NEZĀRI QOHESTĀNI, ḤAKIM SAʿD-AL-DIN b. Šams-al-Din (or Jalāl-al-Din) b. Moḥammad (b. Birjand, 645/1247; d. Birjand, 720/1320-21), a Persian poet of Nezāri Ismaʿili affiliation. Nezāri was born in Birjand, a commercial town in Qohestān, southern Khorasan, and an important center under the governorship of the Nezāri Ismaʿilis (Willey, pp. 168-89).  The Mongol incursions into Qohestān in the 650s/1250s ended Ismaʿili control of the area, bringing about a devastation of their lands, destruction of irrigation systems, and a dismantlement of many of their fortresses.  Nezāri, born into a landowning Ismaʿili family (Kolliyāt, St. Petersburg, fol. 326a; Baybordi, 1966, tr., pp. 44-45), was witness to the tumultuous social, political, and economic effects of these incursions.  His own family lands were destroyed, and much of his wealth was lost (Nezāri, Divān, ed. Moṣaffā, p. 22; Rypka, p. 255).   Soon the entire region of Khorasan was brought temporarily under the control of the Sunni Karts, vassals of the Il-Khanid Mongols, with their capital at Herat.

Medieval Persian sources have provided a very sketchy image of Nezāri’s life.  The first reference to Nezāri Qohestāni was by Ḥamd-Allāh Mostawfī, who, in a brief note on Birjand, mentions that the poet Nezāri was born there (Nozhat al-qolub, p. 144, tr., p. 143).  Nezāri’s poetic skills and his wisdom was praised by his contemporary authors. ʿAbd al-Rašid b. Shaikh ʿAbd-Allāh Ḵalavi,  one of the earliest calligraphers of Nezāri’s Divān, refers to him as “the king of poets, sovereign of the philosophers, leader of the mystics, and counselor of princes, amirs, and viziers” (Kolliyāt, St. Petersburg, fol. 488a; Moṣaffā, in Nezāri, Divān, p. 13, n. 10; Lewisohn, p. 231).  ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi (d. 898/1492) compared Nezāri’s poetic skill to that of Ḥāfeẓ (Jāmi, p. 148; Ṣafā, III, p. 740). 

It was, however, Nezāri’s pen name (taḵalloṣ) and his religious affiliations that seemed to elicit much speculation among writers. Kātebi Nišāpuri or Toršezi, (d. 838/1434) was the first one to write about Nezāri’s connection to the Ismaʿilis.  In his Divān, he advised his son to emulate famous poets like Ferdowsi, ʿAṭṭār, and Jalāl-al-Din Mawlawi Rumi, but not Nezāri, whom he claimed to have been troubled throughout his life because of his connection to the Ismaʿili Imam (Baybordi, 1966, tr., pp. 24-25).  This connection to the Nezāri Ismaʿilis was further supported by Dawlatšāh Samarqandī (d. 893/1488), who presented two theories explaining the pen name Nezāri: (a) some claim he was called so because he was a lean (nezār) man, and (b) the poet took this name to honor his allegiance to the Nezāri Ismaʿili ḵalifa, which Dawlatšāh believed was closer to the truth (for a discussion of his affiliation to the Ismaʿili Nezār, see Ṣafā, III, pp. 734-35).  Dawlatšāh described Nezāri as a gentle-tempered man of wise (ḥakim) disposition, possibly a reference to his title of ḥakim (Dawlatšāh, p. 233).  Later authors, such as Moḥammad Mirḵˇānd (d. 903/1498) and his grandson Ḡiyāṯ-al-Dīn Ḵˇāndamir (d. 942/1535-36) reaffirmed this position regarding Nezāri’s allegiance (Mirḵˇānd, IV, p. 193; Ḵˇāndamir, II, p. 457). 

Speculations about Nezāri’s religious affliations have continued in Persian, European, and American sources.  Some scholars speculated that he was given the name by either the Kart Sunni rulers due to his lean physique (Borodin, pp. 180-82) or by the Mehrabanid rulers (Moṣaffā, in Nezāri, Divān, p. 25).   Still others claimed that he was a Twelver Shiʿite, writing in a state of duress (Mojtahedzāda Birjandi, p. 4), because of which he made no explicit reference to the name of the Imam of the time; or that he was perhaps an Ismaʿili in his early youth, but later in life became a Twelver Shiʿite with a mystic tendency (Purjawādi, in Nezāri, Monāẓara, pp. i-v); or that, based on fusion of Sufi spirituality into Ismaʿili theosophy, Nezāri was “a kind of Sufi Ismaʿili or Ismaʿili Sufi” (Lewisohn, pp. 237, 242).  However, recent scholarship is unanimous in accepting his allegiance to the Ismaʿili Imam (Browne, III, p. 154; Ivanow, 1963, p. 138; Nezāri, Dastur-nāma, ed. Bertels, p. 45; Baybordi, 1966, tr., pp. 62-66; Jamal, p. 105-7; Virani, pp. 60-70; ʿAbbās Eqbāl p. 170; ʿAli-Reżā Mojtahedzāda, pp. 13-17; Moṣaffā, in Nezāri, Divān, pp. 25-26).  Ḏabiḥ-Allāh Ṣafā further alleged on the basis of the Fasiḥ Ḵˇāfi that Nezāri was a title used by other members of his family as an indication of their loyalty to Nezār b. Mostanṣer, the claimant to the Ismaʿili imamate, or that Nezāri was possibly the brother of the Ismaʿili Imam Rokn-al-Din Ḵoršāh (Ṣafā, III, p. 735, and n. 2; Faṣiḥ Ḵˇāfi, III, p. 33).

Most of what we know of the poet’s life and outlook can be gleaned from his own poetry.  Nezāri attended a local maktab in Birjand and then a local madrasa, where he studied literature  as well as religious and other scholarly sciences of the time. According to Maẓāher Moṣaffā (in Nezāri, Divān, pp. 314-45), the poet that had a great impact on him is Saʿdi (d. 691/1292).

Nezāri stresses in his writing that his father, a Nezāri Ismaʿili, was his first real teacher and played a major role in the formulation of his world view, his allegiance to the family of the Prophet, the descendants of Imam ʿAli, and his allegiance to the Nezāri Imam.  He also mentions that he had begun his training in the hierarchical Ismaʿili daʿwa structure as a mostajib (neophyte), then maʾḏun (licentiate), moʿallem (teacher), and continuing through many arduous years of hard work to reach finally the status of a ʿi (summoner) when he was around thirty-three years old (Nezāri, Safar-nāma, p. 67).  Furthermore, it is evident from his works that he most probably studied the works of Ismaʿili thinkers, such as Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow (d. ca. 470/1077) and Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ (d. 518/1124), incorporating some of their conceptual frameworks into his work (Nezāri, Dastur-nāma, ed. Bertels, pp. 44-45, 67; Borodin, p. 186; Jamal, p. 105; Behnāmfar, ed., pp. 1,213 ff, 2,228 ff).

Due to the harsh circumstances surrounding the major cities of Qohestān, lack of water, devastation, and depopulation, Nezāri moved to Herat around 669/1270 to find employment.  There he served in the treasury of Malek Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Kart (r. 643-76/1245-77) as an administrator (Borodin, p. 190).  In the course of his work, he traveled extensively throughout Khorasan, Iraq, and Hejaz, detailing the social, economic, and political circumstances in which he found himself.  His longest journey, during 678-81/1280-82, was undertaken in the company of Tāj-al-Din ʿAmid, a high-ranking official, commencing with a trip from Tun in Qohestān to Isfahan and continuing to Tabriz, where he joined the retinue of Šams-al-Din Jovayni, the Il-khanid grand vizier, in whose company he also traveled to Arrān, Armenia, and Baku in Georgia (Ṣafā, III, p. 738).   The account of this journey was recorded in his first work, titled the Safar-nāma.  It is a didactical maṯnawi of 1,200 verses in the meter (see ʿARUŻ)  ramal, dedicated to an individual, referred to as the “essence of the Divine Light of reality,” the Šayḵ al-Šoyuḵ Amin-al-Din or Amin-al-Din al-Maʿādi (Nezāri, Safar-nāma, p. 172).  This poem, while providing brief anecdotal information of the political, social, and economic conditions in the regions he visited, is particularly rich in the telling of ethical tales and stories reaffirming Nezāri’s beliefs (Behnāmfar, ed., pp. 832 ff., 983 ff).  Nezāri explains that his purpose in writing this travelogue was to remember friends and events, but it must also contain details of his journey to visit the Imam of the Ismaʿilis, Šams-al-Din Moḥammad, who was then living in Tabriz (Jamal, p. 135; Daftary, pp. 411-12).

On his return to Birjand, Nezāri married, and he had three sons, Noṣrat, Šahanšāh, and Moḥammad (who died in infancy).  Due to turbulent political circumstances in Qohestān and the rising fortunes of the Mehrabanid rulers in eastern Persia, Nezāri was forced to rely on both his poetic and administrative skills to secure a position with the new rulers.  By 688/1289, the Mehrabanid Malek Nāṣer-al-Din Moḥammad (r. 653-718/1255-1318) had conquered all of Qohestān and had given it as an appanage to his son Šams-al-Din ʿAli (r. 688-708/1289-1308).  The encampment of the Mehrabanid rulers in Birjand provided a chance for Nezāri, who was recruited by Šams-al-Din ʿAli (also referred to as ʿAlišāh or Šāh-ʿAlī), the ruler of Qohestān, to work at his court. He composed much of his panegyric poetry during this service, glorifying his patron in his odes (qaṣida).  Nezāri also describes various occasions, celebrations, and festivities which occured during this time.  Several odes were dedicated to Tāj-al-Dīn ʿAli, the son and successor of Šams-al-Din ʿAli, and to several high-ranking officials of the court (Moṣaffā, in Nezāri, Dīvan, pp. 110 ff.).   He, however, devoted much of his time to the composition of Adab-nāma, a didactic maṯnawi in motaqāreb meter composed in 695/1295-96; it follows in the tradition of “Mirror for Princes” literature and is similar to Saʿdi’s Bustān.  Nezāri’s poetry reflects his concerns about societal issues and the economic conditions of his time.  His worries concerning his surroundings, the destruction and insecurity, his concern for the poor and needy, his anger at the abuses conducted by those in power, and his moral outrage are all profusely reflected in his poetry. The Adab-nāma, divided into twelve chapters, is addressed to the ruler, the moḥtaseb (supervisor of the bazaar), the faqihs (jurisconsult), the qāżis (religious judge), and courtiers. The poem provides an outspoken critique of and protest against the political and societal ills of the time, particularly oppression, injustice, corruption and abuse, greed, hypocrisy, and self-absorbtion, while, at the same time, promoting the virtues of justice, humility, mercy, and submission (Behnāmfar, ed., pp. 49 ff., 222 ff.).

Nezāri’s critique did not endear him to those around him at the court, especially the Sunni religious leaders (ʿolamāʾ).  However, possibly it was his direct critique of the ruler that led to his being charged with treason and dismissed from court when he was about fifty years old.  He spent the remaining years of his life confined to a small, dilapidated property in Birjand that was given to him by the ruler in compensation for his services.  During this time, Nezāri composed several of his works and also spent time traveling around Qohestān.

The first poem he wrote in this period is titled Monāẓara-ye ruz o šab, which is his third maṯnawi.  This poem, written in 700/1300 and comprising 550 couplets, was dedicated to the Mehrabanid ruler Šams-al-Din ʿAli and his son Tāj-al-Din ʿAli.  It is in the form of an allegorical contest between the forces of night and day, and was composed on the Nowruz eve at a time when the ruler Šams-al-Din ʿAli  was having his New Year feast.  The poem was a possible attempt to glorify and thus appease the ruler, who is likened to the sun in the poem, since Nezāri had found himself excluded from the festivities (Purjawādi, in Nezāri, Monāẓara, pp. iv-v).  Like much of Nezāri’s poetry, this poem is steeped in mystical phraseology, which was so common at this time.  The 13th and 14th centuries saw a growth in Sufi orders, Shiʿite communities, and messianic movements, with veneration of the family of the Prophet and worship of saints becoming popular.  The trend towards mysticism pervaded every aspect of Persian culture, literature, and language, a reflection of which was the common use of metaphorical and symbolic allusions among esoteric traditions with their own interpretations.  It is this coalescence (Daftary, p. 412; Jamal, pp. 84 ff.; Lewisohn, pp. 236 ff.) that often made it difficult to define the exact identity of an individual’s religious affiliation. 

There is little doubt that Nezāri’s works are Shiʿite in their outlook.  Nezāri was profuse in his veneration of the ahl al-bayt, devotion and allegiance to the offsprings of Imam ʿAli down to Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, using terms such as, wali, or nur-e l-e Moḥammad, or nur-e l-e ʿAli, which were particularly common among the Shiʿi as well as Sufi communities.  Nezāri also used terms (e.g., pir, moršed, qoṭb) that were applied by Sufis to denote their spiritual guide.  It is worth noting that his use and understanding of technical terms are particularly associated with Ismaʿili notions such as the relationship between ẓāher and bāṭen (exoteric and esoteric), taʾwil (esoteric interpretation), arbāb-e taʾwil, taʿlim (teaching), dāʿi (summoner), mostawdaʿ (temporary [imam]), and mostaqarr (permanent [imam]) in reference to the Imam, as well as his spiritual interpretation of Paradise and Hell (Behnāmfar, ed., pp. 682-739; Daftary, p. 413). Particularly significant is Nezāri’s emphasis of recognition of the reality through recognition of and allegiance to the Imam of the time (Imam-e waqt), the qāʾem. (Kolliyāt, St. Petersburg, fols. 81b, 82b-83a; Baybordi, 1966, tr., pp. 69-79; Virani, p. 67). The symbolic language of the Monāẓara-ye ruz o šab lends itself to the notion that this poem was written as a contest between Sunnism, or exoteric Islam as night, and Shiʿism, particulary its Ismaʿili esoteric interpretation, as day.

The dedication of this poem earned him some support from Šams-al-Din ʿAli, who called him back to the court, but his association with the court was shortlived, and after a year he returned to his garden.  In a final attempt to regain his postion, he wrote his fourth maṯnawi, an epic romantic poem titled Azhar o Mazhar, the tale of two lovers composed in 10,000 verses in the style of Neẓāmi Ganjavi’s Ḵosrow o Širin and inspired by ʿAṭṭār’s Ḵosrow-nāma. Set in the background of the Arabian desert, it is a highly symbolic tale of divine love.  Baybordi observes that this is a spiritual work reflecting Nezāri’s Ismaʿili beliefs (Baybordi, 1966, tr., pp. 191 ff.).

There is very little information about the final years of Nezāri’s life.  All that is known is that his wife died before him.  In 710/1310, Nezāri composed his last maṯnawi, the Dastur-nāma, a poem of 576 verses in the motāqāreb meter arranges in a similar format as the Golestān of Saʿdi.  It was apparently meant to serve as advice to Nezāri’s own sons, ostensibly concerning the culture and ritual of wine drinking and polite social conversation.  It is a poem in praise of wine (see SĀQI-NĀMA), but, like his other poems, it is infused with mystical implications.  Like that of other Persian poets, such as ʿAṭṭār, the outward references to wine are often associated with spiritual experiences (Lewisohn, p. 233). 

As a poet, Nezāri has received little recognition by modern authors, although he has been referred to by Chengiz Borodin (p. 187) as one of the most important poets of his time.  However, more recently there has been a growing interest in the life, as well as the literary and historical significance of his contribution to the panorama of Persian poetry.  His views on religion and ethics, his political, economic, and social critique, his nostaligia for the pre-Mongol era of Qohestān, and his influence on medieval poets have been discussed.  There has been particular investigation into the varous facets of his thought, his views on the place of the intellect, on the concept of Imam, on love, and on wine.  This interest has been stimulated by the production of several editions of his work, as well as by a conference held by the University of Birjand in 2014, where a good numbers of papers were presented, and a voluminous book of over 2,500 pages was published online.  Thus far, this is the most comprehensive study of the life and works of Nezāri in a single volume (ed. Behnāmfar). These scholarly articles provide valuable insight into the work of this Nezāri Ismaʿili poet, particularly showcasing how he became one of the earliest Ismaʿili writers to adopt a vocabularly shared by both the Sufis and Ismaʿilis in order to express his esoteric thought. 

Nezāri died in 720/1320.  He was buried in Birjand, but his grave was destroyed when the cemetery of Birjand was turned into a park.  In recent times, a new mausoleum has been constructed in Birjand honoring Nezāri.




Kolliyāt-e Ḥakim Nezāri (maṯnawīs, gazals, qasidas, tarji’āt, tarkibāt, and muqaṭṭaʿāt): (1) at St. Petersburg Library, copied in 838/1434 by Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Rašid ʿAbd-Allāh Ḵalavi [DORN 415], and (2) at the Institute of Language and Literature of the Academy of Sciences in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, copied in 972/1564-65, copier unknown [AH Taj SSR 100]).

Divān-e Nizari, Chorum Hasan Pasha Yazma Eserler Kutuphanesi, copied in 865/1461, Archive no 1955 (includes Safar-nāma, Dastur-nāma and Monāẓara-ye ruz o šab). 

For the list of manuscripts, see Poonawala, pp. 263-67, and Moṣaffā in Nezāri, Divān, pp. 409-47.


Divān-e Ḥakim Nezāri Qohestāni: matn-e enteqādi bar asās-e dah nosḵa, ed. Maẓāher Moṣaffā, 2 vols., Tehran, 1992-93, pp. 409-47 (list of manuscripts). 

Safar-nāma, ed. Chingiz G. A. Baybordi and Mahmud Rafiʿi, Tehran, 2012. 

Monāẓara-ye ruz o šab, ed. with introd. Naṣr-Allāh Purjawādi, Tehran, 2006. 

Adab-nāma, ed. Maḥmud Rafiʿi, Tehran, 2014.

Dastur-nāma, ed. Y. E. Bertels, in N. Ya. Marr, ed., Vostochnyĭ sbornik (ser. V. Orientalia), I, Leningrad, 1926; also ed. Maẓāher Moṣaffā, in his edition of the Divān (see above), pp. 257-99.

Primary sources. 

Loṭf-ʿAli Beg ḏar Bigdeli, Ataškada-ye āḏar, ed. Ḥasan Sādāt Nāṣeri, 2 vols., Tehran, 1958-59.   

Dawlatšāh Samarqandi, Taḏkerat al-šoʿarāʾ, ed. Edward G. Browne, London, 1901.  Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat, Majmaʿ al-foṣahā, ed. Maẓāher Moṣaffā, 6 vols., Tehran, 1957-61, III, pp. 1358-59. 

Nur-al-Din ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Jāmi, Bahārestān-e rasāeʾl-e Jāmi, ed. Aʿalā Afṣahzād et al., Tehran, 1379/2000.

Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Ḵˇāndamir, Tāriḵ-e ḥabib al-siar, ed. Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, 4 vols., Tehran, 1954. 

Moḥammad b. Ḵˇāndšāh Mirḵˇānd, Tāriḵ-e rawżat al-ṣafā, Tehran, 1960.

Amin-Aḥmad Rāzi, Haft Eqlim, ed. Jawād Fāżel, 3 vols., Tehran, n.d, II, pp. 322-23.


Moḥammad-Bāqer yati Birjandi, “Rejāl-e Qāʾen,” in Kāẓem Musawi, ed., Se Resāla dar ʿelm-e rejāl, Tehran, 1965, pp. 8-9. 

Moḥammad-Ḥosayn yati Birjandi, Bahārestān dar tāriḵ va tarājem-e rejāl-e Qāyenāt wa Qohestān, Tehran, 1948, pp. 198-207. 

Chengiz G. A. Baybordi, “Rukopisi proizvedeniy Nizari,” Kratkie Soobschcheniya Instituta Narodov Azii 65, Moscow, 1964, pp. 13-24.

Idem, Zhizn-i tvorchstvo Nizari-Persidskogo poeta, Moscow, 1966; tr. M. Ṣadri, as Zendagi wa āṯār-e Nezāri,Tehran, 1991.

Moḥammad Behnāmfar, ed., Majmuʿa-e maqālāt-e hamayeš-e melli-e naqd wa taḥlil-e zendagi, šeʿr wa andiša-ye Ḥakim Nezāri Qohestāni, Birjand, 2014. 

Chengiz G. Borodin, “Ḥakim Nezāri Qohestāni,” Farhang-e Irān-amin 6/2-3, 1958, pp. 178-203. 

Edward G. Browne, A Literary History of Persia III: The Tartar Dominion (1265-1502), Cambridge, 1928, pp. 154-55. 

J. T. de Bruijn, “Nizārī Ḳūhistānī,” in EI2 VIII, 1995, pp. 83-84. 

Farhad  Daftary, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2007, pp. 411-13. 

B. Dorn, Cataloue des manuscrits et xylographes orientaux de la Bibl. Impériale publique de St. Pétersbourg, St. Petersburg, 1852. 

J. Dorri, “Baʿze maʿlumot dar borai Nizori,” Sharqi Surkh (Stalinabad) 9, 1958, pp. 140-54. 

ʿAbbās Eqbāl, Tāriḵ-e mofaṣṣal-e Irān az estilā-ye Moḡol tā eʿlān-e mašruṭiyat, Tabriz, 1962, p. 170. 

ʿAli-Moḥammad Ḡolāmi, “ʿEšq, kaʿba, behešt, dozaḵ dar Divān-e Ḥakim Nezāri,” MA thesis, University of Mashhad, 1380/2001. 

Wladimir Ivanow, A Guide to Ismaili Literature, London, 1933, pp. 105-6. 

Idem, Ismaili Literature; A Bibliographical Survey, Tehran, 1963, pp. 137-38. 

Nadia Eboo Jamal, Surviving the Mongols: Nizārī Quhistānī and the Continuity of Ismaili Tradition in Persia, London, 2002. 

Leonard Lewisohn, “Sufism and Ismāʿīlī Doctrine in the Persian Poetry of Nizārī Quhistānī, 645-721/1247-1321,” Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 41, 2003, pp. 229-51. 

ʿAli-Reżā Mojtahedzāda, “Saʿd al-mella wa’l-din Ḥakim Nezāri Qohestāni,” Majalla-ye Daneškada-ye adabiyāt-e Mašhad 2, 1966, pp. 71-100, 298-315. 

Mortażā Mojtahedzāda Birjandi, Nasim-e bahāri dar aḥwāl-e Ḥakim Nezāri, Mashhad, 1344/1925. 

Ismail K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Ismāʿīlī Literature, Malibu, 1977, pp. 263-67.  Ḡolām-Reżā Riāżi, Dānešvarān-e Ḵorāsān, Mashhad, 1957, p. 296. 

Jan Rypka, “Poets and Prose Writers of the Late Saljuq and Mongol Period,” in Camb. Hist. Iran V, 1968, pp. 604-5. 

Ḏabiḥ-Allāh Ṣafā, Tāriḵ-e adabiyāt dar Irān III, Tehran, 1973, pp. 731-45. 

Shafique N. Virani, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation, Oxford and New York, 2007, pp. 60-70. 

Peter Willey, Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, London, 2005.

(Nadia Eboo Jamal)

Originally Published: April 6, 2015

Last Updated: April 6, 2015

Cite this entry:

Nadia Eboo Jamal, "NEZĀRI QOHESTĀNI," Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2015, available at (accessed on 06 April 2015).