Hallaj, The Devil and The Proximity of Distance By Abdallah


The articulation of the ineffable force of love of God seems at most times to be doomed for failure.  The mystic quest strives to reconcile the inherent spiritual paradox of our existence:  the recognition of the unity of God within apparent separation.  Perhaps there has been no other figure in Islamic mysticism to embody the nature of mystical paradox so completely than Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 922).  He was one of the great Muslim pietists of all time, who was later killed for heresy.  As a young man he became a Sufi, and shortly there after he was rejected by them.  He became an intimate of God, proclaiming, “I am the Divine Truth,” and experienced the anguish of separation from Him.  While in prison he wrote his greatest work, the Kitab at-Tawasin,, in which he praised both the Prophet and the Devil, without apparent contradiction.  He was the lover of God supreme and realized his love through suffering.  He asked of his people to kill him, and went dancing in chains to his own execution, for their salvation.  Hallaj’s life appears to represent the inherent contradiction of Creation: if God is good, then why is there evil?  Perhaps within the Qur’anic story of the fall of Iblis, Satan, there lies a key to understanding the enigma of both Hallaj and Creation.  Sufi theology up until Hallaj would not venture far from Iblis’ outright condemnation by God as the despised one, too prideful to follow His command to bow to Adam.  Iblis was regarded by many Sufis to have been the teacher of the Angels and the greatest in devotion to God, only to become the most reviled of God’s creation, continuously tempting humanity to evil. 

For Hallaj, Iblis’ refusal to bow stemmed from a strict monotheism, his absolute love for God.  He thus became, a tragic hero for Hallaj and for certain mystics who came after him, who found in Iblis the model of the perfect servant.  What developed was a theology that strove to unify the apparent opposites of good and evil within the ecstatic unveiling of Truth in mystical union with the Beloved.  This was truly a radical spirituality that appeared to be opposed by many mystics with a more sober inclination.  For Hallaj, it was an integral part of his unitive vision of opposites, initiating from the pure love of God.  However, there would always exist a tension between the sober presentation of Iblis and the Hallajian model.  It was said of Hallaj by some Sufis that his enraptured state had caused him to openly proclaim the hidden secret of love that was not to be uttered in public, and that because of this unrestrained proclamation, he had not reached the goal that he had prematurely claimed (Schimmel, Myst. Dim. 73).  It is impossible to say with certainty the final station in which Hallaj departed from this world.  In investigating the insights of the mystics who were to develop his ideas further, it is possible to gain some understanding into the meaning of Hallaj’s theology.  Perhaps one the more persistent questions is why did Hallaj want to be killed?  It is apparent that Hallaj may have courted death for two distinct reasons.  He may have thought, as Massignon seems to think, that in his death he would shed the final barrier between himself and the Beloved.  Or he may have held that through his death he would incur, like Iblis, eternal separation from God and thus be rewarded the ultimate gift of grace, and thus, proximity.  In the final analysis, however, this question still remains, for it seems that the mystery of Hallaj is inherent to Hallaj himself, and that is, I think, as it should be.

            It is evident that any investigation of Hallaj’s relationship with Iblis must necessarily incorporate Peter Awn’s masterful work, Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption.  In it, Awn relates that up until Hallaj, the overwhelming verdict on the figure of Iblis by Sufi practitioners was: guilty as charged.  Iblis was indisputably an evil influence on the spiritual lives of any seeker of God  (122).  Hallaj would change this rather, up until now, one-sided view of Iblis, with the writing of the Kitab at-Tawasin, which he wrote in Arabic and which was later translated by the eminent thirteenth century mystic, Ruzbihan al-Baqli, who also wrote an extensive commentary on its contents.   Apparently al-Baqli struggled with Hallaj’s understanding of Iblis, and found the traditional view of Iblis too difficult to reconcile with the altogether mind-boggling assertions of Hallaj.  In the end Al-Baqli condemns Iblis in no uncertain terms.  It is interesting to note here that, according to Michael Sells, Louis Massignon rejects any idea of final positivity and ultimate redemption of Iblis, in part because he mistakenly attributed the final condemnation of Iblis in Al-Baqli’s commentary of the Kitab at-Tawasin.  In this respect Massignon states, “Hallaj shows that the obstinate quietism of Satan, posing as the perfect Gnostic and boasting of loving God, ends up by rejecting divine union” (qtd. in Sells 271).  Perhaps this caused, for Massignon, an underestimation of the importance placed by Hallaj upon Iblis in the role of spiritual exemplar, thereby confusing Massignon’s final comprehension of the reasons for Hallaj’s wish to be put to death.

            As Peter Awn recounts, Hallaj was a master and forerunner in what Awn describes as the Sufi “science of opposites.”  Perhaps this is nowhere better depicted than in the famous chapter of “Tasin al-azal was ’l-ilibas,” “The TaSin of Before–Time and Ambiguity,” the sixth chapter of the Hallaj’s Tawasin.  Here Hallaj reveals his radical understanding of the mythic figure Iblis.  In referring to some key verses in the text I have used Michael Sells translation.  The first section begins with the concurrence of spiritual opposites Iblis and Muhammad, who alone are the only ones able to “make claims “ or preach the Truth.  It thus begins:

1.       That strange and learned master, Abu-Mughith Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj—may Allah

adorn his place of rest—said:

Making claims is appropriate for no one but Iblis and Ahmad, except that Iblis fell from the ‘ayn [essence] while Ahmad—God bless him—had revealed to him the ‘ayn of the ‘ayn.

2.       Iblis was told: “Bow down!”  Ahmad was told: “Look!”  The former did not 

bow and Ahmad turned neither to the right nor left.

                  (53:17) “The eye did not swerve nor did it exceed its bounds.” 

3.       Iblis made claims but he returned to his power.

4.       Ahmad made claims and returned from his power.  (Sells 273)

Here, Hallaj uses the name Ahmad, meaning “the most praiseworthy of those who praise Allah,” which is a variation of the name Muhammad, meaning “the most praised one”  (Bayrak 143).  As Awn observes, Hallaj equates both Iblis and Ahmad as being essential elements in the continuation of God’s creation.  They are thus represented as unswerving from their prearranged tasks, and are seen by Hallaj as equally faithful to God, albeit in two distinct modes.  In lines three and four above, Iblis returns “to” his power from thousands of years of continuous worship, while Ahmad returns “from” his power in a state of abject humility before God.  In al-Baqli’s commentary, he reiterates that Iblis’s pride is to be condemned and is the cause of his fall from grace; Hallaj, however, makes no outright ethical judgment against Iblis (Awn 124).

            Next, Hallaj clearly proclaims that Iblis was the greatest monotheist in heaven, and relates that his undivided devotion and love for God was a pure witnessing, so pure, in fact, that God’s threats of His curse against him made no difference to him:

      6.  Among the inhabitants of heaven, there was no affirmer of unity (muwahhid) like


7.       When Iblis was veiled by (ulbisa) the ‘ayn, and he fled the glances and

                  gazed into the secret, and worshiped his deity stripped of all else,

            8.  Only to be cursed when he attained individuation and given demands when he                   

            demanded more.

            9.  He was told: “Bow down!”  He said, “[to] no other!”  He was asked, “Even if you    

             receive my curse?”  He said, “It does not matter.  I have no way to an other-than-

            you.  I am an abject lover.”      (Sells 274)

For Hallaj, Iblis’ refusal to bow illustrates the intrinsic force within gnostic contemplation of the divine, enabling the mystic to transcend the boundaries of rational thought into an experience of union with the divine (Awn 129).  This is quite explicitly stated in verse twelve:

12.   There can be no distance for me / distancing you from me

      When I have achieved certainty / nearness and distance are one

      Even if I am abandoned, / abandonment will be my companion.

      How can it be abandonment / while love is one?

      To you, praise in success, / in the pure absolute

                        For a servant of true heart / who will bow to no other than you.  (Sells 274-275)

Here, Hallaj presents another great paradox, which seems to also refer to his own life.  Awn elegantly describes it as, “[. . .] the paradoxical truth that condemnation and degradation can be the emblems of triumph for the mystic who is totally caught up in the contemplation of the Beloved” (Awn 129).  This is the first of several ideas that will later be refined by both the mystic Ahmad al-Ghazali and his student ‘Ain Al-Qudat.  This refinement, however, will not truly add anything new to the understanding presented by Hallaj in verse twelve: that separation is only a further drawing closer to the Beloved, and through the resulting “distance,” the lover increases his love, and simultaneously transcends time and space. Thus this implied tension paradoxically increases the lover’s nearness.

            Al-Baqli was, however, apparently unable to accept Hallaj’s presumption that Iblis was a true monotheist.  If he truly was, he would have realized that Adam was not an “other,” but simply a reflection of God.  For al-Baqli, Iblis’ did not realize true tawhid, but had simply become deluded by his own ego while in mystical ecstasy; such delusion is known as “the sin of ‘I’.’’  Moreover this same mistake, according to al-Baqli, was inherent of Hallaj's statement “‘Ana ‘l-Haqq’  (‘I am the Divine Truth’)”(Awn 125-126).                  

            Michael Sells, in the commentary on his translation of chapter six of the Tawasin, describes Hallaj as, “associating Iblis with the principle of complementarity” (Sells 271).  Awn refers to this knowledge as “the science of opposites” (Awn 134). Herein lies a key to understanding Hallaj’s use of Iblis as hero.  As we shall see, this idea will become again more refined by ‘Ain Al-Qudat.  However, his elegant refinement appears to be nothing more than a further articulation of what is expressed here by Hallaj in its entirety.  Thus, Hallaj reveals one of the great mystical secrets, the necessity of opposites and thus the primordial function of Iblis to the mystic, for without the knowledge of one’s own darkness, one could never know the light of God.  In verses eighteen, Hallaj relates the dual nature of Iblis’s preaching: in heaven he spoke to the angels about obedience to God, but on earth he elucidated to humanity the path of Evil.  In verse nineteen Hallaj relates the above-mentioned “science of opposites”:

18.   [. . .] In heaven he was the proclaimer of the angels, showing them the virtues,

                    and on earth he was the proclaimer of humankind, showing them the vices.

19.Things are known through opposites.  A fine garment is woven on a coarse, black

      backing.  Similarly, the angel displays the virtues and says to the virtuous:

                  “Perform them and you will be requited” — symbolically.  Whoever does not        

                  know vice will not know virtue.    (Sells 276).

            Thus, Hallaj does not seem to pose Iblis in the traditional way as inherently evil, but shows him as a tragic martyr who has loyally professed the unity of God while lovingly worshiping Him, despite the hardships Iblis suffers through God’s rejection of him (Awn 126).

28.   [. . .] He said, “All choices, including my own, are yours.  You have chosen for

                  me, O Originator!  If you forbid me from bowing, you are the Forbidder.  If I err in 

      speaking, don’t abandon me, All-Hearer!  If you will me to bow before him, I am the

      Obeyer.  I know no one more knowing of you than me.

29.   Don’t blame me, blame from me is ba’id (far away)

  Reward me! Master, for I am wahid (unique)

                        In your true threat, I am made true

                            Desert in desert, my plight is shadid (severe)

                        Whoever wills a speech, here is my book and testament,

                            Read it and know I am a shahid (witness, martyr)

34.   The most eloquent of the tribe were dumbstruck at his gate

  The sages failed to appreciate;

                        He was more perfected than they in the position of prayer

                            Nearer than they to the one existing

                        Spending himself in struggle, more giving

                            More faithful than they in the oaths they would swear

                        More loyal to the master than they, more near.

35.   They fell before Adam in prayer as a favor

  While Iblis, because of his ancient age of witnessing, refused.  (Sells 278-279)

Iblis is  thus shown by Hallaj to have undergone, in Awn’s words, “emotional turmoil” in regards to his refusal to bow.   This refusal is not a mere act of compulsion, as is apparently the case with the angels, but the result of his acquired gnosis from his extensive contemplation or witnessing of God throughout the ages (Awn 127).  Here, Hallaj seems to be presenting Iblis’ refusal, not in a way of corrupted pride, as is the traditional presentation, but in light of true spiritual discernment. 

            In the following section of the Tawasin Moses meets Iblis on Mount Sinai.  Moses asks Iblis what prevented him from bowing.  Iblis answers that it was his proclamation of God’s unity that kept him from it. Hallaj continues with Iblis saying:

13.   [. . .]  If I had bowed down in prayer before Adam, I would have been like you.  You

were called one time to ‘look at the mountain!’ and you looked.  I was called a thousand times to ‘bow down! bow down!’ but I did not bow, held back by the meaning of my proclamation”

14.   He said, “You abandoned the command!”

                        He replied, “That  was a test, not a command.”

                        He said, “Of course he deformed you.”

                        He answered, “Musa, that and that is masquerade.  The condition is unreliable; it will     

                  change.  Knowing remains as sound as it was before, unchanged; only the figure has been


15.   Musa said, “Do you remember him now?”

“O Musa,” he replied, “remembrance does not remember.  I am the remembered and he

                  is the  remembered.   His remembrance is my remembrance, my remembrance, his.  Can the

                  two rememberers be anything but together?  My serviced is now purer, my moment freer, my

                  remembrance greater.  Formerly I served him out of concern for my own lot; now I serve out

                  of concern for his.”  (Sells 275-276)

Iblis goes on to relate to Moses all of the various ways he was seemingly tragically exiled and isolated from the “pure hearted” by God as a consequence of his pure worship.  Iblis then concludes:

16.   He [. . .]  abandoned me because of my unveiling, unveiled me because of my union,

                  made me one with him because of my separation, cut me off because of the preclusion of my


17.   By his reality!  I have not erred concerning the designing (tadbir) nor rejected the

                  destining (taqdir) nor concerned myself with the change in imaging (taswir), nor am I in such

                  measures the one to be judging!  Even if he torments me with his fire forever and beyond, I

                  will not bow before any other than him, abase myself before a figure and a body, or recognize

                  a rival or offspring.  My proclamation is the proclamation of those who are sincere, and in

                  love I am triumphant.  How not?

            According to Awn, both al-Baqli and Ibn Ghanim construe Iblis’ dialogue with Moses to be a deception.  Indeed, Sufis have traditionally held that Iblis’ greatest threat is his ability to appear in an infinite array of guises in order to sow confusion and doubt within the minds of the mystics and even the prophets, thus distracting them from their remembrance of God.  As such al-Baqli cannot condone a positive role for Iblis, or imagine any good coming from a meeting with him, no matter how compelling and “tragic” his argument.  Thus, for al-Baqli, Iblis’ apparent distinction to Moses between “command” and “test” is a complete ruse.  For al-Baqli, Iblis’ distorted form is a sure sign of his deceitful nature.  He calls to mind the story of Joseph as proof, for Joseph’s attainment of divine knowledge caused both his interior and his exterior to be made beautiful.  Therefore, Iblis is a liar whose only desire is to conceal God’s glory by claiming to be God’s intimate, and his personal deformity attests to this (Awn 132). 

            Here, al-Baqli’s position can be seen as a sound and practical vision for the novice mystic.  Certainly, the responsibility felt by masters to their students upon such a dangerous path as that of mysticism (spiritually as well as politically) must have been great.  Perhaps, this responsibility did not allow for the revealing of such divine secrets as the paradox of Iblis, even if the masters were aware of its inherent truth.  Indeed, Attar relates that Hallaj had perpetrated the highest mystical transgression by revealing the secret of love (Schimmel, Myst. Dim. 64).  The unfathomable and extreme mystery of Hallaj’s life, however, seems to retain a notable contradiction in later mystics.  To Awn, this contradiction appears as “schizophrenic attitude” of more sober minded mystics, such as al-Baqli, who express a great reverence for Hallaj, but at the same time cannot accept Hallaj’s entire doctrine, particularly the paradoxical position of Iblis  (Awn 125).  I think, however, that Awn’s perception might be premature and possibly over simplifying the situation.  In my mind, those who were less intent on being killed or causing great upheavals within the normative religious mode needed to exhibit necessary caution in these sensitive areas.

            Perhaps this tension between praise of Hallaj and rejection of the Hallajian mode of Iblis as spiritual exemplar is most apparent in the work of Jalaluddin Rumi (d.1273).  As Annemarie Schimmel points out in I Am Wind, You Are Fire, in all of Rumi’s work no name appears more than that of Hallaj, which is used to symbolize perhaps the highest position of all intoxicated love mystics, “the true lover of God” (132).  Rumi differs decidedly from al-Baqli, in his estimation of Hallaj’s utterance “Ana’l-Haqq.”  Here, in comparison with the Pharaoh’s claim, “I am your highest Lord,” Rumi states, “The ‘I’ of Mansur surely became grace; / That  of Pharaoh became a curse, look!” (qtd in Schimmel, I Am Wind 134).  Moreover, he writes in the Mathnawi:

Take the famous utterance “I am the Divine Truth.”  Some people consider it a great pretension.  But “Ana’l-Haqq” is in fact great humility. . . .He has annihilated himself and given himself to the winds.  He says, “I am the Divine Truth, “ that is “I am not, He is all, nothing exists but God, I am pure not-being, I am nothing. . . (qtd in Schimmel, I Am Wind 134).

Rumi, however, held the same traditional view of Iblis as that of al-Baqli.  In the Mathnawi he  relates that Iblis’ sin is an inherent aspect of his nature, and thus there is no hope for his redemption (Awn 118).

            Hallaj, however, did catalyze a less sober tradition that allowed itself the indulgence, as it were, to speculate about the valuable aspects of Iblis’ nature.  For these mystics Iblis came to symbolize the paragon of the mystic martyr who sacrifices everything for the love of God.  As mentioned above, the mystic ‘Ain al-Qudat (d. 1131) developed a rich understanding of Iblis, based on the ideas of Hallaj.  His ideas on Iblis, when looked at in comparison with Hallaj’s, offer keen insights into the heart of what Hallaj was attempting to express.  ‘Ain al-Qudat saw Iblis as the guardian of the “Divine Presence.”  He was rewarded this noble status because of his long worship and submission to God.  Iblis’ embittered and jealous stance towards humanity serves as a safeguard of divine intimacy, protecting its entrance from the unworthy. Thus the mischief of Iblis serves as the greatest test for the mystic; only the most adept can pass through his obstacles and penetrate the inner chambers of the Beloved (Awn 135-136).

            For ‘Ain Al-Qudat, Iblis both preserves the purity of  the path while serving as the catalyst of divine will, continuously facilitating the unfolding of the divine plan.  Like Hallaj, ‘Ain Al-Qudat sees Muhammad and Iblis as being divinely connected as instruments of God’s will.  They both represent the positive and negative poles of spiritual attainment:  Muhammad draws humanity close to God, while Iblis distances humanity from God.  Both Muhammad and Iblis are submitted servants of God. ‘Ain Al-Qudat  describes Muhammad’s nature as that of the pure light of Truth, whereas Iblis is its diametric counterpart, black light.  As Awn states, “Only in the unknowable essence of the Absolute is the tension between these two opposites resolved [. . .]”, the mystic must pass through the one to know the other (Awn 136-137). Moreover, the essential natures of Muhammad and Iblis originate through the divine “essence” or “attribute.”  ‘Ain Al-Qudat relates how each pole fulfills and sustains the other.  He writes:

Whiteness could never exist without blackness; the heavens without the earth would not be right; substance could not be conceived without accident;  Muhammad could never exist without Iblis.  Obedience could not exist without disobedience, nor unbelief without faith.  And in the same way with all opposites: ‘Things manifest themselves through their opposites. (qtd in Awn 142).

Here, there is a direct correlation to verse nineteen (above) of Hallaj’s “The TaSin.”  It is thus through the opposites that all existence and ultimately God is known.  When God is finally known, however, the opposites are resolved within God’s unity.  Thus, according to ‘Ain Al-Qudat, the convictions of both atheism and religion are annihilated once divine union is attained. He states, “ Unbelief and faith are two veils beyond the Throne between God and the servant, because man must be neither unbeliever nor Muslim” (qtd in Awn 141). 

            It is here where we begin to understand the paradox of Hallaj a bit more plainly.  Clearly, Hallaj realized this “science of opposites” in his mystical states of ecstatic union.  Here the conceptual notions of unbelief and faith vanished before the divine presence.  The great work of God’s unity enlightened him, thus annihilating the dualism of all paths; here there was only God and all apparent things, good and evil, were only reflections of Truth.

            We must take pause here and ask, if Hallaj’s mystical insight was thus, why did he have to suffer? According to Herbert Mason in his work entitled, Al-Hallaj, Hallaj teaches “[. . .] that God gives humans His grace of closeness in the form of anguish, through their desire to risk even the forbidden to know and serve Him more fully” (Mason 59).  Again the insights of ‘Ain Al-Qudat are helpful in understanding the nature of anguish for the mystic of love:

He (God) said, ‘If you lay claim to My love, there must be a sign.’  He (God) laid out for him the touchstones of affliction and oppression, blame and humiliation.  He accepted in an instant, and these two touchstones testified that the mark of his love was faithfulness.  Will you never grasp what I say? In love there must be persecution, and there must be fidelity, so that the lover becomes thoroughly ripened by the gentle kindness and the oppression of the Beloved.  Otherwise he remains raw, and nothing comes from him.  (qtd. in Awn  142)

Thus, for Iblis, and also apparently for Hallaj, the curse of God is the highest of His gifts.  Through God’s curse the mystic is purified and marked, as it were, with this “sign.”  Therefore God’s curse is a test for the truly faithful, as with Iblis: he accepts this test without question or complaint.  Iblis’ willingness to be rejected and deformed, all the while fulfilling his task in gratitude, is the highest act of love.  As Awn relates ‘Ain Al-Qudat’s understanding:

 “Iblis offers himself as sacrifice; when God torments, he accepts; when God oppresses, he increases his love. ‘Ain Al-Qudat recalls that it was for such unswerving dedication to God that Al-Hallaj eulogized Iblis and Ahmad.  For each, his personal joy and suffering were of negligible concern in comparison with his desire to conform to the will of God [. . .]  (Awn 143).

            ‘Ain Al-Qudat relates that the most weighty suffering placed upon Iblis was that of separation from the Beloved.  As Awn observes, separation is the most difficult test for the mystic lover, whose only yeaning is union.  The combination of separation and yearning “work together to inflict the most wrenching of agonies upon the tormented soul [. . .]” (Awn 144).

            According to Ahmad al-Ghazali, separation was the highest level of mystical attainment, even higher than union itself.  The state of separation only comes after union, and thus contains a point of “dynamic tension” which is absent from the fulfillment of union, thus always causing the mystic’s soul to strive continuously for God.  Awn astutely observes:

     God’s perfection needs no fulfillment through a mystical relationship with man.  The state of separation, therefore, more aptly reflects the eternal tension between God’s transcendent perfection and the dynamism of the human spirit’s yearning in love for intimacy with the divine Other.

     The ultimate goal, separation, is attained only by the very few whose long experience of union prepares them sufficiently for the excruciating torment that characterizes its every aspect.  This honor was not accorded Iblis until he had proven himself through eons of faithful dedication to the divine will. [. . .]  Ahmad Al-Ghazali relates that, in recognition of this extraordinary achievement, which was won only after ages of strenuous ascetical training, Iblis was granted the title of Lord of the Separated Ones.  This title attests to all creatures that Iblis has been especially chosen by the Beloved to be the recipient of His choicest gift, His curse, which Iblis will cherish for all eternity.  (Awn 145)

For ‘Ain al-Qudat, the ultimate gift of separation from God is attainable to the mystic who is able to integrate the greatest paradox: God’s curse of separation is the supreme attainment on the path towards God (Awn 146). 

            Awn concludes by stating that, “The seeds of this attitude are buried in the paradoxes of Al-Hallaj [. . . ]” (An 146).  For Hallaj  knowingly provoked both God’s wrath and those Muslims concerned with upholding the law, by uttering heretical statements while he counseled the people to kill him for his blasphemy, thereby seeking the death of his own “accursed” self (Awn 146).  Awn’s notion echoes Mason’s statement when he states that, “Hallaj himself bowed down before questionable and corrupt authorities in his final acceptance of martyrdom in order to draw the Community together against him and, in this sense, against the satanic self that retained a measure of separateness from God” (Mason 58). But if Ahmad al-Ghazali, and ‘Ain al-Qudat  are correct in their perception that God’s greatest gift to the mystic is separation, a perception that seems to be analogous to, and, as we have seen, stemming from Hallaj’s own writings in the Tawasin, then one question remains: why did Hallaj want to die, if dying meant reuniting with the Beloved?  Did Hallaj believe that he was to be damned in hell, like Iblis? Or did he yearn to reunite with the Beloved by finally shedding the last barrier between them?  Massignon does mention the former as a theory regarding the result of Hallaj’s punishment:

The Qur’anic text usually applied in the case of the criminal convicted of zandaqa [Manichean dualism] was the following (Qur’an 5:33):

     “Verily, the reward of those who make war against God and His messenger and create corruption in this world will be that they will be killed or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off, or will be banished from Muslim lands.  Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful punishment.”    (Massignon 205).

Massignon also mentions that, “In the particular case of Hallaj, his strange desire to be put to death anathematized for Muslims helped to contribute to a certain Hallajian theory concerning Hallaj as ‘the disciple of Satan up to and including damnation,’ ‘the saint in Hell” (Massignon 206).  Massignon himself, however, appears to have held more to the later idea, that it was the ultimate sacrifice of the human body, or “material Temple” that would “hasten its resurrection,” stating, “It is a death from love that resuscitates  [. . .]”(Massignon 172).  However, as we have seen, this idea could have been influenced by Massignon’s mistaken attribution of al-Baqli’s commentary for the actual words of Hallaj.  The idea, however, that Hallaj wished for death in order to be reborn united with the Beloved, is very close to the words attributed to Hallaj, himself, who stated, “So kill me now, my faithful friends / For in my killing is my life.  My death would be to live, / My life would be to die.  To me removal of my self / Would be the noblest gift to give [. . .] (Mason 73).  Conversely, it is also possible to view this statement from the “satanic” standpoint, as posed by Ahmad al-Ghazali, of damnation being the ultimate closeness to God.

              This is a paradox that cannot be reconciled by rational speculation.  Did  Hallaj die thinking he would gain eternal damnation, and thus receive the greatest gift from God?  Or did he believe that the ultimate grace was in union with the Beloved, thus diminishing the notion of grace through separation?  Or finally, was Hallaj, as the mystic Hujwiri stated simply, “not firmly settled” (qtd. in Schimmel, Myst. Dim. 73)?  In the end, however, it is my humble opinion, that the pure light of Muhammad still reigns supreme over the black light of Iblis, for Iblis serves God only insofar as to guide humanity on the straight path, personified in the being of Muhammad.  It is in this that we may ponder the final paradox: that in the human struggle on earth, we as humans in material form are inherently separated from God, as was Muhammad himself.  To bear the burden of this separation in gratitude without longing for death, while trying to do what is right and struggling against our own souls and satanic whisperings seems to be, at least on a small level, analogous to the inherent anguish felt by Iblis who has been cursed by separation.  In the end, however, it is agreed upon by all Sufis that for those who spend their time wisely on earth, the trial of separation is a profound grace, which for the human being is the only trial that is counted.  Perhaps it is through the anguish of separation from our Beloved that humanity and Iblis share a common bond, and grace.  Perhaps this is why many of the noble Sufi masters chose to keep their ecstasy  sober, so they could endure the trial, and “secret” blessing of the anguish of separation as long as possible.



Works Cited

Awn,  Peter  J.  Satan’s Tragedy and Redemption: Iblis In Sufi Psychology.  Leiden:  E. J.  Brill,


Bayrak,  Tosun.  The Most Beautiful Names.  Putney:  Threshold Books,  1985.

Mason,  Herbert  W.  Al-Hallaj.  Richmond:  Curzon P, 1995

Massignon,  Louis.  Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr.  Trans.,  Ed.  Herbert Mason.  Princeton: 

            Princeton UP,  1994

Schimmel,  Annemarie.  I Am Wind You Are Fire.  Boston:  Shambhala Pub, 1992

Schimmel,  Annemarie.  Mystical Dimensions Of Islam.  Chapel Hill:  UNC P, 1975

Sells,  Michael A.  ed.  and  trans.  Early Islamic Mysticism.  Mahwah:  Paulist Press,  1996.