The great and well-known lsmaili Dai (Missionary) Hakim Nasir Khusraw was the celebrated medieval erudite poet, philosopher, traveler and Hujjat of Khurasan. Nasir Khusraw was one of the most important figures of eleventh century Iran, an era which has produced such men of prominence as Omar Khayyam, Hasan bin Sabbah and Al Muayyad fid Din Shirazi.
Nasir Khusraw, who is considered as the Real Wisdom of the East came from Qubadiyan in Balkh. The full name of this remarkable personality of Persian Literary History was Abu Muinud Din Nasir-i Khusraw. He called himself Marwazi Qubadiyani, as Marw was the capital of Qubadiyan state.
His father was a small landowner in the vicinity of Balkh. He was born in the month of Dhulqad 394 A.H. / 1003-4 A.C. during the time of Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi. He was seeking education from his early childhood and devoted about thirty years in achieving it. He pursued every field of knowledge, intellectual, as well as traditional. He memorized the Holy Quran and became an expert in tradition and in the interpretation of the Holy Ouran. Besides Islamic literature, he also studied the new and the old testament, and books of other religions thoroughly. He studied the Al-Magest of Ptolemy, Geometry of Euclid, Alchemy, Physics, Logic, Music, Mathematics, Medicine, Astronomy, Astrology, etc. He excelled in Literature and knew Hebrew, and Sanskrit, besides Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Greek. He studied the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the epistles of Kindi, Farabi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna).
Regarding his original religion, it is said that he was Shia. Nasir calls himself an Alawi in two of the couplets in his Diwan, from which it may be concluded that “Alawi” does not only mean, Shi’ite but there is good reason to believe that Nasir was really a “Sayyid”. But it is difficult to prove this for he has exercised modesty in this regard.
The inhabitants of Yamgan valley, where Nasir lived during his last days and died, consider themselves as Sayyids and the descendants of Nasir Khusraw.
By birth in the family of the Government officials’ class, he followed the custom of that time and entered the Government service of Ghaznavid and Saljuq administrations. Nasir was employed as a Government Secretary and Revenue Officer.
Taqi-zada in his book “Ham majlis wa ham piyala” of Kings has accused him of being participant of the assemblies of drunken orgies of Princes and so forth. Scrutinizing Nasir’s own statements, says lvanow, one can see that all this is based on misunderstanding. As a gifted and mentally alert youth, he undoubtedly took much real interest in many things, though this never amounted to anything like his poetry’s years — a long search for Truth. He himself has said in his Diwan, he would hardly have devoted his time to composing indecent or frivolous poetry and practising such vices, that when you remember these, your face becomes dark and mind becomes depressed. This is of course, expressed in poetry in which hyperbolism, exaggeration is often the fundamental rule. Most probably this simply means that he enjoyed his life and composed ordinary love songs, which in the strictly religious outlook of his old age appeared to him as shameful frivolity.
The change of dynasty took place in his mother country in 429 A.H. / 1038 A.C. when he was 35 years old. Eight years later he set out on his great journey described in his famous book “Safarnama”.
The Change in his life
It is generally accepted that Nasir went on to the pilgrimage as an orthodox Muslim and became converted to Ismailism in Egypt through which he had to pass on his way to Mecca. He returned to his native land after some time as an lsmaili missionary of high rank, as a Hujjat.
For Nasir Khusraw obviously the truth was only Islam and it may be easily realized that the truth was the authentic interpretation of religion which can be received only from the Imam. It is quite possible, that he might have been Shi’ite, perhaps a change of dynasty, if it upset his career, the frustation of his youthful ambitions, even his probable contacts with lsmailis — all these together possibly inspired him to espouse the cause of the Fatimids whose star had never risen so high as at that particular time.
Nasir Khusraw has given two statements pertaining to his conversion in his Safarnama. One is the oft-cited story of his religious dream at the beginning of the journey and the second one is his “confession” in the form of the lengthiest of his Qasidas. About his dream, he has written in his Safarnama that on a certain night he saw in his dream someone saying to him “How long shall you go on drinking the wine that ruins the human reason? It is high time for thee to become sober”. He answered in the following words: “The wise have not invented any better means for the purpose of reducing sorrows of the world.”The addresser of the dream said, “Senselessness and unconsciousness do not bring peace of mind. One cannot be called a wise man if one leads people to unconsciousness. It is necessary to search for something that flourishes reason and increases wisdom. He asked,”Where can I find that?” The addresser replied: “Those who search will find,” and waved his hand in the direction of Qibla saying nothing more.
This was the sign indicating the Fatimid Imams who were in Cairo in Egypt. After seeing this dream he resigned from his services and set out on his great journey.
“Nasir”, says Dr. lvanow, “himself well knew the harm that he was causing to himself but obviously the speaker in the dream was some one of especial importance, the Prophet or the lmam, not named by him out of peculiar modesty. It is generally believed that the Prophet may “appear in the dream” only to deserving and pious people and would not visit others. Thus the mention of a holy visitor is equivalent to the narrator’s claim to exceptional piety and virtue. So his sincere devotion to religion of Shi’ite type caused Nasir Khusraw to be converted to Ismailism where he could recover from his chronic drunkness i.e. practising religious life without knowing its real meaning and implications. He was awakened from his intoxication, i.e. he was convinced of the lsmaili faith and later he went to Cairo for higher training and instructions.
In the autumn of the 1045 A.C.Nasir Khusraw being warned by the dream, was determined to renounce the wine and to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca. He was about 40 years old at that time. He performed a complete ablution, repaired to the mosque of Jazjanan, where he then happened to have registered a solemn vow of repentence, and set out on his journey in 437 A.H. / 1045 A.C.
Nasir Khusraw after seeing the dream resigned from his services and set out on the great journey with his younger brother Abu-Saeed and an Indian servant. He traveled by the way of Shaburqan to Merv, then proceeded to Nishapur and visiting the tomb of Sufi Saint Bayazid of Bostam at Qums, came by way of Demghan to Samnan, where he met Ustad Ali Nisai, a pupil of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and lecturer on Arithmetic, Geometry and Medicine. Passing onwards through Qazwin he reached Tabriz on Safar 20th, 438 A.H. / 1046 A.C. and there he made the acquaintance of the poet Qatran. to whom he explained passages in poems of Daqiqi and Maujik. Then he made his way successively to Van, Akhiat, Bittis, Arzan, Mayfaraqin, Amid, Aleppo, and Ma’arratun Nu’man, where he met great Arabic philosophical poet Abul Ala-af Ma’arri of whose character and attainment he speaks in warmest terms. Then he visited Hama, Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Acre, and Haifa. He spent sometime in Syria in visiting the tombs of Prophets and other holy places, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem, he made his first pilgrimage to Mecca in 1047 A.C. From Mecca by the way of Damascus to Jerusalem, he proceeded by land to Egypt and finally arrived in Cairo on Safar 7th, 439 A.H. / 1047 A.C.
Nasir Khusraw, attracted by the fame of Al Mustansir, came from Khurasan to Egypt, where he lived seven years, performing the pilgrimage and returning to Egypt every year.
It would be strange that if he remained a Sunni until his arrival in Cairo, he should have been converted by no less a figure than Al Muayyad himself, and at once accepted into the service.
His stay in Cairo marks an epoch in his life, for it was here he became acquainted with the splendor, justice and wise administration of the Fatimid Caliph and Imam Al Mustansir Billah and here it was that he was initiated into the esoteric doctrine of the lsmaili creed, received the commission to carry on their propaganda. During this period, the Muslims were ruled by the Ismaili Imams who were also the Caliphs of the Islamic Empire and this was the period in which Al Azhar, the world’s oldest University was founded.
Nasir Khusraw in his Safarnama has described the city of Cairo, the excellent administration of the Fatimid Imams and Caliphs, the wealth, contentment and security of their subjects. His description of Cairo, its mosques, its gardens, buildings and suburbs is admirable. The details of Fatimid administration given by him are most valuable. He was much impressed with the discipline of the army, maintenance of law, peace and order in the country. Describing the excellent administration in beautiful words, he says. “it seems that Fatimids are the only lawful authorities and the protectors of the garden of Allah.
According to Encyclopedia of Islam, Nasir Khusraw left Persia at the difficult period, when the country was being laid waste by the continued wars between the various Princes. He found the same wretched picture in all the Muslim countries which he had to traverse on his journey. Only Egypt proved a pleasing exception,where he saw prosperity, rich bazars, harmony and tranquility. As the lsmaili dynasty of Fatimids were ruling in Egypt at that time, Nasir concluded that Islam had diverged from the true path and that only lsmailism could save the true believers from inevitable ruin.
When Nasir Khusraw visited Cairo in 439 A.H., he went to the court of Fatimid Caliph, Imam Mustansir Billah. There he met Khawaja Al Muayyad Fiddin Shirazi, who was then one of the twelve ‘Hujjats’ of the lmam. He discussed with him about the allegories of the Holy Ouran and other secrets of the Shariat (religious law) and he found the righteousness of the Fatimid Caliph Imam Al Mustansir Billah and accepted him as his lmam. He says, “I searched in the world for Tawil-e Mutashabihat (The meaning of allegories of Holy Ouran) but I could not find them anywhere except with Fatimid Caliphs”.
He praised his teacher Al Muayyad in his Diwan for his superiority in knowledge.
“Kih kard az khatir-i Khwaja Muayyad Dar-i-Hikmat kushada bar tu yazdan shab-i-man rooz-i raushan kard Khwaja za burhanha-i-choon khurshid-ipakhshan.
Mara binamood hazir har do aakm ba yak ja dar tanam paida pinhan.”
“From the heart of Al Muayyad, God has opened for thee the doors of wisdom. Khwaja changed my night into a shiny day by his right arguments like the sun. He showed me both the worlds in my person, he made me behold them openly as well as secretly, in my person.”
In Noorum Mubin with reference of Rawzatus Safa, Habibus Siyar, Dabistanul Mazahib it is written that Nasir Khusraw acquired the knowledge of Philosophy at Jama Azhar. He made vast studies at Darul Hikmat, held discussions with Khawaja Al Muayyad a diplomat and Intelligent Dai ud Duwa’t, from him acquired deep knowledge of Philosophy. Later on, he was brought before the lmam Mustansir Billah by Vazir Abu Nastre Sadka lbn Yusuf, where he received the blessings of Imam. Later on he was bestowed with the title of Dai ud Duwa’t by the lmam. He was then sent to various tours prior to his departure to his native country where he was designated to carry on the work of preaching.
Thus Sayyidna Nasir Khusraw spent three or five years in the service of lmam and was appointed to the propagation of the Da’wah in Khurasan. He was given the title of Hujjat-i Khurasan and he became one of the twelve Hujjats of the court of lmam.
Beginning of Da’wah
In 444 A.H. when he returned to Khurasan, he had already given up all the luxuries and he began to propagate the Da’wah with great enthusiasm and ambition. He started his mission from Balkh and used to send ‘Dai’s’ and ‘Madhoons’ (missionaries and their assistants) to the provinces of the country. Besides being well versed in the different fields of knowledge he had a great ability and power of eloquence and discussions with ‘ulemas’ and praised the glory of the Fatimid Caliphs and assert their lmamat very efficiently and took pride in being a follower of the Fatimid lmams and used to call himself a Fatimi.
This caused Abbasid minded Ulema to agitate the public to rise against him in enmity because they were the enemies of the Fatimids. Soon the Saljuqs ruled the land, became convinced that Nasir’s activity was a serious threat to them. So he was persecuted and had to flee from Balkh. He took refuge in Mazindaran. The fact that he visited Mazindaran, is alluded in some of Nasir’s poems, and is attested by his contemporary Abul Maali in Bayanil Adyan. He also tried to propagate the Da’wah but unfortunately was confronted with the same enmity as he had to face in Balkh. Once again he directed his efforts towards Balkh and entered Nishapur, where he once again tried his luck at the preaching but had to face the same bitter enemity, so he left for Badakhsan and settled in Yamgan, and started his mission vigorously. He made Yamgan his seat of Dawat, from where he used to send every year a book written by himself to the provinces, in support of his propagation besides missionaries.
Most of his work was done at Yamgan. Professor lvanow says that the political situations of that time did not let him out of this narrow valley which proved to be his prison and from which only death released him. But then too he had some means of communication with the outer world, even with Egypt, otherwise he would not have written his Qasidas and perhaps other books. He also received Da’wat books from Egypt, where as according to local tradition of Badakhshan, Shah Sayyid was busy with converting local inhabitants and even undertook extensive journeys in the East, during which he visited India. All this is narrated in the book called Gawhar Raz written by Nasir Khusraw.
It is due to his tireless endeavours that there are millions of lsmailis in Afghanistan, Russia, China, Chitral, Hunza, Gilgit and even in Pamir, the roof of the world. He often used to go to neighboring countries to preach.
It is said that once he went to a place called Munjgan (Lutkoh) in Chitral where he stayed for a short time. The natives of that place today consider the place where he stayed as a Holy Shrine and claim that they possess some books written by him in Arabic which are translated into Persian and Turkish. They also claim that they have a cloak and sandals of the celebrated Hujjat.
”Except with the spiritual help of the descendants of the Prophet (Tayid-i Al Rasool), I would have neither had any book to my credit, nor anything to teach others. (From Diwan of Nasir Khusraw).
Many Persians are poets by nature but the poems of Nasir Khusraw are moral, Philosophical and religious. Nasir Khusraw has written numerous works of the highest value and interest both in verse and prose. Most of the works of this great author have been the objects of very careful study by many eminent Western scholars like Bland, Dorn, Ethe, Fagnan. Noldeke, Pertsch, Riev, Ivanow, Schefer and many others. His religious and philosophical views are abundantly illustrated in his verses.
His great works include the most important great philosophical ‘Diwan’ which was composed in the miserable years of his exile. The artistic value of his poems is not especially high, but the philosophical matter which still awaits its investigator is of very great importance for the history of Persian Literature. It is a complete encyclopedia of lsmaili teaching but of course an unsystematic one. From a linguistic stand point, the work is of extra ordinary interest. A good edition of Persian text appeared in Teheran in 1928 A.C. in which two not very long didactic poems were appended to.
Rushanai Nama or the book of felicity which sharply criticises the aristocracy of the Kingdom and praises the peasants as “The nourisher of every living I create.”
The best known of Nasir’s prose works is the Safarnama, a description of his pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a travelogue and a valuable source of the most varied information. In his best work Safar Nama, he describes his outlook as a country squire, always with keen eyes on matters which belonged to the usual circle of interest of his native land. He pays special attention to land, irrigation facilities, bazars (markets), trade and industry. But unfortunately this work has come down to us only in a very mutilated form and has probably been edited by a Sunni hand. The other works of Nasir are mainly Ismaili text books.
Among them, first place should be given to Zad-al Musafrin. It is an encyclopaedia of a special character which deals with the varied questions of a metaphysical and cosmographical nature. The doctrine of Tawil or allegorical interpretation is clearly explained by him, such as paradise, hell, the Resurrection, the torment of tombs, the rising of sun from the west are all allegorically explained in his work.
No less important is the Wajhi Din an introduction to lsmailism, which gradually initiates the reader in lsmaili belief by means of quotations form the Holy Ouran, clearly put together. A number of similar pamphlets like Umm al Kitab, which were quite recently fairly widely disseminated among lsmailis of the Pamirs are sometimes credited to our author Sayyidna Nasir Khusraw. He also wrote more than a dozen treatises expounding the doctrines of the lsmailis, among them the Jami al Hikmatain in which he attempted a harmony between theology and philosophy. His other works are, Khwanal lkhwan, Shish Fasi, Gushaish wa Rihaish, Bustanul Uqul, Daliui Mutahhareen etc. Nasir’s works were numerous but many have not survived in perfect form. Modern lsmaili researcher Nasir Hunzai, has done vast studies of his works and has also translated most of them into Urdu, says that although considerable portions of Nasir’s work are now available in good editions, one cannot yet assert that sufficient light has been thrown upon his striking personality. It would be particularly valuable if his philosophical system could be studied as it is of far-reaching importance for the history of thought in Persia and history of lsmailis. Although Hakim Nasir Khusraw was a great philosopher and poet, his main subject remained religion. He used his poetry and philosophy for the propagation of lsmaili dawat. He always took pride in spiritual elevation by Taid-i lmam (the spiritual help of Imam). To him philosophy was nothing in comparison to the spiritual elevation. He says:
“When you will behold the personals of God then you will never be pawned by philosophy. When you will proceed towards God and follow the right path your physical power and spiritual enlightenment will increase.”
There is a controversy about the death of Hakim Nasir Khusraw. Some say that he died at the age of 140, but the modern researchers in history are of the opinion that he died between the age of 87 and 100. The great savant Taqi Zadah, in his introduction to the Safarnama holds in support to Haji Khalifa who has mentioned in his book Taqeen-ut Tawareekh that the great Hakim’s death occured in the year 481 A.H. Hakim Nasir Khusraw died at Yamgan and was buried there. His mausoleum is looked upon as a holy shrine by the natives of Badakhshan in Tajikistan.
Nasir Khusraw was that man of wisdom whose memory would never fade out with time but would live for centuries.