The Poet Scientist Khayyam as Philosopher
‘Umar ibn Ibrahim
(439/1048-526/1131) known in the West simply as Omar Khayyam
is the most famous Asian poet in the West and since the 19th century efforts by historians
of science such as Amelie Sedillot
and Franz Woepke followed by many 20th century
scholars, he has also become established as one of the major mathematicians and
astronomers of the medieval period, the author of the most important treatise
on algebra before modern times, as well as a significant work on the criticism
of the Euclidean parallel lines postulate. His reputation is therefore well established
as both a poet and a scientist. What is
much less known about him, however, is his significance as a philosopher and
his few remaining philosophical works have not received anywhere the same
attention in the Occident as have his scientific or poetic writings to the
extent that he hardly figures in general histories of Islamic philosophy
It is in
light of these contradictory evaluations of Khayyam
and especially the eclipse of his significance as a philosophy in the line of
the Islamic philosophical tradition that we wish to turn to a study of his
philosophy on the basis of what has remained of his writings. Before embarking upon this task, however, it
is necessary to confront the question of his quatrains and the “philosophical”
meaning that many have associated with it in the West and also in other areas
of the world, including those parts of the Islamic world where people's
knowledge of Khayyam has come primarily through
Western sources. The quatrains in Fitzgerald's
translation convey at least superficially a hedonistic, fatalistic and this
worldly philosophy combined with much skepticism about religious teachings if
not God Himself. One might ask how could
this Khayyam be the same man who wrote the extant
philosophical works or who was so respected as a scholar of religious stature
that the Islamic judge of the
It is of
interest to note that as modernism brought a wave of religious lukewarmness and even skepticism among a number of
Iranians, it also made the Khayyam “packaged” in the
West a cultural hero of those who had become philosophically skeptical and
agnostic. For example, Taqi Irani, who was the intellectual
leader of the Iranian communists in the period before the Second World War, was
much interested in Khayyam but because of his own “scientific
materialism” turned to the study of Khayyam's
mathematics rather than his poetry which did not accord with communist
As far as positing two Khayyams is concerned, we believe that there is no cogent reason for doing so especially if one accepts that only a few dozen of the quatrains are most likely authentic and the rest by other poets such as Hayyani or Hayati (as mentioned in some manuscripts of the Ruba‘iyyat in Persia and Paris) which could have been easily mistaken (in the Arabic/Persian script) by later scribes for Khayyam. If we take this fact into consideration, there is no need to accept all of the poems in his name as being his or go to the other extreme to negate the authenticity of all the poems attributed to Khayyam. Furthermore, the poems found in the most ancient manuscripts do not contradict his philosophical writings in principle as we shall see later in this essay. In fact it was common among Persian Islamic philosophers to write a few quatrains on the side often in the spirit of some of the poems of Khayyam singing about the impermanence of the world and its transience and similar themes. One need only recall the names of Suhrawardi, Afdal al-Din Kashani, Nasir al-Din Tusi and Mulla Sadra who wrote some poems along with their extensive prose works not to speak of such philosophers as Nasir-i Khusraw, Mir Damad, Mulla ‘Abd al-Razzaq Lahiji and Sabziwari who in contrast to the earlier group, wrote poetry extensively. And this tradition has continued to our own day. I therefore tend to agree with those who believe that some of the quatrains attributed by Khayyam were actually by him and must be considered as a source but not the source of his philosophical views.
As for those who rely solely on the quatrains, believing that Khayyam was hiding his skeptical and hedonistic views because of expediency, I find no logic in this argument except the psychological need of some modern skeptics to find historical precedence and therefore legitimacy for their innovations based on the premises of modernism. To accuse Khayyam of blatant hypocrisy while seeking to make of him a cultural hero for modern skeptics is itself the worst kind of hypocrisy hardly worthy of serious consideration.
In trying to understand the philosophy of Khayyam, therefore, we must turn to his own works in light of the intellectual and social conditions of his day and evaluations of Khayyam's works by such figures as Zahir al-Din Bayhaqi, Nizami ‘Arudi Samarqandi and Jar Allah Zamakhshari, as well as the Sufi poets and writers who came shortly after him such as ‘Attar and Najm al-Din Razi. In this essay it is not possible to investigate the secondary sources but a word can be said about the intellectual conditions of Khayyam's time before turning to the three sources of his philosophy: namely, his scientific works, the philosophical texts and the poetry.
establishment of Seljuq rule over
During this period the teaching of philosophy was marginalized to the extent that the Seljuq prime minister, Khwajah Nizam al-Mulk, in his conditions for the endowment of the Nizamiyyah madrasah system, stipulates that philosophy should not be taught therein. This was the period of such works as the Tahafut al-falasifah (“Incoherence of the Philosophers”) of Ghazzali, the Musari‘at al-falasifah (“Wrestling with the Philosophers”) of Abu’l-Fath Shahrastani and the Sharh al-isharat (“Commentary upon the Book of Directives [and Remarks]) of Fakhr al-Din Razi, all works opposed to falsafah. It is usually said that between the middle of the 5th/11th century and the beginning of the 7th/13th century, falsafah was eclipsed in the eastern lands of Islam and flourished only in the Maghrib where Ibn Rushd was to write his response to Ghazzali in his Tahafut al-tahafut (“Incoherence of the Incoherence”). Furthermore, the observation has often been made that in the east at the end of this period of Ash‘arite domination, that is, in the 7th/13th century, Khwajah Nasir al-Din Tusi answered both Shahrastani and Razi and resuscitated Ibn Sina's philosophy. In general one points to Suhrawardi as the only major philosopher in this period of the eclipse of philosophy in the east whose influence, however, really began in the decades which coincides with Tusi's revival of Ibn Sina.
statements are generally correct but should not be taken to mean that there was
no philosophical activity in
Although much attention has been paid during the past century both in the West and to some extent in the Islamic world itself to the history of mathematics in Islamic civilization, much less attention has been paid to the Islamic philosophy of mathematics with which many Islamic scientists such as Khayyam dealt. Needless to say, from the point of view of philosophy, the most important contribution of Khayyam's mathematical works is to the philosophy of mathematics. To illustrate this assertion; it is sufficient to draw attention to three basic mathematical ideas with which Khayyam deals and which possess a strong philosophical dimension. The first is the question of mathematical order. Where does this order issue from and why does it correspond to the order dominant in the world of nature? Khayyam was fully aware of this basic problem but answered it in one of his philosophical treatises on being to which we shall turn shortly rather than in a mathematical treatise. Khayyam's profound answer is that the Divine Origin of all existence not only emanates wujud or being by virtue of which all things gain reality, but It is also the source of order which is inseparable from the very act of existence. To speak of wujud is also to speak of order which the science of mathematics studies in turn as do certain other disciplines.
second mathematico-philosphical point with which Khayyam was concerned is the significance of postulate in
geometry and the necessity for the mathematician to rely upon philosophy in
order to prove the postulates and principles of his own science, hence the
importance of the relation of any particular science to prime philosophy. More specifically Khayyam
was interested in the pertinence of the fact that the fifth postulate of
A third important issue worth mentioning is the clear distinction made by Khayyam, on the basis of the work of earlier Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina, between natural body (al-jism al-tabi‘i) and mathematical body (al-jism al-ta‘limi). The first is defined as a body which is in the category of substance and which stands by itself while the second, also called volume (hajm), is of the category of accident which does not subsist by itself in the external world. The first is the body with which the natural sciences deal and the second is the concern of mathematics. Khayyam was very careful in respecting the boundaries of each discipline and criticized Ibn al-Haytham in his proof of the parallel postulate precisely because he had broken this rule and had brought a subject belonging to natural philosophy, that is, motion which belongs to the natural body, into the domain of geometry which deals with mathematical body.
In this distinction between al-jism al-tabi‘i and al-jism al-ta‘limi by Khayyam, Tusi and others there is a basic metaphysical principle involved that is of great significance even for the philosophy of quantum mechanics. Many people today think of atomic particles such as the electron and proton as if they were corporeal objects such as apples and pears except on a much smaller scale. In fact, however, the two classes of things belong to two different realms of existence and not to a single domain of reality. Wolfgang Smith in his brilliant work, The Quantum Enigma, calls the first, that is electrons, etc., physical and the second, that is ordinary objects such as apples, corporeal. The first is potential and the second actual with the modification that needs to be made in such Aristotelian terms when dealing with modern physics. The distinction made by Khayyam and others between the two types of body in question is in many ways related to the issue brought up by Wolfgang Smith and is of great significance for the philosophy of mathematics and the relation between mathematics and physics envisaged from a philosophical point of view.
turning to Khayyam's properly speaking philosophical
works, it is necessary to deal with each work separately since our concern in
this essay is after all with his philosophy. Let us first turn to Khayyam's
translation with brief commentary of Ibn Sina's al-Khutbat al-gharra’ (“The Splendid Sermon”) dealing with the praise
of God. This beautifully composed treatise on Divine
Unity is somewhat reminiscent of the poems of such figures as Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Khusrawi. Also after
Khayyam, the famous poet laureate Fakhr
al-Din As‘ad Gurgani in his
fi’l-kawn wa’l-taklif (“Treatise
on the Realm of Existence and Human Responsibility”) is one of Khayyam's substantial philosophical writings in which he
mentions Ibn Sina explicitly as his master. Much of the first part of this work in fact
follows Ibn Sina closely and furthermore some of its
phrases are almost identical to those of Ibn Sina's al-Isharat wa’l-tanbihat (“The Book of Directives and Remarks”). The treatise consists of answers provided by Khayyam to a number of questions sent to him by Abu Nasr Nasawi, the judge (qadi) of the
Khayyam then turns to the question of responsibility towards both God and His creatures, responsibility which according to him, has been put within the very substance of man through the act of his creation. Being what he is, man is in need of others and therefore bears responsibility towards them. Khayyam also speaks of the necessity of prophecy. The prophets are the most perfect of all men and can therefore propagate and promulgate divine laws among men in justice. As far as differences among men in virtue and evil character are concerned, Khayyam relates them on the one hand to the difference of tempraments, themselves based on bodily fluids and the elements mentioned in traditional Islamic medicine, and on the other to the different make ups of their souls. According to Khayyam prophets reveal rites of worship so that God will not be forgotten and so that the teachings of God's laws will remain in human society. He then explains more fully the benefits of rites of worship for both the individual human soul and society as a whole. One can hardly imagine a greater difference between the Khayyam who is the author of this treatise and the modern version of him based on free translations of often spurious quatrains interpreted in such a way as to support the skeptical attitudes of certain modern readers of Khayyam in both East and West.
In his Arabic treatise Darurat al-tadadd fi’l-‘alam wa’l-jabr wa’l-baqa’ (“The Necessity of Contradiction in the World and Determinism and Subsistence”), which Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi considers as a continuation of Risalah fi’l-kawn wa’l-taklif, Khayyam responds to three further questions which some like Nadwi consider to be answers to questions also posed to him by Nasawi. The first question concerns theodicy, that is, how can evil issue from the Necessary Being who being pure goodness cannot be the author of evil and oppression. After analyzing different kinds of attribution, Khayyam states that although it is absolutely true that the Necessary Being alone bestows existence upon things, the very bestowal of existence implies contradiction which is non-existence and it is non-existence which appears to us as evil and privation. That is why evil cannot be compared either in quantity or quality with the good.
The second question asks which of the two schools, that of determinism or free will is correct. In a short answer Khayyam leans in favor of determinism, adding that this position is correct provided its followers do not exaggerate and fall into superstition.
The third questions involves the quality of subsistence in relation to existence. Khayyam criticizes severely what he considers as a sophism concerning this question. He asserts that wujud and baqa’ have a single meaning and should not be separated from each other.
In the short Arabic work, Risalat al-diya’ al-‘aqli fi mawdu‘ al-‘ilm al-kulli (“Treatise of Intellectual Light concerning Universal Science”) Khayyam discusses the relation between existence and quiddity following the views of Ibn Sina to whom he refers indirectly. Khayyam makes a clear distinction between quiddity in itself and wujud which is distinct from mahiyyah and is added to it in order to existentiate a quiddity objectively.
One of the important philosophical works of Khayyam is the Persian treatise Risalah dar ‘ilm-i kulliyyat-i wujud (“Treatise on the Science of the Universal Principles of Being”) also known as al-Risalah fi ‘ilm al- kulliyyat (“Treatise on Universal Principles”) and al-Risalah mawsumah bi-silsilat al-tartib (“Treatise Known as The Hierachic Chain”). In this treatise Khayyam discusses the chain of being and the ten intelligences following the views of Ibn Sina. It is also in this treatise that Khayyam discusses his classification of those who seek knowledge. Because of the singular significance of this classification for the understanding of Khayyam's philosophical perspective we quote this section in full:
“First, the theologians, who become content with disputation and ‘satisfying’ proofs, and consider this much knowledge of the Creator (excellent is His Name) as sufficient.
’Second, the philosophers and sages who use only rational arguments to know the laws of logic, and are never content merely with ‘satisfying’ arguments. But they too cannot remain faithful to the conditions of logic and become helpless with it.
“Third, the Isma‘ilis who say that the way of knowledge is not verifiable except through receiving instructions from a truthful instructor; for, in bringing proofs about the knowledge of the Creator, His Essence and Attributes, there is much difficulty; the reasoning power of the opponents and the intelligence [of those who struggle against the final authority of the revelation, and of those who fully accept it] is stupefied and helpless before it. Therefore, they say that it is better to seek knowledge from the words of a truthful person.
“Fourth, the Sufis, who do not seek knowledge by ratiocination or discursive thinking, but by purgation of their inner being and the purifying of their dispositions. They cleanse the rational soul of the impurities of nature and bodily form, until it becomes pure substance. When it then comes face to face with the spiritual world, the forms of that world become truly reflected in it, without any doubt or ambiguity.
“This is the best of all ways, because it is known to the servant of God that there is no reflection better than the Divine Presence and in that state there are no obstacles or veils in between. Whatever man lacks is due to the impurity of his nature. If the veil be lifted and the screen and obstacle removed, the truth of things as they are will become manifest and known. And the Master of creatures [the Prophet Muhammad]--upon whom be peace--indicated this when he said: ‘Truly, during the days of your existence, inspirations come from God. Do you not want to follow them?’
“Tell unto reasoners that, for the lovers of God [gnostics], intuition is guide, not discursive thought.”
What is astonishing in this classification is Khayyam's defense of the Sufis and knowledge attained through inner purification, which they call kashf, as the most perfect and highest form of knowledge. One cannot make any judgement about Khayyam without paying full attention to this classification. Since this work is without doubt authentic and Khayyam was not a kind of thinker to write a pie'ce d'occasion to satisfy this or that worldly authority, this assertion by him cannot but confirm his devotion to Sufism and makes even more plausible a Sufi interpretation of the authentic verses of Khayyam.
Perhaps the most important single philosophical opus of Khayyam is his Arabic text al-Risalah fi’l-wujud (“Treatise on Being”) also known as al-Risalah fi tahqiqat al-sifat (“Treatise concerning Verifications of the Qualities”). It begins with two Quranic verses which contain the essence of the content of the treatise: “He gave unto everything its creation, then guided it right” (XX;50), and “He counteth the number of all things” (LXXII; 28). The first asserts that the being of all things issues from God and the second that there is an order to all things. And it is precisely these two issues that comprise the basic elements of this treatise.
Khayyam emphasizes that quiddities receive their existence from another existence (al-wujud al-ghayri) and calls this process emanation (fayadan). But at the same time Khayyam asserts that for each existent, it is the quiddity that is principial while wujud is a conceptual (i‘tibari) quality. Although the distinction between the principiality of wujud (asalat al-wujud) and the principiality of mahiyyah (asalat al-mahiyyah) goes back to the School of Isfahan and especially Mulla Sadra, later students of Islamic philosophy have tended to look upon the whole earlier tradition from this point of view and sought to determine who belonged to which school. If we apply this later distinction with its own particular terminology to Khayyam, then we could say that Khayyam, like Suhrawardi, Nasir al-Din Tusi, Ghiyath al-Din Mansur Dashtaki and Mir Damad belongs to the school of principiality of quiddity, although he does not use the term asalat al-mahiyyah as was done by Mulla Sadra and many other later philosophers.
In addition to emphasizing emanation and its continuous nature, following the views of both Ibn Sina and Suhrawardi, Khayyam also insists that this emanation is based on and contains order and laws. The two verses of the Quran stated at the beginning of the treatise are for Khayyam revealed proofs of this assertion, namely, the continuity of emanation from the Divine Reality which bestows existences upon all things and the orderly nature of this emanation. Consequently, the so-called “laws of nature” and what one observes everywhere in the created realm as order and harmony issue from the very reality which bestows existence upon things and are inseparable from their ontological reality.
Khayyam is also concerned with the difficult question of God's knowledge of the world, a question which has concerned nearly all Islamic philosophers throughout the ages. He asserts that knowledge or ‘ilm is a quality of wujud and therefore since God bestows wujud upon all creatures, He knows all of His creation simply by virtue of having brought them into being. As for wujud, it is itself an attribute of the Divine Reality (al-Haqq) and identical to Its Essence. Divine Knowledge, while being none other than the Divine Essence, is also none other than emanation. Divine Knowledge is the same as the presence of God in all beings even that which possesses only mental existence. Furthermore, since God is the source of reality of all quiddities and essences, all that is thus existentiated is good and what appears otherwise as non-existence and hence evil is the result of the necessity of contradiction (darurat al-tadadd).
among the specifically philosophical treatises of Khayyam
there is one that is almost certainly by him, although not noted in the list given
by some of the scholars of the subject, and that is a series or responses
entitled Risalah jawaban li-thalath masa’il (“Treatise
of Response to Three Questions”). In one
manuscript the person posing the questions is Jamal al-Din ‘Abd
al-Jabbar ibn Muhammad al-Mishkawi, while in another manuscript he is referred to as Amin al-Hadrah and at the end of
the treatise as al-Shaykh Jamal al-Zaman. Although the
identity of this person is not clear, it seems that he was a philosopher from
1. If the rational soul survives after death, it would be necessary for each rational soul to have a specific personal existence.
2. If happenings in the domain of contingent beings have a single cause, this will lead to an infinite regression.
3. It has been proven that time depends on movement and is the quantity of movement of the spheres and that movement is not steadfast by itself...[Khayyam does not complete the question].
All of Khayyam's responses are based on Ibn Sina's views to whom he refers as al-faylasuf, the philosopher. More specifically he refers to the Fann al-sama‘ al-tabi‘i, the first book of Tabi‘iyyat (Natural Philosophy) of the Shifa’ as well as to the works of Aristotle as sources for response to these questions. Khayyam makes an important philosophical assertion by saying that the Fann al-sama‘ al-tabi‘i (which means literally “the art of natural hearing” or that which one should hear first in the study of the natural sciences) contains the principles of all the natural sciences but is itself a branch of universal knowledge. In other words the principles of the sciences are to be sought not in themselves but in metaphysics.
There are a few other short philosophical fragments of Khayyam which deal more or less with the same issues that one finds in the treatises mentioned already. When one examines all of these philosophical treatises together, one sees Khayyam as essentially an Avicennan philosopher with particular acumen in mathematics and interest in mathematical and natural order on the one hand and in Sufism on the other. There are also philosophical insights which are Khayyam's own and he is far from being simply a repeater of Ibn Sina's words. Furthermore, as in the case of the master whom he calls the philosopher, Khayyam's whole philosophical discourse is based on the Necessary Being, the One, who is the Reality which in religious language is called God. Khayyam goes in fact a step further than many mashsha’i philosophers in using religious references in his philosophical treatises including Quranic verses to which we have already referred.
Let us in conclusion turn to some of the quatrains more strongly attributed to Khayyam and consider their philosophical significance. One of the most famous quatrains states,
Thou hast said that Thou wilt torment me,
But I shall fear not such a warning.
For where Thou art, there can be no torment,
And where Thou art not, how can such a place exist?
This quatrain confirms the utter goodness of God, the fact that the Supreme Reality is Pure Goodness, an idea also confirmed in Khayyam's prose philosophical works. This quatrain re-confirms in a novel language an assertion to be found in many Sufi utterances in prose and poetry and also indicates the ultimate victory of good over all that appears as evil. In a sense it is a commentary upon the sacred saying of the Prophet (hadith qudsi), “Verily My Mercy precedeth My Wrath”.
Another quatrain states,
Thrown in before Fate's Mallet, O man Thou goest,
Struck by blows to left and right, remain silent.
He who hast flung thee with this mad course,
He knoweth, he knoweth, he knoweth and knoweth.
The message in this poem is that qada’, translated here as Fate but which must be understood as a decree by the Divine Will and not some kind of natural and cosmic fate in the manner of certain Greek philosophers, governs all human existence and that God has knowledge of all things. It is a poetic commentary upon the meaning of the two Divine Names al-Qadir, the Omnipotent, and al-‘Alim, the All-Knower or Omniscient.
A quatrain, which appears outwardly more problematic, sings of the relativity of human knowledge as follows:
With neither truth nor certitude in scope,
Why waste our lives in doubt or futile hope?
Come, never let the goblet out of hand,
In fog, what if you drunk of sober grope?
This quatrain might seem to be preaching out and out skepticism if taken literally. But would a person who accepted such a philosophy spend so much time and effort writing a work on algebra or reform the calendar? If seen in the context of the Islamic intellectual tradition, the content of these verses reveals its inner meaning to be something else which is the relativity of all human or rational knowledge and the certitude derived from gnosis that is symbolized by wine as again found universally in Sufi poetry. In fact, many leading Islamic thinkers, philosophers and scientists alike not to speak of Sufis, have composed poems in this vein. In our own times the poems of even such religio-political figures as Mawlana Mawdudi and Ayatollah Khumayni contain many verses in the same vein. The holding of the goblet of wine and drinking it here and now, a theme repeated in several other quatrains of Khayyam, also refers to the preciousness of the present moment which is our only access to the Eternal and the gaining of absolute certitude. One must not forget in this context the Sufi addage al-sufi ibn al-waqt, that is, the Sufi is the son of the moment.
Many Khayyamian quatrains also refer to the transience of the world and our rapid journey through it.
The rotating wheel of heaven within which we wonder,
Is an imaginal lamp of which we have knowledge by similitude.
The sun is the candle and the world the lamp,
We are like forms revolving within it.
A drop of water falls in on ocean wide,
A grain of dust becomes with earth allied;
What doth thy coming, going here denote?
A fly appeared a while, then invisible he became.
In the first quatrain the cosmos is likened not only to just any lamp, but to an imaginal lamp indicating the significance of the “world of imagination” (‘alam al-khayal) with all the metaphysical and cosmological significance that it possesses in Islamic thought as we see expounded later in the works of Suhrawardi, Ibn ‘Arabi, Mulla Sadra and others. There is no reason to believe that here Khayyam is using khayal in the modern debased sense of imagination which implies simply irreality. Rather, by calling the cosmos an imaginal lamp, he not only alludes to the cosmic significance of ‘alam al-khayal, but also indicates for the philosophically unsophisticated reader the fact that the cosmos is not ultimate reality but that there is a reality beyond it which it reflects as a lamp is the locus wherein light shines upon a scene. And then he points to our transient earthly existence which is constituted of images and forms caused by the light of a lamp on the shade around it. The second quatrain confirms the same thesis from another point of view starting with the assertion that all things in this world return to their source and principle according to the famous philosophical dictum kullu shay’in yarji‘u ila aslihi, “all things return to their source or root.” And in this great coming and going which marks the life of this transient world, our earthly existence is like that of a fly which appears and then disappears in a fleeting moment. It is metaphysically very significant that in this quartrain Khayyam uses the Persian words padid and napayda and not life and death. These two Persian terms mean to become manifest and then non-manifest, to enter into phenomenal existence and then disappear from that realm or become literally “devoid of appearance” or napayda which also means not to be found. Can one not understand this verse as meaning that we, even if compared to a lowly fly in this vast world of change, come from the unmanifested and the invisible into the world of manifestation and phenomenal existence and then return to that unmanifested and invisible world?
In a quatrain with profound eschatological significance a Khayyamian quatrain asserts,
If the heart knew the secret of life as it is,
It would also know the Divine Mysteries at death.
Today when with thy self, thou knowest nothing,
Tomorrow when stripped of self, what wilt thou know?
This quatrain speaks in poetic language of one of the most important doctrines of Islamic eschatology which has been fully developed by later Islamic metaphysicians and philosophers such as Ibn ‘Arabi and Mulla Sadra. According to this doctrine, the soul while in this world can both act and know. At the moment of death, it is cut off from both acting on the world and knowing it and will take with it only the fruits of its action and the knowledge which it has gained of spiritual matters while on this earthly journey. These are its “provisions” for the journey of the after-life which Mulla Sadra discusses in these very terms in one of his works entitled Zad al-musafir (“Provisions of the Traveler”). This quatrain is nothing but a simple poetic description of a major Islamic eschatological teaching.
Finally, it is necessary to mention at least one quatrain that speaks of man's nothingness in face of the Absolute.
O Thou, unversed in ways of the world, thou art naught;
The bedrock is based on air, hence thou art naught.
Two voids define the limits of thy life,
On thy two sides nothing, in the middle thou art naught.
Many have construed this and similar quatrains in a modern nihilistic manner as if Khayyam were an existential nihilist a' la certain schools of twentieth century Continental philosophy. But this interpretation is totally false if one considers the fact that Khayyam never denied the reality of God, the Absolute. Besides referring to the metaphysical understanding of nothing or void which is none other than the Quintessential Naught or Beyond Being to which Khayyam alludes in several verses, this poem can be seen as a clear statement of the relativity of the human state and that from the point of this relativity, if taken only in itself, man and indeed the world are literally nothing in the face of the Absolute. In Avicennan language, which Khayyam confirms in his prose philosophical works, man, like all beings in this world, is “contingent” (mumkin) and receives his reality from the source of Being through that process of fayadan discussed above. This and similar quatrains can be read with perfect logic as poetical assertions of the status of contingency, which is complete poverty of existence or nothingness of the world, in contrast to the Necessary Being (wajib al-wujud) which alone possesses and bestows wujud upon all that exists. And all that exists exists by virtue of existentiation by the Necessary Being. In addition, in these poems there is an allusion to the relativity of even Being vis-a*-vis the Beyond Being which alone is real in the ultimate sense. The deepest message of such quatrains is that all that is relative is by nature relative and therefore transient only the Absolute possessing absoluteness as such, or more simply put, only the Absolute is absolute.
These few quatrains chosen among those attributed with more certainty to Khayyam provide a sampling of ideas which, if understood in the context of traditional Islamic philosophy and Sufism, do not only not negate but confirm in poetical language Khayyam's prose philosophical and scientific works in addition to revealing certain Sufi themes of which Khayyam must have had intimate knowledge. His classification of knowers cited above reveals his reverence for and understanding of the Sufi path of knowledge. The major themes of the more authenticated quatrains is the transience of the world, the limited nature of all rational knowledge before that veritable sophia which transcends ratiocination and taking advantage of the present moment and experiencing the effect of that wine which symbolizes realized knowledge or gnosis. None of these themes is contradictory to his prose works. On the contrary, the prose and poetry complement each other and together reveal a fuller picture of Khayyam as metaphysician and philosopher.
It might be said that there are three types of human beings: those who deny all eschatological realities and the Day of Judgement to which Persian Sufis refer as “Tomorrow” (farda); those who believe in the traditional eschatological realities and seek to live a virtuous life in this world in fear of hell and hope of paradise; and those who seek God here and now beyond fear of hell and hope of paradise. Since extremes meet, the views of the first and third group might appear to some people who look at the matter superficially to be the same in that both emphasize the here and now at the expense of man's final end in that “tomorrow” which is beyond time. The first view, however, is the denial of religion from below and the third view which is esoteric, is the transcendence of the exoteric view from above. For the exoteric pious believers it is sometimes difficult to make a distinction between the two. That is why they have often condemned not only the first view but also the third, their condemnation being in fact justified on its own level which is not the case of modern agnostics who have deliberately associated the two opposite views together in order to attack those who hold on to the second view. The limited understanding of ordinary believers is the reason why not only Khayyam but a number of other figures, mostly Sufis, have been condemned by some traditional exoteric authorities over the ages. In the case of other Sufi figures, however, their distinction from hedonists has remained clear enough despite their having received condemnation from some quarters. In the case of Khayyam, a number of factors among them the intrusion of poems not by him into the corpus of the quatrains attributed to him, caused a number of traditional authorities, including even a few Sufis, to condemn him even before modern times despite the fact that he certainly did not lead a hedonistic life but was deeply revered as an Islamic scholar by his contemporaries. Furthermore, the free translations of Fitzgerald created a Western image of Khayyam one of whose strong components was pleasure seeking and immediate gratification of the senses. In today's Western world where much more than the Victorian period instant sensual gratification has become practically a pseudo-religion, it is even more difficult than at the time of Fitzgerald to absolve Khayyam of the guilt of being a hedonist. Yet, there is no authenticated poem of Khayyam dealing with the after-life which cannot be interpreted as belonging to the third rather than the first view stated above. And when this celebration of the present moment and taking advantage of life while we have it is taken into consideration in conjunction with everything he has written and also what his contemporaries wrote about him and even the honorific titles bestowed upon him, it becomes more evident that far from being a hedonist, Khayyam sought to point out the preciousness of human life and the reality of the present moment as the door to the Eternal Realm in a manner consonant with the teachings of the great Sufi masters.
In conclusion, one can assert with assurance that if one studies all of the works of Khayyam, including the more authenticated ruba‘iyyat, one is able to discern the philosophical worldview of a major Islamic thinker who in philosophy was mostly a follower of Ibn Sina with certain independent interpretations of his own. He was also a major scientist with important views concerning the philosophy of mathematics. In addition he was a poet, who like many other Islamic philosophers and scientists who wrote works with rigorous logical structures, wrote poems on the side with metaphysical and gnostic themes. He was also without doubt personally attracted to Sufism. If we were asked to compare him to another Islamic figure who would most resemble him, we would choose Nasir al-Din Tusi who was, like Khayyam, an Avicennian (mashsha’i) philosopher and a mathematician, who also wrote some poetry and was interested in Sufism in which he also wrote a treatise Sayr wa suluk (“Spiritual Wayfaring”). Of course Tusi was also a Twelve-Imam Shi‘ite theologian and authority on Isma‘ili philosophy in contrast to Khayyam who was not concerned with these subjects to any appreciable extent.
Khayyam must be resuscitated as an Islamic philosopher even if such an act will take a cultural hero away from modern Arab, Turkish and especially Persian skeptics and hedonists. His philosophical works need to be translated and studied in their totality. The present study should, however, be sufficient to reveal the great significance, philosophical, scientific and also religious, of a remarkable Islamic philosopher, whose very fame on the mundane plane has caused his philosophical importance to become veiled from the world at large.
 Thanks of course to the free translation of a number of quatrains by Edward Fitzgerald which created something of a cult in Victorian England, the like of which has not been seen in modern times. There is a whole library of works on Khayyam’s quatrains written in various European languages.
 On Khayyam as mathematician see D. Struik, “Omar Khayyam, Mathematician”, The Mathematics Teacher, vol. 51, April 1958, pp. 280-285; A.P. Youschkevitch, Les Mathematiques arabes (VIII-XV sie'cles), translated M. Cazevane and K. Jaouiche, Paris: J. Vrin, 1976; and especially the recent comprehensive work of R. Rashed and B. Vahabzadeh, al-Khayyam mathematicien, Paris, Librairie Scientifique et Technique Albert Blanchard, 1999.
On Khayyam’s treatment of the fifth postulate of Euclid, see A. Amir-Moez’s partial translation of Khayyam’s treatise, “Discussion of Difficulties in Euclid”, Scripta Mathematica, vol. 24, 1959, pp. 275-303.; and J.A. Chavooshi, Hakim ‘Umar Khayyam, Nayshaburi, Tehran, Iranian Academy of Philosophy, 1979.
 We have devoted a short study to his
philosophical ideas in our The Islamic
Intellectual Tradition in Persia, ed. M. Amin Razavi,
 In his al-Zajir li’l-sighar ‘an mu’aradat al-kibar, quoted in B. Forouzanfar, “Qadimitarin ittila’ az rindigi-yi Khayyam”, Nashriyya-yi Danishkada-yi adabiyyat-i Tabriz, 1327 (A.H. solar), pp. ff.; quoted by S.M. Rida Jalali Na’ini, “Hakim ‘Umar ibn Ibrahim Khayyam-i Nayshaburi,” in Farhang (Tehran), vol. 12, no. 29-32, Spring 2000, p. 4.
 In his Kharidat al-qasr, ‘Imad
al-Din Katib Isfahani says
about Khayyam, “There was no one like him in his own
time and he had no peer in the science of astronomy and philosophy”. Quoted by R. Rida-zadih
Malik, Danish-nama-yi Khayyami,
 See for example, Na’ini, op. cit., pp. 2-3.
 See Hedayat,
 See M. M. Fuladwand, Khayyam-shinasi,
 In the 1960’s we had the
honor of studying the Asfar
of Mulla Sadra for several
years with the late Sayyid Abu’l-Rafi’i Qazwini in both
 On Khayyam’s
commentary on the Difficulties in the
Postulates of Euclid’s Elements see in addition to works cited in footnote
3, N. Kanani, “Omar Khayyam
and the Parallel Postulate”, in Farhang, op. cit.,
pp. 107ff; and J. Homa’i, Khayyami-namah, Tehran, Anjuman-i Milli, 1346 (A.H.
solar), pp. 9ff, which contains a detailed discussion of Khayyam’s
views in relation to those who came before him and also in light of the
principles of Islamic philosophy and logic.
See also O. Bakar, “‘Umar
Khayyam’s Criticism of Euclid’s Theory of Parallels”,
in his The History and Philosophy of
 “We find here [in reference to Khayyam’s proof of the parallel postulate], apparently for the first time in history, the three situations later known as the hypothesis of the acute angle (case a), that of the obtuse angle (case b) and that of the right angle (case c). These three situations are now known to lead respectively to the non-Euclidean geometry of Bolai-Lobacevskii, and to that of Rieman”. D.J. Struik, “Omar Khayyam, mathematician”.
 See W. Smith, The Quantum Enigma, Peru (Ill.), Sherwood Snyder, 2000; see also S. H. Nasr, “Perennial Ontology and Quantum Mechanics”, Sophia, vol. 3, no. 1, Summer 1997, pp. 135-159.
 The complete text of Khayyam’s philosophical works, as far as they are known today, is to be found in R. Rahimzadah Malik, Danish-nama-yi Khayyami. See also Swami Govinda Tirtha, The Nectar of Grace, Allahabad, Ketabistan Press, 1941; M.M.L. ‘Abbasi, Kulliyyat-i athar-i parsi-yi ‘Umar Khayyam, Tehran, 1338 (A.H. solar); S.S. Nadwi (ed.), Khayyam-Awr us ke savanih va tasanif, A’zamgarh, Dar al-Musannifin, 1979; and B.A. Rosenfeld and A.P. Youschkevitch, Omar Khaiiam, Moscow, Nauka, 1965.
 For the English translation of this text see K.A.M. Akhtar, “A tract of Avicenna,” Islamic Culture, vol. 9, 1935, pp. 221-222. For the original text see Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 305ff. Throughout this essay, we will mention only the source of the original text as contained in this work and that of Swami Govinda Tirtha. Rahimzadah Malik has cited other printings of each treatise of Khayyam in his introduction to each work in question.
 See Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 321 ff. See Swami Govind Tirtha, op. cit., pp. XLVI and LXXXIII-XCIX which contain both the Arabic text of this treatise and an Enlgish translation by Abdul Quddus.
 The fact that an eminent religious authority far away from Khurasan should write to Khayyam on such matters, is itself proof of Khayyam’s status as an Islamic thinker in the eyes of his contemporaries. Such a request would be unconceivable if Khayyam had been seen at that time as the skeptical and hedonist figure that many modern people envisage him to be.
 For the summary of Ibn Sina’s on these matters see S. H. Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, Albany (NY), State University of New York Press, 1993, pp. 197 ff.
 See S.S. Nadwi, Khayyam Awr us ke savanih va tasanif. For the text of the treatise see Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 343 ff. See also Swami Govinda Tirtha, op. cit., pp. XCIX-CX for both the Arabic text and an English translation by M.W. Rahman.
 See Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 369 ff.
 See Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 377 ff. See also A. Christensen, “Un traite de metaphysique de ‘Omar Khayyam”, Le Monde Oriental, vol. 1, no. 1, 1906, pp. 1-16. The Persian text and an English translation of it is to be found in Swami Govinda Tirtha, op. cit., pp. XLVII-XLVIII and CXVII-CXXIX.
 Op. cit., pp 389-90. See Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, Chicago, ABC International, 2001, pp. 33-34. See also pp. 52-53 of the same work; also F. Schuon, Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, trans. P. Townsend, Pates Manor, Perennial Books, 1987, pp. 76-77.
 See Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 395 ff. See also Swami Govinda Tirtha, The Nectar of Grace, pp. CX-CXVI
 See S. H. Nasr, Sadr al-Din Shirazi
and His Transcendent Theosophy,
 See Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 411 ff.
 The translation is our own.
 Modified translation of the Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, translated and annotated by Ahmad Saidi, Berkeley (CA), Asian Humanities Press, 1991, no. 59, p. 116.
 Saidi, op. cit., no. 60, p. 117. Such verses must be read in conjunction with those which affirm in no uncertain terms Khayyam’s certitude concerning the knowledge of God and that He is ultimately the only Reality. For example,
He is, and naught but Him exists, I know,
This truth is what creation’s book will show,
When heart acquired perception with His Light,
Atheistic darkness changed to faithly glow.
Swami Govinda Tirtha, The Nectar of Grace, p. 1.
Khayyam also speaks of the divine grace which makes such a knowledge possible. In one of his rare Arabic poems, quoted by Shams al-Din Shahrazuri in his Nuzhat al-arwah, Khayyam sings,
I soar aboth both Worlds to Highest Realm
With lofty courage and with sober thoughts.
The Guiding Light of Wisdom dawns in me
In the Darkness, and Delusion is dispelled.
The foe may try to extinguish the Light,
But God maintains it by his Grace Divine.
Swami Govinda Tirtha, op. cit., p. CXXXI, with some modification.
 This theme of the relativity of all human knowledge when measured with the yardstick of Divine Knowledge is a recurrent theme in many of these quatrains, for example,
Of science naught remained I did not know,
Of secrets, scarcely any, high or low,
All day and night for three scores and twelve years,
I pondered just to learn that naught I know.
Saidi, op. cit., no. 68, p. 125.
 The translation is our own highly modified version of Saidi, op. cit., no. 63, p. 120.
 Modified translation of Saidi, op. cit., no. 64, p. 121.
 See H. Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, trans. R. Manheim, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1969; and E. Zolla, The Uses of Imagination and the Decline of the West, Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 1978.
 Highly modified translation of Saidi, op. cit., no. 65, p. 122,
 Modified translation of Saidi, op. cit. No. 70, p. 127.
 “Being Itself, which is none other than the Personal God, is in its turn surpassed by the Impersonal or Supra-Personal Divinity, Non-Being, of which the Personal God or Being is simply the first determination from which flow all the secondary determinations that make up cosmic Existence. Exoterism cannot, however, admit either this unreality of the world or the exclusive reality of the Divine Principle, or above all, the transcendence of Non-Being relative to Being...” F. Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, trans. P. Townsend, London, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1993, p. 38.
 On this issue see S. H. Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred, Albany (NY), State University of New York Press, 1989, chapter four, pp. 130 ff.
 The 13th/19th century Persian philosopher and saint Hajj Mulla Hadi Sabziwari in fact refers to eschatology as “the science of Tomorrow” or farda-shinasi.
 Some of these titles include al-imam (the leader), hakim al-dunya (the philosopher of the world), hujjat al-haqq (Proof of the Truth), al-shaykh al-ajall (the exalted master), faylasuf al-waqt (the philosopher of the time), etc. See Rahimzadah Malik, op. cit., pp. 32-33.
 This work has been
translated as Contemplation and Action,
trans. S.J. Badakhchani,