The Carder of Secrets

Just suppose you are able to make an interview with shaykh al-Hallaj (ca. 858-922). What would you ask him? Perhaps some of your questions are similar to the ones as given below:

Q: Why are you called al-Hallaj?

A: My father, Mansur, was a wool carder (hallaj), a profession also practised intermittently by me. My son, whose name is Hamd, has told this about me: ‘He spoke in public and everyone, great or small approved of him. He spoke to his listeners of their innermost consciences, of what was in their hearts, which he unveiled for them. They called him the carder of secrets (halaj al-asrar), and the name Hallaj stayed with him’.

People, however have referred to me by many names. I have been called the intercessor in India, the nourisher in Turkestan, the discerning in Khurasan, in Fars I was known as the ascetic, in Baghdad as the enraptured and in Basra as the dazed. Some people welcomed me, others hated me. Some people said about me that I was a sorcerer, others called me a madman, and again others claimed that I demonstrated supernatural powers and that my prayer was granted by God.

Q: Could you be so kind as to comment on the formula of divine unity (tawhid)?

A: If you would have realized the reality of this formula of divine unity then there would be no ‘why’ or ‘how’ for you anymore.

Q: How about God?

A: Who knows Him does not describe Him and who describes Him does not know Him.

Q: In your prayers you at times recite all of the Qur’an.

A: Do you think that I pray to satisfy Him? The one, who thinks he can satisfy Him by means of a service, tries to buy His satisfaction.

Q: O, Shaykh, give me a maxim!

A: Your fault-filled ego must be overcome or it will overcome you.

Q: Have you been able to overcome your ego?

A: One day Shaykh Abdullah had spread his tablecloth and was eating bread with his disciples. The Shaykh had told his disciples that I would come, dressed in black, holding two black dogs on a leash. He asked them to be respectful to me. The Shaykh, when I arrived, yielded his place to me. I took it and brought my dogs to the table close to him. Then some bread was given to my dogs.

The disciples of the Shaykh said to him: ‘Why do you let such a man who eats with his dogs sit in your place, a passerby whose presence renders our entire meal impure?’ ‘These dogs’, responded the Shaykh, ‘were his ego, they stayed outside of him and walked after him. Our dogs, however, remain inside ourselves and we follow behind them’.

Q: Please tell me more!

A: One day the people of Baghdad heard me crying this: ‘O people, save me from God! O people, save me from God! He has taken my self away from me and does not return my self to me’.

Q: Tell me more!

A: Don’t be afraid of being labelled strange as there is a freedom in strangeness.

Q: I want to find God. How can I find Him?

A: O my friend! The sun is here!
Her light is near, but she is distant to reach.

Q: Tell me more!

A: The realization of God is given to you if you crave it in anguish.

Q: You have uttered the expression ana’l-Haqq, i.e. ‘I am the Truth’. Could you please give some explanation of this seemingly outrageous sentence?

A: My brother Jalaluddin Rumi has given an explanation several centuries later. He commented that to say ana’l-Haqq is much humbler than to say I am ‘Abd Allah, which means ‘slave of God’, for in the former case there is no retaining of the self, while in the latter case you affirm yourself in a pretentious way as someone separate from God.

Q: Why is it that you’ve had so many enemies?

A: When the Truth takes possession of a heart, It empties the heart of all else but Itself. When It keeps you for Itself, It ruins you for all else but Itself. When It lovingly desires a servant, It incites Its other servants to enmity against you, so as to bring you closer to Itself.

Q: Can you suggest a prayer to me?

A: O, my God, You know that I am not capable to thank You. So thank Yourself on my behalf, as this alone is thanksgiving.

Q: Why don’t you tell us more about the journey of your life?

A: I was born in Bayda in a place called at-Tur. I was brought up in Tustar and I became the disciple of Sahl at-Tustari, with whom you have also spoken. I left Tustar first for Basra when I was eighteen years old. I left this town in order to see ‘Amr ibn ‘Uthman Makki and Junayd Baghdadi. I have lived near ‘Amr for eighteen months. After that I married in Basra Umm al-Husayn, the daughter of a secretary of Junayd Baghdadi. Next I left for Mecca and remained there a year. Afterwards I returned to Baghdad with a group of Sufi fuqara.

I visited Junayd to ask him a question, which he did not answer, judging it to be motivated by the desire for a personal mission. I returned, hurt by this, together with my wife to Tustar where I stayed for nearly two years. There I received such a warm general welcome that several of my fellow Sufis became quite jealous. One of them even started to write letters about me in which I was accused of very grave errors. This happened to such a degree and so effectively that I put aside the outward garb of the Sufis and put on the sleeved coat, frequenting the company of the worldly people.

Then for a period of five years I left Tustar. After my return to Fars I began to speak in public, to hold meetings and to preach about God to the people. After staying a little while in Basra I went for the second time to Mecca, dressed in a patched frock. Many people accompanied me on this journey. A jealous man then accused me of being a magician and that I was served by the jinn.

I then left for a long journey to India and China. After my return I made a third pilgrimage to Mecca. This included a retreat of two years in this sacred city. I returned very changed from what I had been before. I began to preach in public. In the end a whole group of Islamic scholars rose against me and they took their accusations to the caliph. Tongues wrangled over my case up to the moment I was arrested by the government and put into a prison.

After some time a little house next to the prison was constructed for me. For nearly a year people visited me there. Then that was forbidden and for five months I saw no one.

Then after being imprisoned for again some time the night came in which I was taken, at dawn from my cell. I was allowed to say a prayer. I preferred to say the prayer of danger or better said, the prayer of the victim of love. That is why I recited only half of the usual cycles of the dawn prayer.

My son, Hamd, has recorded what took place. He told about me: ‘Then, with this prayer completed, he continued repeating over and over again the word illusion, illusion… Then for a long time he was silent, when suddenly he cried out Truth, Truth…’.

In the morning I started my journey again by leaving my prison.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

A: May your journey be blessed!