Ever since the early years of Islam, the eloquent wordings of Imam 'Ali (A.S.), especially his unparalleled sermons, have attracted the attention of the literati as well as the common man. Those familiar with the intricate beauties of the Arabic language, had collected or compiled these precious bezels of wisdom, starting from the lifetime of the Commander of the Faithful. As the historian Abu al-Hasan Mas'udi (d. 346 AH) says:
"What the people had memorised or preserved of (the sayings of) Imam 'Ali (A.S.) and according to which they acted in word and deed, were 400 sermons as well as 80 - odd sermons which had delivered extempore." 1
According to the bibliographical works, centuries before Sayyid Razi compiled his magnum opus Nahj al-Balaghah, several scholars had collected in book-form the sayings and judgements of Imam Ali (A.S.). The list is long and is out of scope of this article. However, it would suffice to mention the names of some of the prominent persons whose collections were well known before Razi took up the task:
1. 'Ubaydullah bin Abi Rafi': Shaykh Tusi has stated in al- Fihrist. '"Ubaydullah bin Abi Rafi' is the author of the book Qazaya Amir al-Mu 'minin.
2. Zayd bin Wahab Juhani: Shaykh Tusi in al-Fihrist states: "Zayd bin Wahab is the author a book on the sermons of Amir al- Mu'minin (A.S.), titled Khutab Amir al-Mu'minin (A.S.) 'ala al- Manabir fi al-Jumu 'ah wa al-A'yad wa Ghayriha."3
3. Muhammad bin Qays Bajalli: According to Shaykh Tusi, he is the author of the book Qazaya Amir al-Mu'minin ('a).4
4. Asbagh bin Nubatah: Shaykh has written in al-Fihrist: "Asbagh ibn Nubatah was one of the close companions of Amir al- Mu'minin (A.S.) who survived the Imam and has narrated the epistle which was written to Malik al-Ashtar on being appointed the governor of Egypt. He is also the narrator of the Imam's long wasiyyah (will) to his son Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah."5
5. Isma'il bin Mihran: Shaykh Tusi says about him: "He was a companion of Imam Reza (A.S.) and has narrated from him. He is the author of several books including the one titled Kitab Khutab Amir al-Mu 'minin (A.S.)."
6. Abu Ishaq Ibrahim bin Hashim al-Qummi: Shaykh Tusi says about him: "He was a companion of Imam Reza (A.S.), and of the books which he wrote mention could be made of al-Nawadir and Kitab Qazaya Amir al-Mu'minin (A.S.)."
7. Salih bin Abi Hammad Razi: al-Najashi in his Rijal states: "He was a companion of Imam Hadi ( 'a) and is the author of several books including Kitab Khutab Amir al-Mu 'minin ( 'a)."8
8. Hisham Kalbi (d. 206): al-Najashi says about him: "He is the author of several books including Kitab Khutab Amir al- Muminin ('a)."9 lbn Nadim also confirms this in his al-Fihrist that Hisham al- Kalbi was the compiler of the sermons of Amir al-Mu'minin ( 'a).
9. Ibrahim bin Nahmi: Shaykh Tusi and al-Najashi say that he was the author of several books including Kitab al-Khutab.
10. Abu al-Hasan 'Ali bin Muhammad al-Mada'ini al- Akhbari: Khawansari says that he was the author of as many as 200 books of had'ith and history including Kitab Khutab Amir al-Mu'minin (A.S.). '
11. 'Abd al-' Aziz Jalludi: al-Najashi says in al-Rijal-. He is the author of several books. As related by scholars among his books (on the wordings of Imam 'Ali) are Musnad Amir al- Mu'minin, Kitab al-Khutab (sermons), Kitab al-Shi'r (poems), Kitab al-Qaza' (judgements), al-Rasa'il (letters), Maw'azah(maxims) and Du 'a ' (supplications).
12. 'Abd al-'Azim al-Hasani: His tomb in Rayy is a site of pilgrimage revered as Shah 'Abd al-'Azim, and according to al- Najashi he compiled the book titled Kitab Khutab Amir al-Mu'minin (A.S.). 14
13. Ibrahim Thaqafi (d. 283): According to al-Najashi he wrote several books including books on the Rasa 'il, Akhbar and Khutab of Amir al-Mu'minin (A.S.).'S
14. Muhammad bin Khalid al-Barqi: According to al-Najashi he wrote several books including Kitab al-Khutab.'6
15. Muhammad bin Ahmad Kufi Sabuni: According to al- Najashi he is the author of several books including Kitab al-Khutab.'7
16. Muhammad bin Isa Ash'ari: He was a companion of Imam Reza and Imam Jawad (A.S.) and has related hadith from them. He is the author of Kitab al-Khutab.'8
17. Jahiz (d. 255): He has collected 100 of the short sayings of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) under the title "Matlub Kull Talib min Kalam Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali bin Abi Talib". He says in the introduction to his work: "Every single word (of Imam 'Ali) is equal to 1000 words of wisdom expressed by the Arabs." Ibn Maytham Bahrani Rashid al-Din Watwat and "Abd al-Wahhab have written three famous commentaries on this collection.'"
Furthermore, 'Allamah Tehrani in al-Dhan'ah has listed a great number of the books titled 'Usul" which contained the sermons of Imam 'Ali (A.S.). 20 Nahj al-Balaghah was a high water mark in this regard and created a lively trend in the writing of commentaries on the sayings of the Commander of Faithful. But Razi, as he says in his introduction to Nahj al-Balaghah, had not collected all that was said by Imam 'Ali (A.S.), since it was difficult for him to have access to all that was related from Amir al-Mu'minin (A.S.). Thus, scholars who came after Razi, continued this trend of collecting and selecting the sayings of Imam 'Ali (A.S.). Among them mention could be made of the following authors and their works:
1. 'Abd al-Wahed bin Muhammad Tamimi Amudi (d. 510). He compiled the book Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim in which he has collected 11,050 of short sayings of Imam 'Ali (A.S.),compared to 480 selected by Razi.
2. Abu 'Abdullah Qaza'i (d. 454): He has collected the sayings of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) spread over nine chapters in his book titled: Ma 'alim al-Hukama ' wa Mathurah Makarim al-Shiyam.21
3. Shaykh al-Tabrisi (d. 548): He has arranged the sayings of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) in alphabetical order in his book Kitab Nathr al- Lial'i.22
4. Ibn Abi al-Hadid Mu'tazili (d: 655): In his voluminous commentary on Nahj al-Balaghah, he has selected 1,000 sayings of Imam 'Ali (A.S.) that were not mentioned by Sayyid Razi. 23