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The Path of Love: Jesus in Mystical Islam
Orville Boyd Jenkins
Abu Abdullah al-Husain ibn Mansur al-Hallaj was an Arabic-speaking Persian born in 244 AH/858 AD near Shiraz. At a very early age he became contemplative. His meditations and theology did not spring from objects and phenomena of nature, as is common with mystics, but from “strange texts from the Koran.”44 “Before he was twelve years old, he learned the Kur'an by heart.”45
He sought an inner meaning in the teaching of the suras, not being under external stimulus, but feeling an inner awareness and communion with God. He came to feel his inspiration and revelation to be equal to the experience of Muhammad's in writing the Qur'an, and he tended to judge traditions by his own mystical experience.
At age twenty he met al-Junaid and went through the terrific mortification and asceticism required before introduction to the esoteric experiences of the master. Hallaj continued almost twenty years in “this school of gradual and methodical self-annihilation,”46 then made his first pilgrimage.
For one year he remained in Mecca, sitting in meditation the whole time in the courtyard of the sanctuary, eating each day only a few bites of biscuit with a few drops of water and rising only for ritual ablutions and natural functions. He then returned to Basra and, throwing off the suf, began the public preaching that became the major burden of his life. This preaching ministry carried him from Gujrat, India, to Turkestan, then to the lower areas of China.
He is honored to this day in Turkey as being the first to preach Islam without force of arms. And three villages in Gujrat still call themselves Mansurians because their ancestors were converted by his preaching.47 Al-Junaid broke relations with him because he went against the traditional discipline of secrecy.
Repentance and Grace
Before joining al-Junaid, al-Hallaj had been strongly influenced by Sahl al-Tostari, who emphasized religious duty and man's effort. Al-Tostari was the first to say repentance was a necessary duty, and developed the doctrine of repentance to include all duties and virtues on the path to mystical experience. He was exiled for this doctrine.
But al-Hallaj also emphasized repentance, along with self-renunciation, dedication to God, grace and pity of God to the saints (holy, devout ones), and the reality of God's visitation.48 Mystical experience had never before been offered in public. He also recited verses “manifestly directed against the doctrine of predestination.”49 It's obvious what trouble this could cause.
Communion with God
Al-Hallaj believed that the image of God in man (nasut) could reach up to be fulfilled in communion with that divine nature (lahut) after which it was modeled. He looked to Jesus as the supreme example of glorified, or perfected, humanity, as the actualizer of this Qur'anic concept of the image of God in man. (Jesus would also be the seal of the saints on the judgment day.50)
The lahut and the nasut were actually two natures of God and the goal of man was the reuniting of these two natures in the mystical experience, the hulul,51 indwelling, incarnation, or as Massignon translates it, the visitation.52 The saint at this moment then becomes “the living and personal testimony of God (huwa huwa).” The eternal Spirit meets the created spirit-image through grace and repentance (hulul al-lahut fi' l-nasut).53
This thought formed the foundation of the development of the doctrine of the “Perfect Man,” taken up from al-Hallaj and developed by the Spaniard Ibnul 'Arabi and the Persian Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi. (Incidentally, “ar-Rumi” means “The Roman,” or “The Christian.” It appears this name was given to Jalal ad-Din because of his devotion to Jesus. Another explanation, however, that he was called ar-Rum because his family had moved to the Rum province of Anatolia in Turkey.)
Al-Hallaj finds in Jesus the perfect type of “deified man,” transfigured into the representative of God, a union of divine will and nature. He, as Jesus, became one with al-Haqq (“The True One,” or “The Truth”) himself. Thus we find him making statements reminiscent of Jesus, perhaps by conscious meditation on this figure in the fourth gospel.
I am he whom I love, and he whom I love is I; we are two souls dwelling in one body. When thou seest me, thou seest him; and when thou seest him, thou seest us.54
This sense of communion and oneness with God who was the Truth led him to say in testimony, “I am the Truth,” and for this he was put to death. To the orthodox Muslims, this was blasphemy, for God can be no part of his creation. (Cf John 10:29-33.) Theologically, also, there were problems, because hulul was the term for the hated Christian doctrine of incarnation, though al-Hallaj hardly meant that by the term. Further, the terms lahut and nasut are used in Syrian Christianity for the two natures of Christ.
Hallaj was not a pantheist, though some have classed him thus. He was interested in personal communion with God. The later pantheists did draw upon his thought, but it is in the century following him that pantheism develops, with Abu Sa'id. Hallaj never claims God to be all things; he confesses the transcendence of God. But he feels God fills him and works in him.55
He sees himself, in fact, as a sign:
If ye do not recognize God, at least recognize His signs, I am that sign, I am the Creative Truth (ana 'l-haqq), because through the truth, I am truth eternally .... And I, though I am killed and crucified, and though my hands and feet are cut off – I do not recant.56
For Hallaj, union involves an adhesion of the understanding to the commandments of God. The intelligence and the will are acted on by divine grace. Thus the state of trance is not the highest, but beyond that is Sahu – permanent wakeful union with God.
God does not replace man's will, as other Sufis taught, but he attenuates it, completes it, perfects it. The mystic retains control of his faculties, which are now sanctified. Jesus called men to look beyond himself and to the God who sent him (John 5). Likewise, al Hallaj wanted to be a “symbol amongst men,” used by God to proclaim His essence to them.57
Most of the miracles of his life are of a serious nature, not simply fanciful, and are verified by contemporaries who recorded and collected them during his lifetime. “Hallaj maintained they were the mark of a mystical union with the divine will and used them to attract converts.”58 “So complete was his absorption in serving the Will of God as he conceived it to be that he was utterly reckless of the consequences, which in his case were certainly disastrous.”59
In Rodwell's translation of the Qur'an, Jesus is referred to as “an instance of divine power” (sura 43:55-59). No doubt, al-Hallaj felt himself to be just such a sign, an instance of divine power.
Love vs Law
Many felt his preaching of love would encourage disrespect for the law. He was charged with inciting anarchy by preaching a personal communion with God and by claiming personal authority from God. Many were angered because he preached to believers and unbelievers alike.
He had always sought to reconcile his mystical experiences with the Sunnite tradition and had, in fact, written numerous works on the Sunna, according to Ibn Khallikan. But his demands for social reform and justice, and his influence on the people were an annoyance to many in power.
Though he himself was orthodox enough, his associations through the years had been on the basis of social reform or learning, not orthodoxy.60
Death an a Cross
In 297 AH, he was charged with claiming divine powers, and after eight years in prison, he was tortured and put to death. Accounts say he was flogged one thousand strokes, his hands and feet cut off, then he was exposed on a stake (cross: maslub), and finally decapitated and burned.
In death his attitude is like that of Jesus, and perhaps he was calling to mind the Gospel account as he prayed:
And these Thy servants who are gathered to slay me, in zeal for thy religion and in desire to win thy favor, forgive them, O Lord, and have mercy upon them.... Glory unto thee in whatsoever Thou doest, and glory to Thee in whatsoever Thou willest.61
The tomb of al-Hallaj continues to be visited by Pilgrims from distant towns. There are no openly Hallajian Sufis today, but he is still invoked. We close with this prayer of Hallaj.
My God, I fear you, for I am a sinner,
And I hope in you, for I am a believer;
I depend upon your generosity, for I am inadequate in myself;
I have confidence in your mercy, for I ask pardon;
I continue my prayer to you, for I think well of you.62
O people! Worship your Lord, Who has created you and those before you, so that you maybe saved.
44 Thompson, p. 383.
45 Encyclopedia (1954), Vol. 3: p. 100.
46 Thompson, pp. 385-386.
47 Ibid., pp. 388-389.
48 Ibid., and Nicholson, p. 214.
49 Khallikan (comments by translator De Slane), p. 423-426.
50 Guillaume, p. 145; and Thompson, p. 388.
51 Thompson, p. 392.
52 Massignon, Essai, p. 39; and Akhbar, pp. 62-63.
53 Encyclopedie, p. 254.
54 Khallikan, p. 423.
55 Nicholson, pp. 216-219; and Thompson, pp. 390-391.
56 Arberry, p. 60.
57 Nicholson, p. 217; and Thompson, pp. 389-391.
58 Thompson, p. 389.
59 Arberry, p. 60.
60 Nicholson, p. 218, and Thompson, p. 388; and Encyclopedia (1954), Vol. 3: 101- 102; and Khallikan, p. 424.
61 Nicholson, p. 217.
62 Massignon, Akhbar, p. 156.
Originally published in The Path of Love (Nairobi: Communication Press, 1984.)
Revised and Posted on Thoughts and Resources 19 November 2007
Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 1984, 2007 by Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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