Nahj-ul-Balagha 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-ul-Balagha, or rather those were inspired from the utterances
of Amir-al-Momeneen (as).
Nahj-ul-Balagha does 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 the Muslims did not properly utilize Nahj-ul-Balagha
as a source book of Islamic philosophy, kalam, fiqh, and ethics
due to misconceptions about its attribution to Amir-al-Momeneen.
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 alienate
the Muslims from their intellectual heritage. I know many
a scholar in India and Pakistan questioning the authenticity
of Nahj-ul-Balagha’s ascription to Amir-al-Momeneen
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 Amir-al-Momeneen, 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.
Those who insist upon denying the veracity of Nahj-ul-Balagha
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-ul-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-ul-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-ul-Balagha has been prepared
by 'Ali Ansariyan and published in Arabic under the title
al-Dallil 'ala mawdu'at Nahj-ul-Balagha in 1395/1975. It was
translated and published three years ago in Persian with the
sub-title Nahj-ul-Balagha mawdu'i. 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:
The major issues covered under the main categories can be summarized
- Ma'rifat Allah,
- Ma'rifat al-kawn,
- Ma'rifat al-hujjah,
- Ma'rifat nizam al-huqumah wa al-mujtama',
- Ma'rifat al-'ahkam,
- Wa'rifat al-'akhlaq,
- Ma'rifat al-ta'rikh, and
- Ma'rifat al-ma'dd
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.
- 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
- tawhid, the Unity of God;
- sifat al-dhat, the Attributes of Essence;
- 'ilm wal hikmah, the Knowledge and Wisdom of God;
- 'azamah wa qudrah, Greatness and Power of God;
- basir, Seer;
- sami', Hearer;
- hayy, Living;
- mutakallim, Speaker;
- jabarutiyyah, Omnipotence;
- 'adl, Divine-Justice;
- nusrah wa intiqam, Help and vengeance of God;
- al-tawakkul 'alayh, Dependence on God;
- al-tahmid lahu, Praise to God;
- al-'isti'anah bih, Seeking assistance from God;
- al-razzdq wa al-rizq, the Provider and the provision,divided
into further sub-issues;
- worship and worshippers, divided into sub-headings
dealing with various forms and kinds of worship and
worshipers, the worst and the best human beings, and
worship of other than God;
- manifestation of God and the Beatific Vision;
- al-qada' wa al-qadar, Divine Will and Intention;
- Ma'rifat al-kawn , knowledge of the universe:
- heaven and the earth;
- 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
- many various aspects of human nature;
- angels, their worship and utterances with special
reference to Jibra'il and Mika'il;
- 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
- Ma'rifat nizam al-hukamah wa al-mujtama, system of
governance 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:
- 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.
- 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
- Semblance of truth.
- 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.
- Government and society; this part is divided into
twenty-three fusul (chapters).
- The most fundamental objectives and duties of
- The characteristics of rulers.
- The duties of rulers towards people.
- Ministers and advisers.
- People's rights: social classes and their mutual
dependence; the responsibilities of the army; and
functions of rulers in fulfilling people's rights.
- The Islamic army and choice of commanders.
- The mutual rights of people and rulers.
- Whom to refer to resolve differences?
- Courts of justice and qadis.
- Officials and functionaries of government, their
mode of selection; the ruler's duty towards them.
- Information and intelligence of the State, and
- 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.
- Secretaries and record-keepers of official matters
(ministers and high officials).
- Businessmen and industrialists: administration
of economic affairs, and government's supervision
of economic matters of the State.
- The oppressed and the deprived sections of society,
and ruler's duties towards them.
- Governors' direct contact with people for listening
to their grievances, and people's right to have
aecess to rulers.
- Governors' personal responsibility in certain
- Direct supervision by governors and government
authorities of current affairs of the State.
- Ruler, his family and relatives.
- Duty of governors vis-a-vis charges levelled against
- Pacts and peace treaties with other States.
- Guidelines for performance of governors' individual
and social functions.
- Seeking God's help for being just.
- 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).
- 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:
- reason, its virtue, forms, effects, and functions;
limitations of reason and evil consequences of its misuse;
- contemplation and intellection;
- 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, and limitations;
- 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;
- theologians and their duties;
- misguided and misleading 'ulama';
- wisdom and the role of learned persons in society;
- 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;
- capital and its distribution;
- 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:
- repentance and seeking forgirveness (tawbah and istighfar);
- piety (taqwa);
- characteristics of muttaqun;
- patience and resignation (sabr);
- the tongue, its function and its relation to other
organs of the body; tongue-control;
- friendship and friends: how to choose friends; reliance
and dependence on friends; mutual duties of friends;
- manners and courtesy;
- forbearance and patience;
- 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
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.
- 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 Prophet (saw):
- Analysis of history: main currents and traditions
in history; causes of the rise and fall of nations;
and lessons from history.
- Life history of al-'Imam 'Ali (as); glimpses of an
autobiographical 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.
- Saqifat Bani Sa'idah
- 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 assassination.
- 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
- Parties and groups opposing the Imam.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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 the Khawarij.
- 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
- 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)
- Opponents of the Imam 'Ali's rule and the reasons
for their dissent.
- 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 Bakr.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 hell.
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
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.
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.
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 undeniable.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ...
- 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.