The question of the sources of the sermons, letters, and sayings of Ali bin Abi Talib in Nahjul Balagha is one that comes to the mind of serious researchers. To simply assume that the book is based upon what is mutawatir is very wishful thinking and does not hold any academic weight. Moreover, Al-Shareef Al-Radhi himself, at times, makes mention of his sources, which gives us a great opportunity to study what he had relied upon in the compilation of his book. Perhaps by studying these sources we could arrive at a conclusion as to whether Al-Radhi himself had the intention of collecting authentic material only or whether he simply intended to collect everything from reliable reports to fabrications.
The Sources and Commentary
1- Mas’ada bin Sadaqa
Mas’ada bin Sadaqa Al-Abdi is a companion of Ja’afar Al-Sadiq and the author of a lost book known as Khutab Ameer Al-Mu’mineen. Al-Radhi quoted from him in Sermon 89. Shias have a difference of opinion in regards to the status of Mas’ada bin Sadaqa, for Al-Tusi regards him as a Sunni, as he stated in his Rijal p. 146, while Al-Kashshi regards him as a Zaydi Batri p. 280. Sunnis, however, do not rely on him and have weakened him. Refer to his biography in Mizan Al-I’itidal by Al-Thahabi.
2- Ibn Al-Kalbi (204 AH)
Hisham bin Mohammad bin Al-Sa’ib Al-Kalbi is the author of many books, most of which are lost. Al-Radhi states that Letter 73 is a quote from Ibn Al-Kalbi’s handwriting. He does not mention from which of these books he is quoting from. Ibn Al-Kalbi has a biography in Rijal Al-Najashi p. 434 in which he is praised and referred to as a Shia scholar. Sunnis do not consider him to be reliable.
3- Mohammad bin Omar Al-Waqidi (207 AH)
Al-Waqidi wrote Kitab Al-Jamal and it is currently lost. Al-Radhi quoted from this book twice. The first time is in Sermon 229 and the second is in Letter 74 which was Ali’s letter to Mu’awiyah. Al-Waqidi is not seen as a reliable source of information by Shias nor Sunnis. Al-Mufeed, in his Kitab Al-Jamal (p. 177), points out that Al-Waqidi is a liar.
4- Abu Ja’afar Al-Iskafi (240 AH)
Abu Ja’afar Mohammad bin Abdullah Al-Iskafi is a Mu’tazili scholar that wrote a book called Al-Maqamat fi Tafdheel Ali (alaihi al-salam). The book is currently lost. Al-Radhi quoted from the book for Letter 53. He is not seen as reliable by Sunnis nor Shias.
5- Sa’eed bin Yahya Al-Umawi (249 AH)
Sa’eed bin Yahya bin Sa’eed Al-Umawi, the scholar from Bani Umayyah, wrote a book about military expeditions, and was Al-Radhi’s source in Letter 77. He is reliable in the view of Sunnis, but he is not considered reliable by Shias. The book written by Al-Umawi, Kitab Al-Maghazi, is currently lost.
6- Ibn Jareer Al-Tabari (310 AH)
Mohammad bin Jareer Al-Tabari, the well known scholar and author of important works such as the Tareekh, which was quoted by Al-Radhi in Saying 372. Al-Tabari is considered to be an Imam by Sunnis and is not considered to be reliable by Shias.
From the above, we find that Al-Shareef Al-Radhi relied on a variety of sources, mainly from those of whom are from a Sunni background, and goes as far to rely on a scholar from Bani Umayyah. According to Shia hadith standards, only the narrations of Ibn Al-Kalbi are acceptable, while the rest are problematic.
The results are clear. Al-Radhi’s compilation is heavily based on those whom Shias do not consider to be reliable sources.