Week 4: Stories of Sufi Saints

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The Passion of Hallaj, cont.

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

As the execution continues, Hallaj is stoned, and even one of his followers, Shebli, throws a clod of dirt at him. Then the mutilation of Hallaj's body is described, limb by limb. Finally, the story turns to supernatural manifestations which occurred after Hallaj's death.

Shebli came and stood facing him. “Have we not forbidden thee all beings?” he cried. Then he asked, “What is Sufism, Hallaj?”

“The least part of it is this that you see,” Hallaj replied.

“What is the loftier part?” asked Shebli.

“That you cannot reach,” Hallaj answered. Then all the spectators began to throw stones. Shebli, to conform, cast a clod. Hallaj sighed.

“You did not sigh when struck by all these stones. Why did you sigh because of a clod?” they asked.

“Because those who cast stones do not know what they are doing. They have an excuse. From him it comes hard to me, for he knows that he ought not to fling at me.”

Then they cut off his hands. He laughed.

“Why do you laugh?” they cried.

“It is an easy matter to strike off the hands of a man who is bound,” he answered. “He is a true man, who cuts off the hands of attributes which remove the crown of aspiration from the brow of the Throne.”

They hacked off his feet. He smiled.

“With these feet I made an earthly journey,” he said. “Other feet I have, which even now are journeying through both the worlds. If you are able, hack off those feet!”

Then he rubbed his bloody, amputated hands over his face, so that both his arms and his face were stained with blood.

“Why did you do that?” they enquired.

“Much blood has gone out of me,” he replied. “I realize that my face will have grown pale. You suppose that my pallor is because I am afraid. I rubbed blood over my face so that I might appear rose-cheeked in your eyes. The cosmetic of heroes is their blood.”

“Even if you bloodied your face, why did you stain your arms?”

“I was making ablution.”

“What ablution?”

“When one prays two rak’as in love,” Hallaj replied, “the ablution is not perfect unless performed with blood.”

Next they plucked out his eyes. A roar went up from the crowd. Some wept, some flung stones. Then they made to cut out his tongue.

“Be patient a little, give me time to speak one word,” he entreated. “O God,” he cried, lifting his face to heaven, “do not exclude them for the suffering they are bringing on me for Thy sake, neither deprive them of this felicity. Praise be to God, for that they have cut off my feet as I trod Thy way. And if they strike off my head from my body, they have raised me up to the head of the gallows, contemplating Thy majesty.”

Then they cut off his ears and nose. An old woman carrying a pitcher happened along. Seeing Hallaj, she cried, “Strike, and strike hard and true. What business has this pretty little Woolcarder to speak of God?”

The last words Hallaj spoke were these. “Love of the One is isolation of the One.”

Then he chanted this verse: “Those that believe not therein seek to hasten it; but those who believe in it go in fear of it, knowing that it is the truth.”

This was his final utterance. They then cut out his tongue. It was the time of the evening prayer when they cut off his head. Even as they were cutting off his head, Hallaj smiled. Then he gave up the ghost.

A great cry went up from the people. Hallaj had carried the ball of destiny to the boundary of the field of resignation. From each one of his members came the declaration, “I am the Truth.”

Next day they declared, “This scandal will be even greater than while he was alive.” So they burned his limbs.

From his ashes came the cry, “I am the Truth,” even as in the time of his slaying every drop of blood as it trickled formed the word Allah. Dumbfounded, they cast his ashes into the Tigris.

As they floated on the surface of the water, they continued to cry, “I am the Truth.”

Now Hallaj had said, “When they cast my ashes into the Tigris, Baghdad will be in peril of drowning under the water. Lay my robe in front of the water, or Baghdad will be destroyed.”

His servant, when he saw what had happened, brought the master’s robe and laid it on the bank of the Tigris. The waters subsided, and his ashes became silent. Then they gathered his ashes and buried them.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did Hallaj pray for the people who were executing him?
  • where did the words "I am the Truth" come from after Hallaj was dead?
  • what shape did Hallaj's blood take after his death?


Source: Attar, Muslim Saints and Mystics (Episodes from the Tadhkirat al-Auliya, or Memorial of the Saints). Translated by A. J. Arberry. 1966. Website: Omphaloskepsis.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM