The Contents of Nahj al Balaghah
Nahj al-balaghah comprises various issues that cover major problems of
metaphysics, theology, fiqh, tafsir, hadith, prophetology, imamate, ethics,social
philosophy, history, politics, administration, civics, science, rhetoric, poetry,
literature, etc. Most of the discussions about various theological issues and
philosophical notions in Islam have their origin in this very book.
Similarly, all the controversies regarding socio-political problems in the Muslim
society and state left their echo in Nahj al-balaghah,or rather those were
inspired from the utterances of al-lmam 'Ali (as).
The book not only reflects the spirit of early Islam and the teachings of the Quran
and the Prophet (saw) in the proper perspective, but also serves as a guide to
traverse the future in the light of these teachings.
It is a matter of regret that Nahj al-balaghah was not properly utilized by the
Muslims as a source book of Islamic philosophy, kalam, fiqh, and ethics due to
misconceptions about its attribution to al-Imam'Ali (as) In the presence of strong
and sufficient evidence in support of the contents of the book being authentic, it
was sheer prejudice and lack of the spirit of inquiry that was responsible for
neglecting such a reliable source of Islamic ideas.
In recent times, the Orientalists have spread the unfounded doubts of Ibn
Khallikan and al-Dhahabi among Muslim and non-Muslim scholars in the name
of objectivity in research, thus giving a respectable appearance to their
ignorance, which was, of course, combined and prompted by their motive to ali
enate the Muslims from their intellectual heritage. I know many a scholar in India
and Pakistan questioning the authenticity of Nahj al-balaghah's ascription to
Amir al-Mu'minin using lofty words of research-objectivity with a hefty-pose of a
dispassionate seeker of truth. None of them, I am sure, ever studied any book
about early sources of the sermons and letters of al-'Imam 'Ali (as), nor did any
one of them ever try to gain really objective information about the book.
Unfortunately none of them bothered to go through even the valuable research
done by Imtiyaz 'Ali Khan 'Arshi, a widely read and respected writer in the
literary circles of Urdu in the Subcontinent.
It was because of my first-hand knowledge of this pitiable situation that I have
intentionally devoted the major part of the present article to the issue of the
authenticity of the attribution of the contents of Nahj al-Balaghah, in the light of
earlier sources, to 'Ali (as).
Those who insist upon denying the veracity of Nahj al-balaghah are either
suffering from a malady of deep-rooted prejudice spread through the
propaganda of the supporters of Banu Umayyah, or their minds and spirits have
been blinded by the propagation of falsehood by the Orientalists under the garb
of high-sounding academic jargon. If our minds are cured of this jaundiced
perception of our own past, Nahj al-balagha can be paid the attention it
deserves and its contents will be studied and its meanings will be fully explored
and exploited for a better understanding of Islamic ideas and realities.
A look at the subjects discussed in Nahj al-balagha will be helpful in
ascertaining the wide scope of this invaluable treasure of wisdom.
So far a few attempts to classify the subject matter of the book have been made
none of which has been comprehensive. A subject-wise index of the contents of
Nahj al-balaghah has been prepared by 'Ali Ansariyan and published in Arabic
under the title al-Dallil 'ala mawdu'at Nahj al-balaghah in 1395/1975.
It was translated and published three years ago in Persian with the sub-title Nahj
The compiler has divided the contents into eight categories, each dealing with a
specific subject further divided into various issues pertaining to the main theme.
The main divisions are as follows:
1. Ma'rifat Allah,
2. Ma'rifat al-kawn,
3. Ma'rifat al-hujjah,
4. Ma'rifat nizam al-huqumah wa al-mujtama',
5. Ma'rifat al-'ahkam,
6. Wa'rifat al-'akhlaq,
7. Ma'rifat al-ta'rikh, and
8. Ma'rifat al-ma'dd
The major issues covered under the main categories can be summarized here:
1. Ma'rifat Allah (knowledge about God): The utterances and writings of Amir
al-Mu'minin on God and His Attributes are divided into eighteen sub-
headings in the following manner:
1. tawhid, the Unity of God;
2. sifat al-dhat, the Attributes of Essence;
3. 'ilm wal hikmah, the Knowledge and Wisdom of God;
4. 'azamah wa qudrah, Greatness and Power of God;
5. basir, Seer;
6. sami', Hearer;
7. hayy, Living;
8. mutakallim, Speaker;
9. jabarutiyyah, Omnipotence;
10. 'adl, Divine-Justice;
11. nusrah wa intiqam, Help and vengeance of God;
12. al-tawakkul 'alayh, Dependence on God;
13. al-tahmid lahu, Praise to God;
14. al-'isti'anah bih, Seeking assistance from God;
15. al-razzdq wa al-rizq, the Provider and the provision, divided into
16. worship and worshippers, divided into sub-headings dealing
with various forms and kinds of worship and worshippers, the
worst and the best human beings, and worship of other than
17. manifestation of God and the Beatific Vision;
18. al-qada' wa al-qadar, Divine Will and Intention;
2. Ma'rifat al-kawn , knowledge of the universe:
1. heaven and the earth;
2. creation and the properties of living beings under this topic al-'Imam
'Ali's descriptions of various animals such as the bat, the ant, the
peacock and other birds are given;
3. many various aspects of human nature;
4. angels, their worship and utterances with special reference to Jibra'il
3. Ma'rifat al-hujjah, knowledge about the Proofs of God,: The first part of it is
devoted to prophetology; that is, the characteristics and the aims of the
prophets, their companions and families, their character, etc.; the next
seven sections, from the second to the eighth, deal with the lives of Adam,
Abel and Cain, Salih, Moses and Aaron, Banu Isra'il, David and Solomon,
and Christ; the ninth section is devoted to the life and character of the
Prophet Muhammad (saw), spread over 230 pages further divided into
sub-issues to discuss the pre Islamic Arabs,the Family of the Prophet
(saw), the main objectives of the prophetic mission, miracles, wives of
the Prophet (saw), the finality of his prophethood, hadith and the criteria
of reliability and grades of authenticity, hadith-interpretation,
Companions, jihad and the battles of the Prophet, the demise of the
Prophet (saw) and its consequences; Ahl al-Bayt (as), Fatimah (as),
al-Hasan (as) and al-Husayn (as), Ahl al-Bayt and zakat; the Quran:
classification of verses, tafsir by conjecture (ra'y), the role of the Imam
in the interpretation of the Quran, the attributes of the Quran, teaching
of the Quran, important of correct understanding of the Quran,qira'ah
of the Quran, tafsir of some verses.
Under the life of the Prophet, the meaning and the conditions of Islam
are also dealt with, with reference to the characteristics of the Muslims
and their dignity. Iman and mu'min form the theme of a separate section;
at the end, infidelity (kufr) and its characteristies are discussed.
The tenth issue under hujjah concerns the caliphate and the Imamate
with specific reference to the leadership of Ahl al-Bayt (as) [the Imams
of the Family of the Prophet (saw). The eleventh part deals with the
issues related to the oath of allegiance (bay'ah).
The twelth part contains the utterances of al-Imam 'Ali (as) concerning
his own Imamate and his own role in the advancement of the cause of
Islam; some sections give autobiographical details about the Imam.
'Ali's zuhd, justice, dress and food habits, humility and courage.
The last section of this part is about Amir al-Mu'minin's sayings about
al-Imam al-Mahdi (as), his identity and his appearance.
4. Ma'rifat nizam al-hukamah wa al-mujtama' (system of govern-ance and
society): This part deals with the issues of society and politics, and is
perhaps the most relevant to present-day Islam and the Muslim world.
It spreads over more than four hundred pages.
Such an in-depth treatment of the subject is indicative of the Imam's
concern for socio-political life of the Ummah. The issues covered are:
1. Justice and oppression: forms of oppression and traits of
oppressors; responsibilities of the just Imams; the duty of
al-mu'minun vis-a-vis justice and oppression.
2. Right and wrong (haqq and batil): distinction between right
and wrong; criterion of right; reciprocal rights and duties; duty
towards God; and mutual duties of parents and children.
3. Semblance of truth.
5. People and their kinds: causes of differences and their sources;
role of various groups in social changes; people's inner
transformation, a prerequisite for reform; role of healthy
elements in society; characteristics of evil and anti-social
elements in society; people's attitude towards social change.
6. Government and society; this part is divided into twenty-three fusul
1. The most fundamental objectives and duties of Islamic
2. The characteristics of rulers.
3. The duties of rulers towards people.
4. Ministers and advisers.
5. People's rights: social classes and their mutual
dependence; the responsibilities of the army; and
functions of rulers in fulfilling people's rights.
6. The Islamic army and choice of commanders.
7. The mutual rights of people and rulers.
8. Whom to refer to resolve differences?
9. Courts of justice and qadis.
10. Officials and functionaries of government, their mode
of selection; the ruler's duty towards them.
11. Information and intelligence of the State, and military
12. Taxes, public treasury (bayt al-mal), and tax payers:
means of levying taxes; protection and guarding of public
treasury; heads of expenditure of public funds; equitable
distribution of bayt al-mal; and problem of misappropriation
of bayt al-mal.
13. Secretaries and record-keepers of official matters
(ministers and high officials).
14. Businessmen and industrialists: administration of
economic affairs, and government's supervision of
economic matters of the State.
15. The oppressed and the deprived sections of society, and
ruler's duties towards them.
16. Governors' direct contact with people for listening to their
grievances, and people's right to have aecess to rulers.
17. Governors' personal responsibility in certain matters.
18. Direct supervision by governors and government
authorities of current affairs of the State.
19. Ruler, his family and relatives.
20. Duty of governors vis-a-vis charges levelled against them.
21. Pacts and peace treaties with other States.
22. Guidelines for performance of governors' individual and
23. Seeking God's help for being just.
5. Ma'rifat al-'ahkam (religious laws): This part is divided into eighteen
sub-headings. The first section contains the Imam's views about the
philosophy of laws. The second and the third sections deal with prayer
(salat) and the virtue of congregation prayer, Friday prayer and
midnight prayer. The fourth section is devoted to the Imam's sayings
about fasting (sawm ). The fifth one comprises Amir al- Mu'minin's
interpretation of laws regarding women's obligation in compulsory
matters. The remaining chapters deal with the following issues:
the sixth about almsgiving (zakat); the seventh about property laws;
the eighth about Hajj pilgrimage and the Holy Ka'bah; the ninth about
al-'Amr bi al-ma'ruf wa al-nahy 'an al-munkar (enjoining good and
prohibiting evil), one of the fundamentals of faith (furu'al-Din) that
covers all forms of activities, social, political, economic, as well as
individual duties. The tenth and the eleventh chapters deal with laws
concerning jihad, a term with a very wide range of connotations, but its
special meaning covers all forrns of struggle against unbelief, which
itself embraces various forms of injustice and oppression, denial of God
is an atrocity against one's own self. In this section, emphasis is on the
laws pertaining to war and military activity; the last two sub headings deal
with martyrdom and martyrs, and peace treaty with enemies.
The twelfth chapter is about injunctions regarding the circumstances which
necessitate hiding of faith with the purpose of defending individual as well
as collective existence of the Muslims (taqiyyah). The thirteenth chapter
is devoted to the laws of business transactions with special emphasis on
usury (riba) and loan. The fourteenth chapter covers laws about adultery
(zina). The next four chapters discuss issues involved in theft, murder,
dying of the hair, and laws concerning human conduct in desperate
situations (ahkam al-mudtarr).
6. Ma'rifat al-'akhlaiq (ethical laws): This is the longest section of the book,
spreading over six hundred pages. The first part of this section covers
general issues of morality in the following order:
1. reason, its virtue, forms, effects, and functions; limitations of
reason and evil consequences of its misuse;
2. contemplation and intellection;
3. the heart as the inner faculty which is the source of moral virtues
and evils; its general condition and relation with other organs of
the body; its qualities and means of strength, weakness, hardening,
4. knowledge: definition and scope; useful and useless forms of
knowledge; relation between knowledge and practice; effects of
knowledge; teaching and learning; limitations of human knowledge;
5. theologians and their duties;
6. misguided and misleading 'ulama';
7. wisdom and the role of learned persons in society;
8. the wood and the Hereafter-salient features of worldly life;
comparison and contrast between the world and the Hereafter;
temporality of the world and eternity of the Hereafter; relation
between the two; purpose of the creation of the world; deception
and pride of the world; proper and improper utilization of the
world; world-outlook of awliya ', the Prophet of Islam (saw),
pious persons, and al-'Imam 'Ali (as); man's attitude to the world;
9. capital and its distribution;
10. good and evil.
The second part of ethical discussions deals with moral behaviour
and conduct. This is itself divided into ten sections dealing with various
modes of conduct:
1. repentance and seeking forgirveness (tawbah and istighfar);
2. piety (taqwa);
3. characteristics of muttaqun;
5. patience and resignation (sabr);
6. the tongue, its function and its relation to other organs of the
7. friendship and friends: how to choose friends; reliance and
dependence on friends; mutual duties of friends;
8. manners and courtesy;
9. forbearance and patience;
10. abstention from self-praise.
Moral vices are discussed under the following: lust and love (in its negative
sense); miserliness; extravagance; envy; pride; hypocrisy and hypocrites
(nifaq and munafiqun);deceit or self-indulgence(narcissism).
At the end of this section certain moral issue with reference to women are
dealt with. The concluding part gives an account of supplication, its need,
circumstances and effects, with some of the supplications of al-'Imam
'Ali (as) on different occasions.
7. Mairifat al-ta'rikh (history): This section gives us an idea of al-'Imam 'Ali's
view of history and historical events, divided into sixteen parts, and each
part divided further into many sub-headings provides an intimate picture
of the life and times of al-'Imam 'Ali (as), his contem-poraries,and the
1. Analysis of history: main currents and traditions in history;
causes of the rise and fall of nations; and lessons from history.
2. Life history of al-'Imam 'Ali (as); glimpses of an autobiographi-cal
account of the life of the Imam (as) with reference to his role in the
unity of the Ummah by foregoing his right and snubbing divisive
efforts of some opportunists.
3. Saqifat Bani Sa'idah
5. Al-Imam 'Ali (as) and the caliphs, Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman;
the Imam's role as an adviser during the period of 'Umar's
caliphate; the Shura's role in the election of 'Umar's successor;
reasons of the Imam's allegiance to 'Uthman, and the latter's
deviations; 'Ali's counsel to 'Uthman; 'Ali's innocence in the
assassination of the third caliph and his stand after the
6. The caliphate of al-'Imam 'Ali (as): the Imam's reasons for being
reluctant to accept the caliphate; people's pressure and insistence;
declaration of the Imam's policies and programmes.
7. Parties and groups opposing the Imam.
8. The Battle of Jamal with special reference to the role of 'A'ishah,
Talhah and al-Zubayr; the Imam's attitude during and after the
battle towards his opponents (the Nakithun).
9. The Battle of Siffin: the role of the Qasitun; the Imam's reasons for
fighting the Qasitun; his attempts to convince the Qasitun about the
evil consequences of war.
10. Tahkim: the evil of the tahkim and its roots; the Imam's reasons for
rejecting the proposed arbitration; evil and far-reaching consequences
of the arbitration.
11. The Khawarij: the Khawarij's role and their misleading notions; the
Imam's repeated efforts to pursuade the Khawarij from fighting
before the Battle of Nahrawan; the Imam's anticipation of the fate of
12. The last days of the Imam: the Imam's foreknowledge of his
martyrdom; the last sermon; the Imam's words on the dawn of
the nineteenth of Ramadan before being fatally injured; the last
moments of the Imam (as) and his will.
13. Praise and criticism of the Imam's companions: basic traits of
the disheartened elements; comparison of the Imam's companions
with those of the Prophet (saw) and those of Mu'awiyah; relations
between the Imam (as) and his companions; their praise; evil
consequences of disobeying the Imam (as)
14. Opponents of the Imam 'Ali's rule and the reasons for their dissent.
15. Events of Egypt: the appointment of Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr and
its abrogation; the appointment of Malik al-'Ashtar; the Imam's letter
to the people of Egypt; the assassination of Malik al-'Ashtar; Malik
al-'Ashtar's great qualities; the martyrdom of Muhammad ibn Abi
16. Personages: Abu Dharr; al-'Ash'ath ibn Qays; the companions of al-
Mada'in; Umru' al-Qays; Anas ibn Malik; al-Burj ibn Mushir al-
Ta'-i, Banu Umayyah and their disruptive role in Islam; Hamzah and
Ja'far al-Tayyar; Khabbab ibn al-'Arat; Khadijah; Sa'id ibn Malik;
Sa'id ibn Namran; Abu Sufyan; Sa'sa'ah ibn , Sawhan; 'Amr ibn al-
'As; the Quraysh, their tribal background and their opposition to
the Imam, and the Imam's attitude towards the Quraysh; Kumayl ibn
Ziyad al-Nakha'i; Marwan ibn al-Hakam; Masqalah ibn Hubayrah;
Mu'awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan and the Imam's correspondence with him;
al-Mughirah ibn Akhnas and a'l-Mughirah ibn Shu'bah.
17. The Imam's historical and eschatological foresight: conditions of
the last days of the world; destiny of Basrah and Kufah; destiny of
the Arabs; duties and responsibilities of the faithful (mu'minun) in
the last days.
8. Masrifat al-Ma'ad (Resurrection and the Hereafter): death, its agonies and
mysteries; the mu'min's preparedness for death; the Angel of Death; what
happens after death?; learning lesson from death and graveyard; the Day of
Judgement: proof of Resurrection; symptoms of the Last Day; judgement of
human deeds; Sirat; human condition on the Day of Judgement; heaven and
The above-quoted index of subjects in Nahj al-balaghah reveals a vast span of
themes and issues. As it suggests, it can be used as a source and guide in the
theory and practice of Ijtihad. Shi'i 'ulama' have been using Nahj al-balagha as
a guide in the matters of fiqh. How far is Nahj al-balaghah dependable and
useful as a source book of fiqh? After the four major Shi'i compendiums of
hadith Nahjal-balaghah stands higher than all other collections of hadith.
Besides the traditions of the Prophet (saw) this is surely the most authentic
guide in theology, morality, fiqh, social administration, political theory and its
practice, and many other matters which are vital for Muslim society and are
relevant to our own predicament in the modern age.
Nasir Makarim Shirazi, in one of his articles on the role of Nahj al-balagha in
fiqh, has discussed the question of the worth of the traditions contained in the
book. Can we use these traditions as a secure foundation for deriving the
ahkam of fiqh? Do they fulfil the criteria of reliability laid down in Usul al-fiqh?
Does a tradition relating to moral, social and political matters need not fulfil
the conditions of hujbiyyah (proof) as required in the issues of fiqh?
His answer is:
Whatever is contained in it regarding the issues of belief is
supported by rational and philosophical arguments. And it ought
to have been so; for, the principles of belief are established
conclusively only through this method. They cannot be proved on
the basis of a single tradition. This principle is applicable to
most of the guidelines concerning politics and society. Therefore,
dependence on tradition in such matters is not required (in the
presence of rational arguments). In the sphere of moral problems,
also, dependence on tradition is not of fundamental importance;
because the fundamentals of morality are self evident and are in
harmony with nature. The role of a moral guide is to ingrain these
principles in the souls of his followers, and to stimulate them
to move in their direction ;such a job does not depend on any
authority. Especially in moral matters that do not fall under
the categories of the obligatory (wajib) and the prohibited
(haram), but come in the jurisdiction of the desirable (mustahabb),
the application of this criterion is obvious; for they can be
accepted on the well-known principle of al-tasumuh 'an adillat
al-sunan, that is non-essentiality of citing textual evidence for
mustahabbat, often practised by the authorities in usul.
But in legal matters (masa'il al-fiqh) in general, and in matter
of worship wajib and haram in particular, one is bound to refer
to an authentic tradition. In such matters howsoever strong an
argument may be, it will not stand on its own in the absence of
a tradition. Though the importanee of authority is not denied in
other matters too, its vital role in the matters of fiqh is
1. It is a matter of regret that al-Sayyid al-Radi, the
compiler of Nahj al-balaghah, has not paid due
attention to support most of the sermons, letters
and stray sayings with asnad, the chain of narrators.
As a result, Nahj al-balaghah comes down to us in
the form of hadith mursal. However, we have access
to many an early souree of these traditions to prove
their authenticity through chain of reliable narrators,
and most probably al-Radi didn't pay attention to
furnish their asnad due to their well-known availability
in other sourees. Or he had other stronger reasons for
avoiding referenee to asnad. He might have considered
their contents to be above any doubt.
2. Another means of proving the reliability of a tradition is its
compatibility with the Quran ... We apply this criterion with
regard to the traditions of the Infallible Imams (as).
Employment of this method in the case of Nahj al-
balaghah is of much value.
3. The third way to ascertain the authority of a tradition is its
fame and general acceptability among the 'ulama'.
If we accede to this criterion, Nahj al-balaghah is at the
zenith of fame and is greatly respected by scholars of
eminence, who support their ideas with quotations from
this book and refer to its authority in various matters ...
4. Another means of arriving at the target, that is,
establishing the authenticity of a tradition or a
book, is the spiritual sublimity of its content. What
is meant by sublimity of meaning is its higher level
of spirituality and inspiration, which implicitly leads
us to believe that it can't originate in a fallible mind.
This criterion is acceptable to a number of great
fuqaha' ... For instance al-Shaykh al-'A'zam al-
'Allamah al-'Ansari, in the Rasa'il, accepts a well
known tradition of al-'Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari in the
matter of undesirable (madhmum) and desirable (matlub)
imitation (taqlid) ... or Ayatullah Burujardi refers to
the words of al-Sahifat al-Sajjadiyyah in the context
of Friday prayer. Though al-Sahifat al-Sajjadiyyah has
not reached us through a chain of authorities, sublimity
of its content reveals that it could not have been issued
from the tongue of an ordinary mortal.
On the basis of these various criteria, of which the first one can be applied only
with reference to the early sources of the tradition that have occurred in Nahj
al-balaghah, it is concluded that the book can be justifiably used as an
authority in ijtihadat. The writer of the above mentioned article has furnished a
long list of traditions which have been or can be used in fiqh.
Nahj al-balaghah is also of great value in construing the Islamic approach to
various issues of vital significance to the present world of Islam.