Confession of ancient thinkers and modernists to the high aspect of Ali’s speeches in Nahj al- balaghah -2

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The opinion of Literary men and scholars about eminent speeches of Ali’s
After the Holy prophet(s), Ali (a) alone has the distinction of being one whose speeches and sayings were recorded and preserved by the people with particular care.

Ibn Abi al- Hadid quotes Abd al- Hamid al- Katib, the great master of Arabic prose who lived during the early part of the second century of the Hijrah, as saying, I learnt by heart seventy sermons of Ali, and from that time onwards my mind always overflowed [ with inspiration].

Ali al- Jundi also relates that when Abd al- Hamid was asked about what had helped him most in attaining literary excellence, he replied, “ Memorizing of the discourses of the bald one”.

In the IsIamic period of history the name of Abd al- Rahman ibn Nubatah is proverbial for oratory among Arabs. He acknowledges that his intellectual and artistic attainments are indebted to Ali. Ibn Abi al- Hadid quotes him as saying:
“ I committed to memory about a hundred discourses of Ali, since then this has served me as an inexhaustible treasure [ of inspiration ] “.

Al- Jahiz was a celebrated literary genius of the early third century of the Hijrah, and his book Al- Bayan wa al- tabyin is regarded as one of the four main classics of Arabic literature. Often, in his book, he expresses his great wonder and immense admiration for Ali ‘s discourses from his remarks it is evident that large number of Ali’s sermons were commonly known to the people of his day. In the first volume of his Al- Bayan wa al- tabyin, after mentioning that some people praise precision in talk or rather prefer silence and disapprove profusion is speech, al- Jahiz writes:
The profuseness of speech that has been regarded with disapproval is futile talk not that which is fruitful and illuminating. Otherwise, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abd Allah ibn al- Abbas were men of prolific speech.

In the same volume of his work, he quotes this famous sentence of Ali (a):
The worth of a man lies in what he has mastered.

Al- Jahiz then devotes half a page to expressing his admiration for this sentence, and writes further:
If our book did not contain anything but this sentence, it would suffice it. The best speech is one little of which makes you dispense with much of it and in which the meaning are not concealed within words but made manifest.

Then he remarks:
It appears as if Allah the Almighty has enveloped it with his glory, and covered it with the light of wisdom proportionate to the piety and taqwa of its speaker.

Al- Jahiz, in the same work, where he discusses the oratory of Sa’Sa’ah ibn Suhan al- ‘Abdi, says that
No greater proof of this excellence as an orator is required than the fact that Ali occasionally came to him and asked him to deliver a speech.

Al- Sayyid al Radi’s following remarks in appreciation and praise of the speech of Imam Ali (a) are famous:
Amir al- Mu’m in in Ali (a) was the reservoir and fountainhead of eloquence, which derived its principles from his speeches and revealed its secrets through him Every orator of make tried to imitate him and every preacher learned from him the art of eloquence. Nevertheless, they lagged far behind him while he excelled them all. His speech (alone) bears the imprint of Divine Wisdom and the fragrance of the prophet’s eloquence.

Ibn Abi al- Hadid is a Mu’tazilite scholar of the 7th / 13th century. He was a masterly writer and an adept poet, and as we know, was adorer of Ali’s discourses. Accordingly, he expresses his profound admiration for Ali Recurringly throughout his book. In the introduction to his famous commentary on the Nahj al- balaghah, he writes:
Rightly has Ali discourse been regarded as being only inferior to that of the Creator and superior to that of all creatures. Ali people have learnt the arts of oration and writing from him. It suffices to say that the people have not recorded even one- tenth or one – twentieth from any other Companion of the prophet (s) of what they recorded and preserved of Ali’s discourses, although there were many eloquent persons among them. Again, it is sufficient that such a man as- al Jahiz is all praise for Ali in his book al- Bayan wa al- tabyin.

Ibn Abi al- Hadid, in the fourth volume of his commentary, commenting on Imam Ali’s letter to Abd Allah ibn al ( written after the fall of Egypt to Mu’awiyah’s forces and the martyrdom of Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, in which Ali (a) breaks the news of this disaster to Abd Allah, who was at Basrah) writes: look how eloquence has given its reins into the hands of this man and is docile to his every signal observe the wonderful order of the words coming one after the other to bow in his presence, or gushing like a spring that flows effortlessly out of the ground. Subhan Allah! An Arab youth grows up in a town like Mecca, has never met any sage or philosopher, yet his discourses have surpassed those of Plato and Aristotle in eloquence and profundity. He has no intercourse with men of wisdom, but has surpassed Socrates. He has not grown up among warriors and heroes but amongst traders and merchants-for the people of Mecca were not a warrior nation but traders- yet he emerges as the greatest warrior of supreme courage to have walked upon the earth. Kha l il ibn Ahmad was asked: of Ali, Bi s tam, An b a s ah, who was the more courageous? Replied he, Bi s tam and Anba sah should be compared with other men, Ali was something superior to human beings.
He came from the Quraysh, who were not the fore most in eloquence –for the most eloquent among Arabs were Banu Jurhum, though they were not famous for wisdom or wit-yet Ali surpassed even sahban ibn wa’il and Qays ibn sa’dah in eloquence.

MODERN PERSECTIVES
During the fourteen centuries that have passed since Ali ‘s times, the world has seen innumerable changes in language, culture and taste, and one may be led to think that Ali’s discourses, which although might have invoked the adoration of the ancients, my not suit the modern taste. But one would be surprised to learn that such is not the case. From the point of view of literary from and content, Ali’s discourses have the rare quality of transcending the limits imposed by time and place. That Ali’s discourses are universal in their appeal to men of all times we shall discuss later. Here, after quoting the views of the classical writers, we shall quote the relevant views expressed by our contemporaries.

The late shaykh Muhammad Abduh, formerly Mufti of Egypt, is a man who came to know the Nahj al- balaghah by accident. This preliminary acquaintance grew into a passionate love for the sacred book and led him to write a commentary on it. It also prompted him to endeavour to make it popular amongst the Arab youth. In the preface to his commentary, he says:
Among all those who speak the Arabic language, there is not a single man who does not believe that Ali ‘ s discourses, after the Q u r’ an and the discourses of the prophet (s), are the noblest, the most eloquent, the most profound and the most comprehensive.

Ali al - Jundi, the dean of the faculty of sciences at the Cairo University, in this book Ali ibn Abi Talib shiruhu wa hikamuh, writing about Ali’s prose, says:
A certain musical rhythm which moves the innermost depths of the soul is characteristic of these discourses.
The phrases are so rhymed that it can called “prose- poetry”.

He then quotes Qudamah ibn Jafar as saying:
Some have mastery in short sayings and others in long discourses, but Ali’s has surpassed all other in both of these, even as he has surpassed them in other merits.

Taha Husayn, the contemporary Egyptian writer of renown, in his book Ali wa banuh (Ali and his sons) recounts the story of a man during the Battle of al- Jamal. The man is in doubt as to which of the two sides is in the right. He says to himself, “How is it possible that such personalities as Talhah and al- Zubayr should be at fault? He informs Ali (a) about his dilemma and asks him whether it is possible that such great personalities and men of established repute should be in error. Ali answers him:
You are seriously mistaken and reversed the measure! Truth and falsehood are not measured by the worth of persons. Firstly find out what is truth and which is falsehood, then you will see who stands by truth and who falsehood.

What Ali means to say is that you have reversed the measure. Truth and falsity are not measured by the nobility or baseness of person. Instead of regarding Truth and falsehood as the measure of nobility and meanness, you prejudge persons by your own preconceived notions of nobility and meanness. Reverse your approach first of all find out the truth itself, then you will
be able to recognize who are truthful. Find out what is falsehood, and then you will identify those who are wrong. It is not significant which person stands by truth and which sides. With falsehood.

After quoting Ali’s above- mentioned reply, Taha Husayn says:
After the Revelation and the word of God, I have never seen a more glorious and admirably expressed view than this reply of Ali.

Shakib Arsalan, nicknamed “amir al- bayan” (the master of speech ),is another celebrated contemporary writer. Once in a gathering held in his honour, in Egypt one of the speakers mounted the rostrum and in the course of his address remarked: “There are two individuals in the history of IsIam who can truly be named amir al- bayan:
One of them is Ali ibn Abi Talib and the other is shakib.” At which shakib Arsalan ( 1871-1946), irritated, left his seat and walked to the rostrum. Deploring the comparison his friend had made between Ali and himself said: “ what comparison is there between Ali and me! I am not worth even the strap of Ali ‘s sandals!

Michael Na’imah, a contemporary Lebanese Christian writer, in the introduction to the book al-Imam Ali’s by George Jurdaq, also a Lebanese Christian, writes:
Ali was not only a champion on the battlefield but was also a hero in all other fields, in sincerity of heart, in purity of conscience, in the spell binding magic of speech, in true humanitarianism, in the firmness and warmth of faith, in the height of tranquility, in readiness to help the oppressed and the wronged, and in total submission to truth wherever it may lie and whichever from it assumes. He was a hero in all these fields.

I do not intend to quote more from those who paid tributes to Ali, for the above – quoted remarks are sufficient to prove my prove, one who praises Ali extols his own meril, for:
He who admires the sun’s brilliance extols himself:
“My two eyes are bright and my vision is not clouded”

I conclude my discourse with Ali’s own statement about himself. One day, one of his companions attempted to deliver a speech, he couldn’t as he found himself tongue –tied. Ali told him:
You should know that the tongue is a part of man and under the command of his mind. If the mind lacks stimulation and refuses to budge, his tongue will not assist him. However, if the mind is ready his speech will not give him respite. Indeed we (the Ahl al -Bayt) are the lords of (the domain of speech. In us sunk its roots and over us are hung its branches.

Al- Jahiz, in the al- Bayan wa al-tabyin, relates from Abd Allah ibn al- Hasan ibn Ali that (a) once said:
We (the Ahl al- Bayt) are superior to others in five qualilies: eloquence, good looks, forgiveness, courage, and popularity with women.

Now we shall take up another characteristic of Ali’s discourses. Which is in fact the main theme of this book: that is, their multidimensionality.

Sources

Glimpses of the Nahjal balaghah- pages: 25 to 35

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