Nahj al-Balagha (Arabic: نَهْج ٱلْبَلَاغَةNahj al-Balāghah, 'The Path of Eloquence') is the best-known collection of sermons, letters, and sayings attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, fourth Rashidun Caliph, first Shia Imam and the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. It was collected by al-Sharif al-Radi, a renowned Shia scholar in the tenth century AD (fourth century AH). Known for its moral aphorisms and eloquent content, Nahj al-Balagha is widely studied in the Islamic world and has considerably influenced the field of Arabic literature and rhetoric.Ibn Abil-Hadid, the author of an in-depth commentary on the book, believes that Nahj al-Balagha is "above the words of men and below the words of God." The authenticity of Nahj al-Balagha has long been the subject of lively polemic debates, though recent scholarship suggests that most of the content can indeed be attributed to Ali.
Nahj al-Balagha is a collection of more than 200 sermons, nearly 80 letters, and almost 500 sayings.
The sermons and letters in Nahj al-Balagha offer a commentary on Ali's political career and have served as an ideological basis for Islamic governance. Notably, Ali's letter of instructions to the governor of Egypt has been viewed as a model of just Islamic governance, "where justice and mercy is shown to human beings irrespective of class, creed and color, where poverty is neither a stigma or disqualification and where justice is not tarred with nepotism, favoritism, provincialism or religious fanaticism." In particular, Nahj al-Balagha includes an in-depth discussion of social responsibilities, emphasizing that greater responsibilities result in greater rights.Nahj al-Balagha also contains more sensitive material, including criticism of Ali's predecessors in its Shaqshaqiya Sermon, and disapproval of Talha and Zubayr, who took up arms against Ali in the Battle of the Camel.Nahj al-Balagha remains at the heart of the ongoing clerical debate about the role and status of women in modern societies.
Nahj al-Balagha also contains passages about morality and doctrine, notably about the sovereignty of God and the significance of the Quran and Muhammad. The letter of life advices, addressed to Ali's eldest son, Hasan, has received considerable attention.
Nahj al-Balagha has been the focus of numerous commentaries, translations, and studies by both Sunni and Shia scholars. The commentary written by the Mu'tazila scholar Ibn Abil-Hadid remains the most important. With its eight volumes, this commentary has amplified the influence of Nahj al-Balagha on theological speculation, philosophical thought, and literally scope, according to Shah-Kazemi.
The compilation of Nahj al-Balagha is often credited to al-Sharif al-Razi, a renowned tenth-century Shia scholar, over three hundred years after Ali. In view of its sometimes sensitive content, the attribution of this book to Ali or al-Sharif has long been the subject of Sunni-Shia debates, as with the majority of the works about Shia theology.Ibn Khallikan might have been the first to question the authenticity of the book in the thirteenth century and his view has been echoed by most Sunni authors to date. On the other hand, the Mu'tazila scholar Ibn Abil-Hadid, who authored a major commentary on Nahj al-Balagha, has no doubts that it is the work of Ali and compiled by al-Sharif.
Nahj al-Balagha is regarded by the Shia as authentic. According to the Shia scholar Motahhari, in compiling the book, al-Sharif was primarily interested in the literary value of Ali's inheritance. As a result, Motahhari continues, al-Sharif preserved those passages which he found literary valuable and paid little attention to recording his sources. After al-Sharif, other scholars took up the task of collecting the chains of transmission (isnads) for Nahj al-Balagha. For instance, Muhammad Baqir al-Mahmudi collected all of Ali's extant speeches, sermons, decrees, epistles, prayers, and sayings. Motahhari adds that this collection includes the content of Nahj al-balagha and other discourses which were not incorporated by al-Sharif or were not available to him. According to Motahhari, except for some aphorisms, the contents of Nahj al-Balaghah have over time been traced back to Ali.
In support of Ali's authorship, some of the material in Nahj al-Balagha is also listed in al-Fihrist or can be found in earlier works attributed to Ali. More recently, Veccia Vaglieri verified that a large portion of Nahj al-Balagha can indeed be attributed to Ali, although it was difficult to gauge the authenticity of the more apocryphal sections. Djebli has been able to identify a considerable number of passages, accompanied by chains of transmission dating back to the time of Ali, which were recounted by ancient scholars, such as al-Tabari. In his book, Modarressi, an expert in Islamic law, refers to Madarek-e Nahj al-Balagha by the Shia scholar Ostadi which, in turn, links Nahj al-Balagha to Ali. Another notable work was done by the Indian Sunni scholar Imtiyaz Ali Arshi, who succeeded in tracing back the early sources of 106 sermons, 37 letters and 79 dispersed sayings of Ali in his book Istinad-e Nahj al-balaghah, originally written in Urdu, subsequently translated into Arabic in 1957, then into English and Persian.
Nahj al-Balagha was most likely compiled by al-Sharif, who also referred to it in his later works. There is also strong circumstantial evidence that al-Sharif was compiling pieces from earlier sources as he came across them rather than composing them himself. It has been noted that al-Sharif's writing style is different from that of Ali. In particular, Ibn Abil-Hadid reports the following exchange between his teacher, al-Wasiti, and al-Wasiti's teacher, Ibn Khashab:
When I [al-Wasiti] asked him [Ibn Khashab] if the above sermon had been fabricated, he replied, 'No, by God I know that it is from Imam Ali as clearly as I see you before me now.' I then said that many people claim that the sermon is by al-Sharif. He answered by saying that neither al-Sharif nor anyone else was capable of producing such an eloquent sermon. He continued, "We have studied al-Sharif’s writings and are familiar with his style. There is no similarity between the two works." He also said: "By God, I found this sermon in books written two hundred years before al-Sharif was born.
Sarwar and Mohamed (2021) used computational methods, mainly stylometric analysis and machine learning, to examine the authenticity of Nahj Al-Balagha. They compared the texts in the book against those by Sharif Radhi and Sharif Murtadha and concluded that the book is internally consistent, which indicates that it can be attributed to a single author, the book was not authored by Sharif Radhi, and the book was not authored by Sharif Myrtadha. These conclusions indicate that the book content was most probably produced by Imam Ali.
Grounds for accepting the caliphate and the qualities of a ruler
Death and counseling
On the glory of God, on the Quran and Muhammad
When Umar consulted him about taking part in the march towards the Roman Empire
Addressing al-Mogheera when he wanted to speak in support of Uthman
Take revenge for the oppressed from the oppressor
Talha and Zubayr
On the occasion of the elective committee after Umar's death
Backbiting and speaking ill of others "Those who do not commit sins and have been gifted with safety (from sins) should take pity on sinners. Gratefulness should be their indulgence and it should prevent them from (finding faults with) others."
The English translation of Nahj al Balagha by Ali Reza includes nearly 80 letters authored by Ali, listed below after minor edits.
To the people of Kufa at the time of his march from Medina to Basra
To the people of Kufa after the victory of Basra
To his judge in Kufa
To one of his army officers
To the governor of Azerbaijan in Iran
To his messenger to Muawiya when his return was delayed
To Muawiya "You have called me to war. Better to leave the people on one side, come out to me and spare both parties from fighting so that it may be known who of us has a rusted heart and covered eyes."
To the commander of a vanguard contingent dispatched to Syria
To a contingent dispatched to engage the enemy
To two of his army officers
To the army before the Battle of Siffin
Invocation when he faced the enemy
Instructions for warriors "By Him who broke open the seed and created living beings, they [the enemy] had not accepted Islam but secured safety (by only verbally professing it) and had hidden their disbelief. When they found helpers for their disbelief, they disclosed it."
In response to a letter from Muawiya
To his governor in Basra
To one of his officers
To the deputy governor of Basra "If I come to know that you have misappropriated the funds of Muslims, small or big, I shall inflict upon you such punishment which will leave you empty-handed, heavy-backed, and humiliated."
To the deputy governor of Basra
To his governor in Basra "Do not be much pleased on what you secure from this world, nor get extremely grieved over what you miss out of it. Your worry should be about what is to come after death."
His will shortly before his death "By God, this sudden death is not an event that I dislike, nor it is an incident that I hate. I am just like a night traveler who reaches the spring or like a seeker who secures. And whatever with God is better for the righteous ones."
To Ziyad ibn Abeen, when Ali learned that Muawiya had approached him "You should be on your guard against him [Muawiya] because he is (like) the Satan who approaches a believer from the front and from the back, from the right and from the left."
To the governor of Basra upon learning that he had accepted an invitation to a lavish banquet
To one of his officers "Bend your wings (in humbleness) before the subjects."
Last will for Hasan and Husayn "Fear God and keep God in view in the matter of orphans."
To the officers of his army
To tax collectors "For the collection of tax from the people, do not sell their winter or summer clothes, nor cattle which they work with, nor slaves. Do not whip anyone for the sake of one Dirham. Do not touch the property of anyone, be it a Muslim or a protected non-believer."
To the governor of Medina about those who had defected to Syria "Do not feel sorry for their numbers, so lost from you, or their help, of which you are deprived. It suffices that they have walked into misguidance and you have been relieved of them."
To an administrator accused of misappropriation
To Ibn Abbas
Protocol of an agreement between the tribes of Rabeea and the people of Yemen
Instructions to Ibn Abbas upon his appointment as the governor of Basra
Instructions to Ibn Abbas before talks with the Kharijites
In response to Abu Musa Ashari's letter about the two arbitrators
To the army officers when he was elected as the caliph "Now, what ruined those before you was that they denied people their rights and then they had to purchase them (by bribes)."
The English translation of Nahj al Balagha by Ali Reza includes almost 500 sayings attributed to Ali, a few of which are summarized below.
I love the opinion of an old man more than the determination of a young man.
— Saying 86
You will not find an ignorant person but at one extreme or the other.
— Saying 70
A man enquired from Ali: "Was our going to fight against the Syrians destined by God?"
Ali replied: "Woe to you! You take it as a final and unavoidable destiny. If it were so, there would have been no question of reward or chastisement and there would have been no sense in God's promises or warnings..."