Al Halláj was a legendary Sufi master who lived in Persia from 858 - 922 AD.  Al-Hallaj's grandfather may have been a Zoroastrian. His father lived a simple life, and this form of lifestyle greatly interested the young al-Hallaj. As a young man he memorized the Qur’an and would often retreat from worldly pursuits to join other mystics in study. Later in life Al-Hallaj married and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. After his trip to the holy city, he traveled extensively. During this period he started to write and teach Sufi ideas to a growing number of followers. After a period of travelling in India and other parts of Central Asia he settled down in the Abbasid capital of Baghdad.

Al Hallaj devoted his life to contemplation of the divine and during his spiritual practices would often go into a trance. Absorbed in these high states of spiritual consciousness he felt completely at one with all of creation, and with God. Among other Sufis, Hallaj was an anomaly. Many Sufi masters felt that it was inappropriate to share mysticism with the common people, yet Hallaj openly did so in his writings and through his teachings. He began to make enemies, and the rulers saw him as a threat. This was made worse when he would fall into trances which he attributed to being in the presence of God. During one of these trances, he uttered Ana al-Haqq meaning,” Truth is me" or "I am God" and also, "In my turban is wrapped nothing but God," which was taken to mean that he was claiming to be God, as Al-Haqq is one of the Ninety Nine Names of Allah.

These utterances were considered blasphemous by the local authorities and he was put on trial. Subsequently, he was imprisoned for eleven years in a Baghdad prison. In the end, he was tortured and publicly crucified (in some accounts he was beheaded and his hands and feet were cut off) by the Abbasid rulers for what they deemed "theological error threatening the security of the state." Many accounts tell of Al-Hallaj's calm demeanor even while he was being tortured, and indicate that he forgave those who had executed him.

His writings are very important not only to Sufis, but to all Muslims. His example is seen by some as one that should be emulated, especially his calm demeanor in the face of torture and his forgiving of his tormentors. Many honor him as an adept that came to realize the inherent divine nature of all men and women. Others continue to see him as a heretic. Before Al Hallaj was put to death he said:

Now stands no more between Truth and me
Or reasoned demonstration,
Or proof of revelation;
Now, brightly blazing full, Truth's lumination
Each flickering, lesser light.


Sufi - a Muslim who represents the mystical dimension of Islam; one who seeks direct experience of Allah

Zoroastrian – Follower of Zoroaster; founder of a Persian religion that saw material existence as a battle between the forces of good and evil

Qur’an – Literally "the recitation"; sometimes transliterated as Qur’an, Koran, or Alcoran.  The Islamic holy book, considered to be God’s message for mankind as revealed to Muhammad.

Abbasid - Ruling dynasty of the Arab world from ad 750 until the Mongol devastation of their capital Baghdad, 1258.

Compiled by Mr. Fletcher
Director of Libraries, San Domenico School