Nāṣir-i Khusraw

Nāṣir-i Khusraw was a Persian scholar, poet, traveler and missionary for the Ismāʿīlī Shīʿī movement who is widely credited with the establishment of the Ismāʿīlī community in Badakhshan. Nāṣir was born in 1004 in the town of Qubādiyān in the southwest of present-day Tajikistan. He served in the Seljuq administration in the town of Marw until 1045, when at the age of 40 he experienced a spiritual crisis that drove him to abandon his position and to set out on the pilgrimage to Mecca. At some point in the course of his travels, or possibly even before departing, Nāṣir became introduced to the teachings of Ismāʿīlī Shīʿism and decided, after completing the pilgrimage, to travel to the capital of the Ismāʿīlī Fatimid Empire in Cairo to continue his studies. After several years of residence and study in Cairo, Nāṣir was commissioned as a dāʿī or ‘summoner’ for the Ismāʿīlī movement by the Imam of his time, Mustanṣir biʾllāh (d. 1094). By his account, Nāṣir was assigned by the Imam to the position of the ḥujjat or chief dāʿī of the Khurāsān region. He left Cairo and traveled to the city of Balkh, where he arrived by 1052 and began his missionizing work.

Nāṣir composed an account of his travels, known as the Safar-nāma, which is a rich source of ethnographic information on the Near East in the eleventh century. However, the account concludes with his return to Balkh and the details of his career beyond this point remain largely obscure. What little is known about the final decades of his career can be pieced together from incidental references in his poetry and other works, along with later legendary and hagiographical accounts (Beben 2017). It is clear that Nāṣir’s work on behalf of the Ismāʿīlīs received a hostile reception from the authorities in Balkh and he was eventually compelled to flee to the east, to the mountainous province of Badakhshan, where he was given protection by a sympathetic local ruler. He composed a number of his works while in exile in Badakhshan and died there sometime between 1072 and 1088. Nāṣir-i Khusraw became the subject of a wide range of legends and hagiographical accounts in the centuries following his death (Beben 2015; Gross), while his shrine in the district of Yumgān, located in present-day Afghan Badakhshan, emerged as a major pilgrimage center in the region (Beben 2015: 173-231; Schadl). His writings form the intellectual cornerstone of the Central Asian Ismāʿīlī tradition while his travel account and his poetry remain widely popular throughout the Persianate world today (Hunsberger).

Unlike most of the figures who are the subject of genealogies in this collection, Nāṣir-i Khusraw did not leave a genealogical or familial legacy within Badakhshan and the sources present only his own ancestry. Within this collection, accounts of Nāṣir’s genealogy are found in sources dedicated to figures who are claimed as his disciples, particularly Sayyid Suhrāb Valī and ʿUmar Yumgī. Iterations of his genealogy are also commonly found in the legendary biographies included in the hagiographical and tadhkirah literature, and are also frequently appended to copies of his writings. While the Badakhshani tradition is unanimous in claiming Nāṣir as a sayyid, tracing his ancestry through the eighth Shīʿī Imam Mūsā al-Riḍā, in fact his own works make no claim to sayyid status (Mohaghegh) and do not enumerate his ancestry beyond his grandfather. Moreover, references to Nāṣir’s sayyid status do not appear in the sources until the fifteenth century and the names and number of generations given between his grandfather and Imam Mūsā al-Riḍā vary widely between the different accounts (Beben 2015: 166-68).


Beben, Daniel. "The Legendary Biographies of Nāṣir-i Khusraw: Memory and Textualization in Early Modern Persian Ismāʿīlism." Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 2015.

Beben, Daniel. "Islamisation on the Iranian Periphery: Nasir-i Khusraw and Ismailism in Badakhshan." In Islamisation: Comparative Perspectives from History, ed. A. C. S. Peacock (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017): 317-35.

Gross, Jo-Ann. "The Motif of the Cave and the Funerary Narratives of Nāṣir-i Khusrau." In Orality and Textuality in the Iranian World: Patterns of Interaction across the Centuries, ed. Julia Rubanovich (Leiden: Brill, 2015): 130-65.

Hunsberger, Alice. Nasir Khusraw, the Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveler and Philosopher. 2nd ed. London: I.B. Tauris, 2003.

Mohaghegh, Mehdi. "Nāṣir-i Khusraw and his Spiritual Nisbah." In Yād-nāmah-i Īrānī-i Mīnūrskī, ed. Mujtabā Mīnuvī and Iraj Afshār (Tehran: Intishārāt-i Dānishgāh-i Tihrān, 1348 Sh./1969): 143-48.

Schadl, Marcus. "The Shrine of Nasir Khusraw: Imprisoned Deep in the Valley of Yumgan." Muqarnas 26 (2009): 63-93.