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Nasir al-Din al-Tusi

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Personal Information
Full Name Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Hasan al-Tusi
Well-Known As Khwajih Nasir al-Din al-Tusi
Birth 597/1201
Residence Tus
Studied in Tus, Neyshabur
Death Baghdad
Burial Place Shrine of Kazimayn, Kadhimiyya
Scholarly Information
Works Asas al-iqtibas, Tajrid al-i'tiqad, Sharh al-Isharat, Akhlaq-i Nasiri, Awsaf al-ashraf, ...
Scholarly
Activities
Establishment of the library and observatory of Maragheh

Muḥammad b. Ḥasan al-Jahrūdī al-Tūsī (Arabic: محمد بن حسن الجهرودي الطوسي) (b. 597/1201 – d. 672/1274), known famously as Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, is one of the most influential figures in the history of Islamic thought and one of the most important Twelver Shi'a philosophers, scientists, and theologians. He was the founder of Maraghah observatory and a library with over 400,000 books.

Birth and Education

Nasir al-Din was born on Jumada I 11, 597/February 24, 1201 in Tus and grew there. Thus, he came to be known as "al-Tusi". He was originally from Jahrud near Qom in a district called "Veshareh".

Nasir al-Din studied the Quran, sarf (conjugation of words), nahw (Arabic syntax), and etiquettes when he was a child (his first teachers were his grandfather, Muhammad b. al-Hasan, in fiqh and hadith, and his uncle Nur al-Din 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Shi'i in logic and philosophy). Under his father's instructions, he studied mathematics with Kamal al-Din Muhammad and then learned the fiqh and disciplines of hadith from his father. He perfectly learned different branches of mathematics (calculus, geometry, and algebra).

After his father's death, he went to every place where there was a competent teacher. Thus, he went to Nishapur which was a center of scholars, and studied with Siraj al-Din al-Qamari, Qutb al-Din al-Sarakhsi, Farid al-Din Damad, Abu l-Sa'adat al-Isfahani, and others. He also met Farid al-Din al-'Attar in the city.

Presence in Isma'ili Forts

When Nasir al-Din was in Nishapur, the Moguls launched their first conquest under the leadership of Genghis Khan, and brought about a severe bloodshed. Muhammad II of Khwarezm was defeated by the Moguls and then all resistance failed. All cities fell one after another and people fled from cities and refuged to farther cities or firmer forts. The only resistance force against the Mogul conquest were Isma'ili forts. While cities of Khorasan and Nishapur were fully seized by the Moguls, the Isma'ili forts resisted for many years and did not surrender.

At that time, Muhtasham Nasir al-Din 'Abd al-Rahim b. Abi Mansur, who lived in Qohestan, was appointed by the Isma'ili leader, 'Ala' al-Din Muhammad, as the commander of the Isma'ili forts in Khorasan. Nasir al-Din was a scholar of his time and had a particular respect for scholars. He heard about the scholarly significance of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and, thus, invited him to Qohestan. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, who was displaced after the Mogul conquest, seized the opportunity and went to Qohestan.

In this period, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi translated a book by Abu 'Ali Miskawayh al-Razi into Farsi, he added comments on the book and called it Akhlaq-i Nasiri (Nasiri ethics) after the name of Muhtasham Nasir al-Din. After a while, he wrote a book concerning astronomy and called it al-Risala al-Mu'iniyya after Mu'in al-Din b. Muhtasham Nasir al-Din.

The leader of Isma'ilis, 'Ala' al-Din Muhammad, heard about Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's great scholarly service for Muhtasham Nasir al-Din, and thus, he asked Nasir al-Din al-Tusi to join him. He had to accept the request and, thus, he and Muhtasham Nasir al-Din went to him in the Maymun Duz Fort. He was warmly welcomed by the leader of Isma'ilis. After a while, the leader was killed by one of his guards, and his son, Rukn al-Din Khwarezm Shah succeeded him. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi stayed in the Alamut Fort until Rukn al-Din surrendered to the Moguls in their second conquest.

Some historians believe that Nasir al-Din did not stay in Isma'ili forts at his own will; rather he was forced to do so. Some people, such as Aqsara'i in Musamara al-akhbar maintain that Nasir al-Din was a prime minister for the Isma'ili government. He was so admired there that he was called the "Master of the Universe". Thus, the story of force and prison is ruled out by this account. People who claim that Nasir al-Din was forced to join the Isma'ilis and was imprisoned in their forts appeal to his complaints at the end of his Sharh al-isharat about his life and time.

Service for Hulagu Khan

The second Mogul conquest under the commandership of Hulagu Khan was stronger than the first, and thus, the Isma'ili forts which were resistant to Genghis Khan were conquered by Hulagu Khan. Rukn al-Din found that it was ineffective to resist anymore, and after consulting his close advisors and prominent figures of his government, he surrendered himself to Hulagu Khan. Except Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and two other physicians, everyone was killed by Hulagu Khan, including Rukn al-Din. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was kept alive because Hulagu Khan was aware of his scholarly and intellectual significance.

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi had to join Hulagu Khan. Thus, he decided to benefit from his place to protect the Islamic heritage which was on the verge of destruction. His plans were so effective that a government which had launched attacks to eradicate Islam converted to Islam at the end, and the successors of Genghis Khan and Hulagu Khan turned into Muslim kings.

It seems that for Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, it was a priority to save lives of scholars and protect manuscripts of libraries. Since it was not possible for people or the government to resist the Mogul conquest, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi founded Maragheh Observatory so that many scholars of the time could reside there and be immune from murder. He also made a great deal of effort to collect and protect a lot of manuscripts.

Scholarly Position

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's character is distinguished by his ability to control Mongol warriors, protect the work of Muslim scholars, and advance the cause of an Islamic civilization. He is said to be Ibn Sina's peer in scholarship, except that Ibn Sina mastered medicine the most, and al-Tusi mastered mathematics the most. His scholarly contributions include his defense of the Islamic Peripatetic philosophy and the transformation of the Shiite kalam into a philosophical kalam. All subsequent works of kalam were influenced by his Tajrid al-i'tiqad.

Just like Ibn Sina, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was involved in politics, but against his own will. Hulagu Khan's awareness of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's scholarly position led to the Khan's decision not to kill him in the Isma'ili fort and to keep him as his companion. The conversion of Mongol kings to Islam was inspired by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's presence at their palace, and a special event in his life was his accompaniment of Hulagu Khan in the Conquest of Baghdad. Today, some Sunni scholars condemn the fall of the Sunni government in Baghdad and blame Nasir al-Din al-Tusi for his accompaniment of the Khan in the conquest.

Accomplishments

Maragheh Observatory

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi is pictured at his writing desk at the Observatory of Maragheh.

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi suggested the construction of Maragheh Observatory to Hulagu Khan. A great number of scholars and scientists agreed to cooperate with Nasir al-Din al-Tusi in the project. He started constructing the observatory in Maragheh (located in northwest of Iran) from 657/1258 and was engaged in it for the rest of his life. The zij obtained from this observatory came to be called “Ilkhanic Tables”. The zij was published in a book with the same name (in Persian: Zij-i Ilkhani) which included new mathematical tables that used to be unknown.

Maragheh Library

One of Nasir al-Din Tusi's significant activities was the establishment of a great library in the city of Maragheh in addition to the Observatory. Upon the command of Hulagu, many valuable and scientific books which had been plundered from Baghdad, Damascus, Mosul, and Khurasan were brought to the library.

Also, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi himself tried to collect valuable and useful books for the library, some historians believe there had gathered some 400,000 books in Maragheh Library.

Conversion of Hulagu's Successors to Islam

After Hulagu Khan, his son, Abaqa Khan, and then his other son, Tekuder, were enthroned. Although Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was not alive at the time, his efforts worked: Tekuder announced his conversion to Islam and changed him name to Ahmad Tekuder. After that, the Mongol government turned into an Islamic government.

Students

Prominent students of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi include:

  • Ibn Maytham al-Bahrani, the author of a well-known commentary on Nahj al-balagha. He was a philosopher, a theologian, and a faqih. He was Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's student in philosophy, and his teacher in fiqh.
  • Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (d. 710/1310-11) who succeeded his father at the age of 14 as a physician. He learned astronomy and Ibn Sina's al-Isharat wa l-tanbihat from Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.
  • Kamal al-Din 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Shaybani al-Baghdadi (642/1244-45 - 723/1323): he was Hanbali and known as Ibn al-Fuwati. He was a historiographer of the 7th/13th century. His work includes Mu'jam al-adab, al-Hawadith al-jami'a, and Talkhis mu'jam al-alqab.
  • Al-Sayyid Rukn al-Din al-Istarabadi (d. 715/1315-16) who wrote commentaries on Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's books.

Belief

Certainly Nasir al-Din al-Tusi was an Shi'a, and in many of his apologetic books (like Tajrid al-i'tiqad) he explicitly mentions the necessity of belief in twelve Imams (a) and their infallibility.

Al-Firqat al-najiya (the survived sect), Risalat fi hasr al-haq bi-maqalat al-Imamaiyya (treatise on right being exclusively in accordance with Imamiyya belief), al-Ithna 'ashariya (the Twelvers) and Risalat fi l-imama(treatise on Imamate) are writings dedicated specifically to Shi'a-Imamiyya beliefs.

Commemorative stamp of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

Works

Among his many -more than 180- writings in ethics, logic, philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy are:

  • Akhlaq-i Nasiri (Nasiri ethics)
  • Awsaf al-ashraf (the traits of the nobles)
  • Asas al-iqtibas (the foundation for derivation)
  • Sharh al-isharat (the commentary on al-Isharat)
  • Tajrid al-i'tiqad (abstraction of the belief)
  • Jami' al-hisab (the summa of mathematics)
  • Zij-i ilkhani (the Ilkhanid stars)
  • Tadhkira fi l-'ilm al-hay'a (reminder in astronomy)

Death

Accompanied by his students, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi traveled to Baghdad in 672/1274 to collect the remaining of plundered books, but he couldn't complete this mission and passed away on Dhu l-Hijja 18, 672/July 2, 1274 in Baghdad, and according to his will he was buried in the Shrine of Kazimayn, Kadhimiya. According to his will, his political and scholarly position was not mentioned on his grave stone, rather, a part of the 18 verse of Sura al-Kahf (18) was written on his grave stone, "and their dog [lies] stretching its forelegs at the threshold".

References