“…that which perceives things as they are is the intellect, while knowledge is in the Pearl of Intellect.”
Born in 1004 in Marv in the eastern Iranian province of Khurasan, Nasir-i Khusraw followed the family tradition and worked for the government in a financial capacity. During his adulthood, he began to search for answers to his inner discontent. Around the age of forty, he describes in his Safar-nama (Travelogue), he had a dream that subsequently transformed his life into one of conviction and preaching.
He left his job and set out for a pilgrimage to Mecca on March 5, 1046, beginning his famous journey that was to last seven years. Travelling through Persia, Asia Minor, and Syria, he made the first of several pilgrimages to Mecca before arriving in Cairo in 1047, where he stayed for three years, eventually meeting the Fatimid Caliph-Imam Mustansir bi’llah
Following his final pilgrimage, Nasir returned home to Balkh as head of the Ismaili administration of his home province. However, due to persecution in his native land, Nasir fled to Yumgan in the mountainous region of Badakshan where he stayed for the remainder of his life, composing most of his works.
Among Naṣir-i Khusraw’s many works, Wajh-i din is “the most explicit in terms of religious instruction, offering a full explanation of Islamic commandments and duties and their esoteric meaning or taʾwīl. This important work is particularly influential among the Nizari Ismailis of Central Asia, who have preserved and circulated the text” (Hunzai).
In this work, Naṣir offers an explanation of the nature of knowledge and the spiritual
world and the necessity to follow the guidance of the Imam of the time. He also discuses the ayat ‘We belong to Allah and unto Him we are returning’ (2:156–57).
On the establishment of knowledge and discovering its essence
“Believers must first know what knowledge is so that once they have recognized it, they can go in search of it. This is because those who do not recognize what something is can never obtain it. Thus, we say that knowledge means to perceive things as they are. And that which perceives things as they are is the intellect, while knowledge is in the Pearl of Intellect.
The Pearl of Intellect is the Word of God, may He be exalted, which subsumes all spiritual and physical existents. It is inappropriate to refer to that which is not subsumed by knowledge as existent. Thus, whatever knowledge encompasses is other than God. As it is unworthy for God to be subsumed by a thing, knowledge being that which subsumes all
things, existents and non-existents alike, it is inappropriate for us to say that God is existent or non-existent, for both of these are subsumed by knowledge, whereas God is not.”
“Those who have been endowed with greater knowledge are closer to God’s Command, have a greater acceptance of it and are more obedient. Those who are wiser are more obedient to God. Those who become completely wise (dānā-yi tamām) attain eternal blessing, because the work of the wise results in God’s mercy. Human beings are the last of
the generated beings [i.e., the three kingdoms of nature: mineral, vegetable and animal of the world. Their return is to (God’s) Command, which is the cause of both worlds.
All things return to their origin. O brothers! Strive to seek knowledge in order to draw nearer to God, may He be exalted, for the mercy of the exalted God is knowledge.”
Extracts from Wajh-i dīn, (The Face of Religion) Translated by Faquir M. Hunzai, Published in An Anthology of Ismaili Literature edited by Hermann Landolt, Samira Sheikh & Kutub Kassam, p 199
Alice C. Hunsberger, Nasir Khusraw, The Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Philosopher, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (accessed August 2017)
Annemarie Schimmel, Make a Shield from Wisdom: Selected Verses from Nasir-i Khusraw’s Divan, The Institute of Ismaili Studies (accessed August 2017)
Compiled by Nimira Dewji