By Rachid Acim
By Rachid Acim
Beni Mellal – If you ask any ordinary Muslim about al-Hallaj, few will manage to give a positive response of him. But, if ever you ask the Sufis, they will all agree on one thing: Al-Hallaj was undoubtedly a great mystic very much absorbed in the divine.
He died for the love of the One; hence his utter extinction. So, who is this man who has been of great inspiration to so many orientalists in the West? What made him so controversial and less acceptable in the East?
As a matter of truth, a wide range of Muslim scholars feel less comfortable with the writings of al-Hallaj. They judged them according to the degree of their understanding. Thus, they did not fathom the essence of this man, and they were left all to blame him for what they were unable to understand.
Both a Persian mystic and a revolutionary teacher of Sufism, al-Hallaj was born around 858 in Fars to a cotton-carder. In his youth, he took the Qur’an by heart and he renounced all worldly pleasures to learn more about mysticism.
His travels to India and Central Asia helped him gain more followers, with whom he performed the Islamic ritual of the Haj, literally pilgrimage. His spiritual master at that time was al-Junayd al-Bghdadi, a central figure in the golden chain of many Sufi orders, revered for his moderate Sufi practices.
The environment wherein al-Hallaj preached his Sufi teachings was known for its social, political and religious tensions. These are some of the factors that led to his arrest and execution. His strange ideas and odd thoughts were misinterpreted by the religious authorities of the time and made of him a suspected person in all people’s eyes.
Many Sufi and non-Sufi scholars would declare al-Hallaj as an anomaly. He was accused of sharing some hidden secrets publicly with the masses. This led him to have many enemies. Some took him for a fool. Others took him for an insane. However, those who tasted his insight and remarkable preachings sensed that al-Hallaj was an intoxicated mystic, drinking from the spiritual wine as fully depicted by Ibn Farid in his al- Khamriyyate.
The religious scholars during the Abbasids’ dynasty waged a war against Sufis. They could hardly leave the Sufi followers be at ease with their practices. Serious incidents occurred, many of which were reported to the Caliph, the leader of believers.
Al-Hallaj was not safe from such conspiracy targeting Sufis. He divulged the secret that silenced al-Junayd and Ibn Arabi, and therefore violated some orders and restrictions every Sufi is required to abide by.
His continuous trances both surprised and astonished his compatriots. He could not resist the sweetness of this belief and started to speak aloud about the good marvels of an astral paradise he suddenly found himself in.
He uttered Ana l-Haqq “I am the Truth” and he opened a hole that could be closed only by his execution. Those who were much concerned with the surface of the debate thought al-Hallaj was relegating himself to the position of the divine.
Sure, that was not true.
And those who penetrated into the substance of things realized that al-Hallaj meant that he was in the right path, that what he discovered is the Truth. This Truth spoke in him as it did in the Sufi gatherings but silently.
He uttered another statement, “There is nothing wrapped in my turban but God”, meanwhile pointing to his cloak whilst saying, Ma fi Jubbati illa –l-Lah (There is nothing in my cloak but God.”
Again, such statements were very bizarre but that was one facet of al-Hallaj rhetoric. He could not speak to people in their language and he was considered as a big heretic. Consequently, his utterances brought about his trial and his public execution on March, 922.
Another utterance that bewildered his enemies was Ma’boudokom Ta’ta Qadami “The one you worship is under my feet”.
An anecdote narrated upon al-Hallaj’s execution was that certain people, who were much skeptical about his utterances, found some coins under his feet.
If this version proves to be true, then the execution was unfair since al-Hallaj denounced materialism but in his special way.
Another version suggests that al-Hallaj was in total union with the divine, a doctrine which many scholars would fervently decline. But in my view, his state can be likened to a drop of water that has returned to the infinite ocean. The drop has melted into the ocean and it is very difficult to single it out.
No doubt, Western scholars fell for al-Hallaj because they took him for Jesus Christ; he seemed to incarnate the idea of suffering peculiar to Christendom. He was executed in Public in Baghdad. Shockingly, he was cut into many pieces and his remains were burnt. But he was smiling, even as the executioner chopped off his head.
No matter what kind of attitude we may have of him, al-Hallaj will remain a controversial mystic believer who enriched the world literature with his unique trances and savory statements.
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