A Brief Note on the Life of Nasir-i Khusrau
Copyright, Iraj Bashiri 2004
Hakim Abu MoĠin
al-Din, Nasir-i Khusrau al-Qubadiani al-Balkhi al-Marvazi, also referred to
as al-Hujjat (Proof), was born in July 1003-4 in Qubadian of Balkh. He
died in Yumgan, a principality of Badakhshan in 1088. Nasir-i Khusrau grew up
in Qubadian in a relatively wealthy scholarly ShiĠite family. His father was
a landowner and a government employee. Nasir-i Khusrau received his early education
in Qubadian and went on to
As a youth,
Nasir-i Khusrau spent a considerable amount of his time in
In 1045, while he
was living in Juzjan, Nasir-i Khusrau had a dream which caused him to resign
his position and, accompanied by his younger brother, Abu SaĠid, and a Hindu
slave, he set off for the Hijaz in search of Truth. He intended to observe
life in far-off places, assess other peoplesĠ beliefs, and choose a creed for
himself. His travels (1045-1052), which lasted nearly seven years, took him
The events that
led to Nasir-i KhusrauĠs life-long commitment to IsmaĠilism are the
did not hide either his rank as a Hujjat, his closeness to the Fatemid
Caliph, or indeed, his intention of propagating the IsmaĠili daĠwa.
Rather he entered into enthusiastic debates with not only the scholars in
Khurasan but also with Seljuq officials and nobles, some of them ardent
supporters of the Sunni faith. Predictably, Nasir-i Khusrau's activities
created heated debates, arguments and conflict in the Islamic world in
general and in the Seljuq realm in particular. Nasir-i KhusrauĠs open
criticism of the amirs and wazirs of the Seljuqs, on the one hand, and his
open call to all to join the IsmaĠili faith, on the other hand, infuriated
the Caliph in
oppositions together made residence in Khurasan untenable, if not outright
very dangerous, for Nasir-i Khusrau. Unable to protect himself against all
eventualities, he fled to Mazandaran and Tabaristan. He hoped that the
ShiĠite Ispahbads would support and hide him. But the officials of the Seljuq
court sought him out; he was forced to flee again and again. Nearly a decade
after his return to
Nasir-i Khusrau spent the last twenty-five years of his life in Yumgan, free from both the tyranny of the Seljuq rulers and the interference of the Sunni ulema in his affairs. From Yumgan, he dispatched epistles far and wide, creating a network of IsmaĠili communities throughout the region. He also wrote. In fact, most of his major works, especially those related to the Isma'ili da'wa, were written during this time. Many of them testify to the harsh circumstances under which he had to live. Rather than a bitter or broken man, however, his writings reflect the attitude of a stoic upholder of his faith.
was an IsmaĠili in word and deed. After returning from
His religious tendencies aside, Nasir-i Khusrau was one of the most famous poets, philosophers, and travelers of his time. Even those who did not like his adherence to the IsmaĠili sect, respected his erudition and piety. He was also quite aware of his own strength of character and the lofty status that he held among his peers.
Nasir-i Khusrau was a disciplined individual. When he accepted to lead the IsmaĠili faction in Khurasan, he accepted the difficulties that the task entailed. He was also a moralist and wrote on philosophical and didactic themes.
works include both poetry and prose. His style is simple and direct. His Safarnameh,
a record of his observations in
Nasir-i Khusrau: a short bibliography
Safarnameh (book of travels): a compilation in simple prose detailing the travels of the poet.
Zad al-Musaferin (Pilgrims's Provision): written in 1062 deals with the scholar's philosophical and theological investigations.
Vajhi Din (Path of Faith): contains Nasir-i Khusrau's Isma'ili thoughts.
Gushaish va Rahaish (Unfettered and Free): contains the scholar's philosophical thoughts.
Jami' al-Hikmatain (Compendium of Two Truths): compares Isma'ili doctrine with Greek thought. In the process, it reconciles reason and revelation, explores manĠs nature, and distinguishes the inner drives that give vent to benevolence and evil.
Nasir-i KhusrauĠs other contributions include the prose work Khan ul-Ikhvan and two divans. His Arabic divan, which is lost and his Persian divan, which contains the Roshanai Nameh (Book of Light), a moralizing sequence in rhyming couplets) and the Sa'adatnameh (Book of Felicity), which has been reproduced a number of times.
Reproach Not the Firmament!
By Nasir-i Khusrau
Translated by Iraj Bashiri
Click here to see the Farsi
text of this poem. You must have Acrobat
Reproach not the Firmament deep and blue,
Forget thy stubborn nature to reveal a clue.
Neither expect from the Firmament any joy,
When your own star you knowingly destroy.
Fruitless trees are, at best, fuel for fire,
Fruitless men, alike, to oblivion retire.
Forget about fragrant tresses and lips sweet,
About hedges, and tulip cheeks to greet.
Lavish not praise on a filthy creature,
With dastardly deeds as its only feature.
Adore not with verse the Lie or the Greed,
Smite down the infidelsĠ most cherished creed.
Be not Unsuri, who groveling worshiped Mahmud,
Lavished on him all flattery and paean he could.
I pledge never to sprinkle before the swine,
These precious, peerless Dari pearls of mine.
The pilgrims came with reverence,
grateful for the mercy of God the Merciful,
crying the pilgrim Labbaika of reverence.
Weary of the toil and trial of
delivered out of hell and dire chastisement,
pilgrimage accomplished, visitation done
back they returned home, safe and sound.
I went out awhile to welcome them,
thrusting my foot outside my blanket.
In the midst of the caravan there came
a friend of mine, true and well-beloved.
I said to him, 'Tell me how you escaped
out of this journey of anguish and fear.
When I remained behind from you so long
repining was always the companion of my thoughts.
I am happy, now you have made the pilgrimage;
there is none like you in all this region.
Tell me now, after what manner did you
hallow that most holy sanctuary?
When you resolved to put on pilgrim garb
with what intention did you robe yourself?
Had you forbidden to yourself all things
save only one, the Almighty Maker?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'Did you cry
Labbaika knowingly and with reverence?
Did you hear the summoning voice of God
and so answer as did Moses before you?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When on 'Arafat
you stood, and made offering unto God,
did you know God, and unknow yourself?
Did the breeze of gnosis then blow on you?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When you went
into the Sanctuary, like the men of the Cave,
were you secure from your own soul's evil,
the pangs of burning, the anguish of Hell?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When you cast
your handful of stones at the accursed Satan,
did you then cast utterly from yourself
all evil habits and blameworthy acts?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When you slew
the sheep for the sake of captive and orphan,
did you first see God near, and slay
in sacrifice your mean and worthless soul?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When you stood
high on the hill where Abraham once prayed,
did you then truly in faith sure and certain
surrender to God your most inward self?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When you circled
the Holy House, running like an ostrich,
did you remember the holy angels
all circling about the mighty Throne of God?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When you hastened
from Safa to Marwa, hurrying to and fro,
did you see in your soul's glass all creation,
was your heart heedless of Hell and Heaven?'
'No,' he replied. I said, 'When you returned,
your heart torn at forsaking the Kaaba,
did you then commit your self to the tomb,
are you now as if already your bones crumbled?'
'Of all whereon you have spoken,' he answered,
'I knew nothing, whether well or ill.'
'Then, friend,' I said, 'you have made no pilgrimage;
you did not dwell in the station of effacement.
You went; you saw
purchasing for much silver the toil of the desert.
If hereafter you would be pilgrim again,
let it be so as I have now taught you.'
By Nasir-i Khusrau
Translated by E. G. Browne
Bear from me to Khurasan, Zephyr, a kindly word,
To its scholars and men of learning, not to the witless herd,
And having faithfully carried the message I bid thee bear,
Bring me news of their doings, and tell me how they fare.
I, who was once as the cypress, now upon fortune's wheel
Am broken and bent, you may tell them; for thus doth fortune deal.
Let not her specious promise you to destruction lure:
Ne'er was her covenant faithful; ne'er was her pact secure.