Nāṣir-I Khusraw

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NĀIR-I KHUSRAW is best known as a Persian poet, philosopher, and traveler, as well as for his efforts in spreading the Ismāʿīlī form of Islam in Central Asia. Born in 1004 in Qubadiyan in present-day Tajikistan, he is buried in the Yumgan Valley of Afghan Badakhshan, where he spent the most creative period of his life in exile.

Educated in the major sciences of the day, Khusraw served as an official in the Ghaznawid Court. In his autobiography he describes a life of indulgence and social rounds. In 1045 he dramatically resigned from his post and set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He describes his travels along the Silk Road, the performance of his pilgrimage, and his journey to Cairo, the capital of the Fāimid Ismāʿīlī empire, after leaving Mecca. He writes admiringly of the civic, administrative, and cultural achievements of Egypt, and during his stay he became immersed in the study of Ismāʿīlī philosophy.

Khusraw benefited from the presence of many of the scholars who studied and taught at the institutions of learning, such as Al-Azhar and Dār al Hikmah, and joined the da'wa, the organization responsible for the spread and preaching of Islam among the Fāimids. After more travels, including two pilgrimages, he was appointed to be in charge of the da'wa in Khurāsān. Successful in his mission, Khusraw nonetheless became the target of intense hostility and was forced to find refuge in the Pamir mountains, where he spent the rest of his life.

Khusraw's writings reflect the broad range of his intellectual interests and abilities. His Dīwān contains his best poems, which draw on the imagery of the place and the encompassing themes of quest, ethics, the foibles of daily life, and even the anguish of exile. The poems are coloured by a strong sense of devotion to the cause of the Prophet and his heirs, the Imams. There are other, more philosophical, writings that reflect Khusraw's primary interests: intellectual exposition of Islamic thought, esoteric hermeneutic of the Qur˒ān, and the inner quest for spirituality and personal enlightenment. His Safer nama, an account of his travels, is a classic of detailed and trenchant observations of places, persons, and society.

Perhaps Khusraw's most important contribution was the commitment to developing and sustaining the use of the Persian language. He ranks among the foremost writers of his generation in preserving writing in Persian prose and poetry, and his writings have had a significant impact on Persian-speaking peoples across the region.

Khusraw's teaching and works have been preserved by the Ismāʿīlīs of the region who remember and commemorate him in their literature, music, and practices as the founder of their community. More recently his works have become widely available through new editions and translations.


The most recent general study is Alice Hunsberger's Nasir Khusraw: Ruby of Badakhshan (London, 2000). Portions of his Dīwān have been translated in A. Schimmel's Make a Shield from Wisdom (London, 1993). The Safar nama has been translated as Naser-e-Khosraw's Book of Travels, by W. M. Thackston, (Albany, N.Y., 1986). See also H. Corbin, "Nasir-i-Khusran and Iranian Ismailism," in the Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 4, (Cambridge, U.K., 1975), pp. 520542. An increasing number of studies have been undertaken recently in Iran and Tajikistan, including newer editions of many of his works.

Nozir Arabzoda (2005)