Tusi, Nasir Al-Din (1201–1274)

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TUSI, NASIR AL-DIN (1201–1274)

Nasir al-Din Tusi, Abu Ja˓far Muhammad b. Muhammad b. al-Hasan, was a Shi˓ite philosopher, theologian, astronomer, mathematician, and political advisor. Tusi was born in Tus, in northeastern Iran, and died in Baghdad, in present-day Iraq. A man of astounding intellectual breadth, he witnessed the transfer of power in the Islamic world to the Mongols. Beginning his career as a court astronomer to the Isma˓ili governor Nasir al-Din Abi Mansur at Sertakht, he continued to work for the Isma˓ilis at various Iranian fortresses, including Quhistan, until he transferred to the Isma˓ili castle at Alamut, where he remained until joining the Mongol Hulagu's entourage as a political advisor in 1247. Subsequent to the Mongol victory over Baghdad (1257), he was encouraged by Hulagu to found an observatory at Maragha in Azerbaijan, equipped with the best instruments, some constructed for the first time. His courtly duties included supervision of waqf estates, a position that he retained under the Mongol leader Abaqa, until Tusi's death in 1274. Two critical issues concerning his religious persuasion and political stance remain the subject of scholarly and ideological debate: one, whether he was an Isma˓ili Shi˓ite by choice or by employment; and two, whether his involvement in the fall of Alamut and Baghdad, respectively, entailed treachery or prudence. G. M. Wickens, for instance, in his introduction to The Nasirean Ethics holds the view that Tusi's alignment with the Mongols "made possible the continuance in new and flourishing forms of Islamic learning, law and civilization," a point that underscores Tusi's political acumen under difficult circumstances. Although over one hundred books are attributed to Tusi, only a handful have survived. Apart from his many scientific works, his noteworthy texts include the Hall mushkilat al-Isharat, a commentary on Ibn Sina's al-Isharat as well as a refutation of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi's Muhassal; an ethical treatise titled the Akhlaq-e Nasiri, which evinces the influence of Ibn Miskawaih; the Isma˓ili-inspired works Tasawwurat (also known as Rawdat al-taslim) and the autobiographical Sayr wa Suluk; the Twelver-Shi˓ite kalam or theological works Tajrid al-˓aqa˒id and Qawa˓id al-˓Aqa˒id; and a mystical work titled Awsaf al-Ashraf. An original and innovative thinker, his works continue to merit attention.

See alsoFalsafa ; Khojas.

Zayn R. Kassam