The following sermon from Ali ibn Abi Talib can be found in Nahj-ul-Balagha as well as in Tarikh al-Tabari.

فإِنَّ الغَايَةَ أَمَامَكُمْ، وَإِنَّ وَرَاءَكُمُ السَّاعَةَ تَحْدُوكُمْ تَخَفَّفُوا تَلْحَقوا، فَإنَّمَا يُنْتَظَرُ بِأوَّلِكُمْ آخِرُكُمْ .

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). [Sermon 21]

It is said that Ali's saying "Keep light and overtake" in this sermon is the shortest expression with the deepest meaning. As I understand the first part of it - "keep light" - obviously refering to reduce attachment to material world and restrain from accumulating items/wealth, I am not sure about the second part -"overtake"- and the last sentence of the sermon.

Answer with references would be much appreciated.


2 Answers 2


salaam alaykum,

The statement "Keep light and overtake" references two factors in relevance to one subject. In the prior sentence Imam Ali is informing you about the journey you're on. The aim of reward/punishment is ahead in this journey and there is no going backwards or any other direction because of the driving force that limits your choices of where you can go (the day of judgement)

Keep light and overtake is a description then of how you should proceed towards the direction you're being forced to go on this journey.

Keeping light, refers to not letting the affairs of this world, burden you. Whether those be difficulties, and trials. Or pleasures and material temptations. Let nothing slow you down and keep you from being able to move forward with ease.

Over take, refers to the reality that everyone is moving on this journey together, our goal is to move ahead and progress more than those around us. Our goal should always be that if we are aware of our journey, and our goal, and we have access to resources to guide us and lead us we should be more successful in this journey. We should be the ones attain greater reward than everyone else. We should be the ones by the attachment to good examples to be entitled to the divine pleasure more than others.

In Keeping light we are understanding how to execute the journey. In Overtake we are being commanded to be the best of all those who will reach the end of our journey.

  • This explanation makes sense. Thank you. Giving a reference would be great. But I know it is not easy to find references for the interpretations of Imam Ali's sayings.
    – Noor
    Apr 23, 2017 at 13:01

He means make yourself light by keeping away from the "Burduns" of the human desires (Source). These attire sins and sinful acts however these are regarded to be "light" on the scale when compared to good deeds they can let you lose your aim or at least lose to track them (for a while)!

In this article which seems to contradict the major understanding of nahj al-Balagha (and opposed to religion adn belief) being a book that shows up the fasaha of Ali ibn Abi Talib the author quoted contradictory meanings of each part of this sermon and after quoting the statement of as-Sharif Radi:

As-Sayyid ar-Radi says: If this utterance of 'Ali (p.b.u.h.) is weighed with any other utterance except the word of Allah or of the Holy Prophet, it would prove heavier and superior in every respect. For example, `Ali's saying "Keep light and overtake" is the shortest expression ever heard with the greatest sense conveyed by it. How wide is its meaning and how clear its spring of wisdom! We have pointed out the greatness and meaningfulness of this phrase in our book al-Khasa'is. (Source)

(My own translation take it with the necessary care!) - - -

... the last two sentenses or expressions of this quote make the meaning of the whole sattement too ambiguous. At the beginning he tells his audiance that they are about to take a path (travel) with a specific goal or destination but then The commentators had differences in explaining: الغَايَةَ (the goal or aim) and he further told them that there's something pushing them (or which should be a reason for hasting) towards this destination or aim. But then he asks the audiance to keep light because the first who reaches the aim will be waiting for the last to come and join the "caravan".
Now the commentators quoted that the goal or aim or destination is paradise and hell while the hour refers to death or the day of resuraction, but the 3rd and 4th statement are too vague and the comments are contrdictory so some said that "keep light and overtake تخففوا تلحقوا" means that the human being should keep light from sins so that his burdon would be a lot easier and this isn't a good interpretation because anybody has his sins and good deeds and needs to carry them with him and it's important to do many good deeds to reach the goal this means he would need to keep more and more burdons of these deeds which would mean they would become heavy and make his movement slow. So the advice of keeping light sounds like it is going against the guidlines of shari'a which ask as to do more good deeds. Others explained it meaning the allowed desires of this life not the sins but this again seems wrong as he asks the people who love this life (dunya) to leave their desires to access hell earlier! They dont even want to reach it so how does he advise them to hurry? And the last statement destroys the whole meaning because what is the purpose of hurryng if the "caravan" would wait for those who come late!

So we can conclude that "keep light" has been explained as the burdon of human desires (even if they are allowed) or as leaving sinful acts!

  • 1
    Thank you for answering and taking the trouble to translate. But it seems that the article you chose is not the best one to explain the meaning of Ali's saying. I find it more confusing and unclear.
    – Noor
    Dec 2, 2016 at 20:20
  • 1
    When I read the sentence Takhafafo TalHaQo I get the feeling it means something like; Be patient you will arrive. Or keep your (bad deeds) light, you will arrive! But of course I haven't read about the whole context which could change the meaning
    – Kilise
    Dec 3, 2016 at 9:47

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