5. Nasir's Missionary Work.
As may be seen from the Kittab al-'Alim wa'l-Ghulam, the new convert, in the event of his being found fit for work in the propaganda service, properly trained, "conditioned," and carefully tested, was required to start "paying a dividend" to his new masters in the form of his useful activities. So, surely, was Nasir, after his six years' stay in Egypt and contact with local specialists, symbolized in the person of al- Mu'ayyid. In his Safar-nama and other works he never gives us the slightest clue as to whether he had any commissions during his apprenticeship, or on his way back to Khorasan, this, of course, was a "state secret" which no-one could dare to divulge amongst Ismaili missionaries. He returned safely to his home in Balkh on Saturday, the 26th Jum. II 444, i.e. 23-X-1052, as he notes in the Safar-nama, and then begins the darkest period in his biography. The next date which appears to be reliable in his story is that of the composition of the Zadu'l-musafirin, completed in Yumgan in 453/1061. Thus we have a gap of nine years.
It is highly probable on logical grounds that to this period belongs his visit to Mazandaran. Concerning the fact that such a visit took place there are apparently no doubts. It is allude to in some of Nasir's poems, and attested by his contemporary, Abu'l-Ma'ali Muhammad b. ‘Ubayidi'l-lah in his book, Kitab Bayani'l-adyan, completed in 485/1092. There would, of course, be nothing in the least strange in the fact that a missionary, returning from Cairo with instructions and news to a locality comparatively near to the Caspian provinces, would have been instructed to visit the place. Logically it would be difficult to believe that he could make such a visit during his exile in Yumgan, returning to it after having much opportunity to use his talents and enthusiasm in a far wider and religiously promising area.
In Mazandaran itself, with its long connection with Shi'ism, its impenetrable jungles, inaccessible gorges of the lofty mountains, and, at the same time, comparatively easy communications with the outer world, he would obviously find conditions far superior to those in the Yumgan trap. The most probable conjecture, therefore, would be that sometime after his return from Egypt he went to the Caspian provinces, and returned to Balkh, whence he had to flee to Yumgan. He often refers to that fateful event when the crowd, probably incited by some fanatics, rushed to his house and destroyed it, and he had a narrow escape. But, unfortunately for us, he never permits us to glean any details as to when and how it happened. Such "prosaic" details would be quite unsuitable to poetry.
It is improbable, of course, that a crowd would attack a house of a pious Muslim who just returned from the hajj pilgrimage. Surely some time had to pass before the real face of Nasir became known to his neighbors. Quite possibly, after having rested for a few months, he went to Mazandaran, remaining there a year or two. By that time his activities and his association with the Fatimids perhaps became known, and when the news of his return spread in Balkh, an attack on his life was made. He was incidentally saved by flight. This appears to me the most logical course of events; but it must be noted that it is simply a suggestion. Whither he fled from Balkh, and how he came to Yumgan, - of this we know nothing.
If we look at the map, we may perhaps find some suggestions. Flight to the West was obviously impossible because he would have been arrested on the desert roads which follow the line of watering places. He therefore most probably turned to the localities near his native Qubadiyan, perhaps in the hope of hiding amongst his own people. It is quite probable that he was compelled to move further on, and it is not impossible that an idea came to him to leave the Saljuq state and seek refuge with the Ghaznawids, in view of his former associations. It is perhaps for this reason that he proceeded as far as Yumgan, and ultimately found himself in a trap from which he never again was released.
Yumgan is the mane of a district, a side valley branching off the main Hindukush range, irrigated by a stream which bears now the Turkish name of Kokeha ("blue river"), a tributary of the Upper Oxus. The district begins a few miles above the town of Jarm (4,800 feet above sea level). The valley, which is fairly broad and flat, rises rapidly in a Southern direction, so that its average elevation is at least over 6,000 feet. It hot, dry and dusty in summer and very cold in winter. There is little cultivation, it is thinly populated, and the spot shown in the burial place of Nasir is situated in a hillock in the valley. There is m nothing remarkable, as I was told by many Ismailis who have visited the spot, and the grave is very modest. Local inhabitants who regard themselves as Sayyids, and descendants of Nasir-i Khusraw, are fanatical Sunnis who by no means encourage Ismaili pilgrimages to the grave. They believe their ancestor, Nasir, was a Sufic pir, and, being a Sunni, had no connection whatsoever with Ismailism.
Those Shughnis, Chitralis, Zabakis, etc., from whom I tried to find information about the grave of Nasir, and who professed to having visited the spot, invariably and uniformly pronounced the name of the district as Yumgan, with ‘u', and the name of the town which stands lower downstream as Jarm, with ‘a'. However, the Survey of India map (16 miles to an inch, published in 1918) introduces "learned emendations," writing Jurm, Yamgan. Such "editing" of geographical names is an invariable feature of the maps published by that institution.
According to the information supplied by the pilgrims, the spurs of the Hindukush range which form the valley are very high and steep, so that there are no cross-paths between Yumgan and the neighboring valleys. In fact, there are only two exits, one in the North, passing the town of Jarm, and the other, to the South, over the snow-clad passes leading to the valley of Kabul and further to India.
It is quite possible, although this again is nothing but a suggestion, that, having decided to go to the Ghaznawid country, Nasir entered Yumgan only to find that he was not wanted by the prince. The accusation raised against him, that he was an agent of the Fatimids, was too serious. It was punishable by death, and the Ghaznawids were hardly so liberal on the one side, and, on the other, would scarcely risk injuring their neighborly relations with the Saljuqs for the sake of a heretic. In a situation such as this, Nasir had to stay where he was, in the narrow valley which proved to be his prison, and from which only death released him.
Although rarely a qasida of Nasir does not contain complaints about his "prison" and his hard life, privations, sufferings, old age, etc., he never permits us to form an opinion as to how he was living there and what he was doing : was he really alone, or had some disciples. If that was so, who were they, local people, or those who came from plains, to learn from his wisdom? Was he preaching Ismailism locally? What were his facilities for communication with the outside world?
We may only answer the last question: yes, surely, he had some means of communication with the outer world, even with Egypt, as otherwise he would not have written his qasidas and perhaps other books. Most probably he was also able to receive dawat books from Egypt; possibly also money for his upkeep.
Local tradition in Badakhshan (in a broader sense) repeats the story that Shah Sayyid Nasir was busy with converting local inhabitants, and even undertook extensive journeys in the East during which he visited India. I heard over and over again that all this is narrated in a book, called Gawhar-riz, written by Nasir, narrating his adventures in the East just as the Safar-nama describes his adventures in the West. For many years I hunted for that elusive book, asking every Ismaili coming from those localities, without so far having obtained it, or even getting on its track. From what it was possible to gather from the better educated and trustworthy people from amongst those who professed to have seen it, it is possible to express the opinion with a considerable degree of confidence, that the Gawhar-riz is in fact either a part or imitation of the well-known legendary autobiography of Nasir, and that it is a plain fake. Nevertheless it would, of course, be very interesting to have a personal peep into it.
Nasir had a very unflattering opinion of the local inhibitants, most probably the peoples of local Shina or Darda stock of whom possibly no trace remains now. It would appear that the area generally was very sparsely populated, the people were very primitive, and missionary work amongst them hardly satisfied an ambitious man like Nasir. Personally I would not in the least trust the local tradition of Badakhshani Ismaili which regard Nasir as the person who converted them to Ismailism. However paradoxical that may be, I venture to express an opinion that the present Shughnis, Wakhis and others were not yet settles there in Nasir's time. They came to that locality much later on.
Being much interested in the study of Persian dialects still spoken in various corners of the country, I often found many proofs of the theory that wherever there is a "nest" of villages speaking different dialects, we have to deal with a case of comparatively recent migrations, produced by peaceful or other causes. The fact that in such an arid, rocky and inaccessible locality as the valley of the Upper Wakhsh there are numerous hamlets the population of which speak various dialects, sometimes considerably differing one from the other, may indicate that such composite populations are due to a complex set of migrations. The existence of the Soghdian- speaking enclave of Yaghnob, South of Samarqand, may point the direction in which our search for explanation should go. It is not beyond the limits of possibility to suppose that the "hill Tajiks" who inhabit the hamlets of the Upper Wakhsh, and speak such a large set of profoundly varying dialects, are early immigrants from the Soghdian plains who shifted there under the pressure of repeated waves of invaders, such as the Turks, later on the Mongols, and then again the Turks. As such migrations certainly were unorganized, the original inhabitants of one and the same locality could have been split and settled in many corners, and there, in different milieu, under varying influences, their original languages could have evolutionized in diverse ways, in the course of centuries deviating very considerably from their sister- dialects. If we also assume that the immigrants were sometimes compelled to migrate owing to religious persecutions, and that especially the Shi'ites found themselves persecuted, it would be easy to understand why the population of Badakhshan (in a broad sense) professed Ismailism, perhaps since an early period, and remained faithful to Shah Sayyid Nasir, creating the legend of their having been converted by him.
It was probably these Iranian immigrants from the Upper Zarafshan valley who brought with them from Soghd the Ummu'l-kitab, the sacred book of their Khattabite forefathers (Mukhammisa), and, retaining it, incorporated it into a small literature of the Ismaili period which very slowly grew up amongst these often illiterate settlers. Nasir, in his poems, never boasts of successes in his propaganda work, or mentions these in his "reminders" to the Cairo headquarters. This however, is due to the fact that such matters related to the dawat affairs which were inappropriate for mention in poetry.
There is much speculation over the date of Nasir's death. The latest date mentioned in his Diwan makes him seventy years old, of course, in a round figure. This brings us to 464/1072. It is quite possible that a robust man like Nasir could have lived ten years more. Thus possibly 465 to 470/1072-1077 would be the most probable date of his demise. As far as I could ascertain from pilgrims, there is no date on his grave.
It may be noted that in India the Ismailis of the Musta'lian branch (the Bohras) have a traditional tendency to disown Nasir, saying that he was a Nizari. This, of course, is based on ignorance and the fact that Nasir's works are in Persian, and the Persian-speaking Ismailis are now Nizaris. In fact, however, Nasir died about twenty years before the Nizari-Musta'lian split in the community, and had nothing to do with it whatever. His works compiled from Fatimid da'wat books, propound the same doctrine as the contemporary Fatimid works in Arabic.