Sufi Biography: Mansoor Al-Hallaj

Sufi Biography: Mansoor Al-Hallaj

The most 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.

He 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

Hosain-e 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.

 

 Thereafter 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.”

So 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.”

When 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.

Meanwhile 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.

So 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

After 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.

“Yes. 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.”

Then 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.

It 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 is this?”

“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.

He 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.

“What do you say,” asked a group of his followers, “concerning us who are your disciples, and these who condemn you and would stone you?”

“They 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.

“Because 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.

“It 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.

“With 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.

“Much 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.”

“What ablution?”

“When one prays two rak’as in love,” Hallaj replied, “the ablution is not perfect unless performed with blood.”

Next 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.

“Be 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 majesty.”

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.”

This 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.

A 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.”

Next day 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

Truth.”

Now 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.

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