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
alienate 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 al-balaghah 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:

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 further sub-issues;
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 God;
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 and Mika'il;
5. Satan.

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

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.
4. Poverty.
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 (chapters).

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 intelligence.
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
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
21. Pacts and peace treaties with other States.
22. Guidelines for performance of governors' individual
and social functions.
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,
and limitations;
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
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;
4. zuhd;
5. patience and resignation (sabr);
6. the tongue, its function and its relation to other organs of the
body; tongue-control;
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 Prophet (saw):

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
4. Fadak
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 assassination.
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 the Khawarij.
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
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 Bakr.
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.