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The Nahj al- balaghah is a magnificent collection of the inimitable sermons, invocations (du’a), wills or advices, epistles and aphorisms of Amir al- mu’minin, Imam Ali ibn AbI Talib ( a), compiled by al- sharif al- Radi ( may God be pleased with him) about one thousand years ago. Time and years have not failed to diminish the impressive freshness of this work, but have added constantly to its value as new concepts and ideas have emerged.
Ali (a) was undoubtedly a man of eloquence and delivered a large number of speeches that became famous. Likewise, numerous saying containing philosophic wisdom were heard from him. He Wrote many letters, especially during the days of his caliphate. Which his admirers recorded and preserved with remarkable interest and zeal. Al- MasudI ( d. 346/955-6), who lived almost a hundred years before al- Sayyid al- Radi (d. 406-1115). In the second volume of his Muruj al- dhahb, under the heading “ FI dhikr luma’ min kalamihi, wa akharihi, wa zuhdih” says: That which has been preserved by people of Ali sermons, delivered on various occasions, exceeds 480 in number, Ali (a) used to deliver his sermons extempore without any previous preparation. The people recorded his words and practically derived benefit from them.
The testimony of an informed researcher and scholar like al- Mas’udi bears out large number of Ali’s speeches that were extant during his time, only 239 of these have been handed down to us in the Nahj al- balaghah, whereas their number, as mentioned by al- Mas’udi was more than 480. Moreover, al- Mas’udi informs us about the extraordinary dedication and ardour of various groups of people in recording and preserving Ali’s words.
Al-SAYYID – RADI AND Attention to the aspect of eloquence of Imam Ali -P. b. u. h
Al- sayyid al- sharif al- Radi, or al- sayyid, al- Radi, as he is commonly called, was an ardent admirer of Ali’s speeches. He was a scholar, a poet and a man of cultivated taste. Al- Tha’alibi, his contemporary, says of him:
He is the most remarkable man among his contemporaries and the noblest amongst the sayyids of Iraq, Family and descent aside, he is. Fully adorned and endowed with literary excellence .He is the most remarkable poet among the descendants of Abi Talib, though there are many distinguished poets among them. To say that of all the Quraysh no poet could ever surpass him would not be an exaggeration.
It was on account of al- sayyid al- Radi ‘s earnest loves of literature in general, and admiration for Ali’s discourses in particular ,that his interest was mainly literary in compiling Ali’s words. Consequently, he gave greater attention to those passages which were more prominent from the literary point of view. This was the reason why the named his anthologh” Nahj al- balaghah “, which means the path of eloquence, giving little importance to mentioning his sources – a point rarely ignored by compilers of hadith (traditions). only at times does he casually mention the name of a certain book from which a particular sermon or epistle has been taken. In a book of history or hadith, it is of primary importance that the sources be precisely specified, otherwise, little credence can be given to it. The value of a literary masterpiece however, lies in its intrinsic beauty, subtlety, elegance and depth. Meanwhile, it is not possible to assert that al-Sayyid al- Radi was entirely oblivious of the historical value and other dimensions of this sacred work, or that his attention was exclusively absorbed by its literary qualities.
Document of Nahj al- balaghah and other speeches of Imam Ali
Fortunately, after al- sayyid al- Radi, other took up the task of collecting the asnad of the Nahj al- balaghah. perhaps the most comprehensive book in the regard is the Nahj al sa’adah tl mustadrak Nahj al- balaghah by Muhammad Bagir al- Mahmudi, a distinguished shi’ah scholar of Iraq. In this valuable book all of Ali’s extant speeches sermons, decrees, epistles. prayers, and sayings have been collected, It includes the Nahj al- balaghah and other discourses, which were not incorporated by al- sayyid al- Radi or were not available to him, Apparently, except for some of the aphorisms the original sources of all the contents of the Nahj al- balaghah have been determined.
It should be mentioned that al- sayyid al- Radi was not the only man to compile a collection of Ali’s utterances, others, too, have compiled various book with different title in this field. The most famous of them is Ghurar al- hikam wa durar al- kalim by al- Amudi, on which Muhaqqiq Jamal al- Din al- Khunsari has written a commentary in Persian and which has been recently printed by the University of Tehran the efforts of the eminent scholar Mir Jalal al- Din al- Muhaddith al- Urmawi.
Ali al- Jundi, the dean of the faculty of sciences at- the Cairo University, in the introduction to book Ali ibn Abi Talib, shiruhu wa hikamuh, cites a number of these collections some of which Have not yet appeared in print and exist as manuscripts, these are:
1. Dustur ma’dlim al- hikam by al- Qudai, the author of the al- Khutat,
2.Nathr al- lali, this book has been translated and published by a Russian Orientanlist in one bulky
3. Hikam sayyidina Ali manuscript of this book exists in Egyptian library, Dar al- Kutub al- Misriyyah.
TWO DISTINCTIVE CHARA CTERISTICS of Ali’s discourses
From the earliest times, two distinct merits have been recognized as characterizing, Ali’s discourses: firstly literary elegance (tasahah) and eloquence ( balaghah) secondly, their characteristic multi – dimensional nature. Any of these two qualities is sufficient for estimating, Ali’s words as valuable, but the combination of these two qualities ( i. e. matchless eloquence, literary elegance, and their multidimensional nature – in that they deal with diverse and occasionally incompatible spheres of life) has made it almost miraculous. For this reason, Ali’s speech occupies a position in between the speech of the human being and the word of the God. Indeed, it has been said of it that “it is above the speech of creatures and below the word of the Creator.
Confession of Imam Ali’s contemporaries to his elegant language.
This aspect of the Nahj al- balaghah requires no introduction for a reader of cultivated literary taste capable of appreciating the elegance and charm of language Basically, beauty is a thing to be perceived and experienced and not to be described or defined, the Nahj al- balaghah, even after nearly fourteen centuries, has retained the same attractiveness, freshness, charm, and beauty for the present –day audience that it possessed for the people of earlier days. Here we do not intend to give an elaborate proof of this claim Nevertheless, as a part of our discourse, we shall briefly describe the marvelous power of Ali’s words in moving hearts and infusing them with the feeling of wonder. we shall start with Ali’s own times and follow the effect of his discourses through the changes and variations in tastes, outlooks, and modes of thought during different successive ages up to the present day.
The companions of Ali’s (a), particularly those who had a taste for language and literary grace ,greatly admired him as an orator. Abd Allah ibn al- Abbas is one of them, two himself, as al- Jahiz points out in his al- Bayan wa al- tabyin. Was a powerful orator. He did not conceal his passion for listening to Ali’s speak or the enjoyment he derived from it. Once, when Ali’s was delivering his famous sermon called al -shiqshiqyyah. Ibn al- Abbas was also present. While Ali’s (a) was speaking an ordinary man of Kufah handed hem a paper containing some questions. Thus causing Ali’s to discontinue his speech Ali’s after reading the letter, did not continue his speech in spite of Ibn al- Abbas urging him to continue. Ibn al- Abbas later expressed the deep regret he felt on that occasion, saying, Never in life was I ever so sorry for interruption of a speech as I was for the interruption of this sermon.
Referring to a certain letter that Ali’s had written to Ibn al- Abbas, he used to say: Except the speech of the Holy prophet, I did not derive so much benefit from any utterance as from this one.
Mu’awiyah ibn Abi sufyan, Ali’s most contumacious enemy, also acknowledges his extraordinary eloquence. when Muhqin ibn Abi Muhqin forsook Ali’s and joined Mu’awiyah, in order to please Mu’awiyah whose heart surged with ill- will bitterness towards Ali’s he told him, I have left the dumbest of men and come to you. The flagrancy of this kind of flattery was so obvious that Mu’awiyah him self reproached him, saying: “Woe to you! you call Ali the dumbest of men? The Quraysh knew nothing about eloquence before him. It was he who taught them the art of eloquence.
INFLUENCE OF ALI’s ORATORY
Those who heard Ali’s speaking from the minbar were very much affected by his words. His sermons made hearts tremble and drew tears from eyes. Even today, who can hear or read Ali’s sermons without a tremor passing through his heart?Al- Sayyid al- Radi, after narrating Ali’s famous sermon al- Gharra says:
As Ali’s delivered his sermon, tears flowed from the eyes of the listeners and hearts quivered with emotion.
Hammam ibn shurayh, one of Ali’s companions, was a man with a heart full of God’s love and a soul burning with spiritual fire. At one time, he requested Ali’s to describe the qualities of pious and God – fearing men, Ali’s on the hand, did not want to turn down his request, and on the other, he was afraid that Hammam might not be able to bear what Ali’s would say. Therefore, he eludes this request giving only a perfunctory description of piety and the pious Hammam is not only unsatisfied with this, but also his eagerness is heightened and he beseeches Ali’s to speak with greater elaboration Ali commences his famous sermon and begins to describe the characteristics of the truly pious. he enumerates about one hundred and five.qualities of such human beings and goes on to describe more. But as Ali’s word s flow in fiery sequence, Hammam is carried to the very extreme of ecstasy. His heart throbs terribly and his spirit is driven to the furthest limits of emotion. It advances in eagerness like a restless bird trying to break out of its cage. Suddenly there is a terrible cry and the audience turn around to find that it came from no other man than Hammam himself Approaching, they find that his soul left its earthly mould to embrace everlasting life, when this happened Ali’s remark, which carries both eulogy and regret, was: I feared this would happen, Strange, yet this is how effective admonition affects sensitive hearts, this is an example of the kind of influence, Ali’s sermons had over the mind s and hearts of his contermporaries.
glimpses of the nahj al-balaghah- pages: 17 to 25
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