Nizami Ganjavi

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Nizami Ganjavi
مقبره نظامی گنجوی.jpg
Nizami Ganjavi's tomb in Ganja (a city in Azerbaijan which was part of Iran at that time).
Full Name Ilyas b. Yusuf b. Zaki b. Muʾayyid Mutarrazi
Epithet Nizam al-Din
Well-known As Nizami
Religious Affiliation Islam
Birth (b. 520/1126 to 551/1156)
Place of Birth Ganja or Arak
Death d. 576/1186 to 606/1209
Burial Place Ganja
Notable roles Poetry
Works Makhzan al-asrar, Panj ganj, Khusraw wa-Shirin

Ilyās b. Yusuf b. Zakī b. Muʾayyid, known as Nizāmī Ganjavī (Persian: نظامی گَنْجَوی, d. 576/1186 to 606/1209), was a Persian narrative poet from Iran. He was a major Iranian poet who composed poems in praise of Imam 'Ali (a) as well.

Ganjavi was an expert of the sciences of his time, such as philosophy, astronomy, hadith, Quranic exegesis, and jurisprudence. His poems involve philosophical, mystical, and occasionally political themes. In his poems, he regards the Prophet (s) as an Infallible, making recourse to him and asking him for intercession.

In his poems, Nizami Ganjavi praises the first three caliphs as well, but he asserts that Imam ʿAli (a) was of a higher ranking than them. Some biographers maintain that he was a Shia, but he dissimulated as a Sunni Muslim. In contrast, Qadi Nur Allah Shushtari, a Shiite theologian, believes that he was Ash'arite. He is also said to have Sufi inclinations.

His work is Panj ganj (the Five Treasures) or Khamas (Quintet), including five mathnawis (couplets): Makhzan al-asrar (The treasury of mysteries), Khusraw wa-Shirin (Khusrow and Shirin), Layli wa-Majnun (Layla and Majnun), Haft paykar (The seven beauties), and Iskandarnama (The book of Alexander). He is said to have a Diwan (collection of poems) as well.

The Place

Nizami Ganjavi was a Persian narrative poet, and a major figure in Persian poetry. He is said to be an expert in abstract fields of study such as philosophy, logic, mathematics, and astronomy, as well as transmitted fields such as hadith, the Quran, and jurisprudence.

Nizami’s works involve mystical and philosophical themes. Nur al-Din ʿAbd al-Rahman Jami, a ninth-century Sufi and poet, believes that Nizami’s poems were disclosures of the truths and mystical knowledge.

Nizami composed poems about Imam 'Ali (a). Some Shiite scholars, such as Mulla Sadra, Fayd Kashani, and Mulla Hadi Sabzawari, embedded Nizami’s ethical, philosophical, and mystical poems in their works. 'Allama Hasanzada Amuli, a Shiite philosopher and mystic, refers to him as a “mystic.”


Ilyas b. Yusuf b. Zaki b. Muʾayyid Mutarrazi was titled as Nizam al-Din, with the pen-name Nizami, and widely known as Nizami Ganjavi. There are different accounts of the year of his birth, from 520/1126 to 551/1157.

Dawlatshah Samarqandi, a ninth/fifteenth-century biographer, believes that he was born in Ganja (in today’s Azerbaijan), which was part of Iran at the time. However, Aqa Buzurg Tihrani, a Shiite biographer, believes that he was originally from Tafresh, a town near Arak in Iran, but he was raised in Ganja. Nizami is introduced as an “Iranian poet” in a number of entries in Encyclopedia Britannica.

He is described as an ascetic, secluded poet, who did not have good ties with the kings of his time, although he was respected by them. Saʿid Nafisi, a researcher of Persian literature, criticizes the view that Nizami was a sayyid.

There are disagreements over the year of his death, from 576/1186 to 606/1209. He died in Ganja, where he was buried. He has a mausoleum in the city.


There are disagreements over the denomination of Nizami Ganjavi among biographers. Muhammad Shafiʿ Husayni ʿAmili Qazwini, a Shiite scholar in the twelfth/eighteenth century, believes that he was Shiite, and ʿAbd al-Rahim ʿAqiqi bakhshayishi classifies him among Shiite exegetes of the Quran. Moreover, Jalal al-Din Humaʾi, a scholar of literature and history, is quoted as saying that Nizami was a Shia. The evidence adduced for Nizami’s Shiite tendencies consists in those of his poems that admit of both admiration and reprehension of 'Umar b. al-Khattab, the second caliph. This is said to show that he was a Shia and just dissimulated as a Sunni. Moreover, his poems about Imam ʿAli (a) have been cited as evidence for his Shiism.

In contrast, in his Ihqaq al-haqq, Qadi Nur Allah Shushtari refers to Nizami Ganjavi as a follower of Ash'arism—a Sunni school of theology. Nizami composed poems in repudiation of Abu Talib, Imam 'Ali’s father, which have been cited as evidence against his Shiism and Taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation).

In one of him poems, Ganjavi endorses the rightfulness of the “four companions” of the Prophet (s), which have been taken to mean his endorsement of the caliphate of the Rashidun Caliphs. Wahid Dastgirdi, a prominent scholar of Nizami in Iran, argues that there is no reason to believe that Nizami was a Shiite. However, appealing to some poems by Nizami, he maintains that Nizami believed in the superiority of Imam ʿAli (a) over the other caliphs.

Nizami is said to have Sufi tendencies, and Dawlatshah Samarqandi, a biographer, reports that he was a follower of Akhi Faraj Zanjani—a prominent Sufi master (d. 457/1067).[1]


Theologically speaking, some poems by Nizami Ganjavi are close to Ash'arite beliefs, and some are close to Mu'tazilite and Shiite beliefs. Nizami is said to believe in the Unity of Acts (tawhid al-afʿal), believing that God's attributes were eternal just as His essence was. As for divine justice, he believed that God’s justice matched people’s acts, and just like the adherents of justice (ʿadliyya), he believed in essential good and bad. In some of his poems, Nizami says that it is possible to see God, and in others, he says that it is impossible.

In his poems, Nizami Ganjavi asserts the infallibility of the Prophet (s), makes recourse to him, and asks for his intercession.

Some researchers believe that Ganjavi’s characterization of the Prophet (s) squares well with the notion of the perfect person (al-insan al-kamil) in theoretical mysticism. He assimilates the Prophet (s) to the sun and other entities to its rays. Moreover, he believes that the Prophet (s) was the reason for creation.

Poems about Imam ʿAli (a)

Nizami Ganjavi composed poems in praise of Imam ʿAli (a). In one such poem, he believes that knowledge of Imam ʿAli (a) and his children comes after that of God and the Prophet (s) in the degrees of knowledge:


Nizami’s magnum opus is his Khamsa (Quintet) or Panj Ganj (The five treasures). It includes five independent mathnawis or couplet poems, each of which was composed by Nizami at the request of a contemporary king or ruler. Here are the five mathnawis of the Five treasures:

  • Makhzan al-asrar, which has philosophical and mystical themes
  • Khusrow wa Shirin, a romantic narrative with political, military, and ethical themes
  • Layli wa Majnun, a romantic allegorical narrative with mystical contents
  • Haft paykar (Bahramnama or Haft gunbad), which includes seven myths concerning humans and the society
  • Iskandarnama, which includes two sections called Sharafnama and Iqbalnama with political, philosophical, and mystical contents.

He is said to have a Diwan or collection of poems as well, much of which is lost. Saʿid Nafisi, a researcher of Persian literature (d. 1976), has collected some of its poems from biographies and published it under Diwan qasaʾid wa-ghazaliyyat Nizami Ganjavi (Collection of Nizami Ganjavi’s odes and lyrics).


Monographs about Nizami include the book Nizami Ganjavi by Saʿid Nafisi (d. 1976) and the book Nizami, shaʿir-i dastansara (Nizami the narrative poet) by ʿAli Akbar Shahabi. Moreover, ʿAbd al-Husayn Zarrinkub, a literary research and critic, wrote the book Pir Ganja dar justujuyi nakujaabad: darbara zindigi, athar, wa-andisha Nizami (The master of Ganja in pursuit of nowhere: on the life, works, and thoughts of Nizami).

Ali Dustzada and Siawash Lurnejad wrote the book On the Modern Politicization of the Persian Poet Nezami Ganjavi in English. It criticizes the arguments by Soviet and Azerbaijani authors that Nizami was from Azerbaijan.


  1. He is a prominent Sufi master and a follower of Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Fadl, known as Shaykh Abu l-ʿAbbas Nahawandi. His grave is located in Zanjan.