respect and honor. Upon Imam Ali’s (A.S.) request, Imam Hassan (A.S.) offered a shirt and a cloak of his own to Aqil. The weather was warm; Imam Ali (A.S.) and Aqil were sitting on the roof of Dar al-Imarah (palace of the governor). While Aqil had been expecting to see a colorful table, in contrary he was only faced with ordinary food.
Then, Aqil expressed his request and said: “I am highly indebted, and I have to return home soon. I want you to order that my debts be paid”.
Imam Ali (A.S.) said: “How much do you owe?”
Aqil replied:”One hundred thousand Dinars (silver coins)”.
Imam Ali (A.S.) said: “That’s too much!”, and then continued: “I regret that I can not pay all your debts; however, at the time of giving people’s shares, I will give you from my own share as much as possible”.
Aqil said:” Your share is not much. How much do you want to take for yourself and how much do you want to give me? Please order that they pay me from Bayt al-Maal.”
Imam Ali (A.S.) said: “Bayt al-Maal is not my own property; I am the trustee of people’s properties. I cannot offer you from the Bayt al-Maal.”
When Imam Ali (A.S.) saw Aqil’s insistence, he pointed towards the cases of the merchants, which were visible from the roof since it overlooked the bazaar, and said: “I have got a suggestion for you, which if you perform, you will be able to pay all your debts. These people will gradually return to their homes, and this place will become empty of people; yet, their cases which are full will remain here. As soon as people have left, go and empty their cases, and pay your debts”.
Aqil said: “O dear brother! Are you kidding? Are you offering me to steal? Am I a thief that steals people’s property, while they are resting at their homes?”
Imam Ali (A.S.) replied: “What difference does it make that you take (money) from Bayt al-Maal unjustly or steal from these cases? They are both thieves”.
Then, he continued: “I have got another suggestion. The old city of Hirah, which is the center of merchants and wealthy people, is located near Kufa. Let us go there at night and steal from one of them”.
Aqil said: “O dear brother! I am asking you to give me from the Bayt al-Maal, and you reply me by saying these words?”
Imam Ali (A.S.) said: “In fact, it is better to steal from one individual rather than to steal from hundreds of thousand of people. How is it that stealing from one person is a theft, but stealing from the properties of the public is not?”