858? – 922
by Brother Gerald del Campo
Mansur al-Hallaj was born in the southern Iranian community of Tur in the province of Fars around 858. His full name was Abu Al-mughith Al-husayn Ibn Mansur Al-hallaj. He was a Sufi and one of Islam’s most controversial writers and teachers. Because he was the embodiment of the Muslim experience, Mansur’s life and death represent to many, a reference point in Islamic history.
His grandfather was a Zoroastrian, and was rumored to have been a decadent of Abu Ayyud, a companion of Muhammad. After relocating to a region famous for textiles, his father became a Muslim and may have made a living selling wool.
Al-Hallaj was fascinated with the ascetic way of life at a very young age. He memorized the Qur’an during his teens, and began to retreat from the world to gather with other like minded individuals to study Islamic mysticism.
He later married, and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and stayed there for a year. He began to travel the world abroad, preaching, teaching and writing along the way about the way to an intimate relationship with God. By the time he went on his second pilgrimage to Mecca, several apprentices accompanied him, and after returning to his family for a short period of time, traveled to India and Turkistan to spread the Islamic teachings. After this, he made a third pilgrimage to Mecca, and returned to Baghdad.
The situation in which al-Hallaj taught and wrote was shaped by social, economic, political, and religious stress, which eventually led to his arrest. Sufism was new at the time, and it had provoked extensive opposition from the Muslim orthodoxy. Sufi masters considered his sharing the beauty of mystical experience with the masses undisciplined at best, disobedient at worst. A combination of things probably led to his execution: he was an outspoken moral-political reformist, and there were great similarities between the missionary style of the terrorist Qarmat and his own. It wasn’t long before the political leaders could make a case against him.
Al-Hallaj was considered an “intoxicated Sufi,” who became so enraptured in ecstasy by the presence of the Divine that he was prone to a loss of personal identity, which blurs the lines between the Divine and the Man. During his arrest he experienced one of these breaks and uttered: “Ana al-haqq,” or “I am the Truth” (or God). The statement was not only highly inappropriate in Islam, but echoed the philosophy of the Qarmatians. Those three little words would mark the beginning of the end for al-Hallaj. Still, his trial was lengthy and marked with uncertainty.
He spent 11 years in confinement in Baghdad, and was finally brutally tortured and crucified. There were many witnesses that stated that al-Hallaj was strangely serene while being tortured, and sincerely forgave his persecutors. He is referred to as “Love’s Prophet.”
Today al-Hallaj is one of the most influential Sufi writers and an important character in Islamic history.
“I have seen my Lord with the eye of my heart, and I said: ‘Who are You?’ He said: ‘You.’”
He died March 26, 922.