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Chapter 3: Ali And Nahj Al-Balaghah

The day Nahj Al-Balaghah is studied without prejudice with a vigilant mind we will become free of want from all social, moral, economic and philosophicAl-schools of thought.

Nahj Al-Balaghah, The Book Of Truth And Reality

We do not want to introduce Nahj Al-Balaghah with just these words because the champions of knowledge, philosophy and true wisdom even today are benefitting from this book and it is unknown how much more it will be understood tomorrow. Nahj Al-Balaghah is not just a book of the past or the present but it is a book of tomorrow as well. The reason being that the reality of humankind and the true nature of this world has been explained in a unique and eternal way in this book and the principles mentioned relating to human beings and the world are not limited to a certain place or time so as to become limited by the boundaries of a certain period or a certain century. Each period trains its own intellectuals and geniuses who benefit from the Nahj Al-Balaghah to the extent of their understanding and information.

What book explains the meaning of life like Nahj Al-Balaghah which spells out the aliments and remedies of life and sheds light on its reality the way it is ought to be?

Is it possible to find the truth of life and death with all its mystery in any book other than Nahj Al-Balaghah?

Can the economics, which Imam Ali has laid the foundations for in Nahj Al-Balaghah, be derived from other various schools of thought which, despite their large number, are deficient, being a construct of the limited human intellect?

Every school of economics, even though has its own merits, is not free of defects and inadequacies. While one school sacrifices human beings for the sake of economics the other considers economics futile and meaningless for humanity. A third school of thought leaves the individual with absolute freedom emptying the society of all human values while a fourth one considers society to be of primary importance and completely neglects the individual.

However, due to its adherence to the balanced religion of Islam, the Nahj Al-Balaghah does not disregard the rights of any class. It takes both the individual and the society into consideration; that is, it gives freedom to the individual to an extent that it does not harm the society and otherwise it gives priority to the society over the individual. In other words, it gives preference to the interests of the society over individual interests. The Nahj Al-Balaghah explains the principles and basis of economics formulated by Islam with such clarity that every rightful party receives his right and joins the society in a manner that all the individuals in the society become parts of one single body. If one part is harmed the other parts also feel the pain. At the same time, it keeps in mind that what one part can do and the aim it achieves differs from what other parts can do and the role they play. It also states that, despite all this, regarding human worth and value there is only one criterion, namely piety. Only one who is God-fearing and dutiful is more precious and respectable in an Islamic society.

Similarly the principles of governance that are mentioned in Nahj Al-Balaghah are superior to all the laws known to us. They contain solutions to all social problems. In addition to many fine points that others have failed to mention, every enduring and just law that has emanated from human intellect, be it specific to one place or pertaining to the whole world concerning the relation between the government and the people, can be found in the letter that Imam Ali (‘a) wrote to Malik ibn Ashtar which is documented in Nahj Al-Balaghah.1

What adds to the amazement is the ability of Nahj Al-Balaghah to explain different ideas in an attractive manner as if they are one single cohesive idea. When it explains a certain metaphysical issue, no conflict or contradiction between the understanding of the heart and the intellect can be perceived in the issue. This is despite the fact that in philosophical texts when the author desires to analyze a certain idea he is incapable of using an approach that appeals both to the heart and the intellect at the same time and issues related to the spiritual illumination (the heart) and intellectual understanding (the intellect) are always separated from one other because the source of these two differs from each other in the human soul.

The most outstanding feature of this book is that while explaining every sublime reality about human beings and the world which is of importance to humanity, it employs a method that elucidates in such a way that a better explanation for that subject cannot be imagined. For example, regarding asceticism and piety it is as if the orator had not been occupied with any activity other than these since his birth and as if he had never lived in this world full of corruption. On the other hand, when it introduces the human society it appears as if his only occupation was study of people and the society. One by one it explains the different essential elements of a society and points out its aliments and cures as if he himself were the society. And similarly regarding the preparations, the consequences and the techniques of war it makes us think that this man was born in the battlefield and left this world amidst the turmoil of war.

When the Nahj Al-Balaghah explains the unfaithful nature of this world and its contradictory experiences, we are forced to think that Hadhrat Ali (‘a) constantly lived in the company of the people since the beginning of time and had watched over every detail of every small and large event of the people’s lives from beginning to end. At another place where he explains the principles of governance to Malik ibn Ashtar, it appears as if he was the leader in charge of the management of the affairs of society since its formation. Even today in this age, which is known as the age of civilization, it would be possible to correct the society if we were to seek help from the directives of governance present in Nahj Al-Balagha.

From yet another aspect, if we look at the similes and metaphors used to explain subtle meanings, it seems as if the entire life of this person was spent in the field of literature, and at the places where in his sermons he speaks about the lofty themes of Monotheism all the things said by philosophers on monotheism appear like a few simple words.

In summary, when explaining the personality of Imam Ali (‘a) we encounter the loftiest human qualities which seemingly cannot be unified in one person at the same time. The Nahj Al-Balaghah is the book of Ali (‘a) that, like its author, is a complete book in terms of the individual and social aspects covered in it.

Some Objections To Nahj Al-Balaghah

Another important point regarding Nahj Al-Balaghah which should be considered is that some people who are either uninformed or biased and spiteful have imagined that Nahj Al-Balaghah is a fabrication of its compiler, Syed Sharif Radhi, and that only a small part of the book is the actual words of Ali (‘a). The first of those who raised this baseless objection was Ibn Khalkan2 and later on some others followed his lead.

Firstly, the knowledge, wisdom and literary capabilities of Syed Radhi are accessible to us. We can know him best through his poetical works. Even though he can be considered amongst the best of the poets and literary men, he was not a man of comprehensive wisdom in social sciences, economics and ethics, etc. In other words, even the simplest of the sermons of Ali (‘a) concerning wisdom, society or other issues is not in consonance with Syed Radhi’s intellectual level.

Secondly, the sermons and the letters of Imam Ali (‘a) that are present in the Nahj Al-Balaghah which is in our hands today were recorded in other books even before the birth of Syed Radhi. This baseless objection is a product of ignorance and prejudiced malevolence and this book is not a fabrication of Syed Radhi.

Thirdly, from the time of Ali ibn Abi Talib (‘a) until the time of Syed Radhi, or rather even until our own time, who can explain various realities with such eloquence and consistency of style? Sermons and letters of the pre- Islamic and post-Islamic periods are within our reach. Hundreds of books have been written on these topics up until today. They are available to us for reading. Can the style of Nahj Al-Balaghah be found in any of them?

Some have attributed the well-known sermon entitled ‘This world is a passage while the next world is the place of permanent abode’3 to Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan. This attribution is utterly astonishing and in the words of Jahiz, ‘When did Mu’awiyah find time out from his immersion into worldly desires and love of power and sensuality that he could utter these words?!’4 If you refer to the above mentioned book (from whose words Syed Radhi also has quoted) you will see this matter mentioned there and will be convinced that Mu’awiyah was far too base to utter such eloquent other-worldly words.

Fourthly, fabrication and false attribution of a text to someone is far from the religious personality of Syed Radhi and is distant from a person of his stature.

However, some people—for the sake of proving their false imitated beliefs—have not only not restrained themselves from calling a just person a transgressor but are even ready to call great Muslims like Abu Talib and Abu Dharr disbelievers!!—in order remove these glorious personalities of Islam from around Ali (‘a); therefore, it does not really matter for such people that they accuse Syed Radhi of being a liar.

Lastly, if Nahj Al-Balaghah is a fabrication of Syed Radhi then how can we explain the following expressions that are present in Nahj Al-Balaghah? For example, after mentioning a certain sermon Syed Radhi says, ‘We have quoted this sermon before but because of the difference in the narrations we mention it again.’ He also says, ‘This sentence has occurred in a preceding sermon differently; therefore, we state it here again due to the difference in the narrations.

The Motives Behind These Objections

Two main reasons have been mentioned to explain why some people have denied that Nahj Al-Balaghah is a collection of words of Ali (‘a):

1. The first thing that is shown by the supporters of Ali (‘a) as evidence to prove his superiority is Nahj Al-Balagha. They say, ‘If others also had reached the status of Ali (‘a) we would have at least one-third or one-fourth of something similar to Nahj Al-Balaghah attributed to them.’ Or in other words, Ali has Nahj Al-Balagha, what do others have?!

2. At numerous places in Nahj Al-Balaghah Ali (‘a) has clearly expressed his displeasure with his predecessors and this matter indicates the people’s failure to heed and abide by the words and recommendations of the Prophet (S) about Ali (‘a).

Certainly, remedying one’s ideas and beliefs and conducting an impartial inquiry into them based on indisputable historical accounts is better than making efforts to create doubt about historical facts.

The best evidence that is available to us for proving that Nahj Al-Balaghah consists of the words of Ali is that that no one has ever heard or, rather, it is impossible that someone can make a such a claim that none of the sermons and letters present in Nahj Al-Balaghah have originated from Ali (‘a). All the narrators and historians both Shi’a and Sunni have consensus that at the very least a portion of Nahj Al-Balaghah without any doubt originates from Imam Ali (‘a). If someone accepts this proposition (I do not think that anyone would deny this fact unless such a person is completely unaware of Islamic principles and narrations) then he will be forced to accept that all of its contents are from Imam Ali (‘a). Because even a person who is to some extent familiar with Arabic literature would testify to the fact that the entire subject-matter of Nahj Al-Balaghah has a particular distinctive manner and style and hence this book must have originated from one person. Truly if this great book was in need of affirmation of these prejudiced and spiteful people, it would have preferred to stay in seclusion and would have chosen to remain unknown!

  • 1. Nahj Al-Balagha, Letter No. 53, vol. 2.
  • 2. Ibn Khalkan – Ahmed Al-Barmaki (1282-1211 AH) He was born in Urbil. He studied in Halab, Syria and Qaherah. He served as supreme judge. He is writer of the book ‘Wafayaat ul ‘Aayaan wa Anbaa uz Zamaan’.
  • 3. Nahj Al-Balagha, Sermon 203; vol. 2, page 138.
  • 4. Jahiz, Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. 2, page 271,272