Nasir Khusaro

Nasir Khusaro Hamiduddin Abu Muin Nasir bin Khusaro bin Harith al-Qubandiyani was a celebrated poet, philosopher and traveller. He is ranked as the Real Wisdom of the East. He was born in 394/1003 and came in Egypt in 439/1047, where he aboded for about three years, until 441/1050, during which time he had his audience with al-Mustansir. He was appointed as the hujjat of Khorasan and Badakhshan. It is certainly due to his tireless endeavours that there are millions of Ismailis in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, China, Chitral, Hunza, Gilgit, Pamir, Yarkand etc. He spent the rest of his life in the bleak valley of Yamghan, where he died in 481/1088. In the introductory note of "Wajh-i Din" (ed. by Ghulam Reza Aavani, Tehran, 1977, p. 1), Seyyed Hossein Nasr writes, "He is one of the greatest Islamic philosopher and deserves to be studied as a major intellectual figure of Islam in general and of Ismailism in particular."

Besides being a great thinker and erudite writer, Nasir Khusaro was also an eminent traveller. The distance he traversed from Balkh to Egypt, and thence to Mecca and then to Fars via Basra, and ultimately back to Balkh, not counting excursions for visiting shrines and so on, was about 2220 parasangs (each one about 3 miles). His journey began in 437/1045, accompanied by his brother Abu Sa'id, an Indian servant and some pack-animals. He travelled first to Merv to tender his resignation from government service, and then proceeded to Nishapur where he visited the shrine of the Sufi poet, Bayazid Bistami. From there he took the overland route via Tabriz to Syria and Palestine. He thereafter visited Mecca, where he made up his mind to visit Egypt. He arrived in Cairo by way of Damascus and Jerusalem in 439/1047. As he entered the city, Nasir Khusaro felt instinctively that "here it is where you should seek for what you need."

His "Safar-nama" gives a lively picture of the great splendour of the Fatimid empire in vivid words during the time of al-Mustansir, with its royal palaces, gates, gardens, shops and the normal living of the people, as well as the uncountable wealth of Egypt. Writing on the city of Cairo, Nasir describes: "I estimated that there were no less than twenty thousand shops in Cairo, all of which belong to the sultan (al-Mustansir). Many shops are rented for as much as ten dinars a month, and none for less than two. There is no end of caravanserais, bathhouses and other public buildings - all property of the sultan, for no one owns any property except houses and what he himself builds. I heard that in Cairo and old Cairo there are eight thousand buildings belonging to the sultan that are leased out, with the rent collected monthly. These are leased and rented to people on tenancy-at-will and no sort of coercion is employed." (p. 45) He further describes: "In the midst of the houses in the city are gardens and orchards watered by wells. In the sultan's harem are the most beautiful gardens imaginable. Water-wheels have been constructed to irrigate these gardens. There are trees planted and pleasure parks built even on the roofs. At the time I was there, a house on a lot twenty by twelve ells was being rented for fifteen dinars a month. The house was four stories tall, three of which were rented out....These houses are so magnificent and fine that you would think they were made of jewels, not of plaster, tile and stone! All the houses of Cairo are built separate one from another, so that no one's trees or outbuildings are against anyone else's walls. Cairo has four cathedral mosques where men pray on Fridays. One of these is called al-Azhar, another al-Nur, another, the Mosque of al-Hakim and the fourth the Mosque of al-Muizz. This last mosque is outside the city on the banks of the Nile. When you face the qibla in Egypt, you have to turn towards the ascent of Aries." (p. 47)

Describing the markets of Cairo, Nasir Khusaro writes: "The merchants of old Cairo are honest in their dealings, and if one of them is caught cheating a customer, he is mounted on a camel with a bell in his hand and paraded about the city, ringing the bell and crying out, `I have committed a misdemeanor and am suffering reproach. Whosoever tells a lie is rewarded with public disgrace.' The grocers, druggists, and peddlers furnish sacks for everything they sell, whether glass, pottery, or papers; therefore, there is no need for shoppers to take their own bags with them. Lamp oil is derived from turnip seed and radish seed and is called zayt harr. Sesame is scarce, and the oil derived from it is expensive, while olive oil is cheap. Pistachios are more expensive than almonds, and marzipan is not more than one dinar for ten maunds. Merchants and shopkeepers ride on saddled donkeys, both coming and going to and from the bazar." (p. 55) Nasir also adds: "The security and welfare of the people of Egypt have reached a point that the drapers, moneychangers and jewellers do not even lock their shops - they only lower a net across the front, and no one tampers with anything." (p. 57)

"In the year 439/1047" writes Nasir Khusaro, "the sultan ordered general rejoicing for the birth of a son: the city and bazars were so arrayed that, were they to be described, some would not believe that drapers' and moneychangers' shops could be so decorated with gold, jewels, coins, goldspun cloth, and embroidery that there was no room to sit down. The people are so secure under the sultan's reign that no one fears his agents, and they rely on him neither to inflict injustice nor to have designs on anyone's property. I saw such personal wealth there that were I to describe it, the people of Persia would never believe it. I could discover no end or limit to their wealth, and I never saw such ease and comfort anywhere." (p. 55)

The signs of the Fatimid presence in Jerusalem were uncountable. Nasir Khusaro was impressed by some of them, such as silver lamp donated to the Dome of the Rock, on which the name of al-Mustansir was inscribed in gold letter around the bottom. The Fatimid governor of Palestine also built in the area of the Haram; their inscriptions were admired by Nasir Khusaro. The Fatimid presence was no less visible at the shrine of Abraham in Hebron; which was enlarged and redecorated.

Nasir Khusaro compiled many books besides the "Diwan" and "Safar-nama." The famous among them are "Rawshana'i-nama" (Book of Light), "Wajh-i Din" (Face of Religion), "Gushayish wa Rahayish" (Release and Deliverance), "Zad al-Musafarin" (Provision for the Road), "Jami al- Hikmatayn" (Harmonization of the Wisdom), etc. Gholam Reza writes in "Nasir-i Khusraw" (Tehran, 1977, p. 14) that, "Of course, Nasir does eulogise one person: the Caliph al-Mustansir. For him, however, the Caliph is not the representative of worldly rule or secular power, but rather the spiritual master of masters, representative of the Holy Prophet, the Pole of the Age. These eulogies are not mere poetic effusions, but deeply felt songs of devotion."

Among other eminent dais, Abdul Malik bin Attash was also a refined literary personality. He was the chief of Ismaili mission in Fars, mainly in Ispahan. He was a great diplomate and expert in winning over the hearts of people. He was also a great military leader, and died in 500/1107.

Hasan bin Sabbah was also a renowned Ismaili dai. He came in Egypt in 471/1078 and had his audience with al-Mustansir. He stayed 18 months in Cairo, and being ascertained the name of Nizar as the successor personally from al-Mustansir, he quitted Cairo and reached Ispahan in 473/1081 and thence proceeded to Qazwin, and took possession of the fort of Alamut in 483/1090 and founded Nizari Ismaili state.

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