Circles of Tusi at the Ismaili Centre London — By Karima Esmail | Exhibition on 13th Century Persian scholar Nasir al-Din Tusi

Following the successful launch of the Circles of Tusi exhibition at Northwest London Jamatkhana in April this year, and a further two events at Birmingham in June and Leicester in September, it was time to bring it to the Zamana Space at the Ismaili Centre London.

In late November, the Zamana space was an area bustling with conversations, admiration and a sense of pride. Members of the public and the Jamat were inspired by the vivid and moving elaboration of the 13th Century Persian scholar Nasir al-Din Tusi, his enduring thirst for knowledge as one of the greatest Muslim scholars of Middle Ages.

The exhibition was based on Tusi’s spiritual autobiography – Contemplation and Action (Sayr wa Suluk), translated by the IIS Scholar, Dr S. J. Badakhchani who is a leading expert in the works of Tusi.

The immersive audio-visual story of Tusi’s early life, education and contribution to knowledge in the fields of ethics, philosophy, astronomy left the visitors wanting to learn more.  Tusi’s seminal work on ethics, written while he was in Quhistan, paved the way to Alamut where he remained for 20 years. Having access to the famous library of Alamut, Tusi refined his knowledge about the great scholars of the past.

The impact of Tusi’s work on contemporary times was also presented. In the 13th Century, Tusi had proposed a theory of evolution, the cosmos, the nature of human existence, human relations, the nature of language, the intellect, prophethood, Imamat and the refinement of human character.  All of this was compiled by Tusi in his most comprehensive Ismaili work, Rawda-yi taslim (Paradise of Submission, an encyclopaedic work on Ismaili tenets of faith. This major doctrinal works survived the Mongol invasion of Iran in the 13th Century. Circles of Tusi made this precious work available to members of the Jamat.

Tusi’s unrelenting efforts to join the Ismaili faith were not easy. His discovery of the Fusul-i muqaddas (Sacred Chapters) of Imam Ala Dhikrihi al-Salam spurred him to continue to seek the knowledge that he was seeking.  Unable to disclose his secret desire, Tusi had a chance to meet the Governor of Gird-kuh, Muhtasham Shihab al-Din who brought him closer to the Ismailis.

Tusi had many turning points prior to his life changing arrival at Alamut at the age of thirty, and under the direct guidance of our 23rd Imam Ala al-Din Muhammad, he flourished and wrote highly admired works on Ismaili theology. Fortunately, we have a number of his surviving Ismaili texts and the Jamat were pleased to learn that these books have been translated into English language, and are accessible at the Kitab Desk.

The Jamat enjoyed viewing the first ever commissioned painting of Alamut, which was then the seat of Nizari Ismaili political power in Iran. Circles of Tusi provided moving historic accounts of Dai Hassan-i Sabbah who supported the cause and service of Imam Nizar for the Jamat.

Another commissioned model was the place where the Diwan-i Qa’imiyyat found after, a book which was considered lost for almost 700 years. The Jamat were keen to see where the book was hidden and enjoyed the beautiful poetry that has been preserved for us to take care of.

Pictures with permissions from the Aga Khan Museum, the Institute of Ismaili Studies and NASA gave context and the evidence to the Circles of Tusi exhibition.

Ninety-eight young volunteers from across the UK came forward for a three-hour training and were assigned as thought ambassadors; sharing their points of knowledge, busy in conversation using scholarly evidence to illuminate the works of past great scholars and their lasting legacies. Visitors comments have been filled with acknowledgements to the explanations and the inspiration provided by the young volunteers.

For more information on the works of Nasir al-Din Tusi, the Kitab desk has a range of Alamut literature that Tusi wrote under the direct guidance of our Imam Ala al-Din Muhammad. The Zamana Space provided the perfect ambience to this Diamond Jubilee project.

Source: The Ismaili

19 December 2018

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