Nahj al-balagha (book)
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|Original title||نهج البلاغة|
|Subject||Sayings of Imam 'Ali (a)|
|En. title||Nahj al-Balagha|
Nahj al-balāgha (Arabic: نهج البلاغة) is an anthology of sayings and writings of Imam 'Ali (a) which have been compiled by al-Sayyid al-Radi in late 4th/10th century (finished in 400/1009-1010). The criteria for selecting the sayings has been the eloquence of speech. The eloquence in this compilation is at such a high level that even though al-Sayyid al-Radi was a great poet and distinguished man of literature and had great works, regarded this compilation an honor for himself.
Throughout the sermons, Imam (a) calls people to obey God's orders and abandon prohibitions and in his letters advises his agents to observe the rights of people. Kalimat al-qisar [short sayings] of Nahj al-balagha are a collection of wise sayings stated at the peak of eloquence.
- 1 Intention out of Collecting Imam 'Ali's (a) Words
- 2 Naming
- 3 Content
- 4 Translations
- 5 Commentaries
- 6 References of Nahj al-balagha
- 7 Mustadraks (Supplements)
- 8 Effects in Arabic Literature
- 9 References
Intention out of Collecting Imam 'Ali's (a) Words
In the introduction of Nahj al-balagha, al-Sayyid al-Radi wrote:
- "In my early age at the dawn of youth I commenced writing Khasa'is al-a'imma on the characteristics of the Imams covering the account of their virtues and masterpieces of their utterances. The purpose of the compilation was stated by me in the beginning of the book. Therein I completed the portion relating to the account of Amir al-mu'minin Ali (peace be upon him) but I could not complete that part concerning the other Imams due to impediments of the time and obstacles of the days. I divided the book into several chapters and sections, in a manner for its last section to comprise whatever had been related to 'Ali's (a) short utterances such as counsels, maxims arid, proverbs but not long lectures and detailed discourses.
- A number of my friends and brothers-in-faith, while wondering at its delicate and blossoming expressions, admired the contents of this particular section, and desired me to complete a book which should cover all the forms of the utterances of Amir almu'minin, including diverse materials such as lectures, letters, counsels, ethics, etc., as they were convinced that the entire proceedings would comprise wonders and surprises of eloquence and rhetorics, brilliant jewels of Arabic language and shining expressions about faith; collected in any other work, nor found together in any other book, because Amir al-mu'minin was the fountain of eloquence and the source of rhetorics. Through him the hidden delicacies of eloquence and rhetorics came to light, and from him were learnt its principles and rules. Every speaker and orator had to tread on his footprints and every eloquent preacher availed of his utterances.
- Even then none could equal him and so the credit for being the first and foremost remained with him, because his utterances are those that carry the reflection of Divine knowledge and savour of the Prophet's utterance. Accordingly, I acceded to their request as I knew that it meant great reward, handsome reputation and a treasure of recompense.
- The object of this compilation is to bring forth Amir almu'minin's greatness and superiority in the art of rhetorics, in addition to his countless qualities and innumerable distinctions, and to show that he had risen to the highest pinnacle of this attainment; was singular among all those predecessors whose utterances are quoted here and there, whereas his own utterances are such an on-rushing stream that its flow cannot be encountered and such a treasure of delicacies that cannot be matched."
"Nahj" means "clear path". Therefore, Nahj al-balagha means the "clear path of eloquence". In the preface of the book, al-Sayyid al-Radi said:
- "Nahj al-balagha, the pathway of rhetoric would be the appropriate title of the book, in that it would open the doors of eloquence for the reader and shorten its approach for him or her, the scholar and the student would meet their needs from it and the rhetoricians as well as the recluse would find their objectives in it. In this book will be found a wonderful discussion on Allah's Oneness, Justness and His being free from body and form, that will quench every thirst (for learning), provide a cure for every malady (of unbelief) and remove every doubt."
Shaykh Muhammad 'Abduh, the previous Mufti of Egypt who is a Sunni scholar wrote in the introduction to his commentary on Nahj al-balagha that, "I do not know a name which better addresses the meaning than this name. It is not in my competence to describe this book more than what this name suggest…"
In his preface on Nahj al-balagha, al-Sayyid al-Radi writes in the categorization of topics that,
"In my view Amir al-mu'minin's utterances are divisible in three categories;
- firstly Sermons and Decrees,
- secondly Letters and Communications and
- thirdly Maxims and Counsels,
Allah willing I have decided to compile first the Sermons, then Letters, and finally the Maxims and Counsels, whilst proposing a separate Chapter for each category, leaving blank pages in between each so that if anything has been left out and becomes handy afterwards it may be inserted therein, whereas any utterance which is routine or in reply to some question or has some other aim does not fit in with any of my divisions should be included in the category for which it is most suitable or to which its subject matter is most akin.
In this compilation, some sections and sentences have crept in whose arrangement savours of disarray and disorderliness. This is because I am only collecting the most representative brilliant utterances but do not wish to arrange or array them."
He then continues, "Within this compilation, some repetition of words or subject matter are to be expected, as the utterances of Amir al-mu'minin have been known to be related in numerous forms. Sometimes it happened that a particular utterance was found in a particular form in a tradition and was taken down in that very form. There-after, the same utterance was found in some other tradition either with acceptable addition or in a more attractive style of expression. In such a case with a view to further the object of compilation and to preserve the beautiful utterance from being lost it was decided to repeat it elsewhere. It has also happened that a particular utterance had appeared earlier but due to remoteness it has been entered again. This is through omission, not by intent.
In spite of all this I do not claim that I have collected Amir al-mu'minin's utterances from all sources and that no single sentence of any type or construction has been left out. In fact I do not rule out the possibility that whatever has been left out might be more than what has been collected, and what has been in any knowledge and use is far less than what has remained beyond my reach. My task was to strive to the best of my capacity and it was Allah's part to make the way easy and guide me to the goal; Allah may will so."
Therefore, Nahj al-balagha is divided in three parts: sermons, letters and maxims. Regarding the differences between scribes in numbering these parts, there is a slight disagreement in the number of items in these parts. According to the numbering in al-Mu'jam al-mufahras li alfaz Nahj al-balagha, the number of sermons is 241, letters 79 and maxims 480. The table for comparing different versions is available at the end of the book.
Nahj al-balagha is an encyclopedia of Islamic culture covering: theology, world of angels, creation of universe, nature of human being, Ummas [people of different times], good governments and oppressing ones. But the most important point is that Imam (a) did not want to teach natural sciences, zoology or explaining philosophical or historical points. His intention behind mentioning such issues was the same as the Qur'an which preaches using any tangible or rational concept which is understandable for their audiences and take them to the destination they need to arrive at, before God the Almighty.
Where the topic is creation of sky, earth, the sun, the moon, stars and mountains, Imam 'Ali (a) teaches that what God has blessed creatures with is mere goodness, but the ungrateful human being do not do justice towards these blessings turns from God toward Satan and uses divine grace in provoking evil and making mischief. When the topic is telling the story of the people in the past, he (a) teaches people that history is the reflection of what is experienced and the past can be seen it; but who takes heed from it? See the people of the past are gone and laid in the earth; what did they do? Emulate the good they did, and avoid the evil lead them to destruction!
Throughout these counsels, he (a) sometimes looked at his companions and thought about their destiny and suddenly a pile of sadness and grief fell on his heart and that is when he (a) turned his eyes from people back to the past when at the time of the Prophet (s) and his sincere Companions, they prioritized their success in religion over worldly advantages through their beliefs in God and the Day of Resurrection. He (a) would then turn to his audience again and saw that just less than thirty years after those times, what happened that in such a short time, Muslim-like ones sat in the seat of true Muslims? People who forget God and disobeyed their Imam when this world attracted at them. Where did those go who kept their heads up and mention their honor that their relatives were martyred on the way of God? Why do these people who have gathered around me prefer comfort over being martyred on the way of religion and try to pass this religious task over to another? He (a) regarded equality and Muslims' sacrifice in the early Islam when people prioritized others over themselves and tried to keep themselves away from being attracted by worldly wealth. Now why are these people have become treasure keepers and worldly? These and tens of other points comprise the content of Imam 'Ali (a)'s sermons.
- See also: List of Sermons of Nahj al-balagha
Letters are mostly orders to rulers about: how to treat with people and how to guard people's treasure; and that how in their expenses, they observe the benefits of the society. However, the content of these letters is not the orders of the ruler of half of the world at that time to his agents; rather it is letters of a kind, old and experienced father who teaches his young children how to fight problems in their lives.
In this part of the book, a selection of wise sayings of Imam 'Ali (a) and his counsels and also the answers to his questions and his short sayings.
- Main article: List of Translations of Nahj al-balagha
Many translations have been made from Nahj al-balagha into Persian, Urdu, Turkish, English, Spanish, Germany, French and ... some of which are:
- translation and commentary in Persian by 'Alinaqi Fayd al-Islam
- translation in English by Sayyid 'Ali Rida
- translation in Urdu by Sayyid 'Ali Naqi Naqawi
- translation in Turkish by Abd al-Baqi Gulpinarli
- Main article: List of Commentaries of Nahj al-balagha
Many commentaries are written for Nahj al-balagha, many of which are now unavailable. Bibliographers have been listed many commentaries; for example, in kitabnamiyi Nahj al-balagha which mentions more than 300 works about Nahj al-balagha written in different languages and even with the author says the list is incomplete. What is mentioned here are just some important commentaries in Persian and Arabic which are available now.
- Ma'arij Nahj al-balagha by Zahir al-Din Abi l-Hasan 'Ali b. Zayd al-Biyyhaqi (d. 565 AH) by Muhammad Taqi Danish Pazhuh.
- Minhaj al-bara'a fi sharh Nahj al-balagha by Qutb al-Din al-Rawandi; researched by Aziz Allah al-'Atarudi.
- A'lam Nahj al-balagha by 'Ali b. Nasir al-Sarakhsi (6th century AH); researched by Aziz Allah al-'Atarudi
- Sharh Nahj al-balagha li Ibn Abi l-Hadidi; researched by Muhammad Abu l-Fadl Ibrahim
- Sharh Nahj al-balagha by Kamal al-Din Maytham b. 'Ali b. Maytham al-Bahrani
- Ikhtiyar misbah al-salikin: min kalam mawlana wa imamina Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) (Sharh Nahj al-balagha al-wasit), Maytham b. 'Ali b. Meytham al-Bahrani researched and written marginal notes by Muhammad Hadi al-Amini
- Minhaj al-bara'a fi sharh Nahj al-balagha by Habib Allah al-Hashimi al-Khu'i (1268 – 1324 AH)
- Bahj al-sibagha fi sharh Nahj al-balagha by Muhammad Taqi al-Tustari (1903 – 1995)
- Nukhbat al-sharhayn fi sharh Nahj al-balagha by Abd Allah Shubbar (1774 – 1826) a selection of commentaries by Ibn Meytham and Ibn Abi l-Hadid
- Nahj al-balagha, sharh Muhammad 'Abduh (1849 – 1905), researches supervised and written by Abd al-Aziz Sayyid al-Ahl
References of Nahj al-balagha
Some Sunni scholars doubted in the references of Nahj al-balagha including Ibn Khalkan (d. 681) who says that,
- "disagreements have been found among people about Nahj al-balagha, compiled of the sayings of Imam 'Ali (a)) over whether al-Sayyid al-Murtada compiled it or his brother al-Radi; they also say that they are not sayings of Imam 'Ali (a) or they belong to the one who compiled them; and God knows better."
Later, Dhahabi (d. 748 AH) says with certainty that,
- "Al-Sayyid al-Murtada is the compiler of Nahj al-balagha, the words of which are attributed to Imam 'Ali (a), May God is pleased with him, for which there is no evidence; and some of them are correct and some are false and some are correct, but may they be far from Imam saying such…; some people also say that they have been compiled by his brother al-Radi."
Similarly, Ibn Khalkan talks about people's doubt. Also after his commentary on the Shiqshiqiyya sermon, Ibn Abi l-Hadid (d. 656 AH) tells a story which has roots in such doubts among people for which Ibn Abi l-Hadid himself gives definite answers. He says,
- "In 603/1206-1207, I heard from my teacher Musaddiq b. Shabib al-Wasiti that said, 'I recited this sermon (Shiqshiqiyya sermon ) for Abd Allah b. Ahmad known as Ibn Khashab… then I told him, 'do you consider attribution of this sermon to Imam 'Ali (a) false?' He said, 'I swear to God, I believe it is his words like I know you are Musaddiq.' Then I told him, 'many people say this belongs to al-Sayyid al-Radi, God's mercy be with him.' He said, 'al-Radi or anyone else are far from this style of speech! We have seen al-Radi's treatises and we know his style in prose; he has not added anything to this, bad or good.' Then he continued, 'I swear to God, I have seen this sermon in the books written 200 years before al-Sayyid al-Radi was born and I know the handwriting of the author and I know to which of scholars or men of literature it belongs before Abu Ahmad, father of Radi, was born.'"
Ibn Abi l-Hadid continues that,
- "I have seen many of these sermons in the writings of our teacher Abu l-Qasim al-Balkhi, the leader of Mu'tazilite of Baghdad. He lived during the rule of Muqtadir before al-Radi was born. I also have seen many of them in al-Insaf, the famous work of Abu Ja'far b. Qubba, one of Imamiyya theologians. He was a student of Shaykh Abu l-Qasim al-Balkhi, May God's mercy be with him. He passed away before al-Radi was born."
In addition to above definite answers among commentaries of Nahj al-balagha, such as Ibn Abi l-Hadid's answer, many scholars have tried to write independent books about the references of all sayings of Nahj al-balagha. These references list Imam 'Ali's (a) sayings in books before al-Sayyid al-Radi and al-Sayyid al-Murtada, contemporary with them or after them and this way it has become clear that the mentioned doubts are baseless the same as doubts about the compiler of the sayings, whether it has been al-Sayyid al-Radi or al-Sayyid al-Murtada. Some works which have collected references for Nahj al-balagha are listed below:
- Istinad Nahj al-balagha by 'Alikhan 'Arshi, translation and marginal notes by Murteza Ayatullah zadih Shirazi.
- Masadir Nahj al-balagha wa asanidah by Sayyid Abd al-Zahra al-Husayni al-Khatib
Since Nahj al-balagha is just a selection of Imam 'Ali (a)'s sayings not all of them; therefore, some researchers tried to collect all of them. Such efforts are listed below:
- Tamam Nahj al-balagha mimma awradah al-Sharif al-Radi athar mawlana al-Imam Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a), researched and completed by Sadiq al-Musawi, raised to prove the authenticity of Muhammad 'Assaf's book; referenced and corrected by Farid al-Sayyid.
- Nahj al-Sa'ada fi mustadrak Nahj al-balagha, chapter of letters and correspondences written by Muhammad Baqir al-Mahmudi, corrected by Aziz Al Talib.
- Nahj al-sa'adah fi mustadrak Nahj al-balagha, chapter of sermons and sayings, written by Muhammad Baqir al-Mahmudi, corrected by Aziz Al Talib.
- Mastadrak Nahj al-balagha…, al-Hadi Kashif al-Ghita.
Effects in Arabic Literature
Arab speakers after first century AH used to read Imam 'Ali (a)'s sayings and sentences in order to enrich and decorate their speeches and avoid wrong usages so that their habit of eloquence is formed in their speeches and writings and their words are accepted by everyone. Studying sermons and treatises of Arab men of literature and poets after Islam, a researchers can see that very few of them have not benefited from Imam 'Ali (a)'s words.
Abd al-Hamid b. Yahya al-'Amiri, murdered in 132/749-750, was the scribe of Marwan b. Muhammad, the last caliph of Marwan rule. They say that writing skill [in Arabic] begins with him. He says that, "I memorized 70 sermons of Aslah ("a person whose front hair is recessed" and he meant Imam 'Ali (a)) and they flew in my mind like springs one after another."
Abu 'Uthman al-Jahiz (d. 255/868-869) was considered the leader of Arabic literature and al-Mas'udi knows him as the most eloquent early authors. After he wrote the phrase "Qimat-u Kull-u mri'in ma yuhsinuh" [the price of everything is what knows it well", he said,
- "If we had nothing from this book (he seems to refer to al-Bayan wa al-tabyin) except this sentence; we would found it a cure, enough and fulfilling the needs. We would even find it more than enough and reaching the ultimate and the best to say is that it makes the little you have needless of a lot and its apparent meaning is what was said."
He quoted some sermon of Imam 'Ali (a) in [[al-Bayan wa al-tabyin.
Before al-Sayyid al-Radi, Jahiz selected 100 sayings of Imam 'Ali (a) about which later Rashid Watwat and Ibn Maytham al-Bahrani and others wrote commentaries. He describes these sayings as, "every which of these equals a thousand sayings of most beautiful Arabic sayings." A book called Mi'at-u min amthal 'Ali (a) is mentioned among the works of Jahiz which seems to be the one he refers to.
Ibn Nubata 'Abd al-Rahim b. Muhammad b. Isma'il (d. 374/984-985) was a famous Arab speaker and man of literature. He was appointed as speaker in Aleppo at the time of Sayf al-Dawla and says,
- "I memorized a treasure of speeches, from which whatever I use, they are not decreased, and rather increase and most of what I memorized is a hundred chapters of 'Ali b. Abi Talib's (a) counsels."
Abu Ishaq Sabi
In al-Nathr al-fanni, when Zaki Mubarak talks about the style of Abu Ishaq Sabi (d. 380/990-991), he quotes a phrase of Sabi and writes, "If we compare this phrase with a similar one which al-Sharif al-Radi quotes from 'Ali (a), we see Sabi and al-Sharif al-Radi have both achieved it from the same origin."
Ibn Abi l-Hadid
About the eloquence of Imam 'Ali (a), Ibn Abi l-Hadid says,
- "He (a) was the leader of eloquent ones and the master of rhetors and about his speech, they say, 'lower than the Creator's words and above the creatures' words.' People learned [the art of] speaking and writing from him."
- The material for this article is mainly take from نهج البلاغه in Farsi Wikishia.