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The Role of Hallaj in the History of Sufism

The two events which played the most crucial role in the development of mystical theories among Sufis were the trial and subsequent execution of Hallaj (309 AH) and the appearance of Ibn al-`Arabi. Both of these factors were external to the world of Sufi orders, yet they gave rise to extensive discussions and controversies among them, shortly after Hallaj’s execution. The Mathnawi of Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi should also be counted among the factors contributing to the development of Sufism, though its sphere of influence was mostly confined to Sufi literature and its related issues. The controversy surrounding Hallaj and the rise of Ibn al-`Arabi, in spite of the interceding three hundred years, together constituted a single focal point for religionists lashing out against Sufi tendencies and the views of these two prominent representatives of the movement. Abu ’l-Mughays Husayn b. Mansur Hallaj, like Junayd and Abu Sa`id Kharraz, was at times referred to as among the imams of Sufism. However, his excommunication by the faqihs of Baghdad as well as the subsequent silence by the members of the school of Junayd, with the exception of Ibn `Ata’, resulted in his loss of status as a leading Sufi master. None the less, he remains a unique figure in the world of Sufism. In spite of his long-standing association with Sahl Tustari, Abu Ya`qub Aqta` and Abu `Uthman Makki, as well as a life spent in ascetic practices and attainment of spiritual stations up to that of annihilation, his activities outside of the sphere of Sufism, or those which were attributed to him, landed him in a position of suspicion. 

His links with Imami Shi`ites as well as with the Qaramitah, whose activities had seriously undermined the authority of the central caliphate, had caused him to fall out of favor with the government. What contributed to this situation were his fiery sermons and journeys during which he performed many karamat (sing. karamah: charisma, i.e. marvel), together with untenable claims and ecstatic expressions, such as “ana ’l-haqq” (“I am haqq” (God)). These also aroused the distrust of other Sufi masters. His claims of divine love of which he spoke passionately among the people of Baghdad and other places and his remarks about what was referred to as `ayn al-jam`, which were viewed by ordinary people as claims to divinity, led to accusations of his belief in hulul and ittihad (union with God). Hallaj was given a fatwa of death by the Zahirite faqih Ibn Dawud (d. 297 AH) who found his alleged claims of divine love and belief in hulul and ittihad as proofs of his infidelity. However, this fatwa was overruled by the opinion of the rival Shafi`ite faqih Ibn Sarij. The supporters of Hallaj made a serious effort to deny these allegations, but they failed to stop his words and poems from being echoed in sermons and circulated among the public. In fact, the truth of these attributions becomes clear when one looks at similar views being expressed by Hallaj’s pupil Faris Dinawari, who also became the target of condemnations by his Sufi peers. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that attributions of hulul and ittihad to Hallaj date back a long way and are also asserted by Shi`ite authorities. In fact, the written reply (tawqi`) by Imam al-Mahdi (PBUH) regarding the case of Hallaj is another indication of his claims. Thus, considering the long history of these assertions during the lifetimes of both Hallaj and Dinawari, it would be less than objective to insist on their spuriousness. 

There have been several ancient personalities who have attempted to deny allegations of Hallaj’s infidelity by denying, without any evidence, such remarks as “subhan man azhar nasutahu / surusna jahutahu ’l-thaqib.” Apart from such remarks, which resulted in the rejection of Hallaj by many Sufi masters, he was denounced by religionists on account of such assertions as those in his book of al-Tawasin, especially in “Tasin al-azal”, regarding Satan’s apology and his comparison with the state of the Holly Prophet (PBUH), which were later formed into a mystical heritage echoed in the works of Ahmad Ghazzali and `Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani, as well as in a poem of Sana`i Ghaznavi and a mystical allegory in the Mathnawi of Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi. Hallaj was eventually imprisoned on the charge of apostasy (301 AH / 914 AD) and executed in the Dhi ’l-Qa`dah of 309 AH. 

Though, it is less than fair to question the tasawwuf of Hallaj and the significance of his mystical views, it is still impossible to formulate a definitive opinion of his beliefs, owing to the paucity and authenticity of the sources, especially as regards the poems attributed to him. Of course, the claims of his supporters who present an exaggerated image of him as someone possessed of the knowledge of the unseen must be rejected out of hand. One such allusion occurs in the poem of Hafiz, which claims Hallaj’s only sin to have been the unveiling of the secrets, an assertion echoed by Hallaj himself.

 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.473- 474

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