Nahj al-Balagha

The Nahj al-Balagha (Arabic: نهج البلاغة Nahj-ul Balāgha(h), Arabic pronunciation: ['nahdʒul bəˈlæːɣə]; "The Peak of Eloquence") is the most famous collection of sermons, letters, tafsirs and narrations attributed to Imam Ali , cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. It was collected by Sharif Razi, a Shi'i scholar in the Tenth century (fourth century AH) [1] Known for its eloquent content, it is considered a masterpiece of literature in Shi'i Islam. It should be noted that there is content in Nahj al-Balagha whose authenticity can be debated. The Shi'i do not give it the same status as Sahih books in the schools of Ahlul Sunnah.


Nahj al-Balaghah comprises various issues that cover major problems of metaphysics, theology, fiqh, tafsir, hadith, prophetology, imamate, ethics, social philosophy, history, politics, administration, civics, science, rhetoric, poetry, and literature. The book not only reflects the spirit of early Islam and the teachings of the Qur'an and the Islamic prophet Muhammad, but also serves as a guide to traverse the future in the light of these teachings.


Nahj al Balagha is a collection of 241 sermons, 79 letters, and 489 utterances. As per each new publishing versus past volumes, the number of sermons, letters and utterances has varied from 238 to 241, 77 to 79, and 463 to 489, respectively .

The book narrates from Ali on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the creation of the World, the creation of Adam, end of the Universe and the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi.


Folio from an old Nahj al-Balagha

I love the opinion of an old man more than the determination of a young man; (or according to another version) more than the martyrdom of a young man.

Nahjul Balaaghah, edited and published by Ahlul-Bayt Assembly of America, 1417 AH/1996, p. 273, Sayings 86.

Since the book is a literary work meant to demonstrate Ali ibn Abi Talib's eloquence, it does not gather all of Ali's sermons. Instead, only segments deemed to possess greater literary value are included. introduces some of these.[2] An alternative sourcing of the book's content by Muhammad Baqir al-Mahmudi represents all of ‘Ali's extant speeches, sermons, decrees, epistles, prayers, and sayings that are found in Nahj al-Balagha. Thus, except some aphorisms, the original source of all the content of Nahj al-Balaghah has been determined.[3]

Nahj al-Balagha was compiled by tenth century scholar Sharif Razi, over 300 years after Ali. Until then the sermons had been transmitted orally, between the generations and the wording was therefore open to change and misinterpretation. There is no chain of narration. The last few pages were left empty, Sharif Razi says in case he came across new Sermons; highlighting that Sharif Razi wrote down anything he came across. Sharif Razi did not follow the same level of scrutiny as followed by Hadith collectors therefore Nahj al-Balagha was not regarded as Sahih (authentic or correct) to the level of the Hadith collections.

Several scholars have sought to trace back the sources of different utterances and letters collected in Nahj al-balaghah to the works compiled centuries before the birth of Sharif Razi. The most painstaking research in this context was done by an Indian Sunni scholar Imtiyaz Ali Arshi,[4] who died in 1981. He succeeded in tracing back the early sources of 106 sermons, 37 letters and 79 dispersed sayings of Ali ibn Abi Talib in his book Istinad-e Nahj al-balaghah, originally written in Urdu, subsequently translated into Arabic in 1957, then into English and Persian.[5] Besides this work, some others deserve special mention such as Abd al-Zahra al-Husayni al-Khatib's Masadir Nahj al-balaghah,[6] Hibat al-Din al-Hussaini al-Shahristani's Ma huwa Nahj al-balaghah, Sayyid Ali al-Naqawi al-Nasirabadi's introduction to the Urdu translation of Nahj al-balaghah by Mufti Jafar Husayn, and al-Mujam al-mufahras li alfaz Nahj al-balaghah, a joint work of al-Sayyid Kazim al-Muhammadi and al-Shaykh Muhammad Dashti. Sayyid Mohammad Askari Jafery and Sayyid Ali Reza also dealt with the issue of basic sources of Nahj al-balaghah in their prefaces to their separate translations of the book into English.[7]

You will not find an ignorant person but at one extreme or the other (i.e. a person who neglects or a person who exaggerates).

Nahjul Balaaghah, edited and published by Ahlul-Bayt Assembly of America, 1417 AH/1996, p. 270, Sayings 70.

The Shi‘a

On Predestination

A man enquired from Ali: "Was our going to fight against the Syrians destined by Allah?" Ali gave a detailed reply, a selection from which is hereunder:

Woe to you. You take it as a final and unavoidable destiny (according to which we are bound to act). If it were so, there would have been no question of reward or chastisement and there would have been no sense in Allah’s promises or warnings. (On the other hand) Allah, the Glorified, has ordered His people to act by free will and has cautioned them and refrained them (from evil). He has placed easy obligations on them and has not put heavy obligations. He gives them much (reward) in return for little (action). He is disobeyed, not because He is overpowered. He is obeyed but not under force. He did not send prophets just for fun. He did not send down the Book for the people without purpose. He did not create the skies, the earth and all that is in between them in vain. That is the imagination of those who disbelieve; then woe to those who disbelieve-because of the fire (Quran, 38:27).

Nahjul Balaaghah, edited and published by Ahlul-Bayt Assembly of America, 1417 AH/1996, pp. 271-272, Sayings 78.

The collection is regarded by the Shi‘a as authentic.[7]


As with the majority of posthumous works of (Sunni and) Shia theology that emerged centuries after the life of Muhammad, Sunni scholars do not regard the Nahj al-Balagha as authentic. According to one Shi‘i source,[3] the first person to raise doubts about its attribution to Ali was Ibn Khallikan, a Sunni scholar (d. 1211/1282). Izz al-Din ibn Hibatullah ibn Abi l-Hadid's (d. 656/1258) commentary and collection, Sharh Nahj al-Balagha, is widely disseminated. Muhammed Abduh, Mufti of Egypt, published a commentary on the book in Egypt.

Nahjul Balagha Sunni Commentators:[8]

  1. Imam Ahmed Ibne Mohammed-ul-Wayree (about 470 A.H.)
  2. Abul Hassan Ali-ibne-Abul Qasim-ul-Ba'ehaquee (565 A.H.) His commentary is quoted by Moajum-ul-Adibba of Yaqooth-e¬Hamveenee- Vol. 13, page 225, printed in Egypt.
  3. Fakhruddin Razi (606 A.H.) His commentary is quoted by:
    (i) Akhbar-ul-Hukama of Ibn-ul-Quftee page 192 printed in Egypt.
    (ii) Oyoonul-Ambia of Ibn-e-Abi-Sabee'a page 25, printed in Egypt.
  4. Abdul Hameed Hibathullah Mohammed-ibne-Mohammed ibne-Abil Hadeed-Moathazalee, (known as Ibne-Abil Hadeed 655 A.H.). His commentary is a world-famous classic covering 17 volumes, printed half-a-dozen times in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran and Isfahan.
  5. Shaikh Kamal-ul-din Abdul Rehman Shaybenee (about 705 A.H.)
  6. Sad-ud-din Taftazani (797 A.H.)
  7. Quazi of Baghdad Shaikh Quewaam-ud-din.
  8. Muhammad Abduh (1323 A.H.) His commentary has been printed very often and forms a part of the university course in Cairo and Beirut.
  9. Ostad (Professor) Mohammed Hassan-ul-Nayer-ul-Mursafee of Egypt. His commentary is printed in Dar-ul-Kutub Press Cairo (Egypt).
  10. Ostad (Professor) Mohammed Mohiuddin Abdul Hameed, Professor of Lexicology of Alazhur University. His book was printed at Isthequamuth-e-Misr Press, Cairo.
  11. Ostad (Professor) Shaikh Abdullah Allayelli-al-Bairoonee of Cairo (Egypt).

3rd CENTURY: During the third century five famous men took up this work.

  1. Abu Oosman Omero-ibn-Bahr-ul-Jahiz, who died in 255 A.14. (868 A.D.), quoted many sermons in his book Al-bayan-wo-Tabyan.
  2. Ibne-Quateeba-e-Daynoori, who died in 276 A.H., in his books O' Yoon-ul-Akhbar and Ghareeb-ul-Hadees quoted many sermons and discussed meanings of many words and phrases purportedly used by Ali.
  3. Ibne Wazeh-e-Yaquoobee, who died in 278 A.H., cited many sermons and saying attributed to Ali.
  4. Abu Haneefa-e-Daynoori (280 A.H.) in his history Akhbar-e-Tawal quoted many sermons and sayings.
  5. Abul Abbas Almobard (286 A.H.) in his book Kitab-ul-Mobard collected many sermons and letters.


In total Nahj al Balagha has a collection of 245 sermons of Ali.


Fear Allah in the matter of His creatures and His cities because you will be questioned even about lands and beasts.

Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 166

The following is an incomplete list of summaries on each sermon in the collection.


Those who do not commit sins and have been gifted with safety (from sins) should take pity on sinners and other disobedient people. Gratefulness should be mostly their indulgence and it should prevent them from (finding faults with) others.

Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 139

Ali also describes four main types of people:

    • "Firstly there are those, who abstain from vice, villainy and violence because they are timid and cowards, and have neither means nor enough wealth."
    • "Then there are those, who have drawn their swords, have openly declared their evil intentions and have gathered armies around them." (Referring to Muawiya(Father Of Yazid) I)
    • "And there are some, who instead of trying to gain blessings of Allah with sincere good deeds, want to secure a high place in this World with pretense of piety and holiness."
    • "Lastly there are people weak in mind and depraved in character. They can neither create resources, nor can secure assistance from others, and thus find themselves deprived of wealth and social status. … cover their humility and poverty under the guise of a religious and contended life …".

Then Ali mentions a fifth group of people:

    • "…there is also an insignificant minority of those pious people, whom the true conception of His Divine Greatness and Might does not allow to be cruel, villainous, and haughty; and whom the fear of the Day of Judgment does not permit to lead a frivolous life."

"By Allah! The Lord will never grant victory to those whom you support (the third Sunni caliph)."


Nahj al Balagha also contains a collection of 79 letters, including letters to Muawiyah I. The following is a short summary to each letter, relevant quotes have been used out of the original letters.


Quotations related to Nahj al-Balagha at Wikiquote

The worst provision for the Day of Judgement is high-handedness over people.

Nahjul Balaaghah, edited and published by Ahlul-Bayt Assembly of America, 1417 AH/1996, p. 291, Sayings 221.

Translations of Nahj al-Balagha









Nahj al-Balaghah's Way for Learning Knowledge

Knowledge of the creation in general, and of this World in particular, is emphasized by Ali ibn Abi Talib in the Nahj al-Balaghah as a prerequisite for making use of freedom in the right direction and for the purpose willed by God. Knowledge, if used properly, helps man in winning God's favour and bartering his deeds with Divine Will, as the Qur'an declares:
And among men is he who sells his self for seeking the pleasures of Allah. . .. (al-Baqarah: 207)
Those who attain such a stage are few, and as many mufassirun point out Ali as one of those chosen few who bartered his self with Divine Will, according to the interpretation of this Qur'anic verse. When human will becomes one with Divine Will, man attains the highest stage of freedom: now there is no compulsion, and whatever a man wills or does is in conformity with what God wills and wants man to do. Rightly guided knowledge helps in attaining this stage.
After expressing his view on human freedom, Imam Ali proceeds to highlight the value and importance of knowledge. We find after the saying 78 about freedom, his views about knowledge and wisdom in the saying 79, or in his saying 130 we come across his views on the significance of acquiring knowledge and contemplating the signs observable in the World after his description of the World as the best place for making proper use of human freedom. Knowledge is held by Ali to be the light of reason, a treasure, the root of all good, and that which emancipates man; it is a power (saying: 146), and one's supremacy is in proportion to the extent of one's knowledge and wisdom (Sayings: 175).
From his many sayings about knowledge it may be rightly inferred that knowledge is itself freedom, for it saves man from ignorance, which is the cause of man's slavery to false beliefs, unfounded fear of nature and his superiors. It is at the same time a key to attain and safeguard freedom accorded to human beings. The Holy Qur'an is unique among the scriptures in encouraging the believers to acquire knowledge and to verify the fundamentals of faith rationally. There are 704 verses in the Qur'an where the word 'ilm or its derivations are used. Book, an essential aid of 'ilm occurs in the Qur'an 230 times, while the total number of verses in which words related to kitab and kataba have occurred is 319. The Qur'an itself is mentioned as kitab on 81 occasions in its text. It is not possible in this brief article to quote even a few of the relevant Qur'anic verses and the sayings of Ali. However, it would not be out of place to point out that the right to acquire knowledge and freedom of enquiry forms an essential part of the laws and guiding principles governing human rights in Islam. In this matter, no distinction is made between Islamic and non-Islamic sources and Muslim and non-Muslim teachers. Ali says:
"Acquire knowledge and truth from whomever you can, because even an apostate can have them, but unless they are passed over to a faithful Muslim and become part of wisdom and truth that he possesses, they have a confused existence in the minds of apostates." (Sayings: 79).
Another saying of Ali an elaboration of the Prophet's famous tradition, according to which knowledge is the lost property of Muslims:
"A wise saying is a lost and long-sought article of the believer. Therefore, acquire it even if it is to be found with hypocrites". (Sayings: 80).
The right to acquire knowledge has been always accorded to non-Muslims also in Muslim States. An important point made by Ali is as to how an infidel uses knowledge, which remains in a confused state in his mind.
Being fully aware of the dangers of the abuse of knowledge, Ali claims that God will always appoint some Imam as the guardian of Divine revelation and he, openly or hidden from the eyes of the World, will guide men till the end of this World. (Saying 146 addressed to Kumayl)[10]

See also


  1. "Nahj Al Balagha". Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  3. 1 2 "The Glimpses of Nahj al Balaghah Part I - Introduction". 1975-01-15. Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  4. fa:امتیاز علیخان عرشی
  5. `Arshi, Imtiyaz `Ali Khan. "Istinad-e Nahj al-balaghah". Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  6. al-Husayni al-Khatib, `Abd al-Zahra'. "Masadir Nahj al-Balagha wa asaniduh". Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  7. 1 2 "Sources of Nahjul Balagha". Retrieved 2013-03-01.
  8. "Nahjul Balagha". Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  9. " - how to build website".
  10. "Link text". Retrieved 2013-01-25.
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