“His full name as cited in his works, was Abu Mu’in Nasir bin Khusaro bin al-Harith al-Marwazi al-Qubadiyani. He was born in 394/1003 in Qubadiyan, a district of Balkh in Khorasan. He belonged to a family of government officials and his brother was a vizir. He, too, entered the government service in the capacity of a finance controller and in time was a successful courtier in the local Ghaznavid court. He was full of ambition, mentally alert and gifted in writing poetry. He also took interest in philosophy, natural science and various religions. He is ranked as the Real Wisdom of the East.
W. Ivanow infers from his works that he was most likely a Shi’ite Twelver and later became a Shi’a Ismaili. The tradition has it that he joined Ismaili fold after he had a dream. Corbin interprets his awakening from darkness and sleep as learning the hidden significance of the exoteric religion and what this meaning implies. He further believes that it was not simply a matter of one night but of the night of ignorance, which lasted from his birth in this earthly world.
He entered Cairo and felt instinctively that “here it is where thou shouldst seek for what thou needst.” It is unlikely that his meeting with al-Muayyad fid-din ash-Shirazi (d. 470/1078) took place very soon after his arrival, for the latter was a high dignitary in the Fatimid mission. Al-Muayyad had also recently arrived in Cairo, having fled from persecution in southern Iran. When the meeting took place, Nasir Khusaro confided to al-Muayyad all the theological and philosophical questions, which tormented him, regarding the origin of the universe, the purpose of creation, the mystery of predestination and fate, about prayer, fasting, laws of inheritance, the uneven distribution of happiness, etc. However, al-Muayyad would only answer the question if Nasir first pledged an oath of secrecy. Naisr Khusaro’s confessional-ode (qasida itirafiyyah) is as crucial to our understanding of his spiritual biography as the account of his dream. For, it is in its lines that he refers to his real conversion to Ismailism and initiation into Ismaili gnosis. In proves conclusively that he was converted in Egypt and not in Persia prior to his journey. The rest of the qasida is full of expressions of gratitude to al-Muayyad (“My teacher, the healer of my soul, the embodiment of wisdom and glory”) and praise of Imam al-Mustansir billah (“Owner of the treasury of knowledge and the House of God. Owner of the Great Name by whom eternity exists”).
Nasir Khusaro was in Egypt for six or seven years, during which he was no doubt admitted into the mission organization, received a sound education in Ismaili theology, philosophy and esoteric doctrine, and was able to offer personal homage to Imam al-Mustansir. He was appointed as the hujjat of Khorasan and Badakhshan. He returned to Iran in 444/1052 and settled in the city of Balkh. The remarkable progress he had made and the high status he reached in the Ismaili mission is indicated by his appointment as the hujjat of Badakhshan and Khorasan. Having settled down in Balkh, where he probably purchased some property, Nasir began reorganizing the local mission and to propagate the Ismaili doctrine energetically. The 5th/11th century was a period of intense persecution of Ismailis in Iran, which was dominated by the Seljuqs, and the massacres of Ismaili population were not uncommon. His activities appeared to have aroused a lot of hostility in Balkh, and it so happened that once a mob of fanatics attacked him in his house and he was barely able to escape with his life. It is not known where Nasir escaped, but eventually he found refuge in the district of Yamghan.
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, situated in an obscure, desolate, thinly-populated vally of the Upper Oxus river in Central Asia, about 6000 feet above sea-level. It was in this narrow valley that Nasir Khusaro spent rest of his life and died in 481/1088 in Yamghan. 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, celebrated poet, philosopher and erudite writer, Nasir Khusaro was also an eminent traveller. He was a great diplomat and expert in winning over the hearts of people. 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 and travelled first to Merv to tender his resignation from government service, and then proceeded to Nishapur. From there he took the overland route via Tabriz to Syria and Palestine. He thereafter visited Mecca, and thence 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.” He gave a lively picture of the great splendour of the Fatimid empire in vivid words during the time of Imam al-Mustansir, with its royal palaces, gates, gardens, shops and the normal living of the people, as well as the uncountable wealth of Egypt. He writes in his Safar-nama, (p. 55), “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.”
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 Imam al-Mustansir was inscribed in gold letter around the bottom. The Fatimid governor of Palestine also built in the area of the Haram; Nasir Khusaro admired their inscriptions. The Fatimid presence was no less visible at the shrine of Abraham in Hebron; which was enlarged and redecorated.
He compiled many books besides the Diwan and Safar-nama, such as Rawshana’i-nama, Wajh-i Din, Gushayish wa Rahayish, Zad al-Musafarin, Jami al-Hikmatayn, etc. Gholam Reza writes in Nasir-i Khusraw (Tehran, 1977, p. 14) that, “Of course, Nasir does eulogize 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.”