Pir Nasir-i Khusraw on the Gateway and Key to Paradise

Chapter Five of Pir Nasir-i Khusraw’s Wajh-i Din


A page from a 13th/19th century Persian manuscript of Wajh-i din by Nasir-i Khusraw. In this work, Nasir Khusraw masterfully applies ta’wil to the system of ideas and concepts propounded in earlier Fatimid texts. Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Introduced and translated by Rukhsana Ali


Abu Mo’in Hamid al-Din Nasir ibn Khusraw is an important figure in the development of Ismaili philosophy. Born into a politically connected family, Khusraw was well-educated both in the sciences and humanities. He pursued every field of knowledge, intellectual, as well as traditional. He memorized the Holy Qur’an and became an expert in tradition and in the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an. Besides Islamic literature, he also studied the new and the Old Testament, and books of other religions thoroughly. He studied the Al-Magest of Ptolemy, Geometry of Euclid, Alchemy, Physics, Logic, Music, Mathematics, Medicine, Astronomy, Astrology, etc. He excelled in literature and knew Hebrew, and Sanskrit, besides Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Greek. He studied the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the epistles of Kindi, Farabi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna).

Having spent most of his life occupying prestigious positions within the Saljuq court, Khusraw converted to the Ismaili faith at the age of forty after careful study. He spent the rest of his life writing and advocating for the Ismaili faith, and eventually was forced into exile by Sunni authorities.

As the leader of the Ismaili da‘wa in Khurasan, Nasir Khusraw produced a number of prose works on Ismaili doctrine. To date, six of these works have been edited from manuscripts and several have been translated, at least partially, into Western languages. The six edited works are Gushayish wa rahayish (Unfettering and Setting Free), Jami‘ al-hikmatayn (Uniting the Two Wisdoms), Khwan al-ikhwan (The Feast of the Brethren), Shish fasl (Six Chapters, i.e., the prose Rawshana’i-nama), Wajh-i din (The Face of Religion) and Zad al-musafirin (The Pilgrims’ Provisions).

In the Wajh-i din, Nasir Khusraw masterfully applies ta’wil to the system of ideas and concepts propounded in earlier Fatimid texts. In it he “provides his most straightforward esoteric interpretation (ta’wil) of a variety of religious regulations and rituals, giving the inner (batin) meaning of certain externals (zahir) of religion. The book’s 51 sections include, for example, his ta’wil of certain verses from the Qur’an, the call to prayer (azan), ablutions for prayer (wadu), the assigned times of prayer, the movements of praying, alms for the poor (zakat), the pilgrimage to the Ka‘ba in Mecca (hajj) and certain prescribed punishments. Following Ismaili hermeneutics, he shows the parallels between the structure of the physical world and that of the spiritual world, and between the human body and the human soul.” [1] As an example of the former, is his explanation of the gateway to Paradise and its key, the translation of which is given here.


This statue of the Ismaili da’i and intellectual giant Pir Nasir Khusraw stands in his memory in Badakhshan.

Whatever we say is not due to any strength or power of our own. Rather, power and strength belong to Allah, and whatever is good in our speech is due to the wali (the Imam of the time) of Allah. Mistakes and errors are due to the weakness of our souls.

By the generosity of the Imam of the time, we say that Paradise in truth is the Intellect, and the Gateway of paradise is the Prophet (peace and salutation be upon him) during his time, and his wasi, his rank, and the Imam of the time during his age. The Key to the gateway of paradise is the utterance of the phrase, La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadan rasul Allah.

He who recites this shahadah with sincerity has found the key to the gateway of paradise, and he who accepts the shahadah with sincerity has become attached to the Prophet, just as he who finds the key to a door is thereby able to open it. And he who utters this shahadah with sincerity and becomes attached to the Prophet enters Paradise, as, for him who reaches the door with the key, the door opens.

To substantiate our statement that the intellect is paradise, we say that the comfort and ease and security enjoyed by human beings, comes from the universal intellect (aql-i kulli). Wise persons suffer less in the world for no worldly grief can approach them, and profit and loss of the world do not give them fear and anxiety. The foolish, however, are destroyed by their grief over the loss of property and sin and suffering, and due to greed for (things of) the world. From the partial intellect which human beings have received from Allah the Exalted, much of the pain which animals suffer due to their having no intellect, has been lifted from human beings. Thereby stands the proof of the statement that the universal intellect (aql-i kulli) is in reality paradise, because all the bounties and comforts in the world are due to it. Thus the wise person is closer (to the universal intellect), and he who is closer to the intellect is thereby closer to paradise and is the gateway to paradise, in the same manner as the chosen Prophet (that is, Prophet Muhammad) was closer to the universal intellect than all the other creatures (of the world).

Do you not see that the God, the Exalted, commanded him (the Prophet) to teach knowledge to the people? And with regard to the Prophet being the gateway to paradise, no Muslim doubts (the truth of) this. Thus it is true that paradise in reality is the (universal) intellect.

To substantiate our statement that the Prophet is the gateway to paradise, we say that the door to a place is that single opening without which no one can enter therein. It is a reality that no one can reach paradise except that person who obeys the Prophet and who is close to him, and who accepts his farmans and submits to his word and deed, for obedience to God, the Exalted, is (comprised of) obedience to the Prophet. As God, the Exalted, has said:

“Whosoever obeys the Messenger, obeys God.” (Holy Qur’an 4:80)

Similarly, every prophet, in his own time, has been the gateway to paradise, potentially. For this reason, by obeying him and acting upon his shari‘ah (religious law) with knowledge, people can reach paradise. He who accepts the shari‘ ah of the Prophet without the knowledge of the inner meaning or ta’wil finds the gateway to paradise closed whereas he who acts with knowledge (that is, of the inner meaning of shari‘ah) finds the gateway to paradise open. For God, the Exalted says:

“Then those that feared their Lord shall be driven in companies into paradise, till, when they come thither, and its gates are opened. And its keepers will say to them, ‘Peace be upon you! Well you have fared, enter in, to dwell forever’.” (Holy Qur’an 39:73)

Since He says that the gates of paradise were opened, it is evident from this verse that when they came to the gates of paradise, (they found) these closed and subsequently they were opened to them. The meaning of this verse is that all the divine laws of the prophets are concealed in symbols and similes and the salvation of the people lies in the uncovering of them; like a closed door, which, when it is opened, offers people a refuge, and food and drink. When the gateway to paradise is closed then the door to hell will be opened. Thus God Exalted says:

“Then the unbelievers will be driven in companies into hell, till, when they come thither, its gates are opened.” (Holy Qur’an 39:71)

The opening of the gateway to paradise is in the inner meaning or ta’wil of the Book (that is the Holy Qur’an) and the shari‘ah. The possessor of the ta’wil is the wasi of every prophet; and with the opening of the gateway to paradise the door of hell closes. Thus the gateway to paradise is the Prophet, and the opener of it is his wasi (Ali), and (after him), the Imam of the time for the muminin (believers).

Thus having established that the Prophet is the gateway to paradise and his wasi the opener of that gateway, we will discuss the key to the door of paradise and substantiate our statement that the profession of the shahadah (la ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadan rasul Allah) is the key to the gateway of paradise. We say that a key is that thing without which one does not desire to approach a closed door in order to open it. It is for this reason that whoever accepted the shahadah came towards Prophet Muhammad, the Messenger of God, and whoever accepts the shahadah, the Prophet has promised paradise for him, as is recorded in the hadith (tradition):

Whoever said, “La ilaha illa Allah” with a pure heart, entered paradise.

Thus this hadith is a proof that the profession of the shahadah is the key for the gateway to paradise, so that those who find it will enter paradise, while those who do not will fail to attain it.

The kalmah, “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadan rasul Allah,” is composed of two testimonies, just as a key is made up of two separate parts joined together: the body of the key and its teeth. The profession of the shahadah by the believer is like the turning of the key in the lock by the opener, so that thereby the gateway may open.

Thus we say that the Prophet is the gateway to paradise which is closed, and the key to this gateway is the shahadah. The believer holds the key, and the Imam of the time is the mover of that key in the hand of the believer in order that the gateway may be opened. What God has said to His Messenger furnishes the proof of the truth of these words:

“Say! Our Lord will bring us all together, then He will open among us with truth, And He is the Opener, the Wise.” (Holy Qur’an 34:25)

By this verse He means that when the people accept the religion of the Prophet, they will be brought together with the Prophet. Then the possessor of the inner meaning, the ta’wil, will open the knot of the religious law (shari‘ah) with the ta’wil of the shari‘ah, so that the believer may understand what was (truly) meant by the shari‘ah which the prophet had laid down, and the similitudes which were coined, so that the believers may act upon it (the shari‘ah) with insight.

We have explained what is Paradise, the Gateway to Paradise, and the Key to the Gateway of Paradise, according to the understanding of my day.

Date originally posted: March 27, 2011.
Date updated: November 10, 2014.

Copyright: Rukhsana Ali.



[1]  See Nasir Khusraw portrait by Alice Hunsberger at the IIS Web site.


About the author: Rukhsana Ali, a graduate of the Institute of Ismaili Studies has a Masters each in English Literature (University of Karachi), Education (University of London Institute of Education) and Islamic Studies at McGill University where she completed a thesis under the title The Images of Fatimah in Muslim Biographical Literature. After working for the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for Pakistan (ITREB) for over 16 years, she has been associated with the Aga Khan University Medical College where she is the coordinator for Humanities and Social Sciences.

Her article which first appeared in Hiqmat, published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for Canada, has been considerably revised for this special contribution by her to Simerg.


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8 thoughts on “Pir Nasir-i Khusraw on the Gateway and Key to Paradise

  1. 1. Nasir Khusraw was not a Pir, but rather a missionary who propagated the Ismaili faith.

    In the Ismaili doctrine, and thus we are not referring to Persian custom, a person can only be a Pir if:

    a) he is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad
    b) he is appointed as a Pir by the Imam of the time

    2. Nasir Khusraw was not a leader of the Ismaili mission in Khurasan

    a) As an Ismaili, missionaries like Nasir Khusraw were sent to various parts of the world by the Pir of the time. In this case Pir Noordin sent Nasir Khusraw to propagate the faith in Khurasan.

    • With regard to your comments:

      (1) I quote as follows from Nasir Khusraw: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow – An Introduction by Dr Sarfaroz Niyozov:

      “Nasir Khusraw is one of those great thinkers in Islam who have established a tradition and solid following able to survive long after the founder has died. In greater Badakhshan Nasir Khusraw is revered as hazrat, hakim, shah, sayyid, pir and hujjat. He is seen as one of the ahl al-bayt.”

      To read the complete article please click:


      (2) In an entry in The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philososphy, Alice Hunsberger notes:

      “Khusraw left Cairo as the head (hujjat) of Ismaili missionary activities in his home province of Khurasan. After leaving Cairo, Khusraw was forced into exile by the Sunni authorities. He spent the rest of his life exiled in the Pamir Mountains in Badakhshan, located in modern-day Tajikistan and Afghanistan.”

      Please click http://www.iep.utm.edu/khusraw/

      Finally, in future kindly consider providing references for statements like “In this case Pir Noordin sent Nasir Khusraw to propagate the faith in Khurasan.”

    • Dear Samir Noorali:
      your reflections on the institution of ‘piratan’ is narrowly based,only, upon popular-thinking among the South Asian Ismailis. The fact is that the term “pir” was not in use in the dawat hierarchies till the ends of the xv century. So none is entitled, technically, to to be called as “pir” before that time in the Ismaili history including the founder-dais in the Sind-Hind tradition. Please try to read some books on history by the IIS.

  2. Congratulations for publishing thie very informative article by Rukhsana Ali. I suggest giving the list of English publications of Pir Nasir Khusraw so that those who are inspired by the article may read more.

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