Nahj al-Balagha (Arabic: نهج البلاغة) (the Peak of Eloquence) is a collection of sayings and writings attributed to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه). It is a highly revered Twelver Shia book often referred to by Shia ‘Ayatollahs’ as the brother of the Qur’an (then they have the audacity to claim that Sunnis exaggerate with Sahih Bukhari who nobody dares to compare to the Qur’an).
Farid Al-Bahraini, co-founder of TwelverShia.net and Sunni Discourse and author of numerous articles and the book ‘The Martyrdom Of Al-Husayn In Light Of The Authentic Traditions‘ and founder of GhadirKhumm.com and – very much relevant to our topic at hand – author of Nahjul-Balagha.net has already done a tremendous job by examining the authenticity of Nahj al-Balagh, thus I’d like to start my take on Nahj al-Balagha with quotes from his website:
The authenticity of Nahj al-Balagha
Many gullible Shia literally believe that Nahj al-Balāgha was written by ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه) himself, the truth is that it was written in the late 4th/10th century i.e. over 350 years after ‘Ali (1th/7th century) passed away by a fallible man (who unlike Imam Bukhari did not provide authentic chains of transmissions) called Abū l-Ḥasan Muḥammad b. al-Ḥusayn al-Mūsawī (Arabic: أبوالحسن محمد بن الحسین الموسوي) (b. 359/970 – d. 406/1015) known as al-Sharīf al-Raḍī (Arabic: الشريف الرضي), a student of al-Mufid. Like many Rafidah he was heavily influenced by the Mu’tazilah, some of them were among his teachers.
Reliability of Nahjul Balagha
Even though it is commonly accepted by Shias that the contents of Nahjul Balagha are authentically attributed to Ali bin Abi Talib, objective research proves that this understanding is simply nonacademic and untrue.
Al-Shareef Al-Radhi (d. 406 AH) passed away in the fifth century and compiled the sermons and letters in the year 400 AH. Al-Radhi collected what was available to him from sources that were available to him that were attributed to Ali. However, since Al-Radhi came a few centuries too late, the only way to accept all the sermons and letters that he collected is by giving the compiler our complete blind trust. This is because Al-Radhi never provided his sources, which makes the attribution of all the texts to Ali bin Abi Talib questionable.
Method of Determining Reliability
Not surprisingly, the scholars of Islam did not give this blind trust to any compiler of narrations, but rather the Isnad system was formed to prevent forgeries, mistakes, and false attributions. It was through the Isnad system that Sunni books like Al-Bukhari’s and Muslim’s compilation had become canonized texts for the Sunni school. Similarly, it was through the Isnad system that Shias canonized their four books: Al-Kafi, Man La Yahtharhu Al-Faqeeh, Tahtheeb Al-Ahkam, and Al-Istibsar.
The Isnad system is a system in which compilers of narrations would provide the names of their teachers that have heard the report up until the eye-witnesses themselves. The main criteria for accepting a narration as authentic is the reliability of all the narrators and the connection of the chain of narrators. If the main reporter is not an eye-witness of the event, the narration would be rejected. If the chain included a narrator whose reliability was unknown, the narration would be rejected.
For example, a narration by Mohammad bin Sireen (d. 110 AH), who is known as the Imam of the Tabi’een, would be rejected if he narrated directly from the Prophet – peace be upon him –, for Mohammad bin Sireen was born during the caliphate of Uthman, which makes him a few decades too young to have been an eye-witness of any prophetic narrations.
So the rejection of Nahj al-Balāgha as an authentic collection of statements of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه) does not reflect an anti-‘Alid/Ahlul-Bayt position that some Shias want us to believe. How is that even possible if the very Sunnis have filled their Sihah and Sunan Hadith books with chapters that are filled with reports about the virtues and merits of the Ahlul-Bayt (that unknown to many are found in all major Sunni Hadith books).
By referring to the words of the scholars concerning this book and comparing its contents with what has been proven with authentic chains of transmission from ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه), it becomes clear that there is material in this book that contradicts what was proven from him. So we should look at what some of these great scholars have said:
Al-Dhahabi comments on Nahl al-Balagha and its author (al-Sharif al-Radhi):
‘Al-Husayni al-Sharif, the Mutakallim, and Rafidi…He is the one accused of fabricating the book Nahj al-Balagha, he strongly takes part in the sciences. The one who reads Nahj al-Balagha would be certain that it is a lie attributed to the Commander of the Faithful, Ali Ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه). In it, the two masters, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (رضي الله عنهما), are brazenly insulted and degraded, and in it are the contradictions and the un-eloquent expressions, and in it are words that anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the speech of the companions from Quraysh and the style of those who followed them from the late ones will know with certainty that most of the book is based on falsehood.’ (Mizan al-I’tidal, pg. 124, by al-Dhahabi)
Similarly, in his Siyar A’lam al-Nubala` Imam al-Dhahabi states:
I said, he was the compiler of the book Nahj al-Balagha which is attributed to Imam ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه), but the reports contained therein have are no chains of transmission. Some of it is false and some of it is true, but it contains some fabricated reports of things that the Imam would never have said. But who is the fair-minded man who would look at it in an objective manner?! It was said that it was compiled by his brother Sharif al-Radi. It includes slander against the companions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ); we seek refuge with Allah from the knowledge that is of no benefit.
Siyar A’lam al-Nubala1, 17/589
Muhibb al-Deen al-Khateeb said when commenting on al-Muntaqa min Minhaj al-Sunnah:
وهذان الأخوان تطوعا للزيادة على خطب أمير سيدنا علي بكل ما هو طارئ عليها وغريب منها ؛ من التعريض بإخوانه الصحابة ، وهو بريء عند الله عز وجل من كل ذلك ، وسيبرأ إليه من مقترفي هذا الإثم
‘These two brothers (al-Sharif al-Radi and al-Sharif al-Murtadha) voluntarily added many strange things to the sermons of al-Ameer Syyiduna `Ali the Commander of the Faithful, Ali Ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه), such as attacking his brothers from among the companions, and he is innocent in the sight of Allah from it all, and he will disown the liars.’
Also, we read:
قال ياقوت الحموي في تاريخ الأدباء: نقلت من خط عبد الرحيم بن النفيس بن وهْبان قال: نقلت من خط أبي بكر محمد بن منصور السمعاني: سمعت المبارك بن عبد الجبار الصيرفي: سمعت أبا القاسم بن بَرهان يقول: دخلتُ على الشريف المرتضى في مرضه، فإذا قد حُوَّل إلى الحائط، فسمعته يقول: أبو بكر وعمر وليا فعدلا، واستُرحما فرحما، أفأنا أقول ارتدّا بعد أن أسلما قال: فقمت وخرجت، فما بلغت عَتَبة الباب حتى سمعت الزَّعقة عليه
‘Yaqout al-Hamawi said in Tareekh al-Udaba’: I copied from the writing of `Abdul-Hameed bin al-Nafees bin Wahban that he said: I copied from the writing of Abi Bakr Muhammad bin Mansour al-Sam`ani: I heard al-Mubarak bin `Abdul-Jabbar al-Sayrafi: I heard Abu al-Qasim bin Burhan say: I entered on al-Sharif al-Murtadda in his sickness, and he was facing the wall, saying: “Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, they ruled and were just, they were asked for mercy and offered it… Yet I say they apostatised after they accepted Islam?” So I got up and left him, and when I reached the door I heard him die.]
The Hanafi Imam al-Husayn bin al-Khidr debated al-Sharif al-Murtadha and defeated him easily as stated in ‘Tabaqat al-Hanafiyyah’:
وقد ناظر مرة الشريف المرتضى، شيخ الشيعة، وقطعه، في حديث ” ما تركنا صدقة ” ، وقال للمرتضى: إذا جعلت ” ما ” نافية خلا الحديث من فائدة، فإن كل أحد لا يخفى عليه أن الميت يرثه أقرباؤه، ولا تكون تركته صدقته، ولكن لما كان الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلم بخلاف المسلمين، بين ذلك، فقال: ” ما تركنا صدقة ” .
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah says:
“Most of the khutab (sermons) that the author of Nahj al-Balagha includes in his book are lies against ‘Ali. ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه) is too noble and too worthy to have uttered such words. But these people fabricated lies and thought that they were praise, but they are neither truth nor praise. Whoever says that the words of ‘Ali or any other human being are above the words of any other created being is mistaken, for the words of the Prophet (ﷺ) are above his words, and both of them are created beings. Moreover, the correct meanings that are to be found in the words of ‘Ali are to be found in the words of others, but the author of Nahj al-Balagha and his ilk took many of the things that people say and made them the words of ‘Ali. There are some words narrated from ‘Ali that he did say, and some of them are true words that would have been befitting for him to say, but in fact, they are the words of others. Hence in Kalam al-Bayan wa’l-Tabyeen by al-Hafiz and in other books there are words narrated from people other than ‘Ali and the author of Nahj al-Balagha attributed them to ‘Ali. If these sermons which were transmitted in Nahj al-Balagha were really spoken by ‘Ali, they would have been found in other books that existed before this book was written, and they would have been narrated from ‘Ali with chains of transmission (isnad) and otherwise. It is known from those who are well versed in the study of narrations that many of them (these sermons) – indeed most of them – were unknown before this, therefore it may be concluded that they are fabrications. So the narrator should state in which book they are mentioned, who narrated it from ‘Ali, and what its isnad is. Otherwise, anybody could say something and claim that it was said by ‘Ali. Those who are well-versed in the knowledge of the hadeeth scholars and of reports and isnads and are able to tell what is sound and what is not sound would know that these people who transmitted reports from ‘Ali are the least likely people to know about reports and be able to distinguish the sound from the unsound.
Manhaj al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah, 8/55.
Other scholars who pointed out the lies in this book were al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi, in al-Jami’ li Akhlaq al-Rawi wa Adab al-Sami’, 2.161; al-Qadi Ibn Khalkan; al-Safadi, and others. The things that have been said against it may be summarised in the following points:
1.There are seven generations of narrators between Ali (رضي الله عنه) and the author of this book, and he did not mention any name whatsoever. Hence we cannot accept his words without an isnad.
2.If these narrators are mentioned, it is essential to research them and find out whether they are trustworthy.
3.The fact that most of these sermons did not exist before this book was written indicates that they were fabricated.
4.Al-Murtada – the author of the book – was not one of the scholars of reports, rather he was one of those whose religious commitment and competence was debatable.
5.The slander that it contains against the leading Sahabah is sufficient to count it as false.
6.The insults and slander that it contains are not the characteristics of the believers, let alone their leaders such as ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه).
7. It contains contradictions and clumsy expressions from which it may be known for certain that it was not produced by one who was prominent in eloquence and fluency.
8. The fact that the Rafidah accept it and are certain that it is as true as the Qur’an, despite all these objections, indicates that they do not pay attention to verifying sources and ensuring that they are sound with regard to the matters of their religion.
Based on the above, it is clear that this book cannot be attributed to ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه), therefore nothing in it can be used as evidence in matters of Shari’ah, no matter what the issue is. But whoever reads it in order to find out what it contains of eloquence, the ruling is the same as that on all other books on the Arabic language, without attributing its contents to Ameer al-Mu’mineen ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه).
See Kutub hadhdhara minha al-‘Ulama’, 2/250
‘Some Sunni scholars revered Nahj al-Balagha and even wrote entire commentaries on it’
First of all, the most famous commentary on Nahj al-Balagha was written by ʿIzz al-Dīn Abū Ḥāmid ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd b. Hibat Allāh (586-after 650/ 1191-1253) (Arabic:عِزّالدین ابوحامد عبدالحمید بن هبةالله) known as Ibn Abi l-Ḥadīd, a seventh/thirteenth-century Mu’tazili scholar.
The Rafidah (whenever it suits them best) often try to sell Mu’tazili scholars as Sunni scholars, this stems either from their evil intentions or ignorance or both, for the Mu’tazilah are a separate group that are rejected and condemned as heretics by all Sunnis.
The most notable commentator who revered the Rafidi book Nahj al-Balagha was in fact not just a Mu’tazili, but one with strong Shi’i-Rafidi inclinations who conspired with other Rafidis against the Muslims.
Muḥammad b. Ḥasan al-Jahrūdī al-Tūsī (Arabic: محمد بن حسن الجهرودي الطوسي) (b. 597/1201 – d. 672/1274), known famously as Nasir al-Din al-Tusi or Khwaja Nasir (Farsi: خواجه نصیر), is one of the most influential figures in the history of Twelver Shi’ism among his students were Ibn Mutahhar al-Hilli (who was devastatingly refuted by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah in his Minhaj al-Sunnah). He was from Tus, Khorasan (today in modern-day Iran), however, he was not a native of those lands as back then the vast majority (before the Twelver Shia Safavid onslaught on Sunni Persia) of the people in Iran were Sunnis (except in some regions like Qom). He was originally from Jahrud near Qom in a district called “Veshareh”.
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was assisted in this great treachery by two of his cohorts, Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-‘Alqami, a Rafidi minister of state, and the aforementioned Ibn Abi l-Ḥadīd. Ibn Abi l-Ḥadīd He was al-‘Alqami’s right-hand man and proved to be a bitter enemy of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), as is evident from his malicious commentary on the book Nahj al-Balagha, which he filled with lies in order to distort Islamic history (with some positive remarks about the Sahabah as well that the Rafidah reject of course).
Unfortunately, a number of our distinguished figures and authors continue to be deceived by such lies due to their ignorance of the essential facts of Islamic history. Al-‘Alqami responded to Caliph Al-Musta’sim’s kindness and generosity in making him his minister, with deception and treachery.
He composed poetry in praise of Al-Musta’sim, the Abbasid Caliph, then in 65 A.H. executed a complete turn about, instigating revolution against his patron, thereby hastening the catastrophe which befell Islam in Baghdad, where he headed the butcher Hulago’s blood-letting procession. In fact, he personally supervised the slaughter of Muslims, sparing none, not even women, children, or the aged. This same al-Tusi also approved of wholesale dumping of valuable texts of Islamic literature in the Tigris River; its waters ran black for days from the ink of the innumerable manuscripts. Thus vanished a great treasure of the Islamic heritage consisting of works in history, literature, language, and poetry, not to mention those in the Islamic religious sciences, which had been passed down from the pious of the first generation of Muslims, and which could be found in abundance until that time when they were destroyed in a cultural holocaust the like of which had never been seen before.
Anyone who wishes can read about the life of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi in any Shi’ite book of biographies, the latest of which is written by al-Khuwansari. It is full of praise for the treacherous murderers and reflects the Shi’ites’ malicious rejoicing al that disastrous massacre of Muslim men, women, and children. It was a monstrous act which even the worst of enemies and the most hard-hearted beasts would be ashamed to show pleasure in.
Ibn Abi l-Ḥadīd was a friend of the treacherous Ibn ‘Alqami (656/1258), the Rafidi Minister of al-Musta’sim, the last ‘Abbasid Caliph. His two works, Qasa’id al-sab’ and Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah (Commentary on Nahj al-Balagha) are dedicated to Ibn ‘Alqami.
As for other commentaries: they were written by late Azhari scholars who in no way validate the authenticity of Nahj al-Balagha, at most the book is categorised by some scholars as a book of ‘Adab’ as the purpose of the bok to them was to show eloquent Arabic literature (that partly exists in it) and this is why some argue that the author named it this is why he named it the ‘Peak of eloquence’ (Nah al-Balagha) in the first place.
Nahj al-Balagha is a lesser evil
Those who are deeply familiar with Nahj al-Balagha know that despite it being a book compiled by a Rafidi, much of its content is actually taken from (mostly weak) Sunni sources. Weak Sunni sources are still less heretical and extreme (Takfir of Sahabah and excessive veneration of Ahlul-Bayt) in nature than Rafidi sources. This has resulted in a book that although filled with lies and exaggerations (Shaqshaqiyyah report where Abu Bakr is attacked), yet at the same time it is impossible to derive mainstream Twelver rituals and beliefs from it like:
- Praying to Imams (Shia saints – ‘Ali actually advises his own son to always call on Allah directly and alone)
- Infallibility (‘Isma) of Ahlul-Bayt – ‘Ali actually makes clear that he – like everybody else – is bound to make mistakes and has made mistakes.
- ‘Ali being chosen by Allah – This is the most important pillar of Shi’ism yet it is nowhere mentioned in Nahj al-Balagha. Yes, ‘Ali does argue in it that he is the most deserving of the position of Khilafah, however, he does so like a Sunni would do i.e. he mentions his merits, he does not mention a single word about Ghadir, let alone a divine Imamah where he is allegedly mentioned numerous times by Allah in the Qur’an as the Rafidah with their batini/esoteric tafasir claims.
- 12 Infallible Imams – On the contrary, ‘Ali clearly that the position of Khilafah is political and that people need leaders, even if they are not pious.
- Divine Imamah – ‘Ali doesn’t mention a single word about it, on the other hand, he clearly mentions that Shura is a valid system and whomever the chiefs of the Sahabah i.e. the Muhajir and Ansar Sahabah chose, reflects the pleasure of Allah and that person is an Imam (the irony…).
- Mass-Takfir of the Sahabah – On the contrary, the tone of ‘Ali in Nahj al-Balagha is a Sunni-Quranic tone, a tone that views the Sahabah as a good entity, as role-models, as the best generation. This is in stark contrast to how the Sahabah are viewed in Twelverism (where most Sahabah are viewed as either apostates or deviants due to having chosen other than ‘Ali as their first caliph).
So this is why many argue that Nahj al-Balagha is closer to Zaydi Shia beliefs than to Twelver Shia beliefs. There is definitely a truth in this statement, considering how in recent years the Rafidah have been more reluctant in accepting all of Nahj al-Balagha, after all, it contains sermons of ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه) that are so devastating to their sect that many modern-day Rafidi commentators are forced to write lengthy commentaries under ‘Ali’s statements in order to dilute his praise for the Sahabah, Shura, and other concepts that the Rafidah are allergic to.
This is why I personally see no harm in advising the average Twelver to dive deep into Nahj al-Balagha, for if they really embrace it they will be many steps closer to the Sunnah and to the real ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه) and in return many steps away from Ghuluw, Kufr, Shirk, and superstitions (Khurafat) in the name of the Ahlul-Bayt. It can basically serve as a springboard from Rafidism to a moderate form of Shi’ism to Sunnah, in sha Allah.
A number of books have been written by the du’at of Ahlus-Sunnah regarding this approach i.e. introducing the Shia to an un-biased reading of Nahj al-Balagha (many of whom revere Nahj al-Balagha but actually don’t read it carefully or deceived with large and desperate commentaries by Rafidi scholars in almost all Qom/Iran and other Hawzah printed versions).
One famous book that is available in Arabic and other languages (also in Persian, you can get tons of Sunni Persian works online or in Saudi and other Gulf countries) is called:
قراءة راشدة لكتاب نهج البلاغة. المؤلف. عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله الجميعان
نهج البلاغه را دوباره بخوانیم، ترجمه: جعفر سبحانی
Qira’at Rashidah likitab Nah al-Balagha (‘A Rational And Mature Reading Of The Book Of Nahj al-Balagha’) by Abdul-Rahman ibn Abdullah al-Jumay’an (download here>>>). Translated in Persian (download here>>>) by Ja’far Sobhani with the title: Nahj al-Balagha ra dobareh bekhanim (‘Let us re-read Nahl al-Balagha’).
A similar project and series (albeit unfinished) were done by Gift2Shias.com, make sure to check it out and benefit from it.
The Authenticity of Nahj al-Balagha To Twelver Shia
As mentioned earlier, after a thorough analysis of Nahj al-Balagha, one could indeed argue that the form of Shi’ism that could be extracted from that book would at best be a form of Zaydi Shi’ism and not Twelverism. This is why one will always find Twelver commentators (who are the majority of commentators on Nahj al-Balagha) who resort to mental gymnastics and write lengthy commentaries under ‘Ali’s statements in order to explain (read: distort or dilute) his praise for the Sahabah, Shura, and other concepts that are fundamentally condemned in Shi’ism.
Unsurprisingly, many Shias – especially those familiar with polemics – have become more reluctant in their praise of Nahj al-Balagha, some even ask for chains of narrations/transmissions (something they usually don’t care about when they build their beliefs on all sorts of Twelver books that include Kufr and Shirk in abundancy) others point out how Nahj al-Balagha is not a book of hadith nor a book of creed (‘aqeedah).
These are of course nothing but diverting tactics, the reality is and has always been that Nahj al-Balagha is the Bible of the Rafidah, the Rafidi Bible, it is their Talmud, their scholars have exaggerated so much with it (without realising that a thorough reading actually supports the Zaydi Shia case – who also rever it – and much less the Twelver Shia case. Now it is too late, that can of worms has been open and the many statements of the top Shia authorities will always be held against them, statements such as the following (notice how they talk about it as if they are talking about the Qur’an or something even superior to it!):
“The book of Nahjul Balagha is, in a sense, a dictionary of Islamic concepts. Nahjul Balagha is so dear to us; and it is so far from our reach! Our people have only heard the name of Nahjul Balagha. They don’t know at all that it is a book of practice. Nahjul Balagha is indeed a pragmatic book, which presents Islam.”
“Nahjul Balaghah clarified all aspects and provides us with all the lessons that we need.”
“What has been recorded in this book from words and sayings of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (A.S) is, without doubt, at the peak and pinnacle of eloquence after the words of Allah, the Exalted, and those of His Prophet (S). That is because the book offers innate (fitri) methods of thinking and reflection on the universe and the realities in it. As well, the book provides an exposition of the tenets of Islam, its teachings, guidelines and traditions which human life is based upon.”
“Similarly, the etiquettes of statesmanship, its conditions and necessary qualifications, the method of praising and glorifying Allah, invocation and supplication etc. have been explained.
“This precious book, on the other hand, is a true mirror showcasing the history of Islam and the events that took place following the demise of the Holy Prophet (S) especially the period of the caliphate of Imam Ali (A.S) encompassing an important part of his normative conduct, moral virtues, knowledge and jurisprudence.”
“It is befitting for all Muslims to benefit from this book in their religious matters, to learn from it and use it for self-purification. I recommend all – especially the youth – to give special importance to studying this book, reflecting on it and memorizing a part of it.”
‘Ayatollah’ Javadi Amoli
“In his message he described Nahjul Balagha as an interpretation of Quran and said: “For giving a book the title of interpretation of holy book it is necessary for that book to be in accordance to Quran; in fact that book should be universal and for all time as it is Quran.”
“Nahjul Balagha always has something new for people of every generation; it means whatever of pains is among people, Quran at first, and its interpretation at the second, could be a treatment for that,” Ayatollah Javadi Amoli added in his message.
Finallay, I’d like to recommend the following beneficial book: