Nasir-i Khusraw: “Make a shield from knowledge, for there is no stronger shield against calamities”

Make a shield from knowledge, for there is no stronger shield against calamities.
Whosoever owns the shield of knowledge will not suffer from the blows of Time.
Divan of Nasir-i Khusraw

A statue of Nasir-i Khusraw in Khorog, Tajikistan, with the Pamir Mountains in the background. Image Janet Southern/The Ismaili

Look at the plants,
how they were dead and now they are revived thanks to their seeds!
For one will die when one is without seed!
For man, see, knowledge is the seed!
And thus the one who knows the evil and the good,
will see the fruit grown from his works.
Divan of Nasir-i Khusraw

Look at the trees replete with leaves and fruits,
whose leaf is talent, and their fruit is knowledge!
Divan of Nasir-i Khusraw


Kindle the candle of intellect in your heart
and hasten with it to the world of brightness;
if you want to light a candle in your heart,
make knowledge and goodness its wick and oil.

In the path of the hereafter, one should not walk
on foot but with the soul and the intellect,
and for provisions, you must fill the tablecloth
of your heart with obedience and knowledge.

                                     Select verses of the “Candle of Intellect” by Nasir-i Khusraw                                                   in Shimmering Light tr. by Faquir M. Hunzai published by                                                           The Institute of Ismaili Studies

More on Nasir-i Khusraw at Science and Religion in Islam and at The Ismaili

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

2 thoughts

  1. This is another superb effort by Nimira Devji. Congratulations for the same. I closely follow this major Muslim intellectual and a prominent Shia Ismaili Da’i of the Fatimid era. Fortunately my wife, myself and a group of friends had the opportunity to visit Khorog in August 2016 and have seen the statue (shown in this post) of this great thinker.


  2. 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 of God shines in it. Understand this!”(Abu Yakub Al Sijistani, 10th century Fatimid Ismaili cosmologist, d971, Kashf al-Mahjub(“Unveiling of the Hidden”))

    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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