ḤALLᾹJ, AL- ("the cotton carder"), al-Husayn ibn Manṣūr (ah 244–309/857–922 ce), was known among Muslims as "the martyr of mystical love." Although he has been maligned in some circles for his "heretical" teachings and his alleged claim to divinity, his place in the world of Islamic poetry is undisputed: There, the name al-Ḥusayn ibn Manṣūr, or simply Manṣūr, stands as one of the major symbols of mystical union and of suffering in love.
Born in southern Iran, he spent some of his youth with Sahl al-Tustarī, the mystic to whom Sufism owes the first systematic theory of nūr Muḥammad ("the light of Muḥam-mad"), which forms an important aspect of al-Ḥallāj's later thought. From Basra, al-Ḥallāj proceeded to Baghdad, the center of mystical learning during the late ninth century, and frequented such Ṣūfī masters as al-Junayd. This mystic, a representative of the so-called sober trend in Sufism, had developed the art of speaking in ishārāt ("hints"), lest the orthodox take offense at the teachings of mystical tawḥīd (unification with God). Al-Ḥallāj married a Ṣūfī's daughter but fell out with other mystics in Basra. Setting out for Mecca on his first pilgrimage, he performed extraordinary ascetic feats, but according to legend, the decisive incident of his life occurred after his return. When he knocked at al-Junayd's door, he was asked who was there; he answered, "Anā al-ḥaqq" ("I am the Creative Truth"). The accuracy of this legend cannot be ascertained, but the phrase "Anā al-ḥaqq" appears in an important context in his Kitāb al-ṭawāsīn, which he composed toward the end of his life.
After the clash with al-Junayd, or for other reasons, al-Ḥallāj discarded the Ṣūfī gown and wandered through Iran and Khorasan before making his second pilgrimage, along with four hundred disciples. He next set out for India, "to learn magic," according to his adversaries, "to call the people to God," by his own account. From Gujarat he wandered through Sind and the Punjab and reached Turfan, probably via Kashmir. When he returned to Baghdad, he was met with even greater hostility from both the orthodox and the Ṣūfīs, and he undertook a third pilgrimage. Apprehended on the road to Sūs, he was exposed on a pillory and finally imprisoned in Baghdad in 913. The protection of the chamberlain Naṣr al-Qashūrī and the friendship of the mother of the infant caliph al-Muqtadir made his life in prison tolerable, and quite a few miracles are recounted for this period. Of his visitors in prison, the last was Ibn Khafīf, a young ascetic from Shiraz who noted down some of his sayings and who can therefore be considered the first link in the spiritual chain that leads to Rūzbihān-i Baqlī of Shiraz (d. 1209), the commentator on the shaṭḥīyāt ("theopathic locutions") of al-Ḥallāj and other Ṣūfīs.
In March 922, the government succeeded in drawing up a death sentence for al-Ḥallāj and declaring it "lawful to shed his blood." The Persian writer ʿAṭṭār (d. 1221) sums up al-Ḥallāj's end in his Tadhkirat al-awliyāʾ (Biographies of the Saints): "A dervish asked him, 'What is love?' He answered, 'You will see it today and tomorrow and day after tomorrow.' That day they killed him, the next day they burned him, and the third day they gave his ashes to the wind." Al-Ḥallāj went dancing in his chains to the gallows, and his last words were "All that matters for the ecstatic is that the Unique should reduce him to Unity." He died on March 26, 922 (24 Dhū al-Qaʿdah 309), and many decades later people in Baghdad were still seen waiting for his return at the banks of the Tigris, on whose waves his ashes had formed the words anā al-ḥaqq.
The explanations for al-Ḥallāj's execution are manifold. The Ṣūfī tradition claims that his death was a punishment for ifshāʾ al-sirr ("divulging the secret"), for it is not permissible that a mortal should speak up and say "I am the Creative Truth, or," as ḥaqq was usually translated, "I am God." That is against the law of love, where secrecy is a most important ingredient. One may doubt, however, whether the famous statement "Anā al-ḥaqq" was really the reason for the government's decision; political and practical problems certainly played an important role. The French scholar Louis Massignon has shown how confused the political situation in Baghdad was during those decades; the caliphs were powerless and the viziers, in whose hands the true power lay, changed frequently. Sunnī and Shīʿī allegiances were played out against each other, and fear of the Qarāmiṭah, who threatened the Abbasid empire from their stronghold in Bahrein, made unusual religious claims appear particularly dangerous.
Was it not possible, so the authorities asked, that al-Ḥallāj had been in touch with the Qarāmiṭah, who had just founded a principality in Multan and who ruled northern Sind? Besides, the letters that al-Ḥallāj received from various parts of the Islamic world addressed him with strange-sounding titles, and some of them were beautifully decorated and written in mysterious characters, similar to the Manichaean books from Inner Asia. There is also no doubt that al-Ḥallāj, like his friend the chamberlain Naṣr, was in favor of more equitable taxation; even worse, he had spoken publicly of the isqāṭ al-farāʾiḍ, the possibility of making substitutions for the personal obligations of fasting or even the pilgrimage. Such ideas were anathema to orthodox Muslims.
It was also told that al-Ḥallāj, preaching in the mosques of Baghdad, would call people to God, to a deeper personal realization of the mysteries of faith, and that he would then implore them to kill him, for thus, he said, he would be rescued from this life and they would receive recompense for killing a heretic. Such eccentric behavior, coupled with extreme asceticism and the punctual performance of religious duties, was difficult for ordinary believers to accept. Furthermore, al-Ḥallāj's burning love of God, which he expressed in short, tender verses, aroused the anger of the Ẓāhirīyah, who denied the possibility of real love between humans and God. Thus, almost all factions in the religious circles of Baghdad were against al-Ḥallāj for various reasons, and many regarded him as a crafty man who practiced magic and tried to seduce people, nay, even went so far as to lay claim to divinity.
In later centuries, especially in the folk and high poetry of Persianate countries, al-Ḥallāj was considered the foremost representative of waḥdat al-wujūd ("unity of being"), someone who, as Friedrich A. G. Tholuck (1821) said, "with incredible audacity tore away the curtain from pantheism." Massignon, however, has proved that al-Ḥallāj was anything but a pantheist; rather, he represents the waḥdat al-shuhūd ("unity of witness"). To understand his attitude it suffices to read his long, touching prayers in which he tries to circumscribe the primordial and eternal God who is forever separated by his qidam, his preeternal being, from human being, which is created in time.
How can one describe him who is too high to be reached by human eyes and yet is evident everywhere? Al-Ḥallāj's prayer-poems oscillate between the burning longing for the transcendent God who is separated from him by the little human "I" and the consoling experience of this God's presence in the human heart, "flowing between the heart and its sheath as tears flow from the eyelids." In rare moments of ecstasy, the uncreated divine spirit can enwrap the created human spirit and speak through the human tongue, as God once spoke through a burning bush. Then the mystic feels that "my spirit has mingled with thine like water and wine" or "like amber and musk" (for such claims, al-Ḥallāj was accused of believing in ḥulūl, "incarnation"). The painful feeling of duality is wiped out, and God attests his unity through the tongue of the lover, for, as Abū Bakr al-Kharrāz (d. 890/9) had stated, "No one has the right to say 'I' but God." In such moments the saint becomes the living witness of God (huwa huwa, "he is He"), and he can exclaim "Anā al-ḥaqq" as the true witness of God's unity because God has taken away from him everything, including his "I."
Al-Ḥallāj tried to awaken the sense of personal relationship between the believer and God, and his whole life was devoted to the realization of the deepest truth of islam, complete surrender to the one God. The numerous anecdotes collected in the Akhbār al-Ḥallāj reveal this feeling (with some embarrassing details), and his poetry, though sometimes using mystical letter symbolism, is pure and completely devoid of sensuality. Some of his verses, such as his qaṣīdah "Uqtulūnī,"
Kill me, O my trustworthy friends,
for in my being killed is my life …
have been quoted by later authors time and again (by Rūmī, for example). Only a few fragments of al-Ḥallāj's interpretation of the Qurʾān are preserved, among them the statement that seems to sum up the secret of his life: "Happiness comes from God, but affliction is he himself." There are also his riwāyāt, the ḥadīth whose contents are perfectly orthodox but whose chains of transmission go not through human transmitters but through mythical and heavenly creatures.
The only book by al-Ḥallāj that has been preserved in full is his Kitāb al-ṭawāsīn (alluding to ṭa and sīn, the mysterious letters at the beginning of surah 27 of the Qurʾān). In this small treatise, probably written while he was in prison, al-Ḥallāj introduces into Sufism the parable of the moth and candle: The moth that sees the light, feels the heat, and finally immolates itself in the flame, never to return to its peers, is the model for the lover who has found "the reality of Reality." This image was to become a favorite with Persianate poets and reached Europe through translations around 1800; Goethe used it in his famous poem "Selige Sehnsucht" in West-östlicher Divan (1819) to express the mystery of "dying before one dies."
The Kitāb al-ṭawāsīn also contains one of the finest early descriptions of the Prophet, who is celebrated in exquisite rhyming prose as light from the divine light and source of the lights of the prophets. But there is also the embarrassing chapter in which al-Ḥallāj confronts himself with Pharaoh and Iblīs and claims that he will not recant from his "Anā al-ḥaqq" any more than Pharaoh will recant from his statement "I am your highest Lord" (surah 79:24) or Satan from his remark vis-à-vis Adam that "I am better than he" (surah 7:11). Small wonder that such sentences shocked the Muslims of Baghdad and that more than once it was asked what, then, was the difference between the "I" of al-Ḥallāj and that of Pharaoh. Rūmī answered in his Mathnavī that "Pharaoh saw only himself while al-Ḥallāj saw only God—hence his claim was a sign of grace while Pharaoh's claim turned into a curse."
Al-Ḥallāj's Satanology has deeply impressed one trend in later Sufism (including Aḥmad al-Ghazālī, Sarmad, and Shāh ʿAbd al-Laṭīf, among others). He sees Iblīs caught between the divine order to fall down before the newly created Adam and the divine will that nothing besides God himself should be worshiped. Iblis prefers to obey the divine will and to prove himself as the true monotheist who looks only at God, as a faithful lover who happily wears the garment of curse that is given him as a result of his obstinacy, although he avers, according to al-Ḥallāj, "Juḥūdī laka taqdīs" ("My rebellion means to declare thee holy").
It has been said that al-Ḥallāj tried to live in accordance with the Qurʾanic description of Jesus, and his use of such Christian theological terms as nāsūt ("humanity") and lāhūt ("divinity") in speaking of God has led several scholars in East and West to believe that he was a crypto-Christian. His death on the gallows, as on the cross, would fit well into this picture.
Ṣūfīs of the following generations often quoted the sayings of al-Ḥallāj without identifying him, but, on a larger scale, his true revival began in the twelfth century. Rūzbihān-i Baqlī continued the tradition that must have been alive in Shiraz thanks to Ibn Khafīf, and in northeastern Iran, ʿAṭṭār was initiated into Sufism by the spirit of al-Ḥallāj. ʿAṭṭār devoted the most moving chapter of his Tadhkirat al-awliyāʾ to the martyr-mystic and succeeded in conveying to his readers al-Ḥallāj's daring love and willingness to suffer. This chapter became the source for virtually all later descriptions of al-Ḥallāj's life and death in the Persianate world, be it in Persian verse, Sindhi drama, or Turkish poetry. The great mystical poets quoted him, although Rūmī held that his master, Shams al-Dīn, was much superior to al-Ḥallāj, who, he said, was only a lover, not a beloved. The sober Ṣūfī orders likewise remained critical of him; they accused him of not having reached true annihilation, for "the water makes noise only so long as it does not yet boil," and they pointed out that the vessel of his spirit was too shallow to keep the contents of love as it behooves.
But wherever the dangerous power of love is described, the name Manṣūr appears. Interestingly, it is most prominent in the folk poetry of Sind and the areas through which al-Ḥallāj wandered shortly after 900 (even in the Ismaʿīlī verses called ginān s). There, the bards sing how "the gallows became his bridal bed" and praise him as the one who drank and dispensed intoxicating spiritual wine, the wine of unity. In the Turkish tradition, his name is particularly connected with the Bektashī order of Ṣūfīs, whose initiation takes place at the dār-i Manṣūr ("Manṣūr's gallows"), for the novice has to die within himself before being revived in the order. Popular Arabic tradition invokes Manṣūr's name less frequently than does Persianate mystical poetry, but everywhere he was used as a model of "pantheistic" Sufism—hence the aversion of the orthodox (headed by Ibn Taymīyah) to him.
It was thanks to Massignon's lifelong studies that a new approach to al-Ḥallāj's personality developed in the Islamic countries as well as in the West. The Indian thinker Muhammad Iqbal, the first to rediscover al-Ḥallāj's "dynamic" teachings, praised him in his Jāvīdnāmah (1932) as a kind of forerunner of himself, "who brought resurrection to the spiritually dead." After World War II, al-Ḥallāj became more prominent among the Arabs. Classified as an "Islamic Kierkegaard" by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī, he figures in the works of progressive Arab writers as an important symbol of freedom and struggle against the establishment. In a drama devoted to him, Maʾsat al-Ḥallāj (1964) by Ṣalāḥ ʿAbd al-Ṣabūr, his social engagement is emphasized, and in the verse of Adonīs and al-Bayatī he appears in surrealistic, paradoxical forms. In the Indian subcontinent, his name and numerous allusions to gallows and rope have been used to point to those who fought for freedom from colonial powers or against unjust governments. In Iran, the name Ḥusayn ibn Manṣūr is uttered along with that of Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, the Prophet's grandson, in Shīʿī Muḥarram processions.
Thus, al-Ḥallāj, "who left the pulpit and spoke out his heart's secret on the gallows," is still very much alive. Even though much of his subtle theology is not properly understood by the general populace, his joy in suffering for love of God has made him a favorite symbol for those who believe in personal piety rather than dry legalism and for those who are willing to suffer for their ideals, be they political or religious.
The major source for al-Hallāj's life and thought is Louis Massignon's The Passion of al-Hallaj, Mystic and Martyr of Islam (1922), 4 vols., translated by Herbert Mason (Princeton, N.J., 1981). Besides writing this great work, and numerous articles devoted to the survival of al-Ḥallāj, Massignon also edited the Kitāb al-ṭawāsīn (Paris, 1913), the Dīvān, or collected poems (first in Journal asiatique 218, January–March 1931, then in several subsequent editions, with constant changes of translation), and, with Paul Kraus, Akhbār al-Ḥallāj (1936), 3d ed. (Paris, 1954). The article on al-Ḥallāj by Massignon and Louis Gardet in the new Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1960–) gives a good survey.
Further, chapters on al-Ḥallāj can be found in every history of Sufism, from Friedrich A. D. Tholuck's Ssufismussive theosophia Persarum pantheistica (Berlin, 1821) to my own Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975). I have also made a survey of al-Ḥallāj's life and work and of his survival in Muslim poetry in Al-Halladsch, Märtyrer der Gottesliebe (Cologne, 1968), and I have devoted a number of articles to al-Ḥallāj's survival in Sindhi, Indo-Persian, and Urdu poetry. The question of al-Ḥallāj 's Satanology is discussed extensively in Peter J. Awn's Satan's Fall and Redemption (Leiden, 1983). The problem of his shaṭhīyāt, or "theopathic locutions," is treated in Carl W. Ernst's Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (Albany, N.Y., 1985); indispensable for the understanding of the shaṭhīyāt is Rūzbihān-i Baqlī's Sharḥ-i shaṭhīyāt, edited by Henry Corbin (Tehran and Paris, 1966).
Annemarie Schimmel (1987)