Monday, 16 July 2012

Mansur Al-Hallaj (منصور حلاج)

Mansur Al-Hallaj

Mansur al-Hallaj (Persianمنصور حلاج‎ Mansūr-e Ḥallāj; full name Abū al-Muġīṭ Husayn Manṣūr al-Ḥallāğ) (c. 858 – March 26, 922) (Hijri c. 244 AH – 309 AH) was a Persian[1] mystic, revolutionary writer and pious teacher of Sufism most famous for his poetry, accusation of heresy and for his execution at the orders of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadirafter a long, drawn-out investigation[2].

Early life

Al-Hallaj was born around 858 in Fars province of Persia to a cotton-carder (Hallaj means "cotton-carder" in Arabic). His grandfather was a Zoroastrian.[3] His father lived a simple life, and this form of lifestyle greatly interested the young Al-Hallaj. As a youngster he memorized the Qur'an and would often retreat from worldly pursuits to join other mystics in study.

Al-Hallaj later married and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he stayed for one year, facing the mosque, in fasting and total silence. After his stay at the city, he traveled extensively and wrote and taught along the way. He traveled as far as India and Central Asia gaining many followers, many of whom accompanied him on his second and third trips to Mecca. After this period of travel, he settled down in the Abbasid capital of Baghdad.

During his early lifetime he was a disciple of Junayd Baghdadi and Amr al-Makki, but was later rejected by them both. Sahl al-Tustariwas also one of Al-Hallaj's early teachers.

Teachings, arrest and imprisonment

Among other Sufis, Al-Hallaj was an anomaly. Many Sufi masters felt that it was inappropriate to share mysticism with the masses, yet Al-Hallaj openly did so in his writings and through his teachings. He thus began to make enemies. This was exacerbated by occasions when he would fall into trances which he attributed to being in the presence of God.
During one of these trances, he would utter أنا الحق Anā l-Ḥaqq "I am The Truth," which was taken to mean that he was claiming to be God, since al-Ḥaqq "the Truth" is one of the Ninety Nine Names of Allah. In another controversial statement, al-Hallaj claimed "There is nothing wrapped in my turban but God," and similarly he would point to his cloak and say, ما في جبتي إلا الله Mā fī jubbatī illā l-Lāh "There is nothing in my cloak but God."
These utterances led to a long trial, and his subsequent imprisonment for 11 years in a Baghdad prison. He was publicly executed on March 26, 922.


Hallaj wrote many works in both prose and poetry. His best known written work is the Kitab al-Tawasin (كتاب الطواسين), which includes two brief chapters devoted to a dialogue of Satan (Iblis) and God, where Satan refuses to bow to Adam, although God asks him to do so. His refusal is due to a misconceived idea of God's uniqueness and because of his refusal to abandon himself to God in love. Hallaj criticizes the staleness of his adoration (Mason, 51-3). Al-Hallaj stated in this book:[5]
If you do not recognize God, at least recognize His sign, I am the creative truth —Ana al-Haqq—,
because through the truth, I am eternal truth.

Beliefs and principles

Mystical universalism

His method was one of "universalist mystical introspection: It was at the bottom of the heart that he looked for God and wanted to make others find Him. He believed one had to go beyond the forms of religious rites to reach divine reality. Thus, he used without hesitation the terminology of his opponents, which he set right and refined, ready to make himself hostage of the denominational logic of others." (Massignon: "Perspective Transhistorique," p. 76) Even beyond the Muslim faith, Hallaj was concerned with the whole of humanity, as he desired to communicate to them "that strange, patient and shameful, desire for God, which was characteristic for him." (Massignon, p. 77) This was the reason for his voyage beyond the Muslim world (shafa'a) to India and China.

Spiritual meaning of the pilgrimage to Mecca

In the trial that led to his execution, he was accused of preaching against the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj), which he, however, had performed three times. In reality, his concern was more with the spiritual meaning of Hajj, and he thus "spoke of the spiritual efficacy and legitimacy of symbolic pilgrimage in one's own home." (Mason, 25) For him, the most important part of the pilgrimage to Mecca was the prayer at Mount Arafat, commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham in an offering of oneself.

Re-interpretation of the tawhid and desire for unification with God

Al-Hallaj believed that it was only God who could pronounce the Tawhid, whereas man's prayer was to be one of kun, surrender to his will: "Love means to stand next to the Beloved, renouncing oneself entirely and transforming oneself in accordance to Him." (Massignon, 74) He spoke of God as his "Beloved," "Friend" "You," and felt that "his only self was (God)," to the point that he could not even remember his own name." (Mason, 26)


Mansur believed in union with the Divine, that God was within him, and that he and God had become one and the same. Mansur was cut into many pieces because in the state of ecstacy he exclaimed Ana Abrar-al Haq "I am the Abrar of truth". He was executed in public in Baghdad. They cut him into pieces and then they burnt his remains. He kept repeating "I am the Truth" as they kept cutting his arms, legs, tongue and finally his head. He was smiling, even as they chopped off his head. Al-Hallaj wanted to testify of this relationship to God to others thus even asking his fellow Muslims to kill him (Massignon, 79) and accepting his execution, saying that "what is important for the ecstatic is for the One to reduce him to oneness." (Massignon, 87) He also referred to the martyrdom of Christ, saying he also wanted to die "in the supreme confession of the cross" (Olivier Clément. Dio è carita, p. 41) Like Christ, he gave his execution a redemptive significance, believing as he did that his death "was uniting his beloved God and His community of Muslims against himself and thereby bore witness in extremis to the tawhid (the oneness) of both." (Mason, 25)

For his desire of oneness with God, many Muslims criticized him as a "'crypto-Christian' for distorting the monotheistic revelation in a Christian way." (Mason, 25). His death is described byAttar as a heroic act, as when they are taking him to court, a Sufi asks him: "What is love?" He answers: "You will see it today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow." They killed him that day, burned him the next day and threw his ashes to the wind the day after that. "This is love," Attar says. His legs were cut off, he smiled and said, "I used to walk the earth with these legs, now there's only one step to heaven, cut that if you can." And when his hands were cut off he paints his face with his own blood, when asked why, he says: "I have lost a lot of blood, and I know my face has turned yellow, I don't want to look pale-faced (as of fear)... ."

Contemporary views

The writings of al-Hallaj are important to Sufi groups. His example is seen by some as one that should be emulated, especially his calm demeanor in the face of torture and his forgiving of his tormentors. Many honor him as an adept who came to realize the inherent divine nature of all men and women. While many Sufis theorize that Hallaj was a reflection of God's truth, scholars of the other Islamic schools of thought continue to see him as a heretic and a deviant.[6]

The supporters of Mansur have interpreted his statement as meaning, "God has emptied me of everything but Himself." According to them, Mansur never denied God's Oneness and was a strict monotheist. However, he believed that the actions of man when performed in total accordance with God's pleasure, lead to a blissful unification with him.[7] His life was studied extensively by the French scholar of Islam, Louis Massignon.

Further reading

  • E. G. Browne. Literary History of Persia. (Four volumes, 2,256 pages, and twenty-five years in the writing). 1998. ISBN 0-7007-0406-X
  • Herbert Mason. Memoir of a Friend: Louis Massignon. Notre Dame 1983: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Louis Massignon. "Perspective Transhistorique sur la vie de Hallaj," in: Parole donnée. Paris 1983: Seuil, p. 73-97.
  • Jan Rypka, History of Iranian Literature. Reidel Publishing Company. 1968 OCLC 460598. ISBN 90-277-0143-1
  • Idries Shah. The Sufis. W.H. Allen: London. 1964
  • Jawid Mojaddedi, ḤALLĀJ,ABU’L-MOḠIṮ ḤOSAYN b. Manṣur b. Maḥammā Bayżāwi in Encyclopædia Iranica [2]


  1.  John Arthur Garraty, Peter Gay, The Columbia History of the World, Harper & Row, 1981, page 288, ISBN 0-88029-004-8
  2.  Glasse, Cyril, The New Encyclopeida of Islam, Alta Mira Press, (2001), p.164
  3.  Jawid Mojaddedi, "ḤALLĀJ,ABU’L-MOḠIṮ ḤOSAYN b. Manṣur b. Maḥammā Bayżāwi" in Encyclopedia Iranica [1]
  4.  Mason, Herbert W. (1995). Al-Hallaj. RoutledgeCurzon. pp. 83.ISBN 0-7007-0311-X.
  5.  Kitaab al-Tawaaseen, Massignon Press, Paris, 1913, vi, 32.
  6.  Van Cleef, Jabez L. (2008). The Tawasin Of Mansur Al-Hallaj, In Verse: A Mystical Treatise On Knowing God, & Invitation To The Dance. CreateSpace. ISBN 1-4382-2493-1. Quoted on the back cover of the book. See 'look inside' on Amazon page.
  7.  Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, Thompson Gale, (2004), p.290
                               File:Brooklyn Museum - The Execution of Mansur Hallaj From the Warren Hastings Album.jpg

                                                                            The Execution of Mansur Hallaj

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