Al-Hallaj was a wandering prophet, who perceived himself as a part of the Divine Truth, and preached his religious vision in Iran, Iraq, India, and China. The Vizier ordered the execution of Al-Hallaj, accusing him of the sin of proclaiming himself the Truth. According to some experts, before being executed, Al-Hallaj was held in prison for 11 years, during which his followers visited him until they were forbidden to see him (Nusseibeh 132). Al-Hallaj could have escaped punishment by asking forgiveness for his words or even being miraculously released from prison. However, he believed that “ascending to the gallows” would be a worthy completion of the path of a righteous person and believed that he should contribute to the fulfillment of the Law since Allah gave the Law. This paper aims to discuss the earthly journey of the great prophet and thinker Al-Hallaj and how he influenced Islam.
Imprisonment and Execution of Al-Hallaj
Al-Hallaj was executed by the Vizier Hāmid for proclaiming himself the Truth, according to the official version. The real reason for his imprisonment and execution was most likely the ruler’s fear of how popular Al-Hallaj had become with his followers who accompanied him on his travels. Al-Hallaj was not executed immediately; he was initially imprisoned, where, according to experts, he spent 11 years (Nusseibeh 132). The imprisonment did not surprise the prophet-philosopher, who deliberately agreed to such a fate. Friends asked Al-Hallaj to give up his words and receive a pardon, but he believed that imprisonment would increase attention to his words and the Truth of God he preached.
Last Words of Al-Hallaj
The execution of Al-Hallaj was brutal and bloody and took place in front of many spectators, some of whom participated in the execution, and the others part grieved for him. Initially, the executioner ordered his hands to be cut off, which did not change the mood of Al-Hallaj, who continued to preach with a smile on his face. Then the executioner cut off his legs, and Al-Hallaj thanked God for allowing him to walk his earthly path. He also asked the executioners if they could cut off his legs with which he walks in the sky since he exists in two worlds – earthly and heavenly. Al-Hallaj raised his face to his bloody severed hands and performed ablution in blood, and when asked, he replied that this should be the ablution after the prayer of a righteous person. Then the order was given to throw stones at the prophet, and the crowd obeyed the order. After that, his eyes were gouged out, and he lifted his face for another prayer to heaven, asking God not to punish his tormentors for his suffering. After that, the executioner cut off the nose and ears, and then the tongue of the prophet, and when it was time for evening prayer, he cut off his head.
When the execution was over, the audience mourned the prophet. His body was subsequently burned and thrown into the Tiger. When he was executed, drops of blood fell on the floor in the form of the word “Allah,” and the executioners were discouraged by this miracle. When the burnt remains of Al-Hallaj were thrown into the Tigris, they cried, “I am the Truth,” and the people passing along the river heard it. The prophet willed one of the followers that after he was executed and his remains were thrown into the river, Baghdad would be exposed to the threat of flooding, and to stop the flood, he should put the prophet’s clothes on the river bank. The disciple did this, and the Tigris’ waters, which were raging, threatening to overflow the banks, calmed down.
Release of Prisoners on the Eve of Execution
When the day of the execution came, other prisoners were also in prison with Al-Hallaj. He called them and offered to release them. To which the prisoners asked how he was going to do this if he could not free himself. Al-Hallaj made a sign with his hand, and the chains were lifted from the prisoners; then, he made another sign, and the wall of the dungeon was destroyed so that they could be released. The prisoners left the prison, but Al-Hallaj stayed for justice to be done.
Reasons for the Execution of Al-Hallaj
The execution was ordered by quartering, severing the senses, and then chopping off the head and burning the remains. The Vizier Hāmid chose this type of execution because dissidents were executed in this way, and Al-Hallaj probably expressed some revolutionary ideas undermining the rulers’ authority (Massignon 109). The followers of Al-Hallaj were temporarily pardoned after his imprisonment, but they were forbidden to associate with the prophet. For recognizing as a follower of Al-Hallaj and his sermons, the person was threatened with the death penalty. One of the followers, Shākir Baghdādī, was subsequently executed by beheading.
Al-Hallaj and His Perception of the Divine: Why Did Al-Hallaj Call Himself Truth?
Many people, including supporters of conservative Islam and ministers of the temples, warned Al-Hallaj that he should not call himself the Truth but only a messenger or preacher of Truth or someone created by Truth, like any other preacher or clergyman (Robinson 13). Despite these warnings, some of which can be viewed as threats, Al-Hallaj called himself the Truth, as he believed that “a wise man is an extension of God just as the rays are an extension of the sun” (Robinson 13). Shibli and Junayd warned Al-Hallaj that he would be executed and end up on the gallows (Robinson 13). But Al-Hallaj was not worried about the consequences of his preaching, as he believed he was entitled to follow his path.
Wandering and Contribution to the Spread of Islam
Al-Hallaj traveled to many cities, including Torstar, Baghdad, Mecca, Khuzestan, Khorasan, Transoxiana, and Sistan. He also traveled to India, Turkestan, and China to spread Islam among those who worshiped many gods. Within Islamic states, Al-Hallaj visited the capitals and traveled throughout the country, stopping at mosques, where everyone was admitted – beggars, wanderers, and itinerant prophets. Al-Hallaj also lived in ribāts, many of which were built with money allocated for charity, partly to attract believers who preach Islam and partly to provide infrastructure in case of war (Massignon 135). In those days, it was believed that a person who worships God alone in ribāt is much more righteous than one who fasted for a month surrounded by his family, friends, and neighbors. Interestingly, Al-Hallaj donned not the Sufi monastic robes but a long-sleeved caftan worn by the military, as this frightened off the police. He also wore patched beggars’ attire since the contempt with which ordinary people treated people in such clothes also freed Al-Hallaj from the convention.
Thus, the earthly path of the eminent prophet and thinker Al-Hallaj has been discussed. Al-Hallaj was condemned and executed unjustly simply because he was blessed with the gift of Divine Truth. And he shared his religious views with those people who wanted to listen to him or follow him. The rulers feared a riot or that Al-Hallaj would lead a coup d’état; they first imprisoned him and then executed him. His influence on Islam was significant since he preached through his actions and life choices freedom from all conventions and direct communication with the Almighty.
Massignon, Louis. “III. Travels and Apostolate.” The Passion of Al-Hallaj, Mystic, and Martyr of Islam, Volume 1. Princeton University Press, 2019. 135-223.
Massignon, Louis. “IX. The History of the Localizations of Hallājian Tradition.” The Passion of Al-Hallaj, Mystic, and Martyr of Islam, Volume 2. Princeton University Press, 2019. 109-336.
Nusseibeh, Sari. “16. The Philosophers’ Frenzy.” The Story of Reason in Islam. Stanford University Press, 2020. 132-141.
Robinson, Brennan Jeffrey. “I am the Truth (أنا الحق)”: Finding a Critique of Sufism from Three Accounts of Al-Hallaj’s Utterance.” (2017).