Ṭūsī, Naṣīr Al-Dīn

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ŪSĪ, NAĪR AL-DĪN . Naīr al-Dīn ūsī (Muammad ibn Muammad ibn asan, ah 597672/12011274 ce), addressed in general Islamic literature as khawājah (master) and the muaqqiq (scholar) of ūs, was a Persian Shīʿī philosopher, theologian, mathematician, astronomer, and statesman. He is by far the most celebrated scholar of the thirteenth century in eastern Islamic lands. Very little is known about his childhood and early education, apart from what he reveals in his autobiography, the Sayr wa sulūk. He was born in ūs, in northeastern Iran into an Ithnā ʿasharī (Twelver) Shīʿī family and died in Baghdad. He lost his father at a young age. Fulfilling the wish of his father, ūsī took learning and scholarship very seriously and traveled far and wide to attend the lectures of the renowned scholars of the time. In a relatively short period, ūsī mastered a number of disciplines. At a time when religious education was a priority, especially in his own family, which was associated with Twelver Shīʿī scholars, ūsī seems to have shown great interest in mathematics, astronomy, and intellectual sciences.

In the Sayr wa sulūk, ūsī gives a brief account of his theological and philosophical education, but he does not go into details about the scholars with whom he became acquainted, nor of his studies in mathematics and astronomy, which latter became important areas of investigation for him. But we know from other sources that ūsī was a precocious learner and by the time he was seventeen he had studied the philosophy of Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037) with Farīd al-Dīn Dāmād (d. c. 1246) and attended the lectures of Qub al-Dīn Sarakhsī (d. 1221) in Nīshāpūr, where he is said to have met the famous poet and mystic Farīd al-Dīn ʿAār (d. 1220). At around this time, it is also certain that he studied jurisprudence.

At the age of twenty-two, ūsī joined the court of Nāir al-Dīn Mutashim (d. 1257), the Ismāʿīlī governor of Quhistān, in northeast Iran, where in his own words he was accepted into the Ismāʿīlī community. It is probable that in Nīshāpūr, which at the time was an active center of Ismāʿīlī preaching, he had become acquainted with its teachings. Later, in a journey from Iraq to Khurāsān, he met Shihāb al-Dīn Mutashim (d. c. 1245), a highly renowned Ismāʿīlī scholar, and gradually he became more acquainted with Ismāʿīlī teachings through the religious writings of the Nizārī Ismāʿīlī Imām asan ʿAlāʾ Dhikrihī al-Salām (d. 1166).

In Quhistān, ūsī developed a close personal relationship with the governor and dedicated to him and his family a number of scholarly works, such as the Akhlāq-i Nāirī, Akhlāq-i Mutashimī, and Risāla-yi muʿīniyya, which ultimately paved the way for his move to Alamū, the seat of Ismāʿīlī political power in Iran.

Apart from editing, translating, and composing a variety of philosophical and scientific works, ūsī produced a number of Ismāʿīlī texts, adding his scholarly background and talents to the unique collection of literature and archival materials in Alamū. An example of this genre is his strong philosophical and esoteric interpretation of Ismāʿīlī thought, as represented in the Rawda-yi taslīm in particular.

The Mongol invasions of western Asia led to the collapse of Ismāʿīlī political power and the massacre of Ismāʿīlīs, who were perceived by the Mongols as a serious threat. Under these circumstances, ūsī sought alternative patronage and was able to obtain employment in the emerging court of the Mongol conquerors, who wished to show support for learning and science. He also embarked on writing a series of Twelver Shīʿī works.

In the Mongol court, ūsī witnessed the fall of the Abbasid caliphate, and after securing the trust of Hūlegū (d. 1265), he was given the full authority of administering the awqāf (religious foundations). His primary concern during this period was to protect the life of scholars and their freedom to pursue learning. He also established probably the most important observatory and center of scientific learning of his time in Marāghah, in the northwest of Iran. Under these circumstances ūsī acted as a senior advisor to Hūlegū and continued his scholarly activities and writing on various aspects of Shīʿī thought.

The corpus of ūsī's writings comprise approximately 135 titles on a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, ethics, logic, mathematics, philosophy, theology, Sufism, poetry and popular sciences. Some of these worksfor example, his commentary on Ibn Sīnā's al-Ishārāt wa-al-tanbīhāt on philosophy and the Akhlāq-i Nāirī on theoretical and practical ethicsare still used as textbooks in many centers of learning in the Muslim world.

ūsī's interest in ethical writings begun in Quhistān when, in answer to the request of Nāir al-Dīn Mutashim, he produced a number of ethical works, namely the Persian translations of Ibn Muqaffah's (d. 759) al-Adab al-wajīz lil-walad al-aqīr, Akhlāq-i Mutashimī, and Akhlāq-i Nāirī, as well as the twenty-second chapter of the Rawda-yi taslīm, which, in line with the content of Akhlāq-i Nāirī, could be classified as a text on philosophical ethics.

A proper scholarly investigation into ūsī's contribution to philosophy, astronomy, trigonometry, and mathematics has only recently begun. His importance in religion lies partly in his being one of the subtlest and most learned of the Shīʿī theologians, and partly in his application of philosophical ideas and methods to Islamic contexts and problems, as well as his active involvement in the politico-religious debates of his time. Within the overall domain of Islamic philosophical thinking, by defending Ibn Sīnā's philosophy, ūsī should be considered as representing a revival of philosophical thinking in the eastern Islamic lands. For him, differences between Muslim sects and persuasions were merely theological debates, allowing the partisans to move freely from one stand to another without necessarily having to take parochial positions. It is from such a perspective that his ideas contributed to the development of ikmah mutaʿāliyah (higher wisdom), later developed by Mullā adrā (d. 1641) and the school of Isfahan.


There are still no comprehensive studies on ūsī in European languages. See H. Daiber and F. G. Ragep, "al-ūsī, Naīr al-Dīn," in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition (Leiden, 1999), vol. X, pp. 747757; as well as Wilferd Madelung, "Naīr al-Dīn ūsī's Ethics between Philosophy: Shiʿism and Sufism," in Ethics in Islam (Ninth Giorgio Levi Della Vida Conference, May 68, 1983; Malibu, Calif., 1985), edited by Richard G. Hovannisian, pp. 85101; Hamid Dabashi, "Khwāja Naīr al-Dīn al-ūsī: The Philosopher/Vizier and the Intellectual Climate of His Times," in History of Islamic Philosophy, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (London, 1996), pp. 527584; Herman Landolt, "Khwāja Naīr al-Dīn ūsī, Ismāʿīlīsm and Ishrāqī Philosophy," and Farhad Daftary, "Naīr al-Dīn al-ūsī and the Ismailis of the Alamut Period," in Naīr al-Dīn ūsī, ed. N. Pourjavady and ž. Vesel (Tehran, 2000), pp. 1330 and 5967, respectively. Translations of some of ūsī's works include: Taawwurāt, edited and translated into English by Vladimir A. Ivanow as Rawãatuʾt-Taslīm, Commonly Called Taawwurāt (Leiden, 1950), and into French by Christian Jambet as La convocation d'Alamūt: Somme de philosophie ismaélienne (Lagrasse, France, 1996); Akhlāq-i Nāirī, translated in English as The Nasirean Ethics by G. M. Wickens (London, 1964); al-Tadhkirah fīʿilm al-hayʾa, edited and translated into English by F. G. Ragep in Naīr al-Dīn ūsī's Memoir on Astronomy (New York, 1993), and the Sayr wa sulūk, edited and translated into English by S. J. Badakhchani as Contemplation and Action: The Spiritual Autobiography of a Muslim Scholar (London, 1998).

S. J. Badakhchani (2005)