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Nahj al-balagha

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Nahj al-Balagha
EditorSharif al-Radi
PublishedEleventh century CE

Nahj al-balāgha (Arabic: نَهْج ٱلْبَلَاغَة, lit.'the path of eloquence') is the best-known collection of sermons, letters, and sayings attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661), the fourth Rashidun caliph (r. 656–661), the first Shia imam, and the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The compilation of the book is often credited to Sharif al-Radi (d. 1015), a prominent Shia scholar.[1][2] Known for its moral aphorisms and eloquent content, Nahj al-balagha is widely studied in the Islamic world and has considerably influenced the Arabic literature and rhetoric.[1][3] In view of its sometimes sensitive content, the authenticity of the book has long been a subject of polemic debates, though recent academic research suggests that most of its contents can indeed be attributed to Ali by tracking the texts in sources that predate al-Radi.[1][4]


Nahj al-balagha is an eleventh-century collection of more than two-hundred sermons, nearly eighty letters, and almost five-hundred sayings, all attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was the fourth Rashidun caliph (r. 656–661) and the first Shia imam.[2][5] The sermons and letters in Nahj al-balagha offer a commentary on the political career of Ali,[2] and have served as an ideological basis for Islamic governance.[5] In particular, the letter of instructions therein addressed at Malik al-Ashtar (d. 657), a commander of Ali, has received much attention as a model for just and righteous Islamic governance.[6][7][8] The book also includes detailed discussions about social responsibilities, emphasizing that greater responsibilities result in greater rights.[5]

Nahj al-balagha also contains more sensitive material, such as sharp criticism of the predecessors of Ali,[8] and disapproval of the triumvirate who revolted against Ali in the Battle of the Camel in 656, namely, Talha and Zubayr, who were both senior companions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and his widow Aisha.[2][9] The book also remains relevant to the ongoing clerical debates about the role and status of women in Islamic societies.[5] Nahj al-balagha also contains passages about morality and doctrine, notably about the sovereignty of God and the essence of the Quran and the prophethood.[2] Among them, the letter of life advices addressed to Hasan, the eldest son of Ali, has received considerable attention.[7]

Recognized as an example of the most eloquent Arabic,[8] Nahj al-balagha is said to have significantly influenced the Arabic literature and rhetoric.[1] The book has also been the focus of numerous commentaries, translations, and studies by both Sunni and Shia authors.[8] In particular, the comprehensive commentary of the Mu'tazilite scholar Ibn Abil-Hadid (d. 1258) may have amplified the influence of Nahj al-balagha on theological speculation, philosophical thought, and literary scope.[1][4][8] In it, he describes Nahj al-balagha as, "below the speech of the Creator but above the speech of creatures."[10]


The compilation of Nahj al-balagha is often credited to Sharif al-Radi (d. 1015), a renowned Shia scholar who lived over three hundred years after Ali.[1][2] A poet of some merit, al-Radi came from a distinguished Shia family in Baghdad and had connections to the Buyids, the Shia dynasty that ruled the area at the time.[11] His intentions in compiling the book are described as "literary, ethical, and spiritual," and he does not provide isnads, that is, chains of transmission for his texts.[10] In view of its sometimes sensitive content, the attribution of this book to Ali or al-Radi has long been a subject of polemic debates, as with the majority of the works about Shia theology.[7]

The authenticity of Nahj al-balagha was first challenged over two centuries after al-Radi, perhaps indicating that his sources were well known during his lifetime but were lost gradually.[10] Indeed, it was the Sunni historian Ibn Khallikan (d. 1282) who first suggested that the book was authored, rather than compiled, by al-Radi or by his brother Sharif al-Murtada (d. 1044), another prominent Shia theologian.[4][10] Yet elsewhere Ibn Khallikan cited the book without hesitation.[12] The Sunni theologians Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) and al-Dhahabi (d. 1348) have similarly rejected most of Nahj al-balagha,[4] and this has been the prevalent Sunni view to date. Among Western scholars, this view was shared by Carl Brockelmann (d. 1956) and Baron de Slane (d. 1878), who apparently mistook the word 'Murtada' on the manuscript as the name of its author and thus attributed the book to Sharif al-Murtada, probably unaware that Murtada is a well-known epithet of Ali. The Mu'tazilite Ibn Abil-Hadid was nevertheless confident that Nahj al-balagha is the work of Ali,[4] but suspected that its controversial Shaqshaqiya sermon was authored by al-Radi.[13] Alternatively, the Sunni historian Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 1071) rejected only the eschatological sermons found in the book.[12] By contrast, the Shia regard Nahj al-balagha as authentic.[7]

Academic views[edit]

Much of the content of Nahj al-balagha already exists in earlier historical works,[14][12] including Waq'at Siffin by the Shia historian Nasr ibn Muzahim (d. 827–828), Tarikh al-Ya'qubi by the Shia-leaning historian al-Ya'qubi (d. 897–898), Tarikh al-Tabari by the Sunni historian al-Tabari (d. 923), al-Bayan wa'l tabyin by the Sunni author al-Jahiz (d. 869), al-Kamil by the Sunni historian al-Mubarrad (d. 898), and al-Ansab by the Sunni historian al-Baladhuri (d. 892).[14][4] These authors considerably predate al-Radi, which led the Islamicist Husain M. Jafri (d. 2019) to confirm the attribution of Nahj al-balagha to Ali.[14] Similarly, the orientalist Laura Veccia Vaglieri (d. 1989) verified the attribution of 'a large portion' of Nahj al-balagha to Ali.[4] Muktar Djebli, another expert, traced back 'a considerable number of passages' to Ali with their isnads.[4][15] Some recent Shia works have similarly tracked the passages of the book in earlier sources, including Madarek-e Nahj al-balagha by Ostadi,[12] Masadir Nahj al-balagha wa asaniduh by Abd al-Zahra al-Husayni al-Khatib, and Madarik Nahj al-balagha by Abd-Allah Nima.[16] There are also other collections attributed to Ali that predate Nahj al-balagha, including Khutab Ali by the Sunni historian Ibn al-Kalbi (d. 819), al-Fihrist by the historian Ibn al-Nadim (d.c. 995), and Khutab Ali by al-Mada'ini (d. 843), a Sunni historian.[4]

There is also strong circumstantial evidence that al-Radi was the compiler of the book:[11][4] It appears that he included fragments of passages as he found them instead of combining them, thus presenting variants of the same sermon. In particular, the passages are not in the correct chronological order.[11][17] All extant manuscripts of Nahj al-balagha also introduce al-Radi as the compiler of the material from Ali.[4] Another evidence that supports the compilation of the book by ar-Radi is that he refers to his other works in the margins of Nahj al-balagha and vice versa,[4] and discloses some of his sources, namely, al-Bayan, Tarikh al-Tabari, and Jamal by the Sunni historian al-Waqidi (d. 823).[4] Finally, the linguistic style does not seem to change throughout the book, a style that has been highly praised for its eloquence (balagha) and rhetoric by some authorities, including al-Jahiz and the poet Ibn Nubata (d. 1366).[18] Indeed, one argument for the fabrication of Nahj al-balagha is that its rhyming prose is too precise and polished, while the Shia counterargument is that Ali was a gifted orator, known for his saj', that is, improvised speech with rhyming prose.[19] Nevertheless, some parts of Nahj al-balagha were likely copy-edited,[11] and gauging the authenticity of its sensitive passages has proved challenging.[11][4]

Shaqshaqiya sermon[edit]

As for the Shaqshaqiya sermon, in which the predecessors of Ali are sharply criticized, Sunni authorities reject it as the work of al-Radi,[20] in line with their tendency to neutralize the conflicts among the companions after Muhammad.[21][22] By contrast, among others,[20] the Shia traditionist Abdul Hosein Amini (d. 1970) provided several chains of transmission for this sermon, some of which predate al-Radi.[23] Other Shia scholars accept the authenticity of this sermon but do not claim tawatur, which is the highest level of credibility in hadith terminology. Among this last group is the Shia philosopher al-Bahrani (d. 1299), who also authored a commentary of Nahj al-balagha.[20] This lack of tawatur leaves the possibility that some sensitive words in the sermon were not uttered by Ali, according to the Islamic author Reza Shah-Kazemi.[24] Alternatively, Jafri suggests that the sermon is authentic for it was also quoted in earlier works,[25] including Kitab al-Mahasin by the Shia traditionist Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Ash'ari [ar] (d. 887), Kitab al-Gharat by the Shia historian Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Thaqafi [ar] (d. 896), and Kitab al-Insaf by the Mu'tazilite theologian Abu al-Qasim al-Balkhi (d. 1108).[26]

Computational verification[edit]

Sarwar and Mohamed recently used computational methods, mainly stylometric analysis and machine learning, to examine the authenticity of Nahj al-balagha by analyzing the 'morphological segmentation' of its text. They compared the book against the works of al-Radi and his brother, and concluded that the book is internally consistent, which suggests that it can be attributed to a single author, that the book was not authored by al-Radi or by his brother, Sharif al-Murtada. The authors thus conclude that the content of Nahj al-balagha can indeed be attributed to Ali.[27]


The debates about the authenticity of Nahj al-balagha may nevertheless be irrelevant to its value as a source of spiritual and ethical teachings,[28] particularly among the Shias.[2] In this vein, when asked to prove the attribution of Nahj al-balagha to Ali, the Shia philosopher Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai (d. 1981) responded, "For us the person who wrote Nahj al-balagha is Ali, even if he lived a century ago."[29] The need for academic research about the book, independent of its authenticity, is a view championed by the philosopher Henry Corbin (d. 1978) and by Shah-Kazemi.[30]

Political views[edit]

The investiture of Ali at the Ghadir Khumm, an Ilkhanid manuscript illustration

The sermons and letters in Nahj al-balagha offer a commentary on the political career of Ali as the fourth Rashidun caliph, succeeding Uthman (r. 644–656), Umar (r. 634–644), and Abu Bakr (r. 632–634), who established the caliphate after the death of Muhammad in 632.[2] Some sermons outlines the obligations of a leader, perhaps in response to the criticism from the Kharijites, a faction of Ali's army that abandoned him after the inconclusive Battle of Siffin in 657 against his archenemy Mu'awiya.[31]

Through the ruler tax is collected, the enemy is fought, roadways are protected, and the right of the weak is taken from the strong till the virtuous enjoy peace and protection from [the oppression of] the wicked.[31]

Certainly, there is no obligation on the imam except what has been devolved on him from God, namely, to convey warnings, to exert in good advice, to revive the Sunnah, to enforce penalties on those liable to them, and to issue shares to the deserving.[32]

While Veccia Vaglieri wrote that Ali shows no inclination to legitimism in Sunni reports,[33] multiple sermons in Nahj al-balagha suggest instead that he viewed himself as the rightful successor of Muhammad by virtue of his merits and his kinship with the prophet.[34] Other speeches in Nahj al-balagha further indicate that he also saw the leadership as a prerogative of the Ahl al-Bayt, that is, the family of Muhammad.[35][36] The legitimist view attributed to Ali in Nahj al-balagha, that he unequivocally considered the caliphate to be his right after Muhammad, is corroborated by some experts, including Mahmoud M. Ayoub (d. 2021),[37] Wilferd Madelung (d. 2023),[38] Hamid Mavani,[39] Moojan Momen,[40] and Shah-Kazemi.[41] Some of these authors add that Ali also considered himself as the designated successor of Muhammad,[42][43][41] probably referring to Muhammad's announcement at the Ghadir Khumm.[44] Soon after his death, however, it became clear that Ali did not enjoy popular support, which is perhaps why he resigned himself to the caliphate of Abu Bakr, likely for the sake of the unity of a nascent Islam.[45][46][47] Mavani and Maria M. Dakake, another Islamicist, nevertheless suggest that Ali viewed the succession of Abu Bakr as a digression which turned into a full-blown deviation with the rebellion of Mu'awiya during his own caliphate.[36][48] This matches the Shia view, as represented by the Shia jurist Ruhollah Khomeini (d. 1989).[49] By contrast, Ali mounts only a passing resistance to the caliphate of Abu Bakr (if any at all) in Sunni reports, which Ayoub describes as apologetic.[37]

Beware! By God the son of Abu Quhafa [Abu Bakr] dressed himself with it [the caliphate] and he certainly knew that my position in relation to it was the same as the position of the axis in relation to the handmill.[34]

— Shaqshaqiya sermon

By God, it never occurred to me, and I never imagined that after the prophet the Arabs would snatch away the caliphate from his Ahl al-Bayt [the members of the prophet's house], nor that they would take it away from me after him. But I suddenly noticed people surrounding the man [Abu Bakr] to swear him allegiance.[34]

O my God! I beseech You to take revenge on the Quraysh and those who are assisting them, for they have cut asunder my kinship and overturned my cup, and have joined together to contest a right to which I was entitled more than anyone else.[34]

I looked around but found no one to shield me, protect me or help me except the members of my family. I refrained from flinging them into death and therefore closed my eyes despite the dust; [I] kept swallowing saliva despite [the suffocation of] grief, and endured pangs of anger although it was more bitter than colocynth and more grievous than the bite of knives.[50]

So I adopted patience, although there was a mote rankling in my eye and a bone sticking in my throat on seeing my heritage [the caliphate] being plundered, till the first one [Aba Bakr] died and handed over the reins of the caliphate to another person [Umar] after him.[51]

— Shaqshaqiya sermon

You [the council members] are all well aware that I am the most entitled (ahaqqu) to this [the caliphate]. But by God, I shall resign myself [to the caliphate of Uthman] for as long as the affairs of the Muslims are being soundly governed, and for as long as there be no injustice except in relation to me alone. I do this, seeking the reward and the bounty of such a course of action, being detached from that to which you people aspire: the adornments and trappings [of political power].

— Addressed at the council convened by Umar to elect his successor in 644
The election of Uthman, from Tarikhnama by the tenth-century historian Abu Ali Bal'ami

Yet there is also evidence in Nahj al-balagha that Ali regarded public endorsement as necessary for a legitimate rule.[52] On this basis, Mavani speculates that Ali would have not sought the title of caliph had Muslims withheld their support from him after the assassination of Uthman in 656.[53] When the Muslim community favored him, however, Ali probably no longer considered the caliphate as his right, but also as his duty.[45]

People swore allegiance to me, not by force or compulsion, but obediently and out of free will.[13]

Your allegiance to me [after the assassination of Uthman] was not without thinking (falta), nor is my and your position the same. I seek you for God's sake, but you seek me for your own benefits.[54]

Let the most beloved of affairs to you be those most centered upon the right, the most comprehensive in justice, and the most inclusive of popular approval, for the disapproval of the common folk undermines the approval of the elite...[55]

Letter to al-Ashtar[edit]

The letter of instructions addressed to Malik al-Ashtar, the newly appointed governor of Ali in Egypt, outlines his conception of just and righteous governance.[56] The theme of the letter can be summarized as justice and compassion for all, regardless of class, creed, and color.[6][57] The letter also advises Malik to view his rule as a means of encouraging religious awakening and spiritual well-being within the community,[8] to be a role model for his staff and others, to strive for justice and monitor his staff for its enforcement, and to consult often with his staff.[6] Malik was killed in 657 at the instigation of Mu'awiya en route to Egypt to assume his post.[15]

Infuse your heart with mercy for the subjects, love for them, and kindness towards them. Be not like a ravenous beast of prey above them, seeking to devour them. For they are of two types: either your brother in religion or one like you in creation.[58][59]

Appoint as the commander of your soldiers the person whom you feel deeply is the most sincere in relation to God, the prophet, and your imam, the purest of heart, the one most excellent in forbearance (hilm); who is slow to anger, happy to pardon, kind to the weak, severe with the strong; one who is neither moved by violence nor held back by weakness. Cleave to those of noble descent, belonging to pious families of established name and repute, and to men known for their bravery, courage, generosity, and tolerance.[60]

Never reject any call to peace made to you by your enemy... If you and your enemy enter into a solemn agreement, or if he obtains from you the right of protection (dhimma), then faithfully abide by what you have promised, and honorably uphold your obligation of protection.[61]

Then–O God, O God!–[pay particular attention to] the lowest class, those who have no wherewithal, the destitute, the needy, the afflicted, the disabled. Within this class are those who beg, and those whose state of poverty calls out for relief, but they do not beg. Be mindful of God in regard to their rights, for He has entrusted these rights to your care. Assign to them a portion from your public funds, and a portion of the produce of what is taken as booty by the Muslims in every region; for those who are furthest have the same rights as those nearest. [62]

Apportion a part of your time to those who have special needs, making yourself free to attend to them personally, sitting with them in a public assembly with all due humility before God, your Creator.[63]

Dominate the zeal of your pride, the vehemence of your castigation, the power of your hand, and the sharpness of your tongue. Guard against these vices by restraining all impulsiveness, and putting off all resort to force until your anger subsides and you regain self-control. But you cannot attain such self-domination without increasing your preoccupation with the remembrance of your return to your Lord.[64]

Letter to Ibn Hunayf[edit]

A letter of admonishment in Nahj al-balagha is addressed to Uthman ibn Hunayf, the governor of Ali in Basra, who is said to have attended a lavish banquet, one which "rudely rebuffed the needy, and warmly embraced the wealthy," the letter adds.[65]

Do you [Uthman ibn Hunayf] not see that, as regards his world, your imam is satisfied with two simple pieces of cloth, and as regards his food, with two loaves of bread? Doubtless, this is beyond your capacity, but at least lend me your help in realizing the virtues of restraint, exertion, modesty, and propriety.[65]

Can I possibly allow myself to be called Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-mu'minin) if I do not share with them [i.e., with the faithful] the adversities of fate, if I do not give them a role-model to emulate when confronted with the hardships of life?[65]

Blessed be the person who discharges his obligations toward God; struggles courageously against all misfortune; abandons sleep at night, until, when slumber overpowers him, lies down on the earth as his bed, using his hand as his pillow, doing so in the company of those whose eyes are rendered sleepless by the awesome anticipation of their return [to God]; whose bodies stay away from their beds [see verse 32:16 of the Quran]; whose lips are ever-humming with the invocation of the name of their Lord; whose sins have been dissolved through prolonged cries for forgiveness. They are the 'partisans of God': "Verily the partisans of God, they are the successful ones!" (verse 58:22 of the Quran).[66]

Life advices to Hasan[edit]

A letter of life advices in Nahj al-balagha is addressed to Hasan, the eldest son of Ali.[7][67]

I admonish you to have constant awareness of God (taqwa), O my son, to abide by His commandments, to fill your heart with His remembrance (dhikrihi), and to cling to the rope He has held out to you [see verse 3:103 of the Quran]; for no protection is greater than that which extends from Him to you–provided you take hold of His rope [with an absolute trust]. Enliven your heart with exhortation (maw'iza), mortify it by renunciation (zahada), empower it with certainty (yaqin), enlighten it with wisdom, humble it by the remembrance of death (dhikr al-mawt), establish it in [constant awareness of] the evanescence (fana') [of all things other than God],...[68]

My dear son, take your soul as the criterion when you want to judge deeds which take place between you and others–then desire for others what you desire for yourself, and help others to avoid what you avoid yourself. Do not be cruel, as you do not want to receive cruelty. Do good to others as you would like others to do good to you. What you consider ugly in others, consider it the same in yourself. What you do not know, do not talk about it even though you know a little. Do not say to others what you would not like to be said about yourself. And know that selfishness is the squander of reason. Give away what you have gained and do not save it for others or yourself. And when you have reached such a stage of life, thank God for these things.[7]

Do not call people to fight; but if you are challenged to fight, then accept. Truly the one who calls others to fight is an oppressive rebel (baghi), and an oppressive rebel is one who will inevitably be laid low.[69]


The English translation of Nahj al-balagha by Ali Reza includes more than two-hundred sermons attributed to Ali, listed below after minor edits.

  1. Creation of the universe, "God is with everything, but not through association; and other than everything, but not through separation."
  2. Age of Ignorance, Household of Muhammad, hypocrites
  3. Shaqshaqiya (lit.'roar of the camel'), in which Ali lays out his claim to the caliphate and his superiority over his predecessors[8]
  4. His far-sightedness and his steadfastness in Islam
  5. When Abbas and Abu Sufyan offered to pay allegiance to him for the caliphate after Muhammad's death
  6. On being advised not to chase Talha and Zubayr for fighting
  7. The hypocrites
  8. About Zubayr at a time for which it was appropriate
  9. Cowardice of his enemies in the Battle of the Camel
  10. Talha and Zubayr
  11. When he gave the standard of the Battle of the Camel to his son Mohammad
  12. When, after his victory in the Battle of the Camel, one of his comrades said, "I wish my brother had been present and he too would have seen what success and victory God had given you"
  13. Condemning the people of Basra
  14. Also in condemnation of the people of Basra
  15. After resuming the land grants made by Uthman
  16. Delivered when the people of Medina swore allegiance to him
  17. About those who sit for dispensation of justice among people but are not fit for it
  18. In disparagement of contradictory views among Muslim jurists
  19. Treachery and hypocrisy of al-Ashath al-Kindi
  20. Death and taking lessons from it
  21. Advice to keep light in this world
  22. About those who accused him of killing Uthman
  23. Keeping aloof from envy, and good behavior toward kin
  24. Exhorting people for jihad
  25. When his men were overpowered by Mu'awiya's men
  26. People after Muhammad's death, the settlement between Mu'awiya and Amr ibn al-As
  27. Exhorting people for jihad
  28. The transient nature of this world and the importance of the next world
  29. About those who found pretexts at the time of jihad
  30. In connection with Uthman's killing
  31. Before the Battle of the Camel, he sent Ibn Abbas to Zubayr to advise him back to obedience
  32. Disparagement of the world and categories of people
  33. At the time of setting out for the Battle of the Camel
  34. Exhorting people to fight against the people of Syria
  35. After arbitration
  36. Warning the people of Nahrawan of their fate
  37. His steadfastness and precedence in Islam
  38. In disparagement of those in doubt
  39. In disparagement of those who shrink from fighting
  40. In response to the slogan of Kharijites: "Judgment belongs to God alone"
  41. In condemnation of treason
  42. Heart's desires and hopes
  43. In response to a suggestion of war
  44. When Masqala defected to Syria
  45. The greatness of God and the lowliness of this world
  46. When he decided to march toward Syria
  47. Calamities befalling Kufa
  48. At the time of marching toward Syria
  49. God's greatness and sublimity
  50. Admixture of right and wrong
  51. When his men were prevented from taking water from the Euphrates river
  52. Reward and punishment in the next world
  53. On the swear of allegiance
  54. When his men showed impatience on his delay in giving them permission to fight in Siffin
  55. Steadiness on the battlefield
  56. Mu'awiya swallows whatever he gets and craves for what he does not get
  57. Addressing the Kharijites
  58. When he was told that the Kharijites had crossed the bridge of Nahrawan
  59. When he was told that the Kharijites had been totally annihilated
  60. Do not fight the Kharijites after me!
  61. When he was warned of being killed by deceit
  62. Transience of this world
  63. Decline and destruction of this world
  64. Attributes of God
  65. Ways of fighting
  66. On hearing the account of what took place in Saqifah of Bani-Sa'ida
  67. When Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, governor of Egypt, was overpowered and killed
  68. Admonishing his companions for careless behavior
  69. In the morning of the day he was fatally struck with a sword
  70. In condemnation of the people of Iraq
  71. Praise for Muhammad
  72. When Hasan and Husayn interceded on behalf of Marwan
  73. When the elective committee (shura) decided to swear allegiance to Uthman
  74. When he learned that the Umayyads blamed him for killing Uthman
  75. Preaching and counseling
  1. Banu Umayya
  2. One of his supplications
  3. Prophecy of astrologers
  4. Shortcomings of women
  5. Way of preaching and counseling
  6. World and its people
  7. Al-Gharra (lit.'the brilliant'), in which Ali enjoined people to piety
  8. Amr ibn al-As
  9. Perfection of God and counseling
  10. Preparing for the hereafter by following God's commandments
  11. Faithful and unfaithful believers
  12. Factions of community
  13. Holy prophet
  14. God's attributes and some advice
  15. Al-Ashbaah (lit.'the skeletons'), in which Ali talked about the creation of the universe
  16. When people decided to swear allegiance to him after the murder of Uthman
  17. Annihilation of the Kharijites, mischief mongering of the Umayyads, vastness of his own knowledge
  18. God's praise and eulogy of the prophets
  19. Age of Ignorance and Muhammad's efforts to disseminate God's message
  20. In eulogy of Muhammad
  21. Admonishing his companions
  22. Oppression of the Umayyads
  23. Abstinence of the world and vicissitudes of time
  24. Muhammad and his descendants
  25. Vicissitudes of time
  26. Day of Judgement
  27. Abstemiousness and fear of God, attributes of the enlightened
  28. Age of Ignorance, Muhammad's efforts to spread God's message
  29. In eulogy of Muhammad, the Umayyads, importance of imam
  30. Islam: most bright of all paths
  31. Describing the days of Siffin
  32. Vicissitudes of time, blaming Muslims
  33. Might of God, Day of Judgement, Muhammad and his descendants
  34. Pinnacles of Islam
  35. Caution about this world
  36. Angel of Death and the departure of spirit
  37. World and people
  38. Abstemiousness, fear of God, importance of preparing for the hereafter
  39. Seeking rain
  40. Troubles which would arise, Day of Judgment
  41. Rebuking misers
  42. In praise of his faithful companions
  43. When he exhorted people to jihad but was met with silence
  44. Household of Muhammad, the laws of Islam
  45. Reasons for objecting to arbitration at first and allowing it later
  46. Addressing the Kharijites at their camp when they persisted in their rejection of the arbitration
  47. Supporting the weak and the low-spirited on the battlefield of Siffin
  48. Exhorting his followers to fight
  49. Kharijites and arbitration
  50. In response to the objections to the equal distribution of shares from the treasury
  51. Clarifying confusion for the Kharijites
  52. Foretelling the capture of Basra and the Mongol conquest
  53. Measures and weights
  54. When Abu Dharr was exiled to al-Rabathah
  55. Grounds for accepting the caliphate and the qualities of a ruler
  56. Death and counseling
  57. On the glory of God, on the Quran and Muhammad
  58. When Umar consulted him about taking part in the march towards the Roman Empire
  59. Addressing al-Mogheera when he wanted to speak in support of Uthman
  60. Take revenge for the oppressed from the oppressor
  61. Talha and Zubayr
  62. Foretelling events
  63. On the occasion of the elective committee after Umar's death
  64. 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."
  65. Against reliance on heresy
  66. Misplaced generosity
  67. Praying for rain
  68. Past prophets, Household of Muhammad
  69. This world, on innovation (bidʻah)
  70. When Umar consulted him about taking part in the Battle of Persia
  71. Divine mission of Muhammad and what happens when people go against the Quran
  72. Talha and Zubayr and the people of Basra
  73. His last will
  74. Coming events and the hypocrites' activities
  75. Advice against disorder, oppression, and unlawful earning
  76. God and His vicegerents
  77. The negligent, beasts, and carnivores
  78. The Household of Muhammad and their enemies
  79. Wonderful creation of the bat
  80. Malice borne by Aisha and warning the people of Basra
  81. Urging people towards piety
  82. Muhammad and the Quran
  83. Good behavior and ignoring people's faults
  84. Following the examples of Muhammad and the past prophets
  85. Divine mission of Muhammad and lessons from this world
  86. Usurpation of the caliphate from him
  87. Attributes of God
  88. Dialogue with Uthman
  89. Magnificence of the Creator in birds
  1. Observing courtesy and kindness, the autocracy of the Umayyads
  2. Fulfilment of obligations, advice to fear God in all matters, "Fear God in the matter of His creatures and His cities because you will be questioned even about lands and beasts."
  3. In response to the demand for avenging Uthman
  4. When the people of Jamal (lit.'camel') set off for Basra (prior to the Battle of the Camel)
  5. In response to Kolayb al-Jarmi who came from Basra to enquire about his position vis-a-vis the people of Jamal
  6. When he decided to fight the enemy face to face at Siffin
  7. Elective committee after Umar, and people of Jamal
  8. On eligibility for the caliphate, the need for sagacity in fighting against Muslims
  9. When he received the news that Talha and Zubayr had left for Basra to fight against him
  10. Warning to neglectful people
  11. Greatness of the Quran, following the Sunnah and refraining from innovation
  12. The two arbiters after the Battle of Siffin
  13. Transience of this world and the causes of decline in God's blessings
  14. In reply to a question about seeing God
  15. Condemning his disobedient men
  16. The group who decided to join the Kharijites
  17. Learning from history, al-Mahdi
  18. About the importance of the Quran
  19. On hearing a Kharijite raising the slogan, "judgment belongs to God alone"
  20. Creation of the universe
  21. Oneness of God
  22. Vicissitudes of time
  23. Transience of this world
  24. Steadfast and transient belief, the challenge: "Ask me before you miss me"
  25. Fear of God and love for the Household of Muhammad
  26. World and its people
  27. al-Qasi'a (lit.'the abasement'): Warning about Satan, caution against vanity and other vices, his precedence in Islam
  28. Qualities of the God-fearing
  29. Age of Ignorance, the animosity of Arab tribes, the position of hypocrites
  30. Fear of God and details about the Day of Judgement
  31. Age of Ignorance, the transience of this world and the state of its inhabitants
  32. His attachment to Muhammad and the performance of his funeral rites
  33. Fear of God, praise for Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran
  34. Prayer, Zakat, and fulfillment of obligations
  35. Treachery of Mu'awiya
  36. One should not be afraid of the scarcity of those who tread on the right path
  37. On the occasion of the burial of his wife, Fatima
  38. Transience of this world, and the importance of preparation for the hereafter
  39. Warning about the dangers of the Day of Judgement
  40. In response to Talha and Zubayr's complaint for not consulting them in the affairs
  41. On hearing some of his men verbally abusing the Syrians during the Battle of Siffin
  42. About Hasan when Ali saw him proceeding rapidly to fight in the Battle of Siffin
  43. When his army was on the verge of mutiny in connection with the arbitration
  44. When he noticed the vastness of his companion's house
  45. Causes of difference in the traditions and categories of narrators
  46. Greatness of the universe
  47. Those who give up supporting the righteous cause
  48. Sublimity of God and eulogy of Muhammad
  49. Muhammad's nobility of descent, the characteristics of the virtuous
  50. Prayer he often recited
  51. Mutual rights of the ruler and the ruled
  52. Excesses of the Quraysh, on rebels
  53. On passing by the corpses of Talha and another rebel, who were killed in the Battle of the Camel
  54. Qualities of the pious
  55. Exegesis of verse 102:1–2 of the Quran
  56. Exegesis of verse 24:36–37
  57. Exegesis of verse 82:6
  58. Keeping aloof from oppression, on the poverty of his brother Aqil
  59. A supplication
  60. Transience of the world and the helplessness of those in graves
  61. A supplication
  62. About a companion who passed away before the occurrence of the troubles
  63. Allegiance to him as the caliph
  64. An account of those who remain apprehensive of death
  65. About Muhammad
  66. When Abd al-God ibn Zam'a asked him for money from the treasury
  67. When his nephew was unable to deliver a sermon
  68. Causes for differences in the features and traits of people
  69. Funeral rites of Muhammad
  70. His immigration to Medina, following Muhammad's
  71. Preparing for the hereafter
  72. The two arbitrators after the Battle of Siffin
  73. The Household of Muhammad
  74. When Uthman sent word that Ali should leave for Yanbu
  75. Exhorting his men to jihad


The English translation of Nahj al-balagha by Ali Reza includes nearly eighty letters attributed to Ali, listed below after minor edits.

  1. To the people of Kufa at the time of his march from Medina to Basra
  2. To the people of Kufa after the victory of Basra
  3. To his judge in Kufa
  4. To one of his army officers
  5. To the governor of Azerbaijan in Iran
  6. To Mu'awiya
  7. To Mu'awiya
  8. To his messenger to Mu'awiya when his return was delayed
  9. To Mu'awiya
  10. To Mu'awiya "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."
  11. To the commander of a vanguard contingent dispatched to Syria
  12. To a contingent dispatched to engage the enemy
  13. To two of his army officers
  14. To the army before the Battle of Siffin
  15. Invocation when he faced the enemy
  16. 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."
  17. In response to a letter from Mu'awiya
  18. To his governor in Basra
  19. To one of his officers
  20. 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."
  21. To the deputy governor of Basra
  1. 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."
  2. 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."
  3. His will upon his return from Siffin
  4. Instructions for tax collectors
  5. Instructions for an officer sent to collect tax
  6. Instructions to Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, upon appointment as the governor of Egypt
  7. In response to Mu'awiya
  8. To the people of Basra
  9. To Mu'awiya
  10. Instructions for Hasan, when returning from Siffin
  11. To Mu'awiya
  12. To the governor of Mecca
  13. To Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr after learning that he had taken over the position of Malik al-Ashtar as the governor of Egypt after the latter died
  14. To Ibn Abbas after Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr was killed
  15. To his brother Aqil
  16. To Mu'awiya
  17. To Egyptians after the appointment of Malik al-Ashtar as their governor
  18. To Amr ibn al-As
  19. To one of his officers
  20. To one of his officers
  1. To the governor of Bahrain, whom he later removed
  2. To the governor of Ardasheer Khorra in Iran
  3. To Ziyad ibn Abin, when Ali learned that Mu'awiya had approached him "You should be on your guard against him [Mu'awiya] because he is (like) the Satan who approaches a believer from the front and from the back, from the right and from the left."
  4. To the governor of Basra upon learning that he had accepted an invitation to a lavish banquet
  5. To one of his officers "Bend your wings (in humbleness) before the subjects."
  6. Last will for Hasan and Husayn "Fear God and keep God in view in the matter of orphans."
  7. To Mu'awiya
  8. To Mu'awiya
  9. To the officers of his army
  10. 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."
  11. To various governors concerning prayers
  12. Instructions for Malik al-Ashtar upon his appointment as the governor of Egypt
  13. To Talha and Zubayr
  14. To Mu'awiya
  15. Instructions to the commander of a vanguard contingent dispatched to Syria
  16. To the people of Kufa when he marched from Medina to Basra
  17. An announcement about what took place in Siffin
  18. To the governor of Holwaan "All the people should be equal in right before you; injustice cannot be a substitute for justice."
  1. To the officers through whose jurisdiction the army passed
  2. Expressing his displeasure to Kumayl, the governor of Heet, who was unable to prevent enemy raids
  3. To Egyptians through Malik al-Ashtar, upon his appointment as their governor
  4. To Abu Musa Ash'ari, the governor of Kufa, when Ali learned that he discouraged jihad
  5. In response to Mu'awiya
  6. To Mu'awiya
  7. To Ibn Abbas (a different version)
  8. To the governor of Mecca
  9. To Salman the Persian, before his caliphate
  10. To al-H'arith al-Hamdani
  11. 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."
  12. To an administrator accused of misappropriation
  13. To Ibn Abbas
  14. To Mu'awiya
  15. Protocol of an agreement between the tribes of Rabi'a and the people of Yemen
  16. To Mu'awiya
  17. Instructions to Ibn Abbas upon his appointment as the governor of Basra
  18. Instructions to Ibn Abbas before talks with the Kharijites
  19. In response to Abu Musa al-Ash'ari's letter about the two arbitrators
  20. 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)."


Folio from an old Nahj al-balagha

The English translation of Nahj al-balagha by Ali Reza includes almost five hundred sayings attributed to Ali, a few of which are given below. The rest of the aphorisms below are quoted from Nahj al-balagha by different authors.

  • I love the opinion of an old man more than the determination of a young man.
  • You will not find an ignorant person but at one extreme or the other.
  • If it were so [and we were bound to an unavoidable destiny], there would have been no question of reward or chastisement and there would have been no sense in God's promises or warnings.
  • Whoso establishes well-being between himself and God, God establishes well-being between him and mankind.[70]
  • Behave yourself with others in such a way that if you die, people will cry for you, and if you stay alive they seek your presence.[7]
  • Opportunity is just like a passing cloud. Therefore, take advantage of the right opportunities while they are within sight.[7]
  • Victory depends upon thinking ahead, and thinking ahead upon mental resourcefulness and decision on keeping secrecy.[7]
  • The one who is a dictator will be killed soon and the one who consults with the people will share their wisdom.[7]
  • The one who observes his own deficiencies will overlook another's inadequacy.[71]
  • Contentment is a wealth that does not diminish.[72]
  • When you overpower your enemy, make your forgiveness of him an expression of gratitude for having prevailed over him.[73]
  • There is no goodness in a good thing if it is followed by [hell] fire, and there is no evil in an evil thing if it is followed by the Garden [of heaven]. Every benefit apart from the Garden is negligible, and every tribulation apart from fire is well-being (afiya).[74]
  • Do not give up bidding for good and forbidding from evil, lest the mischievous gain positions over you, and then if you pray, the prayer will not be granted.[75]
  • He who rules, appropriates.[76]
  • The sin that grieves you is better, in the sight of God, than the virtue that makes you proud.[77]
  • No act is negligible if it is accompanied by piety.[78]
  • He who prays without making an effort is like one who shoots arrows without a bow.[79]
  • Justice puts everything in its right place.[80]
  • People renounce no part of their religion for the sake of rectifying their world without God opening them up to something worse than it.[81]
  • A sleep with certainty is better than a prayer with doubt.[82]


Nahj al-balagha has been translated from Arabic into many languages. A few of these translations are listed below:

  • Nahjul Balagha - Veltalenhedens Sti (in Danish). Translated by Maanaki, Haydar. Imam al-Mahdi Bogfond. 2013.
  • Imaam Ali bin Abi-Taalib's Sermons, Letters & Sayings as Compiled by Sayyid Shareef Ar-Razi in Nahjol-Balaagha, Peak of Eloquence. Translated by Reza, Sayed Ali. World Ognanization for Islamic Services. 1987.
  • The Style of Eloquence. Translated by Pazargadi, Alaeddin. Rahnama. 2000.
  • La Voie de l'éloquence (in French). Translated by Obeid, A. Dar al-Biruni. 2004.
  • La Voie de l'éloquence (in French). Translated by Abul Naga, Sayyid ‘Attia. Ansariyan. 1989.
  • Nahdsch-ul-Balagha - Pfad der Eloquenz (in German). Translated by Özoguz, Fatima. m-haditec GmbH & Co. KG. 2007.
  • Nahdż al-Balagha (in Polish). Translated by Miernik, Arkadiusz. Instytut al-Mahdi. 2012.
  • Nahj al-Balagha - Calea Vorbirii Alese (in Romanian). Translated by Grigore, George. Kriterion. 2008.
  • Путь красноречия (in Russian). Translated by Черниенко, Тараса. Казань. 2010.
  • La Cumbre de la Elocuencia (in Spanish). Translated by Morales, Muhammad Ali Anzaldua; Arce, Abdul Jabir. Biblioteca Islámica Ahlul Bait. 2010.
  • نھج البلاغه‎ (in Persian). Translated by دشتی, محمد. مشهور.
  • نھج البلاغہ (in Urdu). Translated by جوادی, علامہ ذیشان حیدر. محفوظ بک ایجنسی.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Shah-Kazemi 2006a.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas 2008.
  3. ^ Nasr & Afsaruddin 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Djebli 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Esposito 2003, p. 227.
  6. ^ a b c Al-Buraey 1986, p. 267.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Shehabi 1993, p. 196.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Gleave 2008.
  9. ^ Dakake 2007, p. 225.
  10. ^ a b c d Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 2.
  11. ^ a b c d e Thomas 2008, p. 477.
  12. ^ a b c d Modarressi 2003, p. 14.
  13. ^ a b Mavani 2013, p. 131.
  14. ^ a b c Jafri 1979, p. 77.
  15. ^ a b Bahramian 2015.
  16. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 3.
  17. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 1.
  18. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, pp. 1, 8n3.
  19. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, pp. 2–3.
  20. ^ a b c Shah-Kazemi 2019, pp. 79–80.
  21. ^ Lucas 2004, p. 255–284.
  22. ^ Soufi 1997, p. 120.
  23. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 131n36.
  24. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 80.
  25. ^ Jafri 1979, pp. 61–62.
  26. ^ Jafri 1979, p. 77n9.
  27. ^ Sarwar & Mohamed 2022.
  28. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 4.
  29. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, pp. 4–5.
  30. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 5.
  31. ^ a b Mavani 2013, p. 107.
  32. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 108.
  33. ^ Veccia Vaglieri 2012.
  34. ^ a b c d Mavani 2013, p. 113.
  35. ^ Daftary 2013, p. 27.
  36. ^ a b Mavani 2013, p. 114.
  37. ^ a b Ayoub 2014, p. 24.
  38. ^ Madelung 1997, pp. 141, 253.
  39. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 113–114.
  40. ^ Momen 1985, p. 62.
  41. ^ a b Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 79.
  42. ^ Mavani 2013, pp. 114, 117.
  43. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 253.
  44. ^ Amir-Moezzi 2014.
  45. ^ a b Madelung 1997, p. 141.
  46. ^ Jafri 1979, pp. 44–5.
  47. ^ Momen 1985, pp. 19–20.
  48. ^ Dakake 2007, p. 50.
  49. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 204n8.
  50. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 115–116.
  51. ^ Jafri 1979, p. 62.
  52. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 106.
  53. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 115.
  54. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 111.
  55. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, pp. 97–98.
  56. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 102.
  57. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 103.
  58. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, pp. 102–103.
  59. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 224.
  60. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, pp. 49–50.
  61. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 115.
  62. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, pp. 111–112.
  63. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 112.
  64. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, pp. 117–118.
  65. ^ a b c Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 109.
  66. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 110.
  67. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 98.
  68. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, pp. 98–99.
  69. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 50.
  70. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2006b, p. 65.
  71. ^ Shehabi 1993, p. 197.
  72. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 107.
  73. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 94.
  74. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2019, p. 136.
  75. ^ Mavani 2013, p. 175n81.
  76. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 85.
  77. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 92.
  78. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 114.
  79. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 116.
  80. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 77.
  81. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 84.
  82. ^ Shah-Kazemi 2007, p. 131.


External links[edit]