In his own lifetime, Nasir Khusraw attracted enemies and admirers alike, a public dichotomy that has continued through the past 1,000 years. Famed as a major Persian poet of the 11th century (1004-1077) and as the author of an important travelogue (Safarnama) of his seven-year journey from Khurasan to Cairo to Mecca and back to Iran. As a successful preacher and intellectual of the Ismaili persuasion, his work stirred up both positive and negative emotions. The negative culminated in an attack on his life which forced him into exile in the remote mountains of Badakhshan (in Tajikistan), where today he is revered by the Shi‘i Ismaili and Sunni communities for different reasons. This paper traces the threads of opinion through the centuries, found in the major texts of biographies of poets, histories and geographies, including Abu’l-Ma‘ali’s Bayan al ‘Adyan (“heresy”), and the Sufi poet Farid al-din Attar’s poem honouring Nasir Khusraw. In addition, the paper will draw on recent fieldwork to present a review of contemporary representations of Nasir Khusraw among the Ismailis of Tajikistan.
Dr Hunsberger received her doctorate in Middle East Languages and Cultures from Columbia University in 1992, specialising in Persian and Arabic literatures. She has taught courses dealing with aspects of Islam as well as on the history of science at various universities in Iran and the USA, including Arya Mehr University of Technology in Isfahan, Iran and Hunter College, The City University of New York. Dr Hunsberger is the author of Nasir Khusraw, The Ruby of Badakhshan: A Portrait of the Persian Poet, Traveller and Scholar (London, 2000), and has contributed numerous papers to academic conferences and journals. Dr Hunsberger was a Visiting Research Fellow at The Institute of Ismaili Studies from 1999-2001.