Nahj al-Balāghah: The Wisdom and Eloquence of ʿAlī

A Parallel English-Arabic Text


Editor / Translator:
Nahj al-Balāghah, the celebrated compendium of orations, letters, and sayings of ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661) compiled by al-Sharīf al-Raḍī (d. 406/1015), is a masterpiece of Arabic literature and Islamic wisdom studied and memorized avidly and continually for over a thousand years. Showcasing ʿAlī’s life and travails in his own words, it also transcribes his profound reflections on piety and virtue, and on just and compassionate governance. Tahera Qutbuddin’s meticulously researched critical edition based on the earliest 5th/11th-century manuscripts, with a lucid, annotated facing-page translation, brings to the modern reader the power and beauty of this influential text, and confirms the aptness of Raḍī’s title, “The Way of Eloquence.”
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Tahera Qutbuddin, Ph.D. (1999), Harvard University, is AlBabtain Laudian Professor of Arabic at The University of Oxford. Author of the award-winning Arabic Oration: Art and Function (Brill, 2019), she has published widely on Islamic preaching, Muḥammad’s ḥadīth, ʿAlī’s sermons, Fatimid poetry, Tayyibi Bohra literature, and Arabic in India.
“Below the speech of the Creator but above the speech of created beings”—this is how commentator Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd (d. ca. 1258) famously described Nahj al-Balāghah, recognizing this collection as the pinnacle of eloquence in the Arabic language. Tahera Qutbuddin presents in this volume a painstaking new edition of this monument of Arabic literature, based on the oldest and most reliable manuscripts and thorough consideration of the commentarial tradition. Her brilliant translation is faithful to the original text, precise, and elegant, capturing the force of pithy aphorisms, the cadence of Arabic oratory, and contemplative reflection on the trials and tribulations of human experience, the ethical quandaries of social and political life, and the wonders of the natural world.
—Devin J. Stewart, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, and Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory University

Translating the sermons and sayings of Imam ʿAli, “the gate to the city of knowledge,” is a momentous task. Dr. Qutbuddin has not only encapsulated the thoughts and ideas of Imam ʿAli accurately, but she has also beautifully preserved the fluency, flow and tempo of Nahj al-Balāghah’s sermons and sayings in English through her selective choice of words and flowing structure. I strongly recommend this translation to the specialist and casual reader alike.
—Syed Muhammad Rizvi, Principal Director, Shiʿa Research Institute, Toronto, and Head, Council of Shiʿa Muslim Scholars of North America

Few works in Arabic contain the depth of wisdom and eloquence found in Nahj al-Balāghah, the fourth-century AH collection of the statements of Imam ʿAli b. Abi Talib. My journey with the text—published and lauded by the Egyptian reformer Muhammad Abduh—began more than fifty years ago at the Beirut Religious Seminary where I was required to memorize sections to hone my speaking skills; later, at al-Azhar University in Cairo, my professor Dr. Abd al-Halim Mahmoud made me recite from a sermon for my oral exams. This new edition of Nahj al-Balāghah, edited by a scholar of Arabic rhetoric, utilizes the oldest and most reliable manuscripts and includes an erudite and in-depth introduction, ensuring its place as a core reference for scholars and researchers. I congratulate Professor Qutbuddin on this outstanding academic achievement.
—Ridwan al-Sayyid, Dean of the College of Postgraduate Studies and Research, Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Humanities, Abu Dhabi

“People! We live in a challenging age and a difficult time ...”. This is one of the many statements that still ring true, and it is not surprising that Nahj al-Balāghah (The Way of Eloquence) has remained one of the most revered Arabic texts among both Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims. These speeches, letters, and sayings attributed to ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muḥammad, one of the key figures in Islamic history and considered an outstanding orator, were compiled around CE 1000. This volume, with Tahera Qutbuddin’s splendid scholarly edition and masterly translation, is a major achievement.
—Geert Jan van Gelder, Laudian Professor of Arabic Emeritus, University of Oxford
The book is aimed at a wide readership interested in classical Arabic literature, Islamic studies, and Shi’ism, also history, virtue ethics, government, religion, political science, world literature, and orality studies.
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