Late depiction of the execution of Hallaj at Baghdad, as rendered by a seventeenth century artist in Mughal India, namely Amir Najm al-Din Dihlawi.

The figure of Hallaj became a legendary appendage to Sufi hagiology. Dismissed and condemned by Islamic orthodoxy as a heretic, Hallaj was later resurrected in the pages of a multi-volume scholarly work by Louis Massignon. The attendant political situation at Baghdad, in the early tenth century, led to the downfall of the Abbasid empire.


1.       Research  of  Louis  Massignon

2.       Early  Life

3.       With  Sahl  al-Tustari

4.       The  Basra  Phase  and  Zanj  War

5.       Split  with  Formal  Sufism

6.       A  Distinctive  Preacher

7.       Sorcery  Myth  and  the  Universalist  Tendency

8.       The  shahid ani  and  the  Sufi  abdal

9.       Problems  of  the  Abbasid  Empire

10.     Persecution  at  Baghdad

11.     Trial  and  Execution

12.     Aftermath

13.     Reflections



1.  Research  of  Louis  Massignon

There is no figure in early Sufism who has been more debated and variously depicted than Abu'l Mughith Husayn ibn Mansur ibn Mahamma Baydawi, commonly known as al-Hallaj (c. 858-922). Islamic orthodoxy regarded him as a dire heretic; the Sufis assimilated his inspiration to varying degrees. In more recent times, the French Islamicist Louis Massignon (1883-1962) portrayed Hallaj as a martyr undergoing a "passion," a theme inviting associations of Christianity. Massignon was a leading Roman Catholic intellectual (Gude 1997; Waardenburg 2005). His sympathetic presentation broke new ground in Islamic studies, being remarkable for the degree of empathy demonstrated.

Louis Massignon, 1913

From the age of 25, Professor Massignon studied many documents relating to Hallaj. An Islamicist at the College de France, he produced an erudite book on the subject, originally published in French in 1922. This later developed into a four volume work gaining an English translation. (1) The Passion of Al-Hallaj has been frequently cited, and sometimes contested. The copious bibliography attests to the prodigious labour involved. One can use the data supplied by Massignon without accepting a number of his interpretations. (2)

Massignon became dubbed a "Catholic Muslim." While criticised by some Catholics for his affinity with Islam, he was opposed by some Muslims for giving attention to Sufism, the mystical sector of Islam strongly associated with Hallaj. (3)

A necessity to penetrate legend applies in the instance of Hallaj. Some conservative Muslim critics objected that Massignon exaggerated the importance of Hallaj in Islamic history. Massignon certainly filled a gap in the conventional history of the Abbasid era, providing a detailed outline of events in the life of his subject, while incorporating much information about religious and political trends in the Islamic world of the late Abbasid era. (4) The French scholar admitted ingredients of Greek philosophy in the influences upon Hallaj. However, he did not give much credit to pre-Islamic Iranian religion. Above all, Massignon emphasised the Islamic context, correcting some former European misconceptions. He revealed the extent to which hostile Muslim commentators had distorted the portrayal of Hallaj during the medieval period.

2.  Early  Life

"Hallaj was probably of Iranian, not Arab stock, despite what people said to the contrary later." (5) He was born circa 858 near Bayda, a town in the Iranian province of Fars. This south-western area of Abbasid Iran was still strongly Zoroastrian in population and culture, though the process of conversion to Islam had commenced. The paternal grandfather of Hallaj was a Zoroastrian. His father Mansur, who became a Muslim, was apparently an artisan at the Islamised suburb developing outside Bayda. Hallaj may have been reared from the start in the Arabic language; however, some contemporary Iranian Sufis were not familiar with the new prestige tongue.

Though many of his family group appear to have become Muslims, a minority remained Zoroastrians. "His mother must have been an Arab: of the Harithiya." (6) That detail is not clear, however. The same scholar affirms that Hallaj "did not have maternal Arab parentage." (7) This is the reason given for his location in the mawali sector of Iranian converts to Islam, who are noted for their crafts prowess.

Hallaj was a Sunni Muslm. Nevertheless, he early had two Shi'i Muslim friends at Bayda. His father was a cotton carder (hallaj), a profession thought to be intermittently practised by the son, hence his name. Mansur subsequently moved to the textile centres of Ahwaz and Tustar in the adjoining Khuzistan province of West Iran, eventually settling his family at the Arab town of Wasit in southern Iraq. Young Hallaj lived in that Sunni bastion for several years, being educated in the emerging Hanbali tradition of Quranic exegesis. Some analysts allow that he only became fully Arabicised at this juncture; he may therefore have possessed a childhood knowledge of Persian. He later composed in Arabic.

3.   With Sahl al-Tustari

At Wasit, Hallaj was taught Arabic grammar and the Quran by Hanbali traditionists (muhaddithun). However, at the age of sixteen he left this conservative milieu, setting off for Tustar, a town in Khuzistan where he became the pupil of Sahl al-Tustari (c.818-896). While Sahl gained the repute of a Quranic scholar, he was also a mystic, teaching in a different way to the exoteric traditionists of Wasit. From an early age Sahl had lived an ascetic existence, accustomed to fasting; he had travelled to Basra, Kufa, and Mecca in search of guidance. Sahl also stayed for about two years at Abbadan, the ascetic island retreat (on the Tigris) in Iraq, a site which seems to have been his major inspiration. Back at his native Tustar, he composed a commentary (tafsir) on the Quran that is associated with his contemplative discipline.

The Tafsir of Sahl does not depict God as an aloof creator, but as the ultimate destiny of man, in whose pervasive light man will be absorbed. The human being is depicted as deriving from God, as an infinitely small particle of light. Man has to penetrate his own essence, and in so doing, realize God as the "secret of the self" (sirr an-nafs). The human self (nafs) has both a positive and negative aspect. The positive and most essential aspect is comprised by the divine spark of light incarnate in the human being. The negative aspect is frequently mentioned in the Tafsir, relating to self-assertion, self-centredness, and other diverse egoistic tendencies that cause so many problems. Like Hakim al-Tirmidhi and other early Sufis, Sahl al-Tustari depicts human consciousness as the scene of a struggle between these two conflicting tendencies, amounting to a basic gnostic dualism. (8)

Circa 860, Sahl al-Tustari emerged from ascetic seclusion as a teacher with a circle of disciples. Becoming a controversial figure, he had to leave Tustar for Basra circa 877. He aroused the opposition of legalists by his claim to be hujjat-Allah (the "proof of God"), a theme associated with the awliya ("saints") who became celebrated in the formative lore of Sufism. Such unorthodox claims were viewed as a challenge to traditionist authority. However, Sahl was careful to avoid overt political conflicts, and did not side with opponents of the Abbasid Caliphs; he emphasised conformity with the Quran and sunna (tradition).

Sahl al-Tustari apparently expressed disapproval of miracle stories concerning him. The eleventh century Sufi annalist Qushayri reports that Sahl was believed by enthusiasts to walk on water without getting his feet wet. Sahl himself referred such admirers to the local mosque official who had rescued him from drowning. (9) A disposition to miracle stories became pronounced in the popular Sufism of later centuries. Sahl himself became a legendary Sufi.

At Basra, Sahl achieved profile as a mystical traditionist. There were some affinities here with the contemporary Baghdad "school" of Sufism, though also differences. Similarities include the stress on repentance (tawba), the conflict between the lower self (nafs) and the heart (qalb), and belief in a spiritual hierarchy of saints (awliya). The differences extend to his vegetarianism, plus "his peculiar 'light' cosmology centred on the idea of 'the light of Muhammad', and the conviction that he could access the 'inner meaning' of the Quran." (10)

Meanwhile, the young Hallaj studied under Sahl at Tustar for two years, leaving him for reasons unknown. His departure for Basra occurred at a fraught period of political unrest, when the Zanj revolt and related developments threatened Tustar, which had to be evacuated. Sahl himself was exiled to Basra soon afterwards, the harassing legalists being another problem. "Hallaj retained throughout his life the stamp of Sahl's practices and ideas," (11) including the ascetic discipline and struggle with the nafs. Both of these figures moved to Basra, a town in Southern Iraq, predominantly inhabited by Arabs. Basra was associated with the nearby island of Abbadan, site of the first Sufi monastery founded in 767 CE, visited by pilgrims like Sahl. The monastery was apparently destroyed in 874 during the Zanj revolt.

4.  The  Basra  Phase  and  Zanj  War

Iraq and Ahwaz, 869-883 CE. Courtesy Ro4444, Wikimedia Commons

Basra, located in southern Iraq, was a garrison town during the Islamic conquest. The Arab army, composed of Bedouin tribesmen, established their base circa 638 CE on the site of a Zoroastrian settlement (Vaheshtabad Ardashir) which they destroyed. Basra saw the convergence of many Arab tribes, some of whom were traditional enemies, a situation conducive to uprisings. The population of early Basra was predominantly Arab; a minority Iranian element included captives and mawali (converts to Islam). The increasing commercial activity attracted Indians, Malays, and Africans.

From the eighth century CE, cosmopolitan Basra also became significant as a place of intellectual activity, including entities of Iranian blood. Grammarians, poets, historians, and others were in evidence. Arabic was the prestige tongue. The growth of the new Abbasid capital at Baghdad increased the demand for luxury goods. Basra accordingly derived prosperity as a commercial centre, some merchants even being involved in trade with China. See F. M. Donner, "Basra," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

Hallaj did not profess Sufism (tasawwuf) until he moved to Basra. He there adopted the woollen robe (khirqa) that became identified with Sufis. This uniform was apparently acquired during an initiation by the Arab traditionist (muhaddith) Amr ibn Uthman al-Makki (d. 903/4). An early form of the much later Sufi initiation system was in favour at that period amongst Sufised traditionists.

This conversion was part of a complex situation in which, during 877, Hallaj married the daughter of Abu Yaqub Aqta al-Basri, a disciple of the famous Junayd of Baghdad (d.910). Al-Basri apparently came from a distinguished family of Iranian scribes associated with Ahwaz. This was the only marriage contracted by Hallaj, producing three sons and one daughter. One of those sons, Hamd, contributed an account describing a quarrel between Hallaj and another disciple of Junayd, namely Amr ibn Uthman al-Makki, who disapproved of the marriage. Hallaj is reported to have travelled north to Baghdad, to resolve this matter with Junayd himself. The latter apparently advised patience. Hallaj returned to the home of his father-in-law at Basra. (12)

The intellectual development of Hallaj has been differently explained, being rather more complex than the standard Sufi conversion and ascetic vocation. The hagiographies were reductionist; modern scholarship has revealed something of the detail and implications.

Basra was not an idyllic place at that period, the Zanj war afflicting the vicinity during the years 869-83. The Zanj were black slaves imported from East Africa; many of them laboured in Southern Iraq, as part of a reclamation project for rebuilding neglected canals and creating sugarcane plantations. Lands in the Tigris-Euphrates delta had become marshes, subject to flooding, and abandoned by migrating peasants. Black slaves had been toiling in Southern Iraq for two centuries and more.

To the east of Basra salt marshes were reclaimed by Caliphs, Arab governors, and rich tribal shaykhs, encouraged by a policy of land and tax concessions. Caliphs and governors in particular sought to generate private revenues apart from taxation. To work the new lands, they imported slaves from East Africa in large numbers, thus creating the only plantation-type economy in the Middle East. (13)

Depiction of Zanj rebels

During this period, the Abbasid Caliphate experienced reverses at their new capital of Samarra, north of Baghdad. The removal to Samarra occurred, in 836 CE, because the oppressive Turkish troops were unpopular at Baghdad. During the 860s, rival military factions reduced the Caliphs to mere puppet figures after Turkish guards murdered al-Mutawakkil (rgd 847-61) at the instigation of his son. The orthodox Mutawakkil was a persecutor of Jews and Christians; however, he was not removed for that reason by ambitious schemers. The Caliphate eventually returned to Baghdad in 892, striving to assert Abbasid supremacy over diverse territories.

Meanwhile, a figurehead for revolt was the obscure Ali ibn Muhammad, alias the Sahib al-Zanj, who claimed to be the Alid saviour of the slaves. Probably of mixed origin, he was reared at Samarra, where he lived as a court poet familiar with slaves. In 863 he moved to Bahrain, claiming to be a descendant of Ali. In Arabia he mobilised Shi’ite followers against the Abbasid regime, but lost credibility with the Arab tribes after losing a battle.

Ali transferred to the marshlands near Basra, where abject black slaves were used by wealthy landowners. Tabari suggests that about 15,000 black (zanj) slaves were involved in digging out salt to reclaim the land for plantations; the salt layer was piled into giant mounds. The oppression was severe, the cruel overseers being indifferent to suffering. The Zanj slaves were forced to live on a meagre diet of little more than flour and dates. This form of slavery was very different to the domestic household slavery found elsewhere in Islamic countries.

The Zanj slaves were forced to dig ditches, drain marshland, clean salt flats by removing salt crust, and cultivate cotton and sugarcane plantations. They had to work in malaria-infested swamps, while living in dirty huts made of reeds and palm leaves. A high mortality rate was replenished by a constant supply of enslaved black victims from East Africa (McLeod 2016:117-18). The African slaves had a very low value in the Abbasid economic system, far less than white slaves.

When Ali’s initial attempt to gain support at Basra was squashed, he retreated to Baghdad. Returning later, he concentrated upon the Zanj slaves, whose mood was ripe for rebellion. In 869 he proclaimed the Zanj revolt. This versatile leader captured groups of slaves and their detested overseers, liberating the black slaves and giving them whips to dominate the overseers (who now became slaves). He trained the Zanj to fight. However, at first they were using sticks and farming tools as weapons, with only a few swords amongst them. The Zanj women threw bricks during battles (McLeod 2016:122).

Massignon described the Basra drama as the first example of urban social crisis in Islam. The luxury of the wealthy class was a source of exasperation to the poor; exotic jewellery, African ivory, and Gulf pearls were only a few of the status symbols in evidence. The Basra crisis “ended in a fight to the death between the privileged elite of the City that wanted everything for itself, and the starved proletariat of the plantations and sand-filled oases who pounced on the City” (quoted in Derek Ide, Against Ignoring Race, 2019; Popovic 1999:24-5).

The Zanj slaves found that they were denied any claim to freedom after conversion to Islam. Other grievances were nurtured by the “poor peasants” or Bedouin tribesmen, who joined the Zanj army created by Ali and his black slave assistants. Some commentators say that the majority of slaves were of Nubian or Ethiopian origin. They built the new town of al-Muktarah, constructed not far from Basra.

Major sources are the Islamic historians Tabari and Masudi, both of whom were biased against the Zanj. Tabari's History of the Prophets and Kings includes a detailed version of the Zanj war. The Zanj army fought on territory familiar to them, a location of marshes intersected with canals. They lured their Abbasid enemy into ambushes, and beheaded prisoners. They captured weapons, horses, and boats from the Abbasid forces. Boats were crucial in this amphibious war of the marshes. Catapults were used by both armies. The Abbasid soldiers catapulted severed rebel heads over defending walls in an attempt to demoralise the Zanj guerilla action. Atrocities were committed on both sides of this conflict.

At the outset of rebellion, the Zanj were forced back from an attack on Basra. A local army of pro-Abbasid volunteers went in pursuit, only to encounter a deadly ambush, leading to “the almost complete annihilation of the Basran army” (Adam Ali, The Zanj Revolt: A Slave War, 2019). The Abbasid leaders then despatched elite Turkish troops to quell the revolt. The invaders were unable to negotiate the marshland, being driven out of the swamps to Basra. Afterwards the Zanj rebels defeated another army and blockaded Basra in 870. The rebel leaders sent money and supplies to desert tribes for the purpose of enlisting Bedouin fighters. Arab horsemen now supported the Zanj infantry. After a year, the Zanj leaders exacted a grim revenge on the population they blamed for their afflictions. Probably 10,000-20,000 men were massacred at Basra, while women and children were taken as slaves to al-Mukhtara.

Thereafter the Zanj defeated every army sent against them. The prolonged slave revolt gained extensive territory in Iraq. The Zanj army raided towns like Wasit, burned plantations, and destroyed slave markets. The underdogs fought ferociously, tenaciously surviving. They generally looted and then abandoned the towns they captured. Military strength was afforded by black soldiers who defected from Abbasid armies to join the Zanj (McLeod 2016:121). By 879, the Zanj controlled most of Southern Iraq and Ahwaz. Indeed, they even advanced to within fifty miles of Baghdad.

A reverse occurred when the amplified Abbasid army slowly pushed the rebels back into the marshland, eventually containing the Zanj at al-Mukhtara. "The final battles featured chemical warfare (naphtha) that ignited fires in the enemy's wooden structures, bridges, and ships" (Fields 1987:xiv). However, the strong resistance caused the Abbasid commander al-Muwaffaq to offer amnesty to any rebel wishing to defect, meaning they could join the Abbasid army. The revolt ended in 883 when the Sahib al-Zanj was captured and beheaded. Ali’s remaining supporters were granted amnesty to prevent any further problem. One consequence was an end of the plantation scheme in Iraq.

Vast numbers are reported to have died in the Zanj war (the statistics in Arabic are considered to be inflated by modern historians). Yet “it would not be an exaggeration to put the estimate of the death toll in the tens or even hundreds of thousands” (Adam Ali, article last linked). This conflict devastated agricultural lands of Southern Iraq, resulting in a major decrease of revenue for the royal treasury. Some regions were afflicted with food shortages and famines. The adverse situation greatly weakened Caliphal rule. The Abbasid Empire started to shrink, eventually to a dramatic extent the following century.

At the end of the Zanj war, the Caliph was still iiving in Samarra, the military centre. "The imperial governmental machine was split between Samarra and Baghdad. Both, however, evinced an atmosphere redolent of endless intrigues, plots, and secessions" (Fields 1987:xiv-xv). The Abbasid regime could be merciless. When Yahya of Bahrain, a Zanj rebel leader, was captured and sent to Samarra, the Caliph al-Mutamid (rgd 870-92) watched while the victim was flogged 200 times, suffered the amputation of his arms and legs, and had his throat cut.

Hallaj is associated with the Zanj phenomenon; he would certainly have heard much about the struggle with Abbasid armies. We do not know how he viewed the ferocious Zanj war. His in-laws have been identified with the Shi'ite Karnabai family, who ideologically approved of the Zanj revolt. That family were mawali (convert) notables of Basra.  (14) "We believe that through his brother-in-law, Hallaj lived in the milieu of the Zanj pretender [Ali ibn Mhd], a Zaydi Shi'ite milieu permeated with gnostic propaganda" (MA:11). The intricacies of doctrinal formulation in this sector are prodigious. Massignon emphasised the dissident attitude of Hallaj to the milieu he partly supported. "His grammatical and theological (jafr) lexicon will remain marked throughout his life by this reaction against extremist Shi'ite tribal members" (ibid).

The viewpoint of the young Hallaj was radical "from the time of his youth when he demonstrated against the Caliphal authorities on behalf of the Zanj salt field labourers condemned in southern Iraq to subhuman living conditions and slave labour, a position he repeated on behalf of starving Bedouins who stormed Basra and Baghdad desperate for food." (15)

The father-in-law of Hallaj, Abu Yaqub Aqta, is described as a khatib or secretary, a role implying a scholarly background rare among Sufis of this period. The brother-in-law of Hallaj was Muhammad ibn Said Karnabai of Basra, apparently one of those locals who supported the Zanj revolt. Hallaj seems to have been in some affinity with his brother-in-law. Sympathisers with the Zanj revolt were in danger of being considered extremist Shi'ites by other Muslims. Hallaj evidently felt that the negro slaves (and destitute Bedouins) were the victims of a doctrinal rigidity and ruling class elitism, an Abbasid convenience ignoring human rights and reducing spiritual perspectives.

Massignon may have been correct to infer that Amr al-Makki was jealous of Aqta, having wanted Hallaj to be his own son-in-law. Makki was an Arab who organised pilgrim caravans to Mecca; he gained repute as a Sufi. There developed a custom amongst Sufi shaikhs of marrying their daughters to promising disciples. Makki advised Hallaj to accept the Sufi robe. The young Iranian was twenty years old when he visited Junayd, and may have become a disciple of the latter. However, some analysts consider that the "disciple of Junayd" image was exaggerated in later Sufi annals; Hallaj may only have encountered Junayd on one occasion.

During this troublous period, the Sufis of Baghdad were verbally attacked by the preacher Ghulam Khalil (d.888). Their leader, Abu'l Qasim al-Junayd, is said to have adopted the defensive image of a jurist, maintaining a conventional decorum. Born in Baghdad, his ancestors came from the Iranian town of Nihawand. Junayd's father was a glass-merchant (qawariri). He himself became known as a silk merchant (khazzaz); he was also skilled in the study of Islamic law.

It is reported that al-Junayd restricted the number of people with whom he spoke on sufism to no more than twenty.... When he wrote to a friend, he would word his letter very cautiously.... The sufis held that ultimate religious truths contained an element of mystery and that none should reveal this element of mystery to the uninitiated....Towards the end of Junayd's life, the School of Baghdad suffered much. The sufis were accused of being atheists, infidels and believers in re-incarnation. Every member of the school, including al-Junayd, was publicly accused of heresy.... Ghulam al-Khalil raised the case against the Sufis before the Khalif [Caliph] al-Muwaffaq. Junayd described himself as being simply a jurist by profession and thus escaped the court. (16)

There developed a legend of friction between Junayd and Hallaj, giving the impression that Junayd admired his junior as a mystic but condemned him from the viewpoint of a canonist. Junayd is said to have criticised Hallaj for being too "intoxicated." The senior is alleged to have indicated that Hallaj was unstable in dissociating himself from the tuition of Makki. Junayd himself subsequently dissociated from Makki when the latter accepted an officious position of qadi (judge) at Jeddah, a role evoking the strong disapproval of Junayd. Although such figures are now classified under the conglomerate label of Sufism, some strong differences of outlook existed amongst them.

The preacher Ghulam Khalil seems to have been especially averse to the theme of hulul, denoting a divine indwelling in the soul, interpreted as a threat to conventional doctrine by jurists and theologians. Some of the Iraqi Sufis were probably partial to that theme, which Hallaj appears to have employed extensively. His version should be distinguished from some later confusions. By the eleventh century, the doctrine of hulul had gained the strong disapproval of "orthodox Sufis." Hujwiri refers to "two condemned sects" of Sufism, namely the Hululiyya and the Hallajiyya. (17)

5.  Split  with  Formal  Sufism

The Zanj war ended in 883, the rebels being defeated and assimilated to the Abbasid army. The Caliphate regained control over Basra. Hallaj departed from the scene, undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he stayed in retreat for a year, leading an ascetic existence. Sahl al-Tustari was apparently keeping a low profile at Basra; he did not figure any further in the career of Hallaj, who at some point became ostracised by Makki. The standpoint of Hallaj at this time is not sufficiently clear. His unorthodox outlook was also rejected by his father-in-law Abu Yaqub Aqta, who probably followed the general tactic of conciliation with Sunni legalism. Hallaj relinquished the formal Sufi robe (which he apparently wore at Basra during the Zanj war). This gesture emphasised his tangent to the Baghdad school, and probably also the Basran tradition (nevertheless, he retained Sufi garb as one of his varied costumes in subsequent years).

Hallaj returned to his wife (Umm al-Husayn) at Basra, where he began to speak forthrightly about his beliefs and experiences. These disclosures were apparently the cause of rift with Aqta and Makki. He moved on with his wife to Tustar, possibly because of verbal harassment from Makki, who sent accusing letters from Basra. "Amr Makki must have been doing a lucrative 'business' on the Meccan hajj," (18) meaning the pilgrim caravans he organised.

A political complexion to this rift has been deduced, in that Makki was averse to Shi'ite connections of Aqta's Karnabai family. The position of Aqta must have been complicated by his imprisonment with the related Karnabai family of notables at Basra, who were associated with the Zanj revolt. Aqta conceivably adopted a conservative position in the interests of safety.

The split with Makki is reported to have derived from a difference of view concerning private revelation. Makki evidently did not hold the same view about mystical inner states. Hallaj angered Makki by viewing "interior words" as coming from "the same God who dictated the Quran." In the sources, "Makki denounces Hallaj, not without treachery, as having become a heretic, a false prophet of a new Quran." (19) Makki subsequently sent letters of complaint about Hallaj to eminent persons in Khuzistan, a campaign which caused Hallaj to discard the Sufi robe and to wear instead the coat (qaba) associated with the military, thereafter "frequenting the company of worldly society (abna' al-dunya)." (20) The transition to a different milieu of influences is memorable.

At Tustar, Hallaj is reported to have preached (in Arabic) to local audiences, who have been deduced as Iranians conversant only with a smattering of Arabic. Massignon deduced that Hallaj could not speak the Persian dialects, so he needed intermediaries who translated his words. The popular overtones of this vocation can be misleading, because the idiom of Hallaj was not "orthodox Sufism" but something rather different. He was not wearing Sufi garb, and adopted a vocabulary that could be assimilated by the local Shi'ite population. According to Massignon, his projection had affinities with dialectic of both the Mutazilite theologians and the Shi'ite literati of south-west Iran, a dialectic associated with the formation of philosophy (falsafa). His teaching only survives in fragments, sometimes glossed by the medieval commentators.

The basic trend discernible is that Hallaj moved out of the "ascetic Sufi" milieu into an intensive contact with the "men of the world," meaning the Iranian literati, who were often bureaucrats and landed gentry, with strong interests in Greek philosophy, medicine, alchemy, and astrology. This elevated social stratum has been assessed in terms of the continuation, under Islamic auspices, of the scribes (dibheran) of the Sassanian era. For a lengthy period, these men preserved Pahlavi traditions (associated with Zoroastrianism) alongside their newly acquired use of Arabic. Many of them appear to have been Shi'ites. Nestorian Christians and Jews were also to be found in the ranks of these literati, often with strong interests in Greek philosophy. Islamisation frequently amounted to a veneer amongst this intellectual sector of the population in Iran and Iraq. Even quasi-Buddhist influences have been discerned by the late tenth century, though after the time of Hallaj.

This milieu was an important seedbed for the Muslim version of Greek philosophy, known as falsafa, developing in Baghdad and elsewhere. In relation to this trend, "support for speculative thought and experimental research was cultivated, particularly in science, philosophy, alchemy, medicine, and literary anthologising and criticism; traditionalist Muslim piety and asceticism became interiorised and weakened in such centers." (21)

Mutazili rationalism gained different inflections. The contingent sometimes known as "right wing Mutazilis" were not in agreement with Hallaj, opposing his deference to the hierarchy of saints associated with Sufism. Mutazili theologians repudiated saintship and the powers believed to be achieved by this category. They are thought to have been instrumental at an early date in interpreting popular rumours of "miracles" (credited to Hallaj) as proof of his charlatanism. Hostile sources claim that he created fake phenomena in a special room at Basra contrived for this purpose (though one interpretation is that another entity, with the name of Hallaj, was here being described). Both Mutazilis and Sunni legalists accused him of "sorcery." The gossip may have originated via Hermetic associations in the idiosyncratic "Sabaean" milieu of Basra. Hallaj is reported to have acquired a knowledge of medicine and alchemy; Massignon suggested that the Iranian mystic probably read the Arabic version of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus.

6.  A  Distinctive  Preacher

In his thirtieth year, Hallaj was briefly arrested by Sunni agents and publicly flagellated at Diri, between Sus and Wasit. The Sunni authorities mistook him for a political agitator, possibly an emissary of the Qarmati community, radical Shi'ites who were strongly opposed to the Abbasid government. The Sunni inquisitors believed that he was pleading the cause of an Alid mahdi (saviour). However, the only "mahdi" Hallaj is known to have designated was Jesus, concerning whom he made apocalyptic references as part of his obscure gnostic philosophy. His selection of Jesus as a figurehead has inevitably aroused scholarly speculation; this feature may have been a consequence of his sympathetic contact with Nestorian Christians, or simply a result of his focus in a liberal form of "Sufi asceticism." He was not here employing conventional Shi'ite imamology; indeed, many Imami (Twelver) Shi'is grew resistant to him.

The individualism of Hallaj makes him a difficult subject for commentary. His references to the imam (spiritual leader) were of an esoteric type; Massignon emphasised the gulf between Hallaj and both the Imami Shi'is and the ghulat ("extremist") Shi'is who were very active at that era. His version of the controversial doctrine of hulul (indwelling) can be interpreted as meaning that he himself was a human reflection of the "resurrection" of Jesus - not in any sense of a divine incarnation but in terms of a "God-realisation" attainable by gnostics who adhered to the disciplined path of inner purification.

The popular Sufi legend of Hallaj became that of the "intoxicated" mystic unable to restrain his expression of mystical secrets. Ironically, Hallaj gives indication of having concealed his innermost teachings, with an elaborate sense of caution. His opponents accused him of infidelity in assuming the religious terminology of whichever doctrinal grouping he was communicating with at the time. His underlying strategy was apparently that of negotiating all barriers of religious dogma.

This strategy has not always been viewed in adequate perspective. Louis Massignon, for instance, was quick enough to discern Christian affinities of the subject, while curtailing implications applying elsewhere. A mystic like Hallaj might conceivably have addressed the Qarmati rebels (22) on equal terms, in a universalist manner. Any assumption that he was an Ismaili/Qarmati missionary is no more convincing than to imagine he was a convert to Christianity or Judaism. He remained a Sunni Muslim, though an unorthodox specimen.

Massignon theorised that Hallaj was influenced by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Sayyar al-Nazzam (c. 782-836), a Mutazili opponent of the Manichaean religion; this attribution was employed to suggest that Hallaj opposed the evolutionism of the controversial and contemporary philosopher Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (Rhazes), who favoured the theme of transmigration (tanasukh). This theme was heresy to Islam, and also to Massignon. It is far less certain that Hallaj was so inflexible. (23)

Massignon was generalising against the Qarmati and Druze beliefs in reincarnation; however, there were different versions of tanasukh. While resisting any implication of a strong philosophical link between his mystical hero and Razi, Massignon wanted to believe that Hallaj fitted the Christian concept of the Passion of Christ (without being an Incarnation), a belief which he explicitly tenders in such reflections as: "Hallaj appears before the observer as a strangely living image of the real Christ as we know him." (24)

The commentary of Professor Massignon found proof of the "real Christ" in the hagiographical report that Hallaj extinguished a sacred fire of the Mazdeans (Zoroastrians), "a mission reserved for the Messiah." (25) The report of Ibn Hajj says that Hallaj miraculously relit the flame in the Zoroastrian fire temple at Tustar, when a visiting group of Sufi shaikhs had been gifted the contents of the temple coffer. (26) Such stories prove nothing about the real nature of events.

The commentator must be cautious in accepting the theory of Nazzam's influence on the subject. Nazzam was a zealous member of Mutazili circles at Baghdad, where he denounced the heresy (zandaqa) of Manichaeans. (27) Nazzam died at Baghdad many years before Hallaj was born. Razi's version of Greek philosophy was radically different to the dogmatic views of right wing Mutazili theologians (mutakallimun). Hallaj himself appears to have been in basic opposition to Mutazili attitudes, whatever conciliatory gestures he may have expressed on occasion.

Hallaj may have been in search of disciples; however, his procedures were not typical of missionary enterprises, including Ismaili variants. There seems no doubt that Hallaj often did preach, though not in the customary manner of Quranic zealots or Sufi ascetics. He was not a Ghulam Khalil, meaning the vengeful preacher at Basra who had opposed Nuri and others. Furthermore, the historically verifiable links between Hallaj and Hanbali traditionists and tradesmen of Baghdad prove that he was not bent upon opposing Sunni Islam. Nevertheless, he did evidently feel that aristocratic and bureacratic habits were unduly oppressive for the populace.

A specialist commentary refers to the opposition of Hallaj to "political extremism and tyranny of any colouration." He also distanced himself from "quietistic Sufism," meaning the approach associated with the Baghdad school of "detachment and withdrawal in prayer from any engagement in political activity." (28) His form of activism was so very unusual that diligence is needed in confronting this phenomenon.

Hallaj evidently found himself in a predominantly Shi'ite milieu, one which is rarely understood outside scholarly circles. That milieu did not resemble the much later Shi'ite environment of Safavid and Qajar Iran, when clerical hierocracy and complex doctrines had emerged. The Shi'ite milieu of Hallaj "had been deeply imbued with Hellenistic and neo-gnostic cultural attitudes and thought throughout the century of his birth." His emerging eclecticism was influenced by "a philosophical vocabulary and a dialectic mode." To be sure, he was a defender of the Quran, though some Sunni enemies accused him of "being a Shi'ite or even a Christian in disguise." (29)

After the public flagellation, he left the scene and travelled in distant lands, moving through Khurasan as far as the Oxus River, to the comparative freedom of the Saffarid and Samanid milieux. Hallaj was reputedly on good terms with the rulers of Balkh and other Central Asian cities. He seems to have gained a following amongst the Khalaj Turks, who had become Islamised but not rigidly orthodox. It was possibly during this lengthy sojourn, in the eastern territories of Islam, that a colony of his followers was established at Talaqan, in the vicinity of Balkh. Massignon referred to a dual Hanafite and Shi'ite support attaching to that colony; the ghulat (Shi'ite "extremist") undercurrent was indicated by posthumous events, when the colony reportedly declared Hallaj to be the mahdi, in defiance of official proscription at Baghdad.

7.  Sorcery  Myth  and  the  Universalist  Tendency

In 893, Hallaj returned to Fars and Khuzistan, rejoining his wife and writing his first books. Nearly all of his writings have been lost, save for some poetry and his distinctive Kitab al-Tawasin, described as a miscellany of fragments. (30) That work is too brief and aphoristic to give any complete idea of his teachings, but suffices to indicate the complex gnostic character of his thought. In that text, he "frequently employs line diagrams and cabbalistic symbols, in what seems to be a determined struggle to convey profound mystical experiences which he could not express in words." (31)

According to the reconstruction of Massignon, in presenting his arguments, Hallaj fully accepted the data of the Aristotelian organon.

He uses the ten categories and the four causes, and the last five chapters of his Tawasin are based on syllogisms. But he went even further: he called himself namusi (from the Greek nomos, law), which is reminiscent of Socrates; the God whom he preaches, al-Haqq, the Truth, bears a name common to several religious movements, one that had been already emphasised by his teacher Tustari, but which was taken here absolutely, and clarified by the Greek, [Arabic] mu'ill, 'first cause'.... His definition in this instance combines with that of Proclus, while on the geometric question it returns to that of Plato. (32)

In 894, Hallaj made a second pilgrimage to Mecca. At this time he was accused of charlatanism by the Imami Shi'ite leader Abu Sahl Nawbakhti (d.924) and the Mutazilite theologian Abu Ali al-Jubbai (d.916). The relevance of such accusations is in dispute. Popular imagination may have credited miracles to him. The situation tended to attract sectarian animosity, and to be diagnosed in terms of sorcery by theological reckoning. Nawbakhti has the more insidious repute of being an opponent of Hallaj over a lengthy period.

The heretic is said to have arrived in Mecca with 400 disciples, which could easily be an exaggeration. The Meccan authorities regarded him benignly, though some Sufis were hostile. The accusation was contrived that Hallaj had made a magical pact with the jinn (demons). This amounts to pious calumny.

Abu Yaqub Nahrajuri circulated the rumour that Hallaj was served by the jinn, alleging that a cake and a cup were miraculously transported to Mecca from distant Zabid by the demons. Nahrajuri was a former admirer of Hallaj, strongly influenced by his continuing allegiance to Makki and Junayd, who represented conservative versions of Sufism (Makki is said to have likewise accused Hallaj of sorcery). The interpretation of Nahrajuri argued for the superiority of "revealed texts and tradition" over "ecstasies" associated with Hallaj. (33) The net result of hostile stories about heretics is a strong degree of reservation about the accusations.

Bizarre anecdotes about Hallaj seeking magic and displaying miracles can be sceptically viewed. The Indian "rope trick" is one feature of this lore. According to the interpretation of Massignon: "Hallaj never claimed to have the gift of miracles; those that he showed in public were only juggler's tricks, innocent sleights of hand used for gathering the crowd that he wanted 'to evangelise.' " (34)

However, there is the contradictory statement: "In his later preaching, Hallaj presents his miracles as mujizat, or immediate acts of God and signs of a divinely ordained public mission." (35) There are references in the anecdotal literature to such matters as the cures for illness he achieved. A very late anecdote says that one of his enemies slapped him, and when asked by Hallaj to repeat the aggression, the aggressor's hand promptly withered away. (36) Such stories could obviously be manipulated in the oral circulation.

The issue of miracles remains a point of vexation in different interpretations of Hallaj. According to Massignon, the miracles of Hallaj "are not the later embellishments of legend... they appear, though interpreted in different ways, in all the early texts." (37) Those texts tend to be compositions made after the death of Hallaj. Sixty years after his death, one commentator remarked about the Hallajiya (followers of Hallaj): "They attributed to him absurd things," (38) analogies with Zoroastrian and Christian hagiology here being adduced.

The rationale of Massignon included an observation that the conservative Sufi traditionists believed there could be no public miracles, the last having been the revelation of the Quran; there could only be private miracles, and these were forbidden in terms of public exposure. The conservative Sufis instead preferred "the dualism of a purely external literal law and a purely individual mystic esoterism." (39) Under such constraints of attitude, Hallaj may have been keen to prove that alternatives were possible, whatever precise inflection he himself imparted to the Arabic terminology surrounding "miracles."

Baghdad was originally a circular city built by the Abbasid Caliph Mansur (rgd 754-775 CE). This city was intended to accommodate an expanding bureaucracy and cosmopolitan population, though religious orthodoxy was promoted. The original city was subsequently eclipsed by a large settlement on the opposite side of the Tigris River, which became the main city in the late ninth century. The divided bureaucracy failed to establish due solutions for the common people, a tragic situation witnessed by Hallaj.

Returning to Tustar, Hallaj soon left this Iranian town permanently. He emigrated to Baghdad in 896, a few years after the Caliphate returned to that city from the temporary base at Samarra. The old circular "City of Peace" was outmoded by a growing population on the opposite bank of the Tigris. The royal building projects in the new settlement included palaces featuring much opulence.

Hallaj was joined by a large group of "Ahwazi notables," meaning followers belonging to the Iranian scribal class of Khuzistan. They settled in the Tustari textile quarter of Baghdad. Massignon inferred that these supporters were now bazzazin, meaning cloth and brocade merchants. There would appear to have been a strong Iranian crafts element attached to this grouping, who are thought to have established at Baghdad a branch of the weaving factory in Tustar known as Dar al-Tiraz, the major centre for luxury textiles, which gained the prestige of weaving the annual covering for the Ka'aba at Mecca. This Hallajian community would appear to have been financially self-supporting.

In common with many Sufis, Hallaj is thought to have resorted to the manual trade of his father, that of a cotton carder. This artisan background is significant in relation to certain social developments. The role of cotton carder was a humble vocation, separated by four removes from the mercantile status of bazzaz. Fabric manufacture passed from the carder to the cotton sorter, the spinner, the weaver, and the tailor, all proletarian trades whose eventual output passed to the cloth merchant, whose market (suq) served as a bonded warehouse. Hallaj would have known how easily the worker could be exploited and depressed. He had gained an unusual Arabic religious education in Wasit that most Iranian cotton-carders would not have possessed. However, he did not follow any role of a privileged legist, being instead a nonconformist mystic.

The town of Ahwaz (in Khuzistan) was noted for the export of cotton fabrics. Cotton plantations had developed in that region of Iran, with a resultant increase of weaving shops in the towns. The trade in cotton created a working class proletariat who had been sympathetic to the Zanj revolt. There was also a more widespread development in towns such as Isfahan, Tustar, Wasit, Mosul, and Cairo; a strong division emerged between workers and merchants, the latter benefiting as middlemen to the consumers. The increasing corruption and luxury lifestyle of the Abbasid court at Baghdad played a strong hand in urban business. The privileged classes exploited the situation, until eventually the consumer complaints grew acute. At the end of the life of Hallaj, riots occurred in Mosul and Baghdad (followed by others in Mecca), led by bread-sellers, fruit-sellers, and other categories who opposed the merchants and warehouse system. (40)

Hallaj preached at Baghdad in a basically proletarian milieu, appearing in marketplaces. Mosque entrances and private houses also feature in the anecdotal reports. A difficulty exists in being definitive about the nature of all these events. The report of Jundub Wasiti informs that he accompanied a wealthy Zoroastrian to the Baghdad abode of Hallaj with a purse of 1,000 dinars intended for the mystic. Hallaj was reciting the Quran, and refused the gift. However, because Wasiti entreated him to accept, Hallaj relented. When the Zoroastrian guest departed, Hallaj took Wasiti to the mosque of al-Mansur, where he distributed the gift amongst poor people, "without keeping anything for himself." (41)

Hallaj at first stayed for a year in Baghdad, apparently not yet preaching. He was reputedly in contact with amenable "independent" Sufis, notably Nuri (d.907) and Shibli (d.945). Abu'l Husayn al-Nuri, who had displayed heretical tendencies, was formerly exiled to Raqqa; in 877 he was interrogated on charges of heresy (zandaqa) brought against him and others by the preacher Ghulam Khalil. Nuri had been acquitted, departing for Raqqa (in Syria) for many years. He returned to Baghdad in the early 890s, remaining aloof from the circle of Junayd, though becoming well known at the court of the Caliph al-Mutadid (rgd 892-902). (42)

Gaining the assistance of a Caliphal envoy, Hallaj embarked for India, afterwards moving north to Khurasan. There he pressed on to reach Turkestan (Balasaghun) and probably also Ma Sin, meaning Qocho (near Turfan, in "Chinese Turkestan"). Qocho was the capital of the Uighur Turks, who were Manichaeans. Massignon interpreted the apocalyptic Hallajian references to mean that the objective of Hallaj was to convert the infidel Turks, though "if he preached, he did so through Soghdian interpreters and Nestorian or Manichaean scribes." (43) Very little is known of this phase.

Manuscripts of his treatises are reported to have been transcribed in the Manichaean style, i.e., using the expensive materials of gold ink on Chinese paper adorned with brocade and silk. At the end of his life, these manuscripts were found by Abbasid officials in the homes of his disciples at Baghdad, and deemed proof of zandaqa (heresy). The general context might merely prove the author's universalist tendencies. His son Hamd reported that Turkish followers (perhaps even ex-Manichaeans) wrote enthusiastic letters to Hallaj after his return to Baghdad; they called him al-Muqit, "the nourisher." Hamd admits that he only half understood the content of his father's public preaching at Baghdad in the final years. (44) The conclusion is possible that the private teaching was even more complex, and furthermore, that the conversion of Manichaeans was rather more subtle than orthodox associations of preaching might suggest.

Professor Herbert Mason has emphasised the universalist dimension to Hallaj, in terms that extend far beyond the conservative tendencies of Sufi traditionalists and others:

He was accused by his enemies of dissimulation and opportunism by associating with neo-Hellenists, philosophers, aesthetes, pseudo-mystics, magicians, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Manichaeans, Hindus, Buddhists, the rich and the poor, indiscriminately on his travels throughout the Near East, Iran, India, and possibly even China; and at home with adepts of radical Shi'ism while claiming the heritage and identity of a strict [Sunni] traditionalist. (45)

An earlier version of this universalist tendency is evident among the followers of Mani, the third century Gnostic leader whose approach was amenable (with ideological criticisms) to Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Buddhism. Their missionary activity occurred over a wide area, the early phase being suppressed by the Mazdean priesthood of Iran, (46) strongly associated (like Mani) with the Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon, located in Iraq, not far to the south of Islamic Baghdad (and in the same zone as Babylon).

Ruins of Sassanian palace, Ctesiphon

Adjacent to the Hellenistic city of Seleucia, Ctesiphon was "one of the most important cities of the rich agricultural province of Babylonia, which, with its network of waterways and fertile soils, supported a dense population." The ethnic and religious complexity of this earlier phase is indicated by the observation: "Although situated in the heartland of the Sasanian empire, Ctesiphon and the surrounding area were inhabited mainly by Arameans, Syrians, and Arabs, who spoke Aramaic and were predominantly Christian or Jewish." Quotations from Jens Kroger, "Ctesiphon," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

Ctesiphon became known to the early Muslim conquerors as Al-Mada'in, at that time still a sprawling urban complex. The Arab army resettled at Kufa after discovering that the Mada'in environment was malarial. Mada'in was left with a small garrison, the diminishing population tending to be pro-Shi'ite and anti-Kharijite. In 687/8 the marauding band known as Kharijite Azariqa sacked the old city and massacred the Muslim population, an indication of the acute violence emerging in the early schismatic conflicts of Islam. By the eighth century, the surviving Shi'ites of Mada'in were ideological "extremists" (ghulat), some of them believing in reincarnation.

A stern Umayyad policy of demilitarising the violent Arab tribesmen was furthered by Al-Hajjaj, the governor of Iraq (692-715), in whose day Syrian troops were favoured. Al-Nadim records that a Manichaean secretary of Hajjaj built an oratory at Mada'in for Zad Hormuzd, an obscure entity who claimed to be the Manichaean leader. Mada'in declined after the founding of Baghdad by the Abbasid Caliphs, certain of whom are known to have demolished Sassanian buildings of the older city for purposes of using the stone. By the ninth century, Mada'in was mainly an agricultural centre. See Michael Morony, "Mada'en," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

In Iraq, the Abbasid authorities applied the word zandaqa (of Iranian origin) primarily to Manichaeans, a word conveying the accusation of dire heresy. This stigma could also be applied to mawali newly converted to Islam, whose Quranic affiliation was often a veneer for habits of vegetarian asceticism, secret initiation, and attendant concepts associated with the Manichaean outlook. In particular, that convert milieu had preserved a teaching known to Muslims as hulul al-Ruh, recently translated as "infusion of the Spirit in the heart, transmitted from initiate to initiate." (47) That doctrine was known in variants to "extremist Shi'ites" of Iraq, also denigrated as zanadiqa.

According to Massignon, the distinctive preaching of Hallaj was aimed at "all Muslims, from the most traditional Sunnites to the most extremist Shi'ites." This liberal inclusivist "had even devised for himself an Arabic metaphysical vocabulary, which was sometimes borrowed from profane sciences developed by independent minds outside Islam." (48) Unlike other Sufis, Hallaj knew the language of Greek logic; he made recourse to some medical terms, and reputedly visited the celebrated hospital of Jundishapur, located between Tustar and Sus in Khuzistan. That hospital was strongly associated with transmission of the Hellenistic medical tradition. Massignon suggested that, via Nestorian medics, Hallaj could have made contact with some falasifa (philosophers) of the school of Al-Kindi, Muslims like Sarakshi and Quwayri or Nestorians like the logician Matta Qunnai.

Jundishapur dated back to Sassanian times; that town (or city) was created by the monarch Shapur I (rgd 242-72), being the scene of Mani's imprisonment and death, according to extant tradition. The population were predominantly Nestorian Christians, surviving the fourth century persecution; the town was still prosperous in the early Islamic period (though later abandoned). The sources indicate that the local Nestorians maintained a substantial degree of (Galenic) medical learning, subsequently disseminated to Muslims by the learned Bakht-yashu family of Nestorians at the Abbasid court. See A. Shahpur Shahbazi and L. Richter-Bernburg, "Gondesapur," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. By 900 CE, the science of medicine was being enthusiastically studied by Muslims throughout the Islamic world, notably al-Razi, the philosopher (and medic) who composed an extensive medical encyclopaedia (al-Hawi), including extracts from Greek and Indian (i.e., Hindu) writers.

Massignon asserted that Hallaj encountered the distinctive Iranian philosopher Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (c.864-c.930), who lived at Rayy. This contact is considered conjectural (or erroneous) by some recent scholars. Massignon duly mentions Baghdad as the scene of Razi founding a large hospital, being supported in this venture by the Queen mother Shaghab, who esteemed Hallaj. A recent interpretation affirms that confusions occurred because there were two men on record with the name of Hallaj, the namesake being a Qarmati whose reputation as a magician and conjuror was mistakenly conflated by posterity with the Sufi Hallaj. (49)

Razi was a talented medic and chemist. "His alchemy, with its Persian nomenclature and updated stock room, comes closer to chemistry than anything found in the Hellenistic sources." (50) Razi, a Platonist believer in reincarnation, was troubled by the suffering of animals, whom he regarded as part of the transmigratory cycle of souls. His freethinking tangent tended to be sceptical of prophetic revelation. Islamic posterity was frequently condemnatory in his direction, including the Ismaili instance of Nasir-i Khusrau, the prominent missionary (dai) of the eleventh century. Razi was "held in almost universal contempt as a schismatic and an infidel." (51)

Though the purported contact between Hallaj and Razi is uncertain, it is of interest to compare their roles. Hallaj was likewise posthumously denigrated as a heretic by so many conservative persuasions within Islam. According to the version of Massignon:

Every man of good will is suited to attain purification of the soul, through a progressive training of his reason, according to AB Razi, and through an asceticism of heart, according to Hallaj. And though the Razian notion of progress based on experimental science fi'l tariq ila-Haqq, 'on the way toward the Truth,' agrees to some extent with the Hallajian idea of mystical ascent, Hallaj nevertheless condemned... the work in which the noted doctor challenged the miracles of the Prophets. (52)

8.  The  shahid ani  and  the  Sufi  abdal

Returning to Baghdad after five years, Hallaj soon made a third pilgrimage to Mecca in 902, staying there in retreat for two years. Massignon elaborates his role in terms of the shahid ani ("present witness"), a theme implying "traversing the continuous chain of apotropaic saints, the abdal (and not the discontinuous cyclic reappearances of Shi'ite Imams)." (53) Hallaj is here representative of the Sufi abdal, meaning an elite group within the spiritual hierarchy of awliya (saints) elaborated by later Sufi authors like Hujwiri.

The abdal belief is found in variations, apparently first introduced by minority Shi'ite "extremists" (ghulat). Indeed, the Arabic presentation of abdal and awliya "was probably of non-Muslim origin, deriving from a common, ancient Near Eastern source." The tenth century Sufi version affirmed that a fixed number of these elect were divinely chosen, and "by their presence, preserve universal equilibrium, especially during periods between prophets" (quotations from J. Chabbi, "Abdal," Encyclopaedia Iranica online).

Hallaj was also credited by Massignon with the incentive for a distinctive martyrdom. Certainly, he thereafter placed himself in a metropolitan role that struck to the core of sociopolitical tensions within Islam. In 905, Hallaj returned to Baghdad, where he began to preach directly to the crowd for the first time, "no longer inside a ribat or from a mosque, but in the open street, in the markets; and, in order to be spontaneous, these speeches offer, in contrast to those of truly popular sermonisers, some stylistic and technical refinements of expression that even an Arab urban public could hardly grasp without direct commentary." (54)

In the Tustari quarter of Baghdad, he built an unorthodox enclosure containing a miniature Ka'ba, designed for private celebration of the hajj (Meccan pilgrimage). Hallaj explained that he was transferring the privilege of the hajj to his own emigre community, the Tustariyun; he was here implying that the official hajj was Arab-controlled, and represented an expensive and dangerous undertaking for many mawali (non-Arab converts to Islam), not all of whom were able to make the laborious journey to Mecca. A subsequent (and unconvincing) accusation made against him by officialdom was that Hallaj sought to destroy the Ka'ba in Mecca, making reference to circumambulating "the Ka'ba of one's heart."

At a Baghdad mosque, Hallaj reputedly said to his Sufi friend Shibli, "I am the Truth (Ana'l-Haqq)." This is regarded by some scholars as unverifiable legend. Perhaps more important was his emphasis upon the priority of saintship (wilaya), buttressing the related views expressed by Al-Tirmidhi (55) more than anyone else known at this period. Hallaj insisted upon the intercession of saints and their capacity for supernatural achievements. Mutazili theologians and others resented any priority given to Sufi saints. However, the most formidable opposition came from treasury officials and wazirs (vizirs) pursuing suspect fiscal policies. Hallaj evidently wanted moral reform, entailing the redistribution of exorbitant taxes and corrupt appropriations of public earnings. He nevertheless evaded a political commitment against the government, even though some of his sympathisers were keen to take this approach.

His preaching at Baghdad lasted for several years. Hallaj was effectively in competition with popular Hanbali pietist preachers and Shi'ite equivalents. According to Massignon, his spontaneous delivery would involve "a sort of 'ecstasy of jubilation' unfolding itself before the crowd." (56) Hallaj tends to emerge as a distinctive ecstatic, observing a lifestyle of strict renunciation, while contacting diverse social strata, including the salons of Baghdad, frequented by the wealthy classes and featuring diverse entertainments. This activity demonstrated a significant aspect of his abstruse mystical philosophy, combining renunciate achievement with an active polarity in the mundane world.

Hallaj claimed to have acquired a mystical union with "the One who is at the heart of ecstasy." (57) In the interpretation of Massignon, the "negative asceticism" associated with Junayd is but a preparation, while the "intoxication" associated with Abu Yazid al-Bistami is not the ultimate experience. The essential personality or "self" of the mystic is not destroyed in the ultimate action. "In the essence of union (ayn al-jam), all the acts of the saint remain coordinated, voluntary, and deliberate, by his intelligence, but they are entirely sanctified and divinised." (58) These complexities do not admit of immediate verification, but are perhaps indication of possibilities seldom understood, even in circles where knowledge is assumed.

At nights Hallaj would withdraw in contemplation to a secluded corner of the Quraysh cemetery, near the tomb of the celebrated traditionist Ibn Hanbal. He would exhort some disciples to observe ten day retreats of fasting and prayer. Yet at the same time, he himself achieved an "in the world" orientation via his connection with the working class and also the "upper class" of the salons and private houses. It was possible to project controversies in both the street and the salon, more especially via poetry. This appears to have been one aspect of his underlying intention. Hallaj had "put into verse a sarcastic eulogy of the esoteric discipline professed by Sufis" (59) a gesture evidently deriving from his rift with the formal Sufism of Amr Makki. He clearly felt that the Sufi discipline was prone to myopic application and dogmatic distortion.

Hallaj apparently had a distinctive habit at Baghdad of invoking his own death, as distinct from any political revolution. Whatever the mystical complexities of his public preaching, this activity is said to have strengthened a desire for social reform in accordance with religious ideals. Hallaj was apparently regarded by some followers as the leader (shahid ani) of the saints known as abdal. Those followers included eminent men in different regions with whom he was in correspondence; he is said to have written works on political theory and the duties of wazirs, subsequently lost. "There was at that time, even among the ulama [religious scholars], a general desire to purify the administrative machinery: they demanded a government that was sincerely Muslim; a vizirate that rendered justice, especially in fiscal matters." (60)

The basic gist of Massignon's theory, about the preaching of Hallaj, is that the radical was exhorting his audiences to the disciplined life of Sufis, generally occurring in hermitages and other private milieux. The primary audience of Hallaj in the marketplaces were apparently Arabs, identified with the Karkh and Bab Basra localities. More specifically, these were ex-Bedouins, with a background of hunger and suffering, displaced tribesmen fleeing from famine and the Qarmati revolution. They amounted to an ex-nomad proletariat, having migrated from the regions of Basra and Kufa, and even distant Bahrain, under pressure from dire social circumstances. Some of them were perhaps ex-Qarmatis, disillusioned by the problems occurring. Generations ago, Bedouin Arabs had been the front line warriors in the Islamic invasion; now the fighters were Turks, Berbers, and other nationalities assimilated by the Abbasid empire.

An early opponent at Baghdad was Ibn Dawud al-Isfahani (868-909), leader of the Zahiri school of law, who was in some affinity with right wing Mutazilite theology. Ibn Dawud was party to dogmatic concepts, despite his repute for being conversant with the Hellenistic philosophy of Al-Kindi (d.c.866), who became known as the first Arab philosopher. Mutazilis were not philosophers but theologians, despite some familiarity with Hellenistic concepts; the right wing Mutazilis were in opposition to Sufis, their lifestyle of wealth and stipend contrasting with ascetic withdrawal of the latter contingent (the left wing"Sufi" Mutazilis, exercising an ascetic orientation, are relatively unplumbed). The attack of Ibn Dawud apparently started in the reign of Al-Mutadid (892-902), at a time when popular preachers and story-tellers (qussas) were the target of a restraining edict.

Ibn Dawud objected strongly to the theme of mystical love taught by Hallaj. To love God (Allah) was considered an impossibility, as "the majority of theologians taught that God could not be loved." (61) The proscribing vehemence of Ibn Dawud was offset by a guarded defence expressed by the Shafi'ite jurist Ibn Surayj, who indicated that his role was not qualified to pronounce upon such matters.

9.  Problems  of  the  Abbasid  Empire

The city of Baghdad was founded in 762 by the Caliph al-Mansur, the second Abbasid monarch. That urban centre has been described as the largest city ever built by that time in the Middle East. During the ninth century, Baghdad comprised an extent of about 25 square miles, even bigger than Constantinople. The population was intensive at somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people. Only China had anything that could rival this phenomenon.

The southern district of proletarian al-Karkh initially accommodated the numerous construction workers from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt. None of the original structures survive, though Iranian influence has been deduced in such features as the circular ramparts of the Caliphal quarters (the Round City). To the north was the military district known as al-Harbiya, where many soldiers were (initially) of Iranian origin. However, the strongest influx of settlers was represented by the Arabs and local (Aramaic-speaking) Nabateans from Kufa. "Despite the strong Persian element in the population, Arabic was the vernacular language of the city" (H. Kennedy, "Baghdad i. The Iranian Connection," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

There was a boom in international trade, assisted by the cosmopolitan population (which included clandestine pagans). Many Nestorian Christians migrated to the capital from villages throughout Iraq, duly gaining representation in the bureaucracy. Amongst a learned minority, scholarship flourished, associated with ancient centres like Harran, Jundishapur, and Alexandria. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all figured in the learned minority. Iranian scholars became a strong presence, eventually infiltrating the clergy (ulama).

Some historians describe the Abbasid dynasty in terms of jettisoning the earlier Arab supremacy of the Umayyad period, dispensing with Arab military privileges. The tenth century Islamic historian Masudi reported that the second Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur (rgd 754-75) was the first to employ his mawali freedmen in official positions, favouring them above Arabs; later Caliphs followed his example, and in this manner, Arab Muslims lost the leading positions.

Later European historians tended to portray the Abbasid Caliphate as losing a democratic orientation, the monarchical pomp and ceremony increasing to despotic proportions, being reminiscent of Sassanian tendencies. This rationale seemed supported by a trend of prominent Iranian families gaining salient official positions. However, recent analysis favours a "a more graduated picture" of the theocratic monarchy, one not restricted to the Persian/Arab dichotomy, instead encompassing a recognition of concepts "common to nearly all the ancient Near East, from Egypt to Persia, with the exception of the Arabian peninsula."

Moreover, the origins of Shi'ism, and the messianic lore of the Mahdi, have been traced to the Arabs of Kufa and southern Iraq. The expanding Abbasid empire created a complex bureaucracy; the role of Iranian mawali (converts to Islam) was encouraged in that context within Iraq and Iran. The role of wazir (head minister) was formerly conceived in terms of direct borrowings from Sassanian bureaucracy, yet "it now appears that the office has its roots in early Arabic practice" (quotes from C. E. Bosworth, "Abbasid Caliphate," Encyclopaedia Iranica online).

In many respects, the ninth century Abbasid cultural milieu of Baghdad was a remarkable innovation, outstripping the confines of any single ethnic component, and giving some leeway to a new cosmopolitan identity. However, events did not work out successfully; in the tenth century a contraction process occurred, accompanied by a disintegration of the ruling elite. Eventually, the "ancient" learning dwindled, being eclipsed by a traditionalism of the Islamic religious establishment that was hostile to "Greek" and related elements. So what went wrong in the train of events?

The problems developing in the Abbasid empire were prodigious. The bureaucracy gained a reputation for corruption. "Abbasid bureaucracy came to be dominated by cliques and factions, formed among the functionaries, whose main interest was to exploit bureaucratic office for private gain." (62) The prominent ministerial office of wazir was frequently attended by some very doubtful habits. During the ninth century, "a wazir and his faction came to power by intrigues and by bribing the Caliph and other influential courtiers." (63) The office of wazir became notorious for "various frauds, such as padded payrolls, false bookkeeping, illegal speculations, and taking bribes." (64)

The central government, attempting to compensate for the financial losses that ensued, granted land concessions to soldiers and officials who would then collect taxes from the peasants. The resultant process assisted the formation of large landed estates which gradually absorbed small landlords and free peasants. Under pressure, peasants would sign over their lands, supposedly under protection.

Tax-farming was another ineffective counter-measure to corruption, one in which "the government sold the right to collect revenues to tax-farmers." This new breed of social parasite "profited by collecting taxes in excess of what they had to pay the state." (65) The problem amounted to a substitute form of administration, requiring a strict inspection by the government, who in practice effectively lost control of the revenues and the countryside. Tax farmers instead gained control of local administration and the local police.

The military situation declined, to the extent that provinces became independent of the empire. Turkish slaves were formed into regiments, being loyal to their officers rather than to the Caliph. In this way, Turkish guard officers could usurp provincial governorships and become independent of the central government, as occurred in Egypt with the advent of the Tulunid dynasty. The early Abbasid empire had relied upon the military support of Iranian subjects, whereas the later empire attempted to dominate the people with foreign troops (varying from Turks to Berbers), who were accordingly resented. The new administrative city of Samarra was built to the north of Baghdad during the 830s; the troublesome slave regiments were thus separated from the urban populace. The problematic Samarra phase lasted for several decades, leading to rivalries among the regiments that killed the presiding officers and led to banditry.

When the Caliphate returned to Baghdad in 892, a lavish building project achieved new palaces thought to have been influenced by Sassanian traditions of royal splendour. "From this period we have tales of elaborate court ceremonial, of vast and opulent palaces and golden birds singing in silver trees which were alien to early Islamic styles of monarchy" (H. Kennedy, "Baghdad i. The Iranian Connection," article linked above).

Meanwhile, the Abbasid rulers lost both Egypt and Iran to the new wave of martial rebellion. In Sijistan (south-east Iran), a mass revolt of frontier soldiers (ghuzat) occurred. The ghazi was the "holy warrior" of Islam, apparently condoned by the Quran for jihad (holy war). The Saffarid dynasty led that uprising, thereby gaining control of Khurasan and West Iran, even invading Iraq. The Saffarids were eventually defeated by the Samanid dynasty of Transoxania, who were prepared to cooperate with the Abbasid central government. The distant Samanids achieved a high degree of culture, representing the same landowning and administrative system which created the Abbasid empire. That system had been ousted in many areas by ghazi rule and innovations.

In 905, the Abbasid Caliphate defeated the rival Tulunid dynasty in Egypt and Syria (created by a private slave army). This proved a hollow victory. The bureaucracy was in a process of irreversible decline. The new military victories were quite insufficient to reorganise the Abbasid empire, a prospect that was desperately needed. "These victories were but a lull in a downward course which became headlong between 905 and 945." (66)

The decline of central government also meant demise of the provincial landowning and scribal class which had originally supported the Abbasid dynasty. In particular, the introduction of tax-farming, which required significant investments, benefited the interests of merchants and bankers who had become rich through international trade. Bankers gained additional political importance as a consequence. The new mercantile entrepreneurs began to replace the scribal class. Despite the extensive wealth passing through private hands, "in the course of the late ninth and early tenth centuries, the economy of Iraq was ruined." (67)

The ecology factor was typically ignored by bureaucratic and mercantile greed. The almost continual warfare caused extensive damage to the irrigation system attending the Tigris River. The creation of tax-farming and allied facilities of the rich monopolists "removed all incentives for maintaining rural productivity." (68) Fiscal exploitation led to ruin of the rural environment. Large districts suffered a depopulation. For a thousand years, Iraq became one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, despite the former degree of marked agricultural prosperity dating back many centuries.

With the decline of Abbasid power in the early tenth century, prosperous urban Basra regressed into a rural problem, continually at the mercy of local Arab tribes who were in the habit of plundering the town. By the mid-twelfth century, Basra was largely in ruins, the population much reduced. In 1495 the original site of Basra was abandoned because of a scarcity of fresh water; modern Basra is over 20 kilometres to the east (see F. M. Donner, "Basra," Encyclopaedia Iranica online).

In Abbasid Iraq, peasants abandoned the land because of Bedouin raids and excessive taxation. Large numbers of Bedouin Arabs (as distinct from urban Arabs) had settled in Iraq during the seventh century, with the first onrush of Islam. "In the course of the ninth century, there was a general regression of sedentary life under nomadic pressure." (69) However, this trend was perhaps less obvious than the metropolitan problem in Baghdad, created by corrupt politicians and ambitious landowners. The capital was effectively sundered from the provinces, which had gained an autonomous existence.

Critical observers must have been well aware of the growing tendency of the Abbasid empire to administrative and military collapse, despite the show of opulence in the Baghdad palaces.

10.  Persecution  at  Baghdad

Hallaj became closely involved (as a victim) in the situation attending the Caliph al-Muqtadir (rgd 908-932), whose violent period of fraught rulership was "marked by the rise and fall of thirteen vizirs [wazirs], some of whom were put to death." (70) Muqtadir had predominantly Greek blood. He became Caliph at the age of thirteen, too young to have been properly educated, while gaining many concubines. (71)

Orthodox Sunnis hatched a revolutionary plot at Baghdad that failed in 908. A group of Hanbali protesters tried unsuccessfully to implement reforms by installing a new Caliph, namely Ibn al-Mutazz, who contested the claims of his cousin Muqtadir. His reign lasted only one day; he was deposed and killed. The reformers lacked the financial support of Jewish bankers at the Baghdad court who were affiliates of the influential Shi'ite party. Massignon emphasises the gulf between the Sunni and Shia factions, clearly favouring the former, with whom he closely aligns Hallaj. The Shi'ite wazir (head minister) Ibn al-Furat (d.924) placed Hallaj under surveillance.

A year or so later, another Sunni reformist plot miscarried; Ibn al-Furat was warned in advance, acting on behalf of the young Caliph al-Muqtadir. Hallaj was considered a suspect influence upon the agitators, with whom he was in evident sympathy; the wazir ordered him to be arrested. However, Hallaj escaped from the volatile scene with his Karnabai brother-in-law. Police investigations were spurred by a major opponent, a Sunni tax-farmer named Hamid, or more fully Abu Muhammad Hamid ibn al-Abbas (d.924). This man, a landowner at Wasit, gained a role as one of the wealthy bankers at the Abbasid palace. Hamid is thought to have been influential in arranging the imprisonment of four disciples of Hallaj, though he may not have been solely responsible. Hallaj prudently retreated from Baghdad.

Tax-farmer Hamid does not emerge as an inspiring entity. Though he built a mosque in Wasit, Hamid gained a reputation for habitual drunkenness, "surrounded by hundreds of more or less armed slaves whom he called by the names of those who annoyed him in the [Caliphal] Court, his mouth full of obscenities which he considered witty." (72) Starting life as a low class water bearer and a vendor of pomegranites, Hamid later acquired riches via tax farms at Wasit, Basra, and in Fars. He is said to have achieved popularity by investing in alms that he lent to peasants, a procedure which was not the most admirable form of charity. Hamid's hatred of Hallaj stemmed from the criticism which the mystic and his associates "pronounced in loud and clear voices against a policy of unlimited fiscal exactions that were forcing the people into hunger, poverty, and rebellion." (73)

In the Shi'ite camp, wazir policies did not refrain from reviving earlier edicts against "people of the Book" (kitabiyun), meaning Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. These marginal religious groups were tolerated but excluded from all professions except banking and medicine. They were forced to wear the stigmatising strip of cloth (ghiyar) declaring their infidel identity, i.e., yellow for Jews and blue for Christians. The Manichaean outsiders were not tolerated, whether Islamised or no, having been obliged to take refuge in Central Asia. The word zindiq (heretic), employed in a context of lethal opprobrium, was originally applied to Manichaeans, subsequently acquiring a more general application. Two distinctive "zanadiqa Muslim philosophers" (as Massignon called them) were outlawed, namely Ibn al-Rawandi and his predecessor Abu Isa al-Warraq. Hallaj was not officially declared a zindiq until the year of his death. The penalty for being considered a zindiq (plural zanadiqa) was a dire form of execution.

Rawandi and Warraq are two fascinating figures of that period. Rawandi, a Shi'ite contemporary of Hallaj, was a Khurasanian who moved to Baghdad, joining an obscure group of left wing Mutazilis associated with the ascetic Sufi orientation. Rawandi did not agree with the right wing Mutazili belief that Muslim sinners would be punished eternally in hell. He disputed with the Mutazilis, maintaining that "doctrines such as creation in time, prophecy, the inimitability of the Koran, and the justice and retribution of God could not be proven with certainty; such thought experiments were popular among the Mutazilite Sufis of Baghdad, who cultivated a certain anti-intellectualism and who had reservations about the theologians and jurists" (quote from Josef Van Ess, "Ebn Ravandi," Encyclopaedia Iranica online). In Iraq, Rawandi was declared a heretic, though he was more favoured in Iranian territories. The rumour was spread (probably by Al-Jubbai in Basra) that he fled from the police and resorted to hiding in the home of a sympathetic Jew, where he died. This story has been doubted. The heretic certainly disappeared from view, the date of 910 being supplied. (74)

Strangely enough, at that same time Hallaj went into hiding at the Iranian town of Sus, in Khuzistan. After about three years, he was located and arrested, with Hamid being a central figure in this strategy. The tax-farmer was closely connected to "militant Shi'ites who despised Hallaj for his assumption, in their minds, of the exclusive role of their awaited Mahdi." (75) Hamid was also the paymaster of a Baghdad military garrison.

When Hallaj was taken captive at Sus, he was apparently charged with preaching hulul (infusion or divine indwelling), an evocative word translated as "the coming down of the Spirit of God into hearts." (76) The claim of indwelling divinity implied that God could be located in the soul. This was heresy in the Abbasid environment. The accusation of heresy was apparently derived from confiscated documents composed in an encoded language. The prisoner and his brother-in-law were transported to Baghdad and paraded through the streets.

However, a fresh political development moved in favour of Hallaj. While preparations were being made for his trial, a new Sunni wazir appeared on the scene. Ali ibn Isa al-Jarrah (859-946) caused the failure of the trial; the imprisoned disciples of Hallaj were released. Ali ibn Isa was apparently sympathetic to his state secretary Hamd Qannai, a supporter of Hallaj. Another supporter was the Caliph's mother Shaghab (called the Queen Mother by some scholars).

Ali ibn Isa has been described in laudatory terms. "In an age of corruption and oppression under a regime of cruelty and torture [he] stands alone in his integrity and ability." (77) This official is reputed to have improved state finances during his diverse phases of office, attempting fiscal reforms in the face of bureaucratic corruption and incompetence. His family background was that of learned scribes who were originally Nestorian Christians, though he converted to Islam, apparently at an early age. Ali ibn Isa remained sympathetic to the Nestorian minority. He advocated moderate taxation, being unusually considerate of the lower classes. He is noted for his budgetary inventory which revealed that most of the Abbasid expenditure was absorbed by the army, an opulent court, and the wazir administration. Ali ibn Isa was a state secretary for ten years before being implicated in the ill-fated episode of the deposed one day Caliph Ibn al-Mutazz, thereafter being exiled to Wasit and Mecca. He was recalled to government service at Baghdad in 913.

The new wazir dismissed the witnesses for the prosecution of Hallaj, merely allowing a sentence of three (or four) days of public exposure on the pillory. An obscure party devised the accompanying proclamation that misleadingly described Hallaj as an agent of the Qarmati revolutionaries (this may represent a confusion with the "second Hallaj," who was executed that same year for Qarmati allegiance). Taking a different angle, Ali ibn Isa negotiated with the Qarmatis of Bahrain, seeking to offset the costs of military involvement against them. A decade of peaceful relations ensued, during which he granted some privileges to the rebel state in Arabia. His enemies, especially his chief rival Abu'l Hasan Ali ibn al-Furat, wrongly accused him of being in league with the Qarmatis. (78) Ibn al-Furat (855-924) gained a repute for wealth and extravagance by comparison with Ali ibn Isa.

The Qarmati community is often regarded as an offshoot of the Ismaili missionary movement, a radical form of Shi'ism active at this time in several countries, including Africa, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The Ismaili preachers are noted for adapting their teaching to the religious beliefs of target communities; they addressed their message to all social classes, including the peasants of Iraq and the privileged strata of East Iran. This preaching campaign precipitated a revolutionary agitation in Iraq and Arabia, creating the Qarmati movement (or Qaramita), and leading to the appearance of a revolutionary Qarmati state in Bahrain. "Ismaili Shiism was the sectarian tendency that undergirded both the Fatimid Caliphate and the Qarmatian revolts, yet until quite recently assessments of its ideological program were built upon the polemical counter-attacks of Sunnis and other opponents." (79) Ismaili scholars investigated Greek philosophy and science, adapting such studies to their religious outlook.

Although certain aspects of the Hallajian approach do resemble features of the Ismaili tactic, it is reasonably clear that Hallaj was not an Ismaili or Qarmati, but instead a Sunni ascetic version of a preaching vocation so diversely interpreted.

Some analysts view Hallaj as a Sunni rival to the Ismailis, one who similarly used the tactic of a "step by step" acquaintance with his teaching, an approach that was very flexible by comparison with theological norms. Hallaj evidently allowed for different degrees of understanding. He is reported to have sent letters to disciples in distant provinces, apparently instructing them how to teach or preach; code words were apparently used in this correspondence as a safeguard.

His abstruse mode of preaching at Baghdad bypassed the militant mood of contemporary Qarmati revolts in Syria and Iraq. He reputedly spoke of self-denial and contrition, qualities not always welcome amongst politicians and royalty. Hallaj focused on mystical themes assimilable to devout Hanbali Sunnis and others, though with some unusual inflections. He is reported to have said in the Baghdad suq (market): "It is in the confession of the Cross that I will die: I no longer care to go to Mecca nor Medina." (80) In the reign of the Caliph al-Muktafi (902-908), many Iranian/Iraqi pilgrims to Mecca were massacred on the caravan routes by Qarmati rebels, who included numerous Bedouin tribesmen at that time. "In 906 they [Qaramita] ambushed the pilgrim caravan returning from Mecca and killed 20,000 persons." (81)

A stalemate occurred between the influential supporters and opponents of Hallaj, neither side being able to decisively exert influence. From 913 onwards, for nearly nine years he was confined in the palace, where he wrote his last works, only fragments of which survive. He was granted a special private room or cell, built for him by his loyal supporter Nasr Qushuri, the Greek chamberlain to Caliph Muqtadir. Some visitors were able to see him, and to them he read out passages from his writings.

11.  Trial  and  Execution

The tax-farmer Hamid of Wasit eventually gained the status of wazir (chief minister) in 918, the more reputable Ali ibn Isa being deputy wazir. These two officials were in conflict when the latter assessed budgetary resources of the Abbasid empire, "which Hamid had been unlawfully draining off for his private use." (82) The treasury is said to have been exhausted by this time. The cunning Hamid then "tightened his alliance with Shi'ite bankers to engage the increasingly effete and money-needing Caliph in an illegal speculation on stocks of monopolised corn." (83) This deviancy, sometimes described as the "famine pact," was extremely unpopular, preventing stocks of corn from reaching public consumption.

In preparing his famous budgetary assessment, Ali ibn Isa was endeavouring to protect the peasantry and artisan classes from the fiscal schemes of Hamid. The former concluded that just over three-quarters of the Abbasid expenditure was lavished on the army, while 16% was spent on the Caliph's court. The wazir administration acquired over 3%, while 1.6% went to the police. This meant that only 2% was expended on pensions and alms for the needy. The alternative financial system, employed by Ali ibn Isa, was not welcome amongst the higher classes. The reforming wazir prevented exploitative revenues by taking care not to bankrupt the artisans, tradesmen, and labourers. This approach was contrary to the rival system of wazir Ibn al-Furat, based on commercial development and favouring the interests of bankers allied to that system (who included Hamid).

The commercial wazir Hamid devised a notorious plan to grant his agents a sole prerogative in the farming of taxes for most of the empire, taxes that were increased to the detriment of the lower classes. The verdict of Massignon criticised this greedy measure as "a plan of shocking monopolisation that caused the riot of 308 [921], which the historian Hamza Isfahani, an eyewitness, rightly described as the collapse of the empire." (84) This unsavoury strategy included the "famine pact."

The indignant Ali ibn Isa and the Caliph's chamberlain Nasr Qushuri moved to offset the pact, warning the Hanbalite tradesmen against the wholesalers involved. The cost of bread quickly soared. A public riot ensued; trade guilds in several cities attacked the wholesalers for complicity in the dubious plot. The rioters opposed the soldiers and freed prisoners in the jails. The underlying target of populist disapproval was the Caliphate. Indeed, an early witness report (of the Shi'ite Hamza Isfahani) informs: "This riot is the first of a deadly series in which the crowd vilifies the Abbasid Caliphate, accuses it of failing in its canonical role, and of leading Islam into dishonour and ruin" (85)

Hamid was removed from his high office, though only temporarily, regaining honours when the military commander Munis al-Khadim returned from Egypt to Baghdad at this juncture. This Greek eunuch had formerly been assisted to his high position by the Caliph's mother Shaghab and the chamberlain Nasr Qushuri, both of whom were also Greeks. Now Munis turned against them, instead supporting Hamid in a new plot to regain favour with the fickle Caliph Muqtadir. Hamid desired to undermine the wazir Ali ibn Isa and the chamberlain, both of whom opposed his financial policy. To this end Hamid decided to reopen the trial of Hallaj. Despite the protests of Shaghab, Muqtadir was persuaded to remove Ali ibn Isa from any connection with the legal case of Hallaj. Further, the chamberlain Nasr was prevented from maintaining his protective role as custodian of Hallaj in the palace jail.

These ruses were sanctioned by a further accomplice of Hamid, who transpired to be Ibn Mujahid, leader of the Quran reciters (Qurra). This Sunni religionist denounced Hallaj to Ali ibn Isa, having discovered a document written by Hallaj that was now maligned as a heretical book. The deputy wazir deferred to this dogmatic judgment, which was later set into context by Massignon. Briefly, what Ibn Mujahid complained about was not a book but an epistle signed by Hallaj. Ibn Mujahid had a complex about noncanonical Quranic readings, shared by the interventionist policy at that time which sought to outlaw any "abnormal" vocalisation of the sacred text. Massignon found only two abnormal (and very brief) readings in the Hallajian epistle, and two further brief plays on words, one of which he again dismissed in terms of a peccadillo. The more serious wordplay was described in terms of implying a transforming mystical union that "puts the saint in the immediate grasp of divine elocution." (86)

Ali ibn Isa was influenced into conducting a search for heretical books in the home of a government secretary associated with support of Hallaj. Books and letters written by Hallaj are reported to have been found, one of which was interpreted as evidence of dire blasphemy. Similar books were found in another house, including expensive manuscripts written in gold ink on Chinese rice paper; these are associated with Manichaean regions of Central Asia which Hallaj had visited.

The upshot of this heresy-hunting was that, by order of the Caliph, Hallaj was given into the charge of the reinstated wazir Hamid, who locked him up in prison and commenced a new trial of the victim that was seriously flawed. Hamid convened qazis (judges) whom he hoped would impose the death penalty for heresy. They demurred in the absence of further proof. The Hanbali supporters of Hallaj rallied to his support in the streets of Baghdad, resorting to a procession to pray against injustice in this issue. Feelings were strong. The procession unfortunately turned into a public riot, which played into the hands of wazir Hamid rather than against him.

The key figure inspiring the procession was Ibn Ata, the Hanbali disciple of Hallaj. With the exception of Ansari of Herat, no other figure in the annals of the Hanbali law school acquired such a mystical reputation. Although Ibn Ata had been reared in a strict Hanbali traditionist (muhaddith) milieu, he came under the influence of diverse Sufis. He evidently perceived dogmatic errors of the manic preacher Ghulam Khalil, who gained such a hostile degree of influence against nascent Sufism. Ibn Ata is reputed to have been on good terms with Nuri and Junayd at Baghdad, nevertheless preferring the teaching of Hallaj, which allowed much more leeway for social protest against corrupt officials who were responsible for famines.

Ibn Ata is reported to have criticised the moral theory of Junayd, which tended to endorse the orthodox idea of predestination that was so convenient to retarded politicians. Ibn Ata instead urged the concept of "personal effort and suffering" which derived from Hallaj (and also Nuri and Sahl al-Tustari).

By the time of the procession, Ibn Ata knew that Hallaj was in serious jeopardy. He refused to sign the declaration of the victim's guilt that was desired by Hamid, who urged that the Hanbali mood was a threat to law and order. Significantly, the wazir demanded to know how many Sufis supported the teaching of Hallaj, who himself is said to have named Ibn Ata, Shibli, and Jurayri in this context. The Dinawari tradition (supported by Massignon) informs that both Shibli and Jurayri (under interrogation) converged with the opposition to avoid being associated with a dangerous issue. Only Ibn Ata admitted to identity in this context. (87)

The situation has accordingly been compared with the earlier situation, a few decades before, when the campaign of Ghulam Khalil against the Baghdad Sufis apparently met with a direct response only from Nuri (though in a legendary portrayal). The fear of official damnation was obviously acute. Only the most courageous men would risk the ultimate arena, faced by total bigotry and almost certain death. Nuri escaped with his life, but certain others did not.

There are different accounts of the confrontation between wazir Hamid and the Hallajian Ibn Ata. Yet they all agree that the consequence was severe punishment of the latter, resulting in death. One may deduce, at the least, that his skull was smashed by brutal henchmen of the corrupt official who ruled the dwindling resources of the Abbasid empire.

Ibn Ata was murdered only two weeks or so before the execution of Hallaj. Wazir Hamid had "the Caliph's mandate to guarantee public order by any means." (88) Hamid was able to impose the death sentence on Hallaj with the complicity of the grand qadi (judge) Abu Umar Hammadi, a Maliki conservative known for his addiction to perfumes and a habit of accommodating his decisions to the current mood of those in power. This doubtful agent of justice complied with the contrived accusation that the hajj (pilgrimage) doctrine of Hallaj was in affinity with the Qarmati tendency to destroy the Ka'ba at Mecca, and therefore proof of seeking to oust the sacred law of Islam. One report conveys that the pretext for condemnation was a passage (in writings of Hallaj) advocating the construction of replicas of the Ka'ba for those unable to travel to Mecca. Hallaj had improvised a miniature private Ka'ba in Baghdad, quite possibly for the benefit of mawali (converts to Islam) unable to make the dangerous pilgrimage. He himself had made three pilgrimages to Mecca, involving lengthy ascetic discipline.

The record exhumed by Massignon refers to desperate last minute efforts by the Caliph's mother Shaghab, and his chamberlain Nasr Qushuri, to persuade Muqtadir that the decision of the wazir Hamid's suspect court should be reversed. This intervention led to a brief nullification of the execution. Caliph Muqtadir subsequently ignored his mother and capitulated to the insistence of the wazir, who had learned how to persuade this suggestible monarch. Hamid urged the negative prospect of a Hallajian social revolution in the event of the heretic remaining alive. Muqtadir finally signed the death warrant, being further urged to do so by the military commander Munis.

This event has an additional sinister complexion in that Muqtadir also yielded "to the entreaties of a corrupt black mercenary, the head eunuch Muflih, an accomplice paid expressly by Muhassin, son of Ibn al-Furat." (89) The Shi'ite ex-wazir Ibn al-Furat was another background figure keen to distract the wavering monarch from the exhortation of Hallaj to examine himself (in the Sufi manner) with due conscience and constant care. There were too many courtiers who stood to gain from the economic tactics represented by the career of Hamid. On account of his betrayals, Ibn al-Furat had for years been under house arrest in the palace. He regained the position of wazir via his superficially attractive new financial schemes, which transpired to be further problems.

In this atmosphere of intrigue and deception, Hallaj was cruelly executed in 922. Led to the gibbet in Baghdad, he was administered an excessive treatment of 500 lashes, with the further extremist punishment of having his hands and feet cut off. Decapitation was callously delayed until the next day, so that wazir Hamid could be present at the reading of the death sentence.

The victim's acquaintance Shibli became celebrated in Sufi legends. After his interrogation denial of any complicity, Shibli is said to have been a repentant observer at the execution. He reputedly threw a rose at Hallaj while others in the crowd stoned him. The facts about Shibli are typically sparse. Abu Bakr Dulaf ibn Jahdar al-Shibli (d.946) was a Turk, born at Samarra or Baghdad, who had become a high-ranking official at the court of the Caliph al-Mutamid (rgd 870-92). Subsequently he reversed roles to that of a Sufi, renouncing his status and property, and withdrawing to Syria. His new teacher Khair al-Nassaj was a weaver by trade. Shibli thus demonstrated a dramatic transition from the wealthy life of a courtier to an ascetic role amongst artisans and low class mawali. A fair number of Sufis associated with the Baghdad school "seem to have been middle class urbanites of artisanal and merchant origins." (90)

Shibli appears in some Sufi legends as a disciple of Junayd who was subject to moods in which he acted like a madman. There was apparently a method in the madness, that of avoiding official censure. According to Massignon, Shibli was more a friend of Junayd than a disciple, the influence of Hallaj being discernible from the mid-890s. However, Shibli contrasted with what Massignon called the "self-composed" preaching style of Hallaj. Junayd is reputed to have criticised both of these figures for being "intoxicated." Shibli was jailed as a "madman" according to the hagiographers, being released when he soberly denied being a supporter of Hallaj.

Shibli is credited with numerous disciples, including Zayd ibn Rifai, named in some sources as one of the authors of the celebrated Rasail of the Ikhwan as-Safa. The savant Abu Hayyan al-Tauhidi (d.c.1023) wrote of Zayd: "He stands in no definite relation with any one system; he knows how to form his school from all sides." (91) Possibly that angle reflects an ingenuity derived from the Hallajian repertory.

Far more conformist was Ibn Khafif (882-982), a centenarian Sufi of Shiraz who originally honoured the memory of Hallaj, having visited him as a young man during the victim's confinement at Baghdad, shortly before his execution. According to Massignon, Ibn Khafif "came away convinced forever of having seen there a 'man of God' (rabbani)." (92)  A more recent source states that Ibn Khafif "later distanced himself from this controversial figure, whom he openly criticised, especially on account of the latter's provocative public statements." (93) This reactionary trend was of course the safest and easiest route, at the expense of features that make the "orthodox Sufi" profile rather less appealing to some analysts.

Ibn Khafif was basically a traditionist (muhaddith), one who transmitted hadith (traditions of Muhammad). Born in Shiraz, this Iranian of wealthy background travelled widely in Islamic countries. One of his disciples left a biography, the earliest known for a Sufi. The politically quietist Ibn Khafif "especially disliked the rationalist Mutazila," (94) who were rival theologians associated with a foreign (i.e., Greek) philosophy. Amongst the Sufis he extolled were Junayd, Ruwaym, Ibn Ata, and the traditionist Amr ibn Uthman al-Makki, the lastmentioned being the formal initiator of Hallaj (section 4 above). His favoured teacher was Ruwaym ibn Ahmad (d.915), another wealthy man. Associated with the Baghdad school, Ruwaym was at one period accused of heresy, though he later became a deputy to the chief qadi (judge) of Baghdad, an event which aroused the disapproval of Junayd, (95) who appears to have maintained scrupulous standards of independence from the religious establishment.

12.  Aftermath

At the time of his execution, the books of Hallaj were banned and his disciples were outlawed. The wazir Hamid sent many letters to the Samanid government in distant Khurasan, attempting to enforce his policy. The Samanids did not respond as he anticipated, their wazir Balami instead choosing to protect the Hallajians. Hamid wanted the disciples Ibn Bishr and Shakir to be transported to Baghdad. Most of his epistles went unanswered. However, Shakir recklessly made the journey from Khurasan, intending to preach in Baghdad. His plan was subverted; he was executed at Baghdad in 924. (96) Shakir evidently underestimated the different political conditions in the Abbasid metropolis.

Temporarily in trouble was Nasr Qushuri, the supporter of Hallaj who deserves comment. This Greek, Christian in origin, was probably the son of a captured Byzantine. Born circa 865, he started his career as a mamluk (meaning a slave or freedman in military service) of the Caliph al-Mutadid, becoming one of twenty-five chiefs of staff, including a majority of Turks. The minority of Greeks were led by his comrade Munis al-Khadim ("the eunuch"); these two gained ascendancy via close association. Nasr was captured in action by the Samanids of Khurasan, whose prisoner he remained for five years; he was well-treated and became the Samanid champion in Baghdad when he returned. Serving as chamberlain (hajib) to al-Muqtadir for many years, Nasr was the third highest ranking entity in the court. The commander of 12,000 mounted archers, he closely advised the Queen Mother Shaghab. While Munis gained direction of the western part of the empire, Nasr was responsible for the eastern zone.

Nasr was the guardian of Hallaj during his years in prison, remaining a loyal supporter. During the year that Hallaj was executed, Nasr suffered a political blow when a Samanid amir defected from the Abbasid alliance. He lost control of the eastern sector, with the consequence that a rival was placed in charge, with the approval of the increasingly powerful Munis. Only the intervention of Shaghab saved him from prison. Nasr subsequently recovered status. As a military general (in concert with Munis), he dramatically saved Baghdad from the Qarmati invasion in 927, his rival having been captured and killed by the enemy.

Meanwhile, soon after the execution of Hallaj, the wazir Hamid conceded the request of Nasr that the imprisoned disciples of Hallaj should be released, along with his son and daughter. Nasr managed to save those people from the death sentence. The widow and sister of Hallaj were permitted to go into mourning. Massignon speculated on the reasons for this uncharacteristic leniency on the part of Hamid, even suggesting "remorse for having yielded to his Shi'ite adviser Shalmaghani." (97) A sceptic could easily believe that a bribe may have been in the offing; accumulation of wealth seems to have been the primary objective of Hamid.

The relatively obscure figure of Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abi al-Azaqir al-Shalmaghani was emphasised by Massignon. The "extremist" Shi'ite mystic Shalmaghani is depicted in this reconstruction as a rather sinister figure, one who lurked in the background, goading Hamid into securing the execution of Hallaj. However, Hamid evidently had strong incentive of his own to remove obstacles against his fiscal policies. The additional factor of resistance is not entirely explained by the strong economic influence exerted at court by Shi'ite bankers and related individuals. Hamid certainly needed the support of bankers. The angle of Shalmaghani was not fiscal, instead comprising rival "gnostic" interests, part of a context that is not easy to decipher or resolve. (98)

Shalmaghani (and his colleagues) apparently decided to dispense with the front man Hamid. According to Massignon, the scheming Shalmaghani allowed Hamid to become the target of a persecution by Muhassin, the lethal son of Ibn al-Furat who now engineered his death. Muhassin had paid Muflih, head of the Caliphal harem, to ensure that Muqtadir endorsed the execution of Hallaj. These intrigues were a formidable factor in such a treacherous situation as the court of Baghdad. In 923, Ibn al-Furat was reinstated as wazir. Hamid was now in disgrace, his property at Wasit being deemed eligible for confiscation.

Only two years after the death of his major victim, the deposed wazir Hamid was killed by a Baghdad mob in 924. His murder occurred after he was paraded through the streets while stuffed in a pig skin. (99) His hour of power had passed. The riots did not stop; imminent collapse of the empire, and dire social affliction, were too obvious.

When Ibn al-Furat became wazir for the third time in 923, "he tried to enlarge his power by ruining most of his competitors; he started with the civil servants" (Van Berkel 2007:12). He banished Munis and and tried to eliminate the chamberlain Nasr Qushayri. The Caliph's mother Shaghab intervened. Both Ibn al-Furat and his son Muhassin were executed in 924.

The Caliph al-Muqtadir found that massive problems were emerging in his empire. In 923, the Qarmatis of Bahrain ceased their peace terms by attacking Basra, pillaging that town for more than two weeks. They had a new and aggressive leader in Abu Tahir Sulayman al-Jannabi. The Qarmatis also targeted unfortunate pilgrims returning from Mecca, looting and murdering, while taking many prisoners. The shockwave seared Baghdad. There followed "a decade of devastating raids into Iraq, interspersed with raids on the pilgrim caravans, which greatly enriched the treasury of the Qarmati state." (100)

The Qarmati revolutionaries were now a very grim threat, urged on by their ambitious leader. The Abbasids refused to cede Basra and other territories to Abu Tahir. In 925, the Qarmati force exercised their strength by pillaging Kufa. Two years later, the vengeful Abu Tahir again sacked Kufa, subsequently defeating a large Abbasid army. The Qarmatis moved triumphantly up the Euphrates, intent upon taking Baghdad. In desperation, the Abbasids pitted their commander-in-chief Munis al-Khadim against the invaders; the Greek veteran was successful, having earlier led the struggle against the Fatimids in the Egyptian sector. However, a major drawback occurred when the Qarmati strength of Abu Tahir sparked a revolt of Iraqi Qarmatis in the zone of Wasit and Kufa during 928/9, an uprising assisted by Bedouin tribesmen. An Abbasid general eventually gained the upper hand. Meanwhile, continual damage was being done to the Baghdad economy.

The Ka'ba at Mecca

Abu Tahir launched an audacious attack on Mecca in 930, during the pilgrimage season. For several days his Qarmati followers massacred both pilgrims and the inhabitants. They desecrated sacred places, and even carried away the Black Stone of the Ka'ba to their own capital al-Ahsa in Bahrain. These berserk acts of extremism were apparently intended to mark the end of the Islamic era. Abu Tahir "now became the undisputed master of Arabia and the terror of all nearby rulers." (101) Two years later, he again attacked Kufa, plundering that town for nearly a month.

Urban riots and Qarmati raids did not exhaust the problems confronting the Caliph Muqtadir. His own rebellious military force proved a major obstacle. Muqtadir "would regain control of himself only when going to meet death, after a touching word for his mother, on horseback, a Quran in his hand." (102) He was riding into an ill-fated battle. The fatal nemesis of Muqtadir came in the form of his military commander Munis al-Khadim (d.933), the Greek eunuch who had once been his chief bodyguard. After the execution of Ibn al-Furat, Munis began appointing wazirs. The military commander was now directing state affairs.

Munis (known as al-Muzaffar, the "victorious") gained control of Abbasid events to such an extent that he eventually dethroned Muqtadir, instead appointing the latter's half-brother Al-Qahir (rgd 932-4) as Caliph. Muqtadir could not outwit the pervasive influence of Munis. He was killed by Berber soldiers who cut off his head, a trophy they carried triumphantly to their leader, who was of course Munis. (103)

Shalmaghani also came to a dramatic end. He has been discerned as the instigator of the extreme punishment awarded to Hallaj at the gibbet, furthering the rabid sentiment of "eternal damnation for sorcery." The myth of sorcery in the case of Hallaj was furthered by the political intrigue of the opposing camp. Shalmaghani "was himself put to death in 322/933 in the same manner as his rival." (104)

We are thus confronted with the strange coincidence of two gruesome gibbet deaths, the first apparently incited by the jealousy of the second sufferer. The tenth century Fihrist of Al-Nadim lists Shalmaghani as one of the writers on alchemy, who furthermore claimed spiritual prerogative. The same source reports that Shalmaghani attempted to win over the Imami Shi'ite theologian Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhti (d.924) by offering him miraculous visions of the supernatural. (105) The reliability of this anecdote has been queried. Nawbakhti was certainly another opponent of Hallaj, and perhaps equal to Shalmaghani in this respect. As to visions, these have been staple fare of the occultist milieu over the centuries. While some mystical visions may be liberating, there are too many others that mislead and deceive, including the psychedelic variety.

Shalmaghani was originally a Quran reciter at Wasit. Moving to Baghdad, he worked as a secretary (khatib) at the Abbasid court. He wrote many works on Shia theology and law. Teaching a version of hulul, he was eventually considered extremist by other Shi'is, ascribing himself a lofty spiritual status. He acquired a repute of seeking political power. Shalmaghani gained many prominent followers at Baghdad. In 925 he fled to Mosul when some of his supporters were imprisoned by the wazir al-Khaqani. He afterwards returned in secret to Baghdad, where one of his followers (Ibn Wahb) became a wazir. However, the new Caliph al-Qahir exiled Ibn Wahb because of his connection with Shalmaghani, who was subsequently arrested and executed along with some of his adherents (the year date 934 is often supplied).

The exegesis of Massignon, with respect to the Shalmaghani-Hallaj opposition, seems mainly to be based on the Iblis (Satan) lore (found in the Tawasin), which the French scholar presents in terms of the Hallajian teaching (for the most part obscure) versus Shalmaghani and the Druzes. The latter grouping were not existent at the time of Hallaj, and should be discounted for attendant tenth century events. The gnostic conflict was here larded with a Quranic veneer, though components of hulul (divine indwelling) teaching and tanasukh (transmigration) themes are admitted for Shalmaghani. This was a sub-surface area of Iraqi and Iranian mysticism, associated with Islamic assimilation of Manichaean doctrine by modern scholars; the "neoMazdakite" heritage has also been invoked.

The obscure antagonism reflected in the Hallaj-Shalmaghani episode may have echoes in other directions. For instance, the much earlier friction in Iraq (and Iran) between the gnostic Mani and the high priest Kirder may be of relevance in explaining the conflicts that can occur. Kirder also considered himself to be some kind of "gnostic," in the sense of a revelatory channel for visions, in his case apparently derived through ritual usage of drugs. (106) Kirder's adamance in claimancy of sacred knowledge was accompanied by a denunciation of rival religions in Iran that he was unwilling to tolerate. Kirder is implicated in devising the downfall of Mani, with a resultant inquisition for the rival missionary religion daring to oppose the priestly ministrants of Ahuramazda, who were so well endowed at the Sassanian court.

The process of political decline in Iraq continued after the execution of Hallaj, a factor tending to justify aspects of his example resisting court corruption. The Abbasid indulgence in precarious expenditure could not be stopped by efforts of the virtuous wazir Ali ibn Isa. The final bankruptcy of the Abbasid state has been dated to 930, the year after Ali ibn Isa lost his struggling three year term as wazir in the closing years of the reign of Muqtadir (he was briefly imprisoned at the palace). Massignon blamed this development on Munis al-Khadim (his former patron), whose ambitions for military prominence were attended by economic gains. The Queen Mother Shaghab has received criticism because of her opulent tastes. Massignon argued that Munis was a beneficiary of her largesse. Shaghab had trained the eunuch Munis for the role of military commander, a capacity in which he saved Egypt for the Abbasid cause and later saved Baghdad from the Qarmati invasion.

In 930, Munis attempted to remove Muqtadir from the throne. The deposition lasted for only three days and drained the public treasury. That same year, Munis enforced the sale of Shaghab's landed estates, an action which "benefited only the amirs [local rulers] who were friends of Munis, who bought them at the lowest price." (107) Massignon described this sale in terms of a military instinct for pillage. Munis also had one of his associates steal from Shaghab her last 600,000 dinars, a substantial sum which did not pass to the rebellious troops who were a problem at that time. After an uneasy truce, Munis resorted to a coup d'etat which defeated Muqtadir, resulting in the Caliph's death as mentioned above. The treachery of Munis did not achieve the ends he desired; he was soon after killed by the new Caliph al-Qahir (rgd 932-4), his death occurring in 933. Munis had assisted al-Qahir to the throne, but apparently had plans to eliminate him. The power of this military commander had become an usurping factor in Abbasid politics.

Al-Qahir was another violent entity (Masudi 1989:386-92). Shaghab, mother of the former Caliph, was one of the victims. Divested of her wealth and power, she was now helpless without her son. Al-Qahir himself flogged Shaghab while she hung by one foot from a resplendent and costly silver tree that she had formerly installed in a palace; her crime was that of hindering the new Caliph's precarious economic assets. Shaghab was "arrested and mercilessly tortured," her possessions being confiscated, the victim dying a destitute the following year (Van Berkel 2007:15; cf. MA:189-190, stating: "Shaghab, after being rescued from the punishment that Caliph Qahir inflicted upon her, died ten days later").

Al-Qahir ruthlessly killed his chamberlain, who was sympathetic to Shaghab. Despite his affectation of piety, this ruler was extremely cruel and greedy. His rages were notorious; he emerges as a drunkard. Al-Qahir tortured his brother's sons to obtain their wealth; he had his nephew walled up alive. The resort to violence did not secure his reign. In 934, Al-Qahir was deposed, blinded, and imprisoned. He was freed eleven years later, afterwards having to beg for alms in the streets of Baghdad. He was now just another indigent.

By 935 CE, the Abbasid Caliphate lost control of all territories except the region around Baghdad. Now politically helpless, the restricted Caliphs could do very little to resist the enemies seeking to take Baghdad. The alien Buwayhid regime gained control of the metropolis in 945. When the victorious Ahmad ibn Buwayh entered Baghdad that year, the Turkish guard fled. The new Shi'ite regime was fronted by a horde of tough Daylamite highlanders from the shores of the Caspian. Iraq was now governed as a province from the Buwayhid capital of Shiraz. The Abbasid empire was finished, even though the Caliphs were strategically permitted to remain in nominal authority as a puppet dynasty. They survived in this much reduced manner until the thirteenth century, when the Mongol invasions further changed the pattern of Islamic sociocultures.

13.  Reflections

An official ban on copying and selling the works of Hallaj was maintained until the Mongol conquest. Massignon concluded that many of those works must have been burned. He credited as authentic six surviving epistles, a number of public discourses (as found in the anecdotal Akhbar al-Hallaj), some poetry and prose fragments, plus the Tawasin.

Meanwhile, Hallaj was in the process of transition to becoming a glorified figure in the literature of Persian Sufism. However, this was not at first obvious. Two of the early hagiologists in Sufism deleted the controversial figure from their influential portrayals. Abu Nuaym al-Isfahani (d.1038) totally ignored Hallaj and also denounced the teaching of hulul that was associated with him. Al-Qushayri (d.1072) omitted Hallaj from the biographical pages of his famous Risala, though he does quote a number of Hallaj sayings in the thematic section. Hallaj is there named as Al-Husayn ibn Mansur, being credited with such statements as: "The sign of the gnostic is that he is empty both of this world and of the Hereafter." (108) Of course, such affirmations give little idea of the social and political dimensions in the heretical case history. The hagiologists were unable to tackle historical context, for which a penalty was effectively imposed, including the official ban on works by a heretic.

Sulami (d.1021) of Nishapur awarded Hallaj a brief entry in his Tabaqat al-Sufiyya, observing that most Sufi shaikhs had rejected him. Sulami's own teacher was an exception to the conventional rule in that respect. Subsequently, Hujwiri (d.c.1075) gave Hallaj a defensive entry in his early Persian treatise Kashf al-Mahjub. (109) The orthodox assimilation was substantially furthered in poetical flourishes exercised by Farid al-Din Attar (d.1221), whose Tazkirat al-Awliya included a hagiography of Hallaj attended by an embellished version of the execution at Baghdad. (110) Much of the basic context was lost, though Hallaj certainly became acceptable to Sufism and immortal in Persian poetry.

A stark contrast was the resistance in western sectors of Islam. The Syrian Sunni jurist Ibn Taymiya (d.1328) is noted for supporting an orthodox idea that the condemnation and execution of Hallaj were just. Massignon analysed the influential denunciation of Ibn Taymiya, created by the jurist's opposition to the monism of Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240), the Spanish Arab Sufi. The dogmatic statement was made by the fundamentalist: "Hallaj was justly condemned - and anyone who is not of this opinion is either hypocritical or ignorant; and whoever approves of him must be killed like him." (111) The intolerance is too obvious to need further comment.

Subsequently, modern scholarship laboriously pieced together the puzzle of the past. However, some significances were slow to dawn. The views of Islamicist scholars are notorious for discrepancies over the generations. A British savant, perhaps influenced by the fundamentalism of IbnTaimiya, asserted many decades ago that Hallaj was "justly condemned," (112) a view which may be considered erroneous. Massignon thought very much to the contrary, elevating Hallaj above his famous Sufi contemporaries Junayd and Abu Yazid al-Bistami. (113)

The German scholar Max Horten objected to Massignon's version of Hallaj, stating: "Hallaj is a Brahmanist thinker of the clearest water," (114) a contention relating to a theory of Indian influence on Sufism. Various doctrinal arguments about "pantheism" served to obscure the essential train of events.

There has been some discussion of the phrase Ana'l-Haqq, "the famous cry, attributed to Hallaj, a response he was supposed to have made, prior to his final vocation, around 896, at the time of his break with the [Junaydi] sufis." Massignon was here commenting on a verse in the Akhbar al-Hallaj, compiled circa 971, a verse that received diverse responses over the centuries from Muslim writers. (115) The phrase also appears as an interpolation in the Tawasin of Hallaj. The version of Professor Herbert Mason reflects: "One can thus conclude that, if the statement of Ana'l-Haqq is not found in the works of Hallaj, it was actually uttered by him, being consistent with his teaching." (116)

Quite irrespective of a famous gnostic slogan, much rehearsed in Hallaj legends, the tragic end of Hallaj effectively punctuated the muted discontent of several generations of retiring Sunni (and proto-Sufi) ascetics who were dissatisfied with political corruption and conveniences. Hallaj affords a dramatic instance of confrontation with political power that cannot be found elsewhere in the history of Islamic mysticism (excepting perhaps the episode of Suhrawardi Maqtul, classified as a philosopher). However, his instance is comparable, despite doctrinal differences, with the brutal repression of Mani and his followers by the Sassanian political situation six centuries earlier. Like Hallaj, Mani dared to come forward with an alternative approach unacceptable to the governing classes, who then included the Mazdean priesthood.


Kevin R. D. Shepherd

December 2010 (modified May 2021)



(1)    See L. Massignon La Passion d'al-Hosayn ibn Mansour al-Hallaj, martyr mystique de l'Islam (2 vols, Paris, 1922); idem, La Passion de Husayn Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (4 vols, Paris: Gallimard, 1975), translated by H. Mason as The Passion of Al-Hallaj, Mystic and Martyr of Islam (4 vols, Princeton University Press, 1982). See further the useful abridgment in Herbert Mason, The Passion of Al-Hallaj (Princeton University Press, 1994).

(2)    The 2003 entry on Hallaj (by Jawid Mojaddedi) in Encyclopaedia Iranica online describes the Passion as being "highly interpretative in parts, as a result of the importance of the subject for Massignon's own spiritual odyssey." Elsewhere, some published remarks of mine respected the version of Massignon, noting his affinity with Mahatma Gandhi, while expressing a dissatisfaction with the "martyr" theme (Shepherd, The Resurrection of Philosophy, Cambridge 1989, pp. 147-8).

(3)    On the career of the French scholar, see Mary Louise Gude, Louis Massignon: The Crucible of Compassion (University of Notre Dame Press, 1997); Jacques Waardenburg, "Louis Massignon (1883-1962) as a Student of Islam," Die Welt des Islams (2005) NS 45(3):312-42.

(4)    The overall corpus of Massignon included his early Quatre textes inedits relatifs a la biographie d'al-Hallaj (Paris 1914). See also Massignon and Paul Kraus, eds., Akhbar al-Hallaj (1936; third edn, Paris 1957). See also Massignon, Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulmane (Paris 1922; revised edn, 1954), trans. by B. Clark as Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islamic Mysticism (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994). Another well known work is Massignon, Recueil des textes inedits concernant l'histoire de la mystique en pays d'Islam (Paris 1929). See also Opera Minora de Louis Massignon, ed. Y. Moubarac (3 vols, Beirut: Dar al-Maarif, 1962-3). See further H. Mason, ed. and trans., Testimonies and Reflections: Essays of Louis Massignon (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989).

(5)    Mason, The Passion of Al-Hallaj (1994), p. 24. In these notes I will hereafter refer to Professor Herbert Mason's abridgment as MA (Massignon Abridged). Mason (Boston University) spent many years in translating and editing the magnum opus of Massignon. See also Mason, Reflections on Louis Massignon.

(6)    MA:26, along with the rather enigmatic statement: "The majority of the family seems to have gone over to Islam, with a sizeable minority remaining Zoroastrians, plus a few Christians and Jews" (ibid). Hallaj was later mistaken for a Yemenite, though his grandfather Mahamma was a Zoroastrian. The confusion apparently occurred because Bayda was colonised by the Harithiya, clients of an Arab Yemenite tribe (MA:10).

(7)    MA:10. Elsewhere, Mason states that Hallaj was born "of Persian parents" in the village of Tur, near Bayda. See Mason, Al-Hallaj (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1995), p. 1.

(8)    See Gerhard Bowering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Quranic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl at-Tustari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), pp. 185-6, 265. There are no direct references in the sources as to whether Sahl was an Arab or an Iranian; the Arabic appearance of his name, and the Arabic wording of his sayings, do not necessarily indicate Arab ancestry. Bowering says (ibid:44-5) that Sahl could well have been an Iranian mawla, basing this deduction upon the references in Arabic texts attesting that he had a habit of addressing both friends and foes with the Persian words ya dust ("O friend"). His native tongue could therefore have been Persian. However, a statement of Ansari appears to imply an Arab ancestry on his mother's side. The Tafsir attributed to him may have been in oral transmission before being elaborated by disciples at an early date. Professor Bowering describes this work as a mystical commentary on selected Quranic passages, marked by a general disjointedness, and interspersed with Sahl's aphorisms on Sufi themes; the work is interpolated with later additions and glosses. The extant six manuscripts of the Tustari Tafsir include many variant readings, deriving from an archetype some 250 years later than the original composition (ibid:263).

(9)     Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 38ff, commenting that Sahl "may have met the Egyptian sage Dhu'l Nun (d.245/860), who is regularly cited in later sources as his spiritual forbear" (ibid:38). This legendary encounter may have occurred in Egypt or Mecca during the early travels of Sahl.

(10)    Ibid:43, stating that such aspects of Tustari's thought and practice "should be seen as particular to the Basran milieu and lower Iraq in general" (ibid). The trend to vegetarianism is discernible amongst some early Sufi types such as Abdak al-Sufi, whose biographical details are more elusive. Abdak lived at Kufa in the early ninth century; he may have been a vegetarian and may have believed in reincarnation (tanasukh). See note 8 of my Early Sufism in Iran, on this website.

(11)   MA:30, also specifying the ritual purification before prayer and the less conventional concept of the pre-eternal Nur Muhammadi (Light of Muhammad). See also Massignon, The Passion of Hallaj Vol. I (1982), pp. 62ff, observing that the departure of Hallaj to Basra was interpreted by two hostile sources as a lack of respect for Sahl. Massignon may be wrong in assuming that Hallaj left Sahl because he wanted an "immediate comprehension of divine things which the exercise of reason does not allow one to attain" (ibid:72ff.). Too little is known about that phase for decisive conclusions to be made.

(12)   Mason, Al-Hallaj (1995), p.3. Mason emphasises that the Basra sojourn of Hallaj accentuated his awareness of social injustice (ibid:5).

(13)   Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 46. On the Zanj rebellion, see Alexandre Popovic, The Revolt of African Slaves in Iraq in the 3rd/9th Century, trans. Leon King (Princeton, NJ: Marcus Wiener, 1999). Cf. M. A. Shaban, Islamic History: A New Interpretation Vol. 2: A. D. 750-1055 (Cambridge University Press, 1976). Popovic describes a black slave revolt in Iraq, contrary to revisionist versions which tend to deny or modify the racist scenario in Islam. Shaban views the majority of the Zanj as Arabs and free East Africans. Cf. Ghada Hashem Talhami, "The Zanj Rebellion Reconsidered," International Journal of African Historical Studies (1977) 10 (3):443-61, referring to semi-liberated slaves, clients of prestigious families, artisans, peasantry, and some Bedouin peoples living near Basra. The precise components of the Zanj revolt are difficult to define; however, the black slave factor is too prominent to ignore. A basic source is al-Tabari (839-923), a contemporary historian. See David Waines, trans., The History of al-Tabari, Volume XXXVI, The Revolt of the Zanj (State University of New York Press, 1992; Phillip M. Fields, trans., The History of al-Tabari, Vol. XXXVII: The Abbasid Recovery (State University of New York Press, 1987). See also David Brown, "Zanj: Revolt, Conflict and Change" (2013), online at academia.edu. Brown observes that the Zanj episode was the first major revolt against the Muslim practice of slavery, a resistance which caused the Abbasid government to restrict the importation of African slaves. Another consequence was that "the plantation style slave system would be eliminated in the area" of Basra (ibid:11). Cf. Nicholas C. McLeod, Race, Rebellion, and Arab Muslim Slavery: the Zanj Rebellion in Iraq, 869-883 CE (Thesis, University of Louisville, Kentucky, 2016, online). McLeod urges that racial factors involved here were more important than class struggle. He observes that Popovic disproves the claim of Talhami that there could not have been a large population of black slaves in Basra at the time of the revolt. Popovic cites records of Muslim trade posts in East Africa in 720 CE. Popovic also describes two previous Zanj rebellions in Iraq, dating to 689 and 694 CE, both of these being reported in terms of African slave revolts (ibid:3-4). McLeod refers to Zanj violence in terms of escaping the "inferior status projected by the racially dominant Arab" (ibid:122).

(14)   Mason 1995:5-6; MA:31, 38. 

(15)   Mason 1995:79, adding that to the end of his life, Hallaj raised an outcry "on behalf of sufferers from injustice" (ibid), his life pattern being consistent in this respect.

(16)   A. H. Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd (London: Luzac, 1976), pp. 35ff. Dr. Abdel-Kader was Dean of Theology at Al-Azhar University. He was disposed to see the influence of Plotinus on aspects of Junaydi Sufism, though he classifies Junayd as being a mystic whose "teaching is thus always aphoristic, not systematic" like that of the Neoplatonist philosopher (ibid:116).

(17)   Reynold A. Nicholson, trans., The Kashf al-Mahjub: The Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufism (1911; new edn, London: Luzac, 1936), pp. 130-1. This statement of Hujwiri occurs in his entry on Nuri, who is here represented in the ten approved sects by the contingent called Nuris, who are specified along with Junaydis and others. Hujwiri asserts that "the whole body of aspirants to Sufism is composed of twelve sects, two of which are condemned, while the remaining ten are approved" (ibid:130). The condemned Hululiyya or Hulmaniyya here denoted the grouping named after Abu Hulman al-Dimashqi (d.c. 951). The latter entity became associated after his death with the controversial practice of "seeing God in every beautiful being" (Karamustafa 2007:105), which could easily lead to abuses. The Hulmaniyya were also accused of a belief in the transmigration of souls, regarded as a crime by Islamic legalists and theologians, a bias which does not in itself prove wrongdoing.

(18)   MA:38, implying an advantageous economic connection with clients of the Hammadite qadis (legalist judges). Makki himself became titular qadi of Jeddah, an event resisted by Junayd, who refused to preside at Makki's funeral service. The disputed status role was acquired via the "Hammadite qadi, Abu Umar, famous misappropriator of funds" who assisted in the execution of Hallaj (ibid).

(19)   MA:56. See also A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (2007), p. 35 note 87, saying that Amr Makki "apparently denied the value of inner states."

(20)   MA:6, citing from the distinctive document by Hamd (the son of Hallaj), featured by the historian Abu Bakr ibn Thabit Khatib (d.1071) in his Tarikh Baghdad, and mediated via Ibn Bakuya Shirazi, a traditionist historian with an interest in Sufism.

(21)   Mason 1995:10.

(22)   On the Qarmati rebels, see Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 116ff, 160ff. The Qarmati movement is strongly associated with Hamdan Qarmat, a convert to Ismailism during the 870s, thereafter active as a missionary (dai) in the villages near Kufa and other regions of southern Iraq. He gained many converts, who became known as Qarmati (plural Qaramita). His success was assisted by the Zanj revolt, which distracted the attention of the Abbasid government. The Qarmati movement has been described as both revolutionary and messianic, being one manifestation of the Ismaili phenomenon. Converts were easily made amongst dissatisfied subscribers to Imami Shi'ism, viewed by radicals as effete by comparison. In 890/891 Hamdan Qarmat established a fortified centre near Kufa for his movement; Baghdad politicians were slow to grasp the threat posed to their rule. Three revolts by the Qaramita were attempted during the latter part of the reign of Caliphal al-Mutadid (rgd 892-902), but these were ruthlessly quelled. The Qaramita claimed to be the medium of restoring justice and true religion. Their movement gained a militant complexion by 891. Hamdan instigated a mission in the Arabian territory of Bahrain, which proved successful amongst both Bedouins and resident Iranians. The industrious dai Abu Said al-Jannabi gained such local support that his force entered Hajar, the capital of Bahrain, where an Abbasid governor resided. The Caliph al-Mutadid sent an army to quell this uprising, but the Abbasid attack was defeated. Subsequently, Junnabi established his headquarters at Al-Ahsa, which eventually became the capital of the Qarmati state of Bahrain in 926. That new revolutionary state lasted for nearly two centuries. Meanwhile, Hamdan Qarmat had become disillusioned by doctrinal and militant deviations within the sect. He disappeared in 899. Zikrawayh ibn Mihrawayh (a dai of western Iraq) conspired against other Qarmati leaders in Iraq; he instigated the murder of Abdan, becoming the chief dai in Iraq (ibid:126). The ambitious and menacing Zikrawayh instigated Qarmati revolts in Syria during the reign of Caliph al-Muktafi (902-908), relying heavily upon the conversion of Bedouin tribesmen in the Syrian desert, converts "who were more interested in booties than in any ideological issues" (Daftary 1990:133). These insurgents attacked several towns, including Damascus, and committed a massacre at Salamiyya. The confronting Abbasid army met with both victory and defeat in the contests that ensued. A Qarmati leader was executed. However, the aggressive warriors subsequently pillaged caravans of Iraqi/Iranian pilgrims returning from Mecca, and were guilty of massacre. In 907, the Qarmati instigator Zikrawayh ibn Mihrawayh was defeated in battle by the Abbasids, who regained their precarious control over Syria and Egypt (ibid). Zikrawayh was captured by the Abbasids, dying in captivity. "Many of his followers were killed at the same time, bringing about an end to the Syro-Mesopotamian Qarmati revolts" (ibid:133). The punitive exploits of this rebel contingent aroused the aversion of both peasant and urban populations. See also note 227 of my Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism, featured on this website.

(23)    Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 3 (1982), p. 19.

(24)    Ibid:220-1.

(25)    Ibid:220.

(26)    Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1 (1982), p. 123; MA:62.

(27)    Henrik S. Nyberg, "Nazzam," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 3 (first edn, Leiden: E.J. Brill), pp. 892-3; Josef Van Ess, "Abu Eshaq Nazzam," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. Nazzam was a mawla (convert) of lowly birth, living in Basra where his uncle was leader of the local branch of the Mutazila. He was precocious, though "his glib refutation of Aristotle... reveals only premature self-confidence" (Van Ess, art. cit.). He later moved to Baghdad, being favoured (after 819) by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun (rgd 813-33), and receiving a government stipend that made him wealthy. Nazzam wrote many books that did not survive, also panegyrics of Caliphs, wazirs, and other prominent persons. Reputedly interested in Greek philosophy and the Iranian religious tradition, he nurtured a strong dislike of Sufis, whose ascetic contempt for business and wealth was not amenable to him. He was accused of homosexuality and a passion for drinking. Nazzam was basically a theologian, seeking to refine the techniques of kalam (theology) in vogue amongst the early Mutazilis. He appears to have been obsessed with polemic against the Manichaean religion, one indication of the insularity that featured in Mutazili "rationalism," which could be very dogmatic. One Mutazilite belief was "eternal punishment for a grave sinner" (ibid). Nazzam is considered to have been an original thinker within the right wing Mutazila; his ideas proved assimilable outside Mutazili circles. Some of his followers "advanced the doctrine of metempsychosis (which they may have derived from Nazzam's concept of ruh) and were excluded from the school" (ibid).

(28)    Mason 1995:8.

(29)    Ibid:6. The same author refers to "the forbidden incarnational matter of the experience of personal union with God" (ibid:36), a profundity also associated with the meditations of Dhu'l Nun al-Misri, Abu Yazid al-Bistami, Nuri, and others. The teaching of hulul is here indicated, one that has gained differing verbal formulations and interpretations, some of them simplistic. The "union with God" was not the same as the Christian theme of Incarnation. The Ismaili sects diversely employed this theme in relation to imamology. The later dervish orders generally avoided "pantheistic" beliefs, as the legalist ulama were always trying to condemn those formulations. In fourteenth century Mamluk Egypt, for instance, an insistence was to "censure anyone who inclines towards belief in ittihad or hulul " (J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 162). Cf. L. Massignon - G. C. Anawati, "Hulul," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 3 (new edn), pp. 570-1; R. A. Nicholson - G. C. Anawati, "Ittihad," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 4 (new edn), pp. 282-3.

(30)   For a translation of the Tawasin, see Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 3: The Teaching of Al-Hallaj (1982), pp. 282ff. See also Massignon, ed. and trans., Kitab al-Tawasin (Paris, 1913).

(31)  J. Mojaddedi, "Hallaj, Abu'l Mogit Hosayn" (2003) Encyclopaedia Iranica online

(32)   MA:107. Massignon stated that the evidence is not decisive as to where Hallaj absorbed the Hellenistic influences. The French scholar tended to rule out the so-called Sabaean milieu of Basra, associated with talismanic and alchemical formulae that were attributed to Hallaj. Instead he favoured "the gnostic and hermetic milieu of the zanadiqa ruhaniya" (ibid:109), an evocative attribution which includes Qarmati conceptualism and "the Salmaniyan school of the ashab al-Sin" (ibid). An extremist Shi'ite complexion (associated partly with Abu'l-Khattab) is here afforded, possibly at Kufa, though more likely in Khurasan, where Hallaj stayed for longer, and where his emerging (though obscure) colony at Talaqan was located in "an old center of Shi'ite uprisings" (ibid). The Salmaniyan lore is named after the legendary Salman al-Farisi, the first Iranian convert to Islam, who became a Shi'ite figurehead. Salman is considered very obscure by historians, while even the later Abu'l-Khattab (eighth century) presents problems in detail. Khattab was a non-Arab mawla (client) at Kufa, one of the so-called ghulat ("extremists" or "exaggerators") who believed in radical teachings such as hulul. The non-Arab ghulat "brought with them a multitude of ideas from their varied backgrounds" (F. Daftary, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, p. 68). In particular, their "speculations on the soul and the nature of its reward and punishment probably originated from Manichaeism" (ibid). Originally committed to religious thought, some ghulat leaders became involved in political activity when the Umayyad Caliphate floundered and became their target. Khattab was "the first Shi'i to have organised a movement of a specifically batini type, namely, esoteric and gnostic" (ibid: 88). Scant information is available about his doctrines, though Khattab apparently entertained militant objectives. He was eventually crucified at the order of the governor of Kufa. This was circa 755. The early Khattabis are "credited with emphasising the batini ta'wil, the esoteric or allegorical interpretation of the Quran" (ibid:89). See also W. Madelung, "Khattabiyya," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 4 (new edn), pp. 1132-33. See also A. Sachedina, "Abu'l-Kattab Asadi," Encyclopaedia Iranica online, informing that a number of Khattab's followers were also executed with him. The Khattabis appear to have influenced the belief of the subsequent Nusayri sect in hulul, here rendered as "manifestation of the Deity in man." The Nusayris were a distinctive Ismaili community in Syria, whose texts revere Khattab, in contrast to his condemnation as a heretic in Fatimid Ismaili works (ibid).

(33)   MA:82ff, 58. According to Massignon, Nawbakhti and Jubbai collaborated in their interpretation of certain events in Ahwaz, during which Hallaj procured some provisions in an unusual manner. Their hostile version later influenced the polemical pamphlet of Awariji at Baghdad concerning the alleged miracles of Hallaj. See note 37 below. Abu Sahl Nawbakhti may have been a major persecutor of Hallaj, with a more pervasive influence in that direction than is immediately apparent from the disjointed sources. An Imami scholar of Baghdad, Nawbakhti was distinct from the Mutazila. He eventually became recognised as the leader of the Imami community in Baghdad, meaning the Twelver Shi'is as distinct from the "extremists." There were elaborate discussions about the concealed Twelfth Imam. Nawbakhti evidently regarded Hallaj as a rival to this Imam lore. None of his own works are extant, though he is known to have contributed to the doctrine specifying the occultation (ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam. Nawbakhti is reported to have attacked the alleged miraculous powers of Hallaj, a development associated with a sojourn of the former in or near Ahwaz, which has been differently dated (circa 893 by Massignon). Nawbakhti disputed in Ahwaz with the Mutazilite theologian Abu Ali Jubbai (d.916), who may have been influenced by him concerning Hallaj. One traditional version of the conflict says that Hallaj sent letters to Nawbakhti in an attempt to win his support; the Imami leader shunned him by ridiculing the supposed miraculous abilities. A recent view is that Nawbakhti was actively involved in precipitating the condemnation of Hallaj which occurred at the latter's trial in Baghdad. "This is not unlikely, though there is no positive information about his role in the sources" (W. Madelung, "Abu Sahl Nawbakti," Encyclopaedia Iranica online). Nawbakhti's rival Abu Ali Jubbai was an Iranian born in Khuzistan, sojourning in Basra and Baghdad before returning to Khuzestan and residing at Askar Mokram. This Mutazili theologian wrote numerous works, almost none of which survived; he "played a crucial role in the development of Mutazilite doctrine, formulating a refined theological framework that served as the doctrinal basis for the Basran school of the Mutazilites" (quote from Sabine Schmidtke, "Jobba'i," Encyclopaedia Iranica online).

(34)   MA:97.

(35)   MA:148. Massignon adds an interpretation assuming that the legends of miracles are accurate. He suggests that this issue of miracles was the reason why the Sufis abandoned Hallaj, who had blurred the distinction between saints and prophets. Hallaj had not abandoned the technical language of nascent Sufism, which he spoke in public at the end of his life. The French scholar was keen to assert that the personality of Hallaj had not been destroyed by his mystical experiences, in contrast with (Massignon's version of) the teaching of Junayd. The Junaydi theme of fana (annihilation) is not the easiest to interpret. According to Massignon, only one disciple of Junayd appears to have revised the theology of his master in conformity with the thought of Hallaj. Yet the sect of Abu Yaqub al-Mazabili was "officially denounced and nothing came of it" (ibid). Cf. A.H. Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd (1976), pp. 81ff on fana, also mentioning the important additional factor of baqa. "Fana and Baqa mean the same state from a different aspect. When one has reached the complete Fana [annihilation] of one's individuality in God, one , at the same time, is remaining and perpetuated in God. Fana is not merely the cessation of Self, like the Buddhist Nirvana, but, as we have seen, it includes the continuation of the worshipper's self in God" (ibid:82). The fana-baqa polarity has been variously interpreted, being neglected in the West by comparison with more popular Buddhist and Hindu doctrines.

(36)   MA:147, quoting an anecdote of Zakariya al-Qazwini (d.1283).

(37)   MA:149, observing that prior to the death of Hallaj, the "miracles" were the subject of a hostile pamphlet by the ex-Sufi Awariji, which led to the accusing trial being reopened in 922, though the victim was not executed for miracles but for heresy. Awariji evidently complained about the report of Hallaj bringing to life a dead parrot during his confinement at the palace; the prisoner also reputedly cured the Caliph of fever. Awariji seems to have been disposed to Mutazilite argument (ibid:224-5). He gained a role in the fiscal administration. His pamphlet only survives in the fragmented form of anecdotes. The account of Hamd, son of Hallaj, does not extol his father as a miracleworker; Hamd merely observes that some people said the heretic was a sorcerer, others urged that he was a madman, while yet others maintained that he performed miracles (ibid:7).

(38)   MA:150, citing the statement of Mufid on the Hallajiya. A related matter is the composition of the Riwayat, traditions preserved only by one source, giving a version of Hallaj's preaching which Massignon dated to 894-907. The French scholar at first doubted the authenticity of this collection, because the teaching is rudimentary and the terminology adapted to a popular audience. Hallaj here claims powers in exhorting believers to interiorise the divine presence he has penetrated. The literary history of the Rivayat is difficult to establish (The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 3, 1982, pp. 277-8). The contents were collected by Ruzbihan Baqli (d.1209) in the late twelfth century. Baqli was a Sufi of Shiraz who tended to a markedly poetic format. It is easy to believe that the Riwayat represent a late and diluted version of Hallaj traditions. See also Passion Vol. 1, pp. 150ff, stating that in his early preaching phase, Hallaj went from town to town and mosque to mosque, delivering in public short maxims relating to religious morality. One may believe that his reputation for miracleworking was principally due to the campaign of his Shi'ite and Mutazilite enemies at court in the final phase of his career.

(39)   MA:150. Massignon affirmed that the conservative Sufis did not possess the courage of Hallaj. The French scholar reflects on the indication of how "many Sufis believed that, in theory Hallaj was right." The problem being that, in practice, prophetic authority was compromised by divulging the "secret of divine omnipotence" (sirr al-rububiya).

(40)   MA:140-1. Ahwaz is not always clearly defined by Massignon. This was a major town in Khuzistan, apparently flourishing even in pre-Islamic times (the name Ahwaz is sometimes found as a regional identity). The province of Khuzistan was named after the original inhabitants, the Kuzi, mentioned by the classical Greek authors, a people whose language apparently survived until the Sassanian era. The Arabs invaded that province in the 630s, destroying the administrative centre of the Sassanians, while preserving the commercial half of the town, which they named Suq al-Ahwaz. The historian Tabari records that Ahwaz was occupied by the Zanj rebels in 874-5, when they plundered and burned houses. The town remained a commercial centre, mediating products such as fruit and rice flour from Isfahan and Fars en route to Basra. Local manufactures prominently included silk textiles and brocades, with sugarcane also in demand. The prosperity of Ahwaz declined by the late tenth century CE, the town becoming depopulated by the twelfth century. See C. E. Bosworth et al, "Ahvaz," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

(41)   MA:145.

(42)   A.T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (2007), pp. 11ff, informing that, "according to one tradition, he [Nuri] was a petty merchant or artisan in the early part of his life." Cf. Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1 (1982), pp. 79ff., describing Nuri as the leader of the hululi extremist faction of the Baghdad Sufis, who suffered from the hostile attention of the Hanbali preacher Ghulam Khalil.

(43)   MA:14, informing that the journey to Central Asia necessitated joining a caravan of his mercantile bazzazin friends in Tustar, a caravan transporting expensive Iraqi brocades in mercantile exchange for Chinese paper, under the protection of Samanid rulers who enlisted volunteers for jihad (holy war). Massignon tended to assume the hostility of Hallaj towards the Manichaean zandaqa; however, there is no proof of his participation in jihad tactics.

(44)   MA:7.

(45)   Mason, Al-Hallaj (1995), p. 54. Professor Mason adds that Hallaj represented a persistent recurrence in Islam of the universalist impulse, as distinct from the conservative tendency of "so many of the ascetical and politically motivated traditionalists" who influenced the common people (ibid). See also MA:104, for Massignon's observation that the syncretist and universalist aspect of Hallaj was very unusual for a Sunni Muslim, and that "this state of mind is actually a philosophical one."

(46)   On Mani, see George Widengren, Mani and Manichaism (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1965); Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (Cambridge: Philosophical Press, 1995), pp. 350ff; Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism, section 11 and note 170, featured on this website; W. Sundermann, "Mani," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. A notable Islamic source, namely the Fihrist of Al-Nadim (d. 990), supplements older documents. "The account in the Fehrest is the most extensive, varied, and reliable non-Manichean description of Mani and his teachings, and it is of the highest value for research on Manicheism even after the discovery of numerous Manichean original sources" (see Rudolf Sellheim et al, "Fehrest," Encyclopaedia Iranica online, from the section on "Manicheism in the Fehrest" by Werner Sundermann). Al-Nadim records that he had known about 300 Manicheans in Baghdad during the mid-tenth century, though at the time of writing (circa 987/8), there were "hardly more than five." This acute minority element evidently made it easier for the author to comment without polemic on a frequently persecuted religion that was almost extinct in Islamic territory (art. cit.). Sadly, many Muslim sources were censorious, and likewise the Christian variety. Even Massignon expressed a rather dour treatment of the subject in his Passion. Cf. Bayard Dodge, trans., The Fihrist of Al-Nadim (2 vols, Columbia University Press, 1970), a compendium including a chapter on the Manichaeans (classical spelling preferred here).

(47)   MA:180, stating that moderate Shi'ite heresiographers point to Mada'in as the nucleus for the "extremist" Shi'ite heresy. See also Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (1988), pp. 59-60, describing the Kharijite problem. "Each [Kharijite] group was at once a terrorist band and a fanatical religious sect; they were held together by the conviction that they were the only true Muslims" (ibid:60). According to Massignon, a Manichaean "patriarch" survived at Mada'in until 908; an imposed exile gained protection from the powerful Qaghan, king of the Uighur Turks of Qocho. The Qaghan was a convert to the Manichaean religion from 762 CE. For some details relevant to the Manichaeism of the Uighur Turks at Qocho, see, e.g., H. J. Klimkeit, "Manichaean Kingship: Gnosis at home in the world," Numen (1982) 29:17-32, observing that the metamorphosis of Manichaeism into a state religion under the Qaghans afforded a different ideological orientation to that found in earlier Iranian and Coptic documents (ibid: 27ff). Further, the Manichaean monasteries during the Turkic era were not places stressing the ideal of poverty, instead tending to become centres of political and economic power. The monasteries at Qocho gained estates, storehouses, and horses; the resident priests (tangrilar) had servants waiting on them at meals; they gained a position of authority that Manichaeans had not enjoyed anywhere else outside the Turkish world. A small Manichaean kingdom survived in the Turkish zone until the thirteenth century.

(48)   MA:177; Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1 (1982), pp. 140ff, remarking upon the alleged contact of Hallaj with the Hermetic philosophy of the alchemists. Both Nestorian scholars and Sunni falasifa were hostile to alchemy (Al-Kindi condemned it, though Razi is said to have studied the subject). Extremist Shi'ites are here stated to have propagated alchemy by vulgarising in symbolic form the esoterism fashionable in Kufa, which extended to astrological lore.

(49)   MA:14, 108. According to Massignon, Shaghab (d.933) was originally a Greek slave, freed by the Caliph al-Mutadid, whose son (Muqtadir) she bore. Shaghab gained a strong political role at the Baghdad court, and possessed landed estates. She was involved in heavy expenditure and maintained courtly pomp, though also providing foundations for the poor and creating four hospitals in Baghdad in addition to the one existing. The hospital project occurred as a consequence of liaison achieved by the wazir Ali ibn Isa with medical experts like Razi. Shaghab was a fervent Sunni, probably a Hanbali; her son is said to have been inclined at times to Shi'ism. Shaghab acted as a regent to her son in the early years of his reign, and viewed Hallaj in a favourable light (MA:185ff). However, the contact of Hallaj with Razi, pressed by Massignon, is far less certain. The eleventh century Sufi commentator Hujwiri stated that Hallaj had been the master (ustad) of Mhd ibn Zakariyya, who was identified by R. A. Nicholson with the philosopher Razi. See Nicholson, trans., The Kashf al-Mahjub (1936), p. 150. Massignon reported this reference as though the Sufi Hallaj was being named (The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1, 1982, p. 190). However, Hujwiri was actually saying that the Sufi Hallaj had been confused with another entity, one who emerges as Hasan ibn Mansur al-Hallaj al-Baghdadi, identified as a Qarmati. See Hasan ud Din Hashmi, "Al-Hallaj between Reality and Misunderstanding," Jusur - UCLA Jnl of Middle Eastern Studies (1987) 3:61-81, pp. 72ff. Hashmi identifies the Qarmati-affiliated Hallaj as the conjuror with the special room at Basra, contrary to Massignon. The chronicler Ibn Khallikan failed to distinguish between the two Hallaj entities, unlike Hujwiri. According to Hashmi, the Qarmati Hallaj was arrested the same year as the Sufi Hallaj (301 A.H.) and executed that same year, whereas the Sufi Hallaj died nearly a decade later.

(50)   Lenn E. Goodman, "Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi" (198-215) in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy Part 1 (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 205. The empirical tendency of Razi departed from the Hermetic style, and may have gained from the fact that he "was plainly not averse to watching traders and craftspeople work" (ibid).

(51)   Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy (second edn, Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 105. Razi's philosophy is here found to "reflect a distinct Platonic-Pythagorean influence, which ran counter to the Islamic concept of revelation" (ibid).

(52)   MA:109.

(53)   MA:15.

(54)   MA:74. Massignon stressed the difference between the last preaching phase and the earlier itinerant schedule. He reflected that the complete Arabicization of Hallaj (in terms of language) meant a less direct form of communication in Iranian towns than was achieved by other Iranian ascetics like Bistami and Kharaqani, who were at home with Persian dialects. Insofar as transmission is concerned, the Akhbar al-Hallaj contains "public discourses" attributed to the mystic, though that work was heavily edited, the components being assembled at different periods and by different hands. About fifty years after the death of Hallaj, one editor/compiler was Nasrabadhi (c.908-979), a bookseller (warraq) of Nishapur whose radical sympathies aroused anatagonism from the ogres of doctrinal formalism. Nasrabadhi sojourned for a time in Baghdad, where he became a pupil of Shibli, returning to Nishapur after the Sufi's death. Massignon traced the origins of the renewed trend of indictment to the Asharite theologian Ibn Yazdaniyar, who moved to Baghdad between 928-38, where he attacked Shibli and other Sufis with the stigma of hulul. See further Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 2: The Survival of Al-Hallaj (1982), pp. 205ff, 55ff, 104. See also note 109 below.

(55)   On this figure, see my webpage Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi.

(56)   MA:136.

(57)   MA:134.

(58)   Ibid.

(59)   MA:136, stating that the relevant composition had been dictated by Hallaj at Kufa. With regard to poetry, Hallaj is thought to have added the recitation of his verses to the preaching he gave in public places at Baghdad. The recitation would have been performed by a professional reciter (or reciters). An equivalent in song may have occurred at private houses to which he was invited. Such salon practices were in contemporary vogue. The Diwan al-Hallaj is a collection of poems attributed to Hallaj. See Carl W. Ernst, trans., Hallaj: Poems of a Sufi Martyr (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2018).

(60)   MA:16. Following the version of Massignon, the late Professor Annemarie Schimmel commented that both the Shi'i and Sunni supporters of respective wazirs at the court "were afraid that the effect on the people of spiritual revival might have repercussions on the social organisation and even on the political structure" (Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, University of North Carolina Press, 1975, p. 68). Otherwise, the version of Schimmel keeps to literary and theological themes, with the result perhaps that much of the perspective is lost. The significance of Hallaj moves so strongly into the political and social dimensions of his environment that the poetic extensions can be distracting. Professor Mason deduced that Hallaj preached against the corrupt practices endorsed by the Caliph al-Muqtadir. See Herbert Mason, The Death of Al-Hallaj (University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), p. x. Mason compared Hallaj, in some moments, to a combination of John of the Cross and Francis of Assisi (ibid:viii). However, the Christian resemblances are very partial. "He saw himself, not as a crypto-Christian - which his martyrdom suggests and which his enemies accused him of being - but as a renewer and mystical complementer of Muhammad's early vocation" (ibid:xvii). Massignon early stated that Hallaj did not preach social revolution like the other missionaries of his time (meaning the Qarmatis), but instead a mystical change in human hearts (The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1, 1982, from the foreword dating to 1914). In the preface to the new edition of Passion, Massignon reflected that Hallaj dared to express himself in the dogmatic vocabulary of his adversaries, here meaning the Mutazilites, which none of the other mystics had done. His purpose was to give an account, in a reasoned manner, of the experience underlying his rule of life, deriving from the "science of hearts" (ilm al-qulub) theme taught by Harith al-Muhasibi (d.857). The latter was an early Sufi of Baghdad noted for his analysis of conscience and the forms of egoism created by the lower self or nafs. Muhasibi argued that the nafs blocked the function of the mystical "heart" (qalb), a drawback necessitating an intense self-examination employing reason (aql) and aspiration. Hallaj was grounded in this early Sufi psychology, doubtless facilitated by his contact with Sahl al-Tustari.

(61)   MA:162. Massignon speculated that Ibn Dawud denounced Hallaj as a qass, a word having the connotation of an uneducated preacher, a category who were liable to incite mobs. This expedient would have been deceptive, Hallaj being "an esteemed theological author, who was in contact with the various schools of the learned scholars of Islam, Mutazilite, Imamite, Sunnite, and knowledgeable in the language" (ibid:163). The narrative also informs that because of his ex-Bedouin audience, his sermons featured terminology shared with Qarmati missionaries. Massignon suggests that Ibn Dawud and his wealthy Imami Shi'ite friends misinterpreted the intention of Hallaj as one of social revolution in the Qarmati sense, not understanding his central teaching (ibid).

(62)   Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 128. See also Masudi, The Meadows of Gold - The Abbasids, trans. Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone (London: Routledge, 1989); Hugh N. Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century (Harlow: Pearson, 1986; second edn, 2004; third edn, 2015); Tayeb al-Hibri, The Abbasid Caliphate: A History (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

(63)   Lapidus 1988:129. Cf. J. J. Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 103, informing that the Abbasid dynasty created the new office of wazir, amounting to the authority of a Vice-Caliph, "the sovereign himself retreating, like the old Sassanid Shahs, into the depths of his palace, hidden from his people behind a crowd of officials, ministers and eunuchs." Any lingering trace of Arab tribal democracy (inherent in the Umayyad regime) "was totally eliminated under the Abbasids, who seemed to have inherited the sacred absolutism of the kings of Nineveh, Babylon and Persia; the executioner with his leathern carpet stood beside the throne as the symbol of his royal master's power of life and death over his subjects" (ibid:103-4). Ironically, "the dynasty was still Arab, the Abbasids being as proud as the Omayyads of their membership of the Kuraish" (ibid: 104).

(64)   Lapidus 1988:129, referring to the attendant situation in which the Abbasid Caliphs were able to exert "only a modicum of influence" by rotating the persons in high office, while using each change of government as a ploy "to extort the resources stolen by the faction last in power" (ibid).

(65)   Ibid:130. The Abbasid government "tried to protect the peasants from abuse." However, the condition of the peasants was increasingly dependent upon the whim of greedy officials.

(66)   Ibid:131.

(67)   Ibid:133.

(68)   Ibid:136.

(69)   Ibid. "Egypt was also in decline, owing to the exploitation of the peasantry" (ibid). In contrast, Iran maintained a strong degree of urban and agricultural development until the eleventh century, and not merely because of the Samanid revival of Persian.

(70)   Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (tenth edn, London: Macmillan, 1970), p. 468.

(71)   MA:182, stating that Muqtadir had only 2/16 Hashimite blood and 14/16 Greek blood, both his grandmothers being Greek, in addition to his mother Shaghab.

(72)   MA:195.

(73)   MA:196.

(74)   MA:212; J. Van Ess, "Ebn Ravandi, Abu'l-Hosayn Ahmad," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. Ibn Rawandi is classified as a theologian, not as a philosopher. He "joined the ascetic wing of the Mutazilites, the circle around Isa b. Haytam Sufi and Abu Hafs Haddad" (art. cit.). This move is thought to have precipitated conflict with the right wing Mutazilism that "did not share the Sufi critique of the government" (ibid). His critic Al-Khayyat, writing circa 882-3, was under the misconception that Rawandi had already died. Yet the latter apparently returned to Iran, living on for several decades. His free-thinking penchant has been attributed to the influence of Abu Isa al-Warraq, another heretical theologian. However, Rawandi also attempted to refute views of Warraq; indeed, he even refuted his own writings according to the chronicler Ibn al-Nadim. The purpose was apparently to show the hypothetical nature of his assertions, which were not intended as dogma. The personality of Rawandi "is still a matter of [learned] discussion" (ibid). Cf. P. Kraus and G. Vajda, "Ibn al-Rawandi," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol 3 (new edn), pp. 905-6. As for Warraq, he is more obscure, though nonetheless significant. Originally a Mutazili, he moved to an ideological position described by some commentators as Manichaean, though the prevalent scholarly view appears to be that he was an independent thinker rather than a Manichean convert. The industrious Al-Nadim (d. 990), in the oft-cited Fihrist, describes Warraq as being a secret zindiq (heretic). The Maqalat of Warraq does not survive, but is known to have given a description of various sects, including the teaching of Mani. Warraq is reputed to have been executed, the date of his death being uncertain, possibly occurring as early as 861/2. See W. M. Watt, "Abu Isa Warraq," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.

(75)   Mason, Al-Hallaj (1995), p. 20.

(76)   MA:215-16.

(77)   Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 469. See also Harold Bowen, The Life and Times of Ali ibn Isa (Cambridge, 1928).

(78)   F. Daftary, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines (1990), pp. 160-1; MA:190ff. Al-Junnabi, founder of the Qarmati state of Bahrain, was murdered in 913-14, and succeeded by his son Abu'l Qasim Said, who proved amenable to the peace initiative of Ali ibn Isa.

(79)   Paul E. Walker, Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 7, observing that Ismaili works were formerly unavailabe or ignored. Many of those works were only to be found in sectarian libraries difficult of access. The authors of these works were missionaries maintaining that the Abbasid Caliphate amounted to usurpation. "Many, if not most, of the dais [missionaries] outside [Fatimid territory] were eventually executed either by the authorities or by angry mobs incited to violence by those who preached against them" (ibid:9).

(80)   MA:144.

(81)   J. J. Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam (1965), p. 130.

(82)   Mason 1995:23.

(83)   Ibid. The Massignon version describes Ali ibn Isa as a "Hallajian," though others believe that his sympathies were not quite so distinct. According to Mason, in 921 Hallaj was transferred from a private cell in the palace to a prison where a separate building was erected; here he continued to receive visitors, being able to pass through an adjoining door to exhort other prisoners to renew their religious attitude (ibid).

(84)   MA:193.

(85)   MA:18.

(86)   MA:228, adding that Ibn Mujahid does not appear to have taken a seat in the court, instead standing aside; Massignon deduced that Awariji had incited him to speak (ibid:229). On the ex-Sufi Awariiji, see note 37 above.

(87)   MA:254, citing the report by Abu Bakr ibn Mamshad Dinawari that was mediated by the historian Khatib and others.

(88)   Mason 1995:26.

(89)   MA:21.

(90)   Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (2007), p. 23. The legendary figure of Khair al-Nassaj appears in the early Sufi hagiographies. Professor Arberry gleaned that he came from Samarra, was a member of Junayd's circle, and taken as a slave in Basra before proceeding on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Attar gave poetic flourishes to the sparse details. See A. J. Arberry, , trans. Muslim Saints and Mystics (London: Routledge, 1966), pp. 250ff. Cf. Nicholson, trans., Kashf al-Mahjub, pp. 144-5, where Hujwiri affirms that Khair was seized by a silk weaver at Kufa who employed him for years. The kernel of such biographies escaped reporting.

(91)   Massignon,The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1 (1982), pp. 35-6, 82ff., 88, 191, who describes Zayd ibn Rifai as a "demi-philosopher" and also implicating Abu Hayyan Tauhidi ("both a philosopher and a mystic") as a Hallajian; MA:22. 287-8. The quote is from Seyyed Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (revised edn, London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 26, in relation to the more explicit theme of uniting Greek philosophy and Islamic doctrine.

(92)     MA:22, 238ff.

(93)     Karamustafa 2007:57.

(94)     Ibid.

(95)     Ibid:22.

(96)     MA:242.

(97)     MA:290. Nasr Qushuri died of fever in 928, near Hilla, while in his military role (MA:197ff). His victory at Zubara involved the dikes being broken to foil the Qarmati enemy. His rival was Yusuf ibn Abi'l Saj, the ruler of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

(98)     Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1 (1982), pp. 315ff., 390-2, 480-3. The conclusion is expressed that wazir Hamid was goaded on against Hallaj by his Shi'ite entourage, including his son-in-law Ibn Bistam, his confidants Shalmaghani and Akh Abi Sakhra, some sectaries like Ibn Hisham, and also collaborators of the Shi'ite wazir Ibn al-Furat. From the year 1918, when Hamid became wazir, Shalmaghani ("an extremist Shi'ite, a gloomy and bitter soul") was disseminating in the Baghdad court a doctrine that combined the law and rebellion, virtue and crime. Massignon describes this creation as "the hypocritical malice of a madman." There is also the question of hostility against Hallaj from the Imami leader Abu Sahl Nawbakhti (d.924), who may have been strongly active behind the scenes at the trial of Hallaj. See note 33 above. After the downfall of wazir Hamid at the court in 923, the victorious new (and veteran) wazir Ibn al-Furat despatched Nawbakhti and another official to Wasit that year, for the purpose of confiscating the illegal property of Hamid. In contrast to the accompanying official, Nawbakhti is reported to have treated the disgraced Hamid very leniently, possibly because they had been in collusion regarding the execution of Hallaj. Nawbakhti died six months later. See W. Madelung, "Abu Sahl Nawbakti," (Encyclopaedia Iranica online. The same scholar observes that Al-Nadim describes Nawbakhti as disgracing the claims of Shalmaghani, "but this account seems to be based on a confusion with Hallaj." An alternative reconstruction is to suggest that Nawbakhti and Shalmaghani were in some degree of rapport over the matter of Hallaj, despite their differing ideological persuasions within the Shi'ite context.

(99)     Mason 1995:33.

(100)   Daftary 1990:161. A major incentive for the Qarmati attack was evidently the belief of Abu Tahir (and other Qarmati leaders) in the imminent advent of the Mahdi, an event supposedly to occur after the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the year 928. The appearance of the Mahdi was interpreted in terms of the Islamic era ending, and another era being inaugurated.

(101)   Daftary 1990:162. Abu Tahir committed a major blunder when he entrusted leadership in 931 to a young Iranian from Isfahan, whom he believed to be the awaited Mahdi. The Isfahani was reportedly a Zoroastrian, and one of those who entertained anti-Arab feelings. The newcomer improvised unwelcome ceremonies such as the cursing of Muhammad and all other prophets. Even more discrepantly, the dissident began to execute Qarmati leaders of Bahrain, to the extent that AbuTahir began to fear for his own life. Abu Tahir now admitted that the Isfahani was an imposter, and had him killed. This episode of the pseudo-mahdi caused severe disillusionment amongst the Qarmatis of Bahrain, with the consequence that many of them defected, leaving Bahrain to serve in the armies of anti-Qarmati rulers such as the Abbasids and Buwayhids. Abu Tahir eventually agreed to safe passage for the Meccan pilgrims in return for an annual tribute from the Abbasids, together with a tariff acquired from the pilgrims. The Black Stone was not returned to Mecca until 950/1, several years after the death of Abu Tahir, and in return for a large sum of money (ibid:162ff).

(102)   MA: 261.

(103)   Murtaza Hasan al-Naqib, The Political and Military Career of Munis al-Muzaffar at the Abbasi Court (Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, 1969, online), p. 188; Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 469, citing Ibn al-Athir.

(104)   Mason 1995:33.

(105)   B. Dodge, trans., The Fihrist of Al-Nadim Vol. 1 (Columbia University Press, 1970), pp. 323, 440; Fihrist Vol. 2, pp. 850, 867, 1097.

(106)   Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1: Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions (1995), pp. 354ff. and note 148.

(107)   MA:194. An informative article is Maaike Van Berkel, "The Young Caliph and his Wicked Advisors: Women and Power Politics under Caliph al-Muqtadir," Al-Masaq (2007) vol. 19 no. 1, online at academia.edu.

(108)   Principles of Sufism by Al-Qushayri, trans. B. R. Von Schlegell (Berkeley: MIzan Press, 1990), p. 320.

(109)   R. A. Nicholson, trans., Kashf al-Mahjub (1936), pp. 150ff. There were strong orthodox accents in this presentation. See Karamustafa 2007:105, observing that Hujwiri "warned his readers not to take Hallaj as a model to follow on account of his idiosyncratic behaviour." Hujwiri was censorious of hulul and the transmigration of souls (naskh-i arwah), though only the former theme is associated with Hallaj. Hujwiri also argued that Hallaj was free of the hululi heresy, and that the Hallajian sect had been formed by Faris Dinawari (d.957), who was here believed to have departed from the true teachings of Hallaj (ibid:105-6). Hujwiri says that he had met heretics in Baghdad who pretended to be the followers of Hallaj, and who spoke of the latter in exaggerated terms (Nicholson, trans, p. 152). This "orthodox Sufi" also denied that Abu Hulman of Damascus had taught hulul and transmigration (ibid:260). (Abu'l Qasim) Faris Dinawari had been eclipsed by the legalists and theologians; his version of events did not survive. Born at Baghdad, Dinawari is associated with Junayd but became a follower of Hallaj, emigrating to distant Nishapur; he died at Samarqand, a refugee from Iraqi conservatism. Dinawari was an exponent of hulul and imtizaj (the fusion of divine and human natures). Only excerpts survive from his works, though sufficient to evoke Massignon's description of "a highly cultivated mind, writing in a fine saj style." Faris Dinawari evidently regarded Hallaj as transcending legal thought and reason. He was ignored by "orthodox Sufi" commentators like Ibn Khafif of Shiraz. The Asharite theologians detested hulul; they became influential in Khurasan circa 970. According to Massignon, those theologians despised the Hallajian teaching of the "uncreated spirit (ruh) infusing itself into saints." From now on, that theme was attributed to Dinawari, not to Hallaj, the former being effectively excommunicated by the new canons of orthodox Sufism, inherited by Hujwiri. See Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj, Vol. 2: The Survival of Al-Hallaj (1982), pp. 198ff, 202ff. Contrasting with the attitude of Hujwiri was the treatment by Kalabadhi (d.995), the Hanafite lawyer of Bukhara who composed the Taaruf, an early text reconciling Sufism and Islam. Kalabadhi repeatedly quotes Hallaj anonymously as "one of the great Sufis," a discreet strategy indicative of the precarious Hallajian position at that time, even in a distant Samanid city like Bukhara. Kalabadhi also quotes Faris Dinawari over a dozen times, in a manner indicating that he had been in personal contact with the radical. There is no censure involved. See A. J. Arberry, trans., The Doctrine of the Sufis (Cambridge University Press, 1935).

(110)   Arberry, trans., Muslim Saints and Mystics (1966), pp. 264ff., including the legends that Junayd signed the death warrant at the behest of the Caliph, and that "all were united in the view that he [Hallaj] should be put to death because of his saying 'I am the Truth.' " (ibid:266). This evocation of Ana'l-Haqq is misleading, as the reasons for his execution were otherwise. The social, political, and mystico-philosophical dimensions of the Hallaj drama were not recaptured by popular Sufism, though the underground Hallajian tradition of the tenth century doubtless had a more accurate perspective.

(111)   Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 2 (1982), pp. 45ff; Mason 1995:51. The basic position of Ibn Taimiyah was that only the Quran and hadith are valid, all subsequent opinions being heretical, including those of the Shi'ites, the Mutazila, and even the Asharite theologians. However, his "harshest polemics are reserved for the philosophers" (M. Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy, second edn, p. 316).

(112)   R. A. Nicholson. "Mysticism" (210-38) in T. Arnold and A. Guillaume, eds., The Legacy of Islam (Oxford University Press, 1931), p. 218. Nicholson added that Hallaj "proclaimed and actively asserted a truth which involves religious, political and social anarchy" (ibid). The reasons for this verdict are specified in terms of: "He [Hallaj] was suspected of dealings with the Carmathians [Qarmatis], he had preached his faith to believers and infidels alike, and, above all, sought to win converts by working 'evidentiary' miracles" (ibid). The verdict may be considered unsound. Nicholson was conceivably influenced by his tutor Edward Glanville Browne on this subject, the latter being the author of A Literary History of Persia (Cambridge, 1902-21), which did not evolve an adequate view of Sufism or Hallaj, despite some refinements in literary exegesis. Some believe that the basis for the contrived legal case, securing the condemnation of Hallaj, was his preaching of hulul. See S. A. A. Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India Vol. 1 (New Delhi, 1978), p. 58. However, the point mainly used at the trial of Hallaj related to the private hajj (MA:262ff), which can be viewed as a humanitarian suggestion on the part of the victim, as compared with the atrocious imposition of unscrupulous legalist and political biases.

(113)   Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 3: The Teaching of Al-Hallaj (1982), p. 38, referring to the subhani shath of the former Mutazilite Abu Yazid al-Bistami in terms of "these sterile syllables, which it was not even possible for his lips to repeat without blasphemy." Massignon assumes that Bistami "died without having attained his goal, as Junayd remarks" (ibid). The adverse remark of Junayd, reported by Sarraj, may or may not be accurate. A confusing lore arose concerning the opposition between Junaydi "sobriety" and Bistamian "intoxication." The supposed "intoxication" of Hallaj was a convenient excuse for critique on the part of (predominantly affluent and socially privileged) legalists and theologians who prided themselves on a "sober" deportment. The professional aplomb was not the vantage point of diverse artisans and ascetics who substantially created the (Sufi) movement under discussion.

(114)    A.J. Arberry, An Introduction to the History of Sufism (London, 1942), p. 38, translating from M. Horten, Indische Stromungen in der Islamischen Mystik (1927). Arberry clearly supported Nicholson and Massignon in the attendant argument.

(115)    Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 3 (1982), p. 47. Almost disapprovingly, the French scholar remarked that ana'l-haqq "seems to us to be a kind of focus for the formulations of Bistami" (ibid). Massignon was commenting on a verse in the Akhbar al-Hallaj, compiled by Nasrabadhi circa 971. His framework of reference for hulul has been considered inadequate. See also note 29 above.

(116)   MA:67. See also Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1 (1982), pp. 126ff, for the discrepancy of two different contexts reported for the shath (saying) "Ana'l-Haqq" (I am the Truth). The earliest version says that Hallaj uttered this statement to Shibli at Baghdad, while a later one affirms that the declaration was uttered to Junayd in private. Subsequent European exegesis underwent variations in the nineteenth century and after. According to Alfred Von Kremer, the Arabic shath had an origin in India, the connecting medium being the ancient Persian doctrine of the divine king, which influenced the Shi'ite transmission concerning Ali and his lineage. Buddhist influences and the Vedic dhyana here transform the original ascetic Sufism into the "theosophical" Sufism that peaked in the ishraqi philosophy of Suhrawardi. Professor A. J. Arberry described the interpretation of Von Kremer as "the first really scientific account of the development of Sufism." See Arberry, An Intro. to the History of Sufism (1942), pp. 20-3, citing Von Kremer, Geschichte der herrschenden Ideen des Islams (Leipzig 1868). Von Kremer argued that asceticism became pantheism via Hallaj. His theory was modified by Ignaz Goldziher, who divided Sufism between a Christian ascetic influence and a "theosophy" derived from Neoplatonism and Buddhism (Arberry 1942:30-1). Professor Reynold A. Nicholson objected to the pantheistic interpretation of Hallaj, believing that Sufi pantheism was not in effective occurrence until the time of Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240). Nicholson viewed Hallaj as a "mainly Islamic" monotheist, though conceding some Hellenistic influences. See Nicholson, The Idea of Personality in Sufism (Cambridge University Press, 1923), pp. 26-7. Some other European scholars believed Hallaj to be a secret Christian. Louis Massignon duly awarded him a context in Islamic mysticism, thus offsetting the Indian and Christian theories.