NASAFI, ʿAZIZ b. Moḥammad, 7th/13th century mystical thinker and scholar from Nasaf (Naḵšab) in Transoxania (present Qarshi or Karshi in Uzbekistan), author of many works in Persian written in an easy, didactic style for anonymous dervish groups. The spread of his fame soon after his death was mainly through the popularity of his writings. These must have been circulated from early on, as references to them are found in works of various provenances from the middle of the 14th century onwards.
The earliest reference to his Rasāʾel is found in the Jāmeʿ al-asrār (pp. 238-39) of Sayyed Ḥaydar-e Āmoli written about 1350. Āmoli calls him ʿAziz-al-Din al-Nasafi and refers to him as the ‘disciple’ (telmiḏ) of Saʿd-al-Din al-Ḥamuʾi (d. 649/1252). Though rather vague and general, this reference appears to be based on a passage (pp. 320-21) in the collection that has come to be known as the Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel. A misnomer due to a bibliographical error, more likely the original title was Ketāb Manāzel al-sāʾerin. By about 1400, another important work of Nasafi, [Ketāb-e] tanzil (as yet unpublished), was well known in India. Sayyed Moḥammad-e Gisu-darāz (d. 825/1422), who refers to the author as ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz ḥakim-e Nasafi, used this work extensively in his Asmār al-asrār (e.g. p. 265; also see Hussaini). From about 1450 we have the earliest extant manuscripts of Nasafi’s writings, notably an excellent majmuʿa of the Majles Library (no. 4136) which contains two mature works, the Kašf al-ḥaqāyeq and the Bayān al-tanzil (not identical with the Ketāb-e tanzil). By the 16th century, he was also very well known in Ottoman Turkey (cf. Karamustafa). The Maqṣad-e aqṣā, perhaps Nasafi’s most popular work, exists in numerous manuscripts and in various versions or rearrangements in the original Persian, as well as in several Turkish translations. A Persian fragment of six pages (corresponding, with few omissions of specifically Sufi passages, to the standard text as available in Ganjina-ye ʿerfān, p. 273, l. 16 to p. 277, l. 16) is found at the beginning of a collection of Ismāʿili texts which contains at the end the oldest extant manuscript of Ṭusi’s Taṣawworāt (copied in 1560 from the autograph, cf. Badakhchani, 1989). A Turkish translation of the Maqṣad provided the basis for the Latin extracts which were already published in 1665 in Germany and eventually found their way into the work of the celebrated German theologian F. A. G. Tholuck (1799-1877), Ssufismus sive Theosophia Persarum Pantheistica (Berlin, 1821), while a rearrangement of the Persian original (not, of course, a Persian translation,see Storey, Persian Literature I/1, p. 178) appears to have served as a basis for E. H. Palmer’s English paraphrase of 1867. Nasafi’s Zobdatal-ḥaqāyeq is also available in various versions, including one preserved among the Ismāʿilis of Badaḵšān as part of a collection of Ismāʿili writings (ed. A. E. Berteḷʾs, 1970).
Despite the popularity of Nasafi’s writings, historical sources afford very little reliable information about his life, which accordingly must be outlined from indications in his own works (the fundamental study is Meier, 1953). Jāmi does not even mention Nasafi, and the one relatively early source (much used by later writers) that does provide a rather detailed entry on him, Gāzargāhi’s Majāles al-ʿoššāq (pp. 163-64), is notoriously unreliable. While Gāzargāhi’s claim that Nasafi died and was buried in Abarquh seems plausible enough, the two dates he offers for his death, namely, 616 and 661 are not only incompatible but are both incorrect. Nasafi was evidently alive on the 1st Rajab 671/22 January 1273, when the troops of Aq Beg engaged in massacre and plunder at Bukhara (Rašid-al-Din, Jāmeʿ al-tawāriḵ II, pp. 766-67; tr. Pt. 3, p. 536), for he himself explains in the Kašf al-ḥaqāyeq (p. 2) that due to an imminent attack by the “heathen forces” (lašgar-e koffār), on that day he had to leave Bukhara and cross the Oxus to reach safety in Khorasan. After this, he must have spent some time near the tomb of Shaikh Saʿd-al-Din-e Ḥamuʾi in Baḥrābād, and then moved further south to Kerman, Isfahan, Shiraz and finally perhaps settled in Abarquh, where he completed the Kašf al-ḥaqāyeq in 1281. But he must have been active well beyond that date. According to the colophon of one manuscript (see Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel, p. 493), he would still have been writing in Abarquh in 1292. and the available text of the Bayān al-tanzil also suggests a very late date. However, it seems unlikely that he lived beyond the end of the 13th century, and if his statement in the Maqṣad-e aqṣā (p. 254) to the effect that it had taken him “eighty years to reach the end of this path” is to be taken literally, he must have been born by the end of the 12th century; for the Maqṣad was certainly written before the Kašf and thus before 1281. At any rate, we know from the Ketāb-e tanzil that he was born in Nasaf, and that he wrote at least the first ten chapters of this work partly there and partly in Bukhara. He had evidently been exposed to a long Sufi education in Nasaf and/or Bukhara, and although he never mentions his Transoxanian masters by name, he may well have known Sayf-al-Din-e Bāḵarzi (d. 659/1261) in Bukhara. The first Resāla of the Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel (cf. p. 80) is dated at Bukhara in 660/1261-62. Both Bāḵarzi and Saʿd-al-Din-e Ḥamuʾi were among the “twelve disciples” of the famous Sufi Najm-al-Din-e Kobrā (d. 618/1221).
Since Nasafi alludes to the time he spent with Shaikh Saʿd-al-Din-e Ḥamuʾi in Khorasan (Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel, pp. 316-22), he must have crossed the Oxus at least once before his final emigration from Transoxania. This was certainly before Ḥamuʾi’s death in 1252, but probably not before 1244 when Ḥamuʾi returned from a long journey, which had taken him to various cities of the Middle East including Damascus (where he is said to have met Ebn ʿArabi, d. 1240 and Ṣadr-al-Din Qōnavi, d. 1274). For Nasafi’s own spiritual development, the encounter with Ḥamuʾi was doubtless of greatest significance. Though not uncritical of some of Ḥamuʾis more peculiar views, particularly the messianic expectation of the imminent coming of the “Lord of the Time (ṣāḥib al-zamān)” (cf. Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel, pp. 321-22; Maqṣad, pp. 245-46), Nasafi always speaks of him with great reverence. Some thirty years after Ḥamuʾi’s death, he still has him appear, together with the Prophet Moḥammad and the saint of Shiraz, Ebn Ḵafif, in a dream (recorded in Kašf, pp. 3-4; rephrased in Majāles al-ʿoššāq, p.164) in which the author is warned not to publish the entire Kašf al-ḥaqāyeq before the advent of the year 700 (1300-01) (and, apparently as a result of this, only seven out of a total of ten treatises promised in the table of contents have come down to us). The Ḥamuʾi of that dream shows concern about Nasafi’s explaining in clear and plain language what he himself had been trying to hide in 400 difficult treatises (440 according to the version in Majāles). In this way the author in effect portrays himself as a spokesman for Ḥamuʾi’s esoteric doctrine. Of course this should not necessarily be taken at face value.
Though of a well-known Sunni family, Ḥamuʾi soon acquired a reputation as a Shiʿite esotericist, doubtless because of his frequent allusions to the all-important function of walāyat/welāyat and the awliāʾ as esoteric counterparts respectively of prophecy and the prophets (see e.g. Al-Meṣbāḥ fi al-taṣawwof, pp. 137-38). In one treatise (briefly discussed by Elias, pp. 71-72) he identified the “Seal of the awliā” with Jesus, as did Ebn ʿArabi; but according to one as yet unidentified statement attributed to him by Āmoli (Jāmeʿ al-asrār, p. 431), he is said to have insisted that after the Prophet Moḥammad, the name al-wali may be applied only to ʿAli and his children. Nasafi does not report this statement, nor does he exactly speak of “the twelve imāms" when reporting on Ḥamuʾi’s doctrine, as Āmoli (pp. 238-39) also implies; but he does point out in his “Treatise explaining walāyat, prophecy, angel, revelation, inspiration, and true dreams” (Ketāb al-ensān al-Kāmel pp. 313-25) that according to Ḥamuʾi, there could be only twelve awliāʾ in the Muslim community, with the twelfth among them being called the “seal,” or the mahdi, or the ṣāḥib al-zamān (Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel, pp. 320-21). He also carefully points out a theological difference between Ḥamuʾi and Ṣadr-al-Din-e Qōnavi concerning the relation between the divine attributes and the essence, which may indeed point to Shiʿite leanings (see Landolt 1996, pp.188-90). However, Twelver Shiʿite “orthodoxy” does not really seem to have been more attractive to Nasafi than ordinary Sunnism.
The available evidence shows that Nasafi was quite responsive to Ismāʾilism, and (as noted), the Iranian Ismāʿilis in any case did not wait for long to incorporate some of his works into their own. One element of Ismāʾili influence on Nasafi’s thought can be seen in the fact that the three missing final treatises of the Kašf al-ḥaqāyeq are the very ones which according to the table of contents would have dealt with esoteric subjects such as the relation between the ṣāḥeb-e šariʿat and the qāʾem-e qiāmat, the number of Revealed Laws, and the meaning of abrogation. More importantly, Nasafi never identifies himself directly as a Sufi but clearly sympathizes with those he usually calls ahl-e waḥdat ‘monists’; and the expression ahl-e waḥdat is found in the Ismāʾili works of Naṣir-al-Din Ṭusi (d. 672/1274) in the first place.
Both in Sayr va Soluk (Badakhchani 1998, text pp. 20-21; tr. p. 52) and Taṣawworat (Badakhchani 1989; Ivanov MS pagination, pp. 35-36, 60, 65, ahl-e waḥdat designates an elite, as distinguished from the more common folk (called ahl-e tarattob) who have not reached the highest stage of “oneness.” Similarly, Nasafi’s ahl-e taṣawwof or mašāyeḵ-e ṭariqat are not identical with the ahl-e waḥdat; they rather play the role of the middle-of-the-roaders (cf. e.g. Zobdat al-ḥaqāyeq in Ganjina, p. 328). They are represented in the Kašf (p. 80, cf. pp. 73, 76, 77) with their traditional view that “the final stage of the awliāʾ is the initial stage of the prophets,” meaning that prophets are superior because they are chosen by God from among the awliā, whereas the ahl-e waḥdat on the contrary maintain that “a prophet is superior to a ḥakim but a wali is superior to a prophet since whoever is a prophet must first be a ḥakim and whoever is a wali must first be a prophet, but whoever is a prophet is not necessarily a wali” (ibid., p.102). This scale is based on the degree and kind of knowledge attainable by each of the three; for a ḥakim knows the natures (ṭabāyeʿ) of things and a prophet also knows their properties or particular effects (ḵawāṣṣ-e ašyāʾ) but only a wali also knows their truths (ḥaqāyeq-e ašyāʾ) (ibid. p.102 and several other places). To be sure, Ḥamuʾi figures at least by implication among the “monists” as well, even prominently so (ibid. p.153), as he is also credited with the “shocking” statement that “the final stage of the prophets is the initial stage of the awliāʾ” (in Kašf al-Ṣerāt, perhaps by Nasafi himself, see Landolt 1996, p. 171; also see Ḥamuʾi’s own wording of a similar point in Al-Meṣbāh fi al-taṣawwof, p. 137). But the idea of the wali being superior because he knows the ḥaqāyeq exclusively certainly tallies well with Nezāri Ismāʿili doctrine.
There is, however, no reason to assume that Nasafi actually joined Ismāʿilism at any time. In all of his writings, he shows a remarkable degree of spiritual independence. His liberal attitude is generally reminiscent of the classical example of the Eḵwān al-Ṣafā. At times he also could be an outspoken skeptic of a typically “ Ḵayyāmian” appeal (see, for example, the quatrain in Maqṣad, p. 284, variant in Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel, p. 438). For the same reason, he cannot really be considered a representative of “Kobraviya Sufism” either, despite his personal attachment to the figure of Ḥamuʾi. He certainly did not share the rather pronounced Islamic ideology which was adopted by famous Kobraviya Sufis before and during the Mongol domination, and his ahl-e waḥdat even include certain forms of Indian spirituality, for which he in fact showed greatest admiration (see Landolt 1996, p. 175).
Nasafi was not a theologian in any technical sense of the word but an all-round scholar whose knowledge included also philosophy and medicine. He made a systematic attempt to describe the varieties of religious and philosophical doctrines, which were available to him from literary sources as well as through personal contacts, and to classify them in terms of their essential differences. Broadly speaking, he distinguishes between three major categories: the ahl-e šariʿat (divided into Sunnis and Shiʿites), the ahl-e ḥekmat (divided into ordinary Avicennian philosophers and the ahl-e tanāsoḵ “transmigrationists”), and the ahl-e waḥdat, who are also divided into two groups: the “deniers” of the reality of the world, also called the “followers of Fire” (aṣḥāb-e nār), and the “affirmers” of that reality, or “followers of Light” (aṣḥāb-e nur); and both these “deniers” and “affirmers” are, again, divided into sub-groups, although all, of course, believe in their own way in the “oneness of existence” (waḥdat-e wojud). This quasiscientific, phenomenological approach to a great variety of doctrines clearly distinguishes Nasafi from Ebn ʿArabi and his school; and although their influence is certainly perceptible in many ways in his works, he was not their spokesman. Perhaps his most characteristic idea about the “Perfect Man” should be seen in his vision of an ongoing process of development, both biologically and spiritually speaking, or the deployment (enbesātá) of “existence” or Reality itself. The creative energy at work in this process is the “Soul of God” (nafs-e ḵodā [not nafas-e ḵodā ‘Breath of God’, as some have read]) as identified with the “Lord” (rabb) of the famous Tradition “He who knows his ‘soul’ knows his ‘lord’.”
Published works. ʿAziz b. Moḥammad al-Nasafi, Bayān al-tanzil, ed. and intro. S. A. A. Mîr Bâgherî [Bāqeri] Fard, English intro. H. Landolt, Tehran, 2000.
Idem, Kašf al-ḥaqāyeq, ed. and intro. A. Mahdavi Dāmghani [Dāmḡāni], Tehran, 1965; partial tr. L. Ridgeon as Third Treatise of the Unveiling of Realities in Persian Metaphysics and Mysticism: Selected Treatises of ʿAziz Nasafi, Richmond, Surrey, 2002, pp. 191-230.
Idem, Ketāb al-ensān al-kāmel, ed. and intro. M. Molé, Tehran/Paris, 1962 (several reprints); French tr. I. de Gastines as Le Livre de l’Homme Parfait, Paris, 1984; partial tr. L. Ridgeon as Fifth Treatise of Waystations of Travellers in Persian Metaphysics [as above], pp. 231-41.
Idem, Maqṣad-e aqṣā, in Ganjina-ye ʿerfān, ed. Ḥ. Rabbāni [from the lithograph ed. 1885], Tehran, n.d. [ca. 1973], pp. 209-85; paraphrased rendition by E. H. Palmer as Oriental Mysticism: A Treatise on Sufiistic & Unitarian Theosophy of the Persians, Compiled from Native Sources, 1867, repr. with a new intro. by A. J. Arberry, London, 1938; repr. of first edition, London, 1969; tr. L. Ridgeon as The Furthest Goal in Persian Metaphysics [as above], pp. 41-128.
Idem, Zobdat al-ḥaqāyeq, in Ganjina [as above], pp. 286-336; also ed. A. E. Bertelʾs, in Panj resāla dar bāra-ye āfāq va anfos, Moscow, 1970, pp. 91-207; also ed. Ḥaqq Vardi Nāṣeri, Tehran, 1985; tr. L. Ridgeon as The Quintessence of Realities in Persian Metaphysics [as above], pp.129-90.
Studies and other references. Sayyed Ḥaydar-e Āmoli, Jāmeʿ al-asrār wa-manbaʿ al-anwār, eds. H. Corbin and O. Yahya ,Tehran/Paris, 1969.
S. J. Badakhchani, “The Paradise of Submission: A Critical Edition and Study of Rawżeh-i Taslīm commonly known as Taṣawwurāt by Khwājeh Naṣīr al-Dīn-i Ṭūsī,” Ph.D diss., Oxford University, 1989.
Idem, Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī, Contemplation and Action: The Spiritual Biography of a Muslim Scholar. A New Edition and English Translation of Sayr wa Sulūk, London/New York, 1998.
M. T. Dānešpažuh, “Enteqād-e Ketāb: Kašf al-ḥaqāyeq” in Farhang-e Irān-zamin 13, 1344 Š., pp. 298-310.
D. DeWeese, “The Eclipse of the Kubravīyah in Central Asia,” Iranian Studies 21, 1988, pp. 45-83.
J. Elias, “The Sufi Lords of Bahrabad: Saʿd al-Din and Sadr al-Din Hamuwayi,” Iranian Studies 27, 1994, pp. 53-75.
Rašid-al-Din Fażl- Allāh, Jāmeʿ al-tawārikò, ed. B. Karimi, Tehran2, 1983; tr. W. M. Thackston, Cambridge, Mass., 1998-99.
Kamāl-al-Din Ḥosayn-e Gāzargāhi, Majāles al-’oššāq, ed. Ḥ. Ṭabāṭabāʾi Majd, Tehran2, 1997.
Sayyed Moḥammad Ḥosayni-e Gisu-darāz, Asmār al-asrār, ed. ʿA. Ḥosayn, Hyderabad, 1931.
Saʿd-al-Din-e Ḥammuya, Al-Meṣbāh fi al-taṣawwof, ed. N. Māyel Heravi, Tehran, 1983.
S. S. K. Hussaini, Sayyid Muḥammad al-Ḥusaynī-i Gīsūdirāz(721/1321 - 825/1422): On Sufism, Delhi, 1983.
A. T. Karamustafa, Vāḥidī’s Menāḳıb-i Ḫvoca-i Cihān ve Netīce-i Cān: Critical Edition and Analysis, Cambridge, Mass., 1993.
H. Landolt, “Saʿd al-Dīn al-Ḥammūʾī” EI2, IX, pp. 703-4.
Idem, “Le soufisme à travers l’šuvre de ʿAzîz-eNasafî: étude du Ketâb-e Tanzîl,” Annuaire de l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section sciences religieuses 103 (1994-1995), Paris, 1996, pp. 227-29.
Idem, “Le paradoxe de la ‘Face de Dieu’: ʿAzîz-e Nasafî (VIIe/XIIIe siècle) et le ‘monisme ésotérique’ de l’islam,” Stud. Ir. 25, 1996, pp. 163-92.
Idem, “Azīz-i Nasafī and the Essence-Existence Debate” in Consciousness and Reality: Studies in Memory of Toshihiko Izutsu, Tokyo, 1998, pp. 387-95.
F. Meier, “Das Problem der Natur im esoterischen Monismus des Islams,” Eranos-Jahrbuch 14, 1946, Zürich 1947, pp. 149- 227; tr. R. Manheim in Spirit and Nature: Papers from the Eranos-Yearbooks 1, New York, 1954 (Princeton, paperb., 1982), pp. 149-203.
Idem, “Die Schriften des ʿAzīz-i Nasafī,” WZKM 52, 1953, pp. 125-82.
M. Molé, “Les Kubrawîya entre sunnisme et shîʿisme aux huitième et neuvième siècles de l’hégire,” REI, 1961, pp. 61-142.
J. W. Morris, “Ibn ʿArabī and His Interpreters. Part II: Influences and Interpretations,” JAOS 106, 1986, pp. 733-56.
S. Orsini-Sadjed, “Note bibliographique sur ʿAzîz-e Nasafî,” Stud. Ir. 26, 1997, pp. 269-80.
L. Ridgeon, ʿAzīz Nasafī, Richmond, Surrey, 1998.
Originally Published: July 20, 2002
Last Updated: July 20, 2002