Does Nahj Al-Balaghah Belong to al-Sharif al-Radi or to Imam Ali?

Nahj al-Balaghah (The Peak of Eloquence) is a collection of the words, sermons, counsels, letters and wise sayings of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace), which Sayyid al-Sharif al-Radi1 (may God sanctify his pure soul) selected and chose.

Who is the First to Collect Imam ‘Ali’s Sermons?

Al-Sharif al-Radi was not the first to collect some of the sermons of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace), or rather, there were other to precede him by tens of years and hasten to collect his words.

Afterwards, the recording of the sermons and words of the Imam (upon whom be peace) proceeded until the role of al-Sharif al-Radi came in the second half of the fourth century AH, so he collected only that which he selected from among his words and sayings, but not all of them.

Further, he only made mention of a part of each sermon, and did not cite it in its entirety.

How Did al-Sharif al-Radi Collect the Imam’s Sermons?

In collecting the sermons and words of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace), al-Sharif al-Radi made use of the numerous books at his disposal at that time. For Baghdad abounded with unique public and individual libraries, one of which was the library of his brother, the eminent scholar Sayyid al-Murtada, known as ‘Alam al-Huda, that included eighty thousand volumes.

With regard to the abundance of the books in Baghdad at that period, Yaqut al-Hamawi in his book Mu‘jam al-Buldan thus states: No other library in the world comprised so many and so excellent books. They were all written with the beautiful handwritings of the Imams of calligraphy and according to their proper standards. Oh, what a pity! The hands of the perpetrators have eradicated those unique jewels in 447 AH.[1]

Nevertheless, had al-Sharif al-Radi not collected that which he selected from among the sermons and words of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) in Nahj al-Balaghah, we would have been definitely deprived thereof as well.

In addition, we should not forget the role of the enemies of ‘Ali (upon whom be peace) in obliterating a great number of the books and sources which were filled with the virtues and merits of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace). Ibn Abi al-Hadid al-Mu‘tazili says: You have come to know that the Umayyads … strove in every way possible to extinguish his[‘Ali’] light, distort his true image, fabricate defects and blemishes against him … and held back from reporting any tradition including his good qualities… .[2]

Who Took Precedence in Collecting the Imam’s Words?

Below are a number of those who took precedence over al-Sharif al-Radi in collecting the sermons and words of Imam ‘Ali (upon whom be peace), as mentioned by the great scholar Agha Buzurg al-Tahrani:

1. Zayd ibn Wahab al-Juhani, who took part in the Battle of Siffin. He is the first to collect the sermons of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) during his lifetime.[3]


2. Isma‘il ibn Mihran, whose composition is known as the Book of Sermons.[4]

Imam ‘Ali: The Mine of Eloquence and Fluency

It may be said that the sermons, letters and words found in Nahj al-Balaghah belong to al-Sharif al-Radi. However, these words are baseless and unsubstantiated. For the level of the speech of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) differ categorically from that of al-Sharif al-Radi in form and content. Moreover al-Sharif al-Radi himself wrote a preface wherein he referred to the greatness of the words of Imam ‘Ali (upon whom be peace) and to his aim of collecting his saying in Nahj al-Balaghah.

The Scholars’ Remarks on Imam ‘Ali’s Eloquence

1. Al-Sharif al-Radi said: The commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) was the mine and repository of eloquence and the source and originator of fluency.[5]

2. Jibran Khalil Jibran said: Surely ‘Ali is one of the great masters of thought, spirit and eloquence in every time and place.[6]

The complimentary remarks and words of the scholars and men of knowledge concerning the eloquence of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) are too numerous to write them down in this brief review. Here are two samples picked up from among the words of the masters of literature in this connection.

The Words of Men Knowledge on Nahj al-Balaghah

1. Ayatollah Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin said: Surely Nahj al-Balaghah notwithstanding the sound chains of transmission and the majesty, veracity and reliability of its compiler, does not stand in need of any evidence for the validity of its ascription to the Imam of eloquence and fluency… .[7]

2. Ayatollah Shaykh Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah said: Surely every word from among the words of Nahj al-Balaghah reflects clearly the spirit, knowledge and greatness of the Imam in respect to his faith and all the attributes of majesty and perfection. If Nahj al-Balaghah were not to bear the name of the Imam, then a knower of his biography and his character came to read it, he would not waver about saying that it is definitely the speech of the Imam from beginning to end.[8]

Skeptical Remarks about the Chain of Transmission of Nahj al-Balaghah and its Ascription to Imam ‘Ali.

It is more appropriate to leave the assessment of the skeptical attitude in relation to the transmission of Nahj al-Balaghah or its ascription to the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) to the following great scholars:

1. Ayatollah Shaykh Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah said: The enemies of Muhammad (upon whom) and deniers of his divine mission and prophecy used to say that the Qur’an is of his fabrication, but not of the revelation of the Creator, in the same way that the enemies of ‘Ali (upon whom be peace) and deniers of his Imamate and his friendship used to say that Nahj al-Balaghah – all or most of it-is of the composition of al-Sharif al-Radi, but not of the words of the Imam.[9]

He also said: If Nahj al-Balaghah were to be ascribed to Mu‘awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan ,it would be true and real (from your perspective), and Abu Yazid would be the primary source of philosophy and Islamic civilization ; but it was ascribed to the Imam of the Godwary, the beloved of the believers, the enemy of the hypocrites, so it became an object of uncertainty and skepticism.[10]

2. Ayatollah Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin said: Nahj al-Balaghah is not a reference source for divine-law ruling so we may look for its chains of transmission and refer it back to ‘Ali (upon whom be peace), or rather ,it is a selection from his words on counsel, advice, and different sorts of goals necessary for the public speakers and preachers. The goal of its compiler was nothing but to collect a part of the words in the sphere of eloquence and fluency, in the same way that others had collected the words of the eloquent and the skillful in literary language … with or without a chain of transmission.

However, we have not seen you raising objection to anyone’s transmission of a sermon or speech devoid of the chain of transmission but to Nahj al-Balaghah, … even though its main contents are related with chains of transmission in the well-known current books.[11]

Moreover, there are several books composed by great scholars and men of letters to corroborate the availability of the sermons, letters and wise sayings recorded in Nahj al-Balaghah prior to the date of birth of al-Sharif al-Radi. Here are a number of them:

1. Takmilat Minhaj al-Bara‘ah fi Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, by Ayatollah Shaykh Hasan Zadah Amuli, in five volumes.

2. Masadir Nahj al-Balaghah, by the scholar Sayyid ‘Abd al-Zahra al-Hasani.

3. Asnad Nahj al-Balaghah, by Shaykh ‘Abd Allah Ni‘mah.

The Supplements to Nahj al-Balaghah

The words, sermons, letters and short sayings of the Commander of the Faithful (upon whom be peace) is by far more than that which al-Sharif al-Radi collected, as stated earlier. In light of this, a number of scholars undertook to collect the main contents of the words of Imam ‘Ali (upon whom be peace),to the exclusion of Nahj al-Balaghah. Below are the titles of a number of them:

1. Al-Mustadrak, by Shaykh Hadi Kashif al-Ghita’.

2. Nahj al-Sa‘adah fi Mustadrakat Nahj al-Balaghah, by Shaykh Baqir al-Mahmudi. So far several volumes have been published thereof.


Collection & Translation by

1. See Shaykh Agha Buzurg al-Tahrani, al-Dhari ‘ah ila Tasanif al-Shi‘ah, vol.7, p.192.

2. Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, vol.1, pp17 and 29.

3. Al-Dhari ‘ah ila Tasanif al-Shi‘ah, vol.7, p.192.

4. Ibid, vol2, p.193, as reported from al-Manaqib by Ibn Shar Ashub.

5. Refer to the introduction to Nahj al-Balaghah .

6. Al-Imam ‘Ali Sawt al-‘Adalah al-Insaniyyah, vol.5, p.1213.

9. A ‘yan al-Shi‘ah, vol.1, p.79.

10. See Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah, Fada’il al-Imam ‘Ali, p.72.

9. Ibid, p.71.

10. Ibid.,p.74.

11. A ‘yan al-Shi‘ah, vol.1,p.79.