By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam
24 May, 2015
Hussain bin Mansur Hallaj who was a Sufi in Baghdad in the 9th and 10th century A.D. His famous slogan of “An al Haque” was the cause of his being crucified by the government at the behest of the Ulema of the time. His Sufi thoughts could not be understood by the Ulema and the general Muslims in the right perspective and he was declared guilty of Kufr. But a study of the political situation of the time shows that he was killed for political reasons, and not for his claim of being God.
He is commonly known as Mansur Hallaj though his real name was Abul Mughith Hussain. Mansur Hallaj was his father’s name.
Hussain was born in a village called Tur near Sheraz in Iran in 857 A.D. He received religious education in Wasta where his family had migrated for economic reasons. By the time he was 16 years old, he completed memorizing the Quran. 7th century to the tenth century was the peak of Sufi movement in the Islamic world. According to the tradition of the age, Hussain too became a disciple of a Sufi saint Sahl bin Abdullah Tustari. However, after a few years, he went to Basra in Iraq and joined great Sufi Hasan Basri as his disciple at the age of 20. During his stay in Basra, he came close to a tribe called Bani Majasha’. This tribe was anti-establishment and so they were thorn in the eyes of the caliphate. As a result, he also invited the ire of the government. Consequently, he had to leave Basra and went to Baghdad. Here he became a disciple of a Sufi called Amro bin Usman Makki. But he did not stay here too for long and went to meet Hadhrat Junaid Baghdadi and stayed there for six years. During these years, he acquired knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and other spiritual sciences and became a Sufi himself. Despite being a spiritual figure, Hussain also had his anti-establishment views as he did not like the way the caliphate was being run in Baghdad. Because of that the caliphate looked at him with suspicion. Since the number of his disciples grew, the government became increasingly apprehensive of his intentions. The ministers and also some pro-government Ulema whose bread and butter depended on the caliphate started convincing the caliph that he might pose a threat to the government. So Hussain left Baghdad and went to offer Hajj to Makkah. Here he stayed for three years. From Makkah he went again to Iran and spent five years there. He then came back to his native town Tustar.
His life and thoughts took a major turn after he visited India at the age of 47 in 904 A.D. He came to Multan and then visited to Kashmir which was also a centre of Sufism. Tenth century India saw the peak of Nath Panth institutionalized by Matsyendrananth’s disciple Gorakhnath. Nath Panthis considered Shiva the incarnation of God or Vishnu. They spent the life of an ascetic and had great spiritual powers. Nath Panthis influenced the Sufis of India like Baba Farid, Kabir, Khwaja Gesudaraz and Sufis of Shattariya order. Shattari Sufi Muhammad Ghaus Gwaliari even wrote a book taking inspiration from Hath Yoga, a practice started or developed by Nath Panth. Nath sadhus are said to have the power to walk on water or entering the body of men or animals.
In India, he studied Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions prevalent at the time. Hussain bin Mansur is believed to have learnt magic and other esoteric sciences here. Probably, the spiritual skills learnt from the Nath Panthis were mistaken by the Arab people for magic. Hussain bin Mansur had immense spiritual powers and claimed that God manifests in his voice or words. He claimed that whatever he spoke was not his own words but God’s. To explain this, he would give the example of the tree at the Mount Tur where Prophet Moses heard the voice of God through the tree. Hussain said that when Moses heard the tree saying Anallah “I am Allah”, the tree was not claiming to be God. In the same way when he said his words were the words of God, it did not mean that he was claiming to be God.
Hussain is said to have started propagating his ideas after returning from India. He actively started the work of Dawah in Baghdad and the number of his followers increased. Probably, the theory of Advaitvad being widely practiced in India strengthened his belief in Wahdat ul Wujud which also influenced Ibn-e-Arabi through his Sindhi mentor. The Vedanta philosophy of Advaitvad which is the Arabic for Wahdat ul Wujud is the basis of the Islamic philosophy of Wahdat ul Wujud. The philosophy was propounded by Ibn-e-Arabi who was a disciple of an Indian Sufi from Sindh. That Hussain bin Mansur also started propagating his belief in Wahdat ul Wujud confirms this fact.
Hussain bin Mansur’s beliefs and ideas were first presented to the world by a French investigator and research Louis Massignon. Before that, his life and thoughts were surrounded by hearsay, fiction and myths. Many wrong ideas and beliefs had been ascribed to him. Some scholars had written that he was an ignoramus and did not know anything about the Quran. In another account it is said that he claimed to be God. When he was brought before Caliph Muqtadar, he found him ignorant of the Quran. He is said to be a political conspirator. He would reportedly say, “I am the one who destroyed Aad and Thamud.” Another historian Al Subi says that he was not only illiterate but a mischief maker and wicked person. Historian Al Jouzi says that he was a kafir. Others believed that he was a magician and he visited India to learn magic.
Islamic poet and philosopher also formed a similar opinion about him after studying these account but after he met Louis Massignon and came to know the real facts about him and his real beliefs and ideas, he changed his opinion. Not only that, he also wrote couplets in his praise.
Hallaj Ki Lekin Ye Riwayat Hai Ke Phir
Ek Mard-E-Qalandar Ne Kiya Raaz-E-Khudi Faash
Louis Massignon was an orientalist and got hold of Hussain’s book, Kitabut Tawaseen in Istanbul. The book is in Arabic. He learnt Arabic and started his research on Hussain’s life and beliefs. He was the first person who brought Hussain bin Mansur to light and the world came to know the truth about him. Massignon compiled Tawaseen with appropriate explanations in 1913. Hussain’s religious beliefs and ideas are manifest in Tawaseen. It is in this book that he wrote “An alhaque” which gave his political opponents the excuse to get him killed. Baghdadi Khalifa Muqtadar billah’s minister Hamid bin Abbas advised the caliph to kill him to curb Hussain’s growing influence. Mufti Daud Isfahani issued the first fatwa against him. This shows how ‘royal clerics’ were used by calipohs and kings to suppress dissent. Following the fatwa, Hussain was arrested and sent behind bars for one year. Next year, he escapted from the jail and went to Khuzastan but was arrested again thanks to betrayal of his own slave. This time he was jailed for eight years. But after one year, he was arrested again at the insistence of the minister Hamid bin Abbas. This shows Hamid’s personal grudge against him. According to Massignon, 84 Ulema testified against him and the case against him continued for one year. He was sentenced to death by hanging. After hanging to death, his organs were amputated and finally his dead body was burnt. In another account, his head was burnt. Before dying Hussain is said to have said:
“O my God! If you had shown them what I am seeing, they would have never punished me; and if you had concealed also from me what you have concealed from them, I would never have raised the slogan of An al Haque. O God, forgive my killers.”
After that he was lashed. Then the executioner struck his head with an axe. After that he was hanged. Even then he remained alive till the next day. When he died, his head was cut off and his body was burnt.
In Tazkiratul Aulia, it is written that the sound of an al Haque came from every amputated organ of Hussain. The drops of his blood would take the shape of Allah and An al Haque. He knew that he would be burnt. So he had said that after his death, a storm would arise in the river Dajla. He had instructed people sprinkle his ashes on the river to calm it. Historians say that the same happened. A severe storm arose after his death. His ashes were sprinkled in the water to calm the river.
Hussain was not an illiterate person. He was a Hafiz-e-Quran. He strictly followed the Shariah and offered five times prayers. He had knowledge of literature, Sufism and philosophy. Historian Ibn-e-Nadim’s view that he was ignorant of all sciences is wrong. It is said that he had authored 46 books and a collection of poems in Arabic but all were lost. Only Kitabut Tawaseen exists which is replete with Quranic verses and references which is proof that he knew Quran and his style was highly academic and decorative.
Though many scholars and religious figures of Islam are against Hussain bin Mansur, major Sufis and religious thinkers of Arab and Iran considered him a true Muslim and a great Sufi. Among them are Ghazali, Fariduddin Attar, Abu Bakr Shibli and Data Ganj Bakhsh.
In his book Mishkatul Anwar, Ghazali has written, “The words (an al Haque came out of Hussain bin Mansur’s mouth in a state of sukr (ecstasy) and therefore, he cannot be penalized.”
Sheikh Fariduddin Attar calls him Qatilillah fi Sabilillah (martyred in the path of God).
Ibn-e-Tufail says that Mansur’s slogan of An al Haque was a result of his metaphysical state of mind and spiritual ecstasy which is derived from dhikr and meditation. Therefore, he did not deserve punishment.”
In his book Tawaseen, Mansur says, “The sound that Moses heard from the tree on Mount Tur was not the voice of the tree but the voice of God. I am also like the tree. This word also belongs to Him.”
This statement was the basis of his persecution which was a political one. This slogan does not prove that he claimed to be God. He only likened himself to a tree. He did not say he was God but said he was Haque (Truth) or a reflection of the Truth.
Syed Sulaiman Nadvi writes:
“Hallaj was not the martyr of an al Haque but a victim of politics. He is not so much guilty of religion as he is a political sinner. The blood of his innocence is not on the pen of Ulema but on the sword of rulers.”
Though Syed Sulaiman Nadvi defends Hussain bin Mansur, he also gives a clean chit to the Ulema who issued Fatwas of death for him only to please their political masters.
Dr Yusuf Hussain writes in his book “Hafiz and Iqbal”:
“Hafiz said about Hallaj that his sin was that he revealed the secret of his friend (God). Iqbal says that it was the misconception of the Ulema that they could not gauge the real spiritual instincts of Hallaj correctly.”
Atiqur Rahman Usmani in his Urdu translation of Tawaseen writes:
“He was very fond of travelling. So he toured many countries including Indian subcontinent. During his travels, he came in contact with the beliefs and ideas of other communities. This developed in him the spirit of bringing about a social revolution in his people. As a reformer, he wanted that the sense of dignity and self respect should be awakened among the Muslims so that they could retain their distinct personality and identity and could strive to reclaim their rights.”
Perhaps, this was the reason the contemporary government felt that he Hussain was trying to topple the government. The Muslims of his age were spiritually and mentally dead and were spending their lives like slaves and the caliphate did not want them reclaim their dignity and self respect. To thwart Hussain’s efforts to bring about a social and spiritual revolution among the Muslims, the government used the court Ulema to issue Fatwas of apostasy against him so that on the basis of the fatwa the government could remove him from its path forever.
Therefore, Hussain bin Mansur was not a religious sinner but a political victim because he wanted to bring the Muslim community alive that would have posed a serious threat to the status quo.