The passion of Hussein Hallaj: voices of dissent (part 2)

by Shaheryar Ali

The movement of Mysticism emerged as a reaction against the nexus of Arab imperialism, the clerics and the emergence of culture of the rich and the fashionable, against which the “rough shirt” of wool became the symbol of resistance and etymological root of the word “Sufi” [though controversial from Soof] , I continue the story from where I left it-….

Bayazeed and Rabiya shook the very foundations of “Islam” as defined by the Mullahs. Many of the great Sufis were killed by the Kings but they became the “heroes” of the masses. Yet another result was the sudden increase in conversions to Islam in the conquered land [a comparative study of conversion to Islam during Arab Imperialism suggests that very little conversion occurred during Umayyad and early Abbasid periods, but a sudden surge occurred as mysticism became a full movement] [A fact further highlighted by the fact that the “Shariah or law based Islam to this day is not popular in conquered Moslem lands. From Iran to Afghanistan, and from Sindh to India, masses retain their attachment to Sufis despite the distortions and inherent exploitation of the present day shrine culture.

At the time of Hussein this “rebel” movement had been tamed by Abbasids; they had learned the strength of Sufis had increased due to the maltreatment (by killing and torturing them). So they wooed them. A prestigious University of Baghdad was given to the Mystics. The Nizammiya where “Mysticism” took the form of a scholarly Philosophy; where Persian, Greek, Nestorian and the converts taught various discipline [Hussein Hallaj’s own grand father taught for some time the Philosophy of Being there].

Hallaj’s grandfather was a Zoroastrian, his father converted to Islam. Initially he didn’t tell his father but the wise old man soon discovered when he found that his grandson has been named “Hussein”. Why you named him Hussein? Don’t you know what happened to Hussein, he asked his son Mansoor! The son ignored, as the son’s eyes couldn’t see the fire in the eyes of the child, which the fire worshiper had seen and made him anxious about the name!

The fiery eyes that would later became the identification of Hussein. Years later Hussein will visit his father and ask him to re-light the sacred fire which had been extinguished after the death of his grandfather.

Hussein learned Koran as a child and was educated by the mystics. His piety and intelligence became legendary, the Sufi teachers of his town couldn’t answer his questions. They were amazed by his attitude as Hallaj lived with the poor and the untouchables. Soon they were telling him. Go to Baghdad, Go to Junaid—–

By the time Junaid became the Principle; Sufi movement was fully incorporated into State apparatus. It had become elitist, scholarly and academic, totally cut off from the masses. It was this “alliance” that Hussein despised; he left the “Shrines” and lived in poorest suburbs. He stopped giving lectures to the “scholars” but talked to people in their own voice. He started challenging the “tenets” of Islam [those made by Mullahs” and exposed the hypocrisy of the religious elite that “make people pray but who are evil themselves”; prayer was supposed to bring Piety and purity, who Fasted but crimes increased.

His first agitation was to refuse to enter into Mecca when he went for the Hajj. He stood outside Mecca and refused to enter. He refused to answer the questions of the people and scholars. When they really annoyed him he declared “I am waiting for the invitation from God, if he wants me to enter into His house, he should call me, I wont enter un-invited.”

It was this very “ego” that Iqbal would later call “Khudi” as in “Khuda bunde se khud pooche, bata teri raza kiya he”.

This answer infuriated all, the great scholar Wasil went to him and told him to be humble and as God doesn’t like this kind of an ego. He refused. Later Junaid ordered him to move to Madina. As he entered Madina, his mood changed and he prayed in Prophet’s Mosque. When he returned to Bagdad, he mocked the Hajj, to expose that people have made it a status symbol, a symbol of pride, and wealth…

He made a replica of Kaaba in his back yard, and started circling it, when people asked him: “O Shaikh what are you doing?”, he replied, “you think that revolving around the Stone and mud is Islam so I am doing it more than you”.

He was actually repeating the thesis of one of earliest teachers of Sufis, the great lady Rabbiya al Basri, who had mocked this ritual before Hallaj.

He never saw the corporate Hajj culture fortunately, or God knows what he would have done. A culture which, has destroyed the very essence of Hajj. Spend millions and live in 5 star hotel with an air conditioned tent, spend dollars and be pious. And for some they must spend all their life’s earning and be humiliated by authorities, live in a tent for the poor, and occasionally die in a stampede.

If you are dictator who has killed innocent children learning Koran in Bajaur on the orders of Bush, the guardians of Kaa’ba will open gates of Kaaba five times for you. When a poor Dhimmi of this dictator overwhelmed by love kisses the wall of Prophet’s shrine, the guardians will beat him for “Shirk”!

Hallaj never saw all this, but he knew it will happen! The Mullahs and their fatwa factories started working. “Qaramati, Qaramati” [An Ismaili sect with anarchist tendencies who resisted the apparent and desired the hidden, insisted esoteric meaning of Hajj rather than its practice] they started shouting . Hallaj was outraged: he started running on the streets of Baghdad shouting “Ahdam ul Kaa’ba”, “Demolish the Kaa’ba” They demanded his death [Later Sufis will discover divine wisdom in these words].

Tales of his piety grew from Baghdad to India, his prayers were answered in minutes, he cured the sick, etc,. Junaid was “out raged”. He called him and snubbed him “you woo illiterate people around you, you mock religion, you perform miracles, you think these petty tricks are tasawuff? live in low company”

Hussein sat at his Master’s feet and said “O Shaikh, do I live with people more low than with whom Jesus use to live?” I don’t do any thing, it He who does everything, He makes me do things, He makes me say things, ask Him to leave me.”

With that he started running on streets of Baghdad, shouting: “O Moslems your God is very cruel, any one on whom He shows love, is killed. He loved Ibrahim and threw him in fire. He loved Jonah and then put him in belly of a fish. He loved Jesus and than put him on cross. He loved Hussein and got him killed in Kerbala. Now He is after me. O Moslems ask Him to leave me.”

Hussein transcended the “traditional religions”. He traveled to Iran, Afghanistan, and even India. He passed through Multan and reached as far as River Ganges. After return from India he always wore the Saffron shirt of Hindu Mystics.

He had discovered God, the Truth and Knowledge. He had discovered Islam, from Turkey to India his unmatched humanism left its mark: each region gave him a name, Hussein, Hallaj, Mansoor, the seer etc.

Then he started protesting with the poor of Baghdad against the evil Minister and the King. He led many a procession; then supported the calls for disobedience and refusal to pay the taxes.

It was then that the Minister went to the king and asked him to implement the fatwas on which Sunni, the Shia and the Sufis all agreed. King refused to comply, as he himself was once cured by prayer of Hussein and the Roman mother of the King was a follower of Hussein considering him Divine [in the tradition of the Nestorian saints].

The minister told him that “People of Baghdad have refused to pay the taxes, the Fitna is on the Streets if you don’t act the Abbasid throne will perish..”

The Mystics or the Sufis were accomplice to the murder, not because of apostasy but because in their words “Hussein had divulged the “great secret” in open” to the masses.”

It was this “Mysticism” that Iqbal later condemned: “Nikal kur Khangahon se ada kur rassam e Shabiri”. Hussein left the Khanqah and was abandoned by the Sufi Elite. He was jailed by the authorities for many years.

And then came the decree for his death.

Hussein was first “stoned” by the crowd, he remained silent. Calm and at ease, the Mullahs and others watching in awe. Junaid the principle of “Nizamiya” and one of teachers of Hussein signed the “Fatwas” by the Mullah. Others Sufis also signed it as their great teacher did.

Only two Sufis refused to sign the decree of death. One was named “Shibli” the one who himself was in “junoon” and the other was a pious lady called ‘Atiya Oofi”.

When every one was stoning him they saw Shibli standing. The grand Mullah asked him to throw a stone as well, he refused. Later the Mullahs said “o Shaikh you are denying God’s shariah , Junaid has signed the fatwa as well..”

Shibli moved to the crowd and threw something at Hussein – it was a Red Rose. As it touched Hussein, he cried loudly for the first time and said “even you Shibli? Who knows the truth?”

Later Hussein was tortured. He was “crucified”. His hands and feet broken, when he died he was burned and his ashes were thrown in the river. It is said that till that time, every thing that touched him shouted “Ana ul Haq”..

Even the Shia clerics agreed on his death

I will die like Christ, he used to say, and did for the same reasons, the reasons of Truth!

“Ana ul Haq”, “I” am the truth”, became the cry of revolution in Moslem world. In Indo Pak he is known as “Mansoor”: a symbol of resistance, humanism, free speech and tolerance. What does that mean? “I” am Truth. Years later, ‘modern’ knowledge would identify this “I” as the “Subjectivity”.

“I” am the Truth [No “other” truth is needed, its freedom fom all tyranny; I is the free Human, the Free Moslem, whose hand is God’s hand]. Its thought that creates the problem of “I” and “you”, observer and observed, universe and God. Every thing is one! And it’s the Truth, as Faiz said:

Uthe ga Ana ul Haq ka naara

Jo mein bhi hun or tum bhi ho—

The great French Scholar Louis Massignon, introduced Hussein to Europe. Since then Hussein’s views have had a great impact on European thought and morality. He is particularly revered by Gnostics, Thalamites, and many others…

The Thelemic Church has high regard for Hussein. He is included in “Order of Maltese Cross.”He enjoys similar respect in other Gnostic churches as well!
Iqbal wrote a Persian poem on Hussein. Along with the great Iranian Poetess Quratulain who was also murdered by Mullahs because she refused to wear Hijab and became a Bahai. Iqbal mentioned both heroes of freedom in Javed Nama.

Islamic mysticism later accepted Hussein as a great Saint and teacher who ever lived—

The English translation of “Tawasin” – Hallaj’s book is available online.


Filed under Islam, Left, Literature, Pakistan, Sufism, Writers

13 responses to “The passion of Hussein Hallaj: voices of dissent (part 2)

  1. Fatima

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  2. Once again Shahryar bhai, I have to say

    Real Sufism is between orthodoxy & ‘liberalism.’

    Was Hallaj sanitized & sanctified by ‘orthodox Sufis’ after his death, or was he turned into a legend of rebellion by local & foreign heretics?

    Certainly Hazrat Data Sahib RA, a saint of very high standing, who lived far closer to his time than you or Massignon, suggests the latter, and traces the legends for Hallaj’s unorthodoxy to 2 heretic sects who claim to be his followers [Kashful mahjub]

    This is mere anecdotal material that you are going on. As for your interpretations of Sufi quotes/poetry, frankly, I don’t think you are qualified as you are outside the Sufi tradition.

    Unsolicited advice, but:

    1. Sufism is learned at the feet of Sufi Masters, otherwise we have literary fantasies and fancies, which I suppose are fine for a Tea House. But not our path to God.

    2. Like the Mullahs you despise, you too, confuse Fiqh with Sharia

    Real Sufis do not.

    salam alaykum

  3. PTH

    thanks for your comment. The reference to Kahsful Majub – an authentic text – adds to the discussion on Hussein Hallaj. In fact thanks for reminding about the two sects that have been mentioned. I had read about them but forgot about them. Will re-read the portions..

    Please write a post here elaborating your point of view and citing the original references.

    About your advice – I cannot write on behalf of Shaheryar but my own view is as follows:

    Yes absolutley Sufism is learnt at the feet of Masters – that is the tariqa (I have been searching for a guide myself) but then He is closer to our jugular vein and Lives in our beings..the Master-disciple relationship originated in the classical golden age of Sufism but it is not the only way of seeking and finding the Truth.

    Secondly, indeed shariah and fiqh are two different concepts. And, Sherry does equate them. But over the last few centuries the boundaries have become blurred. Is it not the case that some of the odious sections of Haddod Laws in Pakistan and other laws enacted inthe name of Shariah (in Sudan and Nigeria for example) are based on man-made interpretations of the Divine word? Shariah has been defined by fiqh in certain parts and that is what causes the confusion in the popular mind.

    regards, R Rumi

  4. Finding God without a shaykh, sure, but understanding the Sufi way… I think I’ll be the voice of dissent ! 🙂

    Thanks for the invitation, most gracious. But I have no point of view, am putting forward that of my shaykhs to the best of my knowledge on my site, which you’ve been most kind to add to your blogroll.

    I am of the opinion that this is a dead end that our young people are pursuing. The solution is to improve our selves, not a magic formula of re-discovering the ‘true Islam’ which was done in by the butler, or by Sufis, or Maulvis, or feudals, or ziaul haq, or what have you.

    So suffice it to say that enlisting a popular misreading of Wahdat ul Wujud in support of socialist-libertarian reformism, blaming some “Other” class for our ills, it has been done, but it’s false– will not work. There was a whole movement along these lines at Karachi University a few years ago. But it’s not Sufism.

  5. sherryx


    Well, thanks! as far as “popular misreading” is concerned, mine is Not the case, my comment in Part 1 makes it perfectly clear, that my method is Not this, rather it a “reconstruction” as new.

    What you call “sufism” is a “sufi-incorporated mullaiat” and the arise of “green turban cult” as mirror image of their anti thesis in Raiwind , is an explicit proof

    The case of “Kashaf ul Mahjoob” is a typical example, it tries to be closer to “orthodoxy” but fails, what is the opinion of Sheria scholars on Kashf ul Mahjoob, has been condemned as heretic. who i call “sharia base”. The conception of Hussein Hallaj has under went numerous twists with in the sufi movement and this opposing and confused “status” of him in sufi movement and of those Sufis who are more “orthodox” within the Sunnite orthodoxy becomes an explicit proof that Mystics were “some thing different”——

    Same is Imam Ghezali, who worked hard to be a champion of “orthodoxy” his very orthodox text has come under accusations of heresy , Javed Ahmad Ghamidi for example [many others , those who oppose him too] can be quoted who mercilessly criticized his conception of Toheed. Ghamidi calls him Imam of religion of mystics [not Islam]

    It can be pointed out what is the justification of Tariqa in Sheria, those who compiled “Hadees” like Bokheri , Muslim and other Imams of Hadees have raised questions on any Ravi who has been mystic. refusing to take riviat from him. The “incorporation of “justification of Tariqa into Sheria” is very late phenomenon. The tension still bitterly divide Sunnite Islam, where every “modern revivalist movement” starts with “Sufism is bida ” theory, Wahab to Maudaudi to Ghamidi , even Iqbal—

    Devotional reading of sufism is not what i desire, i take it as a historical development.

    i dont mean Fikah , at all, i mean Sheria, which i think is a “theoretical construct” , Fikah is “codified sharia” We can show historically the development of Sheria in later centuries, the concept frequently studied as “development of religious thought” [as oppose to fikah] in Islam, from where Iqbal borrows the term.

    my intention is just to challenge the epistemological assumptions that have controlled every study of islam so far

  6. Mystics ARE “something different” and we have a different take on Sharia, too. But nevertheless, Sharia is important for us. If we practice it somewhat differntly from the Maulvs, who think Sharia can only be Fiqh A or Fiqh B, well so what.

    As for being rejected by the other 72 sects, [all 3 scholars you list you list are salafi by the way- can give you more names from the past too!] or even being rejected by many Sunni orthodox, or ahl e Zahir, it does not matter. Its only a point of view. From our point of view they are the ones who are wrong, it is Ghamidi who has invented a new sect.

    Fiqh may be a historical construct, Sharia is not: it is defined, by name, in its common usage in the Holy Qur’an, and used the same way by the Prophet PBUH & the Sahaba and those who followed them too our day…the concept of a sacred Law.

    As for the Muhadditheen’s rule, that reject the hadith of th Zuhhad [Sufis-people of great Zuhd], this is not because they reject Zuhd [asceticism] itself or the Zuhhad. Rather because of Sufis lack of concern for isnad veracity etc. The Sufis to this day are concerned with the meaning of a hadith rather than its ‘authenticity’ according to muhadditheen’s criteria. it’s a matter of perspective.

    Sure many of the orthodoxy accepted Sufis, many didn’t. But for us Sufis, we know we are the Real Islam. So we don’t care too much what the Mullahs think. Do not underestimate Sufis like Imam Junayd RA or even Imam Ghazzali RA. Imam Ghazzali RA was trying to make the Fuqaha understand the value of Sufism, as he had been a Faqih himself. But see how bold he is in al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal, where he states clearly that Sufism is the best Way to the Truth, superior to rationality & the Fiqh sciences. [aql & naql]. It was for the Faqihs good. If they didn’t get it, too bad. The same with other non-Sufis, Shahryar. We’ll try explain it thrice. Then, it’s the Willl of God.

    What about challenging your own epistemological assumptions, Shahryar bhai? Especially in the light of the limits to logical analysis, which has been demonstrated by 20th century philosophy? Russell’s Paradox, Kuhn’s paradigm shift, and Feyerabend etc.?

    What I’m suggesting is, you cannot figure it out with a few books & just your mind, brilliant tho’ it is, for such a young man. [no sarcasm].

  7. sherryx

    thanks for your kind remarks. I will not go in debate, as what you have wrote mostly augment my thesis that most are just “justifications”

    @ if you go through my comments, esp the very long one , in the Part 1, you will see that this is an attempt precisely to reject the “logical analysis”. It is precisely by rejecting the logical analysis that one is able to even attempt to either reconstruct or deconstruct a particular text.

    As far as the issue of Hadees is concerned, ill beg to disagree that objection is not a theological one, it was rather overwhelmingly theological, Their “belief” was under question. The pointed can be stressed further that two fundamental philosophers or theologians whom i dont call “mystic” at all but those who were later declared as mystics, the two who were phenomenal in development of “Sheria” [Not Fiqqa] Hassan Al Basri and Sufian Thawri also became of subject of Notices of Imams of Hadees. Though one can put an empirical question in front of those imams that what hadees were they compiling after refusing Hassan’s contribution in sheria , bcz no such system is empirically possible if one considers the pool of ravis that existed , a huge chunk of it , literally grew around Hassan
    @ Sheria might be a koranic term, but the “meaning” of sheria is a later construct. i use it for “religious thought” the thought that bind all 72 sects despite their fataws of kuffer against each other, the super structure , the one that Iqbal wanted to reconstruct, the philosophical deductions from Koranic text and social conditions, one can also note that “meaning” is a living animal, and text is not just markings of ink on paper, what is written in Koran is understood only by a specific thought, that is as much important as the markings itself, Derrida and Foucault might only have recently understood this fact but those who we are talking bout knew it for centuries , all the mystic verses on “mullah’s reciting of koran” can be quoted.

    @ what is challenged is usually the dominant and established view, before challenging, no other view exist, this is the whole point—

  8. sherryx

    exactly why don’t we see things in light of a “paradigm shift”? Mysticism’s incorporation into orthodox islam was a paradigm shift of sorts. Ghezali was phenomenal to it , that exactly is missed in logical analysis and therefore what you call “Salfi” [though meaning of this term is very indeterminate] call sufism a bida or innovation, they fail to see that orthodoxy is just representation of a “consensus” of experts , that change, changing the orthodoxy itself——

    that though is important in understanding evolution of islamic orthodoxy, we r examining just a tiny dot

  9. To each his own. God bless.

  10. Pingback: Eccentric Optimism » “I am God” - The Mystic Martyr of Baghdad

  11. Arslan

    Sufis do not believe Eisaa alaihissalaam is dead or crucified, so there are lot of mistakes in your article.

  12. sherryx

    @ Arslan, i never said that Sufis believe that Jesus is dead —-

  13. Nabila Mirza

    reality is beyond the comments