Nahjul Balaaghah and its Narrator

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It is not an easy task to comment and write an article on Nahjul Balaaghah – a collection of sermons, letters and words of wisdom by the Chief of Orators Ameerul Momeneen Ali Ibn Abi Taalib (a.s). We neither have the capacity nor the ability to speak about the towering status, lofty views, unshakeable beliefs, incomparable attributes of our Immaculate Imam (a.s) nor can we completely comprehend his words of wisdom. The standing and importance of Imam Ali (a.s) in the heavens and the earth is next only to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a).

Ibn Abbas narrates a tradition from Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) who said,

لَوْ اَنَْ الْاَشْجَارَ اَقْلاَمٌ وَ الْبَحْرَ مِدَادٌ وَ الْجِنَْ حُسَْابٌ، وَ الْاِنْس كُتَْاب مَا اَحْصوا فَضَائِل عَلِىْ بْن اَبِىْ طَالِبٍ عَلَيْهِ السَْلاَمُ-

Even if all the trees were to become pens, all the seas were to become ink, all the jinns were to start counting and all the humans were to start writing, yet they will not be able to record the virtues of Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s).” [1]

Mohammed Taqi Jafery writes in the introduction to the ‘Exegesis of Nahjul Balaaghah’, “There is not an iota of doubt that Imam Ali (a.s) is a personality who is a collection of different characteristics, attributes and perfections.”

Just as the personality of Imam Ali (a.s) is unparalleled in the annals of history, in the same way Nahjul Balaaghah too is unrivaled among all the books ever written by a human. To write or narrate about someone like Imam Ali (a.s) — whose status is enormous, who is justice personified, who is at the highest level of Divine recognition, who is the most complete and perfect among the creations — is an impossible task. Historians and Islamic scholars are unanimous about his (a.s) impeccable character, personality and hundreds of other noble virtues and also agree that writing anything about his (a.s) merits is an extremely difficult task. Of course, for the one who lives in a society whose aim is only eating and adorning the self, then for him the miraculous personality of Ameerul Momeneen (a.s) and his wise quotations in Nahjul Balaaghah, are mere words and feelings.

Similarly, the followers of those religions whose beginning and end lies in the attaining of this material world and its comforts, too are unable to understand and appreciate the pure words and sayings of Imam Ali (a.s) and are incapable of accepting the extraordinary meanings and divine concepts in his sermons.[2] However, for the one who is in search of truth, it is easy for him to derive benefits from these two fountainheads of knowledge and divine recognition viz. Imam Ali (a.s) and Nahjul Balaaghah — a book that contains his sermons, letters and sayings.

Anyone who is even remotely aware of the life of Imam Ali (a.s) and Nahjul Balaaghah, will definitely understand that he (a.s) was a noble and dignified individual. He (a.s) was one of the ‘great signs‘ of Allah and Nahjul Balaaghah is a dazzling ray of his towering superiority.

It is full of profound knowledge, an ocean of flowers and a universe of divine recognition. In short, after the Holy Quran and the traditions of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a), this book is the best means for mankind to achieve success, happiness and perfection.

Undoubtedly, anyone who enters the vast expanse of knowledgeable discussions on divine matters and wants to gain something from the pearls of wisdom contained in Nahjul Balaaghah must be prepared to write a voluminous book. Currently, our aim in writing this treatise is to have a cursory knowledge of this book. We will just mention the headlines. Inshallah, sometime in the future, we shall write a comprehensive article on this book, wherein we shall mention the views of Shia as well as non-Shia scholars who had the privilege of doing an in-depth study of Nahjul Balaaghah. They spent years studying this miraculous book and gained proximity with it. We shall mention the views of these scholars, who were spellbound by the book and its author.

Eloquence of Nahjul Balaaghah:

Eloquence (Fasaahat) means ‘to express one’s view by using exquisite and beautiful words.’ From this point of view, the Holy Quran is at the pinnacle of eloquence. Its meanings are expressed in beautiful and concise words. In fact, this is one of the astonishing aspects of the Holy Quran. It is difficult for mortals to achieve such a feat. Allah the High mentions in the Holy Quran

قُلْ لَْئِنِ اجْتَمَعَتِ الْاِنْسُ وَالْجِنُْ عَلي اَنْ يَْاْتُوْا بِمِثْلِ هٰذَا الْقُرْاٰنِ لاَ يَاْتُوْنَ بِمِثْلِهِ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ ظَهِيْرًا.

(O Prophet!) Tell them that even if all the men and jinn were to gather to bring a book like this Quran, they would not be able to do so even if they were to help and assist each other.”[3]

Articulacy (Balaaghat) means ‘to use appropriate and apt words and phrases while expressing one’s view.‘ Litterateurs, scholars, academicians and intellectuals of all religions have a firm belief concerning the eloquence of Nahjul Balaaghah. We present for you a few of their views:

1. The compiler of Nahjul Balaaghah – Syed Razi (r.a.) – who himself was a noted Arab scholar and who spent years in the compilation of this book, says in the preface of this book, “Imam Ali (a.s) is the fountainhead of eloquence and the centre of expressiveness. In fact, the secrets of eloquence, knowledge and wisdom spring from his (a.s) existence. Every aspiring orator, after studying and imitating the words and manners of Imam Ali (a.s) has achieved fame and success, while the one who turned away from his (a.s) words has failed miserably. This is because the words of Imam Ali (a.s) have the fragrance of divine recognition and the sayings of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a).”

Later, after Sermon 16, Syed Razi writes, “These words of Ameerul Momeneen (a.s) are close to the reality of eloquence. They are sweet and sensitive and no scholar has ever reached to their level. They are beyond human thought; so insightful that the intellect is perplexed and baffled. The eloquence is of such a high level that no language can ever convey it nor can anyone fathom its profundity. Of course, its sweetness can be understood by those scholars who have studied the field of eloquence and are aware of the intricacies of such speech and words.”

وَ مَا يَعْقِلُهَا اِلاَْ الْعَالِمُوْنَ

And none can comprehend it except the scholars.”[4]

2. Azizuddin Abdul Hamid Ibn Abil Hadeed Motazali is a famous Sunni scholar of the seventh century (of Hijri). He is one of the many commentators of Nahjul Balaaghah. He has written the commentary of Nahjul Balaaghah in 20 volumes. At many places in his exegesis, he has acknowledged and confessed to the eloquence of Ameerul Momineen (a.s) and saluted his greatness. In the introduction to his commentary, he writes about Ameerul Momeneen and his (a.s) esteemed book Nahjul Balaaghah,

اما الفصاحه فهو عليه السلام امام الفصحاء و سيد البلغاء و فى كلامه قبل: دون كلام الخالق و فوق كلام المخلوقين، و منه تعلم الناس الخطابه و الكتابه …

“As for eloquence, Imam Ali (a.s) is the Master of Eloquence and the Chief of Orators in his speech…His speech is beneath the Word of the Lord (viz. the Holy Quran) and beyond the speech of the creatures. People have learnt eloquence and writing from him (a.s.)….”

The radiance of his (a.s) words has dazzled him. For instance, in volume 11, pg.153, under the commentary of sermon No. 221, Ibn Abil Hadeed writes,

و ينبغى لو اجتمع فصحاء العرب قاطبة فى مجلس و تلن عليهم ان يسجدوا له كما سجد الشعراء لقول عدى بن الرقاع قلم اصاب من الدواه مدادها… فلما قيل لهم فى ذلك قالوا انا نعرف مواضع السجود فى الشعركما تعرفون مواضع السجود فى القرآن…

“If all the Arab litterateurs – without exception -gather in a group and this part of the sermon is recited before them, they will most certainly bow down in prostration on hearing it. Just as the Arab poets will bow down after hearing the couplets of Adi ibn Raqqa. And when people used to ask them that why you fell in prostration after hearing his couplets, they would say that ‘just as you are aware of the instances in the Holy Quran where prostration is necessary, in the same way, we too know the places (in the world of poetry) where it is necessary to bow down in prostration’.”

In volume seven, p. 214, Ibn Abil Hadeed compares a small portion of the sermon of Imam Ali (a.s) with Ibn Nabaatah (died: 373 AH) — a famous and renowned orator of the fourth century. Ibn Abil Hadeed says,

فليتامل اهل المعرفه دعلم الفصاحه و البيان هذا الكلام بعين الانصاف يعلموا ان سطرًا واحدا من كلام نهج البلاغه يساوى الف سطر منه بل يزيد و …-

“If the scholars of Arabic literature were to do justice to these words of Ameerul Momeneen (a.s), they would realize that this one line of Nahjul Balaaghah is greater than a thousand lines of Ibn Nabaatah, or even more.”

In volume 2, p.84, Ibn Abil Hadeed has mentioned about a letter of Ibn Nabaatah on the topic of ‘jihad‘, a living example of eloquence. In it, the following words of Imam Ali (a.s) have been used by Ibn Nabaatah,

ما غزى قوم فى عقر دارهم الا ذلوا

“No nation has been attacked while they were in their houses except that the aggressor had to face humiliation.”

Ibn Abil Hadeed writes, “Have a look at this quote of Ameerul Momeneen (a.s). This single statement of Imam Ali (a.s) is a challenge to all that Ibn Nabaatah has ever written and proclaims his (a.s) eloquence. It emanates from an impeccable and immaculate source where none else can ever reach — just as any Quranic verse dazzles before any worldly speech. In fact it illuminates everything before it.”

Similarly, in volume seven, p. 201, while explaining sermon No. 109, Ibn Abil Hadeed says, “Anyone one who desires to see a miracle in the field of eloquence and oratory or is in search of exemplary speech, he must study this sermon.”

3. The famous litterateur of the Arab world and renowned scholar of the third century – Haajiz Arabi comments about a statement made by Imam Ali (a.s), in the first volume of his famous book ‘Al-Bayaan wa al-Tabyeen’. Imam Ali (a.s) said, “The value of every individual is in proportion to his (good) deeds.” Concerning this quote, Haajiz says, “Even if there was no other statement in the entire book of Nahjul Balaaghah, except this one, then too it will suffice to confirm the greatness of this book. For, the best speech is the one in which a few words are used to convey a vast meaning and is easily comprehensible by the layman. Thus, only when Allah bestows a person with majesty, light of wisdom, pure thoughts and intentions and incomparable piety, can he utter such wise and farsighted statements.’

Syed Razi, while commenting on this statement says, “This statement of Ameerul Momeneen (a.s) is priceless. No ruler or orator can match its eloquence.”

We conclude the discussion on the greatness of Nahjul Balaaghah with a quote from the famous Christian scholar and author of the book ‘Ali – The Voice of Human Justice’. In the last chapter of his book, while discussing the personality of Imam Ali (a.s), he writes,

Nahjul Balaaghah is a personification of eloquence. Its value is next only to the Quran. It is a speech that gathers all the goodness of the past, present and the future. It has now become famous that the words of Imam Ali (a.s) are only below the words of Allah but far superior to the words of the creatures.”[5]

[1] Yanaabee’ al-Mawwadah by Hafez Suleman Qundoozi Hanafi; 1/364, Ch. 40, H. No. 5

[2] Tarjumah Tafseer-e-Nahjul Balaaghah, vol. 1, p.2

[3] Surah Bani Israel (17): Verse 88

[4] Nahjul Balaaghah, p. 37, published by Daar-us-Saqlain, Qum

[5] Ali – The Voice of Human Justice, vol.1, p.47

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