Many hear of the great text of ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ʿa), Nahj al-Balāghah, or Peak of Eloquence, but do not know much about it or its origins. Let’s take a look and see what this great book is all about by reviewing the compilation process of Nahj al-Balāghah, the compiler, and what some famous scholars have said about it.
The compiler of Nahj al-Balāghah, Sayyid Sharif al-Radi, was born in Baghdad in the year 359 A.H. He was trained along with his brother Sayyid Murtada by the great Shīʿah theologian Shaykh al-Mufid. Sayyid al-Radi was a great student and considered to be a prodigy by his teachers. Sayyid al-Radi died between 45 to 47 years of age, but throughout his life, he accomplished many things, such as writing approximately 40 books on various religious sciences.
One of the great works of Sayyid al-Radi is the compilation of the book Nahj al-Balāghah, completed in the year 400 A.H. This book is a compilation of sayings of the first Imām (ʿa), Amīr ul-Muʾminīn ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ʿa), comprised of 239 sermons, 79 letters, and 489 sayings of the Imām (ʿa). These do not encompass all of the Imām’s sermons, but were the ones that Sayyid al-Radi was able to gather in While traveling across the Arabian Peninsula to collect and preserve Imām ʿAlī’s (ʿa) sermons, letters, and sayings, Sayyid al-Radi would often spend 18 hours a day working on the compilation.
Nahj al-Balāghah is truly a masterpiece of Arabic literature and rhetoric. Many people, even from other sects of Islam, including eleven famous commentators from the Ahl ul-Sunnah, and some from amongst the Christians, have written about the beauty of this book. The late Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Muhammed Abduhu (1323 A.H.), a renowned Sunnī scholar, wrote a commentary on Nahj al-Balāghah. He said in his introduction, “Everyone who fully understands the Arabic language must agree that the sermons and sayings of ʿAlī (ʿa) are next only to the words of God and His Prophet (ṣ). ʿAlī’s (ʿa) words are so full of meaning and they convey such great ideas that this book should be carefully studied, referred [to] and quoted by students as well as teachers.” He also persuaded the universities of Cairo and Beirut to include Nahj al-Balāghah in their courses for advanced studies of literature and philosophy. The famous Christian author and poet Polos Salamah, in his book Awallay Mulhamah Arabia, states “The famous book Nahj al-Balāghah is the work which makes one realize the great mind of ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ʿa). No book can surpass it, but the Qurʾān. In it, you will find pearls of knowledge strung in beautiful chains, flowers of language making one’s mind fragrant with the sweet and pleasing smell of heroism and nobility, and streams of chaste language sweeter and cooler than the famous stream of Kawthar flowing constantly and refreshing the minds of the readers.”
The text of Nahj al-Balāghah covers many topics, including the Imām’s (ʿa) thoughts on historical events of that time. The reader would benefit greatly from these speeches, particularly those on historical events, but would also need to study and read Islamic history alongside the text to comprehend fully the references being made. Some of the many topics covered in the Imām’s (ʿa) sermons, letters, and sayings are the origin of creation, mankind’s purpose and accountability, the justice of God, the status of the Noble Prophet (ṣ) and his family (ʿa), theological issues, supplications, the reality of this world, the hereafter, the Noble Qurʾān, morality and ethics, critiques of society, and repentance, to name a few.
One of the beauties of this work is that no matter how much time has elapsed, over 1,000 years, it still remains beneficial to people in this day and age. May God give us the divine privilege to study and benefit from this jewel of Islamic wisdom we have from our master Imām ʿAlī, Amīr ul-Muʾminīn (ʿa).
Would you like a copy of Nahj al-Balāghah? To request a free one, write to the ʿālim (Islamic scholar) on page 16 of the Sirat magazine. Do not forget to include your full name, inmate number, and return address on either your letter or the envelope.
Nahj al-Balāghah translated by Sayed Ali Reza, Introduction, P. 7
Nahj al-Balāghah translated by Sayed Ali Reza, Introduction, P. 8