A Letter of Gratitude to the Ruby of Badakhshan

If you ever have a chance to ask great artists where their inspiration comes from, as I have for many years, then some would say they get it from the beauty of nature, while others would claim it comes from a subconscious level of creativity enshrined within their asthetic souls. If you ask a philosopher the same, an expected reply would be a perspective, not very different to that of an artist, which originates from their sensitivity and consciousness towards life and truth. 

When I look back to my life and reflect upon, I remember days when I had started reading philosophy. I remember those good old days which I had spent sitting in the library, reading one book after another, all the while searching around the meaning of life. And finally reached a Philosopher, reading whose life and philosophy put a direction to the dynamics of a miserable soul, whose name still remains unknown to many, Nāsir Khusrāu. Reading him infact made me realize that personal search, which is independent of indoctrination, can lead a person to reach answers to his personal search for truth.
My inspiration to learn and know the classical philosophy mainly comes from the following remarks of Mowlana Hazar Imam, which have always been central to my life, where he stresses for adopting Nasir khusrau’s  approach of  using intellect to reach out answers of Hows and whys:

“The passage of a millennium has not diminished Nasir Khusraw’s relevance nor dulled the lustre of his poetry. It continues to uplift and inspire, reminding us that we are the authors of our own destiny. As he has said, we can be like a poplar tree which chooses to remain barren, or we can let our path be lit by the candle of wisdom, for only ‘with INTELLECT, we can seek out all the hows and whys. Without it, we are but trees without fruit.’ “

Mowlana Hazar Imam,Dushnnbe,30th August,2003

My purpose here is to emphasize the statement that writings of our dais of the past are a rich legacy for us and can help an individual to provide him with a perspective in his personal investigation for truth. Mowlana Hazar Imam, in his Farmans to the younger generation, in Karachi in October 2000, had emphasised to learn from the Isma‘ili intellectual legacy and to derive from it wisdom, inspiration and happiness. Much of the works have been translated and explored and much more still needs to be unfolded which definitely needs extensive attention and work.  

Ismaili philosophical  tradition has been the most enduring and intellectual tradition of Islam, that has always emphasized on use of  intellect in path of personal search for truth. But this must not drive us away from spiritual dimensions of faith.

“The faith urges freedom of intellectual enquiry and this freedom does not mean that knowledge will lose its spiritual dimension. That dimension is indeed itself a field for intellectual enquiry.” Adress to Faculty of Health Sciences of the Aga Khan University and Aga Khan University Hospital Inauguration Ceremony (Karachi, Pakistan), 11 November 1985


As we look back to Ismaili history, we see many prominent figures who have played an important role in forming  such a system of philosophy, that had its own voice, its own identity. The most prominent names includes Ikhwan al-Safa, Sayyidna Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani, Sayyidna Abu Hatim al-Razi, Sayyidna Qadi al-Nu’man, Sayyidna Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman, Sayyidna Ahmad al-Naysaburi, Sayyidna Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi, Sayyidna Nasir-i Khusraw, Sayyidna Hasan-i Mahmud, and numerous others including Sayyidna Nasir al-Din Tusi in Alamut period. They were not merely philosophers but they also served an important role in Ismaili Dawa as hujjats, dais and mustajibs. Appointed by Fatimid Imams, they had been charged with responsibility to  help Ismaili murids in reaching the subtle truths behind symbolical language of the Qur’an.  Their approach was,  however, a philosophical endeavor to develop the classical Ismaili theology, based on such a system of thought that could serve to give an intellectual approach towards theology.Their purpose was, thus, not merely to take part in the philosophical debates of their contemporary times but also to seek a hermeneutical approach towards faith which is  evident through their  numerous works that are still continued to be discovered, studied and translated.

My interest in reading and exploring more and more about Ismaili philosophy started with a chance to read about life and philosophy of Nasir Khusrau, in Alice Hunsberger’s ‘Nasir Khusrau The Ruby of Badakhshan’. Upon my exposure to this great philosopher, I was amazed to know how beautifully Nasir Khurau seeks a path of intellect to reach answers to intellectual inquiries of faith.I personally feel a need in our youth to give their understanding of their faith a more rational rather than dogmatic, approach that can cope with the intellectual queries that arise today in our minds with the advancement of Science and technology. I would like here to quote Mowlana Hazar Imam, because Islam has this capacity to answer and fill that intellectual gap that may arise due to secular and materialistic atmosphere in society:

You cannot give a child secular education and then expect him not to ask questions about his religion. This is one more reason why [Muslim] schools should have well-qualified teachers giving courses on the background of Islam, its history, theology, philosophy and all the other subjects which pertain to its glorious past.

Mawlana Hazar Imam

(Annual General Meeting of the East Africa Muslim Welfare Society (Mombasa, Kenya), 16 November 1957)

Every individual is expected to use his intellect, his knowledge, to help him understand his faith — at least that is the way we interpret the faith.

Mawlana Hazar Imam

(Sociedade das Nações Interview, Martim Cabral and Nuno Rogerio (Lisbon, Portugal), 21 July 2008)

-Sujjawal Ahmad