Nasir-i Khusraw: “Strive to seek knowledge in order to draw nearer to God”

“…that which perceives things as they are is the intellect, while knowledge is in the Pearl of Intellect.”
Nasir-i Khusraw

Image: Wikipedia


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 DivanThe Institute of Ismaili Studies (accessed August 2017)

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

2 thoughts

  1. It’s lovely Nimira!! It gives Knowledge its complete length, breadth and width of treatment: the full treatment, encompassing knowledge acquired by rational, sequential intellect all the way up to the most supreme of knowledge of timeless, suprarational, instantaneous intellect:

    “In fact this world is a book in which you see inscribed the writings of God the Almighty”(Nasir Khusraw, 11th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist-philosopher-poet)

    “O brother! You asked: What is the [meaning of] `alam [world] and what is that entity to which this name applies? How should we describe the world in its entirety? And how many worlds are there? Explain so that we may recognize. Know, O brother, that the name `alam is derived from [the word] `ilm(knowledge), because the traces of knowledge are evident in [all] parts of the physical world. Thus, we say that the very constitution (nihad) of the world is based on a profound wisdom”(Nasir Khusraw, 11th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist-philosopher-poet, from his book “Knowledge and Liberation”)

    “My profession is to be forever journeying, to travel about the Universe so that I may know all its conditions.”(Ibn Sina, aka Avicenna, 11th century Muslim Philosopher, Physician and Scientist, author of the Canon of Medicine, circa 1037CE)

    Al Ghazali finally got it right towards the end of his life:
    “The physician considers [the bones] so that he may know a way of healing by setting them, but those with insight consider them so that through them they may draw conclusions about the majesty of Him who created and shaped [the bones]. What a difference between the two who consider!”(Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Muslim Theologian-Philosopher-Mystic, d1111CE)

    “Tarkib’ is composition as in the compounding of elements in the process of making more complex things, that is, of adding together two things to form a synthesis, a compound. Soul composes in the sense of ‘tarkib’; it is the animating force that combines the physical elements of the natural universe into beings that move and act. Incorporating is an especially apt word in this instance. It means to turn something into a body, as in ‘composing’. But it is actually the conversion of an intellectual object, a thought, into a physical thing. Soul acts by incorporating reason into physical objects, the natural matter of the universe and all the things composed of it”(Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani,10th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist, d971CE, from the book, ‘Abu Yakub Al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary’, by Paul Walker)

    “Every particle of the Creation has a share of the Command of God, because every creature shares a part of the Command of God through which it has come to be there and by virtue of which it remains in being and the light of the Command ofGod shines in it. Understand this!”(Abu Yakub Al Sijistani, 10th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist, d971, Kashf al-Mahjub(“Unveiling of the Hidden”))


  2. 48th Ismaili Imam Shah Sultan Mohamed Shah, Aga Khan III, summarizes it all in the most beautiful of language from his Memoirs of 1954 the intrinsic and seamless connection between matter and spirit, between science and religion and the great joys, benefits, satisfactions and happiness that comes from tracing knowledge of objects and events in the world of nature directly to their source in the world of spirit:

    “Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God”(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

    49th Ismaili Imam Shah Karim Al Hussayni, Aga Khan IV, invites us to share his sense of awe about discoveries in the world of nature and to embrace his prescription about how this knowledge can propel us towards unimaginable inner happiness in the realm of the spirit:

    And the more we discover, the more we know, the more we penetrate just below the surface of our normal lives – the more our imagination staggers. Just think for example what might lie below the surfaces of celestial bodies all across the far flung reaches of our universe. What we feel, even as we learn, is an ever-renewed sense of wonder, indeed, a powerful sense of awe – and of Divine inspiration”(Aga Khan IV, Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Canada, December 6th 2008)

    “….in Islam, but particularly Shia Islam, the role of the intellect is part of faith. That intellect is what seperates man from the rest of the physical world in which he lives…..This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives. Of that I am certain”(Aga Khan IV, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, August 17th 2007)


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