The word nahj means road and balagah is derived from baligh means to convey. The Nahj al-Balagah means the way of eloquence or way of rhetoric. It is the collection of 238 sermons (khutba), 79 letters and 478 short sayings of Ali bin Abu Talib, the first Imam. It was compiled by Sharif ar-Radi (d. 406/1015) and his brother al-Murtada Ali bin Tahir (d. 436/1044).
Many critics have questioned the validity of Nahj al-Balagah, maintaining that several sermons are fabricated by Sharif ar-Radi and al-Murtada to legalize the Shi’ite doctrinal differences. It has been an issue and lively polemic from the middle ages to the present. Ibn Khallikan (d. 681/1283) seems to have been the first to raise doubts on its authenticity. The majority of later writers, beginning with Dhahabi (d. 748/1348) in Mizan al-Itidal, Ibn Hajr in Lisan al-Mizan, Haji Khalifa (d. 1067/1657) in Kashf al-Zunun, etc. have in their turn revived these suspicions. On the other hand, Ibn Hadid (d. 656/1258) has no doubt as to the validity of this work. Laura Veccia Vaglieri writes that it is undeniable that a large portion of Nahj al-Balagah could indeed be attributed to Ali, especially certain historical and panegyrical passages, although it is difficult to ascertain the authenticity of the more apocryphal sections.
Sharif ar-Radi and al-Murtada Ali b. Tahir are most possibly doubtful compilers, because they were branded “liars” in Egypt during the Fatimid period. The Shi’ite jurist, Sharif ar-Radi (d. 406/1015) was an official keeper of the records of the Alid genealogies in Baghdad. He versified some verses in favour of the Fatimid Imams being the descendants of the Prophet in 400/1009, which reads: