Nasir-i Khusraw and his Spiritual Nisbah
by Mehdi Mohaghegh
Reprinted from Yad-Name-ye Irani-ye Minorsky
Nasir-i Khusraw (d. 481) the Persian poet, philosopher, traveller and propagandist was known first by his diwan and travel accounts. It was after the appearance of Zad al-mussafirin and Jami‘ al-Hikmatain that he became known as a philosopher. His other works Wajh-i Din, Khan al-Ikhwan, Gushayish wa Rahayish and Shish fasl represent him as a prominent Ismaili theologian. Before the emergence of these works, Nasir-i Khusraw was known only through a fabricated biography, falsely attributed to him as his autobiography, which has been quoted by several biographers such as Amin Ahmad-i Razi in Haft Iqlim, Taqi Kashi in Khulasat al-Ash'ar and finally by Adhar in Atishkadah. This "autobiography" contains a great deal of legendary material about Nasir's life, gathered about him through the years, may be by his disciples. In this work he has been called ‘Alawi meaning a descendant of ‘Ali. A view that has been accepted by some scholars.
However, it seems evident through Nasir-i Khusraw's writings especially his Diwan that a reconsideration of this Nisbah is warranted. To substantiate this view I set forth the following statements from his diwan:
I. In the diwan he gives his name as Nasir, his father's name as Khusraw, his kunyah as Abu Mu'in, his birth place Qubadiyan, his residence Yumgan and his pen name Hujjah. This last name has appeared in the following forms: Hujjat-i Khurasan, Hujjat-i Mustansir, Hujjat of the son of the Prophet, Hujjat of the deputy of the Prophet. Also he calls himself by the following titles: "emissary", "envoy", "trusted", "chosen by the Imam of his time", "chosen of ‘Ali", but in no place does he mention being an ‘Alawi or descendant of Muhammad or ‘Ali. Rather he calls himself "the follower of the son of the Prophet", of "the servant of His son".
If he really had such a relationship, Nasir-i Khusraw would have boasted of it, because it was a Nisbah of dignity and honour. The verse of Abu Nuwas about Imam Rida which states that he who is not an ‘Alawi does not possess honour, was frequently used among the Muslims, especially the Shi'a community.
Another title which Nasir-i Khusraw might have used to indicate his descent from ‘Ali is Sharif. This title, according to Suyuti is al-Hawi, in early Islamic times implied descent from ‘Ali, Ja'far, Abbas and ‘Aqil. However during Nasir's time it had come to mean specifically a descent of ‘Ali. There are indications that before and after Nasir-i Khusraw the words ‘Alawi and Sharifwere used in the same sense. According to Tha'alibi, Khwarzmi wrote the following about an ‘Alawi who was a Nasibi: he is a Sharif but his conduct is dishonourable. Sa'di mentions a crook who claimed to be an ‘Alawi who was denied the title of Sharif when it became known that his father was a Christian.
Although Nasir-i Khusraw has used both these words in the diwan and his other works, yet he has never called himself by these names. Even in addressing a Sunni as an "Umari", meaning a follower of ‘Umar, he calls himself "Haydari" as a follower of ‘Ali even though he could have used "‘Alawi" without corrupting the meter of the verse.
- Nasir-i Khusraw in one of the Qasidas in the Diwan says: "I am a pure son of Azadagan". The word Azadgan, which means ‘free' men. Implies Persian origin and is the Persian expression for Banu-al-ahrar. The usage in both pre-Islam, and after Islam by A'sha and Bashshar is good evidence for this implication. It is probable that the word Azad-mardiyyah used by Jahiz in al- Bukhala and Manaqib-i Turk has the same signification as the Azadagan. In another qasidah Nasir says that it is a shame for Azadagan to bow to the Turks. Also in Persian literature, whenever this word is used pre-Islamic Persian nobles and kings are held as examples.
W. Ivanow, long-time scholar in Isma‘ilism, in his two works on Nasir-i Khusraw, namely Nasir-i Khusraw and Isma'ilism and Problems in Nasir-i Khusraw's Biography in order to prove that Nasir-i Khusraw was an ‘Alawi has quoted two instances from the diwan, both of which are misrepresentations.
- Nasir-i Khusraw in many instances in the diwan denies the importance of his ancestry and maintains that they have become insignificant for him since he became devoted to the family of the Prophet; and that none among his forefathers reached the position which he has attained through this association.
In the first verse Nasir, referring to the soul, says: "What woudst thou say about this lofty and pure-natured thing? Why has it fallen into this prison and this bondage? Ivanow has read ‘Alawi instaed of ‘uluwi' (meaning lofty) and has given the following translation: "What woudst thou say, why has this ‘Alawi of noble birth fallen into this prison and those fetters?
The fact, however, that Nasir is referring to the soul is clear by a following verse in which he says: "Your prison is the world and the body is your fetter". Furthermore it should be mentioned that the reading ‘Alawi corrupts the meter of the verse.
In the second proof cited by Ivanow, Nasir says: "We are on the trace [bar athar] of our Prophet", and from it Ivanow has inferred that it meant a descendent of the Prophet. But the word ‘bar-athar' means "following" and it is borrowed from the Arabic ‘Ala athar. The sentence Ja' fulan ala Athari means such and such followed me. This usage is frequent in Persian. The Arabic proverb man tabi'a al-sabr tabi'ahu al-nasr, which means whoever follows patience, victory follows him, is used by Hafiz in the following verse, "Bar athar-i sabr nawbat-i Zafar ayad".
Since we have shown that Nasir-i Khusraw was not an ‘Alawi in terms of physical relationship, one might ascertain that this relationship was only spiritual. It would seem that Nasir's adherents and followers have called him by this nisbah after his death, and that gradually this notion that he was the descendent of ‘Ali became, wrongly, an accepted fact.
It must be added that the term ‘Alawi was used long time before Nasir-i Khusraw as denoting the followers of ‘Ali and Shi'is. Jahis has used it with "Umari" and "Uthmani", meaning the followers of these, namely sunnis. But its usage as a spiritual relationship to the family of ‘Ali is frequent in Shi'i especially in Ismaili literature. Ikhwan-al-Safa stress this relationship and maintain that physical relationship disappears with the decay of the body while the spiritual relationship remains.
To justify this spiritual Nisbah Ismailis quote from the Qur'an and Hadith. In the Qur'an Ibrahim is called the father of his community", while the son of Nuh (Noah) is disassociated from the family of his father. Likewise in one hadith the Prophet considers himself and ‘Ali the parents of his community, and in another he declares Salman-i Farsi a member of his family.
Not only Nasir-i Khusraw, but other Ismaili da'is also possessed spiritual nisbahs as recorded in Ismaili literature.
To conclude, it is apparent from the diwan of Nasir-i Khusraw that the nisbah ‘Alawi is only a spiritual attribute. Also, what has been said in the so-called autobiography, which has been accepted by some scholars, has no reliable foundation.
Sayyidna Nasir Khusraw by the Prince Aly Khan Religious Night School, Karachi, March 1973
Nasir-i Khusraw and his Spiritual Nisbah by Mehdi Mohaghegh
Ismaili Poetry Page 1
Ismaili Poetry Page 2
About Nasir Khusraw Ismaili Dai
Al Muayyad Ismaili Dai
The True Meaning of Religion - Shihabudin Shah
Life and Lectures of Al Muayyad fid-din al Shirazi
More Ismaili HeroesHistory of the Imams
More History of the Imams By Abualy Aziz
Sign our guestbook
| Present Imam Shah Karim Aga Khan IV| 48th Imam Mowlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III | Hazrat Ali | Prophet Muhammad | Ismaili Heroes | Poetry | Audio Page | History | Women's Page | Legacy of Islam | Current Events |
Email usBack to Ismaili Web