Al-Ashbah Sermon

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Al-Ashbah Sermon
SubjectAttributes of God, description of the sky, angels and creation of earth
Issued byImam Ali (a)
Validity of the chain of transmissionReliable
Shi'a sourcesAl-TawhidNahj al-balagha
Sunni sourcesRabi' al-abrar • Al-Nihaya fi gharib al-hadith wa l-athar

The number of Al-Ashbah Sermon in different versions of Nahj al-balagha
Version's name Sermon's number
Al-Mu'jam al- Mufahras, Subhi Salih 91
Fayd al-Islam, Sharh Khu'i, Mulla Salih, Ibn Abi al-hadid 90
Ibn Miytham 88
'Abduh 87
Mulla Fath Allah 97
Fi Zalal 89

Al-Ashbāḥ sermon (Arabic: خطبة الأشباح) (the Sermon of Skeletons) is one of the longest sermons of Nahj al-balagha in which many different issues are addressed. Some of discussed issues are attributes of Allah and that he is not limited in time and place, His attributes and names are Tawqifi (prohibition of calling him with man-made names and attributes) , perfection of creation, description of the sky, angels and creation of earth.

In terms of literary beauty, this sermon includes a lot of impressive metaphors and metonyms to the point that Ibn Abi al-Hadid says it's fair to give the lecturer upper hand over others solely because of those figures of speech.


Shabah (singular of Ashbah) means an unclear thing or person that can be seen from far and in the sermon Imam 'Ali (a) described creation of the sky, earth, angels and Adam (a) within the scope of the listener's understanding therefore it was known as "Ashbah".


A selected part of the sermon

O My God! you deserve handsome description and the highest esteem. If wish is directed towards you, you are the best to be wished for. If hope is reposed in you, you are the Most Honored to be hoped from. O My God! You has bestowed on me such power that I do not praise anyone other than you, and I do not eulogize any one except you. I do not direct my praise towards others who are sources of disappointment and centers of misgivings. You have kept away my tongue from the praises of human beings and eulogies of the created and the sustained. O My God! Every praiser has on whom he praises the right of reward and recompense. Certainly, I have turned to you with my eye at the treasures of your Mercy and stores of forgiveness.

Al-Sayyid al-Radi (the compiler of Nahj al-balagha) used to select unique and eloquent parts of every sermon of Imam 'Ali (a) and leave the others, nevertheless Khutba al-Ashbah is a very long and comprehensive sermon.

Imam 'Ali (a) applied metonymy and different metaphors in almost every sentence of the sermon.

Following are some of the discussed issues in the sermon:

  • Attributes of Allah and that he is not limited in time nor place, and we have to be confined to those of His attributes which the Qur'an had described or those which there is a trace of it in the tradition (actions and sayings) of the Prophet (s) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and that the realities of His attributes cannot be comprehended by human mind.
  • Interpretation of al-Rasikhun (who are firm) in knowledge
  • Whatever He has created is an argument in His favor and a guide towards Him even if they are silent.
  • Rejection of likening Allah to the things created.
  • Every thing reaches the end of its aim. (purposefulness of creation)
  • Perfection in Allah's creation (the firmness of his creation)
  • Description of the sky and how it was created
  • Description of angels
  • Description of earth and how it was created
  • Creation of man (prophet Adam (a))
  • Ordainment of livelihoods justly with plenty and paucity to test the gratefulness or endurance of the rich and the poor
  • Description of Allah's knowledge and his omniscience
  • An ending by Du'a and requesting Allah's satisfaction and being free from stretching hands to anyone other than him.

Literary Value

As a Sunni scholar, Ibn Abi al-Hadid says in his commentary on Nahj al-balagha that:

This Part of Imam 'Ali's speech contains such impressive metaphors that if they were within works of a prolific writer or poet, it was enough to have advantage over others. It's ironic that some literates who identify a paragon of speech by these rich figures of speech as two of which in 100 pages are enough to call it masterpiece, they are dogmatically silent when they read this sermon containing the most elegant wording and beautiful language and precise meaning and finest design, and of course some even would go as far as favoring speech of others due to their prejudice.


This article is an introduction to the al-Ashbah Sermon; to read its text see text:al-Ashbah Sermon.