“The expressions of his intimate moments with the Beloved are like a powerful thunderstorm that sweeps the heart with terrifying power and yet brings serenity, life-giving water, freshness, and renewal to the heart, and occasionally a rainbow upon the horizon.”
A friend of my daughter, Nedda, wanted to meet me. He was a young seeker, very interested in the Sufi Path. I picked Justin up at the train station and we spent the afternoon together talking. He told me how he grew up in a non-religious family, “basically atheist,” he explained telling me that he never learned how to pray. Then he attended a talk by Andrew Harvey at Omega and what he heard lit the fire of longing in his heart to communicate with the Divine. “But I didn’t know how!” he told me. It was then that I was awestruck at God’s amazing ways.
The night before I met Justin I was unable to sleep. I got up and for some reason felt an urge to read from the Diwan of Hallaj. I opened up the book and came upon a selection that moved my heart in a very deep way and I felt I needed to translate it. Then I came upon another selection that was also very moving and I translated it. By 4:00 am I was done with the translations and after prayer I fell asleep.
Now as I sat listening to Justin it became clear to me what had happened last night. “Would you like to hear how one of the greatest of all Sufis spoke to God?” I asked him. “Oh, yes! I would love to,” Justin replied eagerly. So I got up with tears welling up in my eyes and flowing freely down my face, and went to get my laptop amazed at how Love works and awed and humbled by how we are placed in service by Divine Decree. I felt the presence of Sidi Al Hussein ibn Mansur smiling gently and nodding as if to say, “Now you see what love does!”
Hussein ibn Mansur was born in the second half of the 9th century in Persia. His father was a cotton carder and he learned the same skill, hence his nickname Al Hallaj. His family moved to Wasit in Iraq when he was a child. From his early teens he was drawn to learning and spirituality. He studied with some of the eminent Sufi teachers of his time such as Sahl Al Tustari and Amru ibn Uthman Al Makki.
In addition to being a spiritual seeker, Al Hallaj was also a devoted activist, publicly supporting the oppressed people of his society and siding openly with rebellions against the tyrannical rule of the Abbasid State at the time. These rebellions were deeply rooted to the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and this connected Al Hallaj to the profound mystical teachings of the Prophet and his descendents. Al Hallaj’s devotion to the spiritual path and his support for the weak and oppressed made him popular among the people of Basra where he lived at the time. The Abbasid State was gripped in the throes of highly threatening political rebellions and saw the loss of its western dominions to the newly-emerged Fatimid State in Egypt that basically split the Caliphate into two empires. Al Hallaj’s activism and growing popularity eventually made him an easy target for the wrath of the Abbasid authorities and eventually led to long imprisonment and eventual martyrdom.
Al Hallaj was fearless in his actions, unswerving in his commitment to truth, and welcoming of his own death, repeatedly asking people to kill him for his infidelity (few understood what he really meant, for they saw a pious devoted man dedicated to long acts of worship and spiritual work).
Underlying his fearsome courage was a beautiful tenderness that was forgiving, loving, and filled with wisdom. His deep spirituality was expressed in the most exquisitely poetic way that at the same time is filled with powerfully raw and naked power. His words were imbued with the perplexity that overwhelm a heart drowned in the ocean of love. He spoke in ways that shocked ordinary people but awakened and were understood and cherished by his fellow travelers.
The expressions of his intimate moments with the Beloved are like a powerful thunderstorm that sweeps the heart with terrifying power and yet brings serenity, life-giving water, freshness, and renewal to the heart, and occasionally a rainbow upon the horizon.
Al Hallaj often expressed his understanding of Oneness in paradoxical and beautifully poetic ways. For example he was once asked about the path to God and he replied, “A path is between two points but there is nothing beside God!” He was asked to clarify and he replied with a poem:
Is this you or is it I in two deities?
Far be it from you, far be it from confirming duality
Forever there is Hu-ness for you in my La-ness
Over all, my pain is the confusion of two faces
Where is your essence from me where I used to see?
For my essence now appears where there is no “where”
And where is your face sought with my sight?
Is it in the inner heart or in the eye’s seeing?
Between you and me is an I-ness interfering with me
Take away then with your I-ness my I-ness from between us!
And here are the two selections that our Master, Al Hallaj, gifted to our young seeker, Justin, so that his heart may know…
Here I am at your command, here I am!
You are my secrecy and my intimacy
Here I am at your command, here I am!
You are my purpose and my meaning
I call you, but it is you who calls me to you
Did I call out to you or did you call out to me?
You are the essence of the source of my existence, you are the reach of my resolve
You who are my logic, and my expressions, and my gestures
You are all of me entirely, you are my hearing and my seeing
You are my whole, and some of me, and my parts
You are all of me entirely, and all of it is entirely obscured
And all of you entirely are covered in my meaning
My soul clings to you with intense love until it is spent in ecstasy
And I become a hostage to my longing
I cry over my sorrow, over separation voluntarily from my homeland
And my adversaries please me with my own wailing
I approach but my fear sets me back, and I am anxious from a longing
That takes hold of my deeply hidden insides
What shall I do about an expansiveness that I am in such love with?
My Friend! My healers have despaired of my affliction
They say: take your cure of him from him.
And I say to them: O people, is the affliction cured by the affliction?
My love for my Friend pains me and afflicts me
How then shall I complain to my Friend of my Friend?
I gaze upon him and my heart knows him
Nothing can be explained of him except my gestures
O woe to my soul from this soul of mine,
O such sorrow in me over me for I am the source of my trials
I am like one who is drowned and his hand is seen raised up for help
While he is in an ocean of water
No one knows what I have seen
Except what shows in me of my grief
And that one who knows what I’ve seen of such intense love
In his will is my death and my life!
You are the purpose of my seeking! You are what I hoped for! You are my stillness!
You are the life of my soul! You are my faith and my world!
Tell me, upon my life, you who are my hearing and my seeing,
Why this going back and forth in my farness and exile?
If you are veiled from my eye in the unseen
This heart still keeps you in farness and in nearness.
I saw my Rabb with the eye of my heart
I said: who are you? He said: You
“Where” with you has nowhere
And there is nowhere where you are
Illusion with you has no illusion
Can illusion know where you are?
You are the one who gathers every “where”
To nowhere, so where are you?
In my annihilation my annihilation perished
And in my annihilation I found you
In the effacement of my name and the outline of my form
I asked about me so I said: You.
My inmost secret pointed to you
Until I was annihilated to myself, and you remained
You are my life and my heart’s secret
Wherever I may be, you are.
You encompass everything with knowledge
All that I see is you
So grant forgiveness my God
For there is nothing I wish for other than you