The Nahj al-Balaghah (the way of eloquence) is the most famous collection of sermons, letters, and narrations attributed to Imam Ali (a). It was collected by Sharif Razi, a Shi'i scholar in the tenth century. Known for its eloquent content, it is considered a masterpiece of literature in Shi'i Islam, third only to the Quran and Prophetic narrations.
Shia.com has started a project of summarizing nahjul balagha with the hopes that more people would find it possible to benefit from it:
Sermons (click on each number to be taken to its sermon)
Praise is due to Allah whose worth cannot be described by speakers, whose bounties cannot be counted by calculators, whom the height of intellectual courage cannot appreciate; He for whose description no limit has been laid down. He brought forth creation through His Omnipotence, dispersed winds through His Compassion, and made firm the shaking earth with rocks.
The foremost in religion is the acknowledgement of Him, the perfection of acknowledging Him is to testify Him, the perfection of testifying Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him Pure, and the perfection of His purity is to distinguish between Him and His attributes, because attributes are not the essence of Him.
Whoever said in what is He, held that He is contained; and whoever said on what is He held He is not on something else. He exists but not through phenomenon of coming into being, which means He is not from non-existence. He is with everything but not in physical nearness. He is different from everything but not in physical separation. He acts but without connotation of movements and instruments. He sees even when there is none to be looked at from among His creation. He is only One, such that there is none with whom He may keep company or whom He may miss in his absence.
The Creation of the Universe
He initiated creation most initially and commenced it originally, without undergoing reflection, without innovating any movement. He allotted all things their times, put together their variations gave them their properties, and determined their features knowing them before creating them, realising fully their limits and confines and appreciating their propensities and intricacies.
Then Almighty created the openings of atmosphere, expanse of firmament and strata of air, and flowed into it water whose waves were stormy. The wind blew under while water flowed furiously over.
Then Almighty created forth wind and spread it far and wide. Then He ordered the wind to raise up deep waters and to intensify the waves of the oceans. So its level was raised and the surface was full of foam. Then Almighty raised the foam and made therefrom the seven skies without any pole to support it or nail to hold it together. Then He decorated them with stars and the light of meteors and hung in it the shining sun and effulgent moon under the revolving sky, moving ceiling and rotating firmament.
The Creation of the Angels
Then He created the openings between high skies and filled them with all classes of His angels. Some of them are in prostration others in kneeling and some of them are in array and others are extolling Allah and do not get tired.
Among them are those who work as trusted bearers of His message. Some of them are the protectors of His creatures and guards of the doors of the gardens of Paradise. They do not think of their Creator through image, do not impute to Him attributes of the created, do not confine Him within abodes and do not point at Him through illustrations.
Description of the Creation of Adam
Allah collected from hard, soft, sweet and sour earth, clay which He dripped in water till it got pure. From it He carved an image and solidified it. Then He blew into it out of His Spirit whereupon it took the pattern of a human being. He is a mixture of clays of different colours, cohesive materials, divergent contradictories and differing properties like heat, cold, softness and hardness.
Then Allah asked the angels to fulfil His promise with them by acknowledging Adam (p.b.u.h.) through prostration to him and submission to his honoured position. So Allah said:
"Be prostrate towards Adam and they prostrated except Iblis (Satan)." (Qur'an, 2:34; 7:11; 17:61; 18:50; 20:116)
Self-importance withheld him and vice overcame him. So that he took pride in his own creation with fire and treated contemptuously the creation of clay. So Allah allowed him time in order to let him fully deserve His wrath, and to complete (man's) test and to fulfil the promise (He had made to Satan). Thus, He said:
"Verily you have been allowed time till the known Day." (Qur'an, 15:38; 38:81)
Thereafter, Allah inhabited Adam (p.b.u.h.) in a house where He made his life pleasant, and He cautioned him of Iblis’s enmity. But Satan deceived him, and Adam traded his conviction for wavering and determination for weakness and converted his happiness into fear and his prestige into shame. Then Allah taught him words of His Mercy, promised him return to His Paradise and sent him down to the place of trial.
Allah chooses His Prophets
From Adam's progeny Allah chose prophets and took their pledge for carrying His message as their trust. In course of time many ignored His position and Satan turned them away from knowing Him and kept them aloof from His worship. Then Allah sent His Messengers and series of His prophets towards them to get them to fulfil the pledges of His creation, to unveil before them the hidden virtues of wisdom and show them the signs of His Omnipotence.
Allah never allowed His creation to remain without a Prophet, or a book sent down from Him or a binding argument. These Messengers were such that they did not feel little because of smallness of their number or of largeness of the number of their falsifiers.
The Prophethood of Muhammmad
In this way ages passed by and times rolled on, till Allah deputised Muhammmad (peace be upon him and his progeny) as His Prophet. His traits of character were well reputed and his birth was honourable. The people of the earth at this time were divided in different parties. They either likened Allah with His creation or twisted His Names or turned to else than Him. Through Muhammmad (p.b.u.h.a.h.p.) Allah guided them out of wrong and with his efforts took them out of ignorance.
Then Allah chose for Muhammmad, peace be upon him and on his progeny, to meet Him and decided to remove him from this place of trial.
The Holy Qur'an and Sunnah
But the Prophet left among you the same light which other Prophets left among their people, namely the Book of your Creator clarifying its permission and prohibitions, its lessons and illustrations, detailing its abbreviations and clarifying its obscurities.
Sunnah is an important source to interpret the Holy Quran. There are what appears to be obligatory according to the Book but its repeal is signified by the Prophet's action (sunnah). Or there are those which are obligatory in a given time but not so after that time.
Allah has made obligatory upon you the pilgrimage (hajj) to His sacred House. Allah the glorified made it a sign of their supplication before His Greatness and their acknowledgement of His Dignity. Allah the glorified made it (His sacred House) an emblem for Islam and an object of respect for those who turn to it.
Delivered on return from Siffin
Praising Allah and Standing Witness
I praise Allah seeking completion of His Blessing and expecting safety from committing His sins. He whom He guides does not get astray, He with whom He is hostile gets no protection. He whom He supports does not remain needy.
I stand witness that there is no god but Allah the One. It is the foundation stone of Belief (iman) and the first step towards good actions and Divine pleasure. It is the means to keep Satan away.
I also stand witness that Muhammad (p.b.u.h.a.h.p.) is His Prophet. Allah sent him with the illustrious religion, sparkling gleam in order to dispel doubts and present clear proofs.
Arabia before proclamation of Prophethood
At that time people had fallen in vices whereby the rope of religion had been broken, the pillars of belief had been shaken, passage was dark, guidance was unknown and darkness prevailed.
Allah was being disobeyed and Belief had been forsaken. People obeyed Satan and treaded his paths. They sought water from his watering places. Through them Satan's emblems got flying and his standard was raised in vices which trampled the people under their hoofs, and treaded upon them with their feet. They were in a land where the learned were in bridle (keeping their mouths shut) while the ignorant were honoured.
The Household of the Holy Prophet
They are the trustees of His secrets, shelter for His affairs, source of knowledge about Him, centre of His wisdom, valleys for His books and mountains of His religion. With them Allah straightened the bend of religion's back and removed the trembling of its limbs. None in the Islamic community can be taken at par with them.The forward runner has to turn back to them while the follower has to overtake them
They sowed vices, watered them with deception and harvested destruction.
This sermon is known as the sermon of ash-Shiqshiqiyyah, and is counted among the most famous sermons of Amir al-mu'minin.
The First Caliph and Endurance
Beware! By Allah the son of Abu Quhafah dressed himself with it (the caliphate) and he certainly knew that my position in relation to it was the same as the position of the axis in relation to the hand-mill.(But) I kept myself detached from it.
Then I found it wiser to endure calmly the blinding darkness of tribulations wherein the true believer acts under strain till he meets Allah (on his death). I watched the plundering of my inheritance until he died.
Situations at the Time of the Second Caliph
It is strange that during his lifetime he wished to be released from the caliphate but he confirmed it for the other one after his death. This one put the Caliphate in a tough enclosure where the utterance was haughty and the touch was rough. Mistakes were in plenty and so also the excuses therefore. Consequently, people got involved in recklessness, wickedness, unsteadiness and deviation. Nevertheless, I remained patient despite length of period and stiffness of trial.
The Consultation and the Third Caliph
When he went his way (of death) he put the matter (of Caliphate) in a group and regarded me to be one of them. Where was any doubt about me with regard to the first of them that I was now considered akin to these ones? The third man of these people stood up. With him his children of his grand-father, (Umayyah) also stood up swallowing up Allah's wealth, till his actions finished him and his gluttony brought him down prostrate.
People Forcing Him to Rule
At that moment the crowd of people rushed to me. It advanced towards me from every side so much so that Hasan and Husain were getting crushed. When I took up the reins of government one party broke away and another turned disobedient while the rest began acting wrongfully as if they had not heard the word of Allah about the Hereafter.
But the world appeared glittering in their eyes and its embellishments seduced them. If people had not come to me and if there had been no pledge of Allah I then you would have seen that in my view this world of yours is no better than the sneezing of a goat.
It is said to be delivered after the death of Talha and Zubair.
Guidance and Ahlul-Bayt
Through us you got guidance in the darkness and got out of the gloomy night. How can one who remained deaf to the loud cries (of the Qur'an and the Prophet) listen to (my) feeble voice.
I always apprehended from you consequences of treachery and I had seen you through in the garb of the deceitful. I stood for you on the path of truth among misleading tracks (but you just continued your wrong way).
Today I am making clear the right path. The opinion of the person who abandons me may get astray. I have never doubted in the truth since it has been shown to me. Today we stand on the cross-roads of truth and untruth. The one who trusts water feels no thirst. (So if you believe in my guidance, you won’t lose the right path).
Delivered when the Holy Prophet died and `Abbas ibn `Abd al-Muttalib and Abu Sufyan ibn Harb offered to pay allegiance to Amir al-mu'minin for the Caliphate
Steer clear through the waves of mischief by boats of deliverance. Prosperous is one who rises with wings (i.e. when he has power) or else he remains peaceful and others enjoy ease.
If I speak out they would call me greedy towards power but if I keep quiet they would say I was afraid of death. By Allah the son of Abu Talib is more familiar with death than an infant with the breast of its mother. I have hidden knowledge, if I disclose it you will start trembling like ropes in deep wells.
Delivered on being advised not to chase Talhah ibn `Ubaydillah and az-Zubayr ibn al-`Awwam for fighting.
By Allah I shall not be like the badger, which feigns sleep till he who is in search of it finds it. Rather, I shall ever strike the deviators from truth with the help of those who advance towards it, till my day (of death) comes. By Allah I have been continually deprived of my right from the day the Prophet died till today.
About the hypocrites
They have made Satan the master of their affairs, and he has taken them as partners. He has laid eggs and hatched them in their bosoms. He sees through their eyes, and speaks with their tongues. In this way he has led them to sinfulness and adorned for them foul things.
Delivered when allegiance was sworn to him at Medina
The Condition of Umma
You should know that the same troubles have returned to you which existed when the Prophet was first sent. You will be severely subverted till your low persons become high and high ones become low, those who were behind would attain forward positions and those who were forward would become backward. By Allah, I had been informed of this event and of this time.
Beware that sins are like unruly horses on whom their riders have been placed and their reins have been let loose so that they would jump with them in Hell, but piety is exactly the opposite. There is right and wrong and there are followers for each. If wrong dominates, it has (always) in the past been so.
Three Groups of People
He who attempts and acts quickly, succeeds, while the seeker who is slow may also entertain hope, but he who falls short of action faces destruction in Hell. On right and left there are misleading paths. Only the middle way is the (right) path which is the Everlasting Book and the traditions of the Prophet.
He who concocts falsehood is disappointed. He who opposes right gets destruction. It is enough ignorance for a man not to know his place. He who is strong rooted in piety does not get destruction. Repentance is at your back. One should praise only Allah and condemn only his own self.
Among all the people the most detested before Allah are two persons. One is he who is devoted to his self. So he is deviated from the true path and loves speaking about (foul) innovations and inviting towards wrong path. He is himself misled from the guidance, misleads those who follow him in his life or after his death, carries the weight of others’ sins and is entangled in his own misdeeds.
The other man is he who has picked up ignorance. He is senseless in the thick of mischief and is blind to the advantages of peace. People have named him scholar but he is not so. He goes out early till when he has quenched his thirst from polluted water and acquired meaningless things, he sits among the people as a judge. If an ambiguous problem is presented before him he manages shabby argument about it of his own accord and passes judgement on its basis. In this way he doesn’t know whether he was right or wrong. If he is right he fears lest he erred, while if he is wrong he hopes he is right.
He is ignorant, wandering astray in ignorance and riding on carriages aimlessly moving in darkness. He did not try to find real knowledge. He scatters the traditions as the wind scatters the dry leaves.
By Allah, he is not capable of solving the problems that come to him. He does not realise that what is beyond his reach is within the reach of others. Lost lives are crying against his unjust verdicts, and properties (that have been wrongly disposed of) are grumbling against him.
For ignorant and misguided people nothing is more worthless than the Qur’an if it is recited as it should be recited, nor anything more valuable than the Qur’an if its verses are removed from their places, nor anything more vicious than virtue nor more virtuous than vice.
False Scholars and Different Judgments
When a problem is put before anyone of them he passes judgement on it from his imagination. When exactly the same problem is placed before another of them he passes an opposite verdict. Then these judges go to the chief who had appointed them and he confirms all the verdicts, although their Allah is One (and the same), their Prophet is one (and the same), their Book (the Qur’an) is one (and the same)!
Is it that Allah ordered them to differ and they obeyed Him? Or He prohibited them from it but they disobeyed Him? Or (is it that) Allah sent an incomplete Faith and sought their help to complete it?
There is no Divergence in Quran
The fact is that Allah the Glorified says: We have not neglected anything in the Book (Qur’an) . . . (6:38), and in it is a ‘clarification of everything’. And says that one part of the Qur’an verifies another part and that there is no divergence in it as He says:
And if it had been from any other than Allah, they would surely have found in it much discrepancy. (Qur'an, 4:82)
Certainly the outside of the Qur’an is wonderful and its inside is deep (in meaning). Its wonders will never disappear, its amazements will never pass away and its intricacies cannot be cleared except through itself.
Lessons to Learn from Death
If you could see that has been seen by those of you who have died, then you would have listened and obeyed. Shortly, the curtain would be thrown off. You have been shown (the truth), provided you see, and you have been guided if you accept guidance. You have been called aloud by (instructive) examples and warned through items full of warnings. After the heavenly messengers (angels), only man can convey message from Allah. (So what I am conveying is from Allah).
We Should Hurry
Your aim (reward or punishment) is before you. Behind your back is the hour (of resurrection) which is driving you on. Keep (yourself) light and overtake (the forward ones). Your last ones are being awaited by the first ones (who have preceded).
the Poor and the Rich living Together
About keeping aloof from envy
Divine orders descend from heaven to earth like drops of rain, bringing to everyone what is destined for him whether plenty or paucity. So never envy your rich brothers. So long as a Muslim does not commit a shameful act, he is like the competitor who expects that the first draw of his arrow would secure him gain and also cover up the previous loss.
Similarly, a Muslim who is free from dishonesty expects one of the two good things: livelihood, here or hereafter. If he answers Allah’s call and dies, then whatever is with Allah is the best for him. And If Allah bestows His blessing upon him, then he will have children and property while his faith and respect are with him.
Certainly, wealth and children are the plantations of this world while virtuous deed is the plantation of the next world. Sometimes Allah joins all these in some groups.
Beware of Allah against what He has cautioned you to the extent that no excuse be needed for it. Act only for Allah, for if a man acts for someone else then Allah makes him over to that one. We ask Allah (to grant us) the positions of the martyrs, company of the virtuous and friendship of the prophets.
Good behaviour towards kith and kin
O' people! Surely no one can do without his kinsmen, and their support. They alone are his support from rear and can ward off from him his troubles, and they are the most kind to him when tribulations befall him. The good memory of a man that Allah retains among people is better than the property which others inherit from him.
Behold! If any one of you finds his near ones in want or starvation, he should not desist from helping them with that which will not increase if this help is not extended, nor decrease by thus spending it. Whoever holds up his hand from (helping) his kinsmen, he holds only one hand, but at the time of his need many hands remain held up from helping him. One who is sweet tempered can retain the love of his people for good.
Standing against oppressors
By my life there will be no regard for anyone nor slackening from me, in fighting against one who opposes right or gropes in misguidance. O' creatures of Allah, fear Allah and flee unto Allah from His wrath (seek protection in His Mercy). Tread on the path He has laid down for you and stand by what He has enjoined upon you. In that case `Ali would stand surety for your success (salvation) eventually even though you may not get it immediately (i.e. in this world).
Disobedience and Weakness of His Followers
When Amir al-mu'minin received successive news that Mu`awiyah's men were occupying cities and his own officers came to him retreating after being overpowered, he was much disturbed by the slackness of his own men and their difference with his opinion.
Nothing (is left to me) but Kufah which I can hold and extend (which is in my hand to play with). (O' Kufah) if this is your condition that whirlwinds continue blowing through you then Allah may destroy you.
Then he illustrated with the verse of a poet:
O' `Amr! By your good father's life. I have received only a small bit of fat from this pot (fat that remains sticking to it after it has been emptied).
Unity Works Even for the Wrong Party
I have been informed that Busr has overpowered Yemen. By Allah, I have begun thinking about these people that they would shortly snatch away the whole country through their unity on their wrong and your disunity and separation, your disobedience of your Imam in matters of right and their obedience to their leader in matters of wrong, their fulfilment of the trust in favour of their master and your betrayal, their good work in their cities and your mischief. Even if I give you charge of a wooden bowl I fear you would run away with its handle.
O' my Allah they are disgusted of me and I am disgusted of them. They are weary of me and I am weary of them. Change them for me with better ones and change me for them with worse one. O' my Allah melt their hearts as salt melts in water. By Allah I wish I had only a thousand horsemen of Banu Firas ibn Ghanm (as the poet says):
If you call them the horsemen would come to you like the summer cloud.
Saying: 2 - He who adopts greed as a habit devalues himself; he who discloses his hardship agrees to humiliation; and he who allows his tongue to overpower his soul debases the soul.
Saying: 3 - Miserliness is shame; cowardice is a defect; poverty disables an intelligent man from arguing his case; and a destitute person is a stranger in his home town.
Saying: 4 - Incapability is a catastrophe; endurance is bravery; abstinence is riches; self-restraint is a shield (against sin); and the best companion is submission (to Allah's will).
Saying: 5 - The mind of a wise man is the safest custody of secrets; cheerfulness is the key to friendship; patience and forbearance will conceal many defects.
Saying: 6 - A conceited and self-admiring person is disliked by others; charity and alms are the best remedy for ailments and calamities; one has to account in the next world for the deeds that he has done in this world.
Saying: 9- Live amongst people in such a manner that if you die they weep over you and if you are alive they crave for your company.
Saying: 10 - If you overpower your enemy, then pardon him by way of thankfulness to Allah, for being able to subdue him.
Saying: 11- Unfortunate is he who cannot gain a few sincere friends during his life and more unfortunate is the one who has gained them and then lost them (through his deeds).
Saying: 12 - When some blessings come to you, do not drive them away through thanklessness.
Saying: 13 - He who is deserted by friends and relatives will often find help and sympathy from strangers.
Saying: 15 - Our affairs are attached to the destiny decreed by Allah, even our best plans may lead us to destruction.
Saying: 20 - Failures are often the results of timidity and fears; disappointments are the results of bashfulness; hours of leisure pass away like summer-clouds, therefore, do not waste opportunity of doing good.