Biography: Mansoor Al-Hallaj
controversial figure in the history of Islamic mysticism, Abu
‘l-Moghith al-Hosain ibn Mansur al-Hallaj was born C. 244 (858) near
al-Baiza’ in the province of Fars. He travelled very widely, first to
Tostar and Baghdad, then to Mecca, and afterwards to Khuzestan,
Khorasan, Transoxiana, Sistan, India and Turkestan. Eventually he
returned to Baghdad, where his bold preaching of union with God caused
him to be arrested on a charge of incarnationism.
was condemned to death and cruelly executed on 29 Dhu ‘l-Qa’da 309 (28
March 9I3). Author of a number of books and a considerable volume of
poetry, he passed into Muslim legend as the prototype of the
intoxicated lover of God.
The wanderings of Hallaj
Mansur, called Hallaj (“the Woolcarder”) first came to Tostar, where he
served Sahl ibn Abd Allah for two years; then he set out for Baghdad.
He made his first journey at the age of eighteen.
he went to Basra and joined Amr ibn Othman, passing eighteen months in
his company. Ya’qub-e Aqta’ gave him his daughter in marriage, after
which Amr ibn Othman became displeased with him. So he left Basra and
came to Baghdad where he called on Jonaid. Jonaid prescribed for him
silence and solitude. He endured Jonaid’s company for a while, then he
made for Hejaz
He took up residence in Mecca for one year, after which
he returned to Baghdad. With a group of Sufis he attended on Jonaid and
put a number of questions to him to which Jonaid gave no reply.
“The time will soon come,” Jonaid told him, “when you will incarnadine a piece of wood.”
“The day when I incarnadine that piece of wood,” Hallaj replied, “you will be wearing the garb of the formalists.”
it turned out. On the day when the leading scholars pronounced the
verdict that Hallaj must be executed, Jonaid was wearing the Sufi robe
and did not sign the warrant. The caliph said that Jonaid’s signature
was necessary. So Jonaid put on the academic turban and gown, went to
the madrasa and endorsed the warrant. “We judge according to
externals,” he wrote. “As for the inward truth, that God alone knows.”
Jonaid declined to answer his questions, Hallaj was vexed and without
asking leave departed to Tostar. There he remained for a year, widely
acclaimed. But because he attached no weight to the prevailing
doctrine, the theologians turned envious against him.
Amr ibn Othman wrote letters regarding him to the people of Khuzestan,
blackening him in their eyes. He too had grown weary of that place.
Casting aside the Sufi garb, he donned tunic and passed his time in the
company of worldly folk. That made no difference to him, however, and
for five years he vanished. Part of that period he spent in Khorasan
and Transoxiana, part in Sistan.
Hallaj then returned to
Ahwaz, where his preaching won the approval of the elite and the public
alike. He would speak of men’s secrets, so that he was dubbed “Hallaj
of the Secrets”. After that he dressed himself in the ragged dervish
robes and set out for the Sacred Territory, accompanied by many in like
attire. When he reached Mecca, Ya’qub-e Nahrajuri denounced him as a
magician. So he returned to Basra, then to Ahwaz.
“Now I am going to the lands of polytheism, to call men to God,” he announced.
he went to India, then to Transoxiana, then to China, calling men to
God and composing works for them. When he returned from the distant
parts of the world, the peoples of those regions wrote him letters. The
Indians addressed him as Abu ‘l-Moghith, the Chinese as Abo ‘l-Mo’in,
the Khorasanians as Abu ‘l-Mohr, the Farsis as Abu ‘Abd Allah, the
Khuzestanis as Hallaj of the Secrets. In Baghdad he was called
Mostalem, in Basra Mokhabbar.
The passion of Hallaj
that many tales about Hallaj began to circulate. So he set out for
Mecca where he resided for two years. On his return, his circumstances
were much changed. He was a different man, calling people to the
“truth” in terms which no one understood. It is said that he was
expelled from fifty cities.
In their bewilderment the people
were divided concerning him. His detractors were countless, his
supporters innumerable. They witnessed many wonders performed by him.
Tongues wagged, and his words were carried to the caliph. Finally all
were united in the view that he should be put to death because of his
saying, “I am the Truth.”
“Say, He is the Truth,” they cried out to him.
He is All,” he replied. “You say that He is lost. On the contrary, it
is Hosain that is lost. The Ocean does not vanish or grow less.”
“These words which Hallaj speaks have an esoteric meaning,” they told Jonaid.
“Let him be killed,” he answered. “This is not the time for esoteric meanings.”
a group of the theologians made common cause against Hallaj and carried
a garbled version of his words to Mo’tasem; they also turned his vizier
Ali ibn ’Isa against him. The caliph ordered that he should be thrown
into prison. There he was held for a year. But people would come and
consult him on their problems. So then they were prevented from
visiting him, and for five months no one came near him, except Ibn ‘Ata
once and Ibn Khafif once. On one occasion Ibn ‘Ata sent him a message.
“Master, ask pardon for the words you have spoken, that you may be set free.”
“Tell him who said this to ask pardon,” Hallaj replied.
Ibn ‘Ata wept when he heard this answer.
“We are not even a fraction of Hallaj,” he said.
is said that on the first night of his imprisonment the gaolers came to
his cell but could not find him in the prison. They searched through
all the prison, but could not discover a soul. On the second night they
found neither him nor the prison, for all their hunting. On the third
night they discovered him in the prison.
“Where were you on
the first night, and where were you and the prison on the second
night?” they demanded. “Now you have both reappeared. What phenomenon
“On the first night,” he replied, “I was in the
Presence, therefore I was not here. On the second night the Presence
was here, so that both of us were absent. On the third night 1 was sent
back, that the Law might be preserved. Come and do your work!”
When Hallaj was first confined there were three hundred souls in the prison. That night he addressed them.
“Prisoners, shall I set you free?”
“Why do you not free yourself?” they replied.
“I am God’s captive. I am the sentinel of salvation,” he answered. “If I so wish, with one signal I can loose all bonds.”
Hallaj made a sign with his finger, and all their bonds burst asunder.
“Now where are we to go?” the prisoners demanded. “The gate of the prison is locked.”
Hallaj signalled again, and cracks appeared in the walls.
“Now go on your way,” he cried.
“Are you not coming too?” they asked.
“No,” he replied. “I have a secret with Him which cannot be told save on the gallows.”
“Where have the prisoners gone?” the warders asked him next morning.
“I set them free,” Hallaj answered.
“Why did you not go?” they enquired.
“God has cause to chide me, so I did not go,” he replied.
This story was carried to the caliph.
“There will be a riot,” he cried. “Kill him, or beat him with sticks until he retracts.”
They beat him with sticks three hundred times. At every blow a clear voice was heard to say, “Fear not, son of Mansur! “
Then they led him out to be crucified.
Loaded with thirteen heavy chains, Hallaj strode out proudly along the way waving his arms like a very vagabond.
“Why do you strut so proudly?” they asked him.
“Because I am going to the slaughterhouse,” he replied. And he recited in clear tones,
My boon-companion’s not to be
Accused of mean inequity.
He made me drink like him the best,
As does the generous host his guest;
And when the round was quite complete
He called for sword and winding-sheet.
Such is his fate, who drinks past reason
With Draco in the summer season.
When they brought him to the base of the gallows at Bab al-Taq, he kissed the wood and set his foot upon the ladder.
“How do you feel?” they taunted him.
“The ascension of true men is the top of the gallows,” he answered.
was wearing a loincloth about his middle and a mantle on his shoulders.
Turning towards Mecca, he lifted up his hands and communed with God.
“What He knows, no man knows,” he said. Then he climbed the gibbet.
do you say,” asked a group of his followers, “concerning us who are
your disciples, and these who condemn you and would stone you?”
have a double reward, and you a single,” he answered. “You merely think
well of me. They are moved by the strength of their belief in One God
to maintain the rigour of the Law.”
Shebli came and stood facing him.
“Have we not forbidden thee all beings?” he cried. Then he asked, “What is Sufism, Hallaj?”
“The least part of it is this that you see,” Hallaj replied.
“What is the loftier part?” asked Shebli.
“That you cannot reach,” Hallaj answered.
Then all the spectators began to throw stones. Shebli, to conform, cast a clod. Hallaj sighed.
“You did not sigh when struck by all these stones. Why did you sigh because of a clod?” they asked.
those who cast stones do not know what they are doing. They have an
excuse. From him it comes hard to me, for he knows that he ought not to
fling at me.”
Then they cut off his hands. He laughed.
“Why do you laugh?” they cried.
is an easy matter to strike off the hands of a man who is bound,” he
answered. “He is a true man, who cuts off the hands of attributes which
remove the crown of aspiration from the brow of the Throne.”
They hacked off his feet. He smiled.
these feet I made an earthly journey,” he said. “Other feet I have,
which even now are journeying through both the worlds. If you are able,
hack off those feet!”
Then he rubbed his bloody, amputated hands over his face, so that both his arms and his face were stained with blood.
“Why did you do that?” they enquired.
blood has gone out of me,” he replied. “I realize that my face will
have grown pale. You suppose that my pallor is because I am afraid. I
rubbed blood over my face so that I might appear rose-cheeked in your
eyes. The cosmetic of heroes is their blood.”
“Even if you bloodied your face, why did you stain your arms?”
“I was making ablution.”
“When one prays two rak’as in love,” Hallaj replied, “the ablution is not perfect unless performed with blood.”
they plucked out his eyes. A roar went up from the crowd. Some wept,
some flung stones. Then they made to cut out his tongue.
patient a little, give me time to speak one word,” he entreated. “O
God,” he cried, lifting his face to heaven, “do not exclude them for
the suffering they are bringing on me for Thy sake, neither deprive
them of this felicity. Praise be to God, for that they have cut off my
feet as I trod Thy way. And if they strike off my head from my body,
they have raised me up to the head of the gallows, contemplating Thy
Then they cut off his ears and nose. An old woman
carrying a pitcher happened along. Seeing Hallaj, she cried, “Strike,
and strike hard and true. What business has this pretty little
Woolcarder to speak of God?”
The last words Hallaj spoke were
these. “Love of the One is isolation of the One.” Then he chanted this
verse: “Those that believe not therein seek to hasten it; but those who
believe in it go in fear of it, knowing that it is the truth.”
was his final utterance. They then cut out his tongue. It was the time
of the evening prayer when they cut off his head. Even as they were
cutting off his head, Hallaj smiled. Then he gave up the ghost.
great cry went up from the people. Hallaj had carried the ball of
destiny to the boundary of the field of resignation. From each one of
his members came the declaration, “I am the Truth.”
they declared, “This scandal will be even greater than while he was
alive.” So they burned his limbs. From his ashes came the cry, “I am
the Truth,” even as in the time of his slaying every drop of blood as
it trickled formed the word Allah. Dumbfounded, they cast his ashes
into the Tigris. As they floated on the sur
face of the water, they continued to cry, “I am the
Hallaj had said, “When they cast my ashes into the Tigris, Baghdad will
be in peril of drowning under the water. Lay my robe in front of the
water, or Baghdad will be destroyed.” His servant, when he saw what had
happened, brought the master’s robe and laid it on the bank of the
Tigris. The waters subsided, and his ashes became silent. Then they
gathered his ashes and buried them.