Al-Shiqshiqiyya Sermon

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The number of Al-Shiqshiqiyya Sermon in different versions of Nahj al-balagha
Version's Name Sermon num.
Al-Mu'jam al-Mufahras and other editions 3
Mulla Fath Allah 4

Al-Shiqshiqīyya Sermon (Arabic: الخطبة الشقشقیة) is one of the best-known sermons in Nahj al-balagha. In this sermon, Imam 'Ali (a) depicts the periods of the first three Caliphs, and criticizes their performances, challenging the legitimacy of their caliphate. He also points out that people rushed into his house in order to pledge their allegiance to him. He refers to Nakithun (Oath-breakers), Qasitun (the cruel) and Mariqun (Khawarij), and he finally mentions the reason why he accepted to undertake the power. In most versions of Nahj al-balagha, the sermon is the third sermon.

The person who directly narrated the sermon (that is, heard it immediately from Imam 'Ali (a) himself) was 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas whose narrations are also reliable for Sunni Muslims. The sermon has repeatedly been translated and interpreted. Some Sunni scholars have cast doubts about the reliability and the content of the sermon, though some others take it to be reliable.

The main issues in the sermon

  • Imam 'Ali's (a) forbearance despite the difficulties he faced during the caliphate of the three caliphs before him.
  • Imam 'Ali's (a) surprise that Abu Bakr chose a successor for himself.
  • His concerns about Abu Bakr's having chosen a violent person as his successor.
  • The uncontrollability of 'Umar b. Khattab and people's troubles during his period.
  • The incomparability of Imam 'Ali (a) with other members of the six-member council and thus criticizing the formation of such a council.
  • His criticism of the arrangement of the council, since the conclusion was already determined due to this arrangement.
  • People's rush to pledge their allegiance with Imam 'Ali (a).
  • A mention of Nakithun, Mariqun and Qasitun. According to Imam 'Ali (a), their materialism led to their oppositions with him.
  • The reason why Imam 'Ali (a) accepted the caliphate.

Place and time

As evidenced by historical points made in the sermon, such as Imam 'Ali's (a) talk of Nakithun (his enemies in the Battle of Jamal, 36/656-7), Qasitun (Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan and his companions in the Battle of Siffin, late 36/657 and early 37/657) and Mariqun (Khawarij in the Battle of Nahrawan, late 37/658 or early 38/658) and as evidenced by Ibn 'Abbas's presence in Kufa, the sermon should have been delivered around late 38/659 or early 39/659.

Al-Shaykh al-Mufid and Qutb al-Din al-Rawandi took the sermon to have taken place in "rahba" (Arabic: رحبه). By "rahba" here is meant a place in the middle of the courtyard of Kufa Mosque in which Imam 'Ali (a) gave many sermons or issued judiciary verdicts. This is why during the anti-'Ali (a) period of Ziyad b. Abih, narrators of hadith mentioned Imam 'Ali (a) as "Sahib al-Rahba" (the companion of rahba). According to Matarzi (d. 610/1213-4), rahba in Kufa was a podium in the middle of the Kufa Mosque in which Imam 'Ali (a) sat and delivered his sermons. This is the place where Imam 'Ali (a) was said to have thrown the booties of Khawarij.


The sermon is called "Muqammasa" (dressed) because of its first sentence: "I swear to God! X dressed (taqammasaha) himself with it". The term "taqammus" means dressing: Imam 'Ali assimilated the caliphate to a dress that Abu Bakr had put on though it did not fit him. However, the sermon is more widely known as "Shiqshiqiyya" because of what Imam 'Ali (a) said at the end of the sermon when 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas asked him to continue the sermon: "it was like the foam of a Camel (shiqshiqa) which gushed out but subsided".

According to Arabic lexicologists and commentators of the sermon, "shiqshiqa" is something like a foam coming out of a camel's mouth when it is excited or angry; it is accompanied with the turning of the sound inside the camel's throat, and then it calms down. This does not occur in normal situations.

Imam 'Ali (a) assimilated his own state with the excitation of a camel; the sermon thus came out of his mouth and heart like a foam. He said that at the end of the sermon he was in a normal situation and thus he could not continue the sermon. This is why 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas is quoted as saying that: "I have never regretted any talk remaining unfinished like I did for this sermon".

The sources of Shiqshiqiyya before Sayyid al-Radi

Given criticisms made of the first three Caliphs, many Sunni scholars cast doubts over the reliability of the sermon. Moreover, some of them said that this sermon alone shows that the whole Nahj al-balagha is unreliable.

According to Shiite scholars, the sermon can be found in some works before Nahj al-balagha and its sources of narration go back to Imam 'Ali (a) himself. In his al-Ghadir, 'Allama Amini mentioned 28 chains of narrations for this sermon in none of which Sayyid al-Radi appears. In the book "Partowi az Nahj al-balagha" (a light from Nahj al-balagha), 22 chains of narrations have been mentioned for the sermon, 8 of which are from sources before Sayyid al-Radi, 5 from Sayyid Radi's contemporaries, and 9 from sources after Nahj al-balagha or after the 5th/11th century from sources independent from Nahj al-balagha.

  • Al-Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 413/1022), Sayyid al-Radi's teacher, cited the sermon in his book, al-Irshad, saying that some narrators had cited the sermon with different chains of narrations. In his essay, al-Mas'alatan fi l-nass 'ala 'Ali (a) (Arabic: المسألتان فی النص علی علی(ع); two problems about textual evidence for 'Ali (a)), he cited the sermon as a well-known one, showing that there was no doubt about the reliability of the sermon in his time. In his book, al-Jamal, al-Shaykh al-Mufid takes the sermon to be too famous to need an explanation.

Commentaries on the sermon

  • An exegesis of the Shiqshiqiyya sermon in Arabic by al-Sayyid al-Murtada (d. 436/1044-5) published in the essays of al-Sayyid al-Murtada (vol. 2).
  • Al-Shiqshiqiyya: dirasa mawdu'iyya li shakhsiyyat tasaddat li l-khilafa al-Islamiyya (the Shiqshiqiyya sermon: a case study of figures who occupied the Islamic caliphate) by 'Abd al-Rasul al-Ghaffari.
  • Ahi suzan az amir mu'minan (a); sharhi bar khutba shiqshiqiyya (A burning sigh from Amir al-Mu'minin (a); a commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon) by 'Ali Asghar Ridwani.
  • Sayiban Siyah, sharh khutba shiqshiqiyya amir mu'minan 'Ali (the black sunshade, a commentary of the Shiqshiqiyya sermon by Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (a)) by Nadir Fadli.
  • Al-shadharat al-'Alawiyya fi sharh al-khutba al-Shiqshiqiyya li l-Imam 'Ali ('Alawi lights in the exposition of the Shiqshiqiyya sermon of Imam 'Ali (a)) by Abu Dhar al-Ghaffari.
  • A manuscript in the exposition of the Shiqshiqiyya sermon.
  • Another manuscript in the exposition of the sermon.
  • A commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon by Murtada Qasimi Kashani.
  • Another manuscript in the exposition of the sermon.
  • A translation and a commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon by Muhammad Baqir Rashad Zanjani.
  • 'Aqidiyi Shi'a dar Khutba Shiqshiqiyya (Shiite beliefs in the Shiqshiqiyya sermon) by Muhammad Asadi Garmarudi.
  • Al-Masa'il al-tatbiqiyya 'ala l-khutba al-Shiqshiqiyya (Comparative issues concerning the Shiqshiqiyya sermon), by 'Ali al-Tabrizi.
  • Al-Tawdihat al-tahqiqiyya fi sharh al-khutba al-Shiqshiqiyya (scholarly commentaries in the exposition of the Shiqshiqiyya sermon) by Sayyid 'Ali Akbar b. Sayyid Muhammad b. Sayyid Dildar (d. 1326/1908).
  • Sharh Khutba Shiqshiqiyya (a commentary on the sermon) by Mulla Ibrahim Gilani, a scholar of the 11th/17th century. The main manuscript is found in Qom.
  • A commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon by Mirza Abu l-Ma'ali al-Kalbasi (d. 1315/1898).
  • A commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon by Taj al-'Ulama Lakhanawi (d. 1312/1895).
  • A Farsi commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon in a poetic style by Sayyid Muhammad Taqi al-Qazwini (d. 1270/1854). A manuscript of the commentary is available in the Sipahsalar Library and the Library of Tehran University.
  • An Arabic commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon by Sayyid Ja'far b. Sadiq al-'Abid.
  • A commentary of the sermon in Arabic by the famous orator, Sayyid 'Ali Hashimi.
  • Al-Naqd al-sadid fi sharh al-khutba al-Shiqshiqiyya li ibn Abi l-Hadid (a solid criticism of Ibn Abi l-Hadid's commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon) in Arabic by Shaykh Muhsin Karim in volumes. The first volume was published in 1383/1963-4) in Najaf.
  • Kashf al-sahab fi sharh al-khutba al-Shiqshiqiyya (uncovering the clouds in the exposition of the Shiqshiqiyya sermon) by Mulla Habib Allah Kashani (d. 1340/1921-2).


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