Multidimensional aspects of Nahj – al balaghah with regard to the meaning and subject

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Masterly and literary masterpieces
Most nations possess certain literary works which are regarded as” masterpieces or classics” Here we shall limit our discussion to the classics of Arabic and Persian literature whose merits are more or less perceptible for us. Leaving the other classics of the ancient world, Greece and Rome and so on. and the masterpieces of the modern age from Italy, England, France and other countries to be discussed and evaluated by those who are familiar with them and qualified to discuss them.

Of course, an accurate judgement about the classics of Arabic and Persian is possible only for scholars who have specialized in the classical literature, but it is an accepted fact that every one of these masterpieces is great only in a particular aspect, not in every aspect. To be more precise, every one of the authors of these classics displayed his mastery only in single, special field to which their ingenuity was confined, and occasionally if they have left their special field to tread other grounds they failed miserably.

In Persian there are numerous masterpieces in mystical ghazal, general, ghazal, qasidah, epic, spiritual and mystical allegorical verse, etc, but as we know, none of the Persian poets of world renown has succeeded in creating masterpieces in all these literary forms. Hafiz is famous for mystical ghazal, sa’di for anecdotes and general ghazal, Firdawsi for epic, Rumi for his allegorical and spiritual poetry. Khayyam for his philosophic pessimism and Nizami for something else. For this reason it is not possible to compare them with one another or prefer one over the other. All that can be said is that each one of them is foremost in his own field. If occasionally any of these poetic geniuses has left his special field to try another literary form, a visible decline in quality is readily perceptible. The same is true of Arab poets of one the IsIamic and pre- IsIamic periods.

Tthe foremost Arab poets in the view of Ali( p. b. u. h)
There is an anecdote in the Nahj al-balaghah that once Ali (a)was asked the question, “who is the foremost among Arab poets?” Ali replied:
To be sure all poets did not tread a single path so that you may tell the leader from the follower, but if one were forced to choose one of them, I would say that the foremost among them was al- Malik al- Dillil ( the nickname of Umru’ al- Qays).

In his commentary, ibn Abi al- Hadid cites with a snad (authentic sources) an anecdote under the above –mentioned comment. Here is what he writes:
During the holy month of Ramadan, it was Ali ‘s xustom to invite people to dinner. The guests were offered meal. But Ali himself abstained from the food which was prepared for the guests. After the dinner, Ali would address them and impart moral instruction. One night sat for dinner, a discussion commenced about the poets of the past After the dinner, Ali in the course of his discourse said: “The faith is the criterion of your deeds, taqwa is your shield and protector, good manners are your adornment, and forbearance is the fortress of your honour”. Then turning to Abu al- Aswad al- Du’ali, who was present and moments age had taken part in the discussion about poets, said, “Let us see, who in your opinion is the most meritorious of poets?
Abu al- Aswad recited a verse of Abu Dawud al- Ayadi adding the remark that in his opinion Abu Dawud was the greatest among poets. “you are mistaken:, such is not the case ,: Ali told him. Whereupon the guests, seeing Ali taking an interest in their discussion, pressed him to express his opinion as to as whom he considered the best among poets, Ali said to them:
“It is not right to give a judgement in this matter, for to be certain, the pursuits of the poets are not confined to a single field so that we may point out the forerunner amongst them. Yet, if one were forced to choose one of them, then it may be said that the best of them is one who composes not according to the personal inclinations or out of fear and inhibition [ but he who gives free rein to his imagination and poetic inspiration] Asked as to whom this description would fit, Ali replied “Ali- Malik al- Dillil, Umru’ al –Qays.”

It is said that when inquired as to who was the most eminent poet of the Jahiliyyah (the pre-IaIamic period), Yunus ibn Habib al- Dabbi ( d. 798 A.D), the famous grammarian, anwered:
The greatest of poets is Umru’ al- Qays when he mounts his steed, [i.e. when he composes epic poetry motivated by the feeling of courage and bravery, the passions roused on the battlefield]: al- Nabighah al- Dhubyani when he flees in fear [ i.e, when he expresses himself on the psychological effects of danger and fear]: Zuhayr ibn Abi sulma when he takes delight [in something]:and al- A’sha, when he is in a gay and joyful mood.

Yunus meant to say that every one of these poets had a special talent in his own field in which his works are considered to be masterpieces. Each of them was foremost in his own speciality beyond which his talent and genius did not extend.

One of the outstanding characteristics of Imam Ali’s saying which have come down to us in the form of the Nahj al-balaghah is that they are not confined to any particular field alone, Ali (a) in his own words, has not trodden a single path only, has covered varied and various grounds which occasionally are quite antithetical the Nahj al-balaghah is a masterpiece, but not of the kind which excels in one field such as the epic, the ghazal sermon, eulogy, satire or love poetry, rather it covers multifarious fields as shall be elaborated.

In fact, works which are masterpieces in a particular field exist, nevertheless their number is not great and they are countable on fingers. The number of works which cover numerous subjects but are not masterpieces is quite large. But the characteristic that a work be simultaneously a masterpiece without restricting itself to any one particular subject is an exclusive merit of the Nahj al- balaghah. Excepting the Qu’ran, which is altogether a different subject to be dealt with independently, what masterpiece is comparable to the Nahj al- balaghah. In versatility?

Speech is the spirit’s envoy and the words of a man relate to the sphere in which his spirit dwells. Naturally, speech which pertains to multiple spheres is characteristic of a spirit which is too creative to be confined to a single sphere. Since the spirit of Ali is not limited to a particular domain but encompasses various spheres and he is, in the terminology of the IsIamic mystics, al-insan al-kamil ( a perfect man), al- kawn al- jami (a complete microcosm) and jami kull al- hadarat, the possessor of all higher virtues, so his speech is not limited to any one particular sphere. Accordingly, as we should say, in terms current today, that.

Multidimensional nature of Ali’s speeches in the view of sayyed Razi
Ali ‘s merit lies in the multidimensional nature of his speech, that it is different from one- dimensional works. The all- embracing nature of Ali’s spirit and his speech is not a recent discovery. It is a feature which has invoked a sense of wonder since at least one thousand years. It was this quality that attracted the attention of al- sayyid al-Radi a thousand years ago, and he fell in love with Ali’s speeches and writings. He writes:
Of Ali’s wonderful qualities which exclusively belong to him, nobody sharing in it with him, is that when one reflects upon his discourses regarding abstinence (zuhd), and his exhortations concerning spiritual awakedness, for a while one totally forgets that speaker of these words was a person of highest social and political caliber who ruled over vast territories during his time and his word was command for all. Even for a moment the thought does not enter the reader’s mind that the speaker of words might have been inclined to any thing except piety and seclusion any thing except devotion and worship, having selected a quiet corner of his house or a cave in some mountain valley where he heard no voice except his own and knew nobody except himself, being totally oblivious of the world and its hustle and bustle. It is unbelievable that those sublime discourses on asceticism, detachment and abstinence and those spiritual exhortations came from somebody who pierced the enemy’s ranks and went fighting to the very heart forces, with a sword in his hand, poised to sever the enemy’s head, and who threw many a mighty warrior down from his steed, rolling into blood and dust. Blood drips from the edge of his sword and yet he is the most pious of saints and the most devoted of sages.

Then, after this, al- Sayyid al- Radi adds:
Frequently I discuss this matter with friends and it equally invokes their sense of wonder.

Shaykh Muhammad Abduh, too, was profoundly moved by this aspect of the Nahj al- balaghah, and it made him marvel at its swifly changing scenes, which take the reader on a journey through different worlds. He makes a note of it in the introduction to his commentary on the Nahj al- balaghah.

Multidimensional nature of Ali’s spirit and its effect on his speeches
Aside from his speech, in general, Ali (a) had a spirit that was universal, all – embracing, and multidimensional, and he has always been eulogized for this quality. He is just ruler, a devotee who remains a wake all night worshipping God, he weeps in the niche of prayer (mihrab)and smiles on the field of battle. He is a tough warrior and a soft – hearted and kind guardian. He is a philosopher of profound insight and an able general. He is a teacher, a preacher man whose great soul envelops all spheres of the human spirit.

Safi al-Din al- Hilli (1277- 1349 A.D) says of him:
Opposites have come together in thy attributes, And for that thou has no rivals.
A devout, a ruler, a man of for bearance, and a courageous one,
A deadly warrior, an ascetic, a pauper, and generous to others,
Traits which never gathered in one man,
And the like of which none ever possessed;
A gentleness and charm to abash the morning breeze.
A Valour and might to melt sturdy rocks;
Poetry cannot describe of thy soul,
Thy multifaceted personality is above the comprehension of critics.

Apart from what has been said, an interesting point is that in spite of the fact that Ali’s discourses are about spiritual and moral issues, in them his literary charm and eloquence have attained their peak. Ali (a) has not dealt with popular poetic themes such as love, wine and vainglory, which are fertile subjects for literary expression in prose and poetry. Moreover, he did not aim at displaying his in skills in the art of oratory. Speech for him was a means and not an end itself. Nether did he intend to create an object of nor he wished to be known as an author of a literary masterpiece. Above all, his words have a universality which transcends the limits of time and place. His addressee is human being within every person, and accordingly, his message does not know any frontier, although, generally, time and place impose limits on the outlook of a speaker and confine his personality.

The main aspect of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an is that subjects and themes are altogether at variance with those current during the time of its revelation. It marks the beginning of a new era in literature and deals with another world and a different sphere. The beauty and charm of its style and its literary excellence are truly miraculous. In these aspects too, like in its other features, the Nahj al- balaghah comes closer to the Qur’an. In truth it is the offspring of the Holy Qur’an.

The variety of topics and themes discussed in the the Nahj al- balaghah unfolds a wide spectrum of problems that give colour and hue to these heavenly discourses.

The various topics found in the Nahj al- balaghah, everyone of which is worthy of discussion,
Can be outlined as follows:
1. theological and metaphysical issues
2. mystic path and worship.
3. government and social justice
4. the Ahl al- Bayt (a) and the issue of caliphate
5. wisdom and admonition
6. the world and worldliness
7. heroism and bravery
8. prophecies, predictions, and eschatology
9. prayers and invocations,
10. critique of contemporary
11. social philosophy
12. IsIam and the Qur’an
13. morality and the discipline of self
14. personalities
and a series of other topics.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-balaghah- pages: 35 to 45


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