Misconceptions About Nahj Al-Balaghah 1

No scholar of Sunni or Shi'a profession has questioned the genuineness and authenticity of Nahj al-balagha for more than two centuries. The first person to raise doubts about its attribution to Amir al-Mu'minin was Ibn Khallikan (d. 681/1282), who, without referring to any author or source,made the following remarks about the authorship of Nahj al-balaghah: People have different opinions about the compiler of Nahj al- balaghah, a collection of the utterances of al-'Imam 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) There is difference as to whether it was compiled by al-Sharif al-Murtadha or his brother al-Radhi. It is also said that it is not at all the composition of 'Ali (as) and that the one who compiled it and attributed it to him made it himself; but Allah knows the truth.

These remarks were made in Wafayat al-aya'n in connection with the account of the life and work of al-Sharif al-Murtadha, al-Radhi's elder brother. Ibn al-'Athir al Jazari (555-630/1160-1232) in Mukhtasar al-Wafayat, Salah al-Din al-Safadi (d. 764/1362) in al-Wafi bi al-wafayat, al-'Allamah al-Yafi'i(d. 768/1366) in Mir'at al Jinan, and Ibn al-'Imad in Shadharat al-dhahab were content just to repeat Ibn Khallikan's conjecture without bothering to substantiate it. Al-'Allamah al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1347) in Mizan ul-'i'tidal was the first person to pick up the audacity to raise the unfounded doubt to a degree of certainty a century after Ibn Khallikan.

He Wrote in His Account of Al-Murtadha

Al Sharif al-Murtadha, who is accused of fabricating Nahj al- balaghah, was a scholar of considerable knowledge. Whosoever sees his book Nahj al-balaghah would come to believe that it was falsely attributed to Amir al-Mu'minin (as), because it contains open abuse rather than downgrading of the two caliphs Abu Bakr and 'Umar. Contradictions and mean matters have also crept into it, which do not conform with the spirit of the Companions of the Quraysh and our knowledge of the later Companions. One is convinced that the major part of this book is forged and unauthentic.

Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani (d. 748/1347) repeated al-Dhahabi's objections without bothering to probe deeper into the matter. The most interesting and at the same time the weakest part of the objections concerns ascription of the authorship of Nahj al-balaghah to al-Murtadha. The objectors belonged to the Umayyad West and had deep prejudices against Shiii scholars, and perhaps under the impact of Umayyad propaganda their prejudice was so deep-rooted that even their scholarship could not rise above it.

Among the four contemporaries of al-Radhi and al-Murtadha, three, that is, al-Tha'alibi, al-Najashi (d. 450/1058), and al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 463/1071) have given accounts of both the brothers.Al Shaykh al-Tusi did not give any account of al-Radhi in al-Fihrist or al-Rijal, but he did not count Nahj al-balagha among the works of al-Murtadha, which dispel any conjecture attributing its authorship to him, because al-Tusi was very close to him as his student. Al-Tha'alibi and al-Khatib al-Baghdadi did not mention Nahj al-balaghah either in the account of al-Murtadha or that of al-Radhi.Al-Najashi in unambiguous terms attributed Nahj al-balagha to al-Radhi.

Al-Tusi's exclusion of Nahj al-balaghah from the works of al-Murtadha,and al-Najashi's mention of it among the works of al-Radhi are sufficient to prove that it was without any doubt a work of al-Radhi. The objectors, who could not even determine authorship of the book exactly, depended on nothing but their whim to raise doubts about its authenticity. A more convincing proof of al-Radhi's authorship of Nahj al-balaghah can be found in his own other works in which he has mentioned it. Those books are the following:

1. Khasa'is al- 'A'immah: A manuscript of this work of al-Radhi is in Ridha Library Rampur (India) which reveals that Fadl Allah ibn 'Ali al- Husayn al-Rawandi (d. 555/1160) accepted Khasa'is as al-Radhi's work. In this book, as quoted above, al-Radhi has mentioned his intention of compiling Nahj al-balaghah.

2. Haqa'iq al-tanzil: Only the fifth part of this book is accessible to us. Its authorship is unanimously attributed to al-Radhi. Al-Radhi makes this remark:
Anybody who needs a proof of our claim should refer to our book Nahj al-balaghah and think upon its contents. We have compiled all forms and genres of the utteranees of Amir al-Mu'minin (as) in this book, which comprises sermons, letters, aphorisms, and admonitions, and is divided into three independent parts, each containing a specific genre.(1)

3. Majazat al-'athar al-Nabawiyyah: Al-Najashi and others have included this book among al-Radhi's works. At two places in this book al-Radhi has referred to Nah; al-balagha as a work of his own compilation.
It is important to note that even Ibn Khallikan, al-Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar did not question the authenticity of the attribution of Nahj al-balaghah in its entirety to'Ali (as). They were mainly skeptical of those parts which were critical of the Caliphs Abu Bakr and 'Umar.

But if we find such utterances and writings of Amir al-Mu'minin (as) in both Shi'i and non-Shi'i sources earlier than Nahjal-balaghah,baseless-ness of al-Dhahabi's and Ibn Hajar's objections can be conclusively proved. Let us again refer to Istinad-e Nahj al-balagha by 'Arshi, a contemporary Sunni scholar of India. With respect to the harshest of the sermons concerning the issue of the caliphate, known as al-Khutbat aldhiqshiqiyyah, 'Arshi refers to the following early sources in which the sermon had occurred:

1. Abu Ja'far Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Khalid al-Barqi (d.274/887) has quoted it in full in al-Mahasin wa al-'adab.
2. Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Thaqafi al-Kufi (d. 283/896) quoted it in al-Gharat.
In his notes on al-Gharat, Sayyid Jalal al-Din Muhaddith,quoting Imtiyaz 'Ali Khan 'Arshi, says that this khutbah is not found in it; even Ibn Abi al-Hadid and al-'Allamah Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi (1037-1110 or 1111/1627-1698 or 99) did not refer to al-Gharat as an early source of this sermon.

3. Abu 'Ali Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab al Jubba'i al-Basri al-Mu'tazili (d. 303/915 -16) narrated it.
4. Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Qubbah al-Razi (a teacherof al- Mufid and a pupil of Abu al-Qasim al-Balkhi, a Mu'tazili in his youth) quoted it in al-Insaf.
5. Abu al Qasim 'Abd Allah ibn Ahmad ibn Mahmud al-Ka'bi al-Balkhi al-Mu'tazili (d. 319/931) in al-'Insaf.
6. Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Musa ibn Babawayh al-Qummi, known as alShaykh al-Saduq (d. 318/930), has quoted it in two of his books: Ilal al Sharayi' and Ma'ani al-'akhbar.
7. Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad ibn al-Nu'man, known as al-Shaykh al-Mufid(d. 413/ 1022) inKitdb al-'irshad.
8. Shaykh al-Ta'ifah Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Tusi (d. 460/1068) in al-'Amali.

'Arshi adds that al Shaykh al Saduq has narrated this Khutbah on the authority of two different chains of narrators: Narrated to us Muhammad ibn 'Ali Majalawayh from his uncle Muhammad Ibn al-Qasim, he from Ahmad ibn 'Abd Allah al-Barqi he from his father, he from Ibn Abi 'Umayr, he from Aban ibn 'Uthman he from 'Aban ibn Taghlib, he from 'Ikrimah, he from 'Abd Allah ibn al-'Abbas. ('Ilal al-sharayi' and Ma'anial-' akhbar).

Narrated to us Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Ishaq al-Taliqani, from 'Abd al-'Aziz ibn Yahya al Jalludi, from Abu 'Abd Allah Ahmad ibn 'Ammar ibn Khalid, from Yahya ibn 'Abd al-Hamid al- Hammani, from 'Isa ibn Rashid, from 'Ali ibn Khuzaymah, from 'Ikrimah, from Ibn al-'Abbas. (Ma'ani al 'akhbar)

Al-Sayyid al-Radhi has not quoted the entire chain of narrators, and was content to remark that the sermon was popularly known as 'al-Shiqshiqiyyah ', while his teacher al-Mufid narrates both the chain of narrators and the story behind its narration. This is indicative of the fact that this sermon was so famous in those days that al-Radhi did not find it necessary to prove its veracity by quoting the chain of its narrators. Surprisingly, the same famous sermon was used by his and 'Ali's opponents to question his veracity and to malign him by accusing him and/or his brother of forging it. The kind of criticism Ibn Khallikan and his followers dabbled in not only discredits them as researchers but also makes their other works suspicious in the eyes of impartial and objective students of history.

Those who could not find any of the above-mentioned books to cross-check the veracity of Nahj al-balaghah had failed miserably even in determining correctly its authorship. Al-Shaykh al-Mufid has collected a number of 'Ali's speeches in al-'Irshad concerning the issue of the succession to the Prophet (saw) and 'Ali's criticism of the ways and means adopted by his opponents to deprive him of the caliphate. The famous Khutbah known as al-Shiq-shiqiyyah begins with the following preface: (A group of traditionists report by a variety of chains of authority (turuq) on the authority of Ibn al-'Abbas, who said:)
I [i.e. Ibn al-'Abbas, was with the Commander of the Faithful at al-Rahabah I mentioned the [matter of] Caliphate and those who had preceded him. He breathed heavily and said: "By God, Ibn Abi Quhatah took on...."

Continue in the next article: ( Misconceptions About Nahj al Balaghah 2 )



1. On page 167 of this book