Nasir-i Khusraw


Nasir-i Khusraw
(394–c. 465/1004–c. 1072)
   One of the great Isma‘ili philosopher-missionaries of fifth/eleventh-century Persia and an exemplar for subsequent thinkers in that tradition, Nasir-i Khusraw is remembered also for his prized collection of poetry (Diwan) and his famous travelogue, the Book of Travels (Safar-nama). The seven-year journey recorded in the latter was apparently prompted by a spiritual crisis and consequent vision which Nasir-i Khusraw experienced in his fortieth year, and which ultimately led him to become an Isma‘ili. His travels took him to Cairo (the capital of the Fatimid caliphate, a stronghold of Isma‘ilism), where he became a missionary and propagandist for the movement. In his twilight years, he consigned himself to Yumgan, a politically safe but rather lonely place in what would now be Afghanistan, where he composed the majority of his philosophical works. Among these, the most important is The Sum [or Harmonization] of the Two Wisdoms (Kitab jamialhikmatayn), which attempts to reconcile revealed religion with Greek philosophy. His Face of Religion (Wajh-i din) provides a clear and forceful presentation of Isma‘ili philosophy, particularly its esoteric hermeneutic method of interpreting symbols. His dialogically structured Unfettering and Setting Free (Gushayish wa rahayish) deals with key Islamic doctrines of the soul and eschatology within a philosophical framework. Throughout these works, Nasir-i Khusraw presents a Neoplatonic cosmology that eschews his predecessor al-Kirmani’s innovations (i.e. a Farabian hierarchy of ten intellects) in favor of the more economical emanationist model originally presented by thinkers such as al-Nasafi and Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani (God’s command originates universal intellect, which gives rise to soul, which gives rise to nature, which gives rise to terrestrial beings). In order for each individual embodied soul to re-ascend and return to its spiritual origin, it must (like the universal soul) strive for perfection. This requires that we learn to read the apparent or external (zahir) text of the physical universe as so many symbols pointing toward its more fundamental inner or spiritual (batin) reality. Like al-Sijistani and other Isma‘ili thinkers, Nasir-i Khusraw sees the intellect as playing an indispensable role in the attainment of salvific knowledge, yet insists upon the necessity of a divinely inspired guide or imam who alone can interpret the true, inner meaning of the revelation that will ultimately liberate us.
   Further reading: Daftary 1990; Hunsberger 2000; Nasir-i Khusraw 1993/2001, 1998; Nasr with Aminrazavi 2001

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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